Making a Mess

In his “Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord and Only Savior Jesus Christ” John Calvin observed:

The devil, knowing that our Lord left nothing more beneficial to the Church than this holy sacrament, according to his accustomed manner, exerted himself from the beginning to contaminate it with error and superstitions, and to corrupt and destroy its fruit, has not ceased to pursue this course, until he has almost wholly subverted this sacrament of the Lord and converted it into falsehood and vanity.

What was true in 1536 is still true today; the devil is still our adversary and he still seeks to spoil our time around the Lord’s Table. Whatever specifics Calvin had in mind, what are the things that make communion “false” today?

  • Communion is false if men participate as frauds, that is, if they partake without love and pursuit of righteousness.
  • Communion is false if men participate as if the bread and wine themselves are magical, that is, if they do not partake of the elements by faith.
  • Communion is false if men participate in sadness, that is, if they partake without rejoicing in the salvation Christ purchased for them.
  • Communion is false if men participate in isolation, that is, if they partake either on their own apart from the body or in unresolved conflict with another member in the body.
  • Communion is false if men participate with presumption, that is, if they partake without giving thanks. Jesus gave thanks when He instituted the meal, twice, both before the bread and the wine. Being confident to share communion with God in a meal of peace does not mean He owes it to us.
  • Communion is false if men participate flippantly, that is, if they partake without a sober appreciation of the cost, namely, the death of God’s own Son. To be solemn does not require us to be sullen, but a lack of serious joy disrespects His gift to us.

Satan is working to make a mess of this meal. Is our communion true or false?

Hanging up a New Calendar

If you plan to start a new Bible reading plan this year (or if you “cheated” and began at the end of December), you are more than likely going to read Genesis 1. The plan I’m using in 2018 includes the first two chapters for the first day of the year. I always really enjoy the feeling of a new year that goes along with the creation account and the sense of gift and possibility that comes from God.

But, and it’s no more surprising than the inevitable deflation of the Christmas break balloon, Genesis 3 is coming. The ancient dragon is coming. Eve will eat like she’s done every other time. Adam will fail to obey His Maker, and he will doom humanity to death again. For all the optimism that January 1 tends to bring, January 2 is back to work in a world under the curse.

So now is a timely place to remind you that time does not heal all wounds. Hanging up a new calendar has never fixed any relationship. Amazing plans for self-discipline in diet and exercise and communication cannot, by themselves, get anyone back to Edenic paradise.

Depending on your reading plan, maybe you get one day out of 365 (which is a puny percent of the year) where, during your Bible meditation, there is no sin. But in reality we don’t even get that. We are facing, right at 12:00:01 AM on 1/1/18, another year of spiritual enmity, of conflict, of sweaty work, of pain, of death. Here comes another year of seeing our nakedness before God, of the guilt that comes from being deceived or being weak. We are facing another year of sin desiring to rule over us.

Time, past or present or future, does not solve sin, time is a theater for sin. Jesus—dead, buried, and risen from the grave on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures—is the Savior from sin. He is the seed of the woman in whom the serpent’s head is crushed. We enter the year of our Lord 2018, and we do so abiding in Him that His joy may be in us and that our joy may be full.

Still Bringing People Together

Birth brings people together. One of the seasonal favorite songs, “The First Noel,” celebrates the good news about the birth of the King of Israel whom we know is the King of kings.

The word noel seems to be borrowed from French (nael) which itself is a derivative from Latin (natalis) meaning nativity, “the occasion of a person’s birth.” The first birth was not the first in history but rather the first in preeminence. Jesus is the true “firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 98:27). He is the one who brings together.

Consider the group that His birth brought together. There was the unwed, teenage mother, Mary. There was the unheralded but steady Joseph. Then add the dirty “poor shepherds” outside the city, and also the “wise men came from country far.” God used a Caesar to get Mary and Joseph in place, angels to get the shepherds in place, and a star to get the wise men in place. Though all of them weren’t actually together on the same night, they did all come together around Jesus.

As do we. Who are we? We are not many wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful or of noble birth (1 Corinthians 1:26). We are more the previously sexually immoral, idolators, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunken revilers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). But a baby was born. God by His grace and Spirit has brought a ragtag group together around the baby.

Matthew’s genealogy includes the outcast, scandalous, and foreigner. The family Jesus comes from anticipates the family he has come for. (Sam Allberry)

We who believe in Jesus are a new family, a new humanity in the Second Adam from above. Jesus’ birth, leading to His death and resurrection, is still bringing people together.

The Gluten of Your Family


One of the reasons God gives us fathers is so that we can learn what is good, including what is good to eat. It’s not that God expects every father to be a nutritionist, but He does provide father’s with the opportunity to be examples. Father’s will inescapably teach their children about eating, the question is what lesson they will teach.

What is a balanced meal? Who says what is “balanced” and based on what (verse)? Is that even worth pursuing? How do you handle the food being a bit late to the table? A lot late? Do you ever help to prepare the meal, or clean up from it? How big, or small, are the portions you dish out? Is eating a thing done in silence or amidst confrontation or amidst laughter? How do you handle items on your plate you don’t prefer (I’m looking at you, Brussels sprouts)? Is there more fear about where the food came from or ingredients in the food than there is fear about not giving God appropriate thanks for it? Even if you’re actually allergic to gluten, does your attitude glue the family together?

The lesson here is not as much about what goes into your mouth and more about what comes out of your heart. The Pharisees constantly missed this, and yet they made a lot of converts to their discriminating but dead righteousness. Fathers aren’t paid to follow their kids around and police what goes into their mouths. Father’s are given to children to care for them and show them the ways of Christ. The same is happening at the Lord’s Table. Fathers, I urge you, eat and drink in the way you want your kids to imitate, because they will.

The Goat that Went Away

A scapegoat is a powerful symbol.

In the Bible it comes from Leviticus 16. On the day of atonement the Lord told Aaron to take “two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for [the scapegoat],” at least that’s how the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible translate it. The ESV translates it as “the other lot for Azazel,” unsure of the exact meaning, suggesting maybe it is the name of a place.

Yet the note of commentary in the ESVSB says:

The traditional explanation is that Azazel (Hb. ‘aza’zel) is a compound word, combining “goat” (Hb. ‘ez) with “going away” (Hb. ’azel): the word would then mean “goat that goes away” (hence the conventional “scapegoat”).

The word is used in Leviticus 16:8, 10, and 26.

As I said, the image is powerful. It is a goat, it is a goat that gets sent away into the wilderness, and it is a goat that gets sent away into the wildness carrying the sins of the people. Of the two goats, one is sacrificed and the blood covers the sins. The other goat, the scapegoat, symbolically removes sins. They are taken away.

Cultures seek scapegoats. Whole books are written to explain the motives and the methods. But none of them are effective. Jesus is. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The apostle John also wrote, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5).

Jesus died so that we might reign with Him (see 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:6). Who died and made us kings? Actually, Jesus did, and we’ll reign with Him.

And there we’ll find our home

Our life before the throne

We’ll honour Him in perfect song

Where we belong

He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye

As thirst and hunger die

The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King

We’ll reign with Him
(“There Is a Higher Throne” verse 2)

To Judge or Not To Judge

In chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians Paul told the believers that he didn’t judge himself (4:3). In chapter 11 he told them to “examine” themselves, and that “if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged” (11:28, 31). Well, to judge or not to judge, which is it?

The two passages address different problems. In chapter 4 the issue concerned the faithfulness of a preacher, in chapter 11 the issue concurred the worthiness of a communion participant. The first involves evaluating a man’s work on the Lord’s building, the latter involves evaluating a man’s sitting at the Lord’s table. It’s not the same situation.

Yet both passages aim at the heart. What is the heart of the steward? What is the heart of the eater? The heart determines if the steward is trust-worthy, the heart determines if the eater is table-worthy.

Which gets back to the question, why did Paul say he didn’t judge himself but that they should judge themselves?

The answer is that his service spoke for itself and he left the final accounting up to God. Likewise, their selfishness spoke for itself and they were not taking God into account. Paul was obeying as best he knew, and he also knew that a deep, introspective dive still wouldn’t get him to the bottom. But the Corinthians were serving themselves first at the excuse of the hungry and were humiliating others in the body (11:21-22). They needed to wait for one another (11:33), and the reason Paul exhorted them to self-examination in context is because they were acting oblivious to their obvious problem.

So are you despising a brother or sister at this table? You should do some judging, it’s not a hard case to decide. But if you are confessed up, having already humbly examined yourself before the Word, then eat and drink and look forward to your communion with the Lord until He returns.

The Lesser of All Things

It is quite a thing for Paul to say that “all things” are ours (1 Corinthians 3:21, 22). It is quite a thing for the psalmist to say, “When my anxious thoughts are many, how Your comforts cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19). What happens when we consider all the comforts God has given to us in Christ?

Consider these four questions in Romans 8.

  • If God is for us, who can be against us? (verse 31)
  • Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? (verse 33)
  • Who is it to condemn? (verse 34)
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (verse 35)

Among the many consolations that are ours, we have certainty of security in righteousness and fellowship with God. There is no enemy who can successfully accuse us or judge us. There is no wedge that can be driven between us and the love of God in Christ Jesus. There can be those who try, but they cannot conquer.

So Paul makes the argument from the greater to the lesser.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him gracious give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

As amazing as it is that “all things” are ours, the all things are the lesser. We have been given God’s Son. He is ours and we are His. The Father’s sending and the Son’s sacrificing are the source of everything for us. “What then shall we say to these things?” What then shall we eat and drink to these things?

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?

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.