tohu va bohu Posts

Sometimes it’s the little things that stick out. I don’t mean face masks, but I am thinking about faces.

As we’ve asked for feedback regarding our return to worship indoors, I’ve heard from multiple people that an unscripted comment I made on our first Sunday back caught their attention. We had finished singing (the second song because getting through the line took so long) and I encouraged you all to look around at one another; these are your people. I’ve mentioned before that I try to make eye contact with many of you all around the room while we eat and drink, but I should clarify that it’s not because I think there’s special grace channeled through a minister’s sight. I am often the presiding minister at the Lord’s Table, but I am also a member of the body.

Communion is personal, yes, because we are saved one-by-one by Jesus into fellowship with Him. And yet there is a way to look around and see some more of what He bought for You. He bought you forgiveness, He bought you a clean conscience, He bought you eternity, and He bought you friends, co-laborers, brothers and sisters, fellow-members who encourage and challenge and serve and speak all in one body.

You may remember Jesus’ death with your head bowed and eyes closed, and great. You may find it awkward to look around in a formal, liturgical setting. Maybe one day we’ll assemble in a configuration that puts more persons in your periphery. But in the meantime, you’re not more spiritual because you avoid thinking about the body that Christ knit you into by His body and blood.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about common grace the last couple months. Common grace includes undeserved good gifts from God to those who won’t worship Him. He makes the sun and rain fall on the unjust (Matthew 5:45), and gives them spouses and kids (Psalm 17:14) and paychecks and a glorious variety of imperial IPAs. He also gifts them with a level of restraint on their own sin, at least to some degree and for some time.

While looking around at what appears to be a decreasing amount of common grace in our culture, at least in terms of morals and values and reason/logic, I’ve wondered if we as Christians should pray that God would give more common grace? Or should we pray for redeeming grace, for saving grace, that deals with their greatest need, not just for what makes a stable society?

Why not both? Only a rocks-for-brains hyper-Calvinist wouldn’t pray for spiritual revival. Of course we pray for God to grant repentance and faith in His Son. But we are also instructed to pray “what we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:2). The prayers are actually for sake of “kings and all who are in high positions,” that they wouldn’t be stupid, capricious, little bossy-pants waiting to blow.

Our country’s common grace has been quite chunky in our short history, bringing blessing to many who weren’t believing in Jesus. And we can pray for more as it makes men more accountable to God. Asking for common grace for our neighbors isn’t asking for their comfortable ride to eternal hell, it’s remembering that “God’s kindness is meant to lead…to repentance” (Romans 2:4).

So Christians always have a word for unbelievers. Is your life heavy with judgment? See God’s holiness and repent from your transgressions. Is your life filled with good? See God’s generosity and repent from your ingratitude.

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John Calvin wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion to defend why some of his fellow believers were willing to be burned for the faith. The final edition is some 1400+ pages of theology, but it was life and death. It wasn’t a relaxing reflection, Calvin himself was in exile from his home country as he wrote.

He described the “sum of the Christian life” as one of self-denial. It takes a little getting used to, but with qualification, it has some helpful parts. And yet, we need to grow up in our self-denial. We need to realize that self-denial is the way for the self to be most full.

Take communion as a testing Table. Properly received, the bread and the wine are a complete rejection of ourselves. Here we admit that we need external help. We have a body, we have blood, and all that we do in the body deserves judgment. On our own, we could give our bodies to be burned for another, and it would still gain nothing outside of Christ.

To receive the Lord’s Supper is to receive a Savior and to deny our self. We deny our righteousness, our good works. We deny that we have any merit, any reason that God should accept us on our own.

And it is that self-denial that lifts our heads. It is that rejection of self that opens into rejoicing. God calls us to deny ourselves and gives us a feast.

As we learn to follow Christ as His disciples, it is appropriate at times to fast. We do not indulge the flesh, which would be love of self. And yet here is food and drink. Come with your empty hands by faith and do not deny the feast.

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Solomon once wrote that in much wisdom there is much vexation. The more you know, the more you know what could be better, what has been lost, and how difficult it is to hold on to what is good.

You are a flock that has much knowledge. You have been given much, taught much, grown much. I myself have said before that, for my part, I would love to make you the right sort of discontent with less. May your expectations for grace and blessing never diminish.

But, this does put us in a higher level test; we’re in corona graduate school. We are not, for the most part, wondering whether to confess or deny that Jesus is Lord. We’re at the point of seeing how that confession defines our science and politics and businesses and neighbor relations and submission to rulers who aren’t submitting to constitutional laws.

You are among people who read the Constitution, like, the actual words and stuff. You are among people who have their eyes open, who have maturity to make their own decisions rather than be told by the National Guard to stay home. You know that freedom involves risk, that petty rules increase the ineffectiveness of the rules, and that rulers rarely go back to Civics after driving the Lexus of power.

So, Christians, you must be ruthless in mortifying your own will. You must not tolerate the anger of man in yourself. You must resist the worldliness of anxious rage, of woke self-righteousness, of grievances par excellence.

We cannot be the fellowship of (better informed) grievances, the FoBIG, even though it is grace that enables us to care how bad it is. I am exhorting you to fellowship in grace. Expose lies and oppression because you know that Jesus died for your lies and hurtful motives.

It’s one thing to be criticized for being a bunch of complainers it’s another thing if we’re not confessing our sin to Christ.

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We eat to know that we’re not alone.

I adapted that statement from a line in the movie “Shadowlands.” In it, C.S. Lewis is talking to a troubled student whose father had a saying, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Certain books do speak for us; we realize that the author thinks as we do and scratched it onto paper. We recognize kindred spirits in characters or at least in the mind of their creator.

Better than books and reading, the assembled Body and eating tell us that we are not alone. Paul told Timothy to flee youthful passions along with those who call on the name of the Lord with a pure heart (1 Timothy 2:22). He wasn’t the only one facing the temptation, nor the only one facing the temptation to moan like nobody understood his problems. Timothy was to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace like and among his fellow worshippers. In a “great house” there is more than one vessel (1 Timothy 2:20).

When we come to the Lord’s Table we are not alone. Here are fellow saints who are fighting sin and following Christ. You might not see them doing it during the week. Some may not be doing it as well as others. But struggling is not sitting it out. You are not on the field by yourself.

Jesus is saving individuals into a body, a people for His own possession. He is not waiting to do that in heaven. He is doing that right here as we worship Him together. Come and eat and know that You are not alone.

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It’s really quite something to watch what is happening around us. Even though we are mostly a hard-working people who keep our heads down, it is more challenging to live quiet and peaceful lives when our rulers and neighbors flex their power. A governor can attempt to enforce his vision of what’s good for us and our neighbors can attempt to guilt us into sharing their fears.

This cultural divide is as old as the Garden of Eden, but there are seasons when we’re not forced to stare it in the Facebook. The divide in our nation and our state is polarizing, and whether or not this is more of a grace to us or more a removal of grace from us remains to be seen.

It could be both. I think that when God sends particular and redeeming grace, the grace which saves unrighteous men from slavery to sin and brings forgiveness and freedom, He often sends with it an increase in common grace. Common grace comes to us in good things given by God to all men, not just repentant or thankful men. Common grace increases among a people where there is much particular grace at work because practicing the Golden Rule becomes a benefit overall.

What is certainly visible among us is a decline in common grace at least in terms of men who determine not to know what is natural and what is perverse. The complexities of the coronavirus response has brought this into relief, and it is not pretty. Our appeals to shared humanity and morals and life is less appealing.

But, Christians, do not lose heart. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). There is no liar that cannot have his lies exposed and be conquered by the truth of Christ. There is no oppressor that cannot be delivered from his sinful abuse of authority by the gospel. There is no rebel that cannot be redeemed and reconciled to his Maker. There is no blind man that cannot be made to see. There is no dead man too dead to be born again.

Let us proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He dispels illogic and deceit and conspiracies and incompetence. Link wars will not take away hearts of stone, but we know the God who gives hearts of flesh. We need more than new political representatives raised up, we need God’s grace that delivers men from His wrath.

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In Revelation 9:15 John writes about four angels who “had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year.” It’s not difficult to determine who had prepared them, but it is beneficial to meditate on it. God prepared them, to do what He wanted (which for these angels was to wipe out a third of mankind) at the exact moment He wanted (which I believe is still in front of us on history’s timeline).

I was talking with Jim this past week about the class he’s going to teach this fall at Comeford College, an Old Testament survey class. One of his first-level goals is to see how God puts nations in place, like pieces on a game-board, but centuries ahead of time, to write His story just so.

It doesn’t always look like we thought it would. Those without God’s Spirit won’t see it, due to spiritual incapability which includes culpable blindness. Paul told the Corinthians that if the rulers of the world had understood what God was doing, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” And even for us, the only way that sounds like good news is because God has revealed to us through His Spirit the atonement and accomplishment and power of Christ’s crucifixion.

Just as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

Which is itself a quote of Isaiah 64:4.

God has prepared life, blessing, honor, and glory in His presence with all the saints. It has not been revealed yet, but it’s just a matter of time, down to the hour. Even as we eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of Jesus He is preparing us for what He’s prepared for us.

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When we get to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), we will be blessed in the presence of friends. The Lamb will have come for his Bride, and we will be dressed in fine linen, bright and pure, which are the righteous deeds of the saints (Revelation 19:8) It will make sense on that day to feast. The Lamb will be our shepherd, the wine and the bread will be His gift.

When we are in the presence of not friends, it often doesn’t feel like the right time to feast. Of course, sometimes it isn’t. But remember the song of our shepherd in Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (verse 1)
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (verse 5)

As He leads us in paths of righteousness, and even as those paths lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, He makes ready for us a feast.

The Lamb’s Table is a feast, not predicted by the psalmist, but still relevant. We are surrounded by those who do evil. We are among people who love death. As His sheep, we know that wolves howl and bite, that wolves come in among the sheep, let alone in executive, legislative, and judicial clothing. But our Shepherd gives us a taste of bread and wine here, in the presence of our enemies. He feeds our faith. He quenches our anxieties. They can watch us eat and drink, and He will lead us home.

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Our governor has been very busy. There are a lot of unemployment claims to answer, and apparently a lot of hackers to track down who’ve worked the governor’s system. He’s also busy creating many rules and conditions for many phases of reopening and dealing with applications for variances that he has concocted. I don’t know how he does it, but somehow he still finds time to be interviewed regularly by major cable news media.

He found time to talk with a socialist group a while ago, and it was great to see how much they have in common. Our governor was especially excited about the coronavirus, not only because of it’s ability to be traced by science and data, but because of the opportunities that the coronavirus is giving us a wonderful opportunity to fix the economy so that we’ll also be able to fix climate change.

“we should not be intimidated when people say, ‘Oh, you can’t use this COVID crisis, you know, to peddle a solution to climate change.’ No. We have to recognize the necessity of this moment that this will allow us to rebuild our economy and jump-start it.”

I mean, wow, we really ought to be more thankful.

To be clear, I am being snide, mostly. But I’ve said before, and I still believe it, that this is a perfect opportunity, not just for socialists, but for the saints on earth. There is a climate that needs to be changed, it just happens to be a cultural climate. The climate that needs to be changed is deeper than the temperature on the surface, but things are heating up. In order to change the cultural climate, saints have to act like saints, not like ostriches, burying our heads, or like chickens, running around laying eggs.

Our message for the governor is not, “How dare you!” Our message is, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus.” If we want to see a climate of repentance, we must show the way.

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I’ve been guilty of giving simplistic counsel in the past. There was a day when there wasn’t a person with a problem to whom I wouldn’t start with, “Have you been reading your Bible and praying?” I suppose I may have asked that question to create distance and make it so that I didn’t have to do more work, and I got to sound spiritual while asking it.

With some more years off my head and more grey hair on my face, with loved ones passed or in daily pain, with friends lost or running in wrong directions, with more awareness of sin between spouses and sin from parents toward children and sin in governors and sin in society and sin in my own heart even on days when I’ve read my Bible and prayed, I have learned that there are facile attitudes that ignore true complexities.

And also, I’m more convinced than ever, that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. Jesus alone atones for sin. Jesus alone forgives and cleanses consciences. Jesus alone reconciles men to God, and men to men. Jesus alone builds His church. Jesus alone is the Savior. Jesus alone is worth knowing, and Him crucified.

So have you been reading your Bible to know Christ’s Word? Do you pray in Jesus’ name, since the Son’s work is to bring us to the Father?

Our world has a lot of moving parts. Our hearts have whole worlds within them. But the national guard, and “experts,” or drugs, and/or masks, cannot fix what is broken. The reason Jesus is a Sunday School answer is because He is the answer. Have you given yourself to Him? Then commune with and love Him around His table. All we have is Christ.

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