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Lord's Day Liturgy

Into This World

Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world and Pilate didn’t get it. He asked Jesus if this meant that He was a king. Jesus answered:

“You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37, ESV)

Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” proved that he wasn’t listening. But for those who do have ears to hear, let us consider why Jesus said He was born. He left His Father in heaven and took on flesh in Bethlehem in order “to bear witness to the truth.” What truth? If Pilate had asked “What truth?” instead of “What is truth?” he would have been in a much better position.

The answer is, Jesus was born to bear witness to all truth. That’s a lot, but at least we can say that it includes the truth of His identity. Jesus is the Savior King. We know it from the earliest chapters in the Christmas story. Gabriel told Mary,

you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33, ESV)

Gabriel told Joseph that Mary would “bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The angel announced to the shepherds, “Unto us is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). When the wise men arrived sometime later, they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)

Jesus was born to bear witness to the truth, the truth of who He is and the truth of what we need. When we come to the Lord’s table in faith, we also bear witness to the truth that we were born in sin needing a Savior, born as enemies rebelling against the King, and that we trust His death to bring us life.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Hardest Part

The hardest part about Christmas is not shaking off the lingering effects of tryptophan at 2 AM while shopping on Black Friday. The hardest part is not squeezing SUVs into compact parking spaces at the mall or outjoying cranky checkout clerks. The hardest part is not choosing the perfect (and budget fitting) gift for the picky person in your life. The hardest part is not securing the tree straight in the stand. The hardest part is not troubleshooting strands of dead lights or even dealing with deadbeats around the dinner table. The hardest part is not paying off all the credit card bills by May. The hardest part about Christmas is caring.

No sentiment from a Hallmark holiday movie or lick from a thick peppermint stick can guarantee to get your heart in the mood. No matter how much the thirsty needles on your tree smell like they might burst into flame, no decorated indoor fir can catch your heart on fire. Celebrating the first coming of Christ and letting that party push us to wait even more eagerly for His next coming is hard heart work.

The liturgy of the season is an advantage to us if we repent and believe. As is true of our worship every Lord’s day, confessing and communing, offering and singing, praying and receiving the Word challenge us to be renewed in love for Christ. So setting up trees and giving gifts, baking ham and greeting family, all provide cover for cold hearts or provide discipline to melt them.

Is your preparation for the 25th increasing your anticipation of the great day? Are you pursuing holiness more these days, not only so that you’ll be ready for righteous rejoicing on Christmas, but also so that you’ll be ready for Christ’s return? If not, now is a great time to confess the sin that strangles sanctification and hope so that we can enjoy more of both on Tuesday.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Stuck in the Driveway

We should take the Lord’s Table seriously because the Lord Himself does. He “fences” His Table, He protects it from abuse, not always at the table itself, but afterward, which does cause much effect. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. … Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Corinthians 11:27, 29–30, ESV)

Some sins, here a disrespect of communion, do lead to suffering, sickness, and “sleep” in a casket. “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (verse 28). Check the system before you take off so the wheels don’t fall off down the road.

But this exhortation by Paul is no scare tactic. It’s not meant to make us panic, to consume us with pre-trip checklists so that we never get out of the driveway. The exhortation protects us from failure to take our sin and His sacrifice seriously. When we do that, we can enjoy the meal.

His sacrifice was for sin, on behalf of sinners. The bread and the cup represent His body and blood given for sake of our forgiveness and our cleansing. By His wounds we are healed. We don’t heal ourselves before we come to this table. Only Christ can make anyone well and that’s why we exult in Him, not in our examination.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Holding Out the Sharpie

The disciples demonstrated their ignorance when they assumed an invariable connection between the man born blind and a specific sin in John 9. Not all human pain can be interpreted as punishment for a particular sin. We, like the first disciples, need to think before we speak so knowingly about the causes of someone else’s effects.

Does that mean that no suffering can be traced to a specific sin? Obviously not. If a sixteen year old asked me to sign the cast over his broken arm that he got in the car wreck following the police chase after he robbed Starbucks, and he says that he just doesn’t know God’s purposes in his pain, the one making wrong assumptions is the one holding out the Sharpie.

But is that the type of situation when we can draw a connection between sin and suffering? Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines those that He loves. He disciplines His children, and when? When they sin. He perfects His kids with many means, including suffering, just as He did with His Son (Hebrews 2:10), and His Son never sinned. There are times for us when the pain means Stop it. Some of His children may need deeper wounds to get the message.

How will you know if a particular pain is discipline for your sin or if the pain is initiated by God to display His glory? We do not have a foolproof test, but there is one thing that is very helpful: a clear conscience.

Granted, a clear conscience could be wrong because it is misinformed or deceived. A clear conscience goes a long way, not all the way. It’s helpful, not inerrant. Nevertheless, if you are carrying sin around in your heart, refusing to confess it, kill it, and make it right with your victim, then you will have a hard time rationalizing away your troubles to something other than the Father’s training.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Minor Chord Carols

We sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” last Sunday morning as we prepared for communion. It is one of those fabulous minor chord carols that goes great on a cold winter night wrapped in a blanket or getting warm around a fire. It feels so good to feel so bad believing that something so good is about to break forth. This is the same sort of suspense and tension that connects with the Lord’s Table.

Israel rejoiced in lonely exile. Spirits are cheered not by avoiding death’s dark shadows but by the advent, by the coming of the Light who put those shadows to flight. He who is Wisdom comes to order the global disorder. The Desire of the nations bids envy, strife, and quarrels cease. He is the eternal I Am in a body. He shines truth in liars’ hearts. He gives everlasting life to men made mortal.

So do we mourn or rejoice? Do we sorrow or celebrate? Do we commemorate what He has done, promises already fulfilled, or do we rehearse what He will do, promises remaining to be fulfilled? Are more things not right than right, or more right than not, or will be right but aren’t now? Yes.

The I Am, the everlasting One, tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). He who is defined as the living God gave His life so that we could have life, His life, eternal life. So whatever your suspsense this Christmas season, or during communion on Sunday, if you have Christ, then rejoice, rejoice.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Lying Stands Out

I’ve always been impressed by the trifecta of imperatives in Colossians 3:5-11. After telling the believers to set their minds on things above (3:2) and before urging them to put on a heart of kindness and love like Christ (3:12), Paul commands the Christians to 1) put to death what is earthly, 2) put away anger and inappropriate talk, and then 3), stop lying.

Killing sin is serious. Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness warrant God’s wrath and must be mortified. Taking off sin is critical, too. Anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk don’t belong on a new man. These aren’t exhaustive but they filter a lot of filth.

It stands out that lying stands out; it’s a visible vein to poke with an exhortation needle. Lying gets two verses all by itself.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10, ESV)

One reason why lying receives special attention is that it sums up the old man, the old self. Lying belongs to the life of one whose father is the father of lies (John 8:44).

When the Son sets us free, when the Son makes us sons, we become new men. As new men, we are being renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator, our Father, who never lies because it is imposible for Him to lie (Hebrews 6:18).

We have been born again by truth into truth and for truth. We read the truth, rejoice in the truth, and love hearing the truth. Because of that, we must also stop lying to one another in every way. That belongs to a previous life, a previous father.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Nature of Sacrifice

In John chapter 8, Jesus addressed the Jews in Jerusalem who didn’t believe that He was God’s Son or that He had been sent by the Father and would soon to return to His Father. His proof may seem odd to us at first.

Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he….” (John 8:28, ESV)

Why is it that Jesus’ otherworldly identity would be confirmed when He was “lifted up” to die?

John presents this story about Jesus being lifted up so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God because the nature of sacrifice comes from the nature of God.

When God (the Son) is killed you’ll recognize (that Jesus is) God. Why? Because not only is God strength, He is sacrifice. When the Father sent the Son on mission with authority (note the first half of verse 28), His authority got Him to the precise place He wanted to be: a throne through sacrifice. Jesus spoke what the Father taught Him (see the second half of verse 28). What were those eternal sessions about? What were the unit objectives? Divine glory through sacrifice. What does Jesus reveal? What the Father told Him, that the nature of greatness comes through sacrifice and service, not being served. How could the Son being lifted up, being killed, please the Father since He “always [does] the things that are pleasing to Him” (a fact mentioned in verse 29)? His death has to be part of the “always,” right? It’s because sacrifice is what God does. Loving sacrifice is the way of the Trinity, not just an idea they came up with for someone else to try.

After the cross we look back to the cross as the divine story of sacrifice. We see little sacrifices by men as echoes of that great sacrifice by the Son of Man. But what kind of God comes up with that sort of narrative? A God whose nature is loving sacrifice. It’s part of the reason that the Jewish religious authorities couldn’t recognize God in flesh: He was serving too many other people. They believed the lie that getting is better than giving. They couldn’t bear to hear Jesus’ words (8:43) because they were listening to their father, a murderer from the beginning (8:44).

The serpent took life, He did not give his life so that others could have life. The serpent made no sacrifice because he only had eyes for himself.

The Father and the Son reveal otherworldly lessons about what really pleases God: sacrifice. It’s part of His nature and Jesus was the fullness of deity dwelling bodily. There was no more clear revelation of His deity than when He was lifted up on the cross. There was no greater pleasure that the Son brought the Father than when He was lifted up on the cross.

Christ’s sacrifice for undeserving sinners proved His identity. Likewise, our sacrifice for undeserving sinners proves our identity as Christians.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Practice Proves Parentage

A son’s deeds demonstrate the son’s dad. Sons do what their dads do not only because they share the same nature, but also because they watch their father from the front row. Sons take on the mannerisms, values, habits, and sins of their dads. So we can connect sons to their fathers by their behavior.

Many sons don’t like this. Many sons see the sins, or just the shortcomings, of their dads and vow never to do the same. Some sons are more successful in shaking off the patterns, but most find themselves in the same sorts of struggles as their father. Apart from some outside influence, behavioral DNA betrays our paternity to the world.

It is trendy to blame our fathers looking back rather than to take responsibility as fathers and establish new standards looking forward. What our fathers did or didn’t do can’t be ignored, but what they did does not let us off the hook. Our sins may be similar, but they are our sins. We always sin because we want to, even if we inherited our wants from our father.

In the spiritual realm, it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). Practice proves parentage.

As God’s sons and daughters, we ought to be behaving like our Father who art in heaven, not the one who art in hell. When we see attitudes and actions that are not consistent with our Father, we should repent and learn to follow the obedient example of the Firstborn among many brethren.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Our Own Orphan Sunday

November 4th was Orphan Sunday. We planned to have Andrew Schneidler speak about The Children’s Law Center of Washington at TEC that day until I realized that I would be out of town. I’m glad we waited. For that matter, while I’m thankful for the Christians who have coordinated a campaign to raise awareness about the global need for fathers to the fatherless, we aren’t limited to raise awareness on one Sunday only. Not only that, we aren’t limited to raise awareness about only one issue. We ought to love all the things that God loves, but we can’t give attention to each one at the same time. Likewise, we ought to lament all the sins that God laments, the myriad of ways His heart is ignored. Again, we can’t do it all at once.

So we had our own orphan Sunday and, in some ways, every Sunday is. We were all orphans, all of us. We were born by a father who hated us from the beginning. He gave us his nature, his murdering, lying nature. Then he abandoned us to face the wrath for ourselves. Yet because his heart is so twisted, he loves to watch us act like him, because he knows it is the worst thing for us.

Then the heavenly Father sent His Son to earth to find and deliver many brothers. The Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate adoption advocate, the ultimate adoption attorney, the ultimate adoption donor. He knew the legal requirements and fulfilled them. He paid the cost so in full so that we could be sons and daughters of God. He saved us and brought us into His eternal family and now no one can pluck us out of His hand. He’s given us new names, a new nature, and a new future. The Lord’s Table is full of the Father and Son’s food, and we’re invited as His adopted children.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Take It to Heart

God wrote through the apostle Paul, “Believe the gospel.” God wrote through the apostle James, “Prove your belief.” In chapter one of his letter, James exhorted his readers to be doers of the word and not hearers only (1:22). He addressed three doings of doers in the very next paragraph, three works to watch to discover if one’s walk is worthless or worshipful.

First, “if anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (v.26). Second, on the positive side, “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (v.27a) And third, God pleasing religion is also “to keep oneself unstained from the world” (v.27b).

The initial talking point is our talking. Whether or not we control our tongues matters. If we use our tongues to bless the Lord but curse men who are made in God’s image (3:9-11), there’s reason to be concerned about the source of the spring.

The third comment is about worldliness. Being stained by the immoral, unmerciful, bickering, self-centric codes of the world is a sign of spiritual adultery. It does not match a life of faith.

In between, James clarifies that we have immediate, temporal responsibilities to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Saying, “Be warmed and filled” comes out of dead-faithed mouths (2:15-17). So every Christian would-be-doer-of-the-word must care for orphans and widows if they want to be blessed. It doesn’t mean that every person must adopt a child or take home a widow, but it does mean that we must take to heart our responsibility to give ourselves and serve those in affliction. Otherwise, our words about obeying the Word are worthless.