Not in Me

Pharaoh paid a great compliment to Joseph before seeing any of Joseph’s work for himself. “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” But Joseph answered, “It is not in me” (Genesis 41:16). He knew he had nothing that he had not received. For however audacious he’d been telling his own dreams to his brothers and father, he’d been humbled for the last thirteen years, sold as a slave and then serving as a prisoner. Joseph knew, at least by now if not before, that God was the source of his wisdom.

The Lord’s Table is a similar light on our interpretation of things. We could start to think that we belong here by nature of our righteousness or faithfulness or endurance. Another person could say, in a less than complimentary tone, that we think we’re so holy. But the bread and the wine remind us that salvation and redemption and righteousness are not in us.

We sing a song sometimes on Sunday mornings titled, “Not in Me.” Here are some of the key lyrics:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

Jesus is our life. Jesus paid our debt to death. Jesus bore our load of guilt. So “He alone can give me rest.”

As we celebrate this meal together by faith we proclaim that we’ve been lifted up from the pit of sin and guilt and death by Him alone.

After the Final Amen

Of all the petitions that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, the only one He clarified after the final amen, so to speak, was the request for forgiveness. There’s certainly more that Jesus could have said about the coming of His kingdom; that could have been really helpful for our eschatology. He could have said more about what things are like in heaven and how that would translate here on earth. Instead He followed up on forgiveness.

Not only is forgiveness comparative, the Father forgives as we forgive others, forgiveness is conditional. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). The key word in verse 12 is as, the key word in the clarification is if.

We believe that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself. We believe that salvation is through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is not by obedience, including our obedience to forgive others. In fact, if we were actually justified by our forgiving then none of us could be forgiven. The psalmist asked, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” So also, If God should mark our resentment toward those who’ve sinned against us, who could stand?

There must be some way to understand this qualification without seeing it as a way of “practicing our righteousness before other people”; who has ever said, “No wonder God likes me so much, I always forgive”? Yet the condition in verses 14-15 is as easy to shake off as DNA, meaning, we can’t. There is a spiritual reality in place. Sons of the Father act like the Father. If we are not forgiving, what makes us think that we are sons of the Father of forgiveness? If we are not forgiving, what makes us think that He accepts hypocrites?

So, if you don’t or won’t or just can’t forgive, then why do you think you should be forgiven? If that’s the case then you don’t want forgiveness, you want acknowledgement from God that you don’t need it. But that is just what you can’t have.

Exsultamus!

Perhaps one reason why some young people in the church grow up and walk away from the faith is because they have not celebrated communion enough or because they have not celebrated it at all. This Table is a central location where the church and parents need to disciple young believers.

There is a wrong way to do right things. Observing the Lord’s Table in a way that stirs up guilt more than hope, that triggers shame more than joy, that prompts uncertainty more than peace, is dissonant with the gospel and dangerous to souls. A regular diet of doubt and fear not only doesn’t make the diet appealing, it makes faint Christians.

Infrequent celebration, or observation, is like an annual family meal, or maybe a quarterly repast. When we are around the Table we connect. We are reminded of who we are and how we’re related. We catch up and, if we mess up, we make up. We get right with one another because that’s what families do. More biblically, that’s what Jesus does for families that follow Him. It’s worth doing weekly.

Is it so surprising that young people who may never have seen joy at the Table aren’t interested in it, or who, when they saw the adults value it on a yearly basis, decided it must not have that much value after all?

We rejoice—exsultamus!—that Jesus is our Savior (Titus 3:4-6), our Lord (Romans 1:4; 10:9), our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), our firstborn Brother (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:17), and our example (1 Peter 2:21). We rejoice that He died, was buried, and rose again to defeat sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 5:21). We rejoice that we are His Body (Ephesians 1:22-23), and that He blesses all who participate in the blood of Christ and partake of the body of Christ by faith in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 10:16). As often as we eat this bread and drink the cup we exult in our Lord by faith (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The “Oh, no!” Conjunction

In the middle of the next petition in the Lord’s Prayer is a small word labeled by some Greek grammarians as the “Oh no!” conjunction. Actually the lexicons and syntax books call it a comparative conjunction, and this comparison cuts the conscience. Other names for this conjunction could be the “Conviction” conjunction, the “Are you serious?” conjunction, or the “Hypocrite’s Log-puller” conjunction.

The prayer Jesus teaches His disciples includes: “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). There are three key words: debts, forgive, and as.

Debt here is more than a financial obligation, it is a relational obligation caused by a wrong. These are debts caused by sin. We do not owe our heavenly Father any money. We owe Him thanks and obedience, but we failed to make all our payments. So we ask the Father to forgive us, to cancel the debt. We’re asking Him daily, just as we do for our bread, to remit the balance.

Even though Jesus hadn’t died yet at this point in His ministry, there is no hint that forgiveness from the Father was in question. Yet the Father is still watching for something.

“Forgive us … as we forgive.” Is it better to be forgiven as we forgive others or is it harder to forgive others as Jesus forgives us (see Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13)? Both seem impossible, the latter because Jesus forgives perfectly and the former because we keep records of wrongs against us perfectly.

The Father forgives us as we forgive:

  • our fussy spouses
  • our unthankful children
  • our overbearing parents
  • our annoying siblings
  • our passive aggressive neighbors

Did the disciples have any follow up on this? Perhaps they did, or Jesus anticipated that they would, since this is the only part of the prayer Jesus returns to when the prayer itself is finished (see verses 14-15). I’ll come back to those addenda next week, but the “Oh No” conjunction should be enough of a mirror to humble us in confession before the Father.

Familiarity Breeds

Since I’m a pastor and since I am responsible for much of the Lord’s Day liturgy at our assembly’s worship, I’m often asked what our Sunday morning service looks like. When I get to the part about having weekly communion, the follow-up question is typically, “Doesn’t that make it not special after a while?”

There are short answers, which is what I usually give (don’t be too surprised). I often say, “Not yet by God’s grace.” Still, we understand where the question comes from, and yet it is surprising that Christians are so fearful.

The truism we believe is that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s catchy, and we can see how that could be used as a diagnostic to explain why we have contempt for something. Now that I think about it, I’d much rather blame “familiarity” than something in my own heart. Yet (my/your) ignorance also empowers contempt, as do (my/your) pride and (my/your) envy.

I was meditating on the assumed power in the verb: familiarity breeds. Breeding doesn’t happen by proxy, there are no breeders emeritus, you cannot sign up for distance breeding. Husbands become fathers through familiarity with their wives. Why don’t Christians ask if marital familiarity is dangerous? Maybe Christians are too spiritual to ask it out loud, maybe some do think it. But familiarity is powerful to produce fruit.

In the Bible, familiarity with God breeds panic and praise, weeping and worship, dread and joy. As it turns out, familiarity isn’t the problem, we are the problem. Dinner with the family every night could become monotonous if mom despised the work and dad despised the interruption and the kids despised being despised. But when there is familiarity with sacrificial love and intention, contempt doesn’t have a place at the table.

The Lord’s Supper doesn’t stay special because of it’s scarcity, but by our increasing in the knowledge of God that grows our affections for and gratitude to Him.

Right Out of the Oven

Halfway into Matthew’s rendering of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus provides the most temporal of all the requests: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Bread stands for food, the kind of physical sustenance a man survives on, provided he doesn’t have celiac disease. You’d think that the Great Physician would have taken that into account. Probably He did. Bread is good, gluten and all, though some don’t have the guts to enjoy it.

We are to ask God to provide us with food, with bodily nourishment. Fasting is appropriate, see verses 16-18, but all fasting all the time leads to no life in which to fast.

The food we pray for is “daily,” bread, a “for today” bread, and we ask for it “today.” Without electric refrigerators, added preservatives, and sufficient shelf-space, quotidian bread makes sense for a 1st century petition. But even more so it reminds us that our dependence on God should be fresh. Daily as in right out of the oven is something to want, not necessarily a sign of want.

It is easy to think that we don’t need to pray this part of the prayer because we have weeks’ worth of food in the house, or to run the other direction and think that we must put ourselves in a position to only have daily food. Apathy and taking food for granted is one problem, false guilt and ascetic legalism is another.

The point is that God gives food. He must make the sun shine and the rain fall and the seed sprout. He must make yeast rise in the loaf and hold delivery trucks down on the road. He also must make cows masticate grass into milk for us to churn into butter for our bread. No stage in the process happens apart from Him holding the world together. Praying for our daily bread is a way to stay dependent and thankful.

Last Number of Times

If you read my blog you probably already know through some other channel that my sister went to be with the Lord on February 17. The funeral home website posted her obituary and a video slideshow, and the following are the notes for the talk I gave at the funeral service.


My sister was a gifted crafter. As the many quilts displayed in the sanctuary demonstrate, she had a keen eye and deft touch to put her ideas into incarnated form. Before she was squaring quilts, she was knitting, inventing her own patterns for socks and sweaters and hats and turtles and costumes for pirate turtles such as Captain Knack Sparrow.

For as many projects as she finished, word is, even by her own testimony, that there were dozens more she’d begun. Miles of of yarn and square yards of fabric in her stockpile were waiting for their turn on her needles or craft table respectively. It seems that socks were her particular weakness. She often knit one, that couldn’t truly be called the first, because she never cast on the second.

In some ways it feels as if her life was only half finished, or as if she had started some elaborate quilt that is now sewn short and not so neatly. Switching analogies, not many authors would write a story like this. She gave her life to Christ less than a year ago, so how many more things we might have anticipated for her? How many things did she anticipate doing differently? I believe that God is sovereign, that He writes the story how He wants and that each individual sentence ends for our good and His glory. I’m not questioning His timing. I’m saying it’s different than we would do.

In some ways it’s surprising that she made it this long. That’s partly because one doctor forecast in the middle of August that she might have only three weeks to live, and she lived more than six months longer than that. It’s also surprising she made it this far because, among other things, I tried to teach her how to ride a bike by pushing her down a hill when she was I only four years old, or maybe she was only three. Apparently I forgot to tell her to go toward the side without the car at the bottom; she did ride down the hill…directly into the car.

We shared a variety of memories, including the times when dad and mom required us to put our noses on the windows in the back of the car when we were messing with each other’s stuff, or sneaking over past the halfway mark on the backseat. We often threatened each other in the heat of some sibling argument that when we grew up we wouldn’t give the other one a kidney.

One of our competitions also involved seeing how long we could get mom to respond to us saying goodnight. In one of the houses we lived in, mom would tuck us in and then head down the stairs. Brooke and I would try to see how many ways we could say “Goodnight” and “I love you” until Mom had had enough at the bottom and shut the door. One of our favorite techniques was, “I love you last number of times” because you can’t go any higher than that, right? Then our higher math developed and we loved her last number of times, times infinity, plus one.

As I said earlier she repented and put her faith in Jesus Christ less than a year ago, here at West Hill Baptist Church on Easter Sunday, 2016. She immediately found a church near her apartment in Cincinnati, Truth Community Church, and started worshipping there. I saw her a few weeks after she professed faith and she was so excited to be learning about Ephesians verse-by-verse. Her only disappointment was that Pastor Green was already in chapter 6. She asked me, “Do you think there is any way I could go back and study the first five chapters, too?”

She was already feeding on and being satisfied by the God’s Word. The Bible is like food. It is bread and wine that give joy and peace.

Eleven years ago when I talked at my dad’s funeral service I said he possessed an uncommon diligence and that I wished he had known more Christian joy. My sister had an uncommon ability to make others feel included. She was funny and smart, quick as anyone with witty wisecracks. And I still wish my sister had known more Christian peace. For a variety of reasons, and for many years, she didn’t have the security and stability that only comes from the blessing of the heavenly Father. She had some great friends, she accomplished some stunning projects, but until she submitted to Christ she did not start to have the peace or the firmness of being planted like a tree by living water as Psalm 1 describes.

She knew the gospel. She grew up going to church with the family, she graduated from a Christian college, she taught in a Christian school for a few years. Sadly not everyone in those places treated her well, and she didn’t see the gospel well-adorned by professing believers. Some of the “Christians” were real jerks (“jerk” being the only word dad taught us how to spell in sign-language). Yet if she could tell us something from heaven, I suspect one thing would be: don’t let any of that keep you from the peace of God the Father that comes through Jesus His Son.

The Lord has decided that it is best for her to get her heavenly dose of His peace sooner than later. Though she only began to know His peace on earth for a short time, He has blessed her in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and she’s there now. She has full redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of trespasses according to the riches of grace (Ephesians 1:7). She experiences the rich mercy of God, He has raised her in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). She knows the breadth and length and height and depth and the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19). And at this point she knows way more about Ephesians than I do!

The gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) has brought her to her eternal peace, and all of us who believe will get there too.

So I love her last number of times, and I’m glad to get the final word, because I know that she has great peace with our Father.

The Cup in Our Hands

There is no way that Pharaoh’s cupbearer was unable to remember what Joseph had done. Nothing could have been worse than losing his royal position as confidant to the king and nothing else other than his restoration to that position would have occupied his mind more while in prison. His dream, and Joseph’s foretelling of his deliverance, consumed him for three days until the prophecy was fulfilled. Even if the cupbearer did not want to advocate on behalf of the Hebrew who served him and gave him hope, there is no way that Joseph simply slipped his mind…for two years. He didn’t draw a blank, he blocked it out.

Joseph asked the cupbearer to “Remember me.” He appealed that the cupbearer would “mention me to Pharaoh.” Though Joseph had cared for him every day and miraculously calmed his fears, the cupbearer refused to recognize him in thanks let alone lobby for his release.

Jesus also told His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). He gave them bread to represent His body, a body given to redeem them as the bread sustained them. He wanted them to keep in mind what He had done.

When Paul explained the Supper to the Corinthians he said that, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Not before a Pharaoh, but before one another and before the world, our receiving and remembering is part of our witness.

Christ puts the cup in our hands so that we may drink it. He was lifted up on the tree and lifted up from the grave so that He might lift up our heads to share in His glory. We may not forget. We must not let it slip our minds or purpose to keep quiet. Around this Table we are aware and we appreciate and we announce that Jesus Christ died and rose again to deliver us from all our offenses.

A Lot of Calvinistic Sun in the Sky

The third request of Jesus’ prayer takes a lot of faith. He taught us to ask our divine Father to set apart His name from every other name. Next we ask Him to establish His promised empire among us. Then we’re to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

I want to ask, how is this possible? And, what would it look like?

How many servants of Christ have prayed this prayer as sworn Arminians? Do we appreciate that when we make this petition—or any of them really—it assumes that the Father has both the prerogative and the power to make this happen? We pray that God will make God’s will prevail over man’s will. We’re not asking men to obey God’s will, we’re asking God to cause them to obey. That’s a lot of Calvinistic sun in the sky, even more than when we acknowledge that the Father knows what we need before we ask Him (verse 8).

If God answered this prayer—and it is His will for us to pray for His will to be done, so we should expect Him to answer—how would we know? What signs would we see? Well, how are things happening in heaven? We’re not asking for something different here, but that it would be here like it is there.

In heaven His Word is heard, His name is hallowed, His commands are obeyed. That obedience is total—not partial, happy—not sullen, immediate—not delayed, and quick—not slow. The angels don’t question His will or rebel against it. They don’t try to ignore or tweak or replace it.

As we pray for heavenly obedience to come down, let us pray that He cause us to obey on earth first.

In Remembrance of Where Christ Is

We are in a constant spiritual war and our enemies—sin, the world, and the devil—are relentless. The Lord has not left us without weapons.

Paul told the Romans to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by remembering their baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) This is one reason we don’t sprinkle, we dunk under water as if buried under it. Then, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We’re united with Christ in death and resurrection. Sin is not our master anymore, so we don’t need to present our members to the enemy but to God as instruments of righteousness. Yield to grace.

And then feed on grace. Our baptism identifies us with the army of God, and our communion strengthen us for the fight. The bread and the wine remind us that the Lord is with us. During this part of the plan we might be in Egypt (an analogy to Joseph), we might be in prison (also analogy), but we are not alone.

The worst part about excommunication, in which an unrepentant but still professing believer is prohibited from the communion table, is that such a person is removed from the protection. He is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). The rest are “assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus…with the power of our Lord Jesus” (verse 4). We are not alone and hungry. We do not become prey for the enemy. We are fed for strength to succeed in our work and to resist temptation.

So eat and drink in remembrance not only of what Christ has done, eat and drink in remembrance of where Christ is, here, with us.