Lord's Day Liturgy

The Greatest World Dangers

Today we remember an event from 506 years ago. We will give thanks to God for the fire He lit through Martin Luther’s questions to the system. A generation of men burned with godly passion to shine light on the Bible which gives “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

A precious few who had the Bible in the Middle Ages made good use of it, but most Christians didn’t have their own copies, and the established religion (Roman Catholicism) elevated their interpretations of Scripture to equal authority with Scripture while working to keep copies of Scripture out of people’s eyesight.

But the “word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9). God’s Word is an imperishable seed that causes new/spiritual birth (1 Peter 1:23). God’s Word is pure, spiritual milk that causes us to grow up in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

My friend Jonathan writes a weekly email to those who serve our church with music, and in his most recent Music Ministry Weekly he shared about his reading of the Scots Confession (1560, with John Knox as the superintendent over John Winram, John Spottiswood, John Willock, John Douglas, and John Row, written in four days). The Five Johns who drafted the Confession said this of Christ’s Gospel:

“[I]t is the one food of our soul and therefore so precious to us that we are determined to suffer the greatest world dangers rather than let our souls be defrauded of it” (Scots Confession, Preface.)

Scripture alone reveals that the bread of God has come down from heaven and gives life to the world (John 6:33). Jesus gave His flesh as true food, His blood as true drink (John 6:55). As we feed on Him by faith alone, we live because of Him (John 6:57).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Man’s Chief Blessing

God’s will is that we abstain from sexual immorality. There are numerous sins in this category, though I think Paul especially had in mind sex before marriage based on the transgressing and defrauding a brother comment in verse 6. But one thing all the sexual and gender corruption and confusion have in common is a wrong view of God.

Each one should have possession of his body and a priority on holiness and honor “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:5).

Here the Gentiles/unbelievers have replaced theology proper with an alternative philosophy. Knowing God keeps things in order. He shows us what and who and when and how much to love. Those who know God do not despise the body God gave us, but those who do not know God often serve their body as god. Christians do not devalue sexual desire (at least not when we’re consistent with God’s Word, for example, Proverbs 5:18-19), but if we do not know God then sexual desire leads us like an ox to the slaughter (Proverbs 7:22-23).

The Bible, and even the law itself, are more than rules, the Dos and Do Nots. Revelation enables us to know God and to enjoy Him and it turns the lights on so that we can see what is truly pleasurable and truly fruitful. Knowing God is knowing what is better. Man’s chief end is also man’s chief blessing. Christian, God has called you to know Him and the blessings of holiness.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Assurance to All

A number of things are established by Christ’s resurrection.

It proves that God was satisfied with Christ’s offering, since Jesus now sits at His right hand (Romans 8:34). It proves that Jesus is who He said He was: the Son of God (Romans 1:4). It secures our justification (Romans 4:24). It causes us to be born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). It shows His authority as Lord of the living and the dead (Romans 14:9).

And the resurrection guarantees the coming judgment. Paul told this to the Athenians:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)

When we gather around the Lord’s Table we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. We are proclaiming the only way out of judgment, the only way that Christ’s return will be a reason to rejoice, not the day of wrath.

The resurrection establishes Jesus as Lord, the Lord of all believers who rejoice at His name. And the resurrection establishes Jesus as Lord of all, with authority to judge those who currently refuse to acknowledge His name or rebel against Him.

As Christians we do look forward to that “fixed” day. We exalt the appointed and anointed Lord, we are assured of His return. We take refuge in Him, and this comes with the assurance of God’s blessing.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Adorned in Holiness and Honor

God desires the sanctification of our flesh, that is, we are called to glorify God in our bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:20). One part of sanctification is to abstain from sexual immorality, though that states it negatively; it’s what we should avoid. There are more negatives in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8: not living out of lust like Gentiles, not defrauding our brother, not disregarding God. But we often think about sanctification as the Do Nots, when there is as much about looking good.

The reason for immodesty (especially as related to sexual immorality) may include pride, but that’s a pride typically rooted in insecurity, or even just inability to see what is better, what’s more attractive. When we hear someone say, “How did she get out of the house looking like that?” we could interpret that has, “Why doesn’t anyone care about her?” That sort of care would not make her look worse.

Paul does require self-control in verse 4: “that each one of you know how to control his own body.” No dad? No excuse. Perverted culture? That makes it harder, and more important, not impossible.

But the self-control fits with the proper self-image (and this is what fathers, parents, church can model and teach). The entirety of verse 4 says: “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” Holiness is special. Honor is valuable. Saints, that’s you.

I think about it like this for young ladies, though there’s application from a few angles for the guys. My daughters are like precious diamonds set in rings of gold. I’m responsible for protecting them, in process of finding someone better to value and protect them. I’m looking for a guy who’s got an idea of what he’s getting.

So I don’t let any dude come into the store, so to speak, and take the jewelry out for fun time around town. There’s no commitment. I’m looking for an honorable man. And if he’s holy and honorable, he won’t ask to play around with what he won’t pay for. This is expensive stuff we’re dealing with.

Holiness and honor includes what a person avoids, but they’re shown off in how a person is adorned.

Dads, teach your daughters about their honor and value. Moms, teach your daughters true adornment. Young ladies, don’t act pretentious, but as precious (see also 1 Peter 3:4). Young men, be self-controlled, and desire the splendor of holiness as much as you desire the security of a good job.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Any but Not All

Jesus welcomed sinners to the Table. He welcomes more sinners to the Table today. That said, while He welcomes any kind of sinner, He does not welcome all sinners.

He welcomes sinners who know they are sinners. The tax-collector in Jesus’ parable went down to his house justified because he knew he wasn’t worthy, whereas the Pharisee stood praying to himself about how holy he was (Luke 18:14). Both were sinners, and the one who sought mercy received it.

He welcomes sinners who know that there is salvation for sinners. It’s possible to feel bad, with great guilt, and not have “a godly grief (that) produces repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Agreeing that you’re in the category of sinner isn’t the same as accepting that “there is salvation in…no other name under heaven” (Acts 4:12) than Jesus.

He welcomes all the ones living by faith as sinners being sanctified in Christ. That means we are not perfect as we will be when He’s done with us. Praise God, this is a Table prepared by His grace, not our works. And yet we don’t knowingly prefer our sin. We do confess it, seek help to avoid it. We do examine ourselves, sure, which includes examining if we are rudely judging our neighbor or distancing ourselves from a neighbor who annoys us.

Does Jesus welcome him? So should we. Be of like affection one towards another (Romans 12:16), and eat and drink as one body.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Intentional Distance

In my mind there is a life-and-death difference in current usage between the words avoid and abstain. When I was a young kid, my dad took me to a lot of high school football and basketball games, and at halftime he always found the smokers and lit his pipe. I was just a kid, so I stood with him. I was around it, but had no interest in joining in. I abstained from smoking.

That said, I don’t go anywhere near pits of rattle snakes. I’m not interested in them, and getting too close would be a killer. So I avoid those places.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Paul told the Christians that God’s will was for their sanctification, and in this context sanctification meant: “that you abstain from sexual immortality.” We should understand that with more intentional distance than merely non-participation. The word in verse 3 has the idea of get some distance from, keep away from, avoid contact with.

We use the phrase “fight sin” sometimes, and that’s alright. But when it comes to sexual sins we’re not told to fight but to flee. “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

I understand that the narrative arc with Joseph in Genesis 39 is ultimately about God getting His man in place to spare Israel for sake of there being an Israel from which Jesus would be born generations later. But on the ground level, it illustrates that it is better to be naked fleeing from sin than have all your clothes on committing it. Of course fleeing with your clothes is better still.

Joseph was where he needed to be for work but, when temptation found him, he took off. We ought not seek out temptation locations. We should avoid triggers, certain persons or places, apps, screens/pics/videos, times, situations. It is God’s will that we do so.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Table of Tension

Tension refers to something stretched tight. Our arm strain trying to hold up a bowling ball away from our body; tension increases on a rope during a game of tug-of-war. Our brains also hold tensions. There is mental strain when we consider the relationship between ideas that seem to have opposing demands or implications.

Mental muscles trying to hold tensions may be tough. Most would rather release something to get some comfort; it doesn’t matter which side. But finite people, bearing the image of an infinite God, are going to be stretched. Here are some tensions: God sovereignly made men responsible for their free actions that He ordains and controls. Your finished salvation is still happening while you wait for it to come. You are a wicked, dry cistern-hewing worm who belongs at the table of the King you’ve offended dressed in His best robes.

So, Robert Southwell (c.1590) said we must keep tension:

“where halvues must disagree
Or truce of halves the whole betraye”

You are a sinner, you are Christian. You have peace with God, you cannot make peace with your sin.

And even communion is a Table of tension. Though he wasn’t talking about the Lord’s Supper, a Puritan named William Bridge summed it up:

Let not your sense of sin quench your joy of pardon.

If we do not grieve the cost of flesh and blood we do not understand the bread and wine. If we do not rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory we do not understand our living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Cute Is Not Enough

You know how when you’re in significant pain, that’s all you think about? And you tell yourself that if/when you get out of that pain, you will remember what it was like when you were in pain, and you will be extra thankful. But then the Lord relieves your pain, and you get about your work again, and you forget how bad it was. That’s how it is with a lot of things when we’re not in the middle of them, or in not the middle of helping/counseling/equipping someone who is.

When it comes to being single (and I’m not necessarily equating pain with singleness, though singleness does have challenges/burden), and especially single in a community that has a lot of spouses, and that talks about the family and the household, and maybe even more especially when single in a broader culture that loves to make sexual immorality seem like an identity, a status symbol, the “good life,” things are hard.

What do you do? There are a number of things, and I’m focusing on Paul’s instructions in 1 Thessalonians 4, that God’s will doesn’t change no matter the challenges.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV)

This is addressed to the church, including married people, but it seems especially important for those who aren’t yet.

Sanctified sexuality is personal—that each one know how to control his own body. It is communal—that no one transgress and defraud his brother; how you behave affect the rest of the body. And it is theological, as in, a concern to God who has sent His Spirit to dwell in us—the Lord is the avenger in these things.

Christian, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your sexuality. Glorify God in your consecrated contentment while praying and waiting for God to provide a spouse. Glorify God in any relationship as you pursue finding out if you should be his/her spouse.

Parents, you also glorify God as you encourage your kids to be holy. It is part of our parental responsibility to help our kids acknowledge that as they pursue a good and God-given thing there are more important things than being “cute.” Maybe the couple is cute, but are they holy? They are not their own to do with whatever they want, nor are they their boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s property. They are the Lord’s first. Grandparents, too, can help as we think generationally about God’s will being sanctification.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Jesus and Us

Because of the Trinity, One God in three Persons, we can appreciate that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Our theology proper teaches us about God’s nature, so as His image-bearers we reflect God as we love Him and one another.

Because of the Gospel, that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, we can appreciate that such a sacrifice is how “God shows His love for us” (Romans 5:8). The center of history, the death of Jesus on the cross, demonstrates God’s love, so He calls us to love one another just as He loved us (John 13:34).

Because of our Lord’s command to remember His death in the ordinance of communion (Luke 22:19), and because our weekly liturgy as a church includes the sharing of the Lord’s Supper, we regularly eat and drink in remembrance of Christ’s love.

Doctrine/truth drives our doing/obedience. We love the truth about God’s love and the truth about His love continually works on us and in us and out of us into love for one another.

So individualistic communion is ironic at best and impious at worst. Though our salvation is personal, it’s not mostly about “me and Jesus” but about “Jesus and us.”

Eat and drink the signs of love. Put on the clothes of love, it binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14). Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Opposite Sex and Sanctification

When we communicate we don’t just say words at a target, we share meaning through the words. Communication starts with what’s common between persons, what is shared. Even the phrase “speaking the same language” does double duty, not only in reference to using the same dialect but also to working with the same definitions. Conflicts often happen because the parties have a verbal disagreement; each person thinks differently about the same word.

In pre-marital counseling I always encourage couples to read a book or listen to a series about finances, not because I think they need to slavishly put all their money in envelopes, but so they learn to share the same vocabulary. What does it mean to be generous? Is $1.00 given out of every $10 more than she’s ever thought about giving before, or does generous mean only keeping the $1? The discussion gets them on the same spreadsheet, so to speak.

In a Christian community we share Christ. In Christ we live and move and have our being. That said, we not only have different gifts to serve one another as part of His Body, we have different expectations, different perspectives, different backgrounds, and different ideas about some community practices.

Our church community thinks marriage and family is great. We generally want our young men and young women to look forward to, and prepare for, if/when the Lord would bless them with those responsibilities. And yet, the community is made up of many families, and not all fathers talk the same way or share the same vision for getting their kids hooked up in covenant (which, even that phrase, means something different to a pagan these days).

There are a variety of approaches to the leave and cleave process, and spectrums from narrow to loose. And yet there are some principles that we should all know and agree on. When it comes to knowing God’s will, more than finding His will for your (or your child’s) spouse is recognizing His will for your (and your child’s) sanctification. “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). We’re supposed to share a desire to please God in our walk (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

For the next few weeks we’re going to consider sanctification in community relationships between the opposite sex. This is a subject for all of us, whether you’re in a dating relationship or wish you were, or you fancy yourself a matchmaker, or you’re a friend to a courting couple, or you have a father’s responsibility. “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” Amen.