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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Pointy Side of the Anvil

Loneliness is not a sin per se. It is often a tormenting temptation to sin. Sinning and then having a guilty conscience while being lonely is a punishing emotional cocktail.

Not everyone who is alone feels lonely. Not everyone who is in a group doesn’t feel lonely. Talking to others might actually confirm your suspicion that you’re not that close and/or that you are not understood. Sometimes loneliness results from others trying to keep you on the outs, other times it comes from your fears about being in.

Lonely doesn’t feel good, and you can make it less good. In a fallen world it doesn’t take two to make a thing go wrong.

Loneliness exists, it can be heavy and acute, more like having the pointy side of the anvil pushing into your chest. Maybe you lost a longtime spouse, maybe you are looking for one for a long time. Maybe your dad never paid attention to you. Maybe you had friends but they started doing other things. Maybe you had friends you expected would keep doing all the work you weren’t. Maybe you are awkward. Maybe God has put you among a group of people you can’t leave but with whom you also can’t fully participate.

I bring up loneliness because the sermon is about gender confusions and sexual corruptions. God made us male or female (Genesis 1:27), and He made us for relationship, which typically manifests in marriage responsibilities between one man and one women. He also unites us in one body of many members (1 Corinthians 12:12). Our Creator formed every human heart for connection, but fallen humans are too easily satisfied.

It is not godly to grumble, and it’s not attractive either. Don’t nurse your loneliness with lust, or lies, whether to those around you or to yourself. Don’t isolate yourself (Proverbs 18:1). Cry out to the Lord; Jesus is a friend for sinners.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Puddleglum Is Not an Epithet

Don’t spend time regretting your sin, repent from it right away. There is more to say.

Jesus said, “blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), and this sorrow is over sin. There is a type of good conviction, a “godly grief” that is appropriate. But grief feelings are not the goal.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief….For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

If/when confronted, don’t try to pacify the other person with your coat of many bad feelings. Not only is this wishy-washy, it’s also not confession. It is also not gospel. This is like lowering your head and waiting for someone to hang a millstone around your neck.

Regret and sorrow and humiliation isn’t where we’re trying to get to. We hope to get out of all that by confessing our sin, to be comforted (Matthew 5:4), and then to turn away from it. Don’t just say that you regret something, resolve to stop doing it. You regret to be sitting in the mud puddle. No, brothers, get out of the puddle, or your britches will still be sopping and soiled. Puddleglum is an entertaining, even edifying, fictional character, but not a worthy epithet for Christians. You who believe are forgiven because Jesus died, and you can rejoice and obey because Jesus lives.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

See, Hate, and Leave

Repentance is a gift of God. Peter rejoiced that God gave repentance to Israel (Acts 5:31) and later the apostles rejoiced that God granted repentance to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). God sovereignly lets us see sin in its ugliness and gives us a heart to hate it and leave it. That is a gift.

Repentance is a discipline. You can get better at it, and the more mature you are, the less the time you’ll need between sinning and then acknowledging and turning from that sin.

Repentance is a blessing. If sin is what separates us from God–and it is, if sin is what spoils our consciences–and it is, if sin is what stops up the flow of joy–and it is, then repenting from sin belongs with reconciliation, cleansing, and a renewed spirit.

Every Lord’s Day we are brought to reckon with our need for repentance. The battle to mortify our sin is not finished, even though Christ’s sacrifice to atone for our sin is. As part of our worship we acknowledge that we, in our flesh, are powerless against sin, but that when we call on the Lord we will be saved.

It may be hard to rank the most important or necessary part of our liturgy. But our confession of sin belongs as part of our worship, and ought to be part of our walk.

Martin Luther captured this in the first of his 95 Theses:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

To the Laodiceans, the Amen, said:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Blessed Bible Reading

The very first word in the hymnbook of the Old Testament is the word blessed: “Blessed is the man…” (Psalm 1:1).

The immediately following lines do not describe this man’s blessedness but rather his chosen source of information and direction. He does not spend time listening to sinners and scoffers. He doesn’t hang with them or identify with them on social media. Instead he delights in and mediates on the law of the Lord. He marinates his mind in God’s Word.

The blessing, more accurately, blessings plural, are found in the following verse.

He is like a tree
Planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
And its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3)

The blessings of God are at least stability and fruitfulness. The blessed man’s roots are established and he is not easily moved by the wind. His source of life is abundant so he is not threatened by the heat. He bears fruit when it is time.

To be #blessed is not to be driven by fads or driven by fear or driven to doubt by the wicked chaff. Blessing grows out of our chosen meditation.

With the new calendar year about to start, why not consider a Bible reading plan to provoke systemic meditation? I know a lot of you are reading the #ToTheWord plan, which is great, and that starts and stops following the school year schedule. But if you don’t have another, you could try my favorite: the Discipleship Journal plan, with four readings twenty-five days a month, from four different parts of the Bible.

Whatever you choose, put yourself in the right place to be blessed by the Lord.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

An Irritated Puddle of Retaliatory Goo

We are well into advent now, rounding third and headed home. Yet because of how the days fall on the calendar this year, the fourth advent Sunday is still six long days from Christmas. A lot of events are done, but there are more on your schedule, especially ones with the people who tend to get on your nerves the most…family. That presents a significant challenge, because with strangers, you can’t predict as well what they’ll argue about, and you may never see them again. With the ones God has chosen for your permanent “neighbors,” you’ve seen the show a thousand times.

In a week of final preparations and feasting, even for a week with siblings at home from school all day every day, Solomon provides some counsel for the prudent.

The vexation of a fool is known at once,
but the prudent ignores an insult.
(Proverbs 12:16)

Vexation refers to the spleen in the pot, foolishness is like the fire that makes the complaints simmer. Vexation is what pets your feathers backward, what puts salt in your tea. It could be about the state of democracy, it could be about the state of dinner. It could be about the commute, it could be about your comment. And because of how the proverb runs, vexation isn’t only generic grumbling in your presence, vexation may be insulting to your person.

I have said much about not being angry or ungrateful, this is about how to absorb it.

But…she’s wrong! But…others will get the wrong impression if I don’t make a public correction! But…you don’t know how insulting my brother has been for years!

The New Testament version goes even further: love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), which Peter uses as prep for the following imperative: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).

Prudence and love like this are not pushovers, just the opposite. This sort of wisdom and care is unable to be pushed over into an irritated puddle of retaliatory goo.

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
(Proverbs 19:11)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Christmas

The primary way that the New Testament talks about the flesh is where the “flesh” represents the sinful pull in all of us. The lust of the flesh, the works of the flesh, the flesh as enemy of the Spirit is most definitely not what we should embrace.

But “flesh” in those respects is not referring to the matter, not the muscles and nerves and blood and bones, which is also the flesh. The physical flesh is the flesh that Jesus took at (what we celebrate as) Christmas. Though He shared our weaknesses and faced temptations as a man, He did so yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). If God created that flesh and also clothed Himself with it, it can’t be all bad.

The incarnation shows that the flesh is not God. God, in the Word who was God before creation, existed without one. So we worship the Maker not the material. God is outside, before and beyond, human flesh. Christmas truth should keep us from worshipping our bodies, let alone stuff.

The incarnation also shows that God identifies with human flesh. God, in the Word, became like us. “Since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things” (Hebrew 2:14). He took on our form, with the physical limits and needs and in every other respect. Christmas truth means that we don’t have to escape the flesh to please God.

As people of the truth we tend to prefer two-dimensions; three-dimensions are hard. We want our Word on a page, not in a body. Too often we have great Christmas ideas without glad sacrifices and generosity and being worn out and used up to spill grace onto others.

In your body love, be joyful, be patient, show kindness, do good, be self-controlled. Decorate, bake, clean, sing, give, cry, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in your body (2 Corinthians 4:11), just as He was manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). Let our celebrations not be spiritualized, but let us be filled with the Spirit to keep Christmas in our flesh.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not a Puddle under the Pine Tree

Is it possible that God finds our celebration of Christmas not too hot but too lukewarm? Is it possible that we are too half-hearted in our worship of the Word become flesh? Will we give an account for how we gave gifts, or not, in Jesus’ name?

Yes, yes, and yes.

I’ve continued to meditate the past few weeks on the awkwardly phrased phrase in Romans 2:7. The context of Romans 2 is not seasonal, in fact, it’s not just year round but all of one’s life. God judges according to what He sees the whole way down into what you’re baking, not just the drizzle of icing on a holiday morning.

Those that receive eternal life are the ones who by endurance of work of good seek for glory and honor and immortality (Romans 2:7).

Though not limited to the advent season, it at least applies. So, are you wanting not just the glory of a great Christmas, are you wanting the glory from God in reward for having greatly honored Him this Christmas?

This does not mean that you must buy the most gifts you’ve ever bought, it does not mean you must spend the most money you’ve ever received in a stimulus check. It does not require a modern-day missionary journey to every relative’s house. It does not demand the turkey to be stuffed with duck to be stuffed with chicken. If these are opportunities for you, great. If your opportunities are other, also great.

It does mean that you must not be selfish (see Romans 2:8). It means that you must not collapse into a puddle under the pine tree, but rather endure. Seek the glory of God in the highest, and He will glorify those with whom He is pleased.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Free to Love Christmas

Most of us who are parents grew up in families that focused our seasonal celebration on Christmas day, while many of your families now think about Christmas day as the cap to your celebration of Advent, the four Sundays and/or the all days between now and December 25th.

Whether or not you are a big Advent and/or big Christmas person/family, do rejoice in the Incarnation of God’s Son and love Jesus Christ? If yes, how do you show it?

I first remember learning these categories about six years ago from a book titled The Things of Earth. These two approaches will help you answer the question.

Consider your love for God and His Son by way of comparison and by way of integration. Usually we hear more about the comparative side; that’s where the Christmas guilt usually gets applied, while the integrated aspects may be happening, even if not so obviously pursued or passed on to our kids.

By comparison “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25). Love God with all your heart. If you had to choose, Christ or Christmas, there must be no contest. If you chose Christmas (and any of your favored traditions), you would have chosen an idol no matter how good the name. You shouldn’t love the gift more than the giver, you shouldn’t love any giver more than God. At the least, when we assemble to worship, we test the hierarchy of affections in our heart. God first.

And that same God who commands our love to Him above all, is the same God who gives us gifts. This God says “all are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:22). Is this a cruel temptation? Why all the work (and parties) and extras during a season in which we’re supposed to focus on the Incarnation? It’s because most of the time He wants our love for Him integrated in what we do. Love Christ more than Christmas, and then your heart will be free to love Christ as you do all the cookie baking and gift wrapping and calendar crunching.

Do not let your heart off the hook in either direction.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Godliness and Gratitude

It is godly to be thankful, though God Himself is not said to be thankful.

There is no description of God giving thanks or of the Lord giving thanks in Scripture. Jesus gave thanks to His Father for a few things (Matthew 11:25; John 6:11; John 11:41; Matthew 26:26-28), but this was the Son of God in flesh on earth.

For what it’s worth, I could not find any example of angels giving thanks either.

God is always the object, never the subject, of giving thanks. He is always the sun, never the moon, always the engine, never the wheels.

So gratitude is not an attribute of God. But gratitude was created by God as a uniquely human way to honor God. We become like who or what we worship, and in many ways we, as those who bear God’s image, take on His likeness as we see what He is like. We are transformed from one degree of glory to another as we behold Him (2 Corinthians 3:18), but in this case, as we behold Him we have more reasons to be thankful for His independent and good nature.

Paul wrote to Timothy that in the last days men would be, among other things, ungrateful (2 Timothy 3:2). Some would even have the appearance of godliness but be denying its power (3:5). Let the people of God be godly, not only in appearance, but in strong appreciation for the riches of His kindness to us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Don’t Stay Dry

This will likely be the final installment of exhortations about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). That said, it obviously won’t be the last time we’re concerned about spiritual fruit.

Because love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the Spirit’s fruit in and through us, what are we supposed to do? These nine attributes of fruit are supernatural products, but how does that relate to the Christian’s pursuit?

In the immediate context in Galatians 5 there are four different angles on our activity. Paul says Christian brothers are 1) to walk by the Spirit (verse 16), 2) to be led by the Spirit (verse 18), 3) to live by the Spirit (verse 25) and 4) to keep in step with the Spirit (verse 25).

They relate to the apostle’s exhortation to the Ephesians, an epistle he wrote around four years after Galatians, giving him editing time to boil it down: in contrast to wine-drinking, “be (being) filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). That is also in a context of walking carefully (Ephesians 5:15).

Again: walk by, be led by, live by, keep in step with, be filled by, the Spirit.

Walking is a regular metaphor for daily movements; think about each step. Being led is an easily understood illustration; look where the Spirit is going and go there too. Living by is a question of strength and standard, which leads to the keeping in step, tracking with a direction and a pace. Being filled is concerned with the controlling influence.

For good measure, a fifth verb comes in the next chapter; “the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).

You cannot cause the water in the river to flow, but that’s no excuse for laying down on the shore. Get in. Don’t grow weary of keeping in line with the Spirit.