August 1st, 2013
There is a Day that’s coming until which there are things we should expect and things expected of us who walk in His Steps. That was our argument from Mark 13 last Sunday as we tried to chart a middle path between obsession over the timing and nature of that Day’s approach and a general indifference to such.
As with any extreme there’s always a kernel of serviceable truth embedded somewhere within. Yes, most attempts to correlate biblical passages with historical trends have had to be perennially updated once the alleged correspondence fails to hold up under scrutiny–with only a short time before the updates need updating again.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up the notion that Scripture anticipates real, significant, and sobering trends. Richard Mouw, professor emeritus at Fuller Seminary, contrasts the way some, like Pat Robertson, find such correspondences with a more subtle, and yet more credible, approach to correlation as exemplified in the analysis of one like James Houston, former professor at Regent University. I’ll let you sift through Mouw’s comparison but as he locates the distinction in a subject of current interest (like surveillance), I think you’ll see that the impulse to marginalize what we find in the prophetic books is based more on prejudging than analysis.
So part of that middle road is to excavate the truth from the obsessive extreme. What about the indifferent extreme?
Though we can’t predict when that Day is coming, and though we live by Grace that secures us an irrevocable future, a blithe attitude to what awaits does not follow, any more than panic does. We made only the most preliminary suggestions about what it means to “mind the gap” between what is and what will be, between what we are and what we’re meant to become. But there are few in recorded history who have demonstrated the sort of deliberate and disciplined attention to live fully now in view of the fullness of the end as Jonathan Edwards laid out in his Resolutions–a series of 70 personal commitments penned while still in his teens but which he would review regularly until his death in 1758 at the age of 54.
These resolutions evidence a robust faith in the promise of God with an equally robust diligence to live accordingly. I suspect most who review these will be daunted by the breadth of their scope and the depth of their demands upon His attention. I know I do every time I read them, and I’ve been acquainted with them for years. But I don’t post these to send you away in despair at what might seem impossible expressions of living faith. But I do post them to invite you–to invite myself–to consider which 2 or 3 (0r more if you please) would be of most benefit to your own soul were they its true resolutions. These are not the hoops Edwards put before Him to prove His worth to God; if there’s anyone who taught the irreducible Grace of God as the only hope of men it is Edwards. But these convictions of mind, heart, and will represent the kind of inward reverence a true gratitude for the Grace of God naturally yields. Which of these need most to become an inward resolution until the Day of His appearing?
This Sunday, as we do the 1st Sunday of every month, we come to the Table. We’re enjoined to make use of this means of Grace as often as we’re able, eating the bread that is His body, and the cup which is His blood, in remembrance of Him.
As we say each time we partake, what we’re doing in that moment defies complete description. And while there have been several ways of conceiving what’s going on at the Table (and some misunderstandings of some of those ways) the Communion is and always shall be at some level a mystery. For Paul will also speak of it as more than a ritual, but as a “participation” in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 10:16). We’re not only reaching up to God by beholding, touching, tasting, and consuming pictures of what is heavenly. We’re being reached down unto, like an author reaching into his narrative as if to take hold of the characters within it.
You may note that we’ve gotten into the habit of reminding us all of the Table the week before. It’s in response to what Paul instructs in 1 Corinthians 11 (which is something we’ve written about not too long ago). The church in Corinth had come to flagrantly violate the meaning and implications of the Lord’s Supper. They’d distorted the Supper into a self-indulgent reverie aloof to the humility and sobriety it means to engender. They’d also been guilty of both abject disregard for those without and unashamed debauchery among those with. That the Table portrays in starkest relief how Christ spent Himself on their behalf their excessively self-interested partaking made a travesty of the Meal. This was the “unworthy manner” of coming to the Table Paul decries in verse 27.
It’s also the premise upon which he enjoins them all to “examine themselves” before they partake and therefore why we give you time to prepare yourselves through similar examination. Now it would not seem that we are falling into the same traps as that early Corinthian church. No one is distorting the meal by bringing their own potluck and turning it into an opportunity for ostentation or partiality. And given the diminutive size of the Meal we serve it’s downright impossible to let it become what fills your tummy rather than what feeds your soul. But the Table will always give proper occasion for examination because it will always cause us to reflect upon where our true faith has rested of late. And where it has rested on something other than the love of God in Christ, coming to the Table will solicit the beginning of our repentance. As John Calvin summarized:
If you would wish to use aright the benefit afforded by Christ, bring faith and repentance. As to these two things, therefore, the trial must be made, if you would come duly prepared. Under repentance I include love; for the man who has learned to renounce himself, that he may give himself up wholly to Christ and his service, will also, without doubt, carefully maintain that unity which Christ has enjoined. At the same time, it is not a perfect faith or repentance that is required, as some, by urging beyond due bounds, a perfection that can nowhere be found, would shut out for ever from the Supper every individual of mankind. If, however, thou aspirest after the righteousness of God with the earnest desire of thy mind, and, trembled under a view of thy misery, dost wholly lean upon Christ’s grace, and rest upon it, know that thou art a worthy guest to approach the table — worthy I mean in this respect, that the Lord does not exclude thee, though in another point of view there is something in thee that is not as it ought to be. For faith, when it is but begun, makes those worthy who were unworthy. (Calvin’s Commentaries)
If, as we said last Sunday, part of living in view of the Day is to look full in the face of that gap between what we say we believe and what we really believe; and if our most subterranean angers, anxieties, and resentments indicate where our faith has been placed on something other than the love of God in Christ–then the Table is the perfect, and necessary, opportunity to let repentance begin. Repentance will not have been finished by the time you retake your seats, but the Table in what it asks and what it gives–somehow–will have done its proper work of re-membering you (renewing your sense of being united to Him) as you remember Him.
So, yes, sobriety, examination, discernment–these are what’s called for prior to coming to the Table this Sunday. But when you come, come also to be encouraged. As Doug Wilson put it recently:
One of the things that God wants to do for you here at this Table is encourage you. This is a Table of thanksgiving, which you cannot properly offer when you are discouraged. When we are discouraged, it is often because of affliction around us, or sin within us. Affliction is God’s crucible, it is what God uses to purify His saints. To object to affliction is to object to that process of purifying. God removes the dross from the silver by means of smelting, and that means heat. You might like all your dross, and think you are doing quite well, considering. You are a rock in the rough, and the silver sparkles are obvious to anyone who knows you. But God refuses to leave you there. You want to be a rock with sparkles, while He intends an ingot, refined seven times. Hence the affliction, hence the smelting. But what about sin within—including the sin of murmuring under the processes of smelting? What if you are discouraged because of that? Keep in mind that there is a difference between being defeated in the skirmish and defeated in the battle. You may have had a bad go of it. But is your weapon still in your hand? Are you here, worshiping the Lord? Do you want the next round to be better? Take heart. God has forgiven your sins, and His Spirit is with you here, teaching you to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil more capably than you have done in the past.
So this week as you come, come prepared. Not perfect, just prepared.
If you would, pray. . .
- for Nathan Vandermeer and his family on the passing of his mother. Services will be held Friday, August 9th, at 2pm, at Sparkman-Crane Funeral Home in Garland. Her obituary may be found here.
- that a viable and welcoming new location might be found to accommodate our growing needs for space. (If you know of possible locations that could expand our capacity for worship gathering, as well as provide increased space for nursery and additional classrooms, feel free to email me. You’re also welcome to make first contact yourself to gauge their interest!)
- for the men who’ll begin training to become elders and deacons–some in the fall in a more accelerated form, and others in the winter in a more comprehensive form.
As always, peace to you