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Lord's Day Liturgy

How Long

There is a frequent cry among the prophets and psalmists asking the Lord, “How long?” God’s people see wickedness unchecked, enemies unhindered, troubles unending. “How long?” can be a complaint of faith. God Himself gives us such a question as a pattern for our prayers.

But men are not the only ones who wonder, and they are not the first. The Lord Himself asks this question to point out the unreasonable unbelief and disobedience of men.

When the LORD delivered His people from Egypt and had given them double manna on the sixth day, He told them not to collect it on the sabbath, they went out to gather anyway.

“And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?” (Exodus 16:28)

In Numbers 14 the Lord asks “How long” three times, all because of the criticisms and complaining among those who were afraid to enter the Promised Land based on the reports of the spies.

And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me?” (Numbers 14: 11, 27a)

Wondering why it seems God is quiet or inactive shouldn’t be a cover for why we are not attending to His Word already revealed and to His instructions already in front of us. It’s one thing to be impatient with God, it’s another to forget how patient He has to be with us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No More Pivotal Day

There is no more pivotal day in history than the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (v.17). “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v.20); He is risen indeed. “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”

50 days after the crucifixion, Peter preached about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14ff). Many who heard his message were “cut to the heart” (v.37), and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v.38).

The resurrection celebration is for “every one,” but only each one who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Christians are those who hear the gospel, confess their sin, turn away from their sin, and trust in Christ. That’s the only way to be saved, the only path to share in the sin-forgiving death and life-giving resurrection of Christ.

Even as Christians, we continue to confess our sins because we don’t forget that the empty tomb we celebrate on Sunday is glorious because our sin caused His death on Friday.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Partially Right

Of course there were different groups of people responding in different ways on the day we refer to as Palm Sunday. But one thing all Israel expected was a triumphant Messiah. Was that the right expectation? It was right, but only by half.

God promised an anointed Son (think Psalm 2), a King who would defeat Israel’s enemies and restore the people in a fruitful land. This was not God’s only promise. God also promised an anointed Son, a Redeemer who would bear Israel’s heart enmity and reconcile the people to God (think Isaiah 53).

The Jews were not wrong to desire political liberty and full stomachs from productive fields under the authority of the Messiah. But they were wrong to desire all of that apart from their own personal submission to the authority of the Messiah. They had sin, they needed repentance, their worship was compromised, their zeal without knowledge.

Yes, “Hosanna (praise Yahweh!) to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 27:9). And we must receive Him as Prophet-speaking truth about our sin, Priest-offering sacrifice for our sin, and King-ruling over every part of our lives. We submit to His authority not just to fix our problems without, but to restore our souls.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Layers of Paperwork

Seasons on social media come and go a lot faster than the weather, which has it’s own benefit: if you don’t like what people are complaining about at the moment, just swipe left to see a new mob.

It’s been “The church as institution is bad” season, and I know some of you have braved the storm without even taking an umbrella. Even in Romans 16 we’ve read about churches meeting in houses; should Christians only meet in houses? Let me remind us all of two things.

First, institutions can be a blessing, even if they are regularly not, or grow up to have bad attitudes. But a dad with an attitude problem, who can’t submit to anyone else for longer than two months, who decides to have home-church for his family and a few friends, is not going to be the big blessing either. It’s easy to argue for church as Organism vs Organization, one or the other. But a virus is an organism too, and organizations win more wars than casual coffee shop conversations.

Second, the institution is not with whom you have to do (think Hebrews 4:13). No one is saved because of membership in an institution, and no one confesses his sin to the board or president. Each of us answer to the Lord (Romans 14:12).

For that matter, one thing we will answer to the Lord about is how we interacted with His Church. When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” I do NOT think He meant adding layers of paperwork. I also don’t think He meant, “Make sure there are never more than two or three gathered together in My name.“

Don’t hide among the numbers in an institution, don’t hide at home by having no one else to listen to.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Anger Trap

This is the seventh (and last) exhortation to put off anger. Anger is a work of the flesh, and when anger is selfish, which it usually is, it is always sinful. If you are angry, put off anger before it kills your joy and every relationship you claim you care about.

What if you are friends with an angry man? What if you are married to an angry woman, or man? What if your mom/dad is regularly mad?

I won’t be able to give a complete or convenient set of “tips,” and not everything applies in every relationship. But the Bible gives some general help.

Avoid becoming friends with the angry. If possible, don’t associate with those who won’t control their temper. It’s not just that you’ll have to bear the brunt, it’s that you will join in. Anger is a snare.

Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
nor go with a wrathful man,
lest you learn his ways
and entangle yourself in a snare.
(Proverbs 22:24–25 ESV)

You may have overlooked that when you made marriage vows. Now you are covenanted to an angry spouse. Anger by itself is not a reason for divorce, even if it is likely to lead to other sins of division. What can you do?

Pray. God grants repentance and softened hearts, yes, and pray that you will not get caught up in the snare of anger. Pray that God will not remove the burning desire for true fellowship from you.

Be patient. Put on patience (Colossians 3:12). You have sins, you know often sanctification is slow. Be thankful for signs of grace, small as they may be along the way.

Show compassion. You know that an angry man isn’t actually feeling good even if he thinks venting will feel better. That’s a fool’s hope. While your responsibility isn’t really to “absorb” it, by God’s Spirit you can show a better way. Let your supernatural patience and joy be evident. At first that will probably make the other person more mad, and watch for such signs.

At some point you may need to get help. Talk to a pastor. While it can be humbling to expose a mess, that is better than letting the mess get worse.

And don’t put on anger; don’t fight anger fights with anger.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Advanced Level Indignation

It’s one thing for smart people to parse definitions and wrestle over rankings in order to argue that their anger isn’t as bad as it could be. It’s another thing for people, usually those with a Bible-background, to defend their anger as virtue. I’m talking about “righteous anger.”

Is there such a thing? I think yes. Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 in Ephesians 4:26. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” That’s a command with a couple qualifications.

Jesus was angry, at least in one verse. “He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5). If we are to be Christlike, perhaps there is a way to be angry like Jesus.

But, here are two helps. First, righteous anger is not selfish, not when someone criticizes you, gets in your way, or disobeys you. Righteous anger is not wrapped up in your ego, but is anger directed out toward corruption, cruelty, tyranny, gross deceit, and destructive wickedness.

Second, righteous anger is a good work. You should be able to say, “Jesus planned this for me to be angry and show His righteousness” (see Ephesians 2:10). You should be able to say, “It would be a sin if I was not angry about this.”

Beloved, that’s advanced level indignation.

A third thing, if you have it, you can’t keep it, certainly not overnight; otherwise you’ll be doing devil’s work (Ephesians 4:27). And then, don’t miss the exhortations that following the same paragraph:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32 ESV)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Killing Without Contact

I’ve been urging you to put off anger for four exhortations, and there will be a few more, Lord willing.

When we read God’s Word we try to pay attention to order and proportion. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus started with the Beatitudes, moved to how the blessed are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and then He taught about how He fulfilled the law. The ones who thought they were the law-informed, the law-instructors, the law-keepers were not. Jesus said, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Then under the longest heading in His sermon Jesus gives six examples of “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you.” He addresses lust, divorce, covenant-breaking, retaliation, and low-level love. But do you remember His first correction?

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder: and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Here are three surprises to the “righteous” guys:

  • anger is a heart issue
  • anger is like killing
  • anger is enough to make a man guilty

Anger is the first one on the list, the worst one. Anger is like murder. Anger KILLS without a weapon. Anger will keep a man out of the kingdom of heaven. And unlike murder, you don’t necessarily even have to come in contact with the other person. In that case the victim is one’s self, one’s own soul. Give anger no place in your heart.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Anger by Another Name

It’s an urban legend that Eskimos have fifty words for different types of snow. Even so, that’s nothing compared to how many different words a man will use to claim he’s not angry.

Can you be annoyed, irritated, frustrated, aggravated, upset, and not be mad/angry? Can you be any of those and not be sinning? Maybe. It’s not impossible, it is highly improbable.

Rather than parse feelings and draw thin lines between nuanced definitions, let’s ask some questions.

Is your increasing fellowship with your people? If your vibe is creating distance, doing damage, does it matter how you’re defining it?

Is your accomplishing the righteousness of God? The anger of man does not according to James 1:20, and while you can not be righteous of lot of ways other than being angry, is your response setting the room right?

Is your a good work? In Ephesians 2:8-10 we know we’re saved by grace through faith as God’s workmanship for good works that He’s prepared beforehand for us to walk in. So is your a beauty spot in God’s painting of your life? Can you honestly say, “This was written by God for me to perform as a glory for His gracious salvation”?

We want to save face by making sure that the person we’ve sinned against knows what we only sinned at Anger Level One instead of Nine, like it could have been, and maybe they should be a bit more appreciative. We weren’t angry, just frustrated. Well, yeah, good, but ones add up, and joy breaks down, no matter what you call it. Beloved, stop pleading the dictionary. Put away anger.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What It Really Means to Be Right

Put off anger. That’s a command (Colossians 3:8). The imperative follows a perspective adjustment, seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1), and those “things above” certainly include fellowship. Want true fellowship. Like reverse and forward, so anger and fellowship work in opposite directions.

Desire true communion more than a quiet room. Among other anger “hacks,” desire the better control. Raise your standard of what it means to be right.

We get mad when something happens that we don’t like. We get irritated when someone doesn’t do what we wanted them to do. It helps to see how our responses of anger, wrath, and malice reveal that we want to be in control.

Such a desire would be silly if it weren’t so destructive. And also, it is a foolish want because it’s lesser.

A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.
(Proverbs 25:28 ESV)

One of my favorite illustrations EVAR is from Doug Wilson on this passage.

“self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall.”

What’s the standard? What is truly glorious? My self-control. My acting right. My repentance. My example. Self-control is not selfish; self-control is true and better control.

How many rounds can you go with your spouse, your kid, your boss, before you blow up? That is the measure of thickness of your “wall.” Is it stronger than the butcher paper held up by the cheerleaders that the team runs right through?

Identify your triggers, and ask yourself not only what response would strengthen the relationship, but also what response would make me really right?

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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.