What I would have said about the Lord’s Supper if I’d had time…

July 29, 2009

After last Sunday’s sermon (Removing the Obstacles of Legalism from Taking the Lord’s Supper), I’ve been amazed at how many people have shared with me how they have struggled with taking the Lord’s Supper. The guilt, the unworthiness, even the fear and dread of taking it. On the one hand, I’m glad that people take it so seriously, but on the other hand, I’m convicted by how many of those serious-minded worshippers I’ve had a part in discouraging in the act of taking. I pray that Sunday’s message will be a tool for bringing a whole lot of grace-induced liberation to hearts bound by condemnation.

My heart is still rejoicing to hear of the burdens that were lifted. Praise the Lord!!

Some have asked about who then is to be “fenced” away from the Lord’s Table. The short answer is this: those who are unrepentant about sin should not partake, since, THAT is a state of rebellion, or as Luther said, a lack of DESIRE to receive the grace given in the ordinance.

So, we should fence the table from 3 kinds of people: unbelievers, the unrepentant and the self-righteous. Everyone else is invited to come.

Luther had really good pastoral advice in his Larger Catechism. I had planned to use this in the sermon, but simply ran out of time. I wanted to find a way to share it with you so I’m posting it here. This is really good, so I’m giving you all of it.

Notice specifically the distinction in who should and shouldn’t come to the Lord’s Table in the first few paragraphs (paragraphs 2-4 in particular). Luther’s use of the term “desire” is the key here. (underlines and bracketed comments are mine)

Luther in the Larger Catechism:

But if you say: How if I feel that I am not prepared? Answer: That is also my scruple, especially from the old way under the Pope, in which a person tortured himself to be so perfectly pure that God could not find the least blemish in us. [This is a Catholic approach to the Lord’s Supper!] On this account we became so timid that every one was instantly thrown into consternation and said to himself: Alas! you are unworthy!

But if you are to regard how good and pure you are, and labor to have no compunctions, you must never approach.

We must, therefore, make a distinction here among men. For those who are wanton and dissolute [deliberately intend to continue in sin] must be told to stay away; for they are not prepared to receive forgiveness of sin, since they do not desire it and do not wish to be godly.

But the others, who are not such callous and wicked people, and desire to be godly, must not absent themselves, even though otherwise they be feeble and full of infirmities… For no one will make such progress that he will not retain many daily infirmities in flesh and blood.

Therefore such people must learn that it is the highest art to know that our Sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness. For we are not baptized because we are worthy and holy, [or] …because we are pure and without sin, but the contrary, because we are poor miserable men, and just because we are unworthy; …

But whoever would gladly obtain grace and consolation should impel himself, and allow no one to frighten him away, but say: I, indeed, would like to be worthy; but I come, not upon any worthiness, but upon Thy Word, because Thou hast commanded it, as one who would gladly be Thy disciple, no matter what becomes of my worthiness.

But this is difficult; for we always have this obstacle and hindrance to encounter, that we look more upon ourselves than upon the Word and lips of Christ.

We must never regard the Sacrament as something injurious from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy imparting salvation and comfort, which will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. …

those who are sensible of their weakness, desire to be rid of it and long for help, should regard and use it only as a precious antidote against the poison which they have in them. For here in the Sacrament you are to receive from the lips of Christ forgiveness of sin, which contains and brings with it the grace of God and the Spirit with all His gifts, protection, shelter, and power against death and the devil and all misfortune.


They Keep Crawling Down

May 22, 2008

Do you ever struggle with a recurring sin? One that, just when you think you’ve got it conquered for good, manifests itself once again, to your surprise and frustration? And you think, “I can’t believe I did that. Where did that come from? Why do I keep doing that?”

It’s discouraging, isn’t it?

Well, here’s the best help to that problem I’ve read in a very long while (and it’s from a long time ago):

“Every Christian must make up his mind and lay out his life to crucify all his several sins and to keep them crucified, till God has time to have them forever mortified. For, if a malefactor was once arrested and was crucified and was kept crucified till at last he died upon his cross, in that case his days of robbery and murder were at an end. But let the watching soldiers fall asleep, or let them become drunken, and let that crucified criminal’s old companions come and take him down from his cross, as sometimes happened, and that rescued malefactor would immediately return to his former crimes and even worse than before. And so will it be with those robbers and murderers who are still alive and unmortified in our own hearts. They may be really and truly be crucified and their days of open and outward transgression may seem to be at an end. But cease watching them; cease for so much as a day our an hour from keeping them crucified, and they will be back that very hour at all their former evil works. Those so besetting sins of yours that are today nailed to their cross ard are silent and motionless and shamming death, unless you watch with all your watchfulness they will be down from their cross and will be back again at all their evil ways.”

(Source: Alexander Whyte, quoted in Worthy is the Lamb: Puritan Poetry in Honor of the Savior, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2004, p. .275)

Colossians 3:3-10 (ESV) is the relevant passage:

3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Maybe You Think They Went Too Far, But Maybe They Didn’t.

May 16, 2008

Maybe we haven’t gone far enough.

Ian D. Campbell writes at the Reformation21 blog:

Some of today’s Scottish newspapers are running a story about our local school’s girls’ football team. Against all the odds, they beat off older teams from larger schools all over Scotland, to reach the final of a national tournament sponsored by Coca-Cola – only to discover it was scheduled to be held on a Sunday. To not a little disappointment, the decision was taken to pull out of the opportunity to win the national tournament because of the religious convictions of our community.

I’m not sure how many communities would be featured in the press for this reason. Sunday has, of course, become this generation’s sports day, and sports is the opium of this generation. It is the new religion, with its own heroes, its own songs, its own loyalties, and its own holy days.

I’m not sure what other evangelicals think of the decision of our local girls to pull out of the final: I suspect that on the whole issue of observing the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath, many evangelicals have capitulated to the world’s way of doing things, and would see nothing wrong with holding, or attending, sports events on the Lord’s Day.

If this week’s headlines demonstrate anything, they show that there is one God-given opportunity for us to nail our Christian convictions to the social mast – to honour the Lord publicly by honouring his day, and making it altogether different from every other day of the week, whatever the cost.

Are they being legalistic? Or are they being weaker brothers (sisters)? Or are they honoring the Lord?

Frankly, I’m heartened by the decision of the team. It reminds me of the “Flying Scotsman” himself, Eric Liddell (of Chariots of Fire fame), who made the same decision for the same reason.

This past year I preached on the Christian’s observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day (audio here – see the sermons on 11/11/07 & 11/18/07), where I publicly refused to become legalistic about making a list of rules on what is and is not permitted activity on Sundays, yet at the same time I pleaded with our congregation that whatever else they did on Sundays, they should honor the Lord’s Day by making it a priority to faithfully worship and rest on Sundays in accordance with the pattern established at creation – both for their own good and God’s glory.

I realize that this is another one of those “debatable issues” over which godly and sincere Christians disagree. Yet I think that there is something noteworthy about this team taking the costly opportunity to publicly align themselves with a more noble cause than that of a sports competition. And not just any cause greater than that of sports, but a the particular cause of God’s honor.

Honoring the Lord by honoring the Lord’s Day is a simple but too often flippantly-disregarded way to bring God glory. Our over-busy culture is probably baffled by such a “foolish” decision to withdraw from the games, especially for such a “silly” reason. Yet what is even more disappointing to me is that so many Christians feel the same way, and never attempt to honor the Lord in this way themselves – even when it wouldn’t cost them much more than getting an already longed-for break from the break-neck pace of their lives. It’s ironic to me that there is such resistance to, not legalistically, but gladly, ceasing one day a week from the normal pressures of life and spending it resting and worshipping the Lord with God’s people – both to God’s glory.

If that were our higher priority, then Sundays wouldn’t be so negotiable.

Reading the Bible Like a Book – Thanks to the Latest ESV’s

May 13, 2008

I finished reading the last half of the Book of Job today in my ESV Personal Size Reference Edition. I have been trying to read through the Old Testament this year in the ESV (I’m actually quite behind), so when this paragraphed edition came out, I was determined to read it in that edition, which has a single-column paragraphed layout.

Believe it or not, this layout has proven to make the text easier to read by making the text flow much more smoothly, yielding an improved Bible reading experience. I find that I read it faster, but with better comprehension. Stories read like stories, and poetry – like Job – reads like, well, poetry. The layout actually makes the Hebrew parallelism more obvious and clear. Job has yielded riches that I had not seen before. I can actually attest that the layout helped me see things I hadn’t before – simply because it got out of the way. It’s like you’re actually reading a book, not a reference work.

That’s one reason I pre-ordered the ESV Study Bible today. This Thursday is the last day to get 35% off. (UPDATE: You can now get 33% off until June 15, 2008). One of the main reasons I want one is simply because it’s in this layout (single-column, paragraphed). Plus the scholarship that has gone into the notes of this Study Bible looks stellar. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be interested in yet another Study Bible. It doesn’t come out until October, so until then I’ve an edition to keep me happy.

For more insight on what the big deal is about the the whole single-column paragraphed experience, check out the links I’ve provided here.

WOW! I made it onto the ESV website

May 8, 2008


UPDATE: And here too!

I took some photos of the new Deluxe Compact Bible and sent them over to the Bible Design and Binding Blog for Mark Bertrand to post, so I assume the good folks over at Crossway/Good News Publishers picked up the photo from there.

I have been increasingly happy with the ESV translation in general, and with the improvements in binding quality that they have been making recently in adding more sewn bindings, nicer covers, and better text layout (paragraphed editions, larger and darker text in the Compact edition, etc.). Thank you Crossway!

Related: Actually, I Haven’t Been Totally Absent From the Blogosphere

Ok, Ok, Just this once….

May 6, 2008

…and just for you Paul. 🙂 Like you, I have maintained (except for this one exception) a strict avoidance policy on responding to these kind of “tags”. But, since you’ve taken merciless advantage of my admission of not having blogged lately, I guess I have to play nice. Enjoy!

1) What was I doing 10 years ago?

I was in between pastoring churches, and working with a friend installing vinyl siding on houses in Houston, TX. In fact, this very month 10 years ago I was in the final stages of the process of being called to pastor a church in Roswell, GA.

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today?

1. Discipleship/counseling at breakfast with a young man at 5:45 AM at Waffle House.

2. Haircut at 10:30 AM.

3. Repair the fan motor & blade on the house A/C compressor unit.

4. Study for my Sunday sermon and Wednesday night men’s discipleship group.

5. Conduct a membership interview with a new church family at 7:30 PM.

3) Snacks I enjoy:

1. Ice cold Mountain Dew (the elixir of the gods)

2. Tortilla chips and salsa (Santitas with Hell on the Red salsa – imported from Texas)

3. Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream. (I never cease to be surprised at how good it tastes.)

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire (in this order):

1. Buy a Gulfstream. (My dad’s love of aviation runs in my veins.)

2. Buy a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. With a runway. (The most beautiful place on earth to me.)

3. Travel Europe. Slowly. (So much history to take in, so much to see and learn.)

4. Give a lot of it away. Both strategically and randomly. (Being a faithful steward would bear on my conscience to release it to Kingdom work.)

5.) Three of my bad habits:

1. What? Bad habits?

2. Waiting too long to begin a project when I can’t see that I have the entire amount of time needed to start and finish it all at once. This results in it not getting done at all. I need a more incremental approach.

3. Wanting more than I can afford. (Questions on having billions does not help this bad habit subside!)

6) 5 places I have lived (in order):

1. Katy, TX (still “home”)

2. Garland, TX (college days)

3. Spring, TX (first pastorate, first house)

4. Roswell, GA

5. Canton, GA (currently)

7) 5 jobs I have had (in order):

1. Shipping – American Tract Society, Garland, TX

2. Self-employed, vinyl siding installation, Houston, TX

3. Pastor – Calvary Church, Houston, TX

4. Pastor – Northside Baptist Church, Roswell, GA

5. Pastor – Grace Church, Alpharetta, GA

Of course, these kinds of lists leave things out, but hopefully this is at least a little interesting. I haven’t tagged anyone else with this. Instead, if you’d like to answer some or all of these questions for yourself, then add them in the comments. I know I, for one, would find it interesting.

Actually, I haven’t been totally absent from the blogosphere

May 2, 2008

Things have just been way too busy lately to write much of anything worth posting here. In fact, I have been rethinking my approach to blogging altogether, including some changes in the kinds of things I’ve posted about before, and the way they’ve been approached. I’ve begun enjoying some photography too, so some of my pictures may start showing up here as well. So don’t give up on me yet, I’ve got some things in the hopper that I think may see their way here soon enough.

In the mean time, I’ve actually had some posts make their way onto another blog, though only indirectly. My friend Mark Bertrand has been kind enough to post some pictures I took of some newly anticipated editions of ESV Bibles – the ESV Study Bible, the Deluxe Compact Edition, and the Personal Size Reference Edition. Check them out, and while your there, poke around a bit on his site and see if you don’t find it at least a little interesting.

If you’ve been considering getting a Bible rebound, you really should check out this page to see some of the fine work people are getting done. Look here for info on contacting Abbas Bibles in Mexico (they do most of the high-end calfskin covers for Bible publishers). I hear you can get a nice calfskin cover on your Bible for around $40. That’s a major steal!