The Dungeon of Chronic Grievances

We’ve been considering how to Make Easter Great Again. There are certainly things we can add into our preparation for and celebration of Christ’s resurrection, but there are also things we can give up. The most important things to give up, however, are things that Christ died for. He didn’t die so that we wouldn’t eat meat, He did die so that we wouldn’t self-righteously judge a brother who does (or doesn’t) eat meat. Give up sin, whether like gluttons, or like Pharisees.

Let me also urge you to give up grudges. We are in the spring season and all kinds of seeds are taking root and starting to grow. Don’t let bitterness be one of the seeds.

[See] that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15)

Jesus didn’t die so that you can hold on to wrongs done against you, or, for that matter, wrongs you have done against others (though we typically don’t focus on how we’ve caused trouble). Jesus rose again for our freedom from the dungeons of perpetual guilt and of chronic grievances.

This isn’t to say that you have not been sinned against. You most certainly have. But the gospel declares that in three days Jesus took care of the condemnation that was due to every believer who has sinned against us. Eagerly holding on to feelings of ill-will, resentment, envy, or suspicion is like saying that Christ needs to be punished more for that brother’s offense. If the one who sinned against you is not a believer, then Christ says He will deal with them later.

Grudges spelled backward is self-pity. But Christ has condemned sin in the flesh so that we cannot be condemned and so that we will not have regrets from condemning others.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17–18)

Foolproof Resurrection

Why go through religious rituals like baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Why risk comfort and convenience for Christ? Why pursue righteousness when someone is going to give us grief about it? We do all of the above for sake of reward.

In Hebrews we read:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

But when do we get this reward? It is not always, and not even mainly, in this life. So Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (verse 10). Those like him “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). Some through faith “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,” (verse 33), and others “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (verse 34).

All these are those “of whom the world was not worthy” (verse 38).

We are called to live by faith, to endure “as seeing him who is invisible” (verse 27). We spend ourselves because of foolproof resurrection; we can mess up spending our lives for Christ but we can’t mess up our lives being resurrected in Christ. We obey because of that resurrection. We will not lose out on the reward because Jesus is risen from the dead.

So come, eat and drink. May your faith be strengthened. And may we all have more of the same mind, the same love, and be in full communion for sake of the Christ Jesus our Lord.

Polluted Garments on the Easter Table

We pick up with our series of exhortations with a view to Make Easter Great Again. As I mentioned last week, the only concentrated preparation for Easter encouraged on a broad scale in church circles relates to Lent, a time to give up things like meat and sex and other “indulgences.” But being tough on the body doesn’t necessarily make anyone more holy (so says Colossians 2:20-23). Instead, if you really want to give up something in order to get ready to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, give up your sin.

I would also exhort you to give up your virtues. Of all the things that keep people out of heaven, self-righteousness is as deadly as unrighteousness. The extra trouble with the self-righteous is that they think they are not in trouble.

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). When Jesus healed the man born blind, He said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When some Pharisees asked if they were blind, “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains'” (John 9:39-41).

Christians should obey Jesus; we should learn to obey all that He commanded. The Spirit who indwells us is holy, and we are to be holy even as He is holy. But we are still completely dependent on Him to produce any good and holy works through us. He must work and will in us (Philippians 2:13). So if you are getting ready for Easter with spiritual pride in your virtues being better than your brother’s virtues, then you might as well put a polluted garment as the centerpiece on your Easter table (Isaiah 64:6).

Give up your sin, including your self-righteous sin, in order to #mega.

All the Prepositions

All is a word that is easily taken for granted. All of us, probably, misunderstand it depending on the context. Paul told the Corinthians that at the end of the world, God would be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). This is the final restoration and consummation of all things in God.

Halfway through his letter to the Ephesians Paul urged them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, especially to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4). Then he reminded them of their shared reality.

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

This is not referring to something waiting to be revealed as in Corinthians but instead to something important to be recognized now.

All of us who believe have one and the same Father. And that Father is over and through and in all. Does “all” mean the persons, or does “all” mean the universe, or does “all” refer to some other specific set of things?

It at least refers to all His children. He rules (over), He energizes (through), and He indwells (in) all of us. And that is true even though all of us are given grace for sake of doing different things (Ephesians 3:7-16).

So we all come to this one Table of communion, and we all have reasons to give thanks not just that we get to come, but also for all of our brothers and sisters in the body that are gentle, and patient, and bearing with us in love.

Make Easter Great Again

This probably should be a sermon not an exhortation, though I am at least going to roll it into another mini series with the theme: Make Easter Great Again.

We are gathered together to worship as Christians so I’m going to assume that you love Easter, as in, you boast in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Why, though, does Christmas/the Incarnation tend to get all the good promotion? Even the colors are better, deeper, less pastel-y. As my wife and I recently lamented, how are you supposed to find manly Easter things for your boys?

Many of us have been lengthening our Christmas anticipation for the whole month of December, talking about advent and building anticipation for the big day.

When it comes to preparing for Easter, some parts of the church talk about Lent, a forty-plus day period of fasting, abstinence, self-examination, and feeling bad about your sin in order to remember Christ’s fasting in the wilderness along with His sacrifice. Without saying that Christians shouldn’t ever fast or give things up for sake of Christ, is that really how to make Easter great in our hearts?

Typical Lenten attitude is not even consistent with what the death and resurrection of Christ do for believers. Paul told the Colossians, “if with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world,” then don’t commit yourself to “asceticism and severity to the body” that are “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).

And “if…you have been raised with Christ,” then “seek the things that are above,” “set your minds on things above.” But these earthly things to avoid aren’t things that can be touched and tasted, they are “what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colossians 3:1-5).

My point is, in order to Make Easter Great Again, give up your sin, don’t just give up things that “have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23). Don’t give up His gifts, give up your envy of other persons with different gifts. More to come in order to #mega.

We Are Not Pretending

When kids pretend they talk and behave like something is real when it isn’t. Kids aren’t the only ones who pretend, but they are usually more willing to admit it. Adults are often just as active in imagining, and their imagination engines have more horsepower, but they also tend to pretend (a.k.a., lie) that they aren’t pretending, which gets more complicated.

Living by faith is not the same as living by pretend, by fantasy. The similarity between the two is that the subject can’t physically see the object. Faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), but fantasy is “an idea with no basis in reality” (New Oxford American Dictionary). In both cases there is concentration on something invisible, but faith is the non-fiction form.

In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Paul allows an imaginative effort for sake of wondering what it would be like if Christ has not been raised. If that is true, then preaching is pretend, and faith is pretend, and forgiveness is pretend, and the hope of eternal life is pretend. And if all we have is pretend, then we are in realty the most pitiable people on the planet.

But in order for the conclusion of his argument to be true, his premises need to be true. In other words, it’s logical that our faith is pretend only if Christ being raised from the dead is pretend. But what Paul “pretends” is that Christ isn’t raised. What Paul preaches is that Christ has been raised, and so your faith and hope and life are not empty.

Take up real bread and drink real wine; our communion with God and one another in Christ is not pretend.

More Than You Know

This will be the final lesson in Confession 201. First we learned that we should confess before being confronted. Second we learned that we should not just regret our sin, but repent from it. Don’t keep sitting in the puddle feeling bad.

For the third lesson we look to Luke 7. A Pharisee named Simon asked Jesus to eat with him, and while Jesus was at Simon’s house a prostitute came and wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair. The Pharisee was not impressed.

Then Jesus told Simon a short parable:

A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more? (Luke 7:41)

The answers was obvious. Simon said the one who loved more would be the one who had the larger debt cancelled. Jesus agreed, and applied the comparison to the Pharisee and the woman. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (verse 47).

Why did Jesus tell this to Simon? What lesson did he want Simon to learn? The point was not to help Simon see that Jesus forgives big sinners, though that is true. The point was to help Simon see that he was also a big sinner. Jesus wasn’t saying that it was okay for Simon to love little because he only had a little debt of sin. Jesus was saying that Simon needed to see how large his debt was.

So when you confess you sin, go into it knowing that you probably need more forgiveness than you know.

The Witness Proclamation Program

Numerous times during Jesus’ earthly ministry He did something miraculous for someone and then told them not to say anything about it. One leper in particular directly disobeyed.

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. (Mark 1:40–45)

Later in the gospel of Mark He healed a deaf man with a speech impediment.

Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Mark 7:36)

I’ve always wondered, what kind of disobedience was this? Did Jesus die on the cross for the sin of their (untimely) praise of Him?

We do know that He died on the cross for the sin of not praising Him. And every week He gives us opportunity to proclaim our faith and proclaim His death as the good news for all who believe (1 Corinthians 11:26). Let us be “guilty” of not hiding in the witness protection program, but eating and drinking with thanks in His name.

Get Out of the Puddle

Last week I gave lesson one in Confession 201. It’s the next level up of confession, though you can get into this class without prerequisites. Some may be more ready to receive these lessons even if they couldn’t explain some of the basics.

Lesson one was: don’t wait for someone else to confront you before you confess. Be glad if a true brother does, but don’t depend on needing to be told. Your sin is yours to confess whether or not you’re confronted, and sin is not measured by someone else’s response.

Here is lesson two: don’t spend time regretting your sin, repent from it right away. There is follow up.

Jesus said, “blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), and this sorrow is over sin. There is a type of good conviction, a “godly grief” that is appropriate. But grief feelings are not the goal.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief….For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

In the previous exhortation I referred to a preacher—one that I appreciate in many ways—who said that if he were approached by someone regarding his failure to apply his sermon text, he would “regretfully agree that he probably had.” Not only is this wishy-washy, it’s also not confession. It is also not gospel. This is like hanging your head and waiting for someone to hang a millstone around your neck.

Regret and sorrow and humiliation isn’t where we’re trying to get to. We hope to get out of all that by confessing our sin, and then we must immediately turn away from it. Don’t just say that you regret something, resolve to stop doing it. You regret to be sitting in the mud puddle. No, brothers, get out of the puddle, or your britches will still be sopping and soiled. You who believe are forgiven because Jesus died, and you can obey because Jesus lives.

Desire for Communion as Disciples

It is exciting to welcome five new communicants to the Lord’s Table this morning. These young men were baptized based on their profession of faith last Sunday evening, and we are eager to welcome them as much as they’ve looked forward to participating.

When I asked each one why he wanted to be baptized, one answer was shared more than others. They all wanted to be baptized in obedience to Christ. They all wanted the whole church to know that they were believers in Christ. But the most common answer was that they wanted to participate with all of us in communion.

I’ve said it before that this desire, this wanting in, is a blessing more than a liability. Of course it could be abused by kids, or adults, who want a teeny snack. It’s not really that great of a snack, though. Maybe someday we’ll have fist-size chunks of bread and king-size chalices of wine, but not today.

Still, if you are suspicious of our celebration of communion in such a way that increases the desire of others to join us, then I’d push back that the biggest problem we face is that there are so many who don’t want communion enough. There is a discouraging list of a number of sheep, sheep who previously and regularly communed with us, who aren’t gathering to worship, not just with us, but with any body. The pastors don’t have names to announce for sake of discipline at this point, and we pray it won’t come to that.

So this is the thing: wanting to be part and participating in the communion of the body in worship is good, and may all of our desires for it excel still more and more.