Every Thumb's Width

A Fight to the Death

Abortion does not make sense. It is, and always has been, “fatal violence–against the most helpless members of our human community.” But many in our generation are frantic to deny this reality, so a testimony like that in When Abortion Suddenly Stopped Making Sense is potent.

[Abortion] gets presented as if it’s a tug of war between the woman and the baby. We see them as mortal enemies, locked in a fight to the death. But that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? It must be the first time in history when mothers and their own children have been assumed to be at war. We’re supposed to picture the child attacking her, trying to destroy her hopes and plans, and picture the woman grateful for the abortion, since it rescued her from the clutches of her child.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Communion Against Abortion

Here is an outrageous claim that I believe is true:

We must rejoice more when we remember Christ in communion if we want to stop abortion in our nation.

The decision of Roe v. Wade came 43 years ago last Friday. Since 1973 over 59 million unborn babies have been killed that we know about in the United States. God knows how many have not been counted.

The Supreme Court’s decision and its consequences have worked alongside a swelling cultural desire to stifle faith. You can believe whatever you want as long as you believe that your faith can’t breathe in public. Faith, if it must exist, cannot be allowed to grow to full term. This is analogous to abortion, a desire to kill any fruit.

Living faith has two eyes to see, two ears to hear, a mouth to speak, two hands to work with, and two legs to stand on. Watch out for living faith. Living faith is fruitful. Living faith is dangerous to the status quo. Living faith is a weapon against selfishness and greed and fear, our own and then our community. Living faith makes those who don’t have it afraid.

Which is why our celebration in communion is so crucial. Any external fixes, including changes in the legal and medical and cultural policies on abortion, must be driven by internal faith in Jesus Christ. The gospel is our only hope of salvation, but those who are saved by faith will live by faith. This is a meal that nourishes our faith. We eat and drink and our gladness grows, our hope blooms, and our union with the Head–Christ–and His body is sensed.

The evil one sows doubt. The world suffocates conviction. Our own flesh attacks trust. But faith that is fed conquers kingdoms, enforces justice, obtains promises, and is made strong out of weakness. Faith that is fed is ready to be imprisoned, mocked, mistreated, and sawn in two. Faith lived out makes us men and women of whom the world is not worthy (see Hebrews 11:32-38), and it will have an impact on generations yet to be born.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Busts along the Wall

We started a string of exhortations on the Ten Commandments and last week we considered how Jesus summarized the first four commands by calling men to love God with all that they are (Matthew 22:37-38). It is also true that all men must love God, and all of man’s love must be for God, not split among gods.

In Exodus 20 we read that God spoke the following words (verse 1), starting with a reminder to the Israelites that He delivered them out of Egypt (verse 2). Because of His saving work, they were to worship Him only.

You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

The words “before me” could be read as if one were sorting a list by priority; i.e., put eggs above milk. But that’s not what it means here. God is not requiring the right ordering of busts along the pantheon wall. The LORD did not command them to make Him the first chair in their orchestra of gods, He commanded their undivided worship. There are to be no others in addition to, none together with, none other “besides” Him.

The words “before me” also indicate that the first commandment is of first concern to God. In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “These words before me…teach us that God, who sees all things, takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god.” The Lord is close and pays close attention to whomever (or whatever) else we worship.

While it’s true that the LORD hasn’t chosen the United States as His covenant people, we still owe our existence to Him individually and collectively. By His common grace He has blessed us greatly but we have given glory to those which are not gods. Some god is always being praised and obeyed in public view, even if that is us–the people. Apart from repentance and faith and thanks to God our nation will continue to deserve His wrath.

Likewise, in the church we are often distracted, if not at times even acting as if we were independent of Him. But more than Israel’s exodus, He has delivered us from our slavery to sin. He has brought us out of a house of darkness and death. Therefore we are responsible to acknowledge all things as being from Him and through Him and to Him alone.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Chosen Symbols

Why do we observe communion? We do it because Jesus gave the ordinance to His disciples and commanded them to keep it until He returns. We eat the bread and drink the cup because He gave His Word.

Without His Word the Lord’s Supper would be a superstitious snack, a ritual resulting from man’s imagination and upheld by man’s tradition. It might make a man feel good or even think about good things but it would have no authority. Being man-made would also make it open to constant challenge. Who’s to say what the bread or wine might represent? Who’s to say that either represents anything at all?

Jesus said. He chose a body and blood and He chose symbols for both. He wanted us to think, but He also wanted us to do more than think. He wanted us to remember in our minds as we chew and drink with our mouths. His Word tells us to eat and drink, what to eat and drink, why to eat and drink, and what happens to us when we eat and drink. By faith we are fed, we are united together, and we proclaim the Lord’s death.

So think about the glory of the cross whenever you want, but think and eat baked grain and drink pressed grapes according to His Word. The cup of wine blesses us as we participate in the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). The bread is one, and we who are many are one body partake of the one bread as we participate in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17). We are not following cleverly devised myths, but we are following a fully confirmed word.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Two Tables for Ten

We know, according to Paul, that the law was given to point men to Christ (Galatians 3:24). The law tutored sinners toward the Savior because the law required perfection and none of us are. Only Christ fulfilled every jot and tittle (Matthew 5:17-18), the rest of us, failing at even one point have become accountable for all of it (James 2:10). The law teaches us that we have not obeyed the law and that we must believe in Christ for our righteousness.

What good, then, are the Ten Commandments for us as Christians? Historically, the Church has acknowledged a few different uses, but one of them is to show us the types of lawful behavior that God desires and that God enables believers to perform by His Spirit. God’s character didn’t change after Christ came. And Christ came to redeem and remake us to share more of God’s character.

Christ also summarized the law–epitomized in the Decalogue–in the Great Commandment and the Second like it. Love for God and love for one’s neighbor aren’t a replacement for the Ten, they represent two Tables within the Ten.

Loving God with all we are is a way to say that we will serve no idols, carve no images, not say His name in vain, and that we will take one day out of every seven to honor Him by not going about our business as usual. Loving one’s neighbor fulfills the remaining six which all function in human relationships–parents, spouses, those we’re mad at or lust for, ones we want to hurt or want what they have.

The law in Exodus 20 applies uniquely to Israel as part of the Old Testament, but we are endowed uniquely to understand it in light of Christ’s fulfillment and to obey it in His likeness by His Spirit.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not in Remembrance of You

Of all the good gifts of God that have been abused, perhaps nothing has been more abused than the gospel. Salvation is not by works. No man can do anything, give any amount, or feel any emotion enough to earn favor with God. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). That’s it. We are declared righteous by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Paul knew that such a good gift would be abused. “So, you’re saying that it doesn’t matter at all what I do? Actually, more sin on my part makes for more glory on His part?” Sort of. After more than two chapters in his letter to the Romans about justification he addressed those who thought they should sin more, sin on purpose so that grace would be seen as more great.

That’s not how it works, of course, because the grace that justifies is grace that changes. But if someone can’t misunderstand the gospel that way, then it probably hasn’t been presented truly.

Let’s try it out. What do you need to do so that you can eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord? How much or how long do you need to have obeyed? What sins for what duration do you need to have avoided?

It does not matter how many good works you did or didn’t do this week. It doesn’t matter what sins you avoided or didn’t. If you believe in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, then you are righteous by faith and the Father receives you into fellowship. Communion is in remembrance of Him, not in remembrance of you.

This means that even if you’ve been thinking about communion wrongly, if you’ve been fearful rather than celebratory, even that doesn’t change your invitation to the Table. There is a seat at His Table for everyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Christ from the dead. He has made all of the arrangements, and that is a reason for our hearts to be glad in remembrance of Him.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Flotsam and Jetsam

The Bible contains some hard truths, truths that cut against the grain of our sin. Scripture is profitable, Paul wrote, for teaching and reproof and rebuke. Through the God’s law sin is revealed. The mirror of the Word reveals our imperfections. The living and active Sword divides in order to rearrange us and make us more pleasing sacrifices to Him.

Spiritual leaders sometimes say hard things to confront or challenge. Paul wrote that way to the Corinthians but he wanted to make sure that they understood his motivation. After his first letter he had avoided coming to Corinth again and exercising his authority to confront them with the following clarification.

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

Even when he challenged them to change, it wasn’t because he thought he was the boss. He wasn’t motivated to get others to act for him. He wanted others to act for their joy. He pressed, he pushed, he admonished, and he taught in order to stimulate their faith for their own gladness.

Many things attack our faith which means our gladness is vulnerable. Selfishness attacks faith, as does bitterness, envy, fear, cynicism, greed, lust, pride, and any sort of cistern drinking. The river of faith flows toward joy, so whatever is blocking up faith must be recognized and removed. Someone on the bank can see the crash coming, even help pull some of the flotsam and jetsam from their position on the side. But it usually requires effort from the one in the boat, too. “We work with you for your joy.”

Our corporate worship is for our faith for sake of our joy. We are in it together, pursuing the same goal. We need to confess any sin that is blocking the exercise of believing or the experience of gladness in God.

Enjoying the Process

Harassing the Devil

In 1530 Martin Luther wrote the following to his friend Jerome Weller for his fight of faith against the evil one.

Whenever this temptation of melancholy comes to you, beware not to dispute with the devil nor allow yourself to dwell on these lethal thoughts, for so doing is nothing less than giving place to the devil and so falling. Try as hard as you can to despise these thoughts sent by Satan. In this sort of temptation and battle, contempt is the easiest road to victory; laugh your enemy to scorn and ask to whom you are talking. By all means flee solitude, for he lies in wait most for those alone. This devil is conquered by despising and mocking him, not by resisting and arguing. Therefore, Jerome, joke and play games with my wife and others, in which way you will drive out your diabolic thoughts and take courage.

Be strong and cheerful and cast out those monstrous thoughts. Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men, or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you, “Do not drink,” answer him, “I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” One must always do what Satan forbids. What other cause do you think that I have for drinking so much strong drink, talking so freely and making merry so often, except that I wish to mock and harass the devil who is wont to mock and harass me. Would that I could contrive some great sin to spite the devil, that he might understand that I would not even then acknowledge it and that I was conscious of no sin whatever. We, whom the devil thus seeks to annoy, should remove the whole Decalogue from our hearts and minds.

—Martin Luther, quoted by Jim West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther, 34-35

Lord's Day Liturgy

Overactive Victimhood

One of our cultural contagions is overactive victimhood. Everyone is a victim of something and, once a victim, always a victim. This isn’t to deny longstanding results of being sinned against, or even the existence of permanent scars. It is to say that a person’s identity does not need to be in victimness.

Christians should be able to show how this is done and to provide a way to talk about identity according to the gospel.

When Jesus saves, He saves us into a new identity. Peter wrote:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10)

Salvation changes our status. It gives us a testimony, and that testimony doesn’t deny the past. Our testimony acknowledges the past as the past on the way to affirming what is true now. We were lost, now we’re found. We we’re blind, now we see. We were dead, He has made us alive. We remember where we were in order to rejoice in who we are.

Of course we were not the only victim in our testimony. We were also the offenders in a previous situation. In order for our offense to be forgiven, Jesus had to die. Jesus will always be known as the sacrificial victim, but the victim who volunteered and who won. He is the “Lamb standing as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). We will never forget His suffering, but His suffering will forever be a cause, not of sadness, but of celebration. His sacrifice purchased our eternal life. It belongs with His mercy that caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

We are the house of the Lord. We are His dwelling place, an assembly of those who have received mercy by the blood of the Lamb, and God is pleased to eat with us.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Convicting Clarity

According to the Bible some practices are more profitable than others during the assembled worship of a church. Paul emphasized the value of prophetic utterance over tongue-talking in 1 Corinthians 14. He esteemed speaking “to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (verse 3). Such profit requires intelligibility, using language with discernible meaning communicated to minds outside of the speaker’s. Such manifestations build up the church (verse 12).

What is edifying clarity for the church is also a convicting clarity to unbelieving visitors.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24–25)

Truth, like light, reveals hearts, and the clarity brings conviction, possibly consolation in Christ, but not comfortability. The outsider–one outside of Christ, not a part of the church–is convicted, accountable, exposed, and humbled as God’s Spirit works. This reaction enables him to confirm that God is present.

An unbelieving guest may or may not hear more than one voice, but he should be able to watch the response of the church to truth understood. The believers’ hearts are exposed and they humbly fall on their faces to worship God. The outsider is convicted by seeing the insiders convicted.

Our weekly confession of sin is part of our corporate witness. When God is really among us, we are not running from conviction and accountability but rather responding to it. A whole church falling on their faces will be a potent proof of God’s presence.