If I could only keep one, Christmas or communion, I would choose communion every time. This is not just because Jesus ordained the ordinance of the Lord’s Table, which He did, and which overrides whatever seasonal sentimentality might get in the way. I would choose communion every time because as important as it is that Jesus took on flesh, Jesus said that it was necessary that we eat His flesh.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)
The King was betrayed, and beforehand He broke bread and said, “This is my body which is for you.”
In our blessed position, we don’t have to choose between two good things. Even in the verse from John I quoted, Jesus said He “came down.” John’s gospel opens with the eternal Logos, the Word, taking on flesh, and John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Christmas and Easter, the King’s birth and death and resurrection, go together like garland and lights. This once-weekly part of our liturgy presumes the annual reminder of the incarnation, our more-than-mental-worship by bread and wine repeating the sounding joy.
December 8, 2020
King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood, Lord of lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood; he will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food. (“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”)
Guard Rail Posts Scotch Taped to the Road
As sparks fly upward, so man was born to riot against being told what to do. Every generation has its millennials, or millennials are like every other generation in some ways, namely, disliking, deriding, disobeying authority. I myself have thought a lot of things sounded good to do until someone asked me to do it.
When it comes to emotional control issues, young people have a fleshly tendency toward being fussy about submission. This is not due to adolescence, it is due to being in Adam. Sin makes you steer directly at the guard rails, who in this illustration are the authorities God has put in your life to keep your feelings from driving off the cliff.
But the ones I really want to address today are the authorities, the dads and moms, the bosses and teachers, the shepherds and disciplers. Teaching others about keeping their fleshly feelings in check won’t work if our guard rails posts are Scotch taped to the road.
Parents pass things down. Every sinner is responsible for his own sin, and also, is it really so surprising that a son acts like his father? We look at a kid, we say she has her father’s chin and her mother’s eyes, and we look at her again and say she has her father’s anger and her mother’s anxiety. It’s not pretty.
Many years ago I heard the phrase covenantal permission. A Christian household is held together on a promise to honor the Lord and vows from the spouses toward each other. A dad who preaches against lust to his son while watching porn on his phone is obviously a hypocrite, but is actually condoning, if not promoting his son’s behavior. His words are like fighting a forrest fire with cotton balls.
A popular word today is systemic, related to how a system is connected. A family is connected, a flock is connected, and a mother who hates her husband’s instructions and priorities is raising haters, even if she spanks them for it.
This does not mean that you must be perfect before you can say anything, especially to someone you are responsible for. But God says you must be perfect even as He is perfect, which at least means it’s wrong for you to expect someone else to be at emotional peace while you’re raging on the inside like a toddler with fetal alcohol syndrome.
December 7, 2020
40 Miles Uphill
I’ve run a few marathons in my life. The most brutal was the Seattle Marathon in 2003. It’s always the weekend after Thanksgiving, and having a full gut doesn’t make the running easier or make the weather warmer. The course covers 26.2 miles, and I’m sure at least 40 of them are uphill. Marathons are a metaphor for good reason.
The author of Hebrews exhorted his readers to such a long distance faith-run.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1)
The “witnesses” include a bunch of waiters in Hebrews 11, those who “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (Hebrews 11:12). They finished their race, they kept the faith, we have their example. We also have Jesus’ example.
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
“Consider him…so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:3). This is not getting someone to pat your hair, this is getting someone to wipe the sweat out of your eyes so you can keep running.
In most marathons these days they have water stations and even food stations spread throughout the route. It’s not only a long distance, but slower runners like myself could be out there for multiple hours, and the edible energy helps. In our long faith-fun, we also get bread and wine, and the opportunity to “consider Him” who endured hostility so that we can enjoy hope.
December 4, 2020
Holes Punched on Your Frequent Sadness Card
When it comes to more typical (rather than traumatic) emotional control problems, we considered that some of the problem is what we want. We want/covet the wrong things or the right things for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we want the right things at the wrong time. This leads to a consideration of emotional control while we wait.
Life is waiting, and God is not surprised by that. He invented the concept as much as He created time to begin with. He determines how fast or slow it goes, and His Word is filled with the call: wait.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
(Psalm 27:14, ESV)
Waiting assumes a better situation, and that you’re (perhaps painfully) aware of it. You know. You want it to be over, and you’re thinking about it being over. That’s what waiting is about. Dinner will be good but it’s still the middle of the afternoon; giving birth will be a joyful relief but you’re only in the first trimester; surgery will be helpful but it’s not even scheduled; getting married will be quite a celebration but you’re only fourteen; Christmas will be great but it’s still November. You have to wait. It is possible to want these things without coveting, but it is also to want them now and complain.
Not everyone needs to know that you know, though. Say your current situation is so bad that you’ve committed some fasting time to it. Do you want it to be past the problem, or could you be satisfied with others thinking you’re a spiritual person for fasting about a problem? Lower your standard and you can have your reward (Matthew 6:16-18). Or, don’t let them know, which includes not whining.
Prayer is part of emotional control; make your requests (for something better) to God with thanks (Philippians 4:6). Maybe someone will think you don’t realize how bad it is because you’re thankful, but you’ll know how hard the battle was to be so thankful. If you are not praying at all, how do you expect to glorify God for His answer, and/or for His strength for your rejoicing in heaviness (1 Peter 1:6)?
Seeking counsel (to get to something better) can also be helpful for emotional control, but seeking more holes punched on your frequent sadness card from soft hearts is like putting the wrong cream on your rash; you’re just going to make it worse. Likewise, ignoring the (wise/tough) counsel that tells you the problem is you, as in your wants or your timing, sets you up for feeling like no one understands you, which makes you very understandably in danger of thinking your hurt feelings are a virtue.
December 3, 2020
They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:31, ESV)
A Feast of Promise
The two essential elements of an assembly’s worship are the Word and sacrament, especially the Lord’s Supper. We receive from the Lord light and bread, including truth about the food. The thing that connects them both is faith, and I’d like to brine that subject a bit longer.
Consider our upcoming national holiday. There are many who will sit at a table, masked and in their worried mind, who will eat some turkey stuffed with anxiousness. The word thankfulness will be on their lips but their hearts will nag them about the fraud of it all. Their joys are all in temporal things, and it is hard in 2020 to pretend that temporal things are dependable things. It will not be sufficient to reread about the pilgrims and the founding fathers because we have shot their wad. Theirs is a story of freedom, and there is some sense of possibility in the story, but the fear is that their story (was racist and/or) is finished.
When we come to the feast of the Lord’s Supper we have a different story to remember. The story does have history of struggle and sacrifice, but the commemoration meal includes news of how what happened guarantees what will happen. It is a story, along with a meal, of promise. The prophets who anticipated the coming and suffering of the Messiah were joined by apostles who anticipated the re-coming and conquering of the Messiah, along with the called and chosen and faithful.
We do not eat the bread of anxious toil, but the bread of quiet trust. The Lord builds the church, the Lord watches over His people, and He gives joy to His beloved. We know it because of the Word, and we know that all the words of God will be fulfilled (Revelation 17:17). That’s a promise, and so we feast.
November 24, 2020
Quotidian Coveting and Emotional Control
True emotional control is only possible for a Calvinist. And, sure, she doesn’t have to know that she’s a Calvinist, but she certainly has to deal with her desires like one.
Quotidian emotional control issues typically concern not being happy what we have, or what we don’t have, or what we see that someone else has. Another way to say it is that those who can’t control their every-day feelings of discontent are guilty of breaking the 10th commandment: You shall not covet.
Moses recorded God’s prohibition which included some examples:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, of his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)
The preceding commands are also about one’s neighbor: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, and don’t bear false witness, all of which behaviors directly affect your neighbor. But who does it hurt if the problem is just unfulfilled longing in your heart? It offends God.
The problem here is not simple disobedience, it is idolatry. The idol could be the “thing,” as in, you want the car (that’s just a modernized tangible example, it could be “anything” material or abstract or perceived) more than you want God, but it’s often more like the kind of idol of a different god than the one who didn’t give you the car. Of course you’d be guilty if you stole the car, but that would break the 8th commandment. You’re guilty of the 10th commandment if you won’t give thanks to God for not giving it to you.
In Ephesians Paul said that the countermeasure to sexual immorality and impurity and covetousness, which is idolatry, is to “let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3-5). Giving thanks is perhaps the ultimate act of submission, not just accepting God’s sovereignty but appreciating it (like a Calvinist). We will not be ready for higher level lessons of emotional control without accepting the results of God’s elections–His election of your house, your relationships, your productivity, your wealth–by honoring God and giving Him thanks.
Our gratitude is not just the result of emotional control, it is the reins of it.
November 23, 2020