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Lord's Day Liturgy

Identity Requires Faith

Recognizing our identity requires faith.

Many of the ladies in our church have been reading and discussing a book about identity. Being a woman is part of one’s identity (if you are a woman), as is being a man. Recognizing that difference does not require wisdom, though in our day it does require honesty and courage. Some are young, some are old, and God speaks to the different glories of each kind. We are not all the same part of the body, we do not all have the same spiritual gifts. These categories, and others, belong with who we believe ourselves to be as image-bearers of God and as disciples of Christ.

I mentioned a few months ago the difference between optimists and pessimists, not regarding world history per se, but regarding personal sanctification. I want to cover that ground again from a different angle because identifying ourselves correctly affects our hope.

Christian, are you a sinner or are you saint? Are you guilty before God or justified in Christ’s righteousness? Are you a conquerer, or are you a coward, a compromiser, a loser?

Here’s the giveaway: if you are asking those questions, the answer is obvious. If you are not asking those questions, there is an obvious problem.

If you struggle to identify as a saint, knowing that you sin and that you have to repent from sin and that you hate sin, then the Bible commands you to identify as “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 5:11). This is not telling yourself a lie, it is the way you reckon with having died with Christ to sin. If you see that you are wretched, and long for full deliverance from sin (Romans 7:24), then you must acknowledge that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Are you weak, are you groaning, then you should know that in all these things you are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).

This is not trying to convince yourself of something to make it true, this is the life of believing what Christ said is true.

It’s those who say that they don’t have sin who God identifies as liars (1 John 1:10). So speak the truth, confess your sin, as overcomers of the world by faith that Jesus is the Son of God.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Father’s Christmas

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first of four Sundays prior to Christmas. In the last few years I haven’t preached Advent sermons, but I have taken either the confession exhortation or the communion meditation for a little series in preparation to celebrate Christ’s birth. Last year during our confession you may remember #NoDiscontentDecember as a theme for our family that I shared with you all.

This year I’ll have four Advent meditations for communion, and the first three will follow a familiar pattern: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Christmas is not your mother’s bundle of joy, or ball of stress. Christmas is the Father’s idea of a world-altering gift.

Our Father in heaven came up with the idea of anticipation. That is His narrative invention. With every son born into every family among mankind, hints were given. As far back as Eden, a son would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). A Son would laugh at foolish kinds (Psalm 2:7-12). A son would take the throne (Revelation 3:21). A son would be GIVEN.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

(Isaiah 9:6–7)

The incarnation of the Son was the Father’s plan. Jesus did His Father’s will. The promises and prophecies, the time for waiting and hoping and anticipating, all belong with Advent, both the first and the second.

So watch how your Father in heaven did it. See His love and joy in gift-giving. See what it cost Him, and see how the world is remade by Christmas.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not a Hands Off God

Discipline hurts. Discipline is not entirely the same as punishment, though the pain part may overlap. God says in the book of Hebrews that discipline stings, at least in the moment (Hebrews 12:11). But He also says that the sting is not the point. Punishment aims at pain. Discipline aims at the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Throughout the Bible God reveals that His discipline is like that of a father (as in Proverbs 3:11-12). The starting assumption is that to discipline like a father means to discipline in love. A father knows what is right, he is honest when his son doesn’t do what is right, and he doesn’t wait around for everything to just work itself out. A loving father speaks up, decides consequences, provides training, and some of that may be painful.

What are the disciplined supposed to learn? As mentioned, they are supposed to learn what is right, and that doing right has a different pain than not doing right. God’s discipline leads to holiness, and that is good (Hebrews 12:10).

But isn’t it also true that discipline teaches a son that he is loved? Love cares about what is right and about the other person and about the other person learning to love what is right. Love isn’t hands off. Love trains to transform a son to grow up so that he can discipline his son in love. Discipline turns sons into kings (see Revelation 3:21).

Our Father has a fully stocked discipline arsenal. When He sees His children disobey, with discontented or tepid souls, He has limitless ways to get our attention. Is He disciplining you? It is because He loves you.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Point Where We Can Really Get Going

There is a similarity between our worship liturgy and the holiday liturgy many families will follow this week.

Each Lord’s Day our service drives toward the communion table. The call to worship, our confession of sin, and the Word’s work of consecration prepare us to share together in the communion of Christ. Unlike many services that prepare for and respond to the centerpiece of the sermon, we think the sermon centers our hearts for sake of the Lord’s Supper. The Savior brings us together, unites us, and we give thanks.

On big holidays, such as Thanksgiving, there is usually a lot of prep work, all of which points to a shared table. There is shopping and cooking, there is traveling and decorating, but it all aims to bring people together to share food, and especially this week, to express thanksgiving.

But both the Lord’s Supper and your holiday supper are subordinate ends. They are ends, we’re trying to get there, but we’re not trying to stay there.

Communion is a uniting in fellowship, to the end of the glory of God, and also as we continue to glorify God in our thankfulness for Christ and fellowship one another beyond Sunday. The Thanksgiving table isn’t intended to be a tall rug that covers all bitterness and hurts and offenses until the leftovers get put in the fridge when we can go back to being grumpy with one another. No, it is a time to renew thanks for sake of prolonging thanks.

Communion makes communion better. Thanksgiving makes thanksgiving longer, if we do it right. Even the marriage supper of the Lamb will be a feast that kicks off eternal feasting. So we drive to the point where we can really get going.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

He Gives Gratitude-Power

The wise Preacher once observed a heavy and hideous scene.

“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.” (Ecclesiastes 6:1–2, ESV)

Here is an illustration I’ve always appreciated. “God is the One who gives things, and God is the one who gives the power to enjoy things. These are distinct gifts…just as a can of peaches and a can-opener are distinct gifts” (Wilson, Joy at the End of the Tether). God could give a man a warehouse full of canned peaches, and get that man on the talk show circuit about his terrific warehouse management techniques, and it wouldn’t be enough.

Who knows how many things he has to be thankful for? Sounds, Scripture, salvation; food, family, friendship; life, liturgy, literature; ice cream, the Internet, ibuprofen; butter, bread, beauty; kids, congratulations, compassion; potatoes, promises, pies. These are all wondrous gifts, with whip cream on top, to mankind.

But there is one more gift that puts all of those gifts in place. One other gift that keeps us from serving the gifts as gods or from fearing that we will. The great gift is the power to give thanks. Gratitude itself is a grace. Not letting us think that we have gotten all these things by our own power (see Deuteronomy 8:17), but turning us to the God of generosity and abundant blessings is His own work in our hearts.

Give thanks to God who works and wills thankfulness in your hearts.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Resurrection and Return

The New Testament is full of things to do because Jesus is coming. Building bunkers to stay low and stay out of the fray is not one of them.

“Establish your hearts for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). “The Lord is at and, do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:5-6). We ought to be people of holiness and godliness waiting for and hastening the day (2 Peter 3:11-12). With the end of all things at hand we should be self-controlled in order to pray, to love one another, to show hospitality, and to use our giftedness (1 Peter 4:7-11).

In short we ought to steward the minutes and talents He’s given us so that when he returns He we can given Him a return on His gifts to us (see Matthew 25:14-30). He is coming, so we just conquer.

Also, we commune. The regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper as His Body on the Lord’s Day is an act of eschatology. He will reign forever and we will reign with Him, because He rose from the dead. Our sharing of communion now is a witness to our sharing of the kingdom them.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 15:26)

Believer, fellowship with your people at this table, eat and drink in witness to His death, His resurrection, and His return.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Bad Identity

I am not the first to register it, but I definitely want to repeat it: being a victim is a bad identity.

There are genuine victims. Some victims have been treated brutally. This is a world of sin, and sinners sin against others in wicked ways, and not always because the other person brought it on himself. Decisions are made that are unfair, contracts are broken, payments extorted, acts committed that really do damage others.

There are also bogus victims. Some victims have never been a situation that they couldn’t twist to find themselves into the victim’s role. It could have started with a small misperception turned into a federal case, it could be a complete misrepresentation of reality, a lie to cover your own conduct with a story that keeps throwing the bucket in the sympathy well. There are micro-aggression chasers, how-have-you-hurt-me-today journal keepers, and these demean real victims while doing no good for themselves.

Christians will be tested, reviled, beaten, lied about, discriminated against, and even killed. They will suffer, unjustly, and Jesus said: Don’t be surprised (1 Peter 4:12). Jesus also said: Rejoice (1 Peter 4:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16; Philippians 4:4).

Jesus also became the ultimate sacrificial victim in order to give you a new name, a new identity. He laid down His life so that you could have life, not so that you could more accurately complain, with Bible references and everything.

If you are a true target of another’s sin, trust God. Repent from your sin, and obey. If you are tempted to blame your bad feelings on others, if you always see yourself as the Oppressed, if you find it easier to live by complaint than by faith with thanks, repent. Your identity is Whose you are, not what has been done to you.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

As Good as It’s Ever Been

When Jesus instituted what we call the Lord’s Supper, He pointed to the cup that points to His covenant.

After telling His disciples to eat the bread representing His body, “he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins'” (Matthew 26:27-28). Luke recorded it also, “Likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood'” (Luke 22:20).

The “new covenant” is named as such in Jeremiah 31:31, and related descriptions are paralleled in Ezekiel 36. This new covenant is not like the Mosaic covenant given to Israel when they came out of Egypt. In this one, the Lord promised to put His law directly within them, to write it not on stone tablets but on their hearts. This covenant wouldn’t just point out why they needed forgiveness, it would purchase and apply it.

In its original setting the new covenant was for “the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The Lord compared the likelihood that He would fulfill this promise to the fixed order of the sun and moon. “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation forever” (Jeremiah 31:35-36).

And it is the Lord who has opened the door for us who were not Jews to enjoy the good news of forgiveness and new hearts. He has opened the way for us, He will finish His promise to save a coming generation of Israel by His Spirit (Romans 11:25-26), and His Word is as good as it has ever been.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Jesus Is King

We’ve been talking at our house about how no one could have predicted that the two people doing the most for Christianity on a national level in our day are Donald Trump and Kanye West. They are not having influence for Christianity the same way; to talk about how the President’s influence works is another discussion. I’m also not bringing them up in a belief that influence must be national in order to be God-honoring and important. But this definitely seems to be an example of God drawing straight lines with crooked sticks.

Do you know who Kanye West is? Some don’t want anything to do with him, others attach to him for reasons that aren’t great, others reading this maybe really don’t recognize his name. He’s an A-list celebrity hip-hop artist, married to an A-list celebrity Kardashian. In his rap music Kayne used to celebrate all the sins that unbelievers exalt. But he’s changed his tune. A few months ago he professed that he became a Christian. His new album came out a couple weeks ago titled, “Jesus Is King,” and all ten songs made the Billboard top 100 list last week.

I wasn’t in to hip-hop, or Kayne before his profession of faith. If I was a single man I probably wouldn’t have heard any of his new album. But I keep seeing videos where Kanye keeps doing things that aren’t cool for no apparently good reason except for Christ.

He’s spoken out against abortion. He’s lamented the damaging effects of pornography. He’s described new convictions about how he wants his wife to dress more modestly. He’s explained that he loves his wife and kids, that he hopes to have more kids, that he thinks having kids is the greatest treasure. And when asked directly about the difference between his current life and not that long ago, he said that Jesus has caused him to wake up (also part of the previous video). He even wrote an ode to Chick-fil-A.

What should we do with all of that? We must give thanks, because God says to (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and it’s not actually that hard to find reasons. We can also pray for Kanye and his life as a new professing believer. But also, we should pray to be that sort of not ashamed of the gospel. Jesus is King. Kayne has been giving true, clear, and honoring testimony to Jesus. Even if, in the unlikely but possible worst case scenario, this gospel seed is on rocky soil or among thorns, and only grows for a short season, it’s still a challenge to those of us in good soil to bear the fruit of bold witness for our King.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Sin of Seasonal Humbug

I hate Christmas for a different reason than I used to. I used to hate Christmas when I thought I was more of a saint. Now I hate it because I know how much more I am a sinner.

Christmas used to provide a great platform for my self-righteousness. My strong seasonal humbug spiced up my holiness. Obviously, I was so serious about Jesus that I couldn’t be dragged down into the fray of shopping and sweaters and wassail. I worshipped Jesus better by not getting involved.

I realize now that my “worship” was mostly defined by how I wasn’t like “those” people. Yet many of those people went down from the outlet mall more sanctified than me. Not all of them. An idolator will use any reason to worship his idol, even if that reason is named Jesus. I hated Christmas because people abused it. But I threw the Baby out with the busted LED lights.

I hate Christmas now because it exposes the atrophy of my celebration muscles. I can’t lift much true cheer even though the burden is light. I realize, of course, that this means I don’t really hate Christmas, but Christmas does cause me to hate my sin more. I am not like Christ. I do not naturally give myself away, serve from love, or laugh when it’s hard. I prefer to stay away from mess rather than take it on.

That said, Christmas is JOYFUL because Jesus did come. He took on our weaknesses so that He could fill us with His joy. As we remember that He came we remember why we need Him. We also remember what He gives us: peace, hope, and joy.