The Lord Builds

One thing to look for when reading Scripture is the order of the author’s points. For example, Peter said to put away sin for sake of hungering for the Word, and then he connected the Word to tasting that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:1-3).

Tasting His goodness seems like it would be the end, and in some sense it is. But Peter says more about those who taste and then “come to him,” that is, those who come to the Lord. He is good, of course you would come. But we don’t come alone.

We come as “living stones” who are “being built up as a spiritual house.”

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 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 2:9-10)

What do we need to do for this building up, this identification to happen? We need to taste that He is good and come to Him, and then He does the work. “As you come to him…you yourselves like living stones are being built up,” the passive voice. The Lord builds.

God does command us to be of the same mind, to have the same love, to be in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:2). And He creates this fellowship by His Spirit as He builds us on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.

The Dad Hat

Fathers have an exhaustive, and exhausting, set of responsibilities. The Dad hat is just one of a godly man’s hats, but it is a hat he never really hangs up on a hook. Here are a sampling of specific tasks that belong to fatherhood.

Dad should be the one who sets priorities for the family. He should be the first one one who seeks out sinners, who disciplines, and who brings the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation to bear. He should teach and train his household in the ways of being a disciple of Christ. He should provide food for them—even if he isn’t the one who prepares it—in a way that creates a table for the family to eat around. And dad should be giving tools and encouragement and assignments, even more as the kids get older, for their various jobs day by day.

A dad must do all of these things while doing his other jobs. He must be a faithful father while being a faithful husband, not one or the other. He must steward his money and his minutes as a neighbor and citizen. And he must worship God with the rest of his church.

Worship is where his responsibilities begin, and it is the result of fulfilling them. Worship brings us to our heavenly Father, and worship shows us what we are to be. God the Father gives us identity as His people. God the Father forgives us. God the Father equips us by His Word. God the Father communes with us at the Table. And God the Father blesses us to go work.

Fathers, you do not have a tougher job than our Father. He also is a father to many sinners, to many needy children, and He gives His favor to those who imitate Him.

Never the Same Person Twice

The Christian life is a growing life. At the same time, we are always growing in the same fields. We develop our knowledge and application of one Book–the Bible, one message–the gospel, one Lord–Jesus Christ. Growth involves greater and greater familiarity with a few great things.

But doesn’t familiarity breed contempt? It certainly can and has historically. Aren’t we putting ourselves in danger’s way by cultivating daily habits (such as Bible reading, prayer, fellowship) and weekly liturgy (such as singing, Lord’s table)?

Routine can cut deep ruts. Any man may live so close to special things that he forgets how special they are. But because we read a divine Book, believe an eternal message, and follow an immortal Savior, we can be sure that contempt or boredom on our part is a problem on our part.

In order to properly appreciate great things, grace things, we need grace. We will always need grace, and grace is always God’s to give not ours to take. We ask, we depend, we put ourselves downstream, but always we depend on God to give it.

He regularly gives grace at this Table. It is not magical, but it is supernatural. He doesn’t force-feed it into us without faith, but He will nourish and strengthen and unite believers here by His grace. It works and changes us so that we don’t eat in exactly the same way twice because we’re never the same person twice.

Formerly Known as Selfish Fathead

Growing in grace leads to unexpected challenges. As disciples we want to grow more and more into the image of Christ. As a church we want the whole body to be built up and knit together. Stagnant spirituality stinks, so how could spiritual progress not be necessarily refreshing? Growth is positive, yes, and sometimes painful.

Growing in grace can be painful when others see our growth and say something encouraging. A friend says, “You don’t fly off the handle nearly as often as you used to.” He’s thankful for the grace he sees in your life at work. You’re reminded how frequently you got up on the angry side of the bed. Your wife says, “I’m so thankful for how sweet and compassionate you’ve become.” You hear her talking about a husband formerly known as a selfish fathead. We wanted to be more patient and joyful. We prayed that God would make us more kind and loving. But now that other people notice, it hurts.

If they would just forget what we were like then maybe we could too. Of course, if they (and we) forget, the testimony of God’s grace is forgotten, too. Be careful when you grow in grace, other people may notice.

Be careful also when you want others to grow in grace. It can be painful, not only for them to see us grow, but for us to see them grow. When others grow it may make us fearful that our own weaknesses and immaturity will be seen, like when a new flowerbed starts to flourish and then highlights how ugly the house paint looks, or it make may us jealous that they’re receiving growth blessings that we want. If they would just stay where they were then we could too, but that’s not how God’s grace gets such a great name.

Now We Belong

It used to be that the carcasses of the animals whose blood was used in sacrifices on the Day of Atonement were taken outside the camp to be burned up.

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. (Hebrews 13:11)

The bodies didn’t belong at the altar. Jesus fulfilled this work for us at Calvary.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his blood. (Hebrews 13:12).

He was treated as cursed so that we could come in. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by become a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'” (Galatians 3:13).

He was accursed so that we don’t have to be, while those who continue to reject Him, wherever they think they are, are actually in the position of being accursed. Once we were separated and alienated and strangers (Ephesians 2:12), but now we belong.

At the Lord’s Supper we remember His death, the righteous for the unrighteous, that we might be brought to God. We remember His love, not for the lovely but for the unlovely, that He might renew us in His image. Our new status, our new camp, our new community, our new hope, these are all brought to us by grace. As we eat the bread and drink the wine we commemorate His grace at the cross and we anticipate the grace at His coming for us. Maranatha!

Justifiable Blessings

One of the reasons that we include confession of sin in our weekly liturgy is not just that we recognize that we are sinful, but we receive God’s revelation that He is perfectly righteous. God not only acts in accord with moral law, what we refer to as moral law comes from His character. His nature is right. He always does what is justifiable.

We don’t, of course. This is why we love the Son who gave Himself for us that we could be justified, declared righteous by God. This is very good news for the list of the unrighteous in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 whose unrighteousness would keep them out of God’s kingdom.

But God’s righteous character applies in more than one argument. I’ve been trying different ways of saying it over the last few months, but here it is from the author of Hebrews.

For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in the serving of the saints, as you still do. (Hebrews 6:10)

Note that this means that God sees your work; His seeing is part of His righteousness. This means that God would be unrighteous to ignore the love that you demonstrate to others. This doesn’t mean that we are working our way to salvation, but that these works are “things that belong to salvation” (Hebrews 6:9).

You will reap what you sow because God is not crooked. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain because God is just (1 Corinthians 15:58). So don’t be sluggish (Hebrews 6:12). Devote yourselves to the service of the saints (1 Corinthians 16:15), not just because it is right, but because God will justifiably bless you.

Proclaiming the Lord’s Love Until He Comes

Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, let all of it be done in love. This is a conflation of 1 Corinthians 10:31 and 16:14. I’m not rewriting the Scripture, I am connecting two ways of dealing with the same thing.

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul exhorted the church about using their theological understanding about God’s creative generosity and their liberty in Christ to love one another in what they willingly did not eat and in what they did eat with thankfulness. This is how to give God glory, because what gives God glory is how we love one another.

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul exhorted the church about their divisive and selfish eating related to their obedience to the Lord’s institution of the Lord’s Supper. Again with food, again in a context of relationships, and again we’re called not to love self but others as we follow the example of Christ.

This is part of why our communion together proclaims the Lord’s death until He comes, because this is also proclaiming the Lord’s love until He comes. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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 3:9-11)

Do you want to be godly and glorify Him? Then eat and drink in praise of His love to you in Christ, and eat and drink in love for one another.

I Like Job, but I Don’t Want to Be Like Job

Most of us appreciate the story of Job. God regularly uses his story to bless us, to sustain our happiness, or at least our hopefulness, when things are difficult. In Job’s narrative we see how our faithfulness to God brings trouble, not that trouble always comes from our disobedience. We see how nothing happens apart from God’s control, even the worst loss and pain. And we see God’s grace to restore good to His servant when His point to Satan is made. The story is like a warm coat after falling into cold water.

On the human side we see Job, through emotional and physical and relational pain, persevere. It’s not that he didn’t struggle or ask questions, but he kept looking to God for help and answers.

The apostle James found encouragement in Job’s story and reminded his readers to be patient. “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 4:11b).

We are given strength to endure as we consider one who endured by God’s mercy. In fact, the first part of verse 11 states it plain as the noon sun: “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.”

So we appreciate the story of Job, along with many of “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (verse 10). We consider those who remained strong, who acted like men, who did not give up, blessed.

And, brothers, we also must submit when the Lord gives and when He takes away, so that our stories may give encouragement to others. We like to consider those who remained steadfast, blessed, but we like less being considered by others as blessed. Beloved, be steadfast, be blessed, be a blessing.

Not a Crumb of a Cardboard Cracker

How would you persuade someone that the church’s eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper should be more happy than heavy?

We believe that the bread and the wine represent the body of Christ tortured and crucified, the blood of Jesus spilled from His head, His hands, His back, His feet. We acknowledge that our sin drove the bitter nails that hung Him on that judgment tree. The murder of God’s Son is the most heinous and unjust offense committed in history, and, according to divine justice He had to be crushed for our iniquities. This is heavy truth.

And when we know Jesus Christ and Him crucified, what does the Father expect us to do next? What was the Son’s work for? What does the Spirit accomplish?

The goal of God’s saving work is our life, our joy, and our fellowship with God. That fellowship is sweet. The work of grace includes a plain, and painful, view of our disobedience. But God opens our eyes to see our sin not mainly so that He can rub our faces in it. His purpose is not to remind us in perpetuity that we do not belong, that we barely got in, and that we should never forget how painful was the price His Son paid.

We will not ever forget Christ’s death. And we will praise God’s love revealed in His atoning, substitutionary sacrifice. We will remember and rejoice because it purchased our forgiveness, our freedom, our fellowship with God and all His people.

It is one of the reasons that we started using wine in communion. Wine is given by God as a gift to gladden hearts (Psalm 104:15). We are not drinking the wine of His wrath, but the wine of His feast (think Isaiah 55). Likewise, the recipe we use for our bread includes a touch of honey, because the word is sweet (Psalm 19:10), and Jesus is the incarnate Word. He is the Bread of Life, not a crumb of a cardboard cracker.

Honey is serious business. We do not deserve salvation or any of its sweetness, and that is part of what makes it a serious gift to us from God.

Where It Wafts

Sometimes Christians are able to take obedience and make it ugly; it’s one of our specialties.

In 1 Corinthians 16:5-8 Paul wrote about his plans to visit Corinth, but also acknowledged that the Lord must permit the visit or it wouldn’t happen. Paul wasn’t expecting an approved itinerary handed down to him by an angel from heaven, but he would recognize by providence if God allowed it.

Solomon wrote that “the heart of man plans his ways, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Only the LORD does “whatever” He pleases (Psalm 135:6); we are not the Lord.

Most Christians are probably familiar with James’ teaching about this perspective on providence.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit,” … instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13, 15)

With all that in mind, in order to obey, do you need to say “if the Lord wills” before every stated intention or plan? Or, do you need to correct your brother or sister if they use a future tense verb without including the “Lord willing” qualifier?

James says that boasting in our self-determination is arrogant (James 4:16). It can also be arrogant to boast over a fellow-believer’s sentence structure. If he isn’t living in light of God’s control, then it might be good to bring it up, which is what James is doing. But Pharisees pay more attention to the proper use of formulas; what we need most is to live by faith.

How can you know if you are living James 4:15? You hold your schedule loosely. You respond to interruptions and changes with patience and contentment (which is harder than tagging sentences with Deo volente). You remember that “we have not even a moment in our power” (John Calvin, commentary on 1 Corinthians 16:7). You remember that your life is a mist, and that the Lord wills where it wafts and for how long.