The Biggest Display at the Ministry Fair

We’re headed into an extended look at spiritual gifts over the next few months in the Sunday morning sermons. There are a variety of ways, as usual, to mess up our blessings.

One way is to lift up whatever gift God has given to us as the best one, to act superior over our brothers, or to expect that what we’re called to do is what everyone should be doing. These Christians not only have the biggest display at the Ministry Fair, but they give you the most Pharisaical look of disapproval for even looking at the other tables.

Another is to look down on whatever gift God has given to us as an unimportant one, to act inferior to others. Here we wish that we were called to do what someone else is doing, because doing that looks way more rewarding.

A third is to limit ourselves to whatever gift (we think) God has given to us. Someone asks us to do something, but it doesn’t interest us, so we excuse ourselves for spiritual sounding reasons. One time when organizing gift baskets for small group leaders, we asked parents to participate, giving for the leader(s) of the groups their kids were in. Some moms said that they weren’t able to give because that wasn’t their gift; they were gifted to teach. Hmmm. What? To excuse ourselves from general loving behavior and serving each other because it’s not our “gift” is the wrong reason.

Remember that the Lord is Lord. The Lord gives gifts, that He gives with delightful variety, and that the Lord gives commands that must be obeyed regardless of our gifts. You are not better than him, she is not better than you, and we all better build up the body in love. Criticisms and complaints in this department go directly to the Master, and should result in our repentance, not His.

Eye Opening

It is the work of God to open eyes.

The apostle John told the story of a man born blind in John 9:1-41. Initially the disciples assumed that the man’s blindness was a direct result of someone’s sin, either his own sin or his parents. Jesus didn’t deny that this could happen, but Jesus did deny that it happened here. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (verse 3).

As the chapter continues, “the works of God” include more than the restoration of the man’s eyesight through saliva mud and a wash in a pool called Sent. The spiritual eyes of the man were also opened so that he saw Jesus for who He really was: the Son of Man (verse 35). The now-seeing man believed in Jesus, and worshipped him (verse 37).

In the process, the Pharisees showed that their eyes were shut tight, and even the man’s parents covered their eyes to avoid seeing. Then Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (verse 38).

Nearby some of the Pharisees overheard Jesus and asked, “Are we also blind?” They knew that Jesus had moved the discussion beyond the physical to the spiritual. And Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (verse 41).

What’s the application? We want to be blind and admit it. Jesus restores sight to those who acknowledge their need. It is the ones who refuse to admit their problems who have the biggest problem, and they are blind in their guilt.

The Vocabulary of Repentance

We owe some of our most cherished vocabulary to the Reformers. This is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday closest to October 31st when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences. It is good for us to be thankful for God’s use of faithful men.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate the New Testament into English from Greek. John Wycliffe hand-wrote copies from Latin into English, but Tyndale had access to the Greek New Testament thanks to Erasmus, and his printed English copies created a firestorm.

One of his most important word choices came in Acts 2:38. After Peter preached on Pentecost, the men asked what they could do to be saved. The Catholic Church taught that Peter replied, “Do penance.” It’s based on the Latin word, Pœnitentiam. Tyndale translated Peter’s reply, “Repent” (based on Μετανοήσατε).

There’s no need to remember Tyndale every time we repent. However, it is good for our humility and our gratitude to remember that we’ve been delivered from numerous gross errors and heavy religious burdens because of men who loved God and His Word more than their own lives.

Never once have you come to this part of our liturgy on Sunday morning and heard that you must confess your sins to a priest who takes your confession for you to God. You are exhorted to confess, and the heart may resist, but when you confess, it is directly to God through Christ. No man is in the middle, Christ alone is the mediator. And on no occasion have you heard that, due to your sin, you must punish yourself, or pay God money, or travel to see a religious site, or work off your penalty.

When you realize your sin, what should you do? Confess your sin, repent from it, trust in Christ, and your forgiveness is by grace alone.

Because Others Refused

The reason we confess our sins as part of our church’s worship on Sunday mornings is because of unconfessed sin. I don’t mean that we are trying to provide an opportunity for those who failed to make things right with the Lord in the previous six days, though it does do that. I mean that we wouldn’t even be in this position as a church had not sin been defended and its ugliness demonstrated.

Many years ago I was personally, and then pastorally, struck by the fact that confession of sin by believers was mostly talked about as something Martin Luther did when he was trying to be a good monk, wearing out his priest in confession for hours at a time. Most of the churches I had been a part of only encouraged confession of sin for Christians during A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) in corporate prayer meetings, and even then for a short period of silent prayer. I started to wonder why confession of sin, to God and to others, had become so little practiced. Around that time I read Augustine’s Confessions and made resolutions to repent, more specifically and more quickly, and urge others to do the same.

The existence of our church, not just our liturgy, came about because others refused to acknowledge their sin, blamed people around them, and used their authority to punish those who were confronting the sin. It wasn’t difference of opinion or preference. Failure to take responsibility for our sin causes pain and it can cause, and has caused, division in relationships, in families, and in churches. In our case, forming a new church allowed for additional study about church services, and a time for confessing sin seemed relevant for our liturgy and circumstances.

By God’s grace we benefit from the weekly reminder to confess our sins because others refused to. Only God can bring blessing out of sin, and He also blesses those who confess and forsake their sin.

Bolognology

Men lie. Christians of all people should know this, or at least stop believing what everyone says. Men lie. They’re lying if they say they aren’t.

By “men” I mean human beings, male and female, young and old, from every tribe and language and people and nation. This nationality piece is especially significant, because it extends to all peoples. By “lie” I mean to present an untrue statement as true with the intent to deceive.

There are all kinds of specific lies in the world, but one of the most obvious, yet accepted, lies today is that men don’t know what is right and wrong. This is Bolognology, the study of bologna.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (Romans 2:14)

The Gentiles didn’t have the Mosaic Law, God’s revealed law, even if they had societal laws. Paul isn’t saying that they always did what is right, but “by nature” they know that there is right and wrong. This “nature” is something God gave.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…. (Romans 2:15)

They know that there is right and they judge how they behave according to that standard.

Of course they could wrongly apply the standard. Having your feet on the ground doesn’t mean you’re standing in the right place. Natural law and the consciences of men are not without error, but it’s enough to call them on. Christians should both not believe the worldly when they say that law is something socially relative nor should we receive the accusations of the world that say we are the ones who make them feel guilty. The know that they’re guilty by nature.

Sin into a Proper Noun

Sometimes things stick out that make you see from a different angle. It might be a typo. For example, when I type the name Chris, I often need to delete a “t” from the end because my muscle memory first types “Christ.” But, for a Christian named Chris, wouldn’t he appreciate being so easily mistaken for his Christlikeness?

It wasn’t a typo, but I had a different angle on hate this past week. Some of us are reading The Iliad and hate is used with a capital H. It’s because in the story Hate is a god (lowercase g).

Hate, whose wrath is relentless, she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at first, but thereafter grows until she strides on earth with her head striking heaven. (142)

Later Hate comes to watch the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, and she is also called “the Lady of Sorrow.” But unlike the Man of Sorrows who carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-6), Hate is the Lady of Sorrow because she gives sorrow to others. She delighted to see men attack each other like wolves.

Hate is not actually a god, but sin does enslave. Hate can work even in believers. “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness” (1 John 2:11). “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

We are monotheists by confession, but how many gods are in our sinful hearts? If we turned the sin into a proper noun, would you be seen as worshipping another? Bitterness? Anger? Drunkenness? Rivalry?

Liberating Glory

The command in 1 Corinthians 10:31 is well known. It is short, catchy, and always applicable. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

This is the end for which God created the world: God’s glory. This is the peak of the Reformation alones: soli Deo gloria, to God alone be glory.

This is the kind of talk you expect to hear at church; “glory to God” is churchy talk. But while it’s something you might expect to hear at church it isn’t something to be done at church, or things done in the name of church. Paul doesn’t mention corporate singing or sermon listening, he doesn’t identify reading your Bible or having quiet time, he doesn’t talk about leading or even attending Bible study or small group, he doesn’t refer to evangelism proper, though in the next verse he does connect glorifying God to impacting our neighbors. My point is that what Paul doesn’t mention is churchy stuff.

So the command to do all to the glory of God means all the things you do, at your dinner table, at your work desk, on your phone and/or on Facebook, behind the wheel, at the checkout counter.

You might respond to those opportunities in one of two ways. You might think of glorifying God in everything as a crushing requirement. “I have to think about every single thing I do in worship terms? How can I possibly pay that much attention?” So you might think it would be better, actually, to go back to only churchy things as mattering to God and the rest of the “neutral things” belong to you.

But the command could, and I’m arguing should, be received as a liberating truth. God has not limited you to only certain times and places and activities that bring glory to Him. Do you love how many ways God is pleased to receive glory from you?

All His Commandments

Every week we worship God by confessing our sins. We know that man’s nature is sinful because God reveals it: all have sinned and fallen short of His glory. We also know our own hearts, not perfectly, but what we know is enough to know that this regular time for confession is rarely unnecessary.

And yet, while we understand that sinless perfection will only finally be attainable in our glorified state, the goal of a pastor’s preaching is not that you would be eager to confess, as relevant as that is. The goal is that you would have nothing to confess.

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

God charges, that is, He entrusts, overseers in the church to command and teach the word of God so that Christians would be godly. “Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Connecting it with the categories of Paul’s aim, godliness looks like unmixed love and unmixed motives and unmixed faith. Godliness looks like full affections and no regrets and profound trust. As we increase in godly character our conduct should also be more defined as godly, and that should give us less and less to repent from. A believer with pure love and a good conscience and a sincere faith has a longing for zero sin.

I went to the parent’s part of a driver’s ed. class last week with my oldest, and we watched a video about traffic deaths in Washington state. The video showed people answering questions about how many die each year in car crashes, and how many deaths are a realistic goal, and then how many deaths are the desired aim in their own family. Of course the answer to the last question is zero. It’s an easy answer. It’s obvious. And every disciple’s desire for zero sin should be as absolute.

If you have sinned this week, you are in the right place. While God’s Word gives us light to walk in, if we do sin, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Confess your sin, and trust Him to cleanse your conscience and to enable you to keep all His commandments.

What You Tolerate

In a book about leadership I read this principle: “When it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate” (Extreme Ownership, 54). This applies across many domains, not just in leadership, but in personal sanctification.

Preaching is easy, at least in many contexts. Talk is cheap compared to conduct. Teachers may have the best classroom rules, laminated and taped to the wall in the front of the room, but if they don’t enforce them, they don’t matter. Parents often give the best lectures to their kids, but if they don’t follow through, if they don’t hold to the standard, the words fall to the ground.

The same applies in our discipleship to Christ. He does not call us to know His commands, He calls us to obey them. That begins with learning; we hear or read His word, and we can even repeat the standards to ourselves. But they will know that we are disciples not merely by what we preach, but by what we tolerate in our own attitudes and actions. Do we preach against lying while excusing our cheating? Do we preach against lust while taking the second, longer look? Do we preach against anger while tolerating heated annoyance? Do we preach against cowardice, just quietly in the comfort of our heads?

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

We know the standards, do we tolerate our disobedience to them? The Lord our God is a jealous God. He knows the standards, He gave us the standards, and He does not tolerate our indulgence of self.

Wise in His Own Worship

Perhaps one of the most response-provoking visits of our trip to the United Kingdom was an unscheduled stop for Sunday morning worship at a church in Coventry, England. Our coach driver had a friend who attends the church there and, though that friend ended up not being there, we enjoyed a different service than most of us are accustomed to.

Everything was different, and similar, all at the same time. Most of our students, however, saw more of the differences than the similarities. We sang a few of the seven-eleven songs—songs with seven lyrics repeated eleven times—and that is not an exaggeration. There was nothing heretical said, though it was comparatively light.

We had quite a conversation on the coach following the service that continued over the next day or so. Of course our church has been working to develop our liturgy, to deepen our understanding and practice of worship, and some of our youth had not really experienced Church Lite.

It was fantastic, in one way, to hear their critiques. Where was the sense of sin? Where was the repentance? Was the service attempting to manipulate emotionally? How did the preacher connect his points? Were his illustrations appropriate?

The Bible urges us to watch others and consider their conduct. The Proverbs are full of persons to observe, most of whom we should avoid. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul admonished believers to not be like the entire generation of disobedient.

But, the primary point of all this is to remind us to repent. Look at them, and think about what I am doing wrong, how I am sinning, how I need to grow up. It is the wrong way to appreciate our emphasis in worship on sin and repentance and be best at criticizing others who don’t do it like us.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
 There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Proverbs 26:12)