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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).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Hasten Up

I like to point out that the Bible’s imperative about the Bible is not just to read it but to crave it. Similarly, the Bible’s imperative about the end times and the day of the Lord is not just to know about it but to hasten it.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12, NIV)

The lexical form of the word for “speed” is speudo (σπεύδω), translated “hasten” in most translations (ESV, KJV, NASB). I did do a little digging to see if our English word “speed” is a derivative (since they sound similar), but that search was inconclusive. As for the Greek word itself, Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides used it to describe “exercising special effort” to bring something about (BAGD). It could be translated “earnestly desiring” (HCSB), but that’s a little flat.

How do we “hasten” God’s timeline? On one hand, we can’t make the Almighty move faster. And also we don’t just sit around.

keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 21)

waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:13)

Keep repenting and pursuing righteousness (2 Peter 3:9, 14). Meditate daily on the promises and look for them (2 Peter 3:13). Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18). Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Romans 13:11). Hasten up.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Mental Ladder-Climbing Over Others

When we approach God to confess our sin by reminding Him, or just thinking to ourselves, that at least we’re not as angry as him or as gossipy as her, we’re still thinking about the wrong person. The standard of comparison is not horizontal. God is the standard, not someone else, and He is perfect in holiness. We are to approach Him in humility, which isn’t happening if we’re still doing mental ladder-climbing over others.

This doesn’t mean that my sin is invariably and categorically worse than, for example, Hitler’s sin. But I don’t have to deal with Hitler’s sin in my heart, I have to deal with mine. I can’t judge someone else before dealing with my own heart (Matthew 7:5), so that makes mine sequentially problematic, if not actually worse.

Paul exclaimed, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24), not “Wretched man that I am! But have you considered my cousin?” Paul declared that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15), not “Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I sure hope you are paying attention.”

I need to confess my sin first, second to none. Imagine how well we’d all get along if we raced to be that sort of ruthlessly humble about our own sin. Try this at home, too; husband before wife (unless you’re the wife, then start with you), parents before children (while also helping the children learn the nature of their sin and their need to confess).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

More Like Inflammation

Though we live in the “Information Age” it is hard to know what to believe. Much of the so-called information is more like inflammation, bait to hook our attention, not actually a benefit for our understanding. I’ve been picking away at a book called Trust Me, I’m Lying, and it exposes how efficiently lies spread through every level of media.

What a treasure we have in God’s Word. Paul told Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words” he had heard from Paul (2 Timothy 1:13), and we have our own copies to carry around with us to read so that the Word would richly dwell in us (Colossians 3:16).

At the beginning of another summer here is a reminder to meditate on God’s Word day and night. Let it be like a seed in your heart, that you might be like a tree planted by streams of water. Choose a reading plan, choose a time and place, and read and think and pray. Though we’re one week in to the #SamePageSummer plan, which many of you have joined, jump in now.

For the future, God’s Word is building us up so that we are ready for the promised inheritance (Acts 20:32).

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

For now, His Word reminds us that He is present. His Word is part of His presence. Hold it fast.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Radiance or Resentations

There is a Greek word used only twice in the New Testament that I want to share with you for your edification, and as an exhortation to confession.

In Revelation 21:11, John saw the Bride of the Lamb, and she had a radiance shining as crystal. The Greek word for “radiance” is φωστήρ. It seems to be a compound word made in combination of fos – light and astar – star, perhaps even starlight. That is bright.

The only other use of the word is in Philippians 2:15, which continues a command beginning in verse 14.

Do all things without murmurings and disputings, that (you) may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom (you) shine as lights in the world (KJV)

The phrase “shine as lights” includes a verb for appear and a comparative conjunction and then φωστήρ, “lights” or “stars” (NIV) or a note in the NASB: “luminaries.”

Christian, you are the light of the cosmos. You are the radiance of the glory of God in the world. And according to the apostle Paul, being luminaries means more than just being smart, and being the best at shining a light on all that is wrong (with grumbling and questioning). The sort of divine luminaries Paul describes are brilliant at not complaining and their thanks is un-eclipsed.

The glory of God in man (includes) gratefulness. This makes it clear why ungodliness and unrighteousness include unthankfulness (Romans 1:18, 21).

I accidentally misread a whiteboard in one of my classes last week. It was supposed to be Presentations, but I didn’t notice the first lette. I read it as Resentations, and that is too fitting for the twisted generation we live in. But remember, as there is no honor among thieves, there is no glory among ingrates.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Greater Scandal

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the younger son despised his father by asking for his inheritance early, acting as if he wished his dad was dead, then he dishonored his father by squandering the family money and the family name. After the cash ran out and he was eating the pig slop, Jesus said “he came to himself” (verse 17), headed home, and hoped that he could work for his dad as a hired servant.

We approve the son’s confession when he said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (verses 18 and 21). The son knew that, even if his father showed mercy, he was no longer worthy to be treated as a son but only as a servant. We relate to this true view of sin.

We don’t relate as well to this true view of the Father. The greater “scandal” was the father’s grace, his compassionate reception and celebration over the son’s return. Was the son’s sin huge and horrific? Was his confession absolutely necessary? Of course. But the father didn’t want to be proven right as much as he wanted the relationship restored. He ran and embraced and kissed his son. He called for the best robe, a ring, and shoes. He threw a party, a feast for renewed fellowship.

The Pharisees and scribes (verse 2) listening to the parable related to a holy God. They hated that God was glad to forgive and fellowship with sinners.

How do you view the heavenly Father’s response to your confession? Do you see Him disappointed that you blew it again, reluctantly letting you return as a hired servant? Or does He run to receive you? Only one of those reactions is good news. The Father declares that we were lost and now we’re found, reconciled to Him, brought back home.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Desire for His Approval

God created us with abilities and appetites and affections. One of the abilities He gave us is to be able to consider our abilities and appetites and affections. Even though we do not always act rationally, we can, and should, grow in applying our understanding to our wanting. God enables this sort of higher attention when He gives us new spiritual life, and He increases it as He sanctifies us.

Certain of our appetites seem to be not only short-term, but urgent. That’s not necessarily or always bad, but it’s usually better to have a bigger context than whatever our body is telling us at the moment. This is, as just one example, a reason that people “sleep on” a big decision. They may see the possibility of an immediate good, but something in them wants to pull back and survey the bigger picture.

We are wired for context. Everyone has a framework through which they measure and prioritize what they choose and how they respond to the choices of others. Not only in our consciences but in the story part of our minds we know that a final reckoning will occur.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

There is an angle of this that applies to evangelism. Everyone has done evil, and no one can do enough good to outdo the consequences of the evil;. So God’s law shows that we need salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Galatians 3:23-24).

For those who already believe, we should make sure to keep our frameworks updated that because we believe we obey, and we obey with a desire for His approval. While there is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1), there is also no good reason to hold back from doing good (Romans 8:4). We are created, and we are saved, for good works (Ephesians 2:10). What glory it will be when, after doing those good works, we hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Our motivation is more than avoiding brute force punishment, but pleasing our heavenly Father. Our appetite for that can’t be too strong.

To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

—C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”