Without the Stickers

This is a week to kick up your #blessed game a couple turkey legs.

All lawful feasts are Christian feasts. That’s because unbelievers always feast for wrong or at best deficient reasons. They feast because they like food, which is fine, but Who made them to like food and Who provided it for them? They feast because they like family, or they like the nostalgic idea of family, but how can they know what a family is for?

Christians know the Father and His Son. Christians have God’s Spirit who turns the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Christians know that farmers do a lot of work and that no farmer has ever made a potato or a pumpkin or a turkey grow on his own. God gives growth. God gives us all these gifts, food and family and forks and plates and tables and chairs and wine and pie.

I am not exhorting you to post a picture with the appropriate hashtag for every gift; you don’t have the mental bandwidth (even if you have an unlimited data plan) and it would be annoying and it’s not a biblical, conscience-binding law. It is biblical law to “give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Maybe you could imagine that you had a oversized roll of #blessed stickers, and you could put one on everything you see this week that reminds you of Your Father’s kindness. Would that cause others to see something different in your Thanksgiving feast? Can you act in such a way that they would see the same difference but without the stickers?

Against Raising Our Kids to Be Pornographers and Prostitutes

When I first started to think that God was calling me to be a pastor I was still in high school. And I did not want to be a youth pastor. One reason for that was because it seemed, based on my friendship with my youth pastor at the time, that the person who got to talk to the parents of the youth had a more strategic position.

My exhortation to confession today is loosely connected to the sermon text about how our work will be revealed (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 which is aimed at church leaders), and more specifically directed to parents of our junior high and high school and college age young people based on some things I’ve observed about our kids.

I want to start by saying that I am against raising our kids to be pornographers or prostitutes. I assume that we are all in agreement about that, and I wanted to take my initial step where the common ground was secure.

So we can and do agree that certain ends of our kids’ sexuality are no good. That’s good because the godless parts of our culture are in a tailspin of confusion and inconsistent condemnation over sexual corruption. They don’t know what they’re doing. But I want us to consider, do we?

We don’t want our kids to grow up and be prostitutes, but how much perversity are we willing to tolerate for them? We may not like thinking of it in those terms, but what are we thinking when we let them watch it, or mimic parts of it? Would we be okay with their promiscuity as long as it’s heterosexual? No? Then why in the world do we let them play around with transient relationships? Why do we let them practice being slaves to their feelings, because (when it’s not awful) it’s cute? Or because we don’t want to face the wrath of their feelings against us?

When it comes to parental purposes, it seems that we are either not thinking or, worse, our purpose is to avoid an imagined puritanical prudishness that causes too much cultural embarrassment. We have a plan, and that is to let them have fun and have crushes and not have to control their fleshliness too much beyond not getting pregnant.

Shouldn’t the purpose be for purity, in parts and hearts? We should want our kids to get married and be fruitful and multiply, and we are not taking that seriously enough. Parents, our work is on display.

We Love His Handouts

November is National Adoption Month and last Sunday was Orphan Sunday.

Adoption has been national news the last couple weeks, though, because the draft of the national budget proposed cutting what is called the Adoption Tax Credit. Since 1997 it’s been Federal law that qualified expenses in the adoption process up to a certain amount could be reimbursed by the government as a tax credit, which is even “better” than a tax deduction. The predominately Republican Congress cut the ATC from their budget drafts for this cycle sending every conservative, adoption-loving person I saw online into a conniption. “How in the world could they do this?”

It seems that all our campaigning/complaining has “worked” and, as of a few days ago, the ATC is back in the budget. So what I say next may be moot in more than one way. And while I may get stuck in the rhetorical mud, here goes. Whose responsibility is it to pay for adoption? The government?

I like adoption. I love adoption, our adoption by our heavenly Father and also enacted by earthly fathers. Our family adopted. We’ve talked about adopting again. We’ve given money to support other families who’ve adopted. We started and had a non-profit organization to raise money for adoption for a while. I attend adoption ministry meetings and orphan care summits on an ongoing rotation. Our church gives monthly support to a local adoption lawyer as well as an orphanage in India. I’ve preached about adoption in our church and for other churches, and will continue to do so. And I am opposed to the Adoption Tax Credit in particular and to the government’s financial responsibility to reimburse adoption expenses in general.

“But,” someone says, “the cost of adoption is too high for most interested families. We need this credit.” But, I say, shouldn’t we work to get the government to stop charging so much money for the adoption process in the first place? And certainly we would desire that the government not prohibit Christians and churches or non-profit groups from coordinating giving, sort of an adoption Kickstarter or GoFundMe. One family who gives willingly to another family that desires to adopt is great, and more personal, and Christian. And we would all have more money to do so if all our taxes weren’t so high. As it is now, every little fussy group wants to make sure the State gives them “their money (back)” for “their important thing” so we keep feeding big government and ceding them control.

There are layers to the problem, including how much it costs lawyers to get their education so that they can get government approval to bill clients for filling out the piles of government paperwork. There are other problems in the national budget, including the report that funding for Planned Parenthood remained even when the Adoption Tax Credit was cut. That is broken and wrong.

But nearer to the heart of the problem is the fact that Christians would rather have the government take care of the cost. And Christians prefer to depend on the government because we are selfish. This is yet another reason why we need to celebrate weekly communion because it is potent by God’s grace to raise our thankfulness rather than raise our expectations of what other people need to do for us. It reminds us of our Lord who came to serve not to be served. As Christians take that seriously, even things like the national budget (and federal programs and elimination of federal programs) would eventually, inevitably change. There is no reason for it to change right now because Uncle Sam knows that we love his handouts.

Give Me a Break

We are a people who love breaks. We love lunch break, coffee break, Christmas break, summer break. We want others to give us a break. Maybe the most masterful ad campaign of the modern era is “You deserve a break today.”

We live in a time when we can take breaks and (because enough other people haven’t) expect that there will still be food at the store in the wintertime. God has blessed our economy enough that we don’t feel the squeeze too badly, and we can relax more often with less consequences than our grandparents could. This is not an exhortation against vacations, but against faulty expectations.

Jesus asked His disciples,

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? (Luke 17:7–9)

If this sounds unjust to our ears, it may be because we forget our place. We want to say, “I would never treat someone like that.” But such a response shows that we’ve imagined ourselves in the wrong position. Jesus continued,

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ (Luke 17:10)

We are the servants not the master. We are not working for our salvation, we work because He saved us. The Lord does give us occasional breaks so that we can rest, and that is so we can get back to the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly labor He has for us to do. So as a friend of mine likes to say, Get after it!

Meat to Live Out

I noticed some discussion online this past week about frequency of observing communion. One of the arguments pastors make against doing communion weekly is that it will become old. A good response is that those same pastors don’t have the same feeling about the weekly offering, or the sermon. And Ha. And ouch.

In the world God made we need food on a regular basis. Food helps us grow. So Peter said that the word grows us up in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2) and Paul knew that some needed milk and others solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2).

Paul was referring to truth as food, and especially the truth of the word of the cross. He had teaching in mind but would it not also apply to our time around the Lord’s Table which focuses on the cross?

One of the reasons that this meal stays fresh is because it is a different meal for everyone who partakes. It is the same bread and wine, it is the same gospel, the same salvation in a crucified Christ.

But some are newer to the faith, or they are not growing as they should. What do you need? You need the milk of the gospel. You need to look to the cross. Jesus paid it all. Believe it until you say Amen! Some others of you are maturing by the Spirit. You don’t need different or deeper doctrine. You still focus on the cross, but for you this is meat to live out. You are strengthened to imitate the Savior’s sacrifice, to believe as you give your life for others.

Eat and drink Christ by faith. These are the same elements and never quite the same meal twice.

Your Neighbor’s Slop

It is a universal law that all men seek their own advantage. It is obvious by reflecting on one’s own motives, it is obvious by looking at one’s neighbors and at the history of humanity. It is an inescapable reality that parents know, that philosophers and policy makers write about, and that advertisers depend on. Every human being thinks about himself or herself first.

The question is not if this is true, the question is if this is good. It’s hard for most of us in conservative Christian circles to consider, but if there was no god, what would be bad about self-interest and self-preservation? Or for those who grew up in a culture with a pantheon of selfish gods, knowing that we become like what we worship, a culture of self-firsters makes sense.

Worldly wise men have even attempted to build nations on the principle. Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan provides a perfect example. Here’s his argument (in my words, not his). Men are pigs, but they can’t help being pigs. Don’t tell them that being a pig is bad, just try to convince them that they’ll actually get more slop overall by not stealing their neighbor’s slop. If the neighbors get mad they might kill you, meaning less slop for you. Fear is a powerful motivator.

God’s Spirit says that this is fleshly. The self-principle in man produces immorality, impurity, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, and “things like these” (Galatians 5:19-20). It is natural, but it’s not good.

The alternative is to walk by the Spirit and “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Of course it’s natural for us to listen to our flesh, and this is why we need to meditate on the cross. As John Owen might have told Hobbes, “Be killing self or it will be killing you.”

A Spirit of Fermentation

One of the most most cutting conflicts among the Reformers concerned the nature of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. 500 years later it seems strange that they had such contention over communion. Didn’t they have an obvious and shared and bigger enemy in the Catholic Church—which taught that Jesus was being re-crucified every time the priest prayed over the elements? The Reformers all knew that was blasphemy. How come they had such a difficult time coming together at the Table of fellowship?

Some of it was ego. We can see that and say it now, at least because it’s always easier to criticize someone who can’t fight back. But it’s true. They had their own ministries and desires to be The Man, some men more than others.

Some of it was conviction. Maybe we should have more trouble to work through than we do. They cared about truth in Scripture. There were and definitely are dumb doctrinal disagreements and divisions, but disagreements do demonstrate the desire to do what God says.

We have the historical benefit of knowing their positions and watching them fight it out, and kill each other, without fearing the same. And while we still stay clear of the idea that the bread and wine turn into Jesus’ actual and physical body and blood, we also think that more is happening than just symbolism. We are not merely going through the motions on behalf of mental images, as if the mental part was the part that mattered. The Spirit works in the preaching of the Word and the partaking of the Word.

Through faith in Christ our faith is fed. By grace we are being knit together in Christ. In Christ we have wisdom to appraise how yeast causes the loaf to rise and grapes to ferment. And in Christ we have wisdom to praise the Spirit who causes our hope to rise and our joy to ferment. The Spirit reforms our lives, individually and corporately, and that is something we all celebrate in common.

The “Institutes” Twice a Year

Wisdom is as wisdom gets along with other people. It’s more often phrased, “wisdom is as wisdom does,” but the right sort of wisdom does right in relationship.

The apostle Paul referred to two types of wisdom: the wisdom of man and the wisdom of God. Man’s wisdom always tries to exalt man for his wisdom. God, in His wisdom, sent His Son to take the form of a man and die on the cross in the place of men who were trying to exalt themselves for their wisdom.

The apostle James also described two types of wisdom. His alternatives came from cosmically different ends and apply to the person sitting next to you.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:13–16)

It’s as if James was spending a weekend and Corinth and decided to write a letter.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

It doesn’t matter how much you read your Bible if you are watching porn; tolerating impurity, let alone pursuing it, is not wisdom. It doesn’t matter if you come to church every Lord’s day if you won’t stop envying the other girl who’s getting more attention than you; that’s hellish. If you’ve read all the Reformers and read through Calvin’s Institutes twice a year but are unwilling to hear that you have an anger problem from any of the ten people who care about you, the demons rejoice.

All of these relational conflicts reveal which “wisdom” is in our hearts, and there can be no friendly neutrality between the world’s wisdom and God’s wisdom. What harvest is coming from what you’re sowing?

Spiritual Adulting Is Hard

You know what is really hard? Spiritual adulting.

“Adulting” as a verb is relatively new. It was on the Oxford shortlist for “word of the year” in 2016. The Oxford online dictionary defines it as: “The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.” Here is their example usage: “It feels really good to take a step back from adulting and have someone else cook dinner for me.”

It’s only as funny as it is destructive. The love and embrace of childishness crossed a cultural threshold where it has become so bad, and so endemic, that it’s more comfortable to laugh about it than to cry about it. We do not live in an age that cares about maturity.

Even as Christians we can tend to talk about spiritual growth, about spiritual fruit, without talking about spiritual maturity. Let’s call it spiritual adulting. The author to the Hebrews scolded his readers:

You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12b–14)

These were not new believers. They had been at it for a while; “by this time you ought to be teachers” (the first part of verse 12). But they were not at the point of τέλειος, of being “mature.” And what does maturity look like? It looks like having and using power to discern good from evil.

Here are some sample questions for Christian grown ups and those who should be growing up in Christ.

  • What does spiritually adulting Facebook engagement look like? What do spiritual adults “like”? What do they complain about, and how?
  • What do spiritually adulting sleepovers look like? This is for younger ladies, but they should be thinking about it. What games would they play? How would they talk?
  • What do spiritually adulting Halloween parties and and costumes look like?
  • What does spiritually adulting movie watching look like? This is not just about adult viewing, but spiritually mature adult viewing.

Contradicting the Celebrating

God is in the business of reconciliation. Paul said that God “reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

This is what God did in Christ. This is what the divine Christ did. This is what happens when the fullness of God takes on flesh: He gives Himself to bring together what was split apart.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19–20)

The division between God and man was resolved, sorted out, healed. The cost was great: “the blood of his cross.” Crucifixion restored peace.

And that is to be so among us, between one another.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 1:21–22)

What does that holiness include? It includes loving your brother. What does that blamelessness look like? It means not slandering or bad mouthing another member of the body. What does being above reproach involve? It involves living consistently with the communion that Christ purchased by His blood.

We are not allowed to hold onto grudges, bitterness, malice, or envy against one another. If you have something against your brother, you need to make it right. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). We celebrate our reconciliation around this table, so don’t contradict the celebration by refusing to be reconciled with one another.