Agreeing With God Against Ourselves

As Christ-followers, do we still need to acknowledge our sins? In the prayer Jesus himself taught his disciples, we find this request: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4).

When repentance is part of the reconciliation process for human relationships (as described in Luke 17:3–4), why wouldn’t it be part of our relationship with our heavenly Father? Do we expect to remain close to him if we refuse to be honest about doing things he wouldn’t have wanted us to do?

In the January issue of The Lookout (I know I’m going back a bit, but it was a good article!), one author described confession as “agreeing with God against ourselves” (p. 39, “An Obedient Faith”). Yes, God already knows what we’ve done, but dealing with a fault requires first acknowledging it — agreeing that we were in the wrong. Without that admission, how can we begin to receive his grace or make a change?

Moreover, James suggests that we need to confess not only directly to God, but also to each other: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). This is hard to do, and puzzling besides — what does physical healing have to do with it? All I can say here is that God chooses how to administer grace to us, and we choose whether or not to receive it.

When we come together, we may sing a song of confession, or one of the leaders may pray a prayer of confession on everyone’s behalf. You can think of this as part of the way in which worship services are like training wheels for our lives as Jesus’ disciples — not the full expression of our praise, prayer, fellowship, study, or giving; but a short time in which we get to do, and learn how to do, these things, along with each other.

I believe that confession is essential to our relationship with God. When his truth enters our lives, we must agree with him against ourselves in order to make space for his mercy and renewal.

David Mitchell,
Worship Arts Director

Priestly Assignment

“The image [of God] is a vocation, a calling. It is the call to be an angled mirror, reflecting God’s wise order into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to the Creator. That is what it means to be the royal priesthood: looking after God’s world is the royal bit, summing up creation’s praise is the priestly bit,” says N.T. Wright.

The rest of creation may do very well at praising God, but it doesn’t seem to understand that it does so. As far as we know, humans alone have been given the ability to see the relationship between the creation and its Creator. Thus, part of our job is to collect and direct, or “sum up,” creation’s praise to God. Made able to recognize the goodness of what he has made and praise him for it, we act as the contact point between God and his world.

In his book The Lost World of Adam and Eve, from which the above N.T. Wright quote comes, John Walton examines how Genesis 2–3 points to a priestly role for humanity. (Thanks to Larry for loaning it to me!) The Garden of Eden is connected with the later Israelite tabernacle/temple, as well as other ancient temple stories of the region, by its description as a place of bounty and beauty where God makes himself specially present in a way that people can meet him. While a pagan temple would be complete neither without an idol to represent the god nor without a priest to serve the god, Eden is completed with Adam and Eve. They were to both serve God and represent him!

This idea of royal priests echoes through the Bible, as God continues working to establish the order that he desires in his creation. After Adam and Eve, he chose Israel (Exodus 19:6), then the Church (1 Peter 2:9). In Revelation, from 1:6 to 22:5, John repeatedly speaks of those whom Jesus has redeemed as a kingdom of priests who will reign on the earth. All along God has sought to have people, who bear his image, to actually function as his intermediaries for the world.

How are we fulfilling this call to represent God in the world and direct its praise back to him? I admit that I haven’t thought much about this divine purpose in my own life. But I fear we are always mirroring in some way, whether we think about it or not: we are reflecting something to the world and something back from the world. By God’s grace, may we pour out praise to its rightful recipient and brightly reflect his image in the world.

— David Mitchell, Worship Arts Director

Language for Life

Note: These are my remarks from our vision service on January 4th, just slightly adapted. — David

I want you to consider the importance of what we sing together (as you might expect, given my role here). Now, that’s certainly not the only important thing we do when we gather, but these songs do give us the words that we use to address God and tell each other about him.

Let me illustrate that: You may remember a song we started singing in November of 2015. It had just started getting radio airplay, after Chris Tomlin released his version of it. It’s called “Good, Good Father.” Now, I want you to think about how often you’ve heard God addressed as a “good Father” in prayer since then. Hasn’t that song affected how we talk to God? I think that’s a good thing, because it’s true — he’s a good Father.

We don’t often recite creeds here at Cornerstone, but our songs work much the same way. These words deeply affect our picture of God and ourselves, and come out — sometimes directly — in the way we talk to him and each other. As I shared last year, I’ve experienced times of both gratitude and grief when the words that came to my mind and mouth were song lyrics.

So as we continue to pursue discipleship this year, my understanding of how the music team fits into that has not changed much. The songs may be new or old, popular or obscure, but above all, I pray, they will be true. Keep singing with us, or maybe start singing with us, and let me know how it affects you. And consider the value of what we’re singing. Do you believe it, or not? Does it match up with scripture, or not? Does it affect how you live, or not?

Of course, we don’t listen to music or even sing only at, and with, the church. I’m not here to pick on your choice of radio stations, Spotify playlists, or CDs, but I do want to remind you — and myself — that what we listen to and sing has a tendency to get into our minds and hearts and affect what we want. If we’re seeking to be Jesus’ disciples, then God’s kingdom and God’s will should be at the top of the list of what we want. And so we might have to modify what we listen to, or watch, or read, in order for that to happen.

I will leave you to decide where you need to apply this in your life, but let me close with the apostle Paul’s words from his letter to the Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Why Celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

Say you went to a family reunion where, during the meal, no one talked to or even looked at each other. Instead, everyone just stared down at their plates. What would you think? Would you assume that all is well within the family, or that something is wrong?

The Discipline of Celebration

We are looking back to Jesus’ death in the Lord’s Supper, which encourages a certain solemnity. However, if not for Jesus’ resurrection, there would be little reason to remember his death. It would have been simply the loss of another man, albeit one who had said and done some amazing things. But the resurrection proves his identity as the Messiah (or Christ), the promised King of God’s people. Not only that, we learn that his death brings not further condemnation, but rather freedom from our own sins!

We continue to remember his death now because it means our life. We’ve been brought back into God’s family within Christ’s body — clothed in him and made a part of him. We are made one with Jesus along with the other members of his body. The one meal reminds us of our common hope, identity, and purpose.

Thanksgiving at the Lord’s Table

As we see when the apostle Paul wrote to Corinth about the problems in their meetings, the Supper was a true meal for the early church. He said that they were not really eating the Lord’s Supper at all, however, because one might start into it early and feast to the point of drunkenness, while another who arrived later left hungry! He criticized them not for their lack of solemnity (of course, he addresses gluttony and drunkenness in other places), but for their selfish lack of care for one another. They were completely missing the point of the Supper by not recognizing the value of every member in the “body of Christ” — the people that Jesus died to redeem and unite.

So we certainly can go wrong, but not, I believe, by approaching the Lord’s Supper in an attitude of joy. How can we not be joyful if we recognize how much God has done for us through Jesus? Rather, if we fail to concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters’ needs, we have failed to discern the body of Christ around us. Yet we are saved only by being in him, in his church. If we refuse to recognize, participate in, and care for his body, the Church, we cut ourselves off from that one means of salvation.

Sipping the Coming Joy

When we come to the table, let’s come in celebration, looking back to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and looking forward to his coming again. Let’s look around at his body and remember that we are not alone. This is a family reunion — a small one, anticipating a much larger one. God’s family will one day no longer be separated by divisions or death. Let’s celebrate the Supper like we appreciate what Jesus has done for us: God and sinner reconciled!

— David Mitchell, Worship Arts Director

A previous version of this article was published in the November 2016 newsletter. For more on this topic, listen to or watch Larry Hunt’s sermon “For the Life of the World: Wonder” (October 30, 2016) and Bob Paddock’s sermon “You Asked for It: Why Water into Wine?” (August 6, 2017).

The Pleasure of Praise

Good things naturally receive our praise: “What a beautiful day!” “That was an amazing three-pointer.” “I love that song.” “Did you see that movie?” But we struggle to extend our praise to the source of all good things, God. We may even wonder why the Psalms are full of commands to sing in praise to him — shouldn’t we choose when and how to do so? Shouldn’t it be more … authentic?

Say one evening I go up to J.T.’s at the Lavalette. I walk in and am seated, place my order, eat a prime rib steak and a salad and a sweet potato, pay, and drive home — but choose to never comment on my meal, or to take an extra moment to savor what I’m eating, or even to smile in pleasure. Afterwards, I never talk about it or even reflect on it again. Wouldn’t I have been about as well off if I had gotten fast food or heated up a microwave dinner that night? Obviously, J.T.’s food won’t objectively be any different depending on whether I express appreciation for it or not. However, my level of satisfaction will be different!

I submit that when God’s Word calls us to praise him, it urges us to do what will actually bring us the greatest satisfaction and joy. When we fail to praise him, we don’t diminish him. But we do impoverish our own lives. By singing together, acknowledging God’s power and purity and love, we can begin to take pleasure in knowing our Creator, our Father, our King, our Redeemer — the source of all good things.

David Mitchell

Breaking the Silence

What if God never spoke?

What if He hadn’t told us, through Moses and the prophets, how we got here? That He created us to live in His presence? How everything went wrong? What it looks like to live a life that honors Him? About His intention to someday recreate broken people and a broken world?

No knowledge of the meaning of life or its source. No understanding of how we were separated from Him and each other. No promise of restoration for us and our world.

What if we didn’t know, through the apostles, that God had come to live in our presence? That He, somehow born a man, had finally been the man to live a life that fully honored God — for us? That we can become a part of the people that God is restoring to live in the world which He will also restore?

No understanding of the depths of God’s love. No knowledge of how to be reconciled with Him and His people. No assurance that God will accomplish His purposes in spite of our failures.

Each week when we gather, you can expect to see scripture displayed (and sometimes read) before we sing our first song. If God had not spoken to us first, what could we say to Him? But through His word He invites us to know who He is, and to join all the saints and angels in proclaiming His glory and goodness. All we say is in response to Him, because He spoke.

David Mitchell