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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Shortage of Little Popes

I came across a snarky joke made by a psychologist and, since it wasn’t aimed at me, I could laugh rather than be defensive. Someone wrote to Carl Jung, who created a whole approach to counseling others, asking Jung for life advice. Jung replied, “Your questions are unanswerable, because you want to know how to live. One lives as one can. There is no single, definite way….If that’s what you want, you had best join the Catholic Church, where they tell you what’s what.”

Before the Pope, there were the Pharisees. They invented elaborate extras to make sure a man had a rule for every decision. “This is how you make God happy, we’re just sure of it. Of course, it’s not exactly what the Lord said.”

In some ways, this is better than what the legit pagans had. As Tom Holland points out in his book Dominion, even the Greeks knew that if a law wasn’t transcendent, men would make laws to the hurt of others. The problem was, there wasn’t agreement on what the gods required. And “unlike those of mortal origin, were not written down: it was precisely their lack of an author which distinguished them as divine.” This would be perpetual confusion.

Man-made and human-determined standards of virtue and righteousness become weapons of manipulation and condemnation. The followers of such standards become mobs, and those who dislike the standards can mob-back. There is no shortage of little popes.

As Christians we know that God has given His Word, and He’s put His law on the hearts of men (Romans 2:15). Paul depended on this transcendent truth with immanent application, and then looked forward to the day when, “according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16).

The standard is found in the gospel; there we learn about the living God and about His requirements for living. The gospel calls out our actual sins, and it calls us to only Savior. Submit to no substitutes, no matter how white and pointy the hat (or lab coat).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No More Nuh-uh

The word “repent” doesn’t appear once in Romans. The word “repentance” occurs just once (Romans 2:4). In a similar and surprisingly empty vein, the word “confess” (or “confesses”) only occurs three times, but none of the three are about confessing sin but rather refer to confessing Jesus as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9, 10; 14:11).

Repent and confess are vital words in biblical soteriology; both are revealed in other Scripture as conditions of forgiveness (Luke 24:47; 1 John 1:9). It could be argued that the idea of both are found in Paul’s longest letter, but there is as much explanation of it as there is exhortation to it. If the Spirit gives understanding of the Word, the Spirit will also help us know what to do.

The fact is, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, which is actually a quotation of Psalm 14:1-3). Those are the revealed facts. What are we supposed to do with them?

We are supposed to stop arguing otherwise; no more “Nuh-uh!” The law speaks “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). But God is after more than our silence. He calls us to turn to the One the Law and the Prophets bear witness to: Jesus Christ. We are to receive Jesus by faith. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:23-24).

Let us not be ashamed to keep confessing that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), and presenting ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Against a Painted Happiness

We’ve chosen the next book for our Men to Men meetings, The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson. Watson was a Puritan, and a non-conformist, meaning that he refused to “conform” to the Church of England’s requirements. When the Act of Uniformity passed in 1662, Watson was take off the list of “approved” pastors. He continued to preach anyway—in homes, barns, and backwoods. As a group of men we’ve not read one of these Puritan paperbacks before, and our first discussion will be at the October meeting.

Not far into his subject, Watson points out the problems with “painted on” godliness. Though the title of his work is about a “picture,” the descriptions he gives are three-dimensional, of spiritual substance, not surface.

Watson laments beauty that is only paint-deep. “Will painted gold enrich a man? Will painted wine refresh him who is thirsty?” (17).

He who has only a painted holiness shall have a painted happiness. (17)

This is what we cannot be, as men, as Christians. If we are to be those who rejoice in their trials (James 1:2), if we are to be those who rejoice in their toil (Ecclesiastes 3:22; 5:19), then we must be those whose rejoicing wells from the heart-deeps. This also means that our confession of sin must do more than scratch and scrub at the surface. Strip off the layers and let godliness be like stain in the grain, not a veneer, a coat of gloss.

If we are to be godly, and have a godly gladness about us, then we must get all the way down to it, even from our knees.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Those Who Call on the Lord

Paul told one of his disciples to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). The virtues listed here are religious meat and potatoes, but it is the company around the table that I’d like to consider: “those who call on the Lord.”

That’s not typical terminology for us, but it may be the first proactive descriptor of worshippers in the Bible. It’s in Genesis 4 that men “began to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26)

To “call on” means not only to depend on, but to depend on consciously, verbally. It’s especially applicable when men are in trouble and distress (Psalm 118:5; 120:1); they call on the one who can guide and protect. It’s applicable for our greatest trouble, sin, with its guilt and our awareness of just judgment against us, and we call on the one who can forgive and restore. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, cited from Joel 2:32).

And this is a group that can be distinguished. Paul knew a lot of other labels, including those called by God, but these are those who call on God.

What an encouragement that we are not alone, that our life as disciples is connected to our life in the assembly. When we are having a hard time, we are with others who are calling on the Lord. when others are having a hard time, we know what to do: call on the Lord.

The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
(Psalm 145:18)

Let us be those who call on the Lord from a pure heart, and that reminds us to confess our sins.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not in the Now

One thing we’ve really been seeking to do better as a church is consider the relationship between sacred and secular. Often the two are distinguished as church and not church, but if that’s the line, then we are headed for problems, as church history has shown. Others want to see the everything in the world as sacred, but that could make it harder to avoid the sin of worldliness, as if there was no such thing.

The word secular comes from the Latin saeculum which meant “age,” an amount of time roughly equal to the potential lifetime of a person or the equivalent of the complete renewal of a human population, a generation. It’s a measured way of referring to the now, the current. A secular man is identified as a man of this age. He’s a chronological sectarian. His context is narrow because his context only has room for what’s on the calendar on his desk.

A Christian man lives in the present, but his faith connects him to higher realities in heaven, invisible realities in the present, inescapable realities in history, and inevitable realities to come. It’s not only the immediate things that are relevant, it’s God who determines what is relevant, the God who was and is and is to come.

The things that are seen are secular, they are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

We have been given amazing things, we live during the most blessed time in history, and yet our identity is not in the now, but in Christ. We have died with Him, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, appears, we will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:3-4). For now, we see the world and do our work in His light (John 8:12).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Law and Love

I’d like to make two observations about the relationship between law and love, on the way to exhorting you to confess your sin.

Because Jesus made it clear, we know that the great commandment is to love God, and the second is like it, we’re to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-39). Perhaps this surprised (at least some of) the Jews who were known as those who had received the law of God. It turns out the commandment was to love.

Twice Paul wrote about love not only as the first commandment, but as the summary commandment.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Likewise,

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)

So obedience to God is others-ward, and righteousness is relational. The law, God’s commands, aim at love.

The law also aims to show us that we need Christ (Romans 3:19-20; Galatians 3:24). None have obeyed all the law, which also means that none have loved perfectly. And really, not murdering my neighbor seems a lot easier than loving my neighbor.

This is why, at least in Galatians 5, Paul moves from love to walking in the Spirit, to the fruit of the Spirit, which is love et al. Love summarizes God’s law, which also is the first, or final evidence as to why we need Christ and the Spirit. If you have a lack of love, confess it to Him. If you want to love more like He commands, imitate Christ and be filled with His Spirit.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Like a Lace Coat

We fabricate elaborate but thin shields from confession, like a lace coat that offers no real protection and that everyone can see through anyway. One of the most popular patterns is recrimination, accusing the other person of what the other person accused us of. It’s counteraccusation. It’s criminate and then sending the criminate back across the net. It’s the old “I’m rubber, you’re worse.” It’s the “I know I have a log in my eye, but what about your speck?”

Recrimination is ugly business and, even though countercharging doesn’t make sin disappear, it at least leads to weeks or months in the appeals system before a verdict is made. Who knows, maybe the initial allegation will even get dropped because, really, who has the time and resources to endure the litigation?

But it can be a form of false witness (Exodus 20:16), a false accusation, which is a lie, and something that sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:19), sin upon sin. But also, maybe you are right; the other person might actually be guilty of what they’re accusing us of. Perhaps that’s why they can see our sin so accurately; they know exactly what they’re looking at. The question we must ask is: Am I sinning?

Blowing smoke in the face of others doesn’t put out the fire. There are all sorts of ways we can distance ourselves from and argue ourselves out of confession. As we do so, we also distance ourselves from forgiveness and fellowship with Christ and with each other.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Two Moving Toward One

I’ve heard it described before that marriage is like a triangle with God at the summit. As the husband and wife get closer to God they necessarily get closer to each other. I like the illustration well enough. It is true that the man and the woman have their own, personal relationship to God, a relationship that in many cases existed before the wedding and one that provides spiritual support during marriage.

But most of the Christians I fellowship with on a regular basis do not usually struggle to remember or attend to our individual access to God. “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ regardless of what happens around me.” That is true, and there is a proper way to emphasize that. It becomes a problem, though, when we value our individual access to God in such a way as to consider our spouse (or children) as an obstacle, or even just insignificant to our movement toward God.

There is a sense in which every man by himself and every woman by herself bears the image of God. But a married couple bear God’s image together. That means that your spouse–even your sinning, selfish, stand-offish, criticizing, fussy spouse–is less of a hindrance to Your fellowship with God and more of a reason for it. Christian couples should think correctly about their connection. In other words, it is not a time to congratulate yourself when you’ve inched closer to God on your side of the triangle but your spouse stays further back.

Husbands, if your wife is falling back, then your individual Christian growth (which you should pursue) will result in your loving sacrifice that may, by grace, win/woo your wife to come along. Likewise, wives, if your husband is falling back, then your individual Christian growth (which you should pursue) will result in joyful respect that may, by grace, push your husband further. Individual Christian growth that does not look to unite, even if that unity doesn’t happen overnight, is not growth in godlikeness. God unites us to Himself, He doesn’t just celebrate that He is better than us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Ready for Grace

If sin dulls us to true glory, it also makes us drowsy to our responsibilities. Our confession of sin is not like the alarm clock, but like walking on the cold floor to get to the blaring alarm clock all the way across the room. Confessing our sin can help wake us up.

Jesus told a parable recorded in Luke 12 about some servants who “were waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast” (12:36). They wanted to be ready for when he arrived, and Jesus said, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (12:37). “If he comes in the second watch (around 10pm to 2am), or in the third (around 2am to 6am), and finds them awake, blessed are those servants” (12:38).

What’s surprising about this version of the story comes between the two blesseds. “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” Who is the he? And the them The “he” who serves is the master, the “them” who recline are the servants. It shouldn’t be this way.

In other illustrations, Jesus pointed out that ready servants were just doing their job (see Luke 17:7-10). Servants serve; it is their duty.

But here, the context is one of joy. The master is returning from a wedding feast. Don’t be anxious, but eager for that grace that our Master is bringing. He is coming in to share His joy with His servants. As Peter wrote:

preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

By grace watch for grace.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Nations Under God

The United States is a nation by God’s choice. The USA is not God’s chosen nation (for that choice see Deuteronomy 7:6-7), but we only exist according to the will of God. Paul told the Greeks that God “made from one man (Noah) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). We have no reason to think God gave up this prerogative before 1776. The Lord is Lord of our history and our borders. He is Lord of our independence (from the British parliament).

After telling the men of Athens about God’s providence He told them about God’s purpose. The determining of time and place for every nation leads somewhere: “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him” (verse 27). This doesn’t upend Calvinism to talk about seekers, any more than it undoes another letter from Paul saying “no one” seeks for God (Romans 3:11), because here any seeking movement, considered from the human perspective, started from His sovereignty.

I say all that to say that, on a day Independence Day, we have every reason to think about our nation under God. Our story–its start, its sins, its blessings, its fruit, its freedoms–are all from and through and to God, one way or another. The blessings we have, the blessings we’ve forsaken, the blessings we’ve been ungrateful for, the blessings we don’t even know about, ought to make us realize that there is a God, and the Founders and Constitution and President aren’t Him. Even the unbelieving Benjamin Franklin knew better:

“the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs the affairs of men”.

Our celebrations make no sense apart from the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. And our celebrations fall short of their purpose if they do not remind us that “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).