Perpetual Shortfall

There are a couple sure-fire ways to get almost any Christian to feel guilty. One way is to ask a believer about his prayer life. A recurring response is that, “It could be better.” Well of course it could. You don’t really need to sleep, right? Jesus spent whole nights in prayer…what is your excuse?

That’s an easy one, but the one exhortation to rule them all is not about Bible reading or prayer, it’s not about church attendance, it’s not about how many dates you’ve taken your wife on in the last year, it’s not if you’ve ever spoken to your kids in impatience or anger.

There is one law that none of us obey, not even one. If we had a week of only telling the truth, of only sacrificing for the good of others, of only faithful working and stewarding as image-bearers, of only being in a good mood and always giving thanks in every circumstance, we still can be tagged with not loving God with all our hearts.

It’s good to have goals that are measurable. The Great Commandment is absolutely measurable, and the measurement is repeated three times by Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5) and all three times when Jesus quoted Moses. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

What should we do about our perpetual shortfall to this command? How can we accept it without being buried in paralyzing shame? What we most certainly cannot do is ignore or even lower the law. What we can and most certainly must do is come to the Father who commands us to love, not because He needs it, but because He knows that we need it. Love Him, and love that He faithfully loves us in Christ even when our love is halfhearted.

Deadness Also Smells Like Death

As is usually the case, there are ranges on a spectrum when it comes to the question of whether believers should speak and live in such a way that unbelievers would be attracted to the gospel of Christ.

There is one side—usually driven by the Bible and theology, even Reformed, Calvinistic doctrines such as the depravity of man and the need for irresistible grace—of those who argue that Christians and the gospel cannot be attractive to sinners and therefore any attempt to make ourselves winsome is naive at best and probably actually dangerous, you know, slippery slope and all.

On the other side—sometimes driven by the apparent callousness and unloving nature of the Bible-theology folks, and/or sometimes driven by the apparent gravity of Jesus demonstrated in the Gospels—are those who maintain that Christians and the gospel can be attractive to sinners and therefore any refusal to make ourselves winsome is at best immature and probably actually ungodly.

I am a truth guy. I think the Bible is the ultimate standard. My wife and I named our only son Calvin. I have served my time in very man-centered churches and can see with my eyes how compromised much of the Christian message is today because of those who try to win the world by being like it. One of my favorite books ever is Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur, and I read it at a time when I was first learning the doctrines of grace. His book gave me categories to resist pragmatism along with the heroic narrative and quotability of Charles Spurgeon.

However, Solomon said it was worth gaining wisdom in order to increase persuasiveness of speech (Proverbs 16:21; 16:23). Wisdom works to be winsome. Paul told the Cretan slaves that they should “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior“ in their behavior (Titus 2:10), not on their book selling tours. Adorning makes it look good, appealing, desirable. Paul also said that “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 5:15-16). Speaking about Christ and living lives for Christ is a smell, detestable to some and delightful to others. Don’t we want it to be delightful? And when does the delightful, life to life part start? Only after a man believes, or as God’s Spirit is sovereignly drawing him to believe?

Of course if no one can hate what we’re doing, we may be seeking the wrong kind of attractiveness. Do not be ashamed of the gospel, and don’t be conformed to this world. But if no one wants what we have, we may be an ungodly sort of unattractive. Life can smell like death to the dead, but deadness also smells like death to the dead.

Losing as a weapon

First, this ought to be a great encouragement to the church:

“Losing does not disturb us; it does not unsettle our faith. This is something the Church generally does really well. Speaking frankly, we frequently lose successfully far more often than we succeed successfully. Losing is our secret weapon” (Same Sex Mirage, pp. 258-259).

Second, this was written by a postmillennialist, but doesn’t it do a much better job of explaining how a dispensational premillennialist can be optimistic about the progress of the gospel and the “success” of the church while still thinking the world is going to hell?

Communion That Smells

As we spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere,” God says that we are an aroma “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spreading the fragrance happens by preaching (see verse 17), it happens by practice, and it happens when we partake at the Lord’s Table.

When we eat and drink we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). So when we gather around this table, it’s not only a left-over scent of break baked earlier in the morning, it’s not only the lingering whiff of a bottle of wine uncorked before the service, it is an aroma of life and death. Our communion has a smell to it, for some that fills them with more life from the fullness of God’s life, and for others it fills them with more death as they detest our joy in a meal of flesh and blood.

“Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:17) Who is “adequate” (NASB)? Who is worthy? It’s a humbling question with an obvious answer. None of us are worthy, no not one. But the good news is for the unworthy. Jesus died for the insufficient. Jesus rose again to bring us with Him to the Father. The bread is His body and the wine His blood given for us, and it is grace that is an aroma from life to life.

Calvinist Knees

How does a Calvinist confess his sins? That’s not the start of a joke.

We are a Calvinistic church, meaning that we believe that God is God, God rules over all, and that includes His sovereignty in the salvation of men. We believe that He elects spiritually dead men to be brought to Him as worshippers for eternity. He has their names already written in a book. They are a love gift from the Father to the Son as a Bride.

Whether you like the nickname or not, it’s convenient theological shorthand. The least you could do is hope to be a Calvinist that isn’t weird.

So how does a Calvinist confess his sins? Some don’t. They confess that total depravity is a true doctrine, but they reason that God saves His chosen ones regardless of any specific repentance, so individual confession doesn’t matter. I’d call this a form of hyper-Calvinism, and more than that, I’d call it wrong.

There are some other Calvinists who don’t confess their sins because the truths of the doctrines of grace have caused them to see everyone else’s errors but their own. A certain kind of knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1). I’d call this hypocritical-Calvinism, and it is worse than wrong.

Those who realize that they were corrupt and contemptible to God, rebels without a cause, dead in sin apart from God’s free choice and God’s perfect blood and God’s initiated heart-transplant, should not be proud. A Calvinist should confess his sins in humility. A Calvinist should confess his sins on his knees. We could call him a Calvikneest.

As part of our liturgy we’ve been inviting those who are able and willing to kneel in humble confession for many years. It’s not a convenient position for many, and a physical impossibility for a few. But for those who are able, wouldn’t it be a great testimony if others knew we were Calvinists by our knees?

He Is Neither Here Nor There

I’m late to linking but the point remains piquant: the principles underneath today’s public education are rotten and Christians need to get off the floor.

Whoever the audience is for this blog, I imagine that it’s mostly my friends. If you are one of my friends, I also figure you read Blog and Mablog, and you almost certainly enjoyed #NoQuarterNovember. Wilson’s first post was, Burn All the Schools, and I’m still crying (on the inside) with laughter over this analogy:

If there ever were to be a true reformation among us, Christians leaving the public school system would form a refugee column that would make the Mississippi River look like a solitary tear running down Horace Mann’s cheek.

As was the point with every #NoQuaterNovember post, he offered no qualifications. His post wasn’t about where Christians can or should teach. His post wasn’t about if Christians have survived or possibly could survive in the government education system. His post wasn’t that every private or Christian school is necessarily doing things right.

The point is that Christian parents are called to disciple their kids in the Christian way of life, and the “Christian way of life” does not include acting as if Christ is irrelevant to everything in life. It’s as if some education tsar took the anti-Shaffer-apologetic: “He Is Neither Here Nor There.” That’s the least bad problem with State schools, and that’s not good.

Gaining Weight

I pray that we all gain weight this year.

In a day and age like ours, in a country like ours, the exceptions are the few who need to put on more pounds of body weight. When we think about our daily bread we’re thinking about which kind of carbs we crave, not the minimum portion we need to survive. The abundance of food is a blessing, and of course blessings can be abused, and belt sizes bulge.

The kind of weight I’m talking about instead is the weight of glory. I’m talking about finishing this upcoming calendar year more full of God than now (see Ephesians 3:19). Don’t be light, be heavy. Put on some gravity. Get dense, not like a fool, but thick in faith and love.

This is God’s plan for us. When we know more of His love we are made more full of Him. Sometimes that includes suffering so that our bucket can be made bigger to hold more.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17)

In various ways we’re being prepared for weight that can’t be compared. Our weekly communion together is part of that process; it both a fills and an expands. The Table is set with the bread and cup of His love, by faith we eat and drink and are filled. At the same time this is only a mouthful of the eternal feast. We are made more hungry and thirsty, and our capacity is enlarged for more.

Buried and Barricaded

If you were in the center of a redwood tree I imagine that you would not be affected by much. If you were standing beside a redwood tree I imagine that you would be affected very much by the glory of the tree.

Sin buries and barricades our affections. Sin blinds us to the ugliness of our sin, sin dulls us to the poison of our sin. Sin even tries to tell us that sin is satisfying, that righteousness is the sucker-outer of life.

When God saves us He gives us new hearts, hearts that are no longer hard but that are sensitive to the true, the good, and the glorious. He clears our minds so that we recognize the deceiving propaganda of sin. He calibrates the scales of goodness in our evaluating organs so that we hate what is wicked and love the heights of all that is good.

It’s why our time of confession each Sunday morning is a time for us to take sin seriously. We take forgiveness seriously, too, purchased by Christ on the cross, and secured by God Himself for all His elect. And while we come with faith that atonement has been paid in full, we still come to train our hearts that sin is gross, sin is rotten, sin will kill.

When we offer our worship in confessing sin we take David’s lyrics as a guide:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   A broken and contrite heart,
      O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:17)

A broken and contrite heart is not without hope, but it is broken of hoping to produce something good out of our own hearts and it turns to God for His grace in forgiveness, acceptance, and renewed affections.

The Last Battle

4 of 5 stars to The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

There is one page in this book that is the worst. The rest of it creates the right kind of longing to fight, and if necessary die, for Aslan. There is a better home where we belong.


2010:

Alright, again, I enjoyed the fiction. What is this world coming to?

Also, I choked up a couple times especially near the end.