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John Calvin wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion to defend why some of his fellow believers were willing to be burned for the faith. The final edition is some 1400+ pages of theology, but it was life and death. It wasn’t a relaxing reflection, Calvin himself was in exile from his home country as he wrote.

He described the “sum of the Christian life” as one of self-denial. It takes a little getting used to, but with qualification, it has some helpful parts. And yet, we need to grow up in our self-denial. We need to realize that self-denial is the way for the self to be most full.

Take communion as a testing Table. Properly received, the bread and the wine are a complete rejection of ourselves. Here we admit that we need external help. We have a body, we have blood, and all that we do in the body deserves judgment. On our own, we could give our bodies to be burned for another, and it would still gain nothing outside of Christ.

To receive the Lord’s Supper is to receive a Savior and to deny our self. We deny our righteousness, our good works. We deny that we have any merit, any reason that God should accept us on our own.

And it is that self-denial that lifts our heads. It is that rejection of self that opens into rejoicing. God calls us to deny ourselves and gives us a feast.

As we learn to follow Christ as His disciples, it is appropriate at times to fast. We do not indulge the flesh, which would be love of self. And yet here is food and drink. Come with your empty hands by faith and do not deny the feast.

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Solomon once wrote that in much wisdom there is much vexation. The more you know, the more you know what could be better, what has been lost, and how difficult it is to hold on to what is good.

You are a flock that has much knowledge. You have been given much, taught much, grown much. I myself have said before that, for my part, I would love to make you the right sort of discontent with less. May your expectations for grace and blessing never diminish.

But, this does put us in a higher level test; we’re in corona graduate school. We are not, for the most part, wondering whether to confess or deny that Jesus is Lord. We’re at the point of seeing how that confession defines our science and politics and businesses and neighbor relations and submission to rulers who aren’t submitting to constitutional laws.

You are among people who read the Constitution, like, the actual words and stuff. You are among people who have their eyes open, who have maturity to make their own decisions rather than be told by the National Guard to stay home. You know that freedom involves risk, that petty rules increase the ineffectiveness of the rules, and that rulers rarely go back to Civics after driving the Lexus of power.

So, Christians, you must be ruthless in mortifying your own will. You must not tolerate the anger of man in yourself. You must resist the worldliness of anxious rage, of woke self-righteousness, of grievances par excellence.

We cannot be the fellowship of (better informed) grievances, the FoBIG, even though it is grace that enables us to care how bad it is. I am exhorting you to fellowship in grace. Expose lies and oppression because you know that Jesus died for your lies and hurtful motives.

It’s one thing to be criticized for being a bunch of complainers it’s another thing if we’re not confessing our sin to Christ.

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We eat to know that we’re not alone.

I adapted that statement from a line in the movie “Shadowlands.” In it, C.S. Lewis is talking to a troubled student whose father had a saying, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Certain books do speak for us; we realize that the author thinks as we do and scratched it onto paper. We recognize kindred spirits in characters or at least in the mind of their creator.

Better than books and reading, the assembled Body and eating tell us that we are not alone. Paul told Timothy to flee youthful passions along with those who call on the name of the Lord with a pure heart (1 Timothy 2:22). He wasn’t the only one facing the temptation, nor the only one facing the temptation to moan like nobody understood his problems. Timothy was to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace like and among his fellow worshippers. In a “great house” there is more than one vessel (1 Timothy 2:20).

When we come to the Lord’s Table we are not alone. Here are fellow saints who are fighting sin and following Christ. You might not see them doing it during the week. Some may not be doing it as well as others. But struggling is not sitting it out. You are not on the field by yourself.

Jesus is saving individuals into a body, a people for His own possession. He is not waiting to do that in heaven. He is doing that right here as we worship Him together. Come and eat and know that You are not alone.

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It’s really quite something to watch what is happening around us. Even though we are mostly a hard-working people who keep our heads down, it is more challenging to live quiet and peaceful lives when our rulers and neighbors flex their power. A governor can attempt to enforce his vision of what’s good for us and our neighbors can attempt to guilt us into sharing their fears.

This cultural divide is as old as the Garden of Eden, but there are seasons when we’re not forced to stare it in the Facebook. The divide in our nation and our state is polarizing, and whether or not this is more of a grace to us or more a removal of grace from us remains to be seen.

It could be both. I think that when God sends particular and redeeming grace, the grace which saves unrighteous men from slavery to sin and brings forgiveness and freedom, He often sends with it an increase in common grace. Common grace comes to us in good things given by God to all men, not just repentant or thankful men. Common grace increases among a people where there is much particular grace at work because practicing the Golden Rule becomes a benefit overall.

What is certainly visible among us is a decline in common grace at least in terms of men who determine not to know what is natural and what is perverse. The complexities of the coronavirus response has brought this into relief, and it is not pretty. Our appeals to shared humanity and morals and life is less appealing.

But, Christians, do not lose heart. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). There is no liar that cannot have his lies exposed and be conquered by the truth of Christ. There is no oppressor that cannot be delivered from his sinful abuse of authority by the gospel. There is no rebel that cannot be redeemed and reconciled to his Maker. There is no blind man that cannot be made to see. There is no dead man too dead to be born again.

Let us proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He dispels illogic and deceit and conspiracies and incompetence. Link wars will not take away hearts of stone, but we know the God who gives hearts of flesh. We need more than new political representatives raised up, we need God’s grace that delivers men from His wrath.

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In Revelation 9:15 John writes about four angels who “had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year.” It’s not difficult to determine who had prepared them, but it is beneficial to meditate on it. God prepared them, to do what He wanted (which for these angels was to wipe out a third of mankind) at the exact moment He wanted (which I believe is still in front of us on history’s timeline).

I was talking with Jim this past week about the class he’s going to teach this fall at Comeford College, an Old Testament survey class. One of his first-level goals is to see how God puts nations in place, like pieces on a game-board, but centuries ahead of time, to write His story just so.

It doesn’t always look like we thought it would. Those without God’s Spirit won’t see it, due to spiritual incapability which includes culpable blindness. Paul told the Corinthians that if the rulers of the world had understood what God was doing, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” And even for us, the only way that sounds like good news is because God has revealed to us through His Spirit the atonement and accomplishment and power of Christ’s crucifixion.

Just as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

Which is itself a quote of Isaiah 64:4.

God has prepared life, blessing, honor, and glory in His presence with all the saints. It has not been revealed yet, but it’s just a matter of time, down to the hour. Even as we eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of Jesus He is preparing us for what He’s prepared for us.

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When we get to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), we will be blessed in the presence of friends. The Lamb will have come for his Bride, and we will be dressed in fine linen, bright and pure, which are the righteous deeds of the saints (Revelation 19:8) It will make sense on that day to feast. The Lamb will be our shepherd, the wine and the bread will be His gift.

When we are in the presence of not friends, it often doesn’t feel like the right time to feast. Of course, sometimes it isn’t. But remember the song of our shepherd in Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (verse 1)
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (verse 5)

As He leads us in paths of righteousness, and even as those paths lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, He makes ready for us a feast.

The Lamb’s Table is a feast, not predicted by the psalmist, but still relevant. We are surrounded by those who do evil. We are among people who love death. As His sheep, we know that wolves howl and bite, that wolves come in among the sheep, let alone in executive, legislative, and judicial clothing. But our Shepherd gives us a taste of bread and wine here, in the presence of our enemies. He feeds our faith. He quenches our anxieties. They can watch us eat and drink, and He will lead us home.

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Our governor has been very busy. There are a lot of unemployment claims to answer, and apparently a lot of hackers to track down who’ve worked the governor’s system. He’s also busy creating many rules and conditions for many phases of reopening and dealing with applications for variances that he has concocted. I don’t know how he does it, but somehow he still finds time to be interviewed regularly by major cable news media.

He found time to talk with a socialist group a while ago, and it was great to see how much they have in common. Our governor was especially excited about the coronavirus, not only because of it’s ability to be traced by science and data, but because of the opportunities that the coronavirus is giving us a wonderful opportunity to fix the economy so that we’ll also be able to fix climate change.

“we should not be intimidated when people say, ‘Oh, you can’t use this COVID crisis, you know, to peddle a solution to climate change.’ No. We have to recognize the necessity of this moment that this will allow us to rebuild our economy and jump-start it.”

I mean, wow, we really ought to be more thankful.

To be clear, I am being snide, mostly. But I’ve said before, and I still believe it, that this is a perfect opportunity, not just for socialists, but for the saints on earth. There is a climate that needs to be changed, it just happens to be a cultural climate. The climate that needs to be changed is deeper than the temperature on the surface, but things are heating up. In order to change the cultural climate, saints have to act like saints, not like ostriches, burying our heads, or like chickens, running around laying eggs.

Our message for the governor is not, “How dare you!” Our message is, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus.” If we want to see a climate of repentance, we must show the way.

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I’ve been guilty of giving simplistic counsel in the past. There was a day when there wasn’t a person with a problem to whom I wouldn’t start with, “Have you been reading your Bible and praying?” I suppose I may have asked that question to create distance and make it so that I didn’t have to do more work, and I got to sound spiritual while asking it.

With some more years off my head and more grey hair on my face, with loved ones passed or in daily pain, with friends lost or running in wrong directions, with more awareness of sin between spouses and sin from parents toward children and sin in governors and sin in society and sin in my own heart even on days when I’ve read my Bible and prayed, I have learned that there are facile attitudes that ignore true complexities.

And also, I’m more convinced than ever, that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. Jesus alone atones for sin. Jesus alone forgives and cleanses consciences. Jesus alone reconciles men to God, and men to men. Jesus alone builds His church. Jesus alone is the Savior. Jesus alone is worth knowing, and Him crucified.

So have you been reading your Bible to know Christ’s Word? Do you pray in Jesus’ name, since the Son’s work is to bring us to the Father?

Our world has a lot of moving parts. Our hearts have whole worlds within them. But the national guard, and “experts,” or drugs, and/or masks, cannot fix what is broken. The reason Jesus is a Sunday School answer is because He is the answer. Have you given yourself to Him? Then commune with and love Him around His table. All we have is Christ.

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Our kids have been swimming for the Mighty Marlins Swim Club for years. Mo has been an assistant coach for many of those years. We’re a swimming family, well, except for me. I’m more of a drowner. And the voice of reason.

Anyway, our pool, along with everything else, has been closed for coronavirus. The head coach of the team who is full of energy has been running dry-land workouts via Zoom, and in some ways, has gotten to see our kids more. Dry-land workouts also mean that their mouths are out of the water more.

So Coach Kirby wrote and produced and recorded and shared this song about the Higgins family: Better Off Muted!

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I want to talk about masks.

I am not an epidemiologist, or a doctor, or a nurse. I am not an elected official, I am not an appointed to any health board. In fact, no one has asked me.

But who would have thought that something so small could be so devastating? If someone had given me a week to invent a way to ruin community spirit as swift and as sweeping as possible, I’m not imaginative enough to have come up with “mandatory” face masks.

I am not talking about their effectiveness to limit catching or spreading viruses, let alone the risks of coronavirus. I am not addressing the legality of governor’s ordering behavior from the people apart from the consent of the people. I am not referring to my personal comfort wearing one, or not. I am speaking, as a pastor, about what masks are doing to people’s hearts.

More than fear, masks are winning at raising suspicion. Masks are stirring up first-feelings of distrust, even dislike. Like the law increases sin, masks increase suspicion.

Suspicion is a form of love, of self. You can get together a group of self-lovers, but you can’t build a community of them. There can be temporary alignment, but not true giving or serving or sacrifice. Whether or not masks inhibit the flow of oxygen, they are certainly inhibiting the flow of charity.

Paul wrote to the Galatians about using their freedom not for the flesh, but for serving one another in love, in which “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The contrast to this is killer.

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:15)

This is a kind of eating you can do with a mask on. You can eat like this without a mask but with your mouth closed.

Either we will bite each other and be devoured, or we will eat and drink Christ. He loved and loves us, He calls us to love and serve each other, the weak and the strong, and to live in harmony.

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