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Lord's Day Liturgy

Behind the Wall

It directly applies to Timothy as one with spiritual responsibility for others, but it has spiritual encouragement for all.

I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:12-14, ESV)

We are being guarded and we are entrusted with guarding, the truth itself but also our purchase of the truth. We’ve been committed to the teaching and we’re to follow that pattern. We’ve been given the gifts of faith and love and we’re to continue believing and loving. We’ve been chosen by the Father, brought to the Son, and sealed with the Spirit. He is guarding us and will guard us to the end.

He guards us by supernatural means.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan paints the picture like oil in the lamp from behind the wall.

Then I saw in my dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and let him into a place where was a fire, burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it to quench it, yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.

Then said Christian, What means this?

The Interpreter answered, This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil: that in that thou seest the fire notwithstanding burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that: so he had him about to the backside of the wall, where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast (but secretly) into the fire.

Then said Christian, what means this?

The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still. And in that thou sawest, that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul.

Here in communion we are reminded of the teaching (Romans 6:17). Here in communion we are renewed in our minds and bodies. Here in communion the oil of God’s grace is poured on the fire of our faith.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Mathematical Baby Step

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote many books, including The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, or, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. It has also been published recently under the title, All Loves Excelling. The entire book is a forrest fire of goodness sparked by Ephesians 3:18-19.

[May he grant you] strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

In Greek, one article (precedes and) welds all four dimensions together in verse 18. Paul wasn’t thinking about four things, but the immensity, the vastness, the incalculability of one thing. But what is that something? I believe the one thing is Christ’s love, explicitly named in verse 19..

Breadth refers to area. Christ’s love covers the widest span. Length refers to distance, how far things are apart. Christ’s love reaches the farthest intervals. Depth refers to the bottom. Christ’s love descends to the lowest levels. It is unfathomable. Height refers to the top. Christ’s love soars at the summit.

His love is too large to frame, and even if it were, there isn’t a wall large enough to hold the frame. Imagine the most oversized, mega-gargantuan container you have at home; now double-it; now multiply by the next number higher than you can conceive. You’ve just taken a mathematical baby step toward comprehending Christ’s incalculable love.

I love Bunyan’s question:

Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better?

—Bunyan, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, 37

In other words, if someone asked you to describe the kind of love you hoped for, could you have imagined it this good? His love fills us, and the bread and cup remind us of His body spent in loving sacrifice for us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

More Than Pejoratives

One of the most consequential new-normals of liturgy for us is the weekly celebration of communion. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together every Lord’s Day has done more to wreck our identity as truth-tubes than any verbal pejoratives I can use, including the moniker “truth-tubes” itself. Coming to the Lord’s Table with thanksgiving has developed feasting muscles we didn’t know Christians were supposed to have.

It wasn’t about the ordinance of communion, but here’s what Jesus said about the organic nature of communion.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5).

Abiding is trusting, abiding is relying, abiding is being connected. There is no such thing as too much abiding. There is no such thing as taking abiding for granted; that is not abiding.

Eating the bread and drinking the wine as an assembly is more than another learning opportunity, it is more than obedience to the Lord’s command, it is our spiritual union with Him and with each other.

Still an organic image, but switching from branches to flowers, here is John Bunyan.

Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other. (John Bunyan, Christian Behavior, quoted in Brown, 173)

We are alive in Christ; His life flows through us. We are not isolated from Him, and that means we are more than individuals. We are His tree, His garden, His body. Communion is not a reminder of our communion; the ordinance is not merely a time for truth-telling about communion. It is a reminder of Christ’s death which enables us to have communion, that His joy may be in us and that we may love one another.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Greater Harbor

If a harbor would be home to many ships, its shore must be broad. If a man would be host to many for a meal, he must not only have a large table, he must also have a large heart. As one of your shepherds, I love you, but the head of this communion table is Jesus Christ, the one who love us and freed us from our sins. His heart is great.

God has the greatest love. His love is constant; He is love according to the apostle John, and that is always true among the three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, from before the world began. His love is potent; He does not just love those who love Him, He loves His enemies who hated Him out of rebellion and adopts them as His own. His love is costly, nowhere shown in its worth more than at the cross where Jesus took our sin on Himself, the just for the unjust.

The apostle Paul knew that it takes God’s own Spirit to teach us about God’s love, and it will still be more than we can fathom. Paul prays that God would strengthen us in power that we would have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19a).

When preaching on this passage, John Bunyan asked,

Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better?

All Loves Excelling, 37

In other words, if you could ask to be loved, could you have asked for more? The heart of Christ is great and great with love, and He invites us to commune with Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Small Snail Named Apollyon

In an initial draft of The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan wrote about Christian’s encounter with a small snail named Apollyon. It was an epic battle, and Christian won, but some of Bunyan’s friends thought it didn’t really work. One of them named Mr. Plot-be-bold said, “The battle part fits in the story of struggle, but fighting a snail doesn’t seem like anything special.” So Bunyan changed Apollyon into the large dragon-bear-human-fish monster we know about.

The previous paragraph was typed with my tongue in my cheek; there’s no edition where Christian fights a snail. My point is to say, you are not a better Christian because your battles are small. Of course, you are not a better Christian when you lose to a bigger enemy either.

We are in a spiritual battle, with actual enemies, within and without. If it’s not an ad on a web page, or your neighbor, it’s your own heart that tempts you so disobey. The more spiritually mature you are, the more sensitive you become to the danger of the temptations, and the more spiritually mature you are, the bigger the temptations are likely to be. Resist the devil and he will flee, but he’s going to come at you hard before that.

What is tempting you? How severely are you being tempted? Is it not just irritation but a seething anger? Is it not just wishful thinking but consuming envy? Is it not just a passing glance, but slavery to lustful thoughts?

The point is not to beat yourself up when the temptation is big, the point is to beat big temptations when they come at you. You can really lose, but you also have a high priest who Himself “suffered when tempted” so that “He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). He did more than defeat a dust bunny.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Truth-Tubes

Ignorance of God makes idolators or weak worshippers. Knowledge of God, like knowledge of one’s spouse, increases and intensifies love and praise for God.

But it is easy to seek knowledge as an end, or maybe more accurately to seek knowledge for the praise of our knowledge. This is a subject that I’ve spoken about repeatedly, a subject that I believe is relevant for our flock, and a subject that regularly requires repentance.

I’ve referred to seeking Bible knowledge as an end as trying to fill one’s “truth-tube” and those who do so as “truth-tubers.” This is not a criticism of truth, but rather an image intended to provoke our thoughts about what truth is for.

Imagine organized rows of clear and clean glass test tubes, all filled to various heights with fantastic colored liquid. What good are those tubes doing for each other, including the ones that are filled to capacity? They are close, but they are not connected.

The illustration of truth-tube came as I attempted to come up with the opposite of a great illustration used by John Bunyan in his book, Christian Behavior.

“Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other.”

The “dew of heaven” is grace and truth. We are “nourished” in order to “become nourishers of each other.” This is why we speak truth in love for sake of being joined as a body and growing as a body built up in love.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Passion and Patience

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, not long after having his burden removed, Christian arrived at the Interpreter’s house. While showing Christian around the house, Interpreter introduced him to two little brothers named Passion and Patience. Passion was all a’fuss while Patience was calm, content. Christian asked for an explanation.

Interpreter told Christian that both boys had been promised gifts by their Governor at the beginning of the next year. That was not good enough for Passion who demanded all that was coming to him now. Christian saw treasures brought to Passion and Passion laughing at Patience’s lack until all Passion’s valuables turned to tatters. Of course they would.

Christian came to understand:

Now I see that Patience has the best wisdom, and that upon many accounts. 1. Because he stays for the best things. 2. And also because he will have the glory of his, when the other had nothing but rags.

In our on demand world we want our inheritance before our parents have invested, we want our generations to grow up before they can tie their own shoes. But we can’t exhume a corn kernel two days after seeding and expect to eat off the cob. Plant. Weed. Wait. God loves our faith, our abiding dependence on Him, our persistent and patient praying. He has greater gratification in mind, eternal glory, and that won’t come overnight.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

All God’s Fullness

What is the single most important thing you can do to grow into God’s image? Do you remember when the apostle Paul wrote about believers being “filled with all the fullness of God”? Is that even allowable? It’s an inspired description, so it must be. But how does that happen? What is the process? We’re naturally too weak to do it on our own, therefore Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they:

may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18–19, ESV)

The single most important and humanly impossible need is for us to know the love of Christ. It’s not that we need to love Him more, though we will. It’s not that we need to obey for 70 years or by strength 80, though He may enable us to do that. We will be deified–filled up with all God’s fullness–as we come to have His love wrapped around our heads.

John Bunyan wrote an entire book on these two verses, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, recently published under the title, All Loves Excelling. Near the end he asked,

Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better? (Knowledge, 37)

In other words, could you have imagined, let alone asked for, a better love than Christ’s? Satan hates for you to know this goodness. He hates for us to come to the Lord’s Table set with the symbols of Christ’s love spent for us, the body and the blood of Jesus. Christian, remember His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection three days later. Abide in His love. Come, eat and drink it represented in this communion meal. It fills you with all God’s fullness.

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A Shot of Encouragement

His Blood is Bibline

He had studied our Authorized Version … till his whole being was saturated with Scripture; and though his writings … continually make us feel and say, ‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak with out quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.

—In reference to John Bunyan. Charles Spurgeon, Autobiography, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 159.

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Enjoying the Process

The Portrait of the Godly Pastor

The features of the pastor, as shown (twice) to Pilgrim by Interpreter:

  1. His eyes were directed up toward Heaven.
  2. The best of books were in his hand.
  3. The law of truth was written on his lips.
  4. The world was behind his back.
  5. He stood in a position pleading with men.
  6. A crown of gold hung over his head.

From The Pilgrim’s Progress, chapter 8.