Thankful for the Body

When we combine this season of thanksgiving with the communion we share at the Lord’s Supper with the diversity of Spirit-gifted members in the body, we have reason to get specific in gratitude for the different gifts we see.

When I look around the Table on Sunday morning, or, after everyone has come to the Table and is back in their spot ready to eat and drink together, I am very thankful.

I am thankful for the plurality of pastors who love and lead with sacrifices. I am thankful for the deacons who have different ideas on how to go about fulfilling their united commitment to help those in need.

I am thankful for those who lead us in our worship in song, who love the Lord and love each other and have fun together, even when they are off the stage. I am thankful for the men who care for the sound and the video, who set up early and tear down late, and who stream the service for those who can’t come.

I am thankful for the men who are growing in leading their wives and kids, I am thankful for the ladies who are growing in following their husbands and loving their kids. I am thankful for the energy of the young adults, for the joyfulness of the kids, and for the chorus of babies that sometime make a lot of noise at unplanned times.

I am thankful for those who are suffering, who are sick, who are weak, or who are in sorrow, and who are also displaying great patience and trust in God for us. I am thankful for those who arrange meals, make meals, make visits, watch kids, weed lawns, and show care to those who are hurting and grieving.

I am thankful for the ones among us who are quick to question, for the ones who are regularly critical; they help keep us sharp. I am thankful for the perpetually encouraging; they always lift up. God has arranged the body as He chose, and what good the Spirit is working among us.

Make It Perfect

There are two ways to make your Thanksgiving holiday family time together perfect this week. One way to make it perfect is to have your family not spend any time together. Really. Where two or three are gathered together, there is disagreement in their midst. This is merely “perfect” in the sense of free from strife, though that is probably an imperfect definition of perfect. When we as Christians think about perfect we usually think about what is as good as it could possibly be.

So if not getting together is not an option, and if getting together necessarily leads to some level of relational strife, how could there possibly be a way to make it “perfect”?

Paul wrote this:

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:13-14)

There are no perfect holidays that are free from strife, from stress, from criticisms, from sin. But there can be perfect harmony, even when sin snaps at the kids, the kids keep needling each other, the in-laws complain about the one dish that isn’t on the table of seventeen other things you made. The harmony happens when Christians absorb the heat.

You have two ways to respond when the steaming gravy gets spilled on you. You can be like a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes, soaking up the gravy from making an even bigger mess, or you can be like a dried out piece of turkey with crisp skin because it was cooked five hours too long. You can blame everyone else and leave the mess for them, or you can absorb it, as God’s chosen ones.

Be the person for whom others eagerly give thanks.

Royal Blood

David wrote a song about how “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). He called that Lord the “King of glory.”

Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
The LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!
(Psalm 24:8-10)

We know this Lord, this King, by name. This is the Christian confession: “Jesus is Lord.” And the New Testament is not shy whatsoever about connecting Yahweh to Kurios and then naming the Kurios as Iēsous. Everything attributed to the LORD is attributable to Jesus.

And this Lord is the Lord who laid down His life for His people. Paul wrote that “the rulers of this age…crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). He also wrote that they wouldn’t have done it if they understood God’s glory, but that’s not because they would have bowed. It’s because they wouldn’t willingly give Him greater glory through sacrifice.

We are not ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, that His life was drained for sake of the common people, on behalf of His subjects. I was reading in The Magician’s Nephew as Queen Jadis explained to Digory and Polly that she had to take the life of her subjects so that she could live. Digory said this was beastly, and the Queen replied that he only thought as much because he didn’t have royal blood or understand what it meant to rule. And yet the King of kings, who rules over all, became the sacrifice. This does not make Him less of a Lord. In God’s wisdom it exalts Him as the Lord of lords and Lord of glory. Come to the table of the King and eat. It is His bread and wine for you.

The Biggest Display at the Ministry Fair

We’re headed into an extended look at spiritual gifts over the next few months in the Sunday morning sermons. There are a variety of ways, as usual, to mess up our blessings.

One way is to lift up whatever gift God has given to us as the best one, to act superior over our brothers, or to expect that what we’re called to do is what everyone should be doing. These Christians not only have the biggest display at the Ministry Fair, but they give you the most Pharisaical look of disapproval for even looking at the other tables.

Another is to look down on whatever gift God has given to us as an unimportant one, to act inferior to others. Here we wish that we were called to do what someone else is doing, because doing that looks way more rewarding.

A third is to limit ourselves to whatever gift (we think) God has given to us. Someone asks us to do something, but it doesn’t interest us, so we excuse ourselves for spiritual sounding reasons. One time when organizing gift baskets for small group leaders, we asked parents to participate, giving for the leader(s) of the groups their kids were in. Some moms said that they weren’t able to give because that wasn’t their gift; they were gifted to teach. Hmmm. What? To excuse ourselves from general loving behavior and serving each other because it’s not our “gift” is the wrong reason.

Remember that the Lord is Lord. The Lord gives gifts, that He gives with delightful variety, and that the Lord gives commands that must be obeyed regardless of our gifts. You are not better than him, she is not better than you, and we all better build up the body in love. Criticisms and complaints in this department go directly to the Master, and should result in our repentance, not His.

Comparatively Uppity

On earth, the Lord’s Table may be the pinnacle of places where people do not get what they deserve. If we first examine ourselves, rather than being exposed by the Lord, we know that we are guilty outside of Christ, and that even after we came to Christ we have not always appreciated what He’s done for us.

Yet somehow we can still get uppity when we compare ourselves to others who are coming to the Table. We get comfortable in our spot, bordering on complacent, and then condemn brothers around us. “I bet he is eating in an unworthy manner.” But other than those who are under church discipline, it is a bigger problem for our fellow members not to eat and drink than it is for them to do so. Would we keep them from what the Lord gives so until they really appreciate what the Lord gives?

It wasn’t in the context of the communion meal, but Paul told the Romans that we are “not to please ourselves. Let each us of please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2). Paul prayed that God would “grant you to live in harmony with one another” (15:5). And then Paul commanded them, “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ as welcomed you, for the glory of God” (verse 7).

To “welcome” means to be glad to see them, to receive them in, to invite them close, to have the attitude of a host. Let us not despise other grace-getters, but desire great blessings from the Lord for them.

Eye Opening

It is the work of God to open eyes.

The apostle John told the story of a man born blind in John 9:1-41. Initially the disciples assumed that the man’s blindness was a direct result of someone’s sin, either his own sin or his parents. Jesus didn’t deny that this could happen, but Jesus did deny that it happened here. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (verse 3).

As the chapter continues, “the works of God” include more than the restoration of the man’s eyesight through saliva mud and a wash in a pool called Sent. The spiritual eyes of the man were also opened so that he saw Jesus for who He really was: the Son of Man (verse 35). The now-seeing man believed in Jesus, and worshipped him (verse 37).

In the process, the Pharisees showed that their eyes were shut tight, and even the man’s parents covered their eyes to avoid seeing. Then Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (verse 38).

Nearby some of the Pharisees overheard Jesus and asked, “Are we also blind?” They knew that Jesus had moved the discussion beyond the physical to the spiritual. And Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (verse 41).

What’s the application? We want to be blind and admit it. Jesus restores sight to those who acknowledge their need. It is the ones who refuse to admit their problems who have the biggest problem, and they are blind in their guilt.

The Supper Is a Sermon

Or, You Are Always Preaching

Preachers are often asked how long it takes them to prepare a sermon. The question wants to know how many hours the preacher spent that week getting ready to preach. Did he translate the verses for himself? Did he brainstorm? Did he read any commentaries? Did he write out his notes? Did he pray specifically over the sermon? There are any number of steps.

But it’s actually a more difficult question than that. How many years of Greek class did he take (and did he actually learn anything) or is he constantly looking up basic words in the dictionary? How much of the rest of the Bible does he know? Does he have theological guardrails in place already to keep him on the road, or is he spending lots of time climbing up from the ditch of error? Beyond all of that, is he right with God? He will choke on Scripture’s “solid food” if he isn’t practiced in distinguishing good from evil (Hebrews 5:14). These are intangible things that are hard to calculate when it comes to preparing his sermon.

But, if what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:26 is true, that every time we eat and drink the bread and wine we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes,” then we all need to ask how we’ve prepared to preach. There is accountability that comes along with teaching God’s Word, so we refer to the authority of the pulpit. But there is accountability at the Lord’s Table, too. There is a sense in which all of us are behind the pulpit. What is our message? God’s people should be ready to preach, by which I mean ready to eat, by which I mean ready to give themselves for one another in love like Christ.

The Vocabulary of Repentance

We owe some of our most cherished vocabulary to the Reformers. This is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday closest to October 31st when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences. It is good for us to be thankful for God’s use of faithful men.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate the New Testament into English from Greek. John Wycliffe hand-wrote copies from Latin into English, but Tyndale had access to the Greek New Testament thanks to Erasmus, and his printed English copies created a firestorm.

One of his most important word choices came in Acts 2:38. After Peter preached on Pentecost, the men asked what they could do to be saved. The Catholic Church taught that Peter replied, “Do penance.” It’s based on the Latin word, Pœnitentiam. Tyndale translated Peter’s reply, “Repent” (based on Μετανοήσατε).

There’s no need to remember Tyndale every time we repent. However, it is good for our humility and our gratitude to remember that we’ve been delivered from numerous gross errors and heavy religious burdens because of men who loved God and His Word more than their own lives.

Never once have you come to this part of our liturgy on Sunday morning and heard that you must confess your sins to a priest who takes your confession for you to God. You are exhorted to confess, and the heart may resist, but when you confess, it is directly to God through Christ. No man is in the middle, Christ alone is the mediator. And on no occasion have you heard that, due to your sin, you must punish yourself, or pay God money, or travel to see a religious site, or work off your penalty.

When you realize your sin, what should you do? Confess your sin, repent from it, trust in Christ, and your forgiveness is by grace alone.

More Melody Than Misery

It is more than possible that at least some of the Corinthians had participated in the worship of Dionysius, also known to the Romans as Bacchus. Bacchus was the god of wine and festivity and fertility, a god well known and served for centuries before Christ came. In the name of Bacchus men and women became drunk and in many cases caused destruction through frenzy and ritual unrestraint. Some of the Corinthian Christians may have brought this baggage with them to their fellowship meals.

Paul went out of his way in Ephesians 5:18 to contrast being filled with the Spirit to being filled with, another way to say “controlled by,” wine: “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

But it is interesting to see the results of that Spirit-filling: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). This does not sound like the death of Bacchus, it sounds like his salvation and submission to Christ. The opposite of Dionysian madness and indulgence isn’t commiseration, but melody and thankfulness.

Worshipped as a god, everything brings damnation. Seen as a servant of God, all lawful things are good for God’s glory. So were the Corinthians behaving inconsistently at the Lord’s supper? Absolutely. What would have made it consistent? Consistent would not have been misery instead of revelry, consistent would have been loving God and others joyfully in remembrance of Christ.

Because Others Refused

The reason we confess our sins as part of our church’s worship on Sunday mornings is because of unconfessed sin. I don’t mean that we are trying to provide an opportunity for those who failed to make things right with the Lord in the previous six days, though it does do that. I mean that we wouldn’t even be in this position as a church had not sin been defended and its ugliness demonstrated.

Many years ago I was personally, and then pastorally, struck by the fact that confession of sin by believers was mostly talked about as something Martin Luther did when he was trying to be a good monk, wearing out his priest in confession for hours at a time. Most of the churches I had been a part of only encouraged confession of sin for Christians during A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) in corporate prayer meetings, and even then for a short period of silent prayer. I started to wonder why confession of sin, to God and to others, had become so little practiced. Around that time I read Augustine’s Confessions and made resolutions to repent, more specifically and more quickly, and urge others to do the same.

The existence of our church, not just our liturgy, came about because others refused to acknowledge their sin, blamed people around them, and used their authority to punish those who were confronting the sin. It wasn’t difference of opinion or preference. Failure to take responsibility for our sin causes pain and it can cause, and has caused, division in relationships, in families, and in churches. In our case, forming a new church allowed for additional study about church services, and a time for confessing sin seemed relevant for our liturgy and circumstances.

By God’s grace we benefit from the weekly reminder to confess our sins because others refused to. Only God can bring blessing out of sin, and He also blesses those who confess and forsake their sin.