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Lord's Day Liturgy

Burning Desire

Why is anger so hard to put off? It’s as if someone mistook us for an escape artist like David Copperfield, knotted us up in a straight-jacket of irritation, locked heavy chains of hostility around us, nailed us shut into a box of exasperation, and then dumped us into class 5 rapids of rage, stood back and said, “Get out of that!” We feel trapped (see also Proverbs 22:24-25).

As Christians we know anger is a sin. We know it’s foolish. We know it’s destructive. We know we shouldn’t.

But “brute force” attempts to stop anger usually only succeed temporarily. Any time “off” is better than always on, and also, “I’m not going to get angry (this time)” needs more support.

As usual in the Christian life, an imperative (Colossians 3:8) depends on the indicative. We really need to remember that we’ve died with Christ (Colossians 2:20) and we’ve been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). We have a new identity, a new life in Christ. Then we’re to “put to death what is earthly” (Colossians 3:5), and we “put off” more of the earthly (Colossians 3:8), starting with anger, wrath, and malice.

I bring this up to say that what is “earthly” here is not steak, but sexual immorality. What is earthly is not art, but anger.

With that in mind, by contrast we’re supposed to seek “things that are above,” we’re to “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The “things that are above” are what? It’s not angels. It’s not pearly gates or wispy clouds, not big harps or wings on our backs. What characterizes things above? What’s above includes presence not isolation or division, joyful peace not distress and conflict, harmony not tension and cacophony.

And this is the vital paradigm shift. Putting off anger is a habit, a discipline, an obedience, all of that, yes. But men will struggle to put off anger without a burning desire for fellowship on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, give up wanting to make others pay for what you don’t like, and even more cultivate your great liking for the “bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). More to say.

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The End of Many Books

Crisis of Responsibility

by David Bahnsen

Some of the men I enjoy and respect the most recommended this book for all the men at our church to read and discuss. I’m glad they did.

Bahnsen lets no one off the hook. It’s an extended look in the mirror, and expects us to look from the financial angle, both the K-12 and higher education angle, the political angle, all the way down to the moral angle. Considered individually, your fault level may vary. Considered as a nation, the image is UGLY.

A great temptation for many men is not to look in the mirror but through the window. At certain moments they see themselves, and acknowledge some of the work they should be doing. But most of the time is spent looking at all the problems…other people have. That guy, that banker, businessman, politician, teacher, professor, immigrant, even robot (or owner replacing humans with automation), someone else is responsible for all the junk making our lives miserable.

Again, Bahnsen pokes at this irresponsible tendency. That’s good.

A few things make me less confident of Bahnsen’s claim that we can “cure” our cultural addition to blame.

First, the book came out in 2018. Sheesh, has a lot happened that has exposed even more of the rot. Even though Big Tech and Big Brother and Big Pharma and Behemoth U. aren’t the only bugs in the system, they sure are BIG bugs, and they’ve all sucked a lot more blood these last five or six years.

Second, speaking of changes since publication, the Foreword was written by David French, and French has gone all footsies with many in Big Media (as full-time writer for the New York Times), those who fancy themselves the taste-makers in elitist, Christian-hating culture. I don’t remember reading French in 2018, but this inclusion (and his name on the cover of the book) means Bahnsen’s book will be judged by the cover.

Third, there’s much less neutrality now, not that neutrality was ever really true, but it seemed like it, or it was easier to coast. Responsibility is not a commodity, it can’t be bought, and it most definitely cannot be sold. There isn’t anyone who wants to buy it! The virtue of personal responsibility has survived in name, but it is only consistently valued by those who believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot imagine a return to a culture of responsibility without a revival brought about by a great work of the Spirit to draw men to true life by the gospel. I don’t follow Bahnsen’s current work, maybe he is more explicit about that now. But while this book is interesting, it’s not compelling apart from a Christian conviction with Kuyperian flavor.

Should you read this? Sure, you should. There’s much to learn. And also, you’ve got to know that it only matters because Jesus is Lord.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Communion-telic

Perhaps one way to think about our Lord’s Day worship is that our liturgy is Communion-telic but not Communion-centric. It is not all Communion all service, but the service points to the sacrament of Communion and blesses us by it.

The call to worship is a call to communion, not the ordinance proper, but still to divine fellowship. Our emphasis on the assembly means we are not isolated individuals, separated like markings on a ruler—close but never touching. Instead we’re pieces of a puzzle, meant to fit together and to make a bigger picture.

The confession of sin is a step toward communion, though again, not yet a physically step toward the Lord’s Table. What disrupts fellowship? Sin. When we confess our sin, it’s so we can walk in the light with Him, and with each other. Forgiveness includes deliverance from isolation and division.

All the various parts of the consecration move us closer to communion, in spirit and in truth, and in time. There’s back and forth, giving and receiving. God speaks to us in His Word, we speak to Him in our supplications. He provides food and light and comfort to us in His Word, we express our gratitude to Him in the offering.

Then we have our Communion meal. We all remember the Lord’s death (as He said to do, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25) and we all proclaim it (as Paul said we do, 1 Corinthians 11:26) as we eat and drink together.

The shared peace with God and joy of the Lord is the telos, the acme of goodness. Our communion is the worship made complete. Communion is our eternal life, and until we have communion with no more need of faith, weekly communion by faith it strengthens our hearts to depart for our work in the peace that Christ has purchased.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Put Off Anger

There is a wicked triplet introduced in Colossians 3:8. It begins the “put off” part of the paragraph; put these things away, don’t leave these clothes on or pick them up. “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice.” The list continues, but these are like the three-headed dog, Cerberus (sərbərəs), who prevents men from leaving the underworld. There’s probably an analogy here, as in anger keeps men from really living.

I didn’t know how prophetic my favorite book as a kid would be for when I became a man: Boy, Was I Mad. And while I still enjoy the story, it took me decades to learn the lesson. If I had one sin in my vice wardrobe that I seemed to be wearing all the time, it would be anger.

Those of you who’ve known me longest have had opportunity to see much God-given progress; by grace I wear kindness, patience, and love more often. No one has been more burned by the brunt of my anger than my wife, kids next of course. Even when others outside our house couldn’t see it, it was affecting them. We’re all one body, and if one member is blowing up all the time, the body’s health is broken.

I’ve been trying to think about what helped me most grow in this sanctification. I had serious paradigm remodeling to do, and over the next couple exhortations I plan to share some of those truths.

But for now, know that anger often has the nuance of feeling like others should pay for something you don’t like. Wrath is anger intensified with feelings into rage and fury, and malice grows with feelings of hatred that even lead to plans to dish out your anger, not mere responses. None of those are righteous. Brothers, put away your anger.

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The End of Many Books

Fast Like a Girl

by Mindy Pelz

I know I’m not a girl. I don’t have any underlying “girl power” attitude. I don’t plan to fast like a girl. But for a variety of reasons I read this book, and I’m glad I did.

Previously I’d read a book about the benefits of fasting for spiritual purposes. This is about the physical gains. That’s important, as fasting driven more by what one is giving up rather than driven by what one is gaining are different, and the motivations probably matter for longterm success.

Anyway, I have some physical problems (ha!) and maybe fasting will enable some system resets. I do also like the spiritual discipline part of it. And fasting is an attempt that requires no extra money or time. I’ve not got a lot of extra of those, so this matches my calendar and budget.

Though I finished the book today, I’ve already completed 12 intermittent fasts, the longest being 24 hours. I aim to try some still longer fasts over the next few months.

The author is so positive about fasting it almost comes across as spin at times. Maybe we all need a little more positivity. But there’s some biology to learn, some explanation of how the body reacts to various stages of starvation (ha!, she doesn’t call it that, but, I mean, that’s what it is, right?), lists of foods that help complement fasting for helping different systems in the body, a bunch of recipes, and again a lot of encouragement to give the body a little hormetic stress so that it can adapt toward a little more health.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Baptized for Communion

Communion is for those who confess their faith in Jesus; His body and blood are their life. We welcome to the communion table those who are young in their faith, baptized to begin their life following Christ as His disciples.

It’s difficult to understand all the realities of our union with Christ. He is in us, we are in Him. He brings us to the Father, and the Spirit is the seal of our eternal inheritance from the Father. It takes a lifetime of learning from the Word to begin understanding the glories of our communion with God.

What strikes me in the Great Commission is the minimum level understanding at the beginning of discipleship with one’s confession of faith in baptism. A believer is baptized in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit.” If the foolishness of the cross doesn’t get you, the ontology of the Trinity surely does. One God in three Persons belongs at the beginning.

Why? On one hand, it’s about identity. Which God do we worship? Not Ba’al, not Zeus. We’re not baptized as idolators. But isn’t it also about fellowship? From the start we’re brought into a society. We’re not alone, we’re never isolated.

This is part of the reason why regular communion as a church isn’t just good, it’s godly. It is the reason God saves sinners, to bring them to share His peace and joy.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Get Them Out

It takes wisdom to know how best to help others, for pastors, for parents, for teachers, even as Christian friends. We are not trying to be the boss. We know that our brothers have a Judge, and we’re not Him (see Romans 14:4). So depending on the situation we often give space, we pray, we try to show a better example. These strategies are right, and they are not the only rights.

In Genesis 19 Lot was in a bad situation. Lot was a righteous man said Peter (2 Peter 2:7), but it takes some special glasses to see that. On the day fire and brimstone rained, Moses described that the angels urged Lot to get up and get out, but “he lingered.” He showed no zeal for saving himself or his family.

“So the men (who were the angels in the form of men) seized him and his and wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.” (Genesis 19:16)

Jude exhorts the beloved to rescue those in trouble.

“Have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire, to others show mercy with fear, hating the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23)

It’s mercy to get in there and to get your kids out of Harm’s Way, to get them out of the consuming fires of anger or temptation or lust.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

You don’t have to be obnoxious, but do have to do more than let your people drown. For mercy’s sake go get them.

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He Gives and Takes Away

David Egert, RIP

Many of us did not know Dave very well, nor for very long. What do know is that Dave wanted to be among us.

He started attending TEC services sometime in the later part of 2020, or maybe early 2021. He came with Jack Frazier, and then with David Powell, who fairly quickly and certainly affectionately became known as “The Old Guys.” Early on the three of them sat together, lunched together, and occasionally even wore coordinated t-shirts together. I had to ask Jack to remind me what the shirts referenced, and they were redshirts from Star Trek, characters who never made it long in the show. Since Jack, David, and David all had cancer, they talked about who was going to get to the pearly gates first.

For a while Dave was conspicuous for the jumbo flashlight he carried with him. And if you talked to him for very long, you usually found out that he was not a little opposed to modern flour and anything gluten.

There are, no doubt, many more things we didn’t get to know about him, from when he was a young man, or even about the healthier days of his life. But we prayed for him almost every Sunday in our corporate supplication for a couple years, not only related to his Leukemia and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but for various trips to the ER.

In addition to his eccentric rhetoric, I’ll remember Dave as a man who was a good neighbor (according to my oldest daughter), as a man who had great taste in friends (Jack, David P, Craig M), as a man who wanted to be among the saints at TEC (when it would have been much easier to stay home), and as a man who earnestly wanted others to pray for his daughter Allyson and her faith in Christ.

And so what are we supposed to do? We are Dave’s people, and that means we give thanks to God for Dave’s faith. And we give thanks to God that Dave no longer needs faith because he’s finished his race, and is in the presence of the Lord.

We remember that faith alone saves. None of us bring any good works to God that earn our salvation; “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). We have all disobeyed God, and a sinful person can’t even pay the cost for his own sin, let alone earn the privilege of eternal life.

To know forgiveness and to know fellowship with God depends on believing the gospel. It is of first importance: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This comes in the same letter where we learn that the cross is foolish to some and a stumbling block for others, but for those who believe, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).

The summary of good news is also in the same chapter where we’re encouraged that many witnesses saw the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). There are eye-witness reports, and so resurrection has happened in history, and this keeps us from having hope only in this life, it keeps us from being a people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19). Faith is not a crutch, faith is our access to light and life. In Christ, these perishable bodies will put on the imperishable, our weakness will be raised in power. In the resurrection our dishonor will be raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-43).

So while death is not good in itself, and while we are saddened that a part of our church body is gone, we also know that the death of one of God’s saints is precious in the Lord’s sight (Psalm 116:15). We know that the timing is the Lord’s. We know we will see Dave again. He got there before us, but it is where we want to go. The sting of death is gone, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

We don’t think Dave is with the Lord because of Dave’s life, but because Christ lives. None of us have anything to boast in except for the Lord. And even though salvation is only for those who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (so a narrow gate), all it takes to go through is faith.

We have many reasons to thank God for Dave and for the few years he was among us. Even more, we thank God for the hope of eternal life we share with Dave, though it is no longer hope to him. Of course, if he could, he would urge those with faith in Christ to keep running the race, and he would plead with those who have not received Christ, today, if you hear His voice, turn to Him in faith.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Preach What You Practice

At our leaders meeting yesterday Chuck brought up a great observation from the book we’re reading for Men to Men. We usually are told to practice what we preach. Hypocrisy stinks. But Bahnsen argues, as good as it is to avoid hypocrisy, we shouldn’t be silent in our integrity. We should preach what we practice.

There’s reason for our confidence to draw near the throne of grace, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). We enjoy that peace with God as we commune with Him and the church, so we also should preach peace. I don’t mean preach as in, every man should become a pastor, or that everyone needs to host a 10-week Bible study on it in their home.

But we are not preaching “peace, peace” when there is no peace. That is dangerous. It’s dangerous because false peace is in place of faith. But we should be ruled by the peace of Christ (Colossians 3:15). “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14), because “upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5).

Preach the peace you practice, which functions as evangelism toward unbelievers but also functions as edification toward fellow believers. We live by faith, not only by what we see in front of us. We live in peace with God, so let that shape your vocabulary and your presence.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Unguarded Faith

One sentence from my sermon last Sunday that I had in my notes but that I skipped while in the moment of preaching was: Joyless faith is unguarded faith, susceptible to offers of joy elsewhere.

We were meditating on the purpose statement in Philippians 1:25, for progress and joy of faith. All three verbal nouns mix and match: progress of faith and joy of faith, but also faith that makes progress in joy, and joyful progress in faith.

Joy by itself could be fleeting or based on fiction rather than rooted in faith. Jesus told a story about the seed that fell on rocky ground; that man heard the word and immediately received it with joy, yet he fell away when things got hard (Matthew 13:20-21).

But a man with faith without joy, no matter how orthodox his creed, is like a man defending a field without any fence. Or, it’s like being told you have to defend the field, but you see people having a party at the edge of the woods. They look like they’re quite enjoying themselves, you’re stuck watching the grass grow, but you have a verse for it.

This is part of the reason why pastors run off with their secretary, or why theology professors vote for abortion protecting politicians, or why young Christian adults kiss and cuddle with idiots, because for as clear as their confession of faith may be, they haven’t made progress in the joy of their faith.

We confess our sins because it is right, and because it makes us happy to take off the clothes which smell of sin vomit. There are joys set before us by sight (though some, like the party at the edge of the woods, might be bait), but there are better joys set before us by faith.