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Lord's Day Liturgy

Wherever You Go

Certain events in life require a lot of planning and preparation, and some of them trigger a desire for personal change. The wedding of one of your kids takes months to organize, and realizing that you’ll be in a bunch of pictures might motivate you to get a bit more fit.

Less often, it seems, does something such as buying a new house and moving trigger the need for individual change, let alone heart work. You might think that seeing (and packing up and picking up) your whole collection of stuff would provoke some personal reflection, but it’s not automatic. And that’s okay.

We are about to move locations after assembling for worship in the same place for over eleven years. A lot of things will be different; the parking and the chairs and lighting and the layout. The external alterations are very unlikely to provoke your own internal examination. Again, that’s fine, but I’ll remind you that whatever your problems are here will still be your problems there (including temptations to be impatient with and annoyed by others). If you aren’t repenting and learning to obey all that Jesus commanded now, don’t think that a different building will fix it.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:23–25, ESV)

Ancient wisdom teaches that wherever you go, there you are. Wherever you are looking into God’s Word and obeying, there you are blessed.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Will of God and Buyer’s Remorse

As we get closer to our likely move into our own facility, these exhortations are hopefully setting us up to be ready.

I’ve exhorted us to consider how to make our move jealousable, I’ve exhorted us to make sure we stay focused on the living parts, and I’ve exhorted us to think about how we come to the same space for work and worship. This morning I want to exhort us regarding how to know the will of God.

Knowing the will of God will keep us from having buyer’s remorse.

I do not mean that God spoke to any of us to say that purchasing the Reclamation property is His will. We have prayed, we have counted the cost, we have pursued other options with obvious closed doors, we have opened up the discussion to hear from many voices, we have not been grabby but we have been dependent on the Lord. None of these are guarantees.

If and when the permits are approved and the sale is final and the seats are already full, will we be tempted toward buyer’s remorse? Not if we obey God’s will. Of all the things we know, we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, ESV)

Is it the circumstances or how to respond to circumstances that is God’s will? Either of these two things have the same result.

What we know for sure is that God wants us to be thankful. It’s not just a reaction, it is the plan.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Anywhere We Meet

One great blessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that acceptable worship isn’t limited to one location. We are not required to worship in Jerusalem or on one mount instead of another. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), and this can be anywhere.

If I’m counting correctly, our church has assembled for corporate worship in five different locations (our house, the Reclamation property in Lakewood, the previous Weinberg basketball court, the Pakinas yard, and here at the MSDA). We are of a size that allows for more mobility, and our focus hasn’t really ever been on the space.

If the Lord wills, we will soon have our “own” place, and it will be as permanent as anything ever is on earth. It will also be, for many in the body, a place where they might spend 4o or more hours during the week. Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone, but as usual, the blessing of a dependable place will bring its own temptations. For the teachers and students especially, will their place of business/work distract them from their time of worship?

Perhaps you will have to do some preparation, some recalibration on Sunday mornings. But there are always distractions, difficulties, and most of them come from within, not from without. The call to worship signals that it’s time, but that there will be a call to worship shouldn’t be surprising. You can get ready to present your body to Him as a living sacrifice, and that should be anywhere we meet.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Trellis and Transplants

Charles Spurgeon once said that illustrations are like windows, they let light into the understanding. I’d add that like windows, illustrations are also easy to throw bricks through.

One of our favorite illustrations for church priorities is trellis and vine. It comes from a book by that name, and we employ the analogy. The church is the Christians is the vine, the living part, and the trellis is the programs and activities for the church, the visible parts that are passing away (see 2 Corinthians 4:18). Trellis is helpful as it serves the growth and health and fruitfulness of the vine. Trellis is a distraction when it becomes the focus, and in the worst case could cause damage to the vine.

Buying and owning (and fixing and maintaining) our own building is not really trellis, it’s like the plot of garden, or maybe the wall the trellis leans on. But especially during the days of preparation and the early days of transplanting, it’s easy to imagine how the vine itself could be neglected.

There’s no reason to throw out all the things we’ve learned. We’re not planning a return to dualism or pietism. If Jesus is Lord of it, then He cares about it, and if He cares about, then we can care about it. Jesus is Lord of loans and lighting, of parking lots and pews and paint colors, of sidewalks and sprinkler systems that cover every square inch. Jesus is also Head of the Body, and His provisions are for the building up of the body, and He has arranged the body so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16).

As the Sabbath was made for man, and home improvement projects are made for our people, so let us not lose sight of what the trellis is for: one another.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Jealousable Move

Paul used the language of purposefully provoking others to jealousy in Romans (10:19; 11:11; 11:13-14). I’ve talked about it as an adjective: we want the saved to be jealousable. You don’t need to use the language, the point is about having the life. A jealousable Christian recognizes God’s blessings and rejoices in those blessings in such a way that others would want them. At the college we schedule “jealousable events.” It reminds us that by God’s grace, from salvation on out, we have it good. Thankfulness is right and it is strategic. Joy is a gift of God that has gravity.

In practice it’s not always a smooth experience. As Christians we are not glorified yet so we don’t always rejoice with rejoicers. Comparison can compel us to go to God for blessing and it can also create conflict, provoking a sort of jealousy that annoys and irritates rather than attracts.

What blessings to another might we get bent out of shape about? It could be any blessing. Maybe they worked their field and saw a sixtyfold return and you only saw thirtyfold (think Matthew ). Maybe they’ve taken more responsibility and more authority has flowed to them because of it. Maybe they’ve been given a greater measure of faith and giftedness (Romans 12:3-8). Maybe they are being used like a clay pot and all sorts of life is growing up around the grace spilled from their pot (2 Corinthians 4:7-15). “Death is at work in us, but life in you” (verse 12). Maybe you want to see similar glorious life growing around you but aren’t willing to put in the deaths.

It appears that God is blessing our assembly with property and building. More than that, He is blessing us with an opportunity of increased responsibilities—there is more to do, not less—and a way to love a place into greater loveliness. It is a way to increase the footprint of the assembly’s jealousability.

This exhortation is going to be on the nose: don’t be wrongfully jealous. We will not be jealousable if we are jealous of one another. If we envy or boast, if we insist on our own way, if we are irritable or resentful, if we are suspicious and discontent and competitive over drawer space, this is not love (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). One way or another we will be a witness to Marysville. We’ll either do it in a way that makes others want in, or that provides confirmation to them about how petty church people can be.

Husbands, pay attention to the complaints of your wives. Many of our ladies are around more because they aren’t committed to another place for employment. Maybe the men are less involved, less concerned about the ways the space is used or the colors on the walls; you have your own responsibilities and property. Don’t let your household tear down the house (Proverbs 14:1), spiritual (1 Peter 2:5) or physical.

We are clearly being jostled, hearts and the assembly. But this is an opportunity to be more jealousable, and it has to start with thanks in our hearts for the eternal and tangible blessings.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Golden Rule for Parents

These past Sundays have been well spent remembering some parental purposes and priorities. We could go on indefinitely, but let me not set a bad example for fathers who don’t know when to stop lecturing. After today we’ll move on to some exhortations regarding temptations as we prepare to move on to our own property; we’d like to avoid being surprised by rot or mold under the carpet of our hearts.

Which provides an illustration of sphere sovereignty. The lender decides if we are creditable, not us. The fire marshal determines if our fire alarm is up to code. The color-blind can choose paint for their own living rooms, but they shouldn’t expect an equal vote for the group. There are, in fact, separate lanes.

So with parents. You are accountable for your family and for your own kids directly to God. Most of the time the rest of us can’t seen what you’re doing with them anyway; discipline is your call. The family is a sphere established by God.

But what about when you see another family in the wild, and something doesn’t look right? Should you say something? If someone says something to you, do you have to listen? What happens when spheres cross?

There has never been a set of perfect parents. All parents need to learn and grow. Isolated parents are foolish parents with Proverbs 18:1 applied. And if you won’t listen, it would be surprising if your kids do. As always, you’ve got to decide if you want to do good or look good.

Does no one talk to you because you’re doing it perfectly, or because you’re perfectly defensive? Are you easy to edify, or easy to offend? When you don’t say something to another parent, are you holding your tongue for their blessing? When you do say something, is it seasoned with grace?

The Golden Rule of parenting is just the Golden Rule applied to parenting. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). If you’re still not sure, ask your heavenly Father for wisdom and courage (Matthew 7:11); He gives good things to His children.

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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

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

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

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.