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Lord's Day Liturgy

When It Gets Bad

One reason, among legion, why our liturgy includes weekly communion at the Lord’s Table with a bias toward a rejoicing attitude is because it reminds us that love-driven suffering unites us. Christ’s love-driven sacrifice unites us, of course, and in Him we are burdened and then comforted to share that with each other.

This is not merely an apostolic or pastoral work, though such men should be examples.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It can actually get pretty bad. “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Paul does not say that you must experience exactly what someone else has experienced in order to have something to say. He says we are all being taught to rely on God who raises the dead. We do it as believers, we do it as Christ’s body.

At the Table we do not rely on our righteousness, we rely on Christ’s. We do not rely on our strength, we rely on God’s. We do not do it alone, we share in and share out comfort. It is because God has show His love to us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

See also this communion meditation from last week.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Like a Mother

It was Mother’s Day yesterday and I’ve been giving a series of exhortations about parenting, so, perfect. Let’s take advantage of the connection.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he hadn’t come just to make a name for himself. He didn’t flatter to get what he wanted, “nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1 Thessalonians 2:6). There was a sense of great responsibility in his work, but it didn’t include demanding great recognition.

If you had to guess what role he used as a comparison, what would you say? Those who are tracking should have guessed that of a mother. The very next sentence: “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).

For what it’s worth, Paul could identify mothers, though he wasn’t a biologist. Paul could talk about mothers, though he wasn’t one. Paul could generalize about mothers, though sinful mothers wouldn’t work for his illustration.

Apostles could make demands, not just for obedience, but for honor. This is what Paul just said he was committed not to do. He was not seeking glory from men. His illustration works when mothers are not seeking glory from those they are responsible to serve.

Lewis had Screwtape tattoo this image in Wormwood’s mind:

She’s the sort of woman who lives for others—you can always tell the others by their hunted expression. (The Screwtape Letters)

Being a mother is a glory, unless the mother is demanding glory. Moms, when you look well to the ways of your household your children will rise up and call you blessed (Proverbs 31:27-28). When you look well to how well you are looked after, you will have received your reward (think Matthew 6:2, 5, 16).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Together in Affection

The Lord is not making His people nice. He makes some pagans nice. He crucified His Son to make us new. That may include transforming angry, rude men into men with kindness who know how to pursue peace when appropriate, but it’s more. We may not all be John Knox flame-throwers, but we all are the light of the world, and light makes darkness edgy.

You have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13). In baptism you’ve been united to the Son, buried/dead and raised/made alive (Romans 6:5). You are in Christ (Colossians 1:2), and the life you now live you live to God because Christ lives in you (Galatians 2:20). Christ is the hope of glory, and Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27).

He has also give you His Spirit. The Spirit caused you to be born again (John 3:6). The Spirit testifies of God’s truth directly (1 John 5:6). The Spirit pours God’s love in your heart (Romans 5:5). The Spirit seals you for eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).

I’m reminding you of these realities because in them we rejoice even if now, for a little while, we are in heaviness through manifold trials (1 Peter 1:6). We are, to varying degrees, afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair (2 Corinthians 4:8). We do not lose heart, we live on unseen things (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

We sing and celebrate our communion with God and with Christ’s body not as a denial of or distraction from our problems and pains, but because we have been given hope that our sufferings are God-appointed to make us salty, to make us sharp, to make us ready for His return, to make us one in love.

“why doth the Lord bring his people together in affliction, but to bring them together in affection.”

—Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture
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Lord's Day Liturgy

Are We There Yet?

The difference between rookie parents and pro parents is not how old their kids are or how many kids they have. The difference is that a rookie parent keeps being surprised by what their kids don’t know, can’t do, or are having a bad attitude about. The “pro,” so to speak, is almost glad about it.

God made the world in such a way that expected development. After the fall, developing didn’t stop, but it became a lot more sweaty. God loves growth, apparently. He loves seeds and babies, He loves seasons and progressive sanctification. Even in our glorified, resurrected state, it seems that we won’t be done learning, we’ll just be done with the limitations and frustrations of sin.

Why does a teacher have a job? It isn’t to coordinate better trophies for what the students already know. Even the dumbest questions, including the repeated dumb questions because a student didn’t hear the first time it was asked, are an opportunity. Is it a different lesson than the one you had on your paper? Maybe. Is it a different lesson than expected? What did you expect? The curriculum is a tool, not the telos.

Everyone has to grow, every kid, every Christian. God made it that way. When parents get frustrated, let alone blindsided, that our kids are “there” yet, it’s because they’ve been ignoring what is as obvious as gravity. Even the best self-starters and independent kids can’t change their own diapers.

Is it surprising that you have to teach them how to pronounce words, how to deal with feelings for a boy, how to handle conflict or criticism? Who did you want them to learn it from? Who did you expect to parent them? Give your kids hope by bringing “them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Out of Bounds

What if I told you that peace with God isn’t only something that we can have, it is something we must obey.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15, ESV)

A βραβεῖον was a prize awarded in contests, and is the substantive cognate with the imperative “let…rule.” It was given by the judge, the umpire. Think of Aeneas presiding over and awarding prizes for the funeral games after his fleet fled Carthage (though he did it in Latin).

Paul commanded God’s chosen ones, the ones who were to be bearing with one another, loving one another, even forgiving each other if one had a complaint against another, to let Christ’s peace be the umpire. The NASB says, “Let the peace of Christ rule,” with a footnote of, “act as arbiter.” The NET Bible translates, “Let the peace of Christ be in control.”

When there is a temptation “in your heart” to anxiety, and especially when there is temptation to resentment or bitterness against another, peace whistles when you’re out of bounds. “You were called in one body,” so, beloved, stop yelling at the other players, let complaining at the umpire. Peace is the referee, and peace always calls for peace.

What if you don’t feel the peace? Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. What if you don’t understand how it’s all going to work out? That’s okay, God’s peace surpasses our understanding, and it will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). There are many members but in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). So we share one bread, in grace and peace (1 Corinthians 10:17).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Unsupervised Kids

In my most recent exhortation to parents I said, “God demands perfect obedience, and any disobedience, even candy-demand or candy-envy, earns death.” Before that I said that what’s good about obedience is that it enables fellowship, and that without fellowship obedience hasn’t reached the end of good. And before that I said that we are raising not just raising kids but raising parents, and that we should show our kids how to parent, first of all in faith.

The thread is obedience of faith. Not only do we obey God when we believe Him, but we obey God because we believe Him. Paul uses the phrase “the obedience of faith” in both his introduction and conclusion to the Romans; he had received grace to bring about the obedience of faith among the nations (Romans 1:5), which is according to the command of the eternal God (Romans 16:26).

It is obedient faith that fulfills the Great Commission. We make disciples by baptizing them and by “teaching them to obey all that [Jesus] commanded” (Matthew 28:10, NIV).

So, parents, the obedience of your kids is to be a fruit of faith, it is what enables fellowship, but obedience is not optional.

THIQ obedience is total, doing everything that was assigned. It is happy, cheerful, without anger or tormented countenance. It is immediate, not traded for an obedience to be named later. And it is quick, not poky, dawdling, or meandering.

The reason parents don’t expect perfect obedience is not because it is too high a standard. It is God’s standard, and He holds it without being harsh (see Matthew 5:48). The reason we don’t expect THIQ obedience from our kids is usually because we have a soft spot for our own sin, and letting our kids run around unsupervised is a perfect picture of letting our feelings run around undirected.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Forefeast

Hear the prophet Isaiah:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make 
      for all peoples a feast of rich food, 
   a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, 
   of aged wine  well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain 
   the covering that is cast over all peoples, 
   the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, 
   and the reproach of his people he will take away
      from all the earth, 
   for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day, 
   “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him,
      that he might save us. 
   This is the LORD; we have waited for him; 
   let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” 
(Isaiah 25:6–9, ESV)

This communion meal on Resurrection Sunday is a foretaste, a forefeast.

We eat today while we wait for that day. We can eat it while rejoicing, but often still in heaviness (1 Peter 1:6).

The sorrows are real. My dad died sixteen years ago today. My sister professed faith six years ago on Easter, and died less than a year later. My dad didn’t get to meet his only grandson, and neither of them got to meet our new grandson. Just this past year, some of you have lost a husband, a son, a brother-in-law, a brother-in-Christ, friends, some old and some so young. In addition you have born griefs from the world, you have carried concerns about your responsibilities.

But, beloved, your faith and labor are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20, 58). Jesus is risen from the dead.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne
will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
(Revelation 7:17, ESV)

That will be a glorious day.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

An Awful Lot

Because God is kind we do not always get what we want. In our flesh we will do an awful lot (and I mean that both ways) to get what we want. And when we get what our flesh so desperately wanted, do we not find that it’s not only unfulfilling but also self-defeating?

Cases abound. An effeminate man wants his lusts and finds another man to be his partner, and both of them are wrath-ed (Romans 1:26-27). A married man wants his anger and argues his position to the death, and though he wins his point he may lose his marriage. A mom communicates successfully that she just wants a little peace and quiet so that her kids can’t wait to get away and let her have her precious peace.

Adam got what he wanted when he ate the fruit and it killed him. Satan got what he wanted when God’s Son was crucified and he was nailing his own coffin shut.

It’s not hard to find examples. It is not easy to lose your life, but it is the only way to find it. Jesus Himself is the ultimate example, doing the Father’s will instead of His own, and that will prospered in His crucified hands (Isaiah 53:10-11). More than that, if we give Him our sinful wants He bears them for us and buries them that we might have something better.

I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more. (John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress)

Confess your sins to Him. Let Him raise you to walk in newness of wants.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Triumphal Prophecy

What do you think about Palm Sunday, not just as the Sunday before Christ’s resurrection, but as the day of Christ’s triumphal entry? The “palm” part comes from the palm branches laid on the road in front of Jesus (John 12:13). The Sunday part comes from the day of the week, sure. The entry part comes with Him entering Jerusalem. But, knowing what happened the following Friday, where do we get off calling it triumphal? I’ll give two reasons.

It performs triumphal prophecy. Matthew and John made that connection clear (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15) when they quoted Zechariah.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9, ESV)

The king of David (Mark 11:10) was promised as “one shepherd” over His people (Ezekiel 37:25-25), and here is the Righteous One (Acts 3:14).

It provides triumphal prophecy. On their way in, Jesus gave word to His disciples about what was going to happen.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33–34, ESV)

This is at least the third time Jesus foretold that He would be delivered over and that He would be raised (Mark 8:31; 9:31; and see Romans 4:25). He was in full control.

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 10:18, ESV)

The crucifixion of the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8) and His resurrection is His triumph, and this Table is one of victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57, ESV)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Candy and Christian Nationalism

I know people argue about whether or not the United States is a Christian nation. I wouldn’t argue for it in terms of every citizen being a Christian, which is obviously not true, but I might argue for it in terms of how much candy parents buy their kids for Easter.

People can eat candy as a distraction from death, but only Christians can eat candy while rejoicing in death. Of course, our rejoicing in death only comes because we know who died and why He died and what happened three days after His death. But we sing merry songs and buy bright colored dresses and eat chocolate bunnies because commercializing Easter as a holiday (and I’m not saying the commercialization itself is good) only works with people who talk smack to death, “Where is your sting?”

I’m actually giving another exhortation to parents here. There is no moral law requiring that you buy your kids Easter candy, there is no law against it either, Ms. Sugarbebad. But when your kids ask in times to come, “What do these baskets of plastic grass mean?” it is your obligation to tell them why.

So work it through. God demands perfect obedience, and any disobedience, even candy-demand or candy-envy, earns death. Christ obeyed perfectly, and then sacrificed Himself for sinners. He endured the suffering we deserved that we might taste that He is good.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
(Psalm 34:8)

The Lord is sweet. Salvation is joy. Parent like it’s true. Work for your kids’ progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:25).