A Faith Increasing Ordinance

Communion is a faith increasing ordinance, not a doubt increasing one.

When we come to the Lord’s table, if we are thinking correctly, we remember our sin. But staring at our sin nourishes doubt. When we look at the bread, we are encouraged that the debt our sin incurred is no longer outstanding. There would be no bread unless another’s body had taken our judgment. We eat because Christ paid the penalty in full and we are forgiven. When we look at the cup, faith is strengthened as we remember that a sacrifice has already occurred. The cup means God is not waiting to satisfy righteousness with our blood. We drink because Christ freed us from guilt.

Do you have faith? If no, repent and believe. If you do have faith, even the size of a mustard seed, you are forgiven and free. Participation in this meal is a feast for faith, not a fast to prove we have it.

ETP as ePub

*I received an email today from Lulu informing me that they converted my self-published book on Ecclesiastes into ePub format. It’s already available at the iBookstore for $4.99.

As always, hard copies can still be ordered from my storefront on Lulu and, as of today, the print price is only $9.50 (Lulu’s cost to print). Not only that, but now you can download the PDF for free.

Attitudinal Sins

What kinds of sins should we confess? What kinds of sins separate us from fellowship with God? What kind of sins did Jesus die for? The answer is the same for all three questions: all sins, every kind of sin, each sin.

I ask what kind of sins we should confess because a certain strain of defensiveness infects our hearts. This breed of defensiveness reasons and speaks about “attitudinal” sins in a way that suggests, or even asserts, that sins of attitude are untreatable.

Let’s acknowledge that we do not want to create an Attitude Bureau of sin detectives. It is not hard to imagine a Pride Gestapo getting out of hand, putting everyone in jail, then arresting themselves because they themselves were so proud to arrest proud people. The goal here isn’t to encourage quicker confrontation, but rather to encourage quicker confession.

Maybe the most protected attitudinal sin is pride and the denials are viral. “You don’t know what’s in my heart.” That’s true. We can’t know another’s heart absolutely, but what we see and hear comes from the heart, like it or not. “Everyone is proud.” That’s also true. But isn’t that an argument for recognizing sin and confessing, not against it?

Last week I read some reactions to a particular situation that’s become a very public confrontation of pride and other “heart” issues. Numerous responders seem to suggest that attitudinal sins ought to be left alone. Really?

So, as long as I don’t jab you in the throat with my “I’m #1” trophy, my anger and pride are untouchable? You’ve heard it said that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, but I say to you, unless that anger comes out in an objective way that everyone and their mother can identify, you really can’t call it anger or hold me responsible for it.

Sin comes through word and tone, in deed and motivation, in action and attitude. We ought to be gracious toward those with attitudinal sins in the same ways we ought to be gracious with all sorts of sinners (though graciousness is not the same as silence). Even more so, we ought to be ruthless in confessing all our own sins, including attitudinal sins.

Making a petty comment is easier to mitigate than punching someone in the face. It can be touchy to deal with things that aren’t superficial and obvious. But our hearts are also tricky and would prefer to hide. If it’s sin, it should be confessed, even if it’s our attitude.

Attached to Strings

When Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is required” (see Luke 12:48), what was He talking about? In context, He certainly meant that those with great responsibilities should take great diligence in fulfilling those duties. In principle, He also meant that those with many resources should be great in sharing those resources. We received freely, we ought also to give freely. But is that all that is required from us with many blessings?

Is it not also true that those to whom much has been given, much rejoicing and thanksgiving is required? We received freely, we ought also to praise vigorously.

Openhanded sharing and openhearted celebration are not disconnected. Grateful people are more gracious, giving people. Those who sing at the top of their lungs are usually those who will sacrifice their lives. Conversely, a person who believes he doesn’t have enough to be thankful, won’t think he has enough to spare for others either. Those who fear that celebration might get out of control certainly can’t control what might happen if they give something to someone else. I mean, what if they don’t use it the right way? What if they aren’t appreciative enough?

Those questions, if accurate representations our perspective, condemn us. If God took that approach with us, would He ever give us anything? Instead, His generosity makes us generous and He has given much. In addition, He requires more than weak celebration. He requires not only that our hands receive and share, He also requires that our hearts receive and rejoice! We shouldn’t give with strings attached or sing like we’re attached to strings.

Soul-sucking Mastery

The cross causes offense. It scandalizes the heart and, in particular, it scandalizes religious hearts. It displeases “good” people who thought they could please God by their good works. It also angers unrighteous people who don’t like that their Maker is holy and that He judges creatures according to His standard. It disturbs civilized people who don’t want to be troubled with blood and death.

The cross offends because our sin offends God. Unless we sense the outrageous, awkward, woe-inducing elements of the cross we probably won’t see the outrageous, humiliating, woe-inducing elements of our sin. And unless we see our sin and mourn it, we won’t be happy.

Ignoring sin, redefining it, denying it, hiding it, just adds to it even if we postpone the full misery of it. There is only one way to deal with sin: cut off it’s soul-sucking mastery. The only way to do that is to see our sin on Jesus on the cross. We believe that He bore the wrath of our offenses and rose again so that we could be delivered from the condemnation and control of sin. The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The bread and the cup represent His body and blood, which means we eat and drink Him at His table. That’s offensive, but, according to Jesus, unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, we have no life. Whoever feeds on His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, and He will raise us up on the last day. His flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink (see John 6:53-56). In Christ, our offenses against God are forgiven. By faith, the offense of the cross becomes our freedom.

Good at What They Do

Our culture depends on deception. Our economy goes round as advertisers put the best face on their products, and it only takes $19.95 plus shipping and handling for us to realize that advertisers are good at what they do. In a similar way, much religious life goes round as church-goers stick on their best face for Sunday morning, and it only takes a little scratch before the sniff doesn’t smell so good.

Confession and deception occupy different sides of the field, and only one can side can advance the ball. In other words, it’s possible to gain ground in two directions but not at the same time. A man can mature in his integrity or in duplicity, in righteousness or in sin. He can become more practiced at living a whole life, the same inside and out, everywhere he goes. Or he can become better practiced at showing up as whoever he wants wherever he goes, a crafty actor putting on different faces.

Sinners who mature don’t sin less, they learn how to cover it better, or at least they think it’s covered better. We appreciate kids because they can’t help but speak candidly. Grown-ups are the ones who figured out the supposed benefits of distorting ugly words once they’ve left the heart on their way out the mouth. As we get older, it isn’t that we stop thinking foolish or sinful things. In many cases, we think worse things, but we’re more “wise” than to make it easy for others to see that we’re really fools.

Religious duplicity ruins the multi-faced and spoils everyone on whom it spills. Deceiving ourselves and others is easy, and is the easy way to destruction. We should do the harder work of confessing sin as sin in our hearts, turning toward light and walking in the truth, the only path to life.

Motherhood as a Mission Field

Motherhood as a Mission Field

Though normally found writing at Femina, Rachel Jankovic’s guest post on the Desiring God blog hits home for wanna-be gospel-centered moms (and dads). I recommended her book on motherhood/parenting a few days ago and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this article making a great chapter in a future book.

Jesus calls all His disciples to die, but

The closer you get to home, the less intriguing the work of sacrifice seems.

That’s a pain, especially since we spend so much time at home. Likewise, the closer you get to actual sacrifice, the less attractive it appears.

Giving up what you cannot keep does not mean giving up your home, or your job so you can go serve somewhere else. It is giving up yourself. Lay yourself down. Sacrifice yourself here, now.

I like David Brainerd. Mostly. I feel the same about Jim Elliot (whom Rachel quotes), and others of their ilk. They spent their lives in obvious ways for heavenly purposes and are commended by evangelicals for such commitment. But we’re easily tempted to measure our heavenly mindedness according to earthly standards. If something is so obviously heavenly, how do we know that? By actual heavenly standards, or by ones that were easier to determine…by earthly standards?

Amidst all the “crazy love,” “radical” speak, the key is to actually be radical, not do what everyone thinks is radical. Daily-dying parenting is radical indeed.

God calls some families to plant their homes in foreign lands for sake of gospel fruit. Families that plant thankfulness at home, no matter the street address, will grow juicy gospel fruit as well.

You cannot have a heart for the gospel and a fussiness about your life at the same time.

Merry Warriors

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 or weapons. 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.

Press On

It is a sin to be stagnant in spiritual growth. The apostle Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). We always need to remember that we are saved and sanctified by faith alone in Christ alone, but true faith lives and grows. The Christian life is not a self-improvement project, but those who embrace the gospel cannot remain the same, they “press on.”

We are not done until we are complete in Christ. We long for the pure milk (of the Word) so that “by it [we] may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). We “make every effort to supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are [ours] and are increasing, they keep [us] from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

To be sure, growth is often slow, but slow moving is not stagnant. Growth may not be immediately obvious, as with the physical maturation process, overnight is rarely long enough to observe measurable progress. But regular check-ups, perhaps with the help of others who know what to look for, may be quite important, especially if faith and hope and affections are not stronger. Every believing pilgrim makes progress and sins by staying in the same place.

Loving the Little Years

*Loving the Little Years – Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic is the best book on parenting I’ve ever read. I’ll admit that I haven’t read as many books on parenting as I probably should have and I’m sure I’ve forgotten too much of what I have read. That said, every Christian mother and father should own this book, inside and out.

A certain sort of parent will not enjoy this book at all. Parents who view authority as a control mechanism rather than a means to fellowship, who prefer dispensing law rather than following it, and who expect change in their kids before change in their own souls should stay away from this book. On the other hand, parents who want to know and live the standard themselves and who want their kids to know and love the standard will develop much stronger muscles from this workout.

Rachel performs a tricky task, helping us toward the happy conviction that we fail so miserably by reminding us that the gospel of grace works. Death fills happy homes as dads and moms die to bring life, and she makes gospel dying look good. She illustrates that laughter is both a seed and fruit, a great blessing and at times an impossible mission. She observes the beauty of messes and the products of wastefulness. She humorously assaults petty, panicky, and proud parents. It hurts. And it helps, a lot.

I hope all the parents I know will read this book, repent (as necessary), and salt their childrearing with truckloads of God-fearing fun. That goes most for me and I plan to open this book again and again when I need to get a look above the trenches.