Lord's Day Liturgy

Spiritual Nerves

I’ve shared this illustration with a number of people recently, now I’m sharing it with everyone.

A couple years ago I re-ruptured a disc in my lower back. It was causing excruciating, debilitating pain down my legs. While I pursued a possible surgery, I met with a physical therapist who told me that I did not need to have surgery. He said the broken piece of disc would likely dissolve and stop shearing the nerve, gradually relieving the pain and allowing more movement again. Then he told me that the healing process would take three to five-hundred days.

He was right. I was diligent with the exercises he gave me, and tried to avoid causing further damage by dumb decisions. It took over a year, but the Lord did give relief. Until late last December I had only boring updates to give him for many months.

There are a few things that relate to this exhortation to confession.

Sin will hurt. If you are watching porn, gossiping about a “friend,” disrespecting your parents, you are crushing/cutting your spiritual nerves. If you catch your spouse in sin, your spiritual nerves are also bearing a load that might result in serious damage.

No matter how it happened, some injuries take a while to heal. Forgiveness may be granted, but restoring trust takes time. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and joy is a discipline that takes exercise and effort and endurance. Be patient, keep looking to the Lord.

And you must mortify your flesh, die daily. Don’t make it worse. Refusing to kill the sin you can isn’t a good strategy to deal with the sin others won’t. We’ve all got sin to confess, otherwise it will be pain upon pain.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
(Psalm 32:3 ESV)

Lord's Day Liturgy

We’ll Know How It Happened

In Romans 9:6-13 we see that God elects some and not others to salvation. Sometimes while trying to get straight the truths that bring great comfort, Christians can get stuck, or spun around. It happens with the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Those that God chooses for eternal life He also chooses to want to grow in obedient living. He decides the end and the means.

Peter addressed the “elect” at the beginning of his first letter, and described them as “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2). The Father elects, the Spirit consecrates, and the Son is obeyed, all secured because of the atoning blood of Christ. From the outside you can’t see whether the gas tank is full, but if the car is going down the road, there is evidence of fuel. Our obedience shows God’s saving initiative.

God’s sovereign grace was no discouragement to increasing in faith and pursuing virtues in 2 Peter 1. “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fail” (2 Peter 1:10). This was after he said to “make every effort” to build faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (verses 5-8).

Paul also saw no conflict: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13).

I choose to eat steak, I choose a knife to cut it, I choose how many times to chew. The Lord has chosen a people for Himself to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). He’s chosen the persons, the exhortations, and the outcome. If you are not zealous to obey, you shouldn’t blame God’s sovereignty, you should to repent. And if you do repent, we’ll know how it happened.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Going Back to Egypt

Learning is usually good and sometimes painful. Sometimes the process is painful—your brain muscles drip sweat out your forehead, and sometimes the conclusion is painful—the palm-of-hand-to-face sort of realization. You might learn that you need to change even more than your thinking, which may even involve changing communities. You could loose connections, you could lose those you considered friends.

In Galatians 4 Paul seems to be talking to Jews and non-Jews about their lives before receiving adoption as sons because of Christ’s work of redemption. The Jews “were under the law,” condemned by the law as sinners. Paul also described those “enslaved the the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3), those who “did not know God,” who “were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (4:8). Then he asks them, “now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world?” (4:9)

In context Paul is referring to works rather than faith in Christ. There is no system of salvation by works that isn’t enslaving, whether Judaism or Pagan Moralism, whether Islam or Roman Catholicism or the New Woke. Giving up false thinking may include leaving a community which is based on what is false. And then don’t go back to Egypt.

When God grants repentance, He grants understanding of the truth, and truth frees us. It frees us from being slaves, and unites us with other sons. We know one another, we practice the one-anothers, we confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). We learn Christ (Ephesians 4:20), and put on the new self in true righteousness and with the righteous (Ephesians 4:24-25).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Raising a Flag

Paul told Timothy:

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12 ESV)

This “good confession” wasn’t when Timothy admitted his guilt, but it isn’t disconnected from owning up to his sin either. “Confession” is ὁμολογία, related to the verb in 1 John 1:9 about confessing sin. While it could be, and often is, broken down into parts, homo = same and logo = word/logic so something like “be of the same mind,” it is more positive. A confession is perhaps less an admission and more a profession, it’s a statement of allegiance. It’s less getting something off one’s chest and more raising a flag.

Both parts belong with worship. Both belong with the gospel. For twelve years (to the day tomorrow) we’ve been making this confession.

When John Newton (pastor in the late 18th century, who wrote “Amazing Grace”) was dying, a friend visited him, and some of Newton’s last words were:

“My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” (quoted in Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., 401.)

When we confess our sins to Christ and believe that our sins are atoned for and forgiven by Christ, we are making both confessions. We are denying any allegiance to sin and declaring allegiance to Jesus. Turning our back toward sin we tune our hearts to sing of His salvation.

Lord's Day Liturgy

As a Man Scrolleth

What are you thinking about? There’s an old saying that a man is what he thinks. It’s not just old, it’s Solomonic, it’s scriptural. The context in Proverbs 23:6-7 counsels the wise to be careful what they consume from the hand of an apparently generous person. Watch out for the stingy man, the one with an “evil eye.” “‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” The ESV starts verse 7 with “he is like one who is inwardly calculating,” but the KJV makes it more general, “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Your thoughts are your character, stingy or not, regardless of what you spread on the table.

This exhortation isn’t about stinginess, but about Scripture. We are what we think, what we do and say comes out of the heart (Matthew 15:18-19), at least eventually. What are you thinking about? What mental marinade are you soaking your soul in?

There are so many goads in God’s Word about the profit of consuming God’s Word. Psalm 1 pronounces blessing on the one who delights in and meditates on the law of the LORD. Big tech has an evil eye, “Scroll and scroll,” Elark Zuckermusk says to you, but his heart is not with you. So many free things aren’t free, the price is our attention/minds, our affections/delights.

On New Year’s Day you’re not too late to start a Bible reading plan; a verse a day, a chapter a day; listen, read, both. In addition to another Bible-in-a-year reading plan, I am budgeting minutes for myself to memorize the Pastoral Epistles.

You are what you think about, and you are like a green and fruitful and blessed tree planted by streams of water when you think about whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable (Philippians 4:8). Think on the Word, and the Lord will give you understanding and success (2 Timothy 2:7; Joshua 1:8),

Lord's Day Liturgy

Waiting for Perfection

I’m sure you’ve been waiting to find out this fourth and final part of Defeated Devil December. Actually, you didn’t have a choice to wait (I didn’t even give any hints), though you did have a choice how to wait. In fact, the fourth virtue of Defeated Devil December is waiting patiently. Not panicked, not agitated, not hotfooting it toward the path to immediate gratification. Be patient, the devil hates to see it.

The Seed of the woman has already come once and settled His battle with the ancient dragon (see Colossians 2:15). Because the serpent fights on in his bruised position, there are ways for us to demonstrate the glory of The Offspring’s win. We are to be content, to love truth, and to be generous without a show. We also know how to wait when the Lord says, “No,” or at least “Not yet.”

Eve and Adam swallowed what the devil said was the shortcut to God-like glory. Satan tempted Jesus the same way, showing Jesus how all the kingdoms of the world could be His just by submitting (Matthew 4:8-9). But the nations were already promised to Jesus, He was the Anointed (Psalm 2:8). His inheritance would come after obedience, glory after sacrifice.

God reveals that endurance, long-suffering, patience is the final piece of perfection that He’s planned for His people.

the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:3, KJV)

So count it all joy when you have to wait, whether to open presents, or to get relief from pain, or for the Son of God to advent again.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Lex Talionis Gift List

It’s not found explicitly in the Gospels, but when Paul spoke to the Ephesians (in Acts 20:35) he mentioned that the Lord Jesus “Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” That provides another virtue for Defeated Devil December.

We’ve considered that the ancient serpent would rather have us discontent and dishonest. Jesus called Satan the father of lies, so he lies about God’s goodness to man and gets men to lie about their goodness to others. Satan also gets men to lie about their generosity.

Ananias sold some property and claimed that he was Mr. Altruism when he laid the money at the apostles feet. He did everything he could to make it look like he’d given it all; of course he hadn’t. Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…?” (Acts 5:3). A man convinces himself that it is more blessed to look like he’s given.

There is another angle to this devil-ish conceit. It’s giving, but with brown-paper bitterness tied up with strings. It’s giving, what you see is what you get unlike with Ananias, but what you don’t see is the internal spreadsheet keeping score in columns. Maybe it’s the Lex Talionis Gift List, expecting a gift of equal (or better) in return. Maybe, even more prevalent, is the Honor System Gift List, where the second column is for thank-you cards received (and not received)[1]. Such accounting acts as if it’s more blessed to be recognized for giving.

Be generous. Don’t give anything you can’t afford in your soul not to get credit for. Count it all joy to be generous, not counting appreciation. Don’t join Satan as an accuser of the brethren.

[1] YES. Writing thank you notes is great, appropriate, fitting, right, and something that parents should model and teach their children. The point of this exhortation, though, is about one of the ways we mess up on the giving side, while obviously it’s also possible to mess up on the receiving side.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Advent Honesty

We’re back for the second exhortation of Defeated Devil December. Jesus Christ is the Seed of Eve, the fulfillment of God’s promise to bruise the head of the ancient dragon (Genesis 3:15). When Christ rose again from the grave He made a triumph over the serpent and the serpent’s offspring (Colossians 2:15). Though the devil still prowls around like a lion seeking prey to devour (1 Peter 5:8), greater is the one in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

How can we advent like death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered the serpent? Last week we considered contentment as an arrow in our Christmas celebration quiver. Satan would rather us be annoyed at all the things, be ungrateful for what we’ve been given, and be suspicious that we’re not really getting the best we could.

A second virtue of Defeated Devil December would be honesty. The devil is the father of lies (John 8:44), a liar since the beginning. Eve listened to the devil’s crafty deceit; he sold her a falsehood.

We should tell the truth. This doesn’t mean to delight in sharing our irritated opinion; “hey, I’m just telling the truth.” It more means telling the truth, “hey, I was irritated with you, even if at first I tried to say I wasn’t. Will you please forgive me?”

Satan doesn’t want you confessing your sin, or at least not all of it. He prefers your pretense of religiousness (like the religious ones that Jesus called sons of the devil in John 8:41, 44), anything other than the genuine affections and actions of sanctification. The offspring of the serpent bear false witness, but, Christian, he is not your father. Be honest.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Defeated Devil December

Four years ago (2018) I shared a strategy for our family called No Discontent December. It wasn’t only about not being fussy about what you did or didn’t get for advent/Christmas gifts, but about attitude in all the extra pulls and pushes on our days and schedule and budgets.

I thought about running a second No Discontent December, and while that would be fine, in light of the passage that starts our advent series of sermons (Genesis 3:15), I’ve got a related, but similar idea.

Defeated Devil December – 3D

In no way do I mean to take Satan lightly. Jude said that the archangel Michael, when contending with the devil, didn’t presume to smack talk but called for the Lord’s rebuke (Jude 9). So the goal here is to take God’s promise of a seed that would crush the serpent’s head seriously (again Genesis 3:15). We know that seed was Jesus, and He has defeated and will finally defeat that ancient serpent (Colossians 2:15, 1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14).

So what attitude and behavior would demonstrate this December that Christ has conquered?

Interestingly enough, I think contentment really throws a wrench into the devil’s works. He is insatiable for more than he was given, and unraveled Eve’s confidence that the Lord had given her fulness of blessing. Discontentment double-dates with doubt, fussiness comes from a lack of faith in God’s Word and God’s goodness. The serpent wanted Eve to want more, to covet beyond her privileges and gifts.

This Advent/Christmas season, don’t listen to the father of lies. Resist him. Be grateful, content, and in so doing let the devil be frustrated, not you.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Divine Love and Bad Choices

What an amazing preaching privilege I’ll have not many minutes from now to declare that nothing in all creation can separate any Christian from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). That is God’s Word to His people, as dependable as His raising of Jesus from the grave.

Though it doesn’t have divine inspiration, I was reminded of a pastoral privilege, summed up well by another pastor who put it this way, “I am a pastor, and I watch people make bad choices for a living.” He went on to say, “The trick is to be calloused and tender at the same time.”

Bad choices could come from not seeking counsel, seeking counsel but ignoring it, being immature, being quarrelsome about everything for fun (I have a lot of experience here), and of course, being sinful. A shepherd’s life involves watching sheep get themselves into trouble that they didn’t have to—repeatedly, stepping in mess they could have avoided—again and again. It is an occupational hazard.

And, bad choices and divine love go together, before and after, though it is a bad choice itself to blame a bad choice on God’s love.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). In love, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. And in love He calls His sheep to follow Him, to obey His commands.

Because you can’t be separated from His love, be encouraged. And also, you can still make bad, sinful, ruinous, catastrophic choices. Don’t do it. Repent, and remember His love.

You are His flock, the church of God which He obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Hold fast to the Word of His grace which is sanctifying you for good (Acts 20:32).