Archive for March, 2011

Having Your Cake, and Eating it Too!

It is difficult sometimes when you are seeking to have your cake and eat it too and someone admits you have your cake and then eats it on your behalf. That is kind of like our relationship with God.

We sin for our meal. We get our dessert: death. It is OUR dessert. God even ADMITS that it is our dessert.

Then steps in Jesus, like a nutrition snob seeking to take away all of our joy (fleeting though the pleasures of sin are). He eats our dessert for us. We exclaim it is unfair for One to eat the dessert of others. “But,” perhaps He would say, “this dessert is not so sweet. Don’t you know you have been trying to lose weight and you HATE this dessert, but you want it? You fear the effects of this dessert, yet you crave it!” Kind of like a child who demands his rights to do whatever pleases him. Fifth commandment out the window, he wants McDonalds every day, and seeing his feet through his belly isn’t good, but it is preferable to eating broccoli.

Jesus steps in and eats it all up, leaving not a single crumb. To the uttermost. And then He says that He will give food that will satisfy. Cakes have no nutritional value. “Take me, the Bread from Heaven.” But we remember that God gave lots of food to His people and it was tasteless. The wine is lacking in body. The bread is like a cracker… It isn’t like a perfectly well-prepared cake with chocolate frosting. Let’s call it “Devil’s Chocolate” because it is so… tasty.

Jesus eats it all up and leaves us Himself to eat. Little piece of unleavened bread (“Sorry, didn’t have time, couldn’t bring the leaven from Egypt with me… (little devious smile on His face…) Looks like you gotta go without it…”) and a little tiny taste of wine, to soften the blow. But through those base elements, the sweet delight of milk and honey can be perceived. Maybe, we just don’t know how to make cakes very well. Maybe Jesus is more appetizing after all… “One small bite can fill a man’s stomach for an entire day.”

Christian Hedonism? I think so…

 

Lewis on Plato on Being Human, from The Abolition of Man

“Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…In a battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism…about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest–the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments…These are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.” (emphasis mine)

Excerpt from, The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Quick comment on the italicized portions. Lewis goes about it in an interesting way in the text, but this is actually a truth that we hold dear as Christians. It never was possible that one could be made righteous by the law, no matter how justified it was in our heads. I think we know this at our core to be true, and it is interesting that out emotions/settled sentiments are the means by which God, through His Spirit empowers us (by faith!?) to mortify our flesh, taking up our crosses and following our Lord Jesus. Without that ability to love, we are mere animal organisms. Really, it touches on our essential humanity in a way that makes Lewis always worth returning to time and again.

God bless!

Timothy Conference 2011

“In what way is God revealing His plan for my life, in accordance with the calling to which He has hitherto revealed to me?” was the question I was pondering as the days leading up to the Timothy Conference were passing by. Swamped with homework and the regular pressure of daily life, I had little time to think on the calling, rather losing myself in the present reality rather than meditating on the things of God. Excuses would pile up as to why I was letting my devotional life go, and they were “great” excuses. “I am just making sure I do my work,” or, “if I were to do that, I would be lessening my time of ‘fellowship’ with friends.” Even not so good excuses were satisfying when the more “acceptable” ones didn’t apply, “I am getting to bed really late, and by that time I’m quite tired and unable to focus, so it would be better to just put it off so that I could give it my whole attention,” was a favorite that would be constantly presenting itself.

With this backdrop, and no masculine backbone with which to take responsibility and get on my knees to ask for help, I continued to look ahead to the Timothy Conference, where I would be in “retreat” mode, a sort of spiritual stupor smuggled into my consciousness as a “high” from which I was to be able to “face the ‘real world’.” I can’t see myself as more refreshingly wrong.

From the rest of this post, it will look a lot like that, but I promise, this was not a “spiritual high”, it was a reality check given by the sort of people that encourage and strengthen and warn and give insight and provide for and teach discipline and live out the high calling to which all of us have been called in Christ. This reality check was a shared experience by many of the fellow attendees I spent almost 48 straight hours with. The teachers were all men wise with years and experience on the home front with hands-on ministerial sacrificial service in the OPC. It would take long to reflect on the peculiar insights that the men gave to us, relatively speaking, children, but the notes I took and the experience of fellowshipping with them will provide direction for myself for the rest of my life.

The conference was not a time for any emotional “recharging”. But of multiple hours of lectures on the subject of the call to the ministry and two, hour long lectures at Westminster Theological Seminary on Old Testament Canon and on Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 at seminary level, including the Greek semantic ranges of words and other amazingly interesting things.

We were expected to act like adults, and for all of our lack of sleep and clowning around, I suppose we did. The guys I met were all godly young men seeking to live faithfully to God’s revealed will for their life struggling with all the things that young men our age struggle with. But I am reminded of nothing less than John 2 when I think of those friends, lifelong friends who will be serving alongside me in whatever capacity God calls them to: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” May all of those things be true for my friends and myself all the more as we seek back at our home churches to live out the wisdom bestowed upon us at this year’s Timothy Conference.

I have a new appreciation for the calling of pastor, which has increased my respect for those who are members of my session and the various difficulties they have to deal with every day and also my pastor, Paul Viggiano, for all of the work and tears and joys that he is privileged to accept for the Kingdom. I have a new appreciation for the discipline required to be a minister of the gospel. The kind of discipline that comes out the most is not the educational or mental discipline, but a disciplined love that seeks to keep itself firmly rooted in the Christ Who bore our sins, and the people for Whom He died to save. The love for the Word was not as much an issue for me leading up to the conference, but was exposed for what it was in motivations in that my complacency in reading the Bible because I had “many other things to read” was a sin that could be used to ensnare me in a gradual decline in conscious sanctifying efforts wrought in me regularly through the Word and the Spirit working in me.

Not even going into the details, that was the sort of conference that it was, those were the sort of people I was privileged to spend it with, and all that a retreat could give was delivered by the Holy Spirit in fear and trembling before God’s Holiness, the same God that has called me out of the grips of Satan and my own self, in order to send me to His people and bring the Word of Reconciliation and build them up in love and encouragement. The God of grace will give me all things necessary, above and beyond my highest expectations, to fulfill His calling in my life. Your prayers are coveted in this pursuit and rededication of my life towards this God Who is our Life.

An Orthodox Theology of Failing to Consistently Post Here

In not posting for so long, for lack of time and/or energy, I have developed an entire theological category for this reality presented before me at all times except right now (as I write this post).

Cogitolatry: The sin of exalting the thought itself and verbal expression of something in a communal setting over and above the written medium. It is under the heading of the second commandment (see: -olatry for etymological understanding). Advocates of Reformed Theology are most susceptible to this sin and are usually living in complete self-deception. This is the especial case of one such as William Sprague (see: author) who can never seem to take ideas and organize them into coherent written propositions.

Some have inferred that this failure is a result of latent Platonistic ideals in the cogitolater. This is a grave mistake, because Plato wrote coherent sentences and was able to write them with enough persuasiveness to convince Augustine (who was by no means a cogitolater!). The real cogitolater would be Socrates and some of the pre-Socratics, who did not write for the reason that you couldn’t really express the “idea” without it getting ruined. Plato got around this obstacle by writing stories of dialogues (which are much more pure) in order to spread his message.

These cogitolaters are everywhere, so beware. This sin, though especially prominent in some more than others, does usually crop up whenever a well-meaning student seeks to not procrastinate in writing a term paper. It is a peculiar thing indeed.

Pray for those suffering from temptation to this sin. They need it badly, and they can’t write you a letter to ask for help. They wouldn’t be able to get it out without stumbling over the etymology of the word “letter” which they will have to then call their friends and have long talks about the peculiar words that are present in the English language, and why they are what they are and why we can’t decline them.

P.S. Yeah. I went there, English. I won’t let you get away with it for long.

P.P.S. That was the “vocative” case of the noun “English”.

Dante’s Sanctification in Knowledge

Cross-posted at my class blog.

“Through the law comes knowledge of sin.” – St. Paul in Romans 3:20.

Dante, in seeing the just retribution for sins (arranged in that interesting medieval order) in Inferno is seeing people that are in realm that is created by “Love”, learns to slowly leave pity behind. I think that the progression of Dante fainting and pitying the damned souls towards his courage and delight in justice is something that gives us an interestingly piercing look at what a correct view of perfect justice is. The law, and the just desert of sinners in getting the wages of sin, is, at the end of the day, Love. Dante, as he pities the sinners, is reproved rightly by Virgil, because he is not properly loving them. The sinners are not prevented from sinning while in Hell, they live in Hell because (as will come up through Purgatory) Heaven would be a worse Hell for them, because they want their sin more than they want the “vision” of God. The punishments are actually just, in great Augustinian form (ironically, I suppose), the continuation of their life of sin. The violent wallow in blood as they did in their life. The “Limbo”-ites are punished with being Pagan; they have exactly what they had in life, no “expectation” or “hope” just as in the story of Pandora’s box. Those who seek rebellion against God (Satan) are stuck in ice that is made by the arch-traitor’s wings, constantly seeking to ascend, and so trapping himself. He lives in rebellion, but is kept away from his final destruction (an act of Love in Justice?) Dante, learning this, sees that justice is love, and Inferno works as the Law, showing us what sin is. The punishments in Inferno are pictures of what the sins punished are doing to the soul of the living man already, though he doesn’t know it. The souls in Hell only know the past and future, they don’t know what they are doing, or what is happening now in the world. There is a reason sin is lawlessness, and there is such a thing such as “the mystery of lawlessness” in the Bible. This justice is a final act of the punished persons’ free will to choose sin instead of God. Dante knows how to love them the same way God does: he doesn’t harm their will to rebel with his pity.

In What Sense to Fence

Here is the form for the administration of the Lord’s Supper from the newly updated 2011 edition of the OPC Book of Church Order:

C. THE LORD’S SUPPER

1. The Institution of the Sacrament

The minister shall read the words of the institution and instruction of the Lord’s Supper as found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 or one of the Gospel accounts (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, or Luke 22:14-20). In addition, he may read words of instruction from passages such as John 6 and 1 Corinthians 10.

2. The Meaning and Nature of the Sacrament

The minister shall then summarize before the congregation the teaching of the Word of God as to the meaning and nature of the sacrament in the following or like words:

Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance to be observed by his church until he comes again. It is not a resacrificing of Christ, but is a remembrance of the once-for-all sacrifice of himself in his death for our sins. Nor is it a mere memorial to Christ’s sacrifice. It is a means of grace by which God feeds us with the crucified, resurrected, exalted Christ. He does so by his Holy Spirit and through faith. Thus he strengthens us in our warfare against sin and in our endeavors to serve him in holiness. The sacrament further signifies and seals the forgiveness of our sin and our nourishment and growth in Christ. The bread and wine represent the crucified body and the shed blood of the Savior, which he gave for his people. In this sacrament, God confirms that he is faithful and true to fulfill the promises of his covenant, and he calls us to deeper gratitude for our salvation, to renewed consecration, and to more faithful obedience. The Supper is also a bond and pledge of the communion that believers have with him and with each other as members of his body. As Scripture says, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). The Supper anticipates the consummation of the ages, when Christ returns to gather all his redeemed people at the glorious wedding feast of the Lamb. As we come to the Lord’s Table, we humbly resolve to deny ourselves, to crucify the sin that is within us, to resist the devil, and to follow Christ as becomes those who bear his name.

3. Invitation and Fencing the Table

The minister shall then declare who may come to, and who are excluded from, the Lord’s Table according to the Word of God. He may use the following or like words:

It is my privilege as a minister of Christ to invite all who are right with God and his church, through faith in the Lord Jesus, to come to the Lord’s Table. If you have received Christ and are resting upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to you in the gospel, if you are a baptized and professing communicant member in good standing in a church that professes the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ, and if you live penitently and seek to walk in godliness before the Lord, then this Supper is for you, and I invite you in Christ’s name to eat the bread and drink the cup.

At the same time, God’s Word says, “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth [eats] and drinketh [drinks] unworthily, eateth [eats] and drinketh [drinks] damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). If you are not trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior, if you are not a member of a faithful Christian church, if you are not living penitently and seeking to walk in godliness before the Lord, then I warn you in the name of Christ not to approach the Holy Table of the Lord.

This warning is not aimed to keep the humble and contrite from the Table of the Lord, as if it were for those who were free from sin. In fact, it is for sinners that our Lord gives this Supper as a means of grace. Through the elements of bread and wine, our Lord graciously gives himself and all his benefits to everyone who eats and drinks in a worthy manner, discerning the body of the Lord. It is one thing to eat and drink in a worthy manner. It is very different, however, to imagine that we are worthy to eat and drink. We dare not come to the Lord’s Table as if we were worthy and righteous in ourselves. We come in a worthy manner if we recognize that we are unworthy sinners who need our Savior, if we consciously discern his body given for our sins, if we hunger and thirst after Christ, giving thanks for his grace, trusting in his merits, feeding on him by faith, renewing our covenant with him and his people.

Let us examine our minds and hearts to determine whether such discernment is ours, to the end that we may partake to the glory of God and to our growth in the grace of Christ. Come then with joy and thankfulness to the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s Supper is medicine for poor, sick souls. Come to Jesus and find rest, refreshing, and nourishment for your weak and weary soul.

4. Exhortation

If desired, the minister may exhort the people of God, in the following or other words, to embrace in the sign the thing that is signified:

Beloved congregation, lift up your hearts from these visible elements even to heaven itself, where Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, from where we look for him to return and perfect our redemption. All the promises of God are yes and amen in him. Every spiritual blessing is found in him. With joyful hearts, in Christian love, partake of his Table, giving thanks for the great love that he has shown to us.

5. Prayer

The distribution of the elements shall be preceded by prayer. It is well in such prayer to praise God for his mighty power and grace in bringing salvation; confess our unworthiness to come to the Table because of our own utter lack of righteousness; reaffirm our trust in God’s grace and in Christ’s righteousness and mediation; plead for the Lord to grant the gracious, effectual working of his Spirit in us; thank God for the elements, request him to use them for their intended purpose; and ask him to grant that by faith his people may feed upon Jesus Christ, crucified and raised for them, so that, being strengthened by grace, they might live in him and for him.

6. Partaking of the Elements

After prayer and thanksgiving, the minister shall take the bread, saying in the following or like words:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, as I, ministering in his name, give this bread to you.

The minister shall then break the bread and give it to the people. The bread may be eaten either upon reception of it, or in unison when all have been served, as the session may judge most conducive to edification. The minister may continue, before the bread is eaten, saying:

Our Lord Jesus said, “Take, eat, this is my body, which is for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

Having given the bread, the minister shall take the cup and give it to the people, saying in the following or like words:

In the same manner, our Savior also took the cup, and having given thanks as has been done in his name, he gave it to his disciples, as I ministering in his name give this cup to you.

The minister shall then give the cup, as in the distribution of the bread. The minister may continue, before the cup is drunk,
saying:

Our Lord Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins; drink of it, all of you.”

7. Response of Thanksgiving and Commitment

When all have partaken, prayer should be offered. It is well in such prayer to give thanks for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, through whom we have the forgiveness of sins; recommit God’s people to Christ and to each other; present them as a living sacrifice to God; and plead that the Holy Spirit will make the sacrament effectual to the edifying and strengthening of God’s people.

It is well that the congregation respond by singing a psalm or hymn that focuses on the benefits of Christ’s death and the triumph of the gospel, bringing forth gratitude and joy and renewed commitment of the believer to his Lord, and that an offering be taken for the relief of the poor or for some other sacred purpose.

8. Blessing

The following benediction is particularly appropriate when the Lord’s Supper has been celebrated:

“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

(III.C)

My immediate reaction is to say that this new edition is awesome. I’m really happy about it.

Any thoughts? Branch of Hope people should be able to tell the difference, especially after hearing Pastor Dr. Mike Stingley read the old version verbatim every other week…

5-Pointer Evangelism

John Piper gives an example of how someone who believes in particular atonement would talk with that subject with an unbeliever:

Unbeliever: So what are you offering me?

Evangelist: Salvation from God’s wrath and from your sin. Everlasting life.

U: How?

E: Because when Jesus, the Son of God, died, he absorbed God’s wrath, removed it, and he bore the guilt of sin for all who trust him.

U: Did he do that for me?

E: If you will have him—receive him—you will have all that he is for you and all that he did for you. If you will trust him, yes, he did it for you.

U: So you don’t know if he did it for me?

E: He is offering himself to you right now freely. He is offering you a wonderful, finished work of redemption—all that he accomplished in absorbing God’s wrath and cancelling sins. All of that is yours for the having, right now. If you won’t have it, it’s not yours. If you will, it is. There’s only one way to know if your sins were cancelled and your death sentence was commuted in the death of Jesus. Believe on him. His promise is absolute: If you believe, you will be saved. If you won’t believe, you remain in your sin, and under God’s wrath.

U: So what are you asking me to receive?

E: Jesus. Receive Jesus! Because Jesus really did these things. He really secured the freedom of his people from the wrath of God. He really bore their sins in his body on the tree. If you receive him, you are one of them. You are included. All that is true for you. He offers to you freely right now.

U: I thought I could know Jesus died for me before I believed? That’s what I’ve always been told: Believe on him, because he died for everybody.

E: I can’t say for sure, but the people who taught you that probably meant this: Jesus died so that the gospel could be offered to all, and all who believe would be saved. That’s true. But if I assured you before you believe that your sins were cancelled and your freedom from God’s wrath was obtained, I would mislead you. Imagine if I said to you, Jesus certainly obtained your deliverance from God’s wrath and certainly covered all your sins. Now believe that. What would you say?

U: I’d say, great. Now what if I don’t believe? Then I’m still saved, right? Since my sins were certainly covered. It’s done.

E: Yes, that’s probably what you would say, and you’d be wrong. Because I would have misled you. The good news that Jesus has for you before you believe on him is not that your sins are certainly cancelled. The good news is that Jesus really propitiated the wrath of God, and really covered the sins of his people. It is finished. And that is what I offer you. It’s free. It’s full. It’s complete. It’s glorious. And his absolute promise to you is this: It’s yours if you will receive him. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.