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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Running Over Pedestrians

We finished our discussion about The Art of Neighboring at Men to Men last Monday and the ladies will finish at their next meeting. The elders recently finished another book, If You Bite & Devour One Another, and the Life to Life leaders and wives are working through it together, too. Being a good neighbor and not biting people is like driving a car and not running over pedestrians; that’s how it should be. Paul connected both behaviors with love in his letter to the Galatians.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:14–15)

Neighbor identifies any one who is next to you, someone on your street and, as was the case in the Galatian church, someone next to your seat. The whole point of the Old Testament can be tweeted with characters to spare and without losing any punch. It’s originally found in Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus called it great (Mark 12;31). Come to think of it, we might prefer the 613 laws in aggregate over this spear tip, then at least we’d have some cover.

In the flesh we do not want to love and build up, we want to criticize and tear down. We prefer sledgehammers over finishing hammers. Solomon said that he who belittles his neighbor lacks sense (Proverbs 11:12), and how much more he who attacks another part of his own body. A part that hits other parts should not be surprised when it becomes the head of the nail. Watch out.

And repent. Other people are not your primary problem. The flesh is your primary problem. A neighbor might sin against you. He probably will. What will you do? If you’re walking by the Spirit, then love will serve him, joy will draw him close, peace and patience will bear with him in kindness and more. It is not freedom to say whatever you want. It is freedom to love your neighbor.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Bread Has Never Sinned

When believers gather at the Lord’s Table, the body of Christ is represented in two loafs, the loaf of bread and the loaf of people (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). To ask which representation is more important would be to frame the question unhelpfully, as if we could do away with whichever one we deemed less important. Yet many Christians in our circles would, practically, do away with the people as long as they could have a personal ordinance experience.

Christ instituted communion. He told His disciples to keep on eating and drinking in remembrance of Him until He comes. To turn over the obvious a little bit, though, Christ did not die in order to redeem bread and wine. Bread has never sinned, neither has wine. They will be in heaven on their own merits. Christ died in order to redeem men. They too will be in heaven but only because of the merit of Christ.

Grain and grapes are gifts. We are commanded to receive them as reminders. But the reminders should make us look around at the spiritual fruit, the family of brothers and sisters with whom we share the meal.

We don’t acknowledge a common ancestry from impersonal and random elements that eventually grew legs and started to talk. We receive the truth of the Triune God who made us to share fellowship like He does and who forgave us through Christ’s sacrifice so that we could. The bread and the cup on the Table remind us what God is doing around the Table.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

They Would Be Dead by Now

Many people are alive today who, had they been living even 100 years ago, would be dead by now. What I mean is that many hurt, weak, sick, or diseased persons are able to be healed, strengthened, cured, or at least treated or relieved today for things that would have likely caused their death a century and more ago. We have done a lot things, including modifying food and developing medicines, that have made it so that we see a lot of people with a lot of problems, but at least they are still alive. Allergies aren’t good, but they are better than death. Does this matter? Should we care?

Research doctors, practicing physicians, and other medical personnel have a worldview. Every man has a worldview though that doesn’t mean that every man lives out his worldview consistently. Nevertheless, in general, keeping people alive belongs with those who believe that living is worth the cost. More than that, finding ways to treat the underdeveloped, the elderly, the chronically sick, and the terminally ill belongs with those who believe that God does not despise persons in those conditions. He cares. So should we.

Paul uses this argument figuratively related to how we treat one another in the Body of Christ. All the parts need one another. “[T]he parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22). We are connected so that “if one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

This analogy depends on the reality that a personal God created persons and cares about persons. If we are artifacts of ebullient goop that couldn’t contain itself, and if our best hope is abstract progress, and if the strong should be selected to survive, then we should, in order to be consistent, kill babies in utero who appear to be damaged, we should pull the plug on the geriatrics who’ve used up their usefulness, and we should leave the weak and sick to fend for themselves. The weak are like weeds sucking away nutrients for the healthy blades.

We ought to be thankful for the cultural effect of the doctrine of creation by a personal, Triune God and the doctrine of His gospel. Though it is slipping, we have the remnants of our fathers’ beliefs that living is better and treating the weak and sick is worth it. We ought to proclaim the glory of the Creator and the Christ. We also ought to match our attitudes accordingly toward those fellow image-bearers who need help.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

As Reliable as the Sunrise

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples that the cup poured out for them was the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). It is the sign of the promise revealed in Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31. The Lord committed to Israel that He would cleanse their sins, take away their hearts of stone, give them hearts of flesh, and cause each of them to know Him. This covenant stands out because it depends wholly on the Lord. As it’s been observed, no man can give himself a heart transplant.

Not only is this promise unconditional, it is also as reliable as the sunrise. Jeremiah explains what would need to happen before this promise could fail.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Thus says the LORD,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the LORD of hosts is his name:
“If this fixed order departs
from before me, declares the LORD,
then shall the offspring of Israel cease
from being a nation before me forever.”
(Jeremiah 31:31–36)

God established the light and seasons of the sun to teach us about His strength and faithfulness. Through these God also shows His joy. As Chesterton speculated in his book Orthodoxy, “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun.” He does not get tired of calling the sun into place, and He does not tire of keeping His promises.

We Gentiles partake as the overflow of the new covenant life. There is a season when God is grafting in those who had no promise to receive the salvation, and even this is part of God’s plan to finally save Israel (Romans 11:25-27).

As we eat and drink communion week by week, as we cross off days on the calendar until the Son comes, as we take it for granted when our weather apps say the sun will come up tomorrow, then we have reason to trust God in all His good words to us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Envy Kills

Envy kills. It kills the taste buds of one’s own soul, making sweet things seem dull and unsatisfying. It kills contentment, making those who have not wish that they were someone else. Envy has killed entire classes of people, as with the manifesto of communism to overthrow those with property and make sure that everyone has an equal amount.

Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:19)

Envy corrupts politics, ruins the use of money, undermines education, divides neighbors, flattens genders, and embitters siblings. More than of all of that, it is a spiritual problem. Sure, some laws protect against envious theft, some systems of government promote personal responsibility, but only freedom from our envy and covetousness in Christ can replace a worldview of envy with a worldview of thanks.

We want and don’t have so we fight and quarrel and kill (James 4:1-2). The current world way of thinking is littered with self-centered comment cards. So Paul told the Philippians that they would shine as lights in the midst of a crooked generation simply by not complaining.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14–15)

All we need to do to be lights in the darkness is to stop whining. Thankfulness is a political statement, an economic principle, a worldview that changes our influence.

Don’t grumble, be grateful. We should learn to see all of our possessions as things that were given to us by God (because they are, 1 Corinthians 4:7), and see the things others have as their gifts from God and be thankful for that, too. We should submit gladly and gratefully for all that God enables us to enjoy. If we see the seeds of bitterness or discontentment or envy or grumbling starting to take root in our soul, we need to confess it before it chokes out our life.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Let There Be Light

Many things might discourage a pastor. A devoted pastor will probably be discouraged by a lack of response to the gospel, a blindness among men to the beauty of Christ, and even slow transformation among professing Christians. If the aim is to present every man complete in Christ, then he may think “Ready. Aim. Fire…me.” A pastor may even be tempted to try other techniques to make something happen. But pastors can be faithful and encouraged without being Calvinists (though that helps) as long as they believe in creation.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4 that he did not lose heart in his ministry, nor did he tamper with God’s Word. He knew that his gospel was veiled to some who had been blinded by the god of this world to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. What he did have was complete confidence in the God who speaks.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Pastor-Christians ought to be encouraged. So ought every Christian. Are you tempted to lose heart? Are you afflicted and perplexed? Is your outer man wasting away? Do you wonder how you are going to finish this salvation race? How you can possibly deal with this sin, that weakness?

Do not lose heart! God who said, “Let there be light” has said it in your heart and will continue to say all that You need for life and godliness. Believe Him. Hold fast to His Word. He has spoken and it was so, every day in the first week and every day for this week.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What Fits?

What sort of behavior belongs with the God who created heaven and earth? When we receive His revelation about His effective word that brought about being in blankness, what other kinds of conduct would be characteristic? What else does a sovereign God do that fits His demeanor?

World leaders enter meetings with elaborate ceremonies and fanfare. What about the world Maker? World leaders travel with security and command armies? What about the world Maker? World leaders allot meeting times in five minute increments and control that time to show who has the power. What about the world Maker?

The author of Hebrews reveals what fits with our God.

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Hebrews 2:10)

The magnificent, matchless God does not hoard glory, He intends to share it. He is “bringing many sons to glory.” He gives life to children and then invests in our inheritance. The transcendent, incomparable God also does not stay aloof. He sent His Son and wrote His story as one of suffering. He came down to our level and endured pain at the hands of His own rather than pageantry. This is the world Maker. This fits Him.

We are saved and we are being sanctified by the power of a transcendent Creator of the universe. And it is also true that it is fitting for the incarnate Son to call us “brothers.” I say all of this because we ought both to fear God and to know that He is glad with us in Christ. It is fitting for Him to receive us. When we confess our sins, we need to remember to whom we confess.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Less Mary Poppins Snapping

Why did God create an unformed and unfilled mass of earth first (Genesis 1:1-2)? Why was Stage One at the beginning of day one a watery wilderness and wasteland? Why not create it all with one word, heaven and earth and creatures and man? For that matter, why create with only one man and woman? He created forests of trees and swarms of birds, why not create with a full population with full cell coverage and free smart phones for all?

One reason we can observe in Genesis 1 and from 6,000 years or so of history is that God enjoys the process. The process is His idea. He invented helpless babies. It is a selling point, not a glitch, that they have to grow up into maturity, physical and spiritual. He thought organizing should take a while, more Snow White whistling while working and less Mary Poppins snapping to make the work magically disappear. He instituted seeds and photosynthesis and buds budding and fruit fruiting and doing it all over again next year. Not only did He declare these things to be good, He decided that these things were the best for showing His glory.

Seeds grew into grain for bread and grapes for wine. But it doesn’t stop there. As we eat and drink at the communion table by faith, we are being refined. He is growing us, increasing our love for Him and likeness to His Son. He continues, week by week, to make us less of a mess. We were unformed and unfilled. Now He put His law in our hearts and sheds His love abroad in there, too. It’s a God work of new creation, and by His Spirit He is making us into something the world can use.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Whole Row

One attribute of God in Genesis one that isn’t always mentioned by commentators, theologians, and preachers is that our God gives. All of creation is overflow. He doesn’t make anything because He needs it, or so that He could take something back from it, or so that He could have servants who will do work He finds distasteful on it. Look at the creation story less as an answer to scientific questions and more as an answer to sociological questions. If this is God, and He made us to bear His image, what should we do?

There is no relationship under the sun unaffected by that constant catechism. But since we have a parenting seminar coming up at the end of this month I thought I’d take a moment to apply creation theology to dads and church. How do Genesis 1, parenting, and liturgy fit together? Is there application for fathers when they recognize that creation sings the Father’s song?

God made us to be particular kinds of people. We are worshippers, but even how we worship should show something of what He’s like. For example, He is a God of order. Our worship should not be chaotic, but should include structure and regularity. Also, God is a God who gives. God gave a place for men, God gave food to men. He gave us stars and seas, fruits and veggies, birds, bugs, and birthing bovine all for man to receive with thanks and joy. God made it all and gave it to man.

That means, among other things, that dads should give to their kids, and the corporate meeting of the church for worship is no exception. Give a place to sit, maybe the squirmiest one right next to you. Give attention. Give direction. Give an arm around his shoulder or a pat on her back. Give a small piece of candy (one they won’t choke on, and maybe unwrap it a bit pre-service if necessary). Give some paper to color. Give encouragement. Give example.

You may need to plan how to make church sweet. But shouldn’t you? I’m not talking about turning your pew into an amusement park. I’m talking about dad leading in giving in such a way that the kids receive these ninety-plus minutes as good. This isn’t just to keep them quiet. This isn’t just because God takes worship seriously. It’s because we are showing what God is like even now.

What are you showing? How are you helping to lead your family in joy? When we think about it that way, who needs to grow up most? It isn’t only our kids, it’s the whole row.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Like a Herd of Gerasene Swine

How did God do it? He is a much more disciplined writer than any human author. I can’t handle when a question hangs too long, let alone if the group’s answers are rushing down a steep bank like a herd of Gerasene swine. But He held back for what seems to us like an eternity before crushing Christ and then raising Him from the grave.

The moon and stars created on the fourth day lit the stage. The first garden and the talking serpent were a set up. The ark and Babel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were all harbingers. Generations went, generations came, filling the earth, rejecting their Creator, waiting for a redeemer. God gave glimpses, foreshadowed the suffering and the salvation, yet He held the climax of a loving, glorious sacrifice under wraps even for most who read the script.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5)

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20–21)

The plot called for rebels, for a virgin, for a tree, for a perfect, spotless lamb. The rebels were easy to cast, but the Father had to give His only begotten Son as the substitute.

God knew from the beginning and we are still talking about how we didn’t see it coming, yet are so glad it did. The greatest chapter has been written; it is finished. But the final chapter hasn’t gone to press. The communion meal reminds us of one night when our Lord was betrayed, and it anticipates that feast coming up at a marriage supper of the Lamb. Everything is going according to the script, and the bread and cup are more than props.