Blessing-ficiaries

I can’t remember if I’ve asked this question before during an exhortation to confession. We’re now over 400 times of corporate confession on the Lord’s Day, and while there are a lot of things that require repentance, some of them need more repetition.

Who do you confess your sin for? Who benefits when you “say the same thing” (homologeo) as God? You are certainly one who profits. Sin separates us from fellowship, forgiveness granted restores fellowship, so if you want fellowship you need forgiveness which comes through confession.

You are not the only blessing-ficiary, though. God receives glory when we repent. It’s not that we should sin that grace may abound, though grace does reign over sin. God’s patience and mercy and atonement are exalted when we depend on Him. He doesn’t need us to confess in order to get honor for Himself, but He is honored by our honesty and our humility and our hope in Him.

That still isn’t the end of it. The scope of benefits and blessings should be broadened. When we confess our sins we are restored to fellowship, and God’s holy standard and perfect sacrifice are praised, and also the entire church body is built up.

Your sin may be private in that only you and God know about it, for now, but your sin is never isolated as if only you are affected by it. We are one body, we are God’s building. We might not be able to see the disintegration of some studs in the wall, but when you deal with rot the right way it strengthens the whole structure.

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?

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.

When We Have Problems

The Lord’s response to Paul’s request to have his thorn removed is archetypal.

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

That is a fantastic truth. We should share that on the Internet. Someone should print it in a sympathy card, probably using a gentle, italic font, and adorn it with a soft colored flower. It’s perfect, especially for Paul, and other people.

Paul continues:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10)

How many of us don’t really want to be content, we want to be content in a Thomas Kinkade Christmas painting hanging on the wall of a set in a Hallmark Channel movie? It looks so calm, cozy, and probably chocolaty. The fire is delightful, and, if the kids are awake, they’re not stirring one another up to irritation.

But of course the first Christmas was God’s own experience of traveling away from home, of family being displaced, being uncomfortable. God was born in obscurity and weakness, to poor and tired parents.

Us, though, we’ve got big plans to be joyfully adoring Him, until you can’t find the wrapping paper where it was supposed to be, and the house is more messy than Walmart shelves two hours after Black Friday sales started. You wanted to host the extended family, but, not like this.

Christmas, and contentment, is harder than it looks. But God’s grace is sufficient, and He wants His power to be seen as the power of Christ rests upon us when we have problems.

Deserving a Different Christmas

During this advent season we focus our thoughts on the first coming of the Messiah, about the Father sending His Son from heaven to earth. The Christmas story, as told by Matthew and Luke, is a story of the Son’s contentment with His Father’s decision.

In those days many gods of men were getting a lot of man’s attention. But Jesus didn’t come out of petty or bitter jealousy. In fact, that sort of jealousy doesn’t come from above.

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16)

James wrote to believers. Christians aren’t the only ones who have these problems, but they are at least the ones who should know better. Instead, too often what we think is that we deserve better, or we wished we had better.

It’s not only kids who are discontent in December; “But I want THAAAAAT!” Big people have their “virtuous gimmes” when they see someone else blessed, and assume that those blessings are absolute, no heaviness attached. It must be better to have more money, a bigger house, an easier or more secure job. It must be nice to have more energy, to need less sleep, to be more strong. “I want THAAAAAT!”

This is not Christmas wisdom. This is not Christian wisdom. This is earthly, unspiritual, demonic, and divisive, even if it’s only in your heart.

If anyone “deserved” a different Christmas it was Jesus. Yet Jesus was content with His Father’s plan and timing to get Him glory. Are you?

When You Can See More Cracks in Contentment

I thought it would be good to check in on #NoDiscontentDecember. Well, what I mean is I thought it would be good to give you a report about how our #NoDiscontentDecember is going, since the Higgs are the ones who committed to it; we didn’t make you do it. It’s just supposed to be sparking ideas for you and/or your family.

The first thing, now eight days through December, that I can report is that contentment is both harder and easier when you focus on it. It’s harder because I didn’t lead our family in this particular hashtag month because we were awesome at it already. We need to work on this, and you can usually see even more cracks when you’re trying to fill the holes.

It is also easier in another way, though, because it’s the plan. It’s like wearing a brace; it keeps pushing or holding things in place that are trying to get out of place. The more I meditate on contentment, the more I’m thinking about being content. The more days you run on the treadmill, the less surprising it is the next day; it’s discipline, and it becomes what you do.

Contentment also connects with a point I made last Sunday night about our lives as an apologetic, especially with our giving of thanks for the abundance of blessings we have. I’ve mentioned Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment) a few times this past year, and his book is all about Philippians 4:11 where Paul said that he learned contentment when he was brought low and when he was abounding. Burroughs entire book is about being content when being brought low, except for the final paragraph.

Now there is in the text another lesson, which is a hard lesson: “I have learned to abound.” That does not so nearly concern us at this time, because the times are afflictive times, and there is now, more than ordinarily, an uncertainty in all things in the world. I such times as these are, there are few who have such an abundance that they need to be much taught in that lesson. (228)

That’s the last thing he addressed, which he didn’t feel was quite as applicable to his audience. It’s absolutely applicable to us. We need to learn contentment in our many blessings, and seek the blessing of contentment.

No Discontent December

If you could have only one thing for Christmas, and you knew you would get what you asked for, what would it be? If you could commit yourself to do one thing for Christmas, what would it be? I’m sure there are some great answers, but I’m going to share one as an example.

We decided as a family that there was too much to do in December to have bad attitudes about it. I mean, really, starting with myself and Mo, we don’t have enough time to complain about all the extra events and responsibilities, and then confess the complaining and then try to get back into the right spirit of things. With #NoQuarterNovember still ringing in our ears, we committed to #NoDiscontentmentDecember. This starts with me, in my heart, it’s something that Mo is likewise excited about (I didn’t make her agree to it), and something that we’re going to require of our kids.

If I could look back at advent season 2018, and I will look back at it one way or another, how great would it be to get the gift of contentment in our house? This is something that we can ask God for, it is something that we can commit to. Paul learned to be content in any and every circumstance (Philippians 4:12), why can’t we do it for a Christmas season?

For fun, even though it’s quite a serious ask, we’ve agreed that if one person is not quite fulfilling the hashtag, one of the others get to choose a line from the Grinch song (“you’re as cuddly as a cactus,” “you’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel,” and so on) and happily ask the temporarily incarnate grinch if that’s really how they want to ride the sleigh. This applies from kid to parent, too.

Maybe your next four weeks are more free and you have time to be envious, or bitter, or anxious, or grumpy. You still shouldn’t be.

Motivation Above

What makes a church a church? How is a church formed? There’s a choice. A church could be seen as a group of people who choose to come together, or a church could be seen as a group of people whom God chose to come together. Implications abound downstream of what we see.

Abraham Kuyper published his address arguing that the church should not be supported or controlled by the State. A free church has different roots, and the freedom comes from God’s sovereign choice.

There are only two principles that carry within themselves a characteristic world, an entirely distinctive world: eternal election and humanism. (Rooted and Grounded, location 234)

At root of all kinds of relationships and responsibilities is the concern: who is being worshipped as God? If God is God, then God chooses what happens. If man plays at God’s role, he believes that he chooses what happens. This isn’t a discussion about primary and secondary causes or about God’s use of our affections and wills in accomplishing what He wants. At the moment I’m simply trying to point out that things are different when we receive, and rejoice in, the truth of God’s election.

We believe that God elects some to salvation. We believe that all those who have been elected to a common salvation God also elects some to specific spiritual gift. And we believe that the saved and gifted are elected to union with other parts of the body and elected to work for the benefit of the whole body.

You could be urged to find the motivation to serve within, or urged to find the motivation around, as you see those in need. But the first motivation is above, submitting to the Sovereign. He chose you for Himself, and for such a body as this.

Make It Perfect

There are two ways to make your Thanksgiving holiday family time together perfect this week. One way to make it perfect is to have your family not spend any time together. Really. Where two or three are gathered together, there is disagreement in their midst. This is merely “perfect” in the sense of free from strife, though that is probably an imperfect definition of perfect. When we as Christians think about perfect we usually think about what is as good as it could possibly be.

So if not getting together is not an option, and if getting together necessarily leads to some level of relational strife, how could there possibly be a way to make it “perfect”?

Paul wrote this:

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:13-14)

There are no perfect holidays that are free from strife, from stress, from criticisms, from sin. But there can be perfect harmony, even when sin snaps at the kids, the kids keep needling each other, the in-laws complain about the one dish that isn’t on the table of seventeen other things you made. The harmony happens when Christians absorb the heat.

You have two ways to respond when the steaming gravy gets spilled on you. You can be like a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes, soaking up the gravy from making an even bigger mess, or you can be like a dried out piece of turkey with crisp skin because it was cooked five hours too long. You can blame everyone else and leave the mess for them, or you can absorb it, as God’s chosen ones.

Be the person for whom others eagerly give thanks.

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.