You Are What You Eat: A Lord’s Supper Meditation

lordsupper“You are what you eat,” couldn’t be more true than when talking about the Lord’s Supper. When we come to the Lord’s Table we are declaring our confidence in Jesus’s body and blood as our singular hope for salvation. At the same time, we are receiving through a complex and simple sugars a taste of who we are—redeemed sinners adopted into the family of God.

Identifying the New Covenant Meal

When Jesus transformed his last supper into the Lord’s Supper, he took bread and broke it saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Then he took the cup saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:17–19). In his words and actions, Jesus was passing down a tradition that would forever recall the meaning of his death.

Jesus’s death revealed God’s judgment upon human sin, but because Jesus died for the sins of his covenant people, his death substituted for the punishment of his covenant people. Jesus spoke of his death and the Lord’s Supper in covenantal terms, because his blood inaugurated a new kind of relationship between heaven and earth.

Speaking specifically about the promises of the new covenant, Hebrews 8 teaches the believer what God has done for them in Christ. First, the new covenant moves me to delight in the law that is written on their heart. Second, it gives me saving knowledge of God through Christ. Third, it invites me into a personal relationship with God. And finally, it forgives me for all of my sins. In short, what the law could not do, weak as it was; the new covenant does by means of Christ’s perfect obedience and the Spirit he sent to us as he sat down at God’s right hand.

For this reason, we do well to take the Lord’s Supper often. Even more, when we take it we need to remember what Jesus Christ did for us and what his death says about our new-found identity in him. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is a meal that defines a people. Since only those who have trusted in Christ are permitted to the table, it makes a visible distinction between those who partake and those who don’t.

A Meal that Identifies Us

For those who don’t partake, it is a reminder that they remain outside of the covenant blessings of God. Like Gentiles in Ephesians 2:11–13, those who do not take the Lord’s Supper are strangers and aliens to the promises of God; they are without God and without hope in this world. Consequently, the Lord’s Supper invites unbelievers (children or adult) to consider their own need for grace. In a visible way, it shows them they are outside the gates of Christ, but that the invitation remains to come to dine at the table if they will but trust Christ and turn from sin.

At the same time, the covenant meal also marks out the believer. While the world defines us by our skin color, social standing, education, sexual orientation, or working profession, the Lord’s Supper defines us as blood-bought children of God. It identifies us as the Lord’s covenant people, and it calls us to stop identifying ourselves by our past history, our personal problems, or our sinful living.

Like the food eaten in any temple the Lord’s Supper offers food that identifies us with Christ. Of course, we don’t believe that the bread and juice become are the body and blood of Jesus (as in the Catholic view of transubstantiation). However, we do believe that eating the meal identifies us with Christ, and more than that it defines our own identity.

In this way, we are what we eat. And when we take the Lord’s Supper, we are once again identified as his beloved children. Simultaneously, we are called to examine our hearts to consider whether our lives affirm or deny this identify. As an identify-shaping meal, it is vital we take the Lord’s Supper with regularity and that when we take it we understand what we are doing, and what it is doing to us!

Holy Father,
You sent your Son to identify with us,
now let us identify with him.
Forgive us for feeding on the food of this world;
Feed us on your faithfulness,
on the grace and truth found in your gospel.

 As we put bread and cup to our mouths,
may our hearts be close to you and not just our lips.
Incline our hearts to identify ourselves with you,
And may this Lord’s Supper further impress on us
A sense of your presence, your holiness, and your grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

How Should Christians Engage Culture?

christandcultureIn 1951 Richard Niebuhr wrote a book called Christ and Culture. In it he listed five ways the authority of Christ relates to the ideas, influences, and authorities of the world—what might be called “culture.” These include Christ against culture (e.g., Amish and hyper-fundamentalists) on one side and the Christ of culture (e.g., “cultural Christianity,” be it conservative or progressive) on the other.

In between these poles, Niebuhr also observed places in Scripture and church history where Christians have put Christ above culture. He rightly remarks that this is where most Christians live, vacillating between various forms of synthesis and separation from culture.

Evaluating Christ and Culture

To this day, Niebuhr’s book remains the historic guide to thinking about Christ and culture. However, more recently and more biblically, D. A. Carson has updated the conversation by evaluating Niebuhr’s book and presenting his own “biblical theology” of culture (see his Christ and Culture Revisited). Carson shows that Niebuhr’s conclusions suffer from his own Protestant liberalism, that at times he forces Scripture into his mold, and sometimes Niebuhr includes in the wide-tent of Christianity things at are not (e.g., Gnosticism).

Nonetheless, Niebuhr’s five-fold taxonomy (or four-fold is “cultural Christianity” is excluded) helps us think about Christ and culture. As Christians, we must have a multi-pronged approach to the world: we must resist the world without retreating from it; we must love the world (John 3:16) without becoming friends with the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15); we must appreciate God’s common grace in the fallen world, even as we seek the conversion of the lost, such that these new creatures in Christ might go into the world as salt and light to better preserve, purify, and improve the world.

All in all, the Christian’s duty to be in the world but not of the world is perplexing. Like the Jews living in exile, we must seek the welfare of our secular city (Jeremiah 29), but in seeking the good of our neighbors, we must not seek the city of man more than we seek the city of God, the city whose architect and builder is God.

But how do we do that? Continue reading

Dying with Dignity: What Should We Think About Euthanasia?

deathOn November 1, surrounded by her family and friends, Brittany Maynard will take her final breath. Or so she intends.

Earlier this year, Brittany was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 29. Living in California at that time, she and her husband moved to Oregon so that she could legally commit suicide. Oregon is one of five U.S. states that permit physician-assisted suicide, and so she relocated their to end her life before her cancer would take it.

Her decision has received great support from many, including her husband (Dan), as her viral YouTube video explains. Her story has also reignited the debate about whether terminal patients have the right to take their own life. And it has prompted many strong and compassionate responses.

For instance, Joni Eareckson Tada speaks about the societal impact of Brittany’s private decision. Mrs. Eareckson Tada also refers to many alternative options for people with life-threatening conditions.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler also responded to Brittany Maynard’s decision in his daily news program, The Briefing (audio, transcript). Considering a number facets of this sad situation, Mohler observes how our secular culture befriends death as a way of escaping the pain of life. In fact, he asserts that the support for Brittany is in large part an indication of how far removed our culture is from the Christian belief that God is sovereign over the days of our lives (Psalm 139).

Let me encourage you to read and listen to Mrs. Eareckson Tada and Dr. Mohler, but even more let me encourage you to pray for Brittany and her family.

Talking About Life in a Culture of Death

Even as we pray for Brittany and her family, we must also consider what God says about these matters. When it comes to matters of life and death, Christians are obligated to speak a word of hope for resurrection life after death. But we must also think clearly about euthanasia and wrongful ways our culture is permitting and pursuing death.

For that reason, I want to take note of three issues related to Brittany’s decision and then suggest five ways Christians must think about euthanasia. Continue reading

Do Not Underestimate Your Ministry of Presence

greeter

The Impact of One Greeter

When I think about God’s work in my life, I see a face without a name, a man whose identity I do not know, but whose inviting smile is etched on my heart.

Growing up in the suburbs of Virginia, church was not a priority, but when I moved in high school to the farmland of Southern Michigan, things began to change. At the request of a friend I began attending church.  I lingered in this unfamiliar place because the music and message interested me. But ultimately I stayed because I encountered the love of God in his Word and in the smiling faces of God’s people. And no one displayed that love more than the church greeter whose name has since left my memory.

The Lord’s steadfast love reflected in this man’s consistent presence. Every Sunday when I arrived this elderly man greeted me with hospitality and interest. He inquired of my school, sports, and life in general. Though our conversations were less than 60 seconds each Sunday, his ministry of presence left an indelible mark.

I look back on that man and wonder if he ever knew how much his “mundane ministry” impacted my young life. Probably not. Nevertheless, his inviting love played a significant part in my coming to faith in Christ.

Going to Church is Not Just About You

It is easy to think that our church attendance doesn’t matter. We convince ourselves that no one will miss us if we take a little extra time at the campground or if we go to the stadium instead of the sanctuary, but the truth is: Absent members are greatly missed.

Other church members suffer because your spiritual gifts are not being used for their edification (1 Cor 12:7).   Budding Christians miss your presence because they see your absence and begin to believe that it is normal for Christians to be part-timers. And wayward 17 year olds suffer, while they don’t even know it.

Church attendance is often downplayed because “going to church doesn’t save you.” And though that is technically true, such a sentiment is self-focused and short-sighted. While your church attendance may not “save” you, it very well may the means by which God saves someone else. For me, that anonymous doorman’s presence opened more to me than just a door; God used it as a means of opening my heart to receive eternal life in Jesus Christ. His ministry of presence is a lesson for all of us.

Do Not Underestimate Your Ministry of Presence

This Sunday, may we come to church as the Sons of Korah did, desiring to stand at the doorways of God’s temple serving all those who approached (Ps 84:10). May we cast off self-indulgence and indifference and find true joy by serving others with a ministry of presence.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

What Should Churches Do Who Have Elders?

churchTitus 1:5–9 and 1 Timothy 3:1–7 give a host of qualifications for potential elders. Additionally, they give indication as to what an elder is supposed to do—to instruct the flock in sound doctrine and protect the church from false teaching, immorality, and division.

Yet, what about the congregation? Does the Bible have anything to say to church members as to their relationship with the elders who shepherd them?

While no virtue list exists for congregations like that of potential elders, the New Testament does instruct church members to love, support, and even submit to their leaders. In fact, from the context of many passages related to church leadership we find at least a dozen ways Christians should relate to those who lead them.

Twelve Ways The Church Relates to its Leaders

Continue reading

What Makes a Divorce ‘Biblical’?

sufficiencyEarlier this week laid out a gospel-centered approach to understanding what Scripture says about divorce. Yesterday, I also listed eight points that the Bible makes about divorce. But today, I want to ask a practical question: What makes a divorce biblical?

That is to ask, if Jesus and Paul permit divorce in the cases of ongoing sexual immorality and/or abandonment, what should take place in the life of a believer and a church, if they come to the heart-breaking point of considering a divorce?

As a point of clarification, biblical does not mean the same thing as good or ideal. As with all relational strife, divorce is not good in itself. However, Scripture does give us commands, principles, and guidance on how to faithfully handle a divorce, so it is right to speak of divorce as “biblical” if it is in keeping with God’s Word. Likewise, a divorce pursued contrary to God’s Word makes it “unbiblical.”

Believing that Scripture has given us everything we need for understanding and pursuing a godly life, we should know what comprises a biblical divorce. Here is my attempt to begin to outline the steps of a “biblical” divorce. Continue reading

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?

divorce2In Sunday’s sermon (“What about divorce?“) I listed seven ways that Scripture speaks about divorce. They are outlined below, plus one more, making eight. From these eight truths, we can get a full, but not yet exhaustive, picture of divorce. Let me know what you think and what you might add.

First, divorce goes against God’s ideal.

Before the Fall, God establishes his pattern for all humanity in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

This pre-fall ideal is reiterated when Jesus is asked about marriage and divorce. In Matthew 19, he goes back to the Garden to establish God’s ideal for marriage. In verses 4–6, he answers, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” From these two verses, it is plain that God desires for a man to hold fast to his wife and not divorce her (cf. Mal 2:14–15). Continue reading

A Gospel-Centered Approach to Divorce

divorceMany Christians when they think about God’s view on divorce rattle off three words: “God hates divorce.”

This sentiment is biblical, but too brief. It fails to understand why God hates divorce (see Eph 5:32–33); it misses the fact that God himself has experienced a divorce (Jer 3:8); and it denies the way the gospel promises pardon and healing to those who have been divorced (see John 4), not to mention the power the gospel gives to live in covenant faithfulness to God and the spouse he has given us.

This week I preached on the subject of divorce and in our bulletin I included a biblical survey of what Scripture says about divorce. What follows is an expansion on that survey. While the subject of divorce can be approached in many ways, my hope is to put the gospel at the center of our discussion about this personal subject. Let me know what you would add. Continue reading

What is an Elder Supposed to Do?

eldersatwork

When Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every town (1:5), he immediately listed qualifications to find those men (vv. 6–9). What he spent little time on was the specific tasks they were supposed to do as elders.

From the remainder of the letter, it can be surmised that elders who oversee the church must silence false teachers (1:11), teach what accords with sound doctrine (2:1), model good works for others (2:7), exercise authority in matters of doctrine (2:15), and protect the flock from divisive persons (3:10). Yet, these are only some of the tasks mentioned in the New Testament. Today, I want to enumerate seven others, beginning with Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21..

Seven Tasks of an Elder Who Oversees the Flock

1. Feed the Flock.

It is arguable that the genesis of the pastoral office began on a seashore in Galilee. In John 21 Jesus went in search of Peter. Days before, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied Christ three times. Crushed by his own disloyalty, Peter returned to fishing. However, as Jesus had called him to be a fisher of men before (Matt 4:19), he again came to restore Peter to Jesus’ ministry.

In verses 15–19 Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me more than these?” (Presumably motioning to the fish). Each time Peter responded, “You know I love you.” And each time, Jesus assigned him a pastoral task: “Feed my lambs” (v. 15); “tend my sheep” (v. 16); “feed my sheep” (v. 17). Using this pastoral metaphor, Jesus announced the primary duty of an elder (cf. 1 Pet 5:1)—to feed the flock of God with the food of God, i.e., God’s holy Word! Continue reading

Establish Elders for the Sake of Evangelism


evangelistThe saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

— 1 Timothy 3:1–7 –

I’ve gotten out of the habit of curating and quoting other blogs recently. But as our church continues to look at Titus 1 and the role of elders in the church, I find David Murray’s post on 1 Timothy 3:1–7 extremely enlightening—especially, his final point.

In numerical fashion, Murray lists ten realities about elders from 1 Timothy 3:1–7.

  1. The vital importance of these verses: This saying is trustworthy
  2. The huge responsibility in these verses: the position of an overseer
  3. The powerful and pure desire in these verses: If anyone aspires to the office…
  4. The worthy work in these verses: a noble task
  5. The uncompromising imperative in these verses: the elder must be
  6. The beautiful self-control in these verses: blameless
  7. The useful service in these verses: hospitable, able to teach
  8. The testing ground in these verses: manage his own household well
  9. The fearful danger in these verses: not a recent convert
  10. The evangelistic impact of these verses: well-thought of by outsiders

In his blog post, he explains each of these. They parallel a number of the points I made in yesterday’s sermon on Titus 1:5–9. However, it’s the last point that he makes that deserves our consideration. As to the evangelistic impact of elders, Murray writes,

Who we elect to office communicates so much to the world about what the church and the Gospel is all about, that it should be considered a major part of our evangelistic message to the world. The list of elders’ qualifications have two similar bookends: “above reproach” and “well-thought of by outsiders” underlining that electing elders is an evangelistic act.

“Electing elders is an evangelistic act.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think it is an under-appreciated truth.

The Vital Role of Elders in Evangelism, Church Growth, and Church Health

To many, church leadership structures are a secondary or tertiary matter. In recent days, I’ve had more than a few comments downplaying the importance of leadership structures.

Especially when a church is struggling or filled with strife, it is easy to think that revival or changed hearts is needed. There is no denying the need for repentance and reconciliation. But to dismiss the role elders (or the lack thereof) plays in church health misses much of what the Pastoral Epistles teach.

Church health—and by health I mean ability to protect, proclaim, and display the gospel—is necessarily retained and promoted by true elders. And when the structure of elders is missing or leaders in the church are less than what 1 Timothy 3 describes, it should not come as a surprise that evangelism, church growth, and church health are all in decline.

May God be pleased to raise up godly elders in your church and mine—not just for the sake of church leadership, but as David Murray reminds us, for the sake of evangelism too.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds