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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 Place of the Sulk

When we think about our salvation by grace and the fruits of grace that would provoke others to jealousy, even elect Israel (Romans 11:11), we do not deny “the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha” (John 19:17). We call it Calvary, from the Latin, Calvariae meaning “skull.” Jesus was tortured, mocked, and crucified at Calvary. He was crucified as a sinner so that He could be a substitute for sinners.

Because of His death, He is our righteousness, our eternal life, our present and our future. So we should not turn our remembrance of the place of the skull into the place of the sulk. We’re at this Table by invitation of the King. We’re here because He paid for us to be.

Why might a communicant sulk?

  • forgetting one’s forgiveness in Christ, or not seeking it
  • giving too much credit to sin, acting as if guilt can’t be covered by Christ
  • holding a grudge against another member of the body of Christ
  • judging another member of the body for not appreciating communion with Christ like you do

We desire fruit, but a garden can be full of all sorts of rotten fruit. A rotten-fruited garden does not make anyone jealous. “How did you get all that rotten fruit? We were wanting to make something just like it for ourselves!”

Bread tastes good, wine gladdens the heart, the word of the cross is the power of God. So celebrate! Sing! Smile! Enjoy! It isn’t because of what we’ve done. We can’t forgive ourselves or cover our sin or make fruit grow. Jesus paid. Jesus saves. Jesus lifts. Reckon it so, and rejoice! Our kids should want in. The elect of all nations should want what we have in Jesus.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Flotsam and Jetsam

The Bible contains some hard truths, truths that cut against the grain of our sin. Scripture is profitable, Paul wrote, for teaching and reproof and rebuke. Through the God’s law sin is revealed. The mirror of the Word reveals our imperfections. The living and active Sword divides in order to rearrange us and make us more pleasing sacrifices to Him.

Spiritual leaders sometimes say hard things to confront or challenge. Paul wrote that way to the Corinthians but he wanted to make sure that they understood his motivation. After his first letter he had avoided coming to Corinth again and exercising his authority to confront them with the following clarification.

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

Even when he challenged them to change, it wasn’t because he thought he was the boss. He wasn’t motivated to get others to act for him. He wanted others to act for their joy. He pressed, he pushed, he admonished, and he taught in order to stimulate their faith for their own gladness.

Many things attack our faith which means our gladness is vulnerable. Selfishness attacks faith, as does bitterness, envy, fear, cynicism, greed, lust, pride, and any sort of cistern drinking. The river of faith flows toward joy, so whatever is blocking up faith must be recognized and removed. Someone on the bank can see the crash coming, even help pull some of the flotsam and jetsam from their position on the side. But it usually requires effort from the one in the boat, too. “We work with you for your joy.”

Our corporate worship is for our faith for sake of our joy. We are in it together, pursuing the same goal. We need to confess any sin that is blocking the exercise of believing or the experience of gladness in God.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Motivation for Obedience

We believe that God is God meaning that He does whatever He pleases (see Psalm 135:6). We believe that He controls everything, from ants in driveway cracks to the color of lights on the White House. We also believe that God writes all things into existence for His glory, and in light of His unmatched wisdom and power, we would be right to conclude that what we see around us is ultimately the best way for Him to be seen as great.

One practical sanctification question for those with straight theology about God’s sovereignty is this: If God is in control, and if He gets glory whether I obey or not, then why should I pursue obedience or be concerned when I sin?

Most Christians who are savvy enough to ask this already know that God commands righteousness. He explicitly said, “Don’t sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1) even though more grace would seem to bring Him more glory. Yet sometimes this simple order doesn’t satisfy all the way down. We still might question if the sovereign God isn’t at least a little disingenuous.

God does desire His glory. He also desires our obedience. He also gets glory when we don’t obey. But when we don’t obey, we don’t have joy.

God told Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). God was and still is honored through Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness but this didn’t make Pharaoh feel better. God wrote Judas’ part in the gospel story (Matthew 26:24) and must be praised for it, but Judas did not get joy. God gets glory, in some way, even when we sin, but we do not get joy.

This is yet another evidence that we are not robots, that God desires more from us than a warm body to play a part. If you are holding onto sin, especially if you are trying justify it theologically, confess and repent motivated by a desire for joy. We pray like David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Everything brings God glory, but not everything brings us joy. He offers us both.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

As Reliable as the Sunrise

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples that the cup poured out for them was the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). It is the sign of the promise revealed in Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31. The Lord committed to Israel that He would cleanse their sins, take away their hearts of stone, give them hearts of flesh, and cause each of them to know Him. This covenant stands out because it depends wholly on the Lord. As it’s been observed, no man can give himself a heart transplant.

Not only is this promise unconditional, it is also as reliable as the sunrise. Jeremiah explains what would need to happen before this promise could fail.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Thus says the LORD,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the LORD of hosts is his name:
“If this fixed order departs
from before me, declares the LORD,
then shall the offspring of Israel cease
from being a nation before me forever.”
(Jeremiah 31:31–36)

God established the light and seasons of the sun to teach us about His strength and faithfulness. Through these God also shows His joy. As Chesterton speculated in his book Orthodoxy, “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun.” He does not get tired of calling the sun into place, and He does not tire of keeping His promises.

We Gentiles partake as the overflow of the new covenant life. There is a season when God is grafting in those who had no promise to receive the salvation, and even this is part of God’s plan to finally save Israel (Romans 11:25-27).

As we eat and drink communion week by week, as we cross off days on the calendar until the Son comes, as we take it for granted when our weather apps say the sun will come up tomorrow, then we have reason to trust God in all His good words to us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Be Cheered!

Over her Christmas break from college, Katie Herrington came to our Life to Life group after one of the messages on worship. The question for discussion related to any general thoughts on our Sunday morning liturgy. Katie said that while she enjoyed having communion each week, and while she appreciated the glad attitude we bring to it, she also had a difficult time not imagining us lifting our cups toward each other and saying “Cheers!”

There are differences, to be sure, between men in a bar clinking glasses for another round, or guests at a wedding reception toasting the couple, and the ordinance of communion. The difference is that it is okay not to be truly glad in the bar or at the reception. We will be judged for being half-hearted in our joy at this Table.

We won’t start saying “Cheers!” as part of our liturgy, but can we not look around when we drink the cup that shows the price of our freedom from sin and think, “Be cheered, soul! Be cheered, neighbor! Be cheered, little Christian!”? All of our true cheer, all of our lasting happiness originates in the grace of God, and that grace radiated most clearly at the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross.

Be cheered, believer! He has accomplished Your redemption and will finish the good work He began in you. That is something to eat and drink about.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Focus on Rejoicing

The shortest verse in the Bible is not John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Counting letters in the original language, there are 16 characters in three words. But the Greek text of 1 Thessalonians 5:16 includes only 14 characters in two words, typically translated, “Rejoice always” (ESV, NAS, NKJV, NIV, NRSV). The variations are not really that diverse: “Rejoice evermore” (KJV) and “Always rejoice ye” (YLT). Though it’s the shortest, it may be the second most difficult command to obey in Scripture after loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This command comes in the final chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians and near the middle of 17 different exhortations. We ought not separate it from its context but we can focus on it. Rejoice. Always.

How have you done rejoicing in 2014? What percentage of proactive rejoicing have you done? Are you faithful to schedule (and practice) rejoicing with God’s people on the Lord’s Day? Do you make rejoicing the agenda at your meal times and holiday get-togethers? What percentage of reactive rejoicing have you done? Do you rejoice with others when they receive good news, or is envy a more likely response? Do you mix rejoicing in with your burdens or reports of bad news? Paul said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Rejoicing does not eliminate heaviness (see 1 Peter 1:6), but it does flavor, lighten, and transpose that heaviness.

You may or may not use the changing of the year to take stock of your sanctification. But you absolutely must hear the will of God as revealed in His Word and measure your walk accordingly. Are you the grinch, the grouch, the grumbler? Or are you the glad, grateful, again and again rejoicer?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Merry Communion!

We are taking these four Sundays before Christmas as an opportunity for advent Lord’s Suppers. That is, we are considering how the incarnation affects our communion. Last Lord’s Day at the Table we rejoiced that God came. We can also celebrate that God, in Christ, manifested Himself.

According to John, “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). If that’s accurate, then fellowship with Him is out of the question. But, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus Christ exhibited the eternal God.

Paul, referring to the living God, said, “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16), even if not in that order. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity.”

God, in Christ, showed that God is full of grace and truth, that God is love, that God descends to take on flesh and serve and take pain for others. God puts the broken back together, He heals, He reconciles, He sets prisoners free.

Jesus reveals God. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Through Him we not only know more about what God is like, we are brought to God (1 Peter 3:18). If we’ve seen Jesus we’ve seen the Father (John 14:9) and have fellowship with Him. “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.” With all that Christ has shown us, we can greet each other at this meal, Merry Communion!

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Joy That Cannot Be Lost

Jim Elliot famously journaled, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” There is much wisdom about forsaking temporal things for eternal things in Elliot’s quote. I think the same truth applies to forsaking sinful things for righteous things: “He is no fool who repents from what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

When we choose sin we choose a fool’s paradise. Like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3, we imagine that we are rich, that we’ve prospered, that we need nothing (verse 17). But we cannot keep our dream alive no matter how long we pretend to sleep. The reality is that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Only a fool would build his house on an hallucination.

When we repent with zeal (Revelation 3:19), we turn toward true joy. We turn toward Jesus who makes us rich with gold tried by fire, who clothes us with white garments and covers our shame, who anoints our eyes so that we may see (Revelation 3:18). When we come to Christ, He lines us up with a new reality, a true reality that cannot be lost.

The gospel not only demands that we repent from sin that we cannot keep, it also promises us joy that we cannot lose. To get from the losing to the keeping, we must confess and forsake our sin. It’s the least lukewarm decision we could make.

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A Shot of Encouragement

Merry Warriors

No one in my (small) theological circle would say that God gets panicked. Also, no one I know would say that God doesn’t care about righteousness. So if He created us to reflect Him, then why do we freak out when things aren’t yet the way He wants? Image bearing is a big responsibility and we should watch Him to see how He handles the battle.

Attitude is a key ingredient in our reflection. Yes, we love truth and seek righteousness. God does. But we don’t fight with worldly wisdom (James 3:13-18) or worldly weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). God doesn’t.

Doug Wilson, in Our New Birdfeeder, argues that:

The besetting sin of conservatives who see what is going on around us is the sin of being strident and shrill. The besetting sin of most other conservatives is to react against that shrillness by adopting a posture of cluelessness. For has not experience shown us that as soon as someone gets a clue, they move straight into Shrill Mode?

And, for my money, this is point of the post (emphasis mine):

What we need, what we desperately need, are merry warriors. What we need is for someone to establish an alternative to “Goliath is a buddy,” on the one hand, and “Goliath is an invincible foe” on the other. No, no…Goliath is our new bird feeder (1 Sam. 17:46).

Quoting Bible verses to defend the fleshiness of our fracas is too typical in the truth-lover’s camp and reflects poorly on our Commanding Officer. Instead, we need more better fighting with Spirit-produced love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. Call up the merry warriors.