Americans have been known for their fierce individualism. This -ism isn’t exclusive to our nation, but we do tend to be louder about it. We are, ironically, lumped together for our individuality.
I don’t remember who it was that made the following observation, but it has stuck with me for almost twenty years. The Islamic terrorists who hijacked the planes over U.S. soil on September 11 did not concern themselves with the question of whether everyone on each plane was the embodiment of what they hated. The Koran teaches that heathens deserve death, those in the United States are heathens, therefore those in the United States deserve death. We are connected together enough; our individuality was corporately judged no matter how much any individual would object.
I bring this up as an illustration for those of us in the church. What we do as individuals cannot be separated from the groups we are joined with (family, nation, church) no matter how private, or personal, we think we have the right to be.
You are part of the body. Your sin is your own in that the body cannot repent of your sin instead of you, but your sin is not only your own in that it won’t affect the body. If the foot is broken then putting a cast on the hand isn’t sufficient, and also, if the foot is broken, the hand can’t get over as easily to what it wanted to pick up.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). If one member sins, the testimony of the assembly suffers. God has arranged the members in the body as He chose, and so my sin takes up your time and visa versa. It’s one of the reasons why our weekly confession of sin is corporate, even as we are many.
January 12, 2021
More Than Pejoratives
One of the most consequential new-normals of liturgy for us is the weekly celebration of communion. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together every Lord’s Day has done more to wreck our identity as truth-tubes than any verbal pejoratives I can use, including the moniker “truth-tubes” itself. Coming to the Lord’s Table with thanksgiving has developed feasting muscles we didn’t know Christians were supposed to have.
It wasn’t about the ordinance of communion, but here’s what Jesus said about the organic nature of communion.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5).
Abiding is trusting, abiding is relying, abiding is being connected. There is no such thing as too much abiding. There is no such thing as taking abiding for granted; that is not abiding.
Eating the bread and drinking the wine as an assembly is more than another learning opportunity, it is more than obedience to the Lord’s command, it is our spiritual union with Him and with each other.
Still an organic image, but switching from branches to flowers, here is John Bunyan.
Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other. (John Bunyan, Christian Behavior, quoted in Brown, 173)
We are alive in Christ; His life flows through us. We are not isolated from Him, and that means we are more than individuals. We are His tree, His garden, His body. Communion is not a reminder of our communion; the ordinance is not merely a time for truth-telling about communion. It is a reminder of Christ’s death which enables us to have communion, that His joy may be in us and that we may love one another.
January 7, 2021
The thing that causes Christians to stand out from the world is not merely our accuracy. Believers are right about God’s existence and about salvation in God’s Son alone, but there is more to our identity than identifying (and departing from) error. Unbelievers are in a state of spiritual blindness, their minds are darkened, but the primary dividing line between us is not merely true and false.
The primary difference is that we are with God. We know the truth, but that is not an abstraction; Jesus said He is the truth (John 14:6). God is light (1 John 1:5), there is no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:7), and when we walk in the light we have fellowship with Him. When God saves us, He does more than enable us to answer more theology questions correctly.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does know know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
In these few verses we understand why we are out of step with the world, we understand the importance of worship, and we understand the goal of our confession.
We become like who (or what) we behold, and as we behold God, we take on His shape. As children we see our Father and we grow up to be like Him. At the appointed time, our godliness will be glorified, and that is more than fastidious factuality.
Even now we grow in the process. We hunger and thirst for righteousness because that is what our Father is like. He is pure, holy. When He calls us to confess our sins it is not primarily to enforce His power of us, it is not ultimately to get us to agree with Him what we are wrong, it is so that He might share His own likeness with us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
January 6, 2021
The Seven Spirits of Grumpiness
I have given similar exhortations before, and this should wrap up and tie a nice flip-sequin bow on the recent mini-series about emotional control.
Christmas is a perfect test of our emotional control, especially when it comes to our responses. Parents are typically worn out, kids are typically wound up, and that can make for a vicious vortex of unpleasant feelings. There are unmet expectations to manage, there are unmanageable relatives coming to dinner. Your nerves are stretched as precarious as that old strand of lights you hoped could make it through one more season. How will you respond?
All of that is blessed-case scenario. Some of you are approaching Christmas for the first time without the presence of a loved one. Some of you are in isolation, or you are isolated from those in isolation. The ostensible physical protection from viruses contrasts with the obvious discouragement of hearts. How will you respond?
Kids ripping into presents too quickly is better than ripping into their siblings too quickly, and being heavy with burdens is better than never having known a full table. But these are not actually the hardest parts of Christmas.
The most difficult emotional effort is rejoicing with joy inexpressible and filled of glory (1 Peter 1:8). The angels announced good news of great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10). It is much too easy to be dull to the King of David. How will you respond?
Emotional control for the Christian is more than casting out the seven spirits of grumpiness. If your emotional house isn’t run by the strongman of gladness and love, the unclean spirit will return and plunder your joy tank (see similarly Matthew 12:29, 43-45; Luke 11:24-26). “Let loving hearts enthrone Him.”
December 22, 2020
The Great Conjunction of Death and Joy
Monday night we have our final college astronomy class of 2020. One of the things we hope to see is Jupiter and Saturn so near to each other than they appear as one bring light. I say we hope to see it because our Snohomish weather forecast includes cloudy skies. We’ll try.
The orbits of these planets near each other according to a measurable and predicable pattern. From our view on earth into the heavens Jupiter and Saturn get within a degree of each other every 20 years. But at sunset tonight they will be separated by only one-tenth of a degree. They haven’t been so close since 1623, and won’t be again until 2080.
Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Some astronomers have wondered if this event was the Christmas star the wise men followed to find Jesus. Apparently in 7 BC Jupiter and Saturn were within one degree of each other three times in eight months. As fun as that theory is, the inspired account in Matthew makes it sound not only as a single star, but a star close enough to earth that “it came to rest over the place where the child was,” over a single house (Matthew 2:9-11), not just above the horizon.
I’m mentioning it for a few reasons. One, anyone could look toward the southwest at sunset to see the sky above proclaiming God’s handiwork, one night’s revelation of knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2). This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, give glory to God! Two, don’t forget that God established lights in the heavens for signs and seasons, and for days and years (Genesis 1:14). Wintertime, Christmastime, 2020time, these are His to rule and reminders of His vast and enchanted cosmos.
Three, God ordained not just stars, but a Son who is the “light of the world” (John 8:12, also 1:4, 9). That Son ordained a simple supper, not to stretch our conception of space, but to swell our calculation of salvation by grace. We are privileged to observe it every week.
And one more thing. In an older cosmology, Saturn was understood to have the characteristic of death, and Jupiter a sense of joy. Is there any other place we can look to see such a great conjunction of death and joy? When we look at the Lord’s Table, we proclaim His death (1 Corinthians 11:26) with great joy (Luke 2:10) and the light of our salvation is made more bright.
December 21, 2020
It is always possible to downplay our sin. I’m concerned with ways professing Christians downplay, not at the moment with those who just play around.
The Corinthian church had trouble with this very issue. They apparently didn’t take their sin very seriously, not only as evidenced by saying nothing to the man who had taken his father’s wife (chapter 5), but from the beginning of the letter with their quarreling and positioning. Paul could not commend them for showing any sort of love or unity (1 Corinthians 11:17, 22), and so he warned them about eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27).
Consider David’s response to his sin, well known to Israel in Psalm 51. After his sin with the wife of Uriah David asked for abundant mercy (1), for God to blot out his transgressions (1) and wash him thoroughly from his iniquity (2). His heart was broken and contrite, and David knew that such sacrifices were pleasing to God (17).
Yet this was not the end of David’s prayer nor the goal of his contrition or his song. He desired to be made clean, and then to “hear joy and gladness” (8), for God to “renew a right spirit” (10), for God to “restore to me the joy of your salvation and to uphold me with a willing spirit” (12). With deliverance from the God of salvation, David said “my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness” (14). He prayed, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (15).
Which connects again to the point of the genealogy of Jesus. Sin ruins everything, makes a painful and sorry mess among men. And therefore Jesus came. He is the true and better Adam, the true and better King, the merciful and faithful high priest who made propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).
Do spiritually mature, Christlike disciples have truer and better remorse? Do those with great faith or little faith focus on their sins from twenty years ago? Will heaven finally give us enough time to reheat old transgressions into a sorrow casserole? Isn’t this just downplaying salvation? Or when we eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of the Lord’s death, do we rejoice in the joy of our Savior?
December 15, 2020