On Not Being a YAC

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.

All Sorts of Quests

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.

A Longer Prayer

This will be the last exhortation to confession based on the Lord’s Prayer, and my goal is to wrap up this series with an extra-biblical bow.

I grew up in a King James Version only church. Because of that, the prayer of Jesus I memorized as a kid is a little longer than what’s found in the ESV and, for that matter, in the accepted Greek New Testament. There are some later, meaning less old so less likely to be original, manuscripts that include a final phrase after “deliver us from evil” in Matthew 6:13. That final phrase is: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

These words aren’t original to Jesus, but they are biblical, just not in the Gospel of Matthew. Consider this prayer offered by King David in the presence of the assembly:

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11–13, ESV)

Every prayer made by faith, and each petition that Jesus taught His disciples to make, is a desire for God’s praise. When we ask for and hope in His future reign, when we ask for and trust in Him for today’s provision, when we ask for and extend His forgiveness, when we ask for and live in His sovereign protection, we are acknowledging His majesty and we are back at the beginning: hallowed be Your name with glory forever.

Greatness Under Cover

However proud Joseph became when he dreamed that his family would bow down before him, he had no idea how truly great he would be and how completely chastened his brothers would be. God’s fixed purpose to raise Joseph to glory looks brilliant looking back. Looking forward as a seventeen year-old, Joseph’s vision of greatness was blurry. Looking around during his final teenage years and throughout his twenties, Joseph’s vision of greatness was only by faith; there was no fix in sight. Yet the decade of heavy work, and the apparently forgotten use of his skill set, and even the world-wide famine got Joseph a name above every other name but one in his day.

Jesus was never proud. Jesus had a perfect idea of His true nature, His eternal and divine glory. Yet even Jesus’s path to honor is astonishing. God’s fixed purpose to raise Jesus to glory looks brilliant looking back. But to everyone other than Jesus, looking forward from Bethlehem’s stable, Jesus’ greatness was under cover. Looking around during His family’s exile early in His life, and at the disgust and rage toward Him in His early thirties, leading to the brutal torture and murder on the cross, who would have known that this was the Lord of glory? Yet, this Jesus

though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…humbled himself by become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

The lengths God went to in order to lift up Joseph were great, but the lengths God went to in order to lift up Jesus were amazing. As we receive the meal and rejoice in the Savior, Jesus’ name is lifted up. As we eat the bread and drink the wine by faith we are lifted up in Him.

Their Website Address

The final two petitions in the Lord’s prayer are closer in concern than any other two petitions. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” are certainly related, but standards, as defined by His will, can be obeyed by individuals without defining a whole group. His kingdom is broader and includes much more than personal observance of His law, it includes corporate ceremony and festival of His lordship.

Verse 13, though, presents two sides of the same coin. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The second line clarifies the first.

If we have sinned against God, we ask Him to forgive us. He reveals the standard, and He bestows forgiveness. We also ask Him to keep us out of sin. Likewise, only He has the power to do so.

Because we have the rest of the New Testament, we know that the Lord’s brother, James, wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). However, it does not follow that we cannot be tempted at all. We are in a battle against evil. There are tempters. And God knows their website address.

We pray that He would not cause us, as His sheep, to enter into a place with devouring wolves. Instead, “deliver us from evil.” We pray for divine rescue. This assumes that we want to do His will, that we want to have fewer debts of sin, that we recognize and reject enticements to serve someone other than Him.

And it may be very personal. “Deliver us from evil” could be translated “deliver us from the evil one,” as ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ specifies a definite evil, perhaps a singular evil. Even if we are not tempted by the Tempter, by the devil himself, He is the prince now at work in the sons of disobedience. We ought to resist him, and that begins in prayer.

Not in Me

Pharaoh paid a great compliment to Joseph before seeing any of Joseph’s work for himself. “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” But Joseph answered, “It is not in me” (Genesis 41:16). He knew he had nothing that he had not received. For however audacious he’d been telling his own dreams to his brothers and father, he’d been humbled for the last thirteen years, sold as a slave and then serving as a prisoner. Joseph knew, at least by now if not before, that God was the source of his wisdom.

The Lord’s Table is a similar light on our interpretation of things. We could start to think that we belong here by nature of our righteousness or faithfulness or endurance. Another person could say, in a less than complimentary tone, that we think we’re so holy. But the bread and the wine remind us that salvation and redemption and righteousness are not in us.

We sing a song sometimes on Sunday mornings titled, “Not in Me.” Here are some of the key lyrics:

No list of sins I have not done,

No list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like,

Can earn myself a place with You.

No humble dress, no fervent prayer,

No lifted hands, no tearful song,

No recitation of the truth

Can justify a single wrong.

No separation from the world,

No work I do, no gift I give,

Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;

I cannot cause my soul to live.

Jesus is our life. Jesus paid our debt to death. Jesus bore our load of guilt. So “He alone can give me rest.”

As we celebrate this meal together by faith we proclaim that we’ve been lifted up from the pit of sin and guilt and death by Him alone.

After the Final Amen

Of all the petitions that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, the only one He clarified after the final amen, so to speak, was the request for forgiveness. There’s certainly more that Jesus could have said about the coming of His kingdom; that could have been really helpful for our eschatology. He could have said more about what things are like in heaven and how that would translate here on earth. Instead He followed up on forgiveness.

Not only is forgiveness comparative, the Father forgives as we forgive others, forgiveness is conditional. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). The key word in verse 12 is as, the key word in the clarification is if.

We believe that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself. We believe that salvation is through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is not by obedience, including our obedience to forgive others. In fact, if we were actually justified by our forgiving then none of us could be forgiven. The psalmist asked, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” So also, If God should mark our resentment toward those who’ve sinned against us, who could stand?

There must be some way to understand this qualification without seeing it as a way of “practicing our righteousness before other people”; who has ever said, “No wonder God likes me so much, I always forgive”? Yet the condition in verses 14-15 is as easy to shake off as DNA, meaning, we can’t. There is a spiritual reality in place. Sons of the Father act like the Father. If we are not forgiving, what makes us think that we are sons of the Father of forgiveness? If we are not forgiving, what makes us think that He accepts hypocrites?

So, if you don’t or won’t or just can’t forgive, then why do you think you should be forgiven? If that’s the case then you don’t want forgiveness, you want acknowledgement from God that you don’t need it. But that is just what you can’t have.

Exsultamus!

Perhaps one reason why some young people in the church grow up and walk away from the faith is because they have not celebrated communion enough or because they have not celebrated it at all. This Table is a central location where the church and parents need to disciple young believers.

There is a wrong way to do right things. Observing the Lord’s Table in a way that stirs up guilt more than hope, that triggers shame more than joy, that prompts uncertainty more than peace, is dissonant with the gospel and dangerous to souls. A regular diet of doubt and fear not only doesn’t make the diet appealing, it makes faint Christians.

Infrequent celebration, or observation, is like an annual family meal, or maybe a quarterly repast. When we are around the Table we connect. We are reminded of who we are and how we’re related. We catch up and, if we mess up, we make up. We get right with one another because that’s what families do. More biblically, that’s what Jesus does for families that follow Him. It’s worth doing weekly.

Is it so surprising that young people who may never have seen joy at the Table aren’t interested in it, or who, when they saw the adults value it on a yearly basis, decided it must not have that much value after all?

We rejoice—exsultamus!—that Jesus is our Savior (Titus 3:4-6), our Lord (Romans 1:4; 10:9), our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), our firstborn Brother (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:17), and our example (1 Peter 2:21). We rejoice that He died, was buried, and rose again to defeat sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 5:21). We rejoice that we are His Body (Ephesians 1:22-23), and that He blesses all who participate in the blood of Christ and partake of the body of Christ by faith in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 10:16). As often as we eat this bread and drink the cup we exult in our Lord by faith (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The “Oh, no!” Conjunction

In the middle of the next petition in the Lord’s Prayer is a small word labeled by some Greek grammarians as the “Oh no!” conjunction. Actually the lexicons and syntax books call it a comparative conjunction, and this comparison cuts the conscience. Other names for this conjunction could be the “Conviction” conjunction, the “Are you serious?” conjunction, or the “Hypocrite’s Log-puller” conjunction.

The prayer Jesus teaches His disciples includes: “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). There are three key words: debts, forgive, and as.

Debt here is more than a financial obligation, it is a relational obligation caused by a wrong. These are debts caused by sin. We do not owe our heavenly Father any money. We owe Him thanks and obedience, but we failed to make all our payments. So we ask the Father to forgive us, to cancel the debt. We’re asking Him daily, just as we do for our bread, to remit the balance.

Even though Jesus hadn’t died yet at this point in His ministry, there is no hint that forgiveness from the Father was in question. Yet the Father is still watching for something.

“Forgive us … as we forgive.” Is it better to be forgiven as we forgive others or is it harder to forgive others as Jesus forgives us (see Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13)? Both seem impossible, the latter because Jesus forgives perfectly and the former because we keep records of wrongs against us perfectly.

The Father forgives us as we forgive:

  • our fussy spouses
  • our unthankful children
  • our overbearing parents
  • our annoying siblings
  • our passive aggressive neighbors

Did the disciples have any follow up on this? Perhaps they did, or Jesus anticipated that they would, since this is the only part of the prayer Jesus returns to when the prayer itself is finished (see verses 14-15). I’ll come back to those addenda next week, but the “Oh No” conjunction should be enough of a mirror to humble us in confession before the Father.

Familiarity Breeds

Since I’m a pastor and since I am responsible for much of the Lord’s Day liturgy at our assembly’s worship, I’m often asked what our Sunday morning service looks like. When I get to the part about having weekly communion, the follow-up question is typically, “Doesn’t that make it not special after a while?”

There are short answers, which is what I usually give (don’t be too surprised). I often say, “Not yet by God’s grace.” Still, we understand where the question comes from, and yet it is surprising that Christians are so fearful.

The truism we believe is that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s catchy, and we can see how that could be used as a diagnostic to explain why we have contempt for something. Now that I think about it, I’d much rather blame “familiarity” than something in my own heart. Yet (my/your) ignorance also empowers contempt, as do (my/your) pride and (my/your) envy.

I was meditating on the assumed power in the verb: familiarity breeds. Breeding doesn’t happen by proxy, there are no breeders emeritus, you cannot sign up for distance breeding. Husbands become fathers through familiarity with their wives. Why don’t Christians ask if marital familiarity is dangerous? Maybe Christians are too spiritual to ask it out loud, maybe some do think it. But familiarity is powerful to produce fruit.

In the Bible, familiarity with God breeds panic and praise, weeping and worship, dread and joy. As it turns out, familiarity isn’t the problem, we are the problem. Dinner with the family every night could become monotonous if mom despised the work and dad despised the interruption and the kids despised being despised. But when there is familiarity with sacrificial love and intention, contempt doesn’t have a place at the table.

The Lord’s Supper doesn’t stay special because of it’s scarcity, but by our increasing in the knowledge of God that grows our affections for and gratitude to Him.