The End of Many Books

Angels in the Architecture

Published in 1998, I wish I had read it that long ago. Not that I would have appreciated, or even accepted, its message back then, but if I had been teachable I might have avoided a lot of dualistic confusion and battled for a lot better things. My point here is, don’t let my mistake be yours. Get a copy, read it soon. See how the medieval weltanschauung (not that they called it that) has much for our Kuyperian (not that they called it that) living and joy. Without agreeing with every jot and tittle, this book points toward a love of truth and feasting and poetry, of submission and sphere sovereignty and the silliness of so much so-called science, of earth and work and relationships teeming with beauty and breath and blessing.

4 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

More But Not Less Than Mental

I’ve read some things recently about recovering rituals, especially in the liturgy of Christian worship. One resource in particular argues for the importance of liturgy due to its power to effect us pre-cognitively (which is not my preferred nomenclature). The idea is that some things we do repeatedly get into our guts, and that supposedly has greater stickiness than hearing or meditating on a sentence.

As a church we have tasted the goodness of some things we don’t always, or perhaps can’t perfectly, define. But there’s no reason that mind and body can’t work in harmony. There’s no reason that contemplation and conduct have to compete.

Even at the Lord’s Table, we partake weekly, corporately, and bodily. But we are not just going through the motions, chewing our bread mindlessly. We come and share and we know what we’re doing.

There is history (the name of Jesus, the night He was betrayed, His blood and His death), there is theology (atonement “for you,” “new covenant” with you), there is mission (proclaim His death until He comes). There is gratitude, there is faith, there is obedience.

So Jesus said Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). Do, as in eat and drink, which is more than mental exercise. It is liturgy, it is embodied, it is embedded in our practice. 

There is ritual in it, but the ritual is to remember, not a substitute for remembering. We remember the Son of God, we remember the sacrifice of the Son for our sins and God’s wrath against us satisfied, we remember the exchange of His righteousness to our account, we remember His love.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Like a Lace Coat

We fabricate elaborate but thin shields from confession, like a lace coat that offers no real protection and that everyone can see through anyway. One of the most popular patterns is recrimination, accusing the other person of what the other person accused us of. It’s counteraccusation. It’s criminate and then sending the criminate back across the net. It’s the old “I’m rubber, you’re worse.” It’s the “I know I have a log in my eye, but what about your speck?”

Recrimination is ugly business and, even though countercharging doesn’t make sin disappear, it at least leads to weeks or months in the appeals system before a verdict is made. Who knows, maybe the initial allegation will even get dropped because, really, who has the time and resources to endure the litigation?

But it can be a form of false witness (Exodus 20:16), a false accusation, which is a lie, and something that sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:19), sin upon sin. But also, maybe you are right; the other person might actually be guilty of what they’re accusing us of. Perhaps that’s why they can see our sin so accurately; they know exactly what they’re looking at. The question we must ask is: Am I sinning?

Blowing smoke in the face of others doesn’t put out the fire. There are all sorts of ways we can distance ourselves from and argue ourselves out of confession. As we do so, we also distance ourselves from forgiveness and fellowship with Christ and with each other.

Two Are Better Than One

Maggie and Taylor

It’s been almost two weeks(!) since the wedding, but here are some of the things I said.

Photo by Leila Bowers

This is different for me than any other wedding I’ve officiated. Here I function pastorally and as involved patriarchy. While it won’t always be the case, it is the first wedding I’ve officiated where I’ve known either the bride or the groom since birth. In fact many of you, and not just family, have held them. Due somewhat to my public position, Maggie was a sort of community kid. It’s the first time I’ve said the “I do” as a father at the beginning of the ceremony while then asking the couple to say “I do” as a pastor. It’s also even more personal because, even out of my kids, Maggie is the most like me, and our faces were virtually indistinguishable when we were both five.

She is much better than me at picking up on some things, which she gets from her mother. That includes how she picked up on Taylor’s appropriate yet apparent increase of attention towards her starting at a church youth car wash a couple years ago. And even though it wasn’t the right time to move toward marriage then, it was a great time for conversations…about tattoos, and the like. It was actually tough for a while for Maggie to be heard over Calvin talking to Taylor about guns and buffalo check.

I’ve known Taylor, and his family, for almost twenty years. And over the last couple years, his name has come up a lot among many of the men at church, because they loved how much and how obviously Taylor was growing in Christ. Even in the last ten months since he first spoke to me about his desire to pursue Maggie, I couldn’t be more impressed and thankful for how he’s handled himself at every stage. He won me first. He has submitted to me, but led her, and at a perfect pace.

I knew that Taylor could be a good fit for Maggie, and I told her so. But the moment that I wasn’t looking for, the moment with the most conflicting fatherly feelings, was when we realized that Taylor is the man to take care of Maggie better than I can. The two of you together will have it better. That is God’s idea.

Marriage is GOOD.

From the very beginning almost every creative act of God the first six days of the universe, God looked at His work and saw that it was “good.”

On the first day, He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. The next day He gathered the waters together and caused dry land to appear and He saw that it was good. Three more times God created and He saw that His work was good.

Then, partway through day six, God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. But before man could catch his breath, before man made any personal comments about his condition, the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The emphasis wasn’t as if the man was simply missing out on something nice. The emphasis was that there was something identifiably wrong. Something was not good.

Not good? What else could man possibly want? Adam had a spectacular home, with beauty and variety and resources of every kind at his disposal. Not only that, he was assigned a global enterprise: to exercise dominion and subdue every square inch of the planet. He had a place to be and a purpose for being. Yet still something was not good: Adam was alone.

Because God made man in His own image, man was not made for isolation, but for intimacy. From the beginning, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him,” and then a third and final line follows in 1:27: “male and female He created them.”

God Himself, in the Trinity, is a relational being. The three Persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–had already been enjoying an eternity of perfect, happy intimacy and fellowship with each other. When God said, “Let us make man in our image,” for whatever else that “image” includes, He meant to make us social, familial, personal beings like Himself.

The first relationship on earth, and the one logically necessary for future generations, the one that God uses to illustrate His own Son’s relationship with the Church-Bride, is the husband and wife relationship. A man and a woman, in the “one flesh” commitment, know and enjoy and model the most Trinitarian-like relationship in the universe.

That’s not to say that single people are second-class citizens (God’s own Son who took on flesh, Jesus, never married), but rather to emphasize that the love of a husband and wife is meant as a way to share, to taste, a bit of God-like gladness. Image-bearing is done in marriage, with one man and one woman, in a loyal and pleasurable relationship with each other. God made us this way to reflect Himself.

By the end of day six, with all creation finished and the first wedding ceremony complete, God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good. So today, as Taylor and Maggie enter this covenant, and become one flesh and bear God’s joyful image, He sees that it is very good.

Marriage Needs the Gospel.

There is, however, one setback in the story. In the very next chapter of Adam and Eve’s marriage, they disobeyed God. As a consequence of their disobedience, not only did the man and woman lose spiritual fellowship with their Maker, they also began to experience the effects of sin in their relationship. Sin separates. It has from the beginning. Sin is the enemy of marriage, destroying intimacy and communion and joy.

The biggest problem you will ever face in marriage is not money–too little or too much. The greatest obstacle to joy in marriage will not arise from personality or gender differences (God made those to be enjoyed). Personal weaknesses and little idiosyncrasies, in and of themselves, will not hinder love and submission.

This is good news. On one hand, if your issues were personality based, the best you could do would be awareness of the differences, but there would be no solution. On the other hand, if your problem is sin, there is a solution for that. Jesus is the solution.

Through His work on the cross we have salvation, not only from the penalty of sin, but also from the stronghold of sin each day. Confess sin as sin to Christ and to one another and you will clear the way to the deepest levels of intimacy. The Lord Jesus Christ is in the business of transforming sinners, and that includes sinners who are married to each other. Don’t try to cover your sin or call it by some other name. You won’t fool the other person, and you certainly won’t fool God. The health and happiness of your marriage depend on believing and living the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Your marriage will be a partial but true, pleasurable yet with great purpose, embodied reflection of the Trinity. May He bless your vows and your love with great fruitfulness and joy.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Familiarity Breeds

In a database where I keep track of our Lord’s Day liturgy, which passages are read and sermons preached, I have a column for which pastor led the service on any given Sunday. It turns out that today is my 500th Lord’s Day led, which means that it is also the 500th communion meditation I’ve given.

I remember when we started having communion every week thinking, how will I be able to come up with a different meditation ten years from now? Here we are. More important than that, some among us wondered if communion itself would become stale and dry, if we would become hardened to its importance.

The truism we typically believe is that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s catchy, we can see how that could be used as a diagnostic to explain why we have contempt for something. Yet ignorance also empowers contempt, as do pride and envy.

I was meditating on the assumed power in the verb: familiarity breeds. Breeding doesn’t happen by proxy, there are no breeders emeritus, you cannot sign up for distance breeding. Husbands become fathers through familiarity with their wives. Why don’t Christians ask if marital familiarity is dangerous? Maybe Christians are too spiritual to ask it out loud, maybe some do think it. But familiarity is powerful to produce fruit.

In the Bible, familiarity with God breeds panic and praise, weeping and worship, awful dread and inexpressible joy. As it turns out, familiarity isn’t the problem, we are the problem.

Dinner with the family every night could become monotonous if mom despised the work and dad despised the interruption and the kids despised being despised. But when there is familiarity with sacrificial love and intention, contempt doesn’t have a place at the table. Watering your yard once a quarter doesn’t make it more green. Sex with your wife once a quarter isn’t much covenant renewal.

The Lord’s Supper doesn’t stay special because of scarcity, but by frequent gratitude.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Two Moving Toward One

I’ve heard it described before that marriage is like a triangle with God at the summit. As the husband and wife get closer to God they necessarily get closer to each other. I like the illustration well enough. It is true that the man and the woman have their own, personal relationship to God, a relationship that in many cases existed before the wedding and one that provides spiritual support during marriage.

But most of the Christians I fellowship with on a regular basis do not usually struggle to remember or attend to our individual access to God. “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ regardless of what happens around me.” That is true, and there is a proper way to emphasize that. It becomes a problem, though, when we value our individual access to God in such a way as to consider our spouse (or children) as an obstacle, or even just insignificant to our movement toward God.

There is a sense in which every man by himself and every woman by herself bears the image of God. But a married couple bear God’s image together. That means that your spouse–even your sinning, selfish, stand-offish, criticizing, fussy spouse–is less of a hindrance to Your fellowship with God and more of a reason for it. Christian couples should think correctly about their connection. In other words, it is not a time to congratulate yourself when you’ve inched closer to God on your side of the triangle but your spouse stays further back.

Husbands, if your wife is falling back, then your individual Christian growth (which you should pursue) will result in your loving sacrifice that may, by grace, win/woo your wife to come along. Likewise, wives, if your husband is falling back, then your individual Christian growth (which you should pursue) will result in joyful respect that may, by grace, push your husband further. Individual Christian growth that does not look to unite, even if that unity doesn’t happen overnight, is not growth in godlikeness. God unites us to Himself, He doesn’t just celebrate that He is better than us.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Eat Local

“Think global, act local,” is fine, but I’d like to tweak it, and not just to avoid the environmentalist toxins its picked up. How about we” think universal, eat local. What I mean is, eat the Lord’s Supper with your local body, and think about the universal church, those believers who are part of Christ’s Body living around the world today, along with those who have already run and finished their race on earth.

The reason we often focus on ourselves as individuals around the Table isn’t mono-causal; a lot of factors are at play. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians is part of it: “let a man examine himself, then…” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Of course the problem in Corinth was that people were thinking of themselves and their satisfaction apart from sharing with the rest of the church body (1 Corinthians 11:21-22). It is possible that Christians have been taught that it’s more “spiritual” to think about themselves and their sin and still end up not sharing.

The discipline of the Lord’s Table liturgy is to rejoice in our redemption by the Lamb. This is personal, and bigger.

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain,
and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation
(Revelation 5:9 ESV)

I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10 ESV)

So, remember Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, risen from the dead. Your sins were buried with Him, and You have been united with Him and with His whole Body. Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Ready for Grace

If sin dulls us to true glory, it also makes us drowsy to our responsibilities. Our confession of sin is not like the alarm clock, but like walking on the cold floor to get to the blaring alarm clock all the way across the room. Confessing our sin can help wake us up.

Jesus told a parable recorded in Luke 12 about some servants who “were waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast” (12:36). They wanted to be ready for when he arrived, and Jesus said, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (12:37). “If he comes in the second watch (around 10pm to 2am), or in the third (around 2am to 6am), and finds them awake, blessed are those servants” (12:38).

What’s surprising about this version of the story comes between the two blesseds. “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” Who is the he? And the them The “he” who serves is the master, the “them” who recline are the servants. It shouldn’t be this way.

In other illustrations, Jesus pointed out that ready servants were just doing their job (see Luke 17:7-10). Servants serve; it is their duty.

But here, the context is one of joy. The master is returning from a wedding feast. Don’t be anxious, but eager for that grace that our Master is bringing. He is coming in to share His joy with His servants. As Peter wrote:

preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

By grace watch for grace.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Owner of the Vineyard

If you are tracking with the Same Page Summer Bible reading plan, or if you happened to read the Gospel of Mark this past week, the Parable of the Tenants may be more fresh in your mind.

In Mark 12 Jesus told a story about a man who planted a vineyard and built a fence to protect it, who then leased the land to tenants while he went to another country. At harvest the owner sent one of his servants to get some of the fruit, and the tenants assaulted the servant. The tenants attacked a second servant, killed a third servant, and then murdered the “beloved son.”

Jesus asked, “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:9).

The religious leaders who listened to the parable “perceived that he had told the parable against them” (verse 12), and He had. The good news is that while the parable was against them, it is for us. We are among the “others.”

In general the parable is against the hard-hearted Jews, the tenants in the story, who received a stewardship and then began acting like they were the owners. They indeed killed the Son of God’s love. The others in the story are the Gentiles, and here we are.

When it comes to eschatology, we believe that God still will cause a future generation of Jews to repent and receive the Messiah. And also, when it comes to eschatology, the owner of the vineyard has shared the riches of His glory in Christ among the Gentiles. We are built on the Cornerstone, it is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous (Mark 12:10-11)!

Lord's Day Liturgy

Nations Under God

The United States is a nation by God’s choice. The USA is not God’s chosen nation (for that choice see Deuteronomy 7:6-7), but we only exist according to the will of God. Paul told the Greeks that God “made from one man (Noah) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). We have no reason to think God gave up this prerogative before 1776. The Lord is Lord of our history and our borders. He is Lord of our independence (from the British parliament).

After telling the men of Athens about God’s providence He told them about God’s purpose. The determining of time and place for every nation leads somewhere: “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him” (verse 27). This doesn’t upend Calvinism to talk about seekers, any more than it undoes another letter from Paul saying “no one” seeks for God (Romans 3:11), because here any seeking movement, considered from the human perspective, started from His sovereignty.

I say all that to say that, on a day Independence Day, we have every reason to think about our nation under God. Our story–its start, its sins, its blessings, its fruit, its freedoms–are all from and through and to God, one way or another. The blessings we have, the blessings we’ve forsaken, the blessings we’ve been ungrateful for, the blessings we don’t even know about, ought to make us realize that there is a God, and the Founders and Constitution and President aren’t Him. Even the unbelieving Benjamin Franklin knew better:

“the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs the affairs of men”.

Our celebrations make no sense apart from the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. And our celebrations fall short of their purpose if they do not remind us that “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).