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.

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.

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.

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.

Davids and Daniels

Not many Christians are wise, or influential, or popular by worldly standards. God can and does save people in those categories, but He calls us all to humility before the cross whatever our station. Most of us will never walk the corridors of power or have a theological insight go viral or impress a high number. Again, while God does call some Daniels and Davids, most of us will be like that guy who worshipped and obeyed the Lord that the Bible never mentioned.

Yet our salvation is no less from God. The gifts we get in Christ are still wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). He purchased us with His body and blood. And that’s what He wants from us, too.

You are not your own. You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

He owns us twice, once as Maker and again as Redeemer. He gave us life twice, and the life we have in Christ changes the life we live in the world.

You were bought with a price. If He gave you lots of talents and influence, glorify Him with those things. But He gave everyone a body and blood. Those also belong to Him, not just your discernment or energy or finances or social media platform.

The context in 1 Corinthians 6 regards purity and sexual immorality. How do you use your body toward others? And this is a question all of us should dwell on as we remember the purchase price to make us a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Who Wants the Cross?

We do not use a crucifix as one of our symbols. A crucifix is a cross that has Jesus still hanging on it. This is the wrong image. He is not still dying, let alone being crucified again and again as the official doctrine of the Catholic mass teaches.

Christ is not still dying, but He will always be the one who died. Paul used the perfect tense in 1 Corinthians 1:23: “we preach a having been crucified Christ.” The crucifixion is finished, but the results of it are forever.

So when the apostle John saw the lamb in heaven, it was “standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). The marks of death were obvious; they couldn’t be ignored.

We will never get passed the need to remember, or the blessing of remembering, the cross. As we commune at the Lord’s Supper, we are remembering His body and blood, spent in substitutionary death. Paul says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaimed the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). It’s interesting that he does not say “you proclaim the Lord’s resurrection until he comes.” Christ’s resurrection is our hope. But even a natural man wants resurrection, who wants the cross?

The bread and wine are simple elements. Eating and drinking are among the most mundane activities we do. And yet a crucified Christ is not normal. It offends the world. And it is the power of God and the wisdom of God to us who are called. The cross is craziness to men, and it brings us into communion with God.

Not Just Speech Patterns

I used to get very nervous when I heard others talk about “incarnating the gospel” and spent many energy dollars arguing against using that language. It used to be a popular expression among a group that downplayed doctrine and emphasized service, usually to the people more easily identified as “needy.” Isn’t the gospel news? Isn’t it truth that we tell? How can it be something that we do?

The gospel is truth, objective reality with meaning that can’t be changed. Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the gospel. We are to articulate the gospel, but, according to the Bible, we are also to incarnate it, to carry it in the flesh. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians,

We are…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)

Paul is the one who puts his life, not just his speech patterns, in gospel categories: “always carrying…the death of Jesus,” “death is at work in us,” “that the life of Jesus may also be manifested,” “life [is at work] in you.” And these are physical, not just verbal, opportunities: “in the body,” “in our bodies,” in our mortal flesh.”

One of the reasons the name of our church is Trinity Evangel Church is because we must know and teach and believe and live the gospel. We ought not sing about our reconciliation and then be divided. We shouldn’t worship as the forgiven and then be unwilling to forgive. Our liturgy makes it so that we have to carry the bread and wine from the Table back to our spots, and we also have to carry the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our flesh.

Remembering How We Are Supposed to Die

Jesus told His disciples a number of things on the night He was betrayed including: “all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Based on the letter we know as First Corinthians, it was hard to identify Christ’s disciples in Corinth.

Instead of love for one another they argued about who had social priority, who was part of the better “club” with the better preacher, who had the most important spiritual gift. Instead of love for one another they took each other to court for sake of personal rights and advantage. Instead of love for one another they humiliated the hungry and judged each other for what they ate.

The most pointed and poetic chapter in Scripture about love is 1 Corinthians 13, and Paul wrote it not as a celebration of how the Christians were identified.

It’s one of the reasons why the communion meal is so important to share. It can be abused; the church in Corinth did. But this Table confronts and comforts us with the cost and characteristics of love. Love dies to bring life. Love is more than pretty words and abstract thoughts and self-aggrandizing sacrifice. Love is for others, love is for us to come together.

We are a people identified by love, and we know what love looks like. We see love on a cross, love demonstrated through death and resurrection. We remember the love of Jesus as we eat His body and drink His blood, and we remember how we are supposed to die to live like Him.

First, We Eat

The whole idea of living in such a way as to provoke an entire people group to jealousy is a lot of work. It’s good work, and it’s God’s plan, but where do we start.

First, we eat.

Jesus told a crowd that they should labor for the food that endures to eternal life. They asked, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” This is a huge question.

Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).

Believing in Jesus is where we start. We ourselves must be believing in Jesus. He likened the believing to eating bread and then said He is the bread. We must eat Him. First, we eat. He likened believing to abiding in Him. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Believe in Christ. Don’t have faith in your faith. You don’t have enough faith to change the world, let alone to have eternal life. Keep your faith in Christ.

So we gather at this Table every week to eat and drink. First, we eat. We eat because we have the Lord. Through Him we can do all things. He is the bread of life. We must feed on Him by faith and drink His blood in belief. He is true food and true drink.

There is a lot to talk about, plans to make, daily deaths to die, work to do. The work of God is to believe, and because we believe we work. So first, we feast in believing joy.

The Place of the Sulk

When we think about our salvation by grace and the fruits of grace that would provoke others to jealousy, even elect Israel (Romans 11:11), we do not deny “the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha” (John 19:17). We call it Calvary, from the Latin, Calvariae meaning “skull.” Jesus was tortured, mocked, and crucified at Calvary. He was crucified as a sinner so that He could be a substitute for sinners.

Because of His death, He is our righteousness, our eternal life, our present and our future. So we should not turn our remembrance of the place of the skull into the place of the sulk. We’re at this Table by invitation of the King. We’re here because He paid for us to be.

Why might a communicant sulk?

  • forgetting one’s forgiveness in Christ, or not seeking it
  • giving too much credit to sin, acting as if guilt can’t be covered by Christ
  • holding a grudge against another member of the body of Christ
  • judging another member of the body for not appreciating communion with Christ like you do

We desire fruit, but a garden can be full of all sorts of rotten fruit. A rotten-fruited garden does not make anyone jealous. “How did you get all that rotten fruit? We were wanting to make something just like it for ourselves!”

Bread tastes good, wine gladdens the heart, the word of the cross is the power of God. So celebrate! Sing! Smile! Enjoy! It isn’t because of what we’ve done. We can’t forgive ourselves or cover our sin or make fruit grow. Jesus paid. Jesus saves. Jesus lifts. Reckon it so, and rejoice! Our kids should want in. The elect of all nations should want what we have in Jesus.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)