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Lord's Day Liturgy

Put Off Anger

There is a wicked triplet introduced in Colossians 3:8. It begins the “put off” part of the paragraph; put these things away, don’t leave these clothes on or pick them up. “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice.” The list continues, but these are like the three-headed dog, Cerberus (sərbərəs), who prevents men from leaving the underworld. There’s probably an analogy here, as in anger keeps men from really living.

I didn’t know how prophetic my favorite book as a kid would be for when I became a man: Boy, Was I Mad. And while I still enjoy the story, it took me decades to learn the lesson. If I had one sin in my vice wardrobe that I seemed to be wearing all the time, it would be anger.

Those of you who’ve known me longest have had opportunity to see much God-given progress; by grace I wear kindness, patience, and love more often. No one has been more burned by the brunt of my anger than my wife, kids next of course. Even when others outside our house couldn’t see it, it was affecting them. We’re all one body, and if one member is blowing up all the time, the body’s health is broken.

I’ve been trying to think about what helped me most grow in this sanctification. I had serious paradigm remodeling to do, and over the next couple exhortations I plan to share some of those truths.

But for now, know that anger often has the nuance of feeling like others should pay for something you don’t like. Wrath is anger intensified with feelings into rage and fury, and malice grows with feelings of hatred that even lead to plans to dish out your anger, not mere responses. None of those are righteous. Brothers, put away your anger.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Get Them Out

It takes wisdom to know how best to help others, for pastors, for parents, for teachers, even as Christian friends. We are not trying to be the boss. We know that our brothers have a Judge, and we’re not Him (see Romans 14:4). So depending on the situation we often give space, we pray, we try to show a better example. These strategies are right, and they are not the only rights.

In Genesis 19 Lot was in a bad situation. Lot was a righteous man said Peter (2 Peter 2:7), but it takes some special glasses to see that. On the day fire and brimstone rained, Moses described that the angels urged Lot to get up and get out, but “he lingered.” He showed no zeal for saving himself or his family.

“So the men (who were the angels in the form of men) seized him and his and wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.” (Genesis 19:16)

Jude exhorts the beloved to rescue those in trouble.

“Have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire, to others show mercy with fear, hating the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23)

It’s mercy to get in there and to get your kids out of Harm’s Way, to get them out of the consuming fires of anger or temptation or lust.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

You don’t have to be obnoxious, but do have to do more than let your people drown. For mercy’s sake go get them.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Unguarded Faith

One sentence from my sermon last Sunday that I had in my notes but that I skipped while in the moment of preaching was: Joyless faith is unguarded faith, susceptible to offers of joy elsewhere.

We were meditating on the purpose statement in Philippians 1:25, for progress and joy of faith. All three verbal nouns mix and match: progress of faith and joy of faith, but also faith that makes progress in joy, and joyful progress in faith.

Joy by itself could be fleeting or based on fiction rather than rooted in faith. Jesus told a story about the seed that fell on rocky ground; that man heard the word and immediately received it with joy, yet he fell away when things got hard (Matthew 13:20-21).

But a man with faith without joy, no matter how orthodox his creed, is like a man defending a field without any fence. Or, it’s like being told you have to defend the field, but you see people having a party at the edge of the woods. They look like they’re quite enjoying themselves, you’re stuck watching the grass grow, but you have a verse for it.

This is part of the reason why pastors run off with their secretary, or why theology professors vote for abortion protecting politicians, or why young Christian adults kiss and cuddle with idiots, because for as clear as their confession of faith may be, they haven’t made progress in the joy of their faith.

We confess our sins because it is right, and because it makes us happy to take off the clothes which smell of sin vomit. There are joys set before us by sight (though some, like the party at the edge of the woods, might be bait), but there are better joys set before us by faith.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Easiest Person to Fool

The great enemy is sin. Sin leads to death. Sin robs joy. Sin ruins relationships. Sin provokes wars. Sin blinds from beauty, makes deaf to truth. Sin also deceives us about us, and this is why worshiping God is so meddlesome. In God’s Word we see His glory, and the more clearly we see His character, the more clear the mirror that shows us our true condition.

We would do almost anything not to get an accurate view on ourselves. Sin loves darkness, sin seeks ambiguity, sin tells lies.

Though he wasn’t a Christian, Richard Feynman was an American physicist well-known for his abilities to learn and to teach. He once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”

With divine authority the prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) And though as Christians we’ve been given new hearts, we are in the process of becoming less fooled by the flesh. We are in process of better seeing how foolish sin is. We are in process of becoming harder to fool.

The difficulty is not so much having eyes to see, but having the heart to deal with our hearts. When we worship God, we learn what He says, and when we confess, we say the same thing that He says, homologeo. One of the most courageous acts we do every week is to confess our sin. But courageous or not, it is the only way not to be a fool.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Giving Delight

We always do what we most want to do. That’s not to say we don’t have competing wants, but the strongest want wins. That means that we always sow what we most want to sow, and if we reap what we sow, then we always get the harvest we were working for.

So what do you want to reap?

This is the final exhortation for #NoDisorderedContentmentDecember. It relates, as have the others, to a common advent/Christmas activity: giving. Think of gifts as seeds, and so which kind of reward to you want for sowing presents?

There is an invisible law that governs rewards. Jesus applied it to those who give to the needy with the motivation “that they may be praised by others.” Want to be seen and have others say nice things about you? That’s easy. “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2). But that’s a lesser contentment.

There is a greater reward, a better harvest, a higher level of joy available. That belongs to those who give, and in this specific case, give in secret, “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). Of course Jesus’ teaching doesn’t require anonymity all the time, it requires the heart’s highest order of contentment in pleasing the Father.

So presents can be given in pretense, a false display of feelings. Gifts can be given with strings attached, gifting that obligates rather than frees the other up to enjoy.

Give because it’s a delight, and you will know delight from beginning to end. Give as a demand, and you will find it demands more of you than anyone else.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What Good Traditions Are For

We continue to consider #NoDisorderedContentmentDecember. There is a kind of contentment we can have, or think we should have, that is not enough. We can be satisfied at a lesser level than the right level.

Consider this example: Jesus taught that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). In Israel, the Sabbath was law. Stopping work on the seventh-day was required. Sabbath breakers were judged, and Sabbath law required capital punishment (Exodus 32:5).

But there were Sabbath extras added in the culture over the generations, and even if we give the benefit of the doubt that they were created with the best of intentions, the best intentions became a weapon, often bringing harm not happiness. Many became content to remember the limitations, but not to remember the Lord’s blessings.

We do not have any divine laws that require certain activities of us during Advent/Christmas. We have freedom to celebrate, and there are some activities that are good, profitable, and even wise for passing on our joy to another generation. We are for good and repeated activities. But it is totally possible to act like our kids/families are for Christmas traditions rather than that traditions are for our kids/families.

When those traditions are threatened, some of the organizers act threatened. They are tempted to discontentment that the “Thing” didn’t go as arranged. Maybe that’s a problem. But were you in fellowship with your people? Did your response to the “Thing” increase fellowship, or were you content letting everyone else know how disappointed you were?

Don’t be “the sort of woman who lives for others—you can always tell the others by their hunted expression” (as C.S. Lewis described in The Screwtape Letters). Let the contentment be in love shared through events, not love of events over people. The Lord wants hearts that offer sacrifices, not those who are content with on-time but actually unthankful offerings (Psalm 50:8, 14).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

By the Plateful

This is not an exhortation about being fat. It is another #NoDisorderedContentmentDecember exhortation. But since today’s sermon is about feasting, about integrating our contentment in God through what He gives us, this reminds us that comparatively, any contentment apart from Him is out of order.

When I moved to Los Angeles for seminary in 1997 I arrived with more books in my car than dollars in the bank. I knew one guy who lived in CA already, and he regularly treated me to well-buttered sesame bagels and introduced me to Ramen noodles. I’m not talking about Cup-o-Noodles, that was out of my economic bracket. I’m talking about the (at the time) 25¢ packs. There was one week that my meals included 21 packs of Ramen, and one burger from Carl’s Jr. I was running lean.

After about eight months of that, Mo and I got engaged, I started hanging out at their house, and her mom rediscovered that her cooking was amazing, since there was a new and eager mouth. I started eating each meal at their house as if it might be my last meal ever. It was tasty, the conversation at the table was flavorful, and I measured my intake by the plateful.

Over the course of the next couple years I gained about 80 pounds, and I didn’t need at least 70 of them. My belly was full, my hunger content.

Of all God’s prophetic donkeys it was a random comment from Oprah that brought me to repentance. She said something about looking to food as a comfort. I had been content to depend on food, and proved that I had not been content to trust God for my daily bread. I missed the proverb, “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny You” (Proverbs 30:8-9a). I was denying the Lord in practice. My contentment was disordered, and it showed.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Disordered-Contentment December

Five years ago our family hashtag was #NoDiscontentDecember. We decided (because we needed) to focus on our contentment, whether over the extra events or tasks or expenses, or even the lack of energy or desired gifts. A picture of contentment would be good for any month on the annual calendar, but contentment for the twelfth would be on point like the star at the top of the Christmas tree.

Today, and for the following few exhortations before Christmas, I want to give a twist on NDD and talk about No Disordered-Contentment December. What I mean is, there are some ways we might call ourselves content that are wrong, unhelpful, even sinful.

We talk about ordered loves. Some things are more lovely and excellent and beautiful, so they are to be loved more. God’s holiness is more beautiful than any sunset. Doing justice is better than tithing herbs. Neighbors should be served, but not by neglecting spouse and offspring.

To be content is to be satisfied. We accept what we have as adequate. We’re in a state of peace rather than panic or anxious pursuit.

But some so-called contentment might be complacence, which is a smug or uncritical satisfaction. Godly contentment isn’t unthinking; three beers and an all night Netflix binge and call it good; that’s not good. Godly contentment is an acquired skill. “I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content” (Philippians 4:11). It requires the strength of Christ to be content.

So this first exhortation is against the disordered contentment of being content with a low contentment level. If your version of contentment is that you just don’t complain, that’s the floor, not the ceiling. Keep growing. Don’t be easily satisfied with barely not grumbling.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Cute Covenant Couples

Marriage is God’s institution, and it is glorious. The marriage bed is God’s gift, and it is honorable. More marriage, more sex, more cute covenant couples (C3), more kids, is all more blessing. But the Lord who blesses those who fear Him avenges those who trespass on sexual property that isn’t theirs.

There are other sins, too. But sexual sins are specifically called out from others as “against (one’s) own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). They damage us, they have a unique set of consequences, and in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 they are judged by the Lord.

This will be the last exhortation in this mini-series on how trespassers will be prosecuted. God’s will is our sanctification, namely that we abstain from sexual immorality, that we do not transgress and defraud our brothers, and it’s not just because of personal or community issues. We ought to be concerned about this matter:

because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (verses 6b-8)

It really is the Avenger, the One who attends to what is right. The Lord takes action against those who have caused harm or injustice.

We’ve been called not to hook up, but to be holy. We’ve been called not to play around with sexual mud pies, but to enjoy the pleasures of purity. We’ve been called to submit our God-given physical and emotional and sexual desires and abilities to God Himself. He cares. Don’t disregard God.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Brotherly Metaphor

In this series of exhortations to confessions I think we need two more looks into the mirror of 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, so one more after this one.

Here is the cornerstone of the Bible’s teaching on how Christians of different genders are to treat each other. This applies to older, married men and women, but especially in this paragraph about God’s will for the unmarried-but-looking. Paul’s premise for not trespassing or defrauding is that we are family.

that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter

There are at least two parts of this premise. The first part relates to the fact that we should have great affection for and respect toward each other in the family of God. We should watch against temptations to hurt or sin against our brothers, and especially in this context, against the future spouses of those we relate to now.

But the second part of this premise, which is perhaps not as obvious here in verse 6 alone, is that in this family, a young man should treat a young lady as his sister. Remember 1 Timothy 5:1-2: “the younger women as sisters in all purity!

Guys, she is your sister. “Oh, but that is just a metaphor.” So true. And what is that metaphor for? It is a metaphor to illustrate the purity, the protection, and the honor to be pursued in the relationship.

For sake of a narrative illustration, how would you react if I defended my sister against a bully who was attacking her? You would say that’s right, indeed, it was my duty. But what if you heard that I had taken advantage of my sister, or had molested her in any way? You would most certainly say that is gross. It would be wrong no matter who it was, but especially so for a brother.

What is helping us not be conformed to this world in our sexual morality? The stories that entertain us today work against God’s will for our sanctification as brothers and sisters in Christ. The dating system is designed to pair up people and excite romantic passion from the start. It’s goal is to move a couple out from under the watchful eye of parents and other authorities so that boys and girls can start acting like more than siblings…and to start acting like they are spouses. It doesn’t end up well very often. Don’t awaken that love before it’s time.