God made limits for increased glory. The size of the canvas frames the image and shows off how much the artist can fit in a small space (for example, have you seen the pencil-tip sculptor? It is more impressive how much he can do with so little to work with). A poetic convention restricts the impression or feeling to a form rather than letting it meander like a verbal amoeba. And the glory of man includes not running 60 mph, not flying without mechanical aid, and not working without sleeping.
Many limits we take for granted, that’s how we’ve always known life on earth. But we ought to give thanks for only 24 hours a day—though we’re tempted to complain when we have a lot to do, we ought to give thanks for not having eyes in the back of our heads—do we really want to see that, and we ought to give thanks for only having two hands. These are gifts, chosen for us by our Father.
There are other personal limits for which we should be thankful, certainly not bitter or envious. These are also unchosen by us, but chosen by God specifically for us. You don’t get to be 7’ tall, you don’t get to make a billion dollars an hour, and half of you don’t get to avoid the way it is with women. Are you humble enough to delight in your constraints?
Some limits are universal for the glory of mankind, some are for the glory of kinds of men, and then some limits get changed for a particular man. New lines are drawn by aging, an accident, a diagnosis, a relative’s diagnosis, a financial gift, a job loss, et cetera. I’m talking about the things that God gives you now that maybe you didn’t have yesterday. The page turned and God is writing for your glory in a new genre, and run-on sentences aren’t allowed like they were yesterday.
If it is from God, then what is the grace to you in it? Are you ready for Him, not to change the rules per se, but to change your restrictions per diem? Are you ready to give thanks for the personally chosen limits? Or are you fighting the limited givens of glory?
Bread and wine are good. They have their own, built-in sustaining properties. They are also available to enjoy at your own home around your own table, or without a table if you prefer.
What is special about the bread and wine on this table? Well, in terms of the gluten, it’s the same. The tannins have no magical properties. But while there is nothing mystical about the physical elements, there is a supernatural process at work.
The bread and wine are special because Jesus gave His Word on it. He said, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.” He said, “Drink of it…this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” God’s Word stamps the elements with new value.
John Calvin likened it to the stamp on precious metal. A lump of silver has value but the stamp turns it into coin that means something more.
Why are crude and coined silver not of the same value, though they are absolutely the same metal? The one is merely in the natural state; stamped with an official mark, it becomes a coin and receives a new valuation. And cannot God mark with his Word the things he has created, that what were previously bare elements may become sacraments? (Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 18)
The Spirit gives us a toast of joy, strengthens our faith, unites us to one another by grace through faith. This his why it’s more than a 100 calorie Sunday morning snack, it is a meal of fellowship. It is a meal that a few among us have been eager to enjoy for their first time, and since their baptism last Sunday evening we welcome them to join us.
Repentance is both a change of thinking and a change in action. It is both abstract and concrete. Because of the internal part, which is both necessary and first, it may be tempting to treat repentance as an invisible thing. True repentance takes place in the heart, but is that all we can know?
Repentance is internal but it is not invisible, at least not indefinitely. Repentance on the inside—again, where it must begin—will work itself out. It will be external and so it will be visible. A fruit tree may be healthy without producing fruit, but only for a time. Likewise, the sap of repentance will produce a bucket worth of behavior.
John the Baptist used this type of terminology when he addressed a crowd that came to him to be baptized. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and he admonished them,
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:8 ESV)
There ought to be fruits, plural, and fruits “in keeping with” or “worthy of” (KJV) or consistent with a change of mind.
It’s not as if they had done nothing at all. They came to John, they said they wanted to be baptized by John. But he knew that more was necessary. When they asked, “Like what?” he told them to share their clothing and food with the needy (verse 11), that the tax collectors should be honest (verse 12) and that soldiers should not use their force for personal gain (verse 13).
The point is, we can’t lift up our desires to first place, or seek our own advantage, or use our opportunities to serve self. Selfishness is what we need to repent from, and it will be obvious to others.
It appears that Americans will have spent more money for Easter this year than they did for Valentine’s Day (ht: Al Mohler). When it comes to the commercialization of holidays, Easter may not be quite as marketed for money-making as Christmas, but it is multiplying like bunnies.
What most people are buying most is candy. I remember getting candy on Easter when I was a kid, and we often give candy to our kids, too.
Is this a bad thing? Is it a sign of our compromise, or worse, of our loss of respect for Christ’s bloody sacrifice for sin and miraculous, world- resurrection?
It certainly could be. Buying candy and giving it as a gift (and eating it) isn’t necessarily Christian, nor does chocolate and peanut butter obviously make one think of the cross or the empty tomb. Candy consumption could be thoughtless. It could be sacrilegious.
But what other worldview would ever make sharing sweets a cultural thing to do? Bacchus was the god of partying, and there was much feasting and drinking done in his name, but it always led to men and women losing inhibitions, and usually someone ended up dead. Serving Bacchus resulted in ecstatic rage and the shedding of blood. Materialism doesn’t offer a good basis either. Mammon is a god to many, but how did the candy company executives and advertisers and store owners convince so many consumers to buy tasty yet otherwise useless candy?
We eat sweets (and other feasting foods) to remember winter’s end, not to try to forget winter’s inevitable return. We buy and give and share candy because Christ’s resurrection has established a world of buying and giving and sharing. We don’t party before offering sacrifice, we rejoice because the sacrifice was already offered and accepted. For it even to be possible to commercialize Easter, Easter had to be effective, otherwise we would all be fearful of immanent judgment and eternal death. We should not be thoughtless, but because Jesus is risen from the dead, think about how much we have to be thankful for.
Based on how the calendar works this year, Easter Sunday and Tax Day in the United States fell within two days of each other. Jesus often used economic vocabulary and asked some critical questions about our accounting categories. What is the price tag on your soul?
In Matthew 16 Jesus told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem and would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised. They didn’t understand this. Peter even tried to argue Jesus out of it. Following that conversation, Jesus told His disciples how they too must take up a cross and follow Him. While that might sound difficult, He asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (verse 26)
This is a rhetorical question based on accounting principles. There is not one possible gain, but two, and likewise there are two possible losses. One can gain the world and lose his life or one gain gain his life and lose the world.
Only those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will find it (verse 25). Only those willing to count everything as loss for sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord understand the gain. Only those who die will get a return.
On Sunday I asked our church, “What would make today a profitable Easter Sunday?” As Christians we can do many things for Christ’s sake. But by way of testing our hearts, could everything else be counted loss if you gained more of Christ? Would you give up your new Easter outfit, your family traditions? Would you give up your theological library for simple trust in Christ? Would you give up your job, your reputation? Are there any good things are keeping you from beholding Him better?
The Lord’s Table is a table of community accountability. By God’s grace, we have only removed a few persons from communion at our church due to church discipline. He has guarded our flock from gross, ongoing, unrepentant sinners. We have been able to enjoy the sweet fellowship here without too much bitterness.
This is fellowship worth preserving, worth protecting, and that means that not everyone is invited. In particular, when professing brothers refuse to repent from their sin after they have been personally, lovingly, and repeatedly pursued, they may be formally uninvited from participation.
The Lord requires one brother who sees another sinning brother to confront the sinner. The Lord instructs more people to get involved if there is not repentance and, eventually, the (local) church must acknowledge the immorality and discipline the sinner by removing him from fellowship. Those inside the church judge those inside the church. This is part of mutual accountability.
The church gets it wrong sometimes, more often than not by failing to deal with sinners. According to 1 Corinthians 11, God sometimes intervenes directly rather than through the church toward those who profane the body and blood of the Lord by unworthy participation at His Table. God is not mocked even if the church gets it wrong. Death is an even stronger statement than church discipline.
Of course, it is not much of a discipline to keep someone from something that we don’t value or enjoy. Our communion now sets the tone for later. The offender will miss out to the degree that we make much of this meal. We will give an account for how we participated, and it ought to be with righteous rejoicing.
The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, wisdom for those who need to get wisdom, and wisdom for those who need to give it. Solomon helps the one who already understands obtain guidance and then also give guidance to others.
One of the proverbs most quoted in our house is Solomon’s lesson on the unteachable.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.
(Proverbs 12:1, ESV)
The word “stupid” (translated as such in the ESV, NAS, NIV) usually referred to an animal that lacks sense. To hate correction is “brutish” (KJV). Lots of times parents are up against the worst sort of willful stupidity. Some other times parents are the worst at keeping their kids dumb.
Jonathan Edwards illustrated it this way.
If any of you that are heads of families, saw one of your children in a house that was all on fire over its head, and in eminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, that seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape, after you had often spake to it, and called to it, would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner? Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly of delaying, in the most lively manner you were capable of? Would not nature itself teach this, and oblige you to it? If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself? (emphasis mine)
Who has the bigger problem, the child in the burning house or the dad who sees the child in the burning house and acts as if it’s no big deal? He who hates reproof is stupid. He who hates giving reproof when it is necessary sponsors stupidity, and death (Proverbs 19:18). Maybe the most ironic response is hating correction so much that you get fired up to correct the ones urging your kids to get out of the burning house because you don’t like their tone. We should be wiser than that.
It is sort of funny to think about the high moral standards of the Egyptians who refused to eat with the Hebrews. In Genesis 43 it is described as a “abomination,” something that causes disgust or hatred, a thing to be avoided at all costs. Joseph and his attendants ate at a separate tables from his brothers in order to avoid the defilement and dishonor of sharing such an intimate act with the unworthy.
How much more surprising is it to think about Jesus eating with His disciples and instituting a meal of His presence at a Table with sinners. The gospel isn’t for the righteous, for the ceremonially clean, for the cultured or civilized. The gospel is for the unworthy alone, for those who are totally depraved, solus et totus pravus. How amazing is the grace that meets us at a table of communion.
The author of Hebrews wrote about Jesus:
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebrews 2:11)
And he wrote about the Father:
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
The Lord’s Table is not the table where only the Lord sits. He does not set up two tables, one for Him and one for us, let alone one for Him, one for those who are sort of pleasing to Him, and one for those who should just be thankful that their donkey’s weren’t stolen for slaves. He eats and drinks with us, He gave His body for us to eat and His blood for us to drink. We are not an abomination to Him because Jesus atoned for us.
I’ve heard it said that if you want to memorize another person’s name, try to say it three times the first time you meet them. That exercise certainly won’t hurt, since the more we work a muscle the stronger it gets, including the brain. I really like a phrase that one of our elders uses frequently, but I was having trouble remembering it. We talked about it again at a leaders meeting last Saturday, and I’m going to talk about it now to burn it in my brain.
For over six years Jim has both asked how we can avoid becoming, and has passionately proclaimed that he did not want us to become, a Y.A.C.: yet another church. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that our local body should seek to be preeminent over every other local body, nor does it mean that we just think we are better than all the other churches. In one way, we want to be just another church making angelic beings wonder at the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10) as God in Christ by the Spirit has built up many local bodies over the generations. We’re not trying to innovate the gospel, we’re trying to be faithful to it.
But we do not want to be yet another church by maintaining the status quo in terms of our discipleship and image-bearing. We do not want to be yet another church where attendees punch their Sunday morning service card and show little transformation in their lives.
In our discussion on Saturday Jim also asked how we can avoid becoming a Y.A.C., and Ryan answered that, among a few things, we must confess our sins. We must not get comfortable with our sins. We must be willingly convicted by the Word and Spirit, we must be humble to acknowledge our disobedience, and then we must turn away from our sin, not just those of the culture or country or superficial Evangelical churches.
Are you bitter? Are you envious? Are you gossiping? Are you self-righteous? Are you unthankful? Are you tolerating impatience or anger? We may not change Marysville by our confession, but we will not change Marysville without being changed ourselves.
How do we know that we don’t have to live with tortured consciences? We couldn’t know it without the Bible. Men have attempted all sorts of quests to deal with their inconvenient guilt, whether trying to distract the conscience with entertainment, trying to drown the conscience with alcohol, trying to defeat the conscience with legalism, or trying to propitiate the conscience by punishing someone else. There will be a reckoning. There will be blood. Someone will die. And all of those man-made attempts will only torture the conscience more.
The only way to deal with a tortured conscience is to trust the tortured Christ. He took the reckoning for all who will ever believe. He shed His blood. As Paul wrote in Romans 3 there is redemption “in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” No sin escaped God’s notice, so no man could be free from condemnation whether he was aware of it or not. When God sent His Son, it “was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” It might have been a two-decade forbearance, or maybe two-millennia, but accounts still require a reckoning.
The ministry of the gospel brings about “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). The blood of Christ will “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). The resurrection of Christ cleanses us, as baptism represents, “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).
So we come to the Lord’s Table as the redeemed, the resurrected, the purified. He is Lord of every conscience because He died and rose again. He was afflicted so that we could have freedom from condemnation. This is the power of the cross.