Be Cheered!

Over her Christmas break from college, Katie Herrington came to our Life to Life group after one of the messages on worship. The question for discussion related to any general thoughts on our Sunday morning liturgy. Katie said that while she enjoyed having communion each week, and while she appreciated the glad attitude we bring to it, she also had a difficult time not imagining us lifting our cups toward each other and saying “Cheers!”

There are differences, to be sure, between men in a bar clinking glasses for another round, or guests at a wedding reception toasting the couple, and the ordinance of communion. The difference is that it is okay not to be truly glad in the bar or at the reception. We will be judged for being half-hearted in our joy at this Table.

We won’t start saying “Cheers!” as part of our liturgy, but can we not look around when we drink the cup that shows the price of our freedom from sin and think, “Be cheered, soul! Be cheered, neighbor! Be cheered, little Christian!”? All of our true cheer, all of our lasting happiness originates in the grace of God, and that grace radiated most clearly at the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross.

Be cheered, believer! He has accomplished Your redemption and will finish the good work He began in you. That is something to eat and drink about.

Ongoing Application

We believe that God saves sinners. We believe that the Father elected a people for His Son forever ago, that the Son laid down His life to pay for the sins of His people a while ago, and that the Holy Spirit grants new life and repentance and faith any time ago. Our sovereign, triune God designed, obtained, and fulfills all His saving work when He wants.

Because we believe that God drives salvation and that His eternal will cannot be derailed, we might ask, “When is a man saved?” Is he saved when God chose him? Is he saved when Christ rose from the grave for him? Is he saved when he confesses Christ as Lord and Savior? Is he saved when Christ returns and takes him to glory?

A man elected by God cannot not be saved. But from that man’s perspective, he cannot know that he is in that group unless he believes in Jesus. He can’t claim redemption without repentance. John Murray distinguishes between two works of God in his book, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Christ does not need to die again, but the Holy Spirit does need to apply Christ’s work at the appointed time. How will we know when it has been applied? The sign is repentance and faith in Jesus.

Even as believers who worship by confessing our sins each week, we don’t do it because we are uncertain about the outcome of Christ’s sacrifice. We seek forgiveness and restoration to fellowship as an ongoing application of the Son’s work. Humble admission demonstrates the Spirit’s ongoing work, and that should encourage us that God’s eternal plan is alive and being written out among us.

The Tyrant’s Life

A single mom with eight year-old triplet sons went to Starbucks one afternoon for a break. She had spent her day not only making meals, cleaning spills, and overseeing homeschool assignments, but also arguing with her sons about the reasonableness of her directions, defending her authority, and trying to maintain order. One of her young lawyers said something to the effect, “It feels like we’re in prison.” She took this final straw with her to sip some coffee.

A mother carries and births and nurses new life. She has earned her place of authority. Even more than a mother, God gives life and breath to every being. And like so many ornery, short-sighted sons, humanity despises His gifts, ignores His instructions, and cries that His laws are oppressive.

Because God created the world He has authority; the Potter shapes pots. Some pots hate the arrangement and talk about throwing off the tyrant’s rules. We know that is actually impossible, but for a thought experiment, would it even be good to be free from God’s law?

What if the mom in our illustration ordered one too many shots of espresso and didn’t stop after the drive thru for a few hours? The twelve year-old sister at home stands no chance of keeping things together. How long would it be before the brothers became combatants against one another instead of co-belligerents? Would not each brother soon begin to fight for his own opportunity to try the tyrant’s life? This would lead to black eyes if not burning the house down.

When we come to our knees before our Maker and acknowledge His commandments, we ought to be thankful for how good His rules are. It is impossible for us to have no rules at all, and the ones He gives are for life. We ought rather have Him as God than so many fellow creatures talking about freedom while trying to wear His crown.

The Nature of Things

Knowing the nature of things is quite valuable and surprisingly elusive. When the church assembles on the Lord’s day and meets God in worship, confessing our sin, hearing His Word, praying and singing to Him, we are being reminded of how things really are.

Remembrance also happens at His Table, too. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today. Everything was given change orders when He walked out of the tomb, or given warning that time was running out if it would not submit to the new order.

That order is Jesus Christ as Lord. That order is forgiveness for all who eat His flesh and drink His blood. That order is the certainty of His return and he fulfillment of every one of His outstanding promises, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ 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 5:17–19)

He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). So even though we do not see Him now, we know the nature of things and we love Him. Though we do not see Him now, we rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. The reality is that all who believe in Jesus Christ will reign with Him on earth and that day is closer than ever.

An Airtight Case

The only thing required to be guilty before God is to do nothing. Men transgress God’s law on purpose more than the evening news has time to report. But they can and do sin before getting out of bed in the morning and when they crawl under the covers after a day of ignoring God.

One of the scariest paragraphs in the Bible covers a legal ramification of creation. While the author of Hebrews acknowledges that we only understand that God made the world by faith, Paul warns that every man who doesn’t praise God for making the world is guilty in his unbelief.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19–21)

God can be and is known by everyone at some level. His invisible attributes, at least in His power and divine personhood, have been clearly perceived in the visible world. Every man who breathes has an airtight case against him. All he has to do to deserve wrath is nothing, to fail to honor God or give Him thanks. Many men talk a good game about their earthly knowledge and give one another honorary PhDs, but “claiming to be wise, they become fools.”

How much more ought Christians, a people of faith, a people alive to God, a people who serve righteousness, to live godly and righteous in the present age by honoring and thanking God? This is part of what it means for us to live by faith. We cannot be satisfied doing nothing, and our confidence in six day creation and our apologetics against evolution will not please God if we don’t worship Him.

Hunt You Down

If you have sinned against someone, you do not need to wait for them to hunt you down. If a brother comes to talk to you, tells you your fault, and if you have sinned, then you ought to acknowledge it, seek his forgiveness, and be restored to fellowship. But confession of sin is not only a reaction when caught or confronted.

Jesus preached in Matthew 5 that a man shouldn’t even give money if he remembers that he’s sinned against someone else.

So 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)

I read an article about winnowing the givers recently, and it’s certainly not the typical approach of many ministries, or of persons who think that they can deal with guilt by giving money. Neither cash or check can cover a sinful heart. God doesn’t want even an offering unless we’ve done what we can to make it right.

Our God is a God who deals with sin and enables reconciliation. He desires worship from those who deal with sin and pursue reconciliation.

What sorts of offenses might our brother have against us? The preceding verse talks about being angry, about insulting, and ridiculing (verse 22). The list isn’t exhaustive, but it does represent hateful heart attitudes that separate us. Sin separates, and we are to pursue reconciliation with other persons before we worship, including our offering.

Something Has to Be Done

In the third book of his space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis relates a turning point in one of the main character’s life. Taken into custody, Mark Studdock began to consider that he had been resolutely wrong about almost everything in and for his entire life. Even as he contemplated his possible death it seemed better not to think about all of the things he would need to change if he acknowledged the first crack in the wall.

Was there no beginning to his folly? Had he been utter fool all through from the very day of his birth?…The indistinct mass of problems which would have to be faced if he admitted such thoughts, the innumerable “something” about which “something” would have to be done, had deterred him from ever raising these questions. (243)

I share those sentences because it is easy for us to have similar feelings. We don’t want to open the door to the sin’s storage closet because we’re afraid of what we’ll find. We won’t know where to start or how long it might take to get through it all. If we pull off one board, the whole house might come down.

For an unbeliever, this is the wrong argument. If he won’t acknowledge his sin, even if he doesn’t know how deep the sin goes, which he almost certainly does not, he will still take it all with him to hell. Denial of the “something” is something, but not an effective something. If nothing is done, there will be an eternity of penalty from God. A lifetime of unraveling the consequences would at least be a lifetime.

For a believer, this is also the wrong approach. If you have been justified, then your sanctification is no more difficult, or at least no less promised or grace-enabled. If you were dead but are now alive, if you were guilty but now declared righteous, then there is no reason to give up hope that He will deal with all of the sin, through and through. We may have a lot of work to do, but it is the sort of work we do because peace has been made, not in order to make peace. That changes something. We shouldn’t try to fix anything in the flesh, but we could never fix our sin in the flesh anyway.

Is it overwhelming to think about dealing with your sin? Are there innumerable “somethings” about which “something” must be done? This is why we have a Savior. He has, is, and will do something with it for sake of our blessing.

What’s Your Problem?

Only the unrepentant are unwelcome at the Lord’s Table. Those who will not believe in and submit to Jesus do not have any part of Him. Those who profess faith but undo their profession by ongoing rebellion to His commands are disciplined away from the fellowship of this meal. But every other believer is invited. More than that, every believer is being changed by it. Take, for example, those believers that Paul categorizes in 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

Christian, are you idle? Consider the humble and exhausting service of Your Lord. He labored in life up to and through death for you, and even now prays for You. Think of the work that went into this meal and get off your rear.

Christian, are you faint-hearted? Consider the resurrection of Your Lord. He died and was buried, but He rose again on the third day just as He promised so that you would have life (1 Thessalonians 5:10). His will cannot be stopped, and no one can stop Him from loving You. Think of the faithfulness and courage that this meal represents and don’t shrink back.

Christian, are you weak? Consider the nature of Your Lord. He does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. He partook of the same things as you, He was tempted in all ways as you are, and so He sympathizes with your weaknesses (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15). Think of His tenderness, His gentleness, His kindness to you even in this meal. You are not solo in your need.

Whatever the problem, Jesus does not leave us where we are. He knows who needs to grow and what is lacking in their faith. He is patient, just as He calls us to be patient with one another. But He is always working toward His will that we all be completely sanctified even when we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion. No believer will be left behind.

Focus on Rejoicing

The shortest verse in the Bible is not John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Counting letters in the original language, there are 16 characters in three words. But the Greek text of 1 Thessalonians 5:16 includes only 14 characters in two words, typically translated, “Rejoice always” (ESV, NAS, NKJV, NIV, NRSV). The variations are not really that diverse: “Rejoice evermore” (KJV) and “Always rejoice ye” (YLT). Though it’s the shortest, it may be the second most difficult command to obey in Scripture after loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This command comes in the final chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians and near the middle of 17 different exhortations. We ought not separate it from its context but we can focus on it. Rejoice. Always.

How have you done rejoicing in 2014? What percentage of proactive rejoicing have you done? Are you faithful to schedule (and practice) rejoicing with God’s people on the Lord’s Day? Do you make rejoicing the agenda at your meal times and holiday get-togethers? What percentage of reactive rejoicing have you done? Do you rejoice with others when they receive good news, or is envy a more likely response? Do you mix rejoicing in with your burdens or reports of bad news? Paul said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Rejoicing does not eliminate heaviness (see 1 Peter 1:6), but it does flavor, lighten, and transpose that heaviness.

You may or may not use the changing of the year to take stock of your sanctification. But you absolutely must hear the will of God as revealed in His Word and measure your walk accordingly. Are you the grinch, the grouch, the grumbler? Or are you the glad, grateful, again and again rejoicer?

Christmas Counters

The apostle John wins for covering the Christmas story with the least amount of paper: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). What is there on earth or heaven that hasn’t been changed, or at least received orders to change, since the day our Savior took on a body?

The incarnation of the Son of God teaches us that God does not despise flesh, stuff, or material belongings. He made all things through the Word, the Logos (John 1:3). His ultimate revelation of Himself came when the Logos was born in the likeness of men (Hebrews 1:1-3; Philippians 2:7). In flesh Jesus served, making meals from loaves and fish and washing feet with a towel. In flesh Jesus suffered torture, died on the cross, and was buried in a grave. And in flesh He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

As Christians we are still learning not to despise flesh but how to enjoy and to use more than words. We like our sentences but, while Christmas can be summarized with words, it is itself the glorious story of stuff and places and persons. The good news of Christmas come as “great syllables of words that sounded like castles” (as when Dimble spoke the Great Tongue in That Hideous Strength). The words represent more than words.

The communion table is also more than words. So should our Christmas celebrations be. Christmas counters dualism. We were born in flesh, our bodies are a gift from God. He redeemed us and saved us to work here on earth for now, in body. We should honor Him with bread and wine, and with plates of cookies and strands of lights and stuffed turkeys and Scotch tape and pine needles and sticky buns. He calls us to give, and give ourselves, to eat and drink and sing as men not just mouths.