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.

July 21, 2021 communion

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.

July 20, 2021 confession marriage

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).

July 13, 2021 communion

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.

July 12, 2021 confession #blessed

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)!

July 6, 2021 communion

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).

July 5, 2021 confession