Pastor's Blog

  • 2018 Marriage Workshop

    NCF's first ever "Marriage Workshop" is this Friday, February 16, 2018.

    I am giving thanks for this, as I already see our church body working together, showing hospitality, and serving one another with the gifts that God has provided. And I'm praying for and anticipating God's blessing, for God's glory.

    Here is a .zip file for you: This Momentary Marriage.zip

    Explanation:

    • I decided to use John Piper's book This Momentary Marriage for the Marriage Workshop.
    • The .zip file includes a pdf copy of that book. You can also order it online or get it directly (for free) from desiringgod.org.
    • I realized that the book was basically a print version of Piper's series on marriage.  The .zip file includes the sermon audio from that series (with the exception of the chapter on sex).
    • I expect more of you will be able to listen to these sermons than will read the book, so it made sense to me to emphasize the audio format.
    • These sermons will encourage you, challenge you, and lead you to joyful contemplations, soli Deo Gloria.
  • On the Son of Man's Ignorance

    "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows,
    not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
    but only the Father"
    (Mark 13:32)

    As our church continues through Mark, we run into this remarkable statement. And it leads us to a very reasonable question: "Since God knows everything, and Jesus is God, how did Jesus not know this?"

    Some, including Jehovah's Witnesses (modern-day Arians), use this verse to deny that Jesus was God. Stated simply, their conclusion runs against the rest of Scripture, and so we are right to disagree with it. But that leaves the question: How could Jesus not know? 

    I've found John Calvin's answer to be particularly helpful, and so I'm sharing it with you here. It will be worth your time to read. Not only will you find the answer to our question, but also some very helpful words of encouragement and correction from a masterful theologian.

    Grace and peace to you, in Christ—

    “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32)

    By this sentence, Christ intended to hold the minds of believers in suspense, that they might not, by a false imagination, fix any time for the final redemption. We know how fickle our minds are, and how much we are tickled by a vain curiosity to know more than is proper. Christ likewise perceived that the disciples were pushing forward with excessive haste to enjoy a triumph. He therefore wishes the day of his coming to be the object of such expectation and desire, that none shall dare to inquire when it will happen. In short, he wishes his disciples so to walk in the light of faith, that while they are uncertain as to the time, they may patiently wait for the revelation of him. We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word. That men may not feel uneasy at not knowing that day, Christ represents angels as their associates in this matter; for it would be a proof of excessive pride and wicked covetousness, to desire that we who creep on the earth should know more than is permitted to the angels in heaven.

     

    Mark adds, nor the Son himself. And surely that man must be singularly mad, who would hesitate to submit to the ignorance which even the Son of God himself did not hesitate to endure on our account. But many persons, thinking that this was unworthy of Christ, have endeavored to mitigate the harshness of this opinion by a contrivance of their own; and perhaps they were driven to employ a subterfuge by the malice of the Arians, who attempted to prove from it that Christ is not the true and only God. So then, according to those men, Christ did not know the last day, because he did not choose to reveal it to men. But since it is manifest that the same kind of ignorance is ascribed to Christ as is ascribed to the angels, we must endeavor to find some other meaning which is more suitable. Before stating it, however, I shall briefly dispose of the objections of those who think that it is an insult offered to the Son of God, if it be said that any kind of ignorance can properly apply to him.

     

    As to the first objection, that nothing is unknown to God, the answer is easy. For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefore, in saying that Christ, who knew all things, (John 21:17,) was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us, (Hebrews 2:17.) Again, the objection urged by some—that ignorance cannot apply to Christ, because it is the punishment of sin—is beyond measure ridiculous. For, first, it is prodigious folly to assert that the ignorance which is ascribed to angels proceeds from sin; but they discover themselves to be equally foolish on another ground, by not perceiving that Christ clothed himself with our flesh, for the purpose of enduring the punishment due to our sins. And if Christ, as man, did not know the last day, that does not any more derogate from his Divine nature than to have been mortal.

     

    I have no doubt that he refers to the office appointed to him by the Father, as in a former instance, when he said that it did not belong to him to place this or that person at his right or left hand, (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:40.) For...he did not absolutely say that this was not in his power, but the meaning was, that he had not been sent by the Father with this commission, so long as he lived among mortals. So now I understand that, so far as he had come down to us to be Mediator, until he had fully discharged his office, that information was not given to him which he received after his resurrection; for then he expressly declared that power over all things had been given to him (Matthew 28:18).*

     

    *Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, pp. 153–154). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

  • Blind Spots

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    It is hard to persuade men to believe 
    what they are not willing to find true; 
    they are ignorant, in many cases, 
    because they are willing to be ignorant, 
    and they do not know
    because they do not care to know.

    I was recently reminded of this quote from Matthew Henry's commentary on 2 Peter 3. I had posted it 4 years ago on social media, and then promptly forgot about it. Thankfully, it resurfaced and led me again to a piercing question:

    "Where are my stubborn, self-serving blindspots?"

    This question, in turn, reminded me of our church's corporate confession of sin from this past Lord's Day. The confession was in response to our reading of Mark 2:15–17, and it is adapted from the book, The Valley of Vision —

    Searcher of hearts, 
    it is a good day to me when you give me a glimpse of myself.
    Sin is my greatest evil, 
    but you are my greatest good. 
    I have reason to loathe myself, 
    and not to seek self-honor, 
    for no one commends his own dunghill. 
    Let me not take other good men as my example, 
    and think that I am good because I am like them, 
    for all good men are not as good as you desire. 
    Show me how to know when a thing is evil
    which I think is right and good. 
    Give me grace to recall my needs. 
    And let me not lay my pipe too short of the fountain of your steadfast love. 
    Amen.

    Next step: the delightful reminder that God answers that prayer as we look to Christ with faith, according to the Scriptures, and in dependence upon the Spirit.

    "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

    Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:12–16)

    I'm not able to see my blind spots on my own; but praise God! — He sees me.

  • The Gospel and the Greatest Commandment

    Last week we heard a powerful message from God's Word.

    I'm not talking about my sermon. I'm talking about the message Jesus spoke in Mark 12:28–34.

    And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

    As I've meditated further on this passage, and as I've spoken with some of those who listened to my sermon last week, I've been overwhelmed.

    I'm overwhelmed by the magnitude and gravity of God's law, and my inability to keep it.

    I'm overwhelmed by the glory and righteousness of God's Son, and his perfect obedience.

    I'm overwhelmed by the power and wisdom of God's Gospel, and my perfection before Him in it.

    I thought it might be helpful for me to share with you (primarily my church family, but also anyone else who might be reading this) my most recent and most clear meditation on this message from God's Word.

    God,
    my Creator,
    The Holy One,
    my Perfect Judge,
    my Loving Father,
    commands me above all else,
    to love him,
    with all that I have and with all that I am;
    and to love my neighbor,
    with the same care and concern I have for myself.

    He is worthy, worthy, worthy of my obedience.

    But I break this command
    every moment of my life.

    And so the Gospel is,

    that through faith in Christ,
    my Spotless Lamb,
    and by virtue of my spiritual union with him,
    I have loved God and my neighbor
    perfectly.

    simul justus et peccator

    So now,
    through faith in Christ,
    I am free to run in the way of God's commandments,
    with peace and joy
    abundant.

    "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

    (Romans 8:1–4)

  • A Call to Prayer

    A printed copy of J.C. Ryle's tractA Call to Prayer, had been sitting idle on my desk for some time, lost in a stack of "I'll get to it later" papers. A buried treasure! Now unearthed, I want to set this gem on display for you. Take your time with it, and benefit from Ryle's biblical clarity, spiritual urgency, and pastoral encouragement.

    Below you will find links to the document and to an audio recording of it. Further down is my outline. Use each of these in whatever way helps you most.

    I leave you now with Ryle's words as my own:

    I offer these points for your private consideration. I do it in all humility. I know no one who needs to be reminded of them more than I do myself. But I believe them to be God’s own truth, and I desire myself and all I love to feel them more.

    I want the times we live in to be praying times. I want the Christians of our day to be praying Christians. I want the church to be a praying church. My Heart’s desire and prayer in sending forth this tract is to promote a spirit of prayerfulness. I want those who never prayed yet, to arise and call upon God, and I want those who do pray, to see that they are not praying amiss.


    A Call to Prayer

    (Click to access the tract in the file format of your choice.)


    Audio Recording

    (Click to listen to the tract on YouTube.)


    A Call to Prayer.pdf

  • Thinking About Vacation

    New City Fellowship’s first Sunday service was held in October 2015. Since then, God graciously used me to fill a pulpit (mostly at NCF, of course) every Sunday. That was 88 Sundays. I thank God for giving me the strength to do that. I am amazed by the examples of men who God used to preach his Gospel over longer, more intense, and more arduous stretches than mine. I am thankful for the rest I enjoyed with my family this past week.

    My wife’s family holds a reunion every few years. Her dad's siblings and their families come together from all over the country for a week together at some central location. This year's reunion was in Minnesota. So Debbie and I drove there with our two little girls. We travelled there by way of Chicago. After leaving the reunion, we came home via Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, camping along the shores of Lake Superior.

    My church family refreshes me. They (you) support me and my family in many ways, including letting us take some time away. In return, I hope it will be refreshing for my church family to be let in on some of my thoughts about our trip.

    I’ve organized these under three headings: (1) Glory, (2) Corruption, and (3) Contentment.

    Glory

    Friends. Lakes. Sunsets. Rainbows. Children. Ice cream. Wife. Beauty. Glory.

    God is gloriously beautiful, and you can see this in the world that he has made. The world is beautiful and enjoyable because God is beautiful and enjoyable. The glory of a sunset reflects the glory of God.

     “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20a).

     “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

     Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

    Going to unusually beautiful places is good. These are windows through which we see the glory of God. The vastness of Lake Superior is an arrow pointing to the incomprehensible depth of the wisdom of God. Seeing a row of wild lupines growing on an island reminds us that our Father in heaven clothes the flowers of the field. Taking in the many colors of a sunset provides a taste of the exquisitely complex beauty of our Savior.

    Corruption

    Hebrews 11 is known as “the Hall of Fame of Faith.” In that chapter, faith is defined and described. After demonstrating faith in the lives of past saints, the writer of the book of Hebrews concludes,

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 12:1–2)

    By faith in God’s promises, we set out on a journey away from our old home. By faith, we pursue a new home where God resides (Hebrews 11:8–16). And it is this very journey away from the old and toward the new that makes it clear that “sin…clings so closely.”

    No matter how many new and beautiful places you go, you will find that you take your old, dirty, sinful habits with you. I would argue that a 2100-mile car trip with an almost-2-year-old and a just-now-4-year-old (in adjacent car seats) is a wonderful tool for exposing impatience and selfishness in any dad! The unintelligible actions of other drivers, weariness from long days on the road, and on-the-spot decisions on where to go and how much time and money to spend—these all proved to be excellent scenarios for God to show me that my sin is the stain on his glorious world. Children are good. Marriage is good. Creation is good. Sin corrupts it all.

    It is humbling and refreshing to be shown these realities. My heart has been renewed in thankfulness for the promise of cleansing and forgiveness in Christ.

    Contentment

    “The Christian is the most contented man in the world, but he is the least contented with the world. He is like a traveler in an inn, perfectly satisfied with the inn and its accommodation, considering it as an inn, but putting quite out of all consideration the idea of making it his home.” — Charles Spurgeon

    We didn’t know quite where we would go after the reunion. Our decision to head toward Lake Superior came late, and we were not entirely prepared. But God provided in small, enjoyable ways. For example…

    Some family members were flying home from the reunion, so they gave us all their leftover groceries, including microwaveable rice, eggs, and spicy hummus. The next night at a hotel in Duluth, we cooked the bagged rice, and then reused the bag to cook scrambled eggs. With a little spicy hummus on top, the dish was quite appetizing! I was amused and humbled to see what God provided through ordinary means. Of course, we could’ve gone out to eat again, but honestly the rice and egg dish was better. I was (and am) in awe of my frugal wife who finds ways to conserve and enjoy God’s gifts in our lives.

    In our convenience-driven, preference-pursuing, prone-to-excess world, it is a strange experience to be compelled to live with what you have. Looking into the luggage, we were consistently confronted with evidence of both under-packing and overpacking. But there was always enough. Being content (“thankful for what you have”) is as good and holy as it is empowering and elusive. Paul describes it as a power-infused “secret” in Philippians 4:11–13. The more content we are, the fewer clouds there are in the way of seeing God’s kind provision in our lives. Here, thankfulness is less crowded. It flourishes, and its flowers are good. May God bless you with godliness and contentment as you journey here.

    I could go on, but I hope what I’ve written here helps you in your walk with our Savior. May God’s grace and peace be multiplied to you in Christ. 

  • Communion @ NCF

    We love Jesus. He is our Sovereign Servant, our Savior, and our King.

    It’s our habit to celebrate together at His Table every Sunday. …Why?

    The Bread and the Cup are a reminder of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and of the New Covenant he established for all who look to him with saving faith.

    It is a participation in the body and blood of Jesus that we enjoy together as a church.

    It is a declaration that Jesus is our greatest joy and our only Lord.

    It is an opportunity for us to reflect on the gravity of our sin, but most of all on the forgiving power of our Great Savior, whose blood was spilt and whose body was broken for us.

    Finally, the Table we celebrate isn’t only a proclamation of Jesus’ death, but also an eager anticipation of his glorious return.

    (Luke 22:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; 11:17-34)

    If you understand these things to be true;
    if you know Christ Jesus as your Savior and your Lord;
    and if you humbly and joyfully recognize your unity with other believers;
    then we welcome you to enjoy this Table with us.

    But if not, we urge you not to partake today.

    Instead, please think about these things,
    and talk with us after the service,
    to find out more know about the One who gave us this Table.

  • Meditating on the Word

    ...but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
    and on his law he meditates day and night."
    (Ps. 1:2)

    Don Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, is a helpful resource for growing in Christ. In chapter 3, he describes a number of ways for us to meditate on Scripture.

    But of course, spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, singing, etc.) are simply means to an end. The purpose of these discplines is to know Christ better, to rejoice in the gospel more earnestly, and to become more and more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29; 1 Tim. 4:7b–8). As Whitney puts it, the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life "are...derived from the gospel, not divorced from the gospel" (p. 8, emphasis original).

    For this reason, it does little good for us to meditate on the word unless the Word first dwells in us! When we meditate on Scripture, we do it to encounter a Person, not merely to understand a set of principles. We study the Bible not primarily to understand what God wants us to do, but most essentially to learn what he has already done for his people in Christ Jesus. All of our spiritual growth is rooted in Jesus the Messiah (Col. 2:6–7). We never move past the gospel.

    With that said, below is a summary of some of Whitney's suggestions for Bible meditation. These are the ones that I (Pastor Josh) find particularly helpful for my own meditation on God's word, and so I thought I'd share them with you all.

    1. Emphasize different words in the text

     This method helps us slow down and savor each word. For example, 

                  "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23)

                  "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"

                 " for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"

                    etc.

    2. Rewrite the text in your own words (paraphrase it)

    Use your own words, but stay true to the biblical meaning.

    3. Summarize the passage. What does it teach? What's the main idea? (What does it teach you about God? About man? About God's plan?)

    Try to give the passage a title. What's it about? (Try to ignore your English translation's heading, if it has one.)

    4. Think of an illustration of the text—what picture/life experience helps you understand it?

    "He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good..." (Matt. 5:45). The next time you're enjoying a sunny day at the park, look around and let this passage sink in.

    5. Think about an applicaiton of the text to your own life.

    "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). See also Luke 23:34. Go. 

    6. Ask, "How does this passage point to Jesus?"

    Read the gospels often, taking notes on the life and teachings of Jesus. Note Luke 24:27. For an example, read Psalm 23 and John 10:10–18

    7. Pray through the text.

    See the examples in Daniel 9 and Acts 4:24–30. One reason that God spoke his word to us is so that we would have words to speak to him. 

    8. Memorize the text.

    A challenge to do, but so worth it! Start small. Practice often. For incentive, see Psalm 119:11 and Colossians 3:16.

    9. Create an artistic expression of the text.

    I used to do this with my Christian school students. Each day for homeroom, we would read a chapter of the Proverbs, and they would draw a picture of one of the verses. It was a fun and helpful exercise. Often, my sermon notes (the ones I take in the pew if I happen to have the privilege of sitting and listening to a sermon) are in the form of diagrams and flowcharts. I like to use at least 3 colors of highlighters. Do what works for you.

    10. Make observations of the text.

    This should be listed first here, because you can't say what something means until you've determined what is says. For example, how many wise men visited baby Jesus at the manger (Hint:  that is a trick question). For an exercise, try to make 10 obersations of Romans 3:23. Here's a start. (1) Romans 3:23 is given as a reason of what came before it, since it starts with the word "for." (2) "All" means everyone—both Jew and Gentile. (3) "All have sinned." (4) "All...have fallen short." (5) There is a relationship between sinning and falling short. (6) God has glory ...

    11. Read an entire book of the Bible, and trace the line of thought/argument.

    This is an especially good method for meditating on New Testament epistles. You might like to try Galatians or Ephesians first. As you go along, be asking, how does one part lead to the next? How does the next part add to the first? Try to make an outline of the book's major sections.

    Every blessing to you in Christ as you seek to know him better by meditating on his word. May you be "like a tree..." (Psalm 1:3). 

  • Hymnals @ NCF!

    "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

    - Colossians 3:16

    As this passage from Colossians shows, singing is essential to the Christian life. And, of course, singing is also one of the major components of our weekly worship services. The music ministry at New City continues to develop as we constantly seek the best ways for us to encourage one another, and to worship our God, through song. I am looking foward to exploring and growing together with our entire church body in our ability to praise our King.

    We give thanks to God for music! We also give thanks to him for his giving Glena and Wes to us, to serve us in our corporate singing. Recently, Wes was able to attend the Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. He gained some valuable insight there into leading our congregation in song. More specifically, he came back with one main idea for enriching our singing at New City:  hymnals

    Here's what Wes is thinking:

    "We should consider purchasing hymnals as a church.  Each of us would get the number of hymnals that we would need for our household. This hymnal would be a book that belongs to you, and that you would keep with you throughout the week. It will help you to be prepared for our weekly worship, to sing songs with your family, and to learn new songs on your own.

    As one historical lesson, Martin Luther took time to create the hymnbooks used by early Lutheran churches. He did this because he understood that our singing truth helps us to think about it, to feel it, to memorize it, to pray, to know it, to live it, and to get it woven into our lives.

    A hymnbook would help give us a broad variety of songs to sing, each with new things to teach us about God.  It will help us to think more on the fullness of the glory of God's character.

    A hymnbook provides quality. The hymnal we're considering to use at New City Fellowship is called Hymns of Grace. To be selected for this hymnbook, songs must be theologically and melodically excellent. These kinds of songs will help us to better understand and worship our Father. 

    A hymnbook has an additional benefit:  Sacred music should be more than just something we do together on Sunday.  It should be done in our homes, and with our families. It should be part of our daily worship.  We wouldn't want to purchase hymnals merely as books to sit in the back of a pew (or in a storage closet, in our case). Instead, we would want our hymnals to be a part of our everyday worship.  These songs will help show us the deep riches of the wonder of the God of the Bible in a way that is memorable, repeatable and singable.  They will help us memorize and build our lives upon God’s promises, and on the work He has done for His people throughout history."

    I am humbled and excited about this opportunity! I agree with Wes that this could be a good way for us to grow together in the knowledge and grace of our God. Stay tuned for details!

    Grace & peace,

    -Pastor Josh

  • Enjoying the Lord’s Table—Together!

     We celebrate communion every week at New City Fellowship. We do this for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that the Table expresses our fellowship with Jesus through the Gospel. Another reason is that the Table emphasizes our unity with one another in Christ. The Lord's Table is a gift of God's grace that we're eager to enjoy together. 

    Who's Invited?

    Two spiritual realities qualify us to enjoy the Bread and the Cup.

    First, the Table is for us who are “in Christ.” It is for us who gladly trust Jesus as our Savior and our King. The Table is not for those who don’t know Christ, and it is not for those who are rejecting Christ.  But the Table is for us who “participate in” the blood and body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16).

    Second, the Table is for us who are in Christ together. This means that when I come to the Table, I recognize that I’m not feasting alone. Instead, I enjoy this meal with my brothers and sisters in Christ who are at the Table with me. In fact, we participate in this Table as one body (1 Corinthians 11:17–34).

    Therefore, if we are united to Christ by faith, and if we are living in right relationship with our fellow believers, then we are ready to rejoice together with Jesus at his Table. We are ready to “proclaim” the Gospel together “until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

    Two Table Rules

    When I come to the Table, I must understand the following two table rules.

    First, I must remember that I don’t invite myself to the Table, and I don’t earn a spot at the Table by means of my own efforts or performance. I don’t qualify myself. The truth is that being “qualified” for something is not the same as “earning” it. For example, my two-year-old daughter is “qualified” to eat at our family’s breakfast table. She is qualified to eat with us not because she earned the right, but simply because she is our daughter. She is qualified because she is “in” our family. So it is with the Lord’s Table. I don’t invite myself, but instead Jesus has invited me (Isaiah 55:1–2; Matthew 11:27–30). The Table communicates what is given to me, not what is earned by me (Luke 22:19–20). Praise God that he invites us to his banquet, even though (or better, since) we could never pay him back (Luke 14:12–14)! I come to the Table to receive from Jesus. God himself has qualified me to participate (Colossians 1:12). Let’s praise the glory of His sovereign grace!

    Second, I must understand that unity is not the same thing as maturity. A unified body is a body in which all the parts are working together in harmony, and where each member does its part. A unified body is a body that will grow to maturity (Ephesians 4:1–16). But it is important to understand that being “together” at the Table is about unity, not maturity.  Again, my two-year-old daughter is an example. She’s not yet a “mature” eater. She squirms in her seat, uses her fingers instead of a fork, and a lot of her food ends up where it wasn’t intended to go (for example, the floor, her face, or to the now-happy dog). She’s not yet a “mature” eater—but she is a unified eater! It’s not just her hands or her mouth that comes to the breakfast table, but she comes there as a whole person. Just like the parts of her body work together to digest the meal, so also our unity together in the church enables us to “digest” God’s love (Ephesians 3:17–19). When we come to our Lord’s Table, we come to it unified, and growing to maturity.

    Therefore, to be “living in right relationship with my fellow believers” emphasizes our unity, not necessarily our maturity. This means that I come to the Table recognizing the “one body” that we are together in Christ (Ephesians 2:14–16; 4:4). To “discern the body” (1 Corinthians 11:29) is to live in light of our unity with one another in Christ. It means I am living in Jesus-like love toward my fellow believers (1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 4:31–5:2). Without question, we all  have a lot of spiritual growing to do! But our unity at the Table rejoices in the fact that we are growing in God’s grace together!

    In practical terms, this means that if I have sinned against one of my fellow saints, then I am seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. It means that I am always giving my fellow saints “the benefit of the doubt.” I do not entertain suspicions about them, and I refrain from criticizing them. Instead, I understand that we are united in love (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). I come to the Table while loving my brothers and sisters in Christ, and giving thanks for them precisely because Jesus loves them and has chosen us all to be beloved guests at his Table.

    Enjoying the Table—Together

    And so we come to the Table not focused on us, but focused on Jesus. We come with humble gratitude, saying to Jesus, “Thank you for inviting us to your Table! What a feast you have prepared for us!”

    When we come to the Table each week, our focus must be on Jesus. He is the one who invites us, qualifies us, and unites us together to enjoy fellowship together and with him.

    What amazing grace! What an amazing Savior!