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Enjoying the Process

History’s Tan Line

This certainly must be the quote of the day regarding Rob Bell on the cover of TIME magazine.

[I]n the big scheme of things, and I do mean big, it is nothing more than a pimple on history’s tan line.

—Paul Lamey, The significance of Bell on Time Magazine

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Other Gutter

While I wouldn’t say that the Bible requires us to celebrate the Lord’s table every week, it does seem that the early church observed it often. As an act of corporate worship, it unites the congregation together in Christ (cf 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) so regular observance befits the symbol.

There is also a certain tone or perspective that befits communion. While we dare not cherish our sin while commemorating Christ’s death for our sin, the remembrance of His sacrifice is not primarily about making ourselves feel miserable. We remember the cross and the empty tomb with growing gladness because He took our misery on Himself. This glad approach may seem refreshing, but is it okay?

We’ve recently been making bread for our weekly communion rather than using the typical pre-packaged cracker fragments. Many seem to think it’s tasty. They like it. They want the recipe. And, more than that, they discreetly wonder if it’s really okay to like the communion bread.

Questions about the tone of communion observance and the taste of the bread are not totally unrelated. Now, the goal with this bread wasn’t to make people focus on the bread. But is it an indication that something is wrong when we’re afraid to like it?

At the last supper, what kind of bread did Jesus break and share with His disciples? It was normal (to them) bread, normal for eating and for fellowshipping and for enjoying together. When Paul wrote the Corinthians to correct their communion behavior, he basically said, “Me thinks ye feasteth too much.” But while he told them to make sure they were taking sin seriously, he didn’t tell them to make everything tasteless.

We have been warned that people should not come to Christ in order to be made happy. We have been warned about man-centeredness and easy believism. But it is easier to act miserable than to be really glad that Christ is a great Savior. That is man-centered in its own way. It’s much more simple to be unhappy than to be truly happy in Christ.

Is our theological bowling ball just in the other gutter when we’re reluctant to embrace something because it is tasty? I also wonder, does our “sorrow makes it more spiritual” approach mean that we’re missing our opportunity to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes in a way that people would actually want it? It’s almost as if we believe that the Holy Spirit would never let us have sweet bread.

Christ broke bread with and for His disciples to share. Christ died and rose again for all His disciples to share life. We don’t need to be afraid that we like it or want more.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

No Less Wrath Deserving

We usually think about (our) wrath-deserving sin as transgression, as leaping over the fence He forbids us from jumping. Our spiritual death certainly activates transgressions (see Ephesians 2:1), but our spiritual death also animates unbelief. Unbelief is no less a wrath-deserving sin.

Unbelief deserves wrath because, whether we would say it like this or not, unbelief questions God’s honesty, His trustworthiness. God never lies (Titus 1:2) and He never fails to fulfill His promises (Romans 11:29). I don’t appreciate when my kids don’t believe me, but how much more wrong is it to doubt God?

Unbelief also warrants judgment in light of the many evidences God has given. He graciously substantiates His claims, even to us doubting Thomases. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). He provides many proofs of His believability and men will be judged according to the revelation they’ve disbelieved.

The sin of unbelief also earns wrath as direct disobedience to the commands to believe. Faith is important because it is necessary for salvation. But faith is also imperative, so it is necessary for obedience. Disbelief is disobedience.

We who call ourselves believers, who profess faith, cannot let our belief slump or slip or wane. God still is trustworthy, He still manifests sign upon sign, and He still commands us to believe.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Hole in the Boldness Tank

Unbelief as sin justifies God’s judgment because it is an affront to Him. Unbelief goes about as if He weren’t trustworthy, as if His demonstrations were insufficient, and as if His commands were optional. Not only does unbelief deserve God’s wrath, unbelief also damages our witness and worship.

Unbelief torpedos our courage to witness. If I don’t believe that eating fruits and vegetables will help me be healthy, then I won’t eat them and I’m likely to be silent about their benefits in conversation. Worse, if I don’t believe that in Christ is life and that abiding in Him produces fruit, I will not be fruitful or faithful to call others to Christ. Unbelief blows a hole in the boldness tank and we will not acknowledge Him before men (Matthew 10:32-33) if our faith is empty.

Unbelief also bankrupts our convictions for worship. I will not praise what I do not prize, and I will not prize something I’m suspicious about. I will have no confidence to sing if I’m uncertain of His ability to come through or unsure that He is who He says He is. Doubt siphons off our confidence for worship until our faith is belly up.

“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). We sin when we do not believe, we cannot please Him without faith, and our unbelief cuts off our courage and convictions. Disbelief isn’t something to play with, it’s something to confess as sin.

Categories
Enjoying the Process

Reign of the Gray Witch

I like the rain but my wife’s tweet is clever, and true.

Just wanted to announce the reign of the Gray Witch (close relative of Narnia’s White Witch) over all of Snohomish County.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Owning Our Offenses

A key word for Christians is the word offense. It scales from annoyance, to resentment, to anger brought about by perceived insult or disregard. Proverbs 18:19 states, “A brother offended is more unyielding (harder to be won – KJV) than a strong city.” That doesn’t mean that it is entirely impossible, but it means that we could have avoided a lot of work for ourselves by avoiding offense in the first place. Unlike construction, if we measure twice in our relationships we might not make a cut at all.

One of the worst offenses is claiming that one did not cause an offense when one in fact did. Not owning one’s offense is offensive. That sort of denial adds lying to the original offense and ups the offense by treating the other person as if they’re crazy for acting offended. It adds insult to injury.

The most offensive offense is claiming to God that one has no offenses to confess. Not only does that add lying to the list of sins requiring confession, it also adds blasphemy to the list because it’s equal to calling God a liar. “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar” (1 John 1:10). That sort of offensive insult injures the insult-maker most.

The good news is that there is forgiveness for all our offenses if we confess them. God even promises to work in our hearts and cleanse the offense making factory, but we must come to Christ.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

No Small Substitute

The good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 15). There are a number of causes for worship prompted by this part of the story.

The shepherd did not deserve to die; the sheep deserved death. A dead sheep is a much smaller deal than a dead shepherd, especially this Shepherd. But it is the good Shepherd who lays down His life in their place. He did not cease to be fully God so that He might bear the full weight of our wrath. The Shepherd also took on sheep’s clothing, full humanity, because the curse was on us. The substitution was necessary to deliver the sheep from their deserved slaughter, and it was no small substitute to save their life.

When we come to remember the death of the Shepherd, we do so as those in His flock. He is the door; if we entered by Him (v.9), we’re in His flock. The cross didn’t lower the fence so that we could jump over by our works, by our confession, or by anything we could bring with us. We’re in by grace; we’re no longer out looking in.

We’re in His flock, delivered from judgment. We’re also in the Father’s hand, safe from enemies. Our salvation is certain. The Father has great care for those purchased by the Son and all His sovereignty is employed for them. The Father gave us to the Son, the Son brings us to the Father for communion and preservation.

We are not killed or destroyed. We are given life! Jesus came, He said, “that [we] may have life and have it abundantly” (v.10). He gave His life for our life. Abundant life is not for some other people, or for some other time. Abundant life is for us, for now, and forever.

There is a way to remember Christ’s death that is consistent with what He accomplished. That remembrance includes gratitude that He took our place, identification with His flock, confidence in His protection, and bounce in our step. We come to the Lord’s table as those who are thankful, participatory, bold, and alive.

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Every Thumb's Width

The Mutual Funds of Missions Funding

Doug Wilson writes about a local church’s advantages “to support a hundred missionaries at $25 a month,” namely, to diversify and minimize risk. The entire article is worthwhile, but this is his summary.

I think it was Andrew Carnagie who said to put all your eggs in one basket, and then to watch that basket. But watching the basket involves work. We would rather put 25 eggs in 25 different baskets, and then not watch anything.

The mantras of “personal knowledge” and “investment in lives” sound really good, almost hip even. But there is no way to do it without the willingness of the elder board to say to someone that they want him to “stop that.” And it cannot be done without an acknowledgement on the part of those who are sent that they are submitted to personal and real authority.

And the final kick in the pants:

But because we love our independence, because we are soft in our doctrine of how the Trinity knits us together, we would rather diversify the risk. We love our mutual funds.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Better Together

In a recent sermon I preached Ephesians 3:10, that the church makes known the manifold wisdom of God in heavenly places. The church is Christ’s Body, an assorted mix of individual members joined together under His headship. We’re better together, not meant to be separated.

While not written to the church, Proverbs 18:1 certainly applies for us in the church.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
and he breaks out against all sound judgment.

The NKJV translates the second-line summary: “He rages against all wise judgment.” That seems extra dramatic until we remember a few things. We were made for relationship, not isolation, because we were made in the image of the Triune God. In addition, we remember that sin isolates and, where there is sin, there is sinful blindness to our sin and every man sees himself as right. Soon Mr. Right is off by himself and “seeks his own desire.”

But we’re better together. Iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) in contact. Hiding in the sheath all day dulls the edges of our hearts.

We need each other, for protection against sinful blindness and for shared, intensified joy. We were made male and female–in particular, husband and wife–for two to be one. It’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18-25). We were made as believers, individual members of one body. We wisely fight isolation in our corporate meetings, our smaller groups, and our family fellowship times as we value and depend on one another. Let us not be guilty of isolating ourselves, even in our minds, and raging against wisdom.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Practical Foolishness

Professing atheists[1] are fools. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1). There are also practical atheists, those who, whether God exists or not, live like He doesn’t. Our lives, more than our lips, reflect what we believe in our hearts.

Idolators are also fools. There’s no wisdom in saying that there is no god, there’s also no wisdom in making up a god. And this is key for professing believers: there are practical idolators, too, those who live like the true God is different than He really is. We are image-bearers, not merely image-describers, and, in particular, we are Christians, so that means our behavior should reflect what He looks like.

If I describe God as a personal God but I always keep others at a distance, I reflect an idol, a distant God. That makes me a fool. If I say God is a God of love but I default to criticism or am quick to anger, I reflect an idol, a demanding God. That is practical idolatry; that is foolishness.

It’s easy for us to cry “Fool!” at someone who believes in evolution or someone who bows before a carved block of wood. It is harder to see and confess our own practical foolishness. We believe in a personal and loving God, and we must repent when we do not reflect Him truly.


[1] I say “professing” atheists because, according to Romans 1:18-21 every man knows God, even if he claims not to.