No Undiscovered Lurking-places

On God’s call to Abram (Genesis 12:1) to leave and seek what he could not see:

[I]t is not to be supposed, that God takes a cruel pleasure in the trouble of his servants; but he thus tries all their affections, that he may not leave any lurking-places undiscovered in their hearts.

—John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis

Breaking the Divide

When Jesus instituted the Supper He was in the middle of the Passover Feast. Jesus was a Jew, His disciples were all Hebrews, and so they were observing a national event in Israel. Some twenty-five years later Paul wrote 1 Corinthians which included an extensive section about observing communion. By that time the Supper had clearly crossed national boundaries. Perhaps there were some Jewish members of the church in Corinth but many were Gentiles.

Jew/Gentile fellowship is a frequent issue from Acts into the Epistles. The apostle Paul famously wrote:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Even to mention Jews and Gentiles together would have angered Jews and offended Gentiles. Read 1 Maccabees for some history of violence. Then read the Gospels for inspired accounts of hostility. For centuries there had been bitter fights, exile and captivity and death, if not of themselves, of their ancestors. The Passover itself was a deliverance from a brutal enemy. This was a relationship with very little peace.

Yet we can look back into the earlier chapters of the story (such as Genesis 10) to see how God’s power propelled man’s fruitfulness and then pushed man to the far corners of the earth. His power established boundaries, His power caused kingdoms to rise and fall, His power sent rain and sun to grow food, His power made hearts beat. We live in a world that runs on His power and for His purposes.

His purposes include a global kingdom for His Son. God’s power created nations and God’s gospel breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between the nations (see Ephesians 2:14). So we have no need to be ashamed of the gospel. Let us celebrate His sovereign grace and His international rule through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

No Stand Ins

The first of the Ten Commandments prohibits the worship of false gods. The second prohibits false worship of the true God.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4–6)

God, apart from Jesus–whom the original recipients of the Decalogue did not know, does not have physical dimensions or limitations, so any sculpted or painted artwork intended to depict Him directly is lying. It is a false representation of God so it cannot honor Him. Even though creation points to God, nothing in the ocean, on land, or in the sky can stand in for Him.

God desires exclusive worship and He wants that worship to be pure. He forbids whatever would misrepresent and distract from the revelation of Himself in the Word.

It is interesting that He attaches His own jealous character as a reason for this commandment rather than to idolatry. Those who claim to worship Him alone but who worship Him according to their own imaginations will be punished generationally. Certainly this applied to Israel, but Peter’s description of “futile ways inherited from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18) seems related. Error propagates. Error about God is itself one of the judgments on those who hate God.

On the other hand, God spreads blessing over and through those who love Him. Well beyond three or four generations, His steadfast love extends “to thousands.” Our obedience to His commandments starts with undivided and undistracted worship in spirit and truth.

Why My Night Was Like a Storybook

I spent some time in the hospital last week and my oldest daughter wrote the following story putting together some details from her visit and additional info from her mom. We thought it was funny and, since she doesn’t have her own blog (yet), worth sharing here.

Why My Night Was Like a Storybook
By Maggie Higgins
 It all started when my dad got sick. It wasn’t a normal sickness. It started as a normal cold around Christmas. It got horrible quickly, a bad cough, congestion, so on, and lasted so for about two weeks. After this it died down a bit, but he was obviously still sick. Mom wasn’t worried. It was just a weird virus.
   Two months later, my dad was getting worse. Finally, on February 1, my mom decided that he needed to go to the doctor. That day his best friend, who also was my headmaster, had told Mom that Dad was not doing good, and needed some sort of medical attention. Apparently, at a meeting earlier in the day, he had been white as new pair of tights, and had eaten half a “girl sized pizza, standing up.” This is not normal behavior for a full grown man, even if he has a cold. We went home from school and tried to be quiet while Mom and Dad conversed over his medical fate. In the end they decided that he would go to the doctor that very night and try to figure out what was wrong with him.
   After me and my three siblings got home from swimming, things started to happen. While we were eating dinner and wondering if they had figured anything out by now, Mom showed up with some news. The doctor did not like what he was seeing, and had decided to send Dad to the nearest hospital by ambulance. Of course we were worried, he is the best dad in the world, and always will be. The shock wasn’t unbearable though, seeing as it was not as bad as the time we found out he had cancer. (Different story, different time.) So anyway, Mom went down to spend some time with Dad and hear what the doctors had to say.
   Me and my siblings all slept in the same room. This was for the comfort of the two youngest, because they were sad and did not like the present situation in which they found themselves. After telling them a bedtime story along the lines of, "Three cats lived…then they died," we all fell asleep and stayed so for a few hours.
   My Mom came in around 1:30 in the morning. Dad had low blood pressure and a high heart rate, probably caused by intestinal bleeding. Of course, I only found this out later, because I was sound asleep on the floor.
   The next morning we went to school like normal, except for the fact that Dad didn't come to teach his normal classes because he was still in the hospital. People at school were very understanding. They made cards (21 in all), made us dinner, and gave us hugs. After school we found out that Dad wasn't coming home that night, and they hadn't found where he was bleeding from internally. Mom took us kids to visit him.
   Dad being sick wasn't really what I want you to hear about. I want you to know about the crazy roommate on the other side of the curtain in Dad's room.
   As you walked into the hospital room, my Dad was on the nearest side to the door. This meant that I didn't see the crazy man on the other side very much, but I did get a few glimpses and enough audio and stories from my mom to put together a rather interesting sketch of this man.
   Have you read N.D. Wilson’s Dragon’s Tooth? If you have, you have met the old man named William Skelton, or Billy Bones. The Man Across the Curtain was pretty much the human form of Skelton. I for one, would not have been surprised if the hospital had started burning down because of his old friends, or if he beckoned me and my brother over to tell us that we were his heirs. But alas, all the satisfaction I got was listening to him rant to his phone, and the stories that my mother told me later.
   He was an older man, around the ages of 60-65. His white hair reached to his shoulders, and he had the beginnings of a white beard. He had a pirately face, and looked as if he ought to have a parrot sitting on his shoulder. If he had, the language of that parrot would have been abominable, for the man himself was not the cleanest of mouth. I shall leave out the unclean words for sake of your dignity and clean mind. My mom saw him a little in the many hours that she spent in the crowded room, and she said that his skin was the color of a highlighter, most likely from drinking too much alcohol. Later Dad told us that he had heard the man telling the nurse that on some days he could end up drinking 190 oz. of any alcoholic beverage. Clearly this man had a bad life, and was trying to escape from it for a while when he could.
   He was very proud of his white hair. Mom told us that the nurse had brought him some cleaning essentials including a comb, and he had started brushing it. After a few seconds he made sounds like an angry bull, picked up his phone, called his friend, and yelled, “BRING ME MY BRUSH! This stupid hospital comb is RUINING my hair!” Of course, this is the more digestible version of what he said; there was a little more that was actually said.
   Beside his alcohol problems, he seemed to have a great deal of illegal substances hid away that his friend needed to find for him. Along with his mind, his furniture seemed to be going missing. For instance, his friend didn’t know where the man’s sofa was, and he was selling his tv. This man could definitely have been part of Phoenix's gang of mad men with bone tattoos. I would not have been surprised a bit if he had.
   This man was one part of my story book night, the other was a motel sign and rain. After leaving the hospital and getting a soda and cookie for us all, we stopped at a red light. Me and Mom felt all of a sudden that we were inside of the book by N.D. Wilson. Crazy old men, crazy circumstances. And now there was a heavy rain and broken motel signs were all around on the streets we drove through. All we needed was a lightning bug and old tooth. After all, who says that fiction isn’t true?
P.S. Some poetic license was taken in order to make my interesting night into a story that could convey the "adventure" that I had that night.

A Fight to the Death

Abortion does not make sense. It is, and always has been, “fatal violence–against the most helpless members of our human community.” But many in our generation are frantic to deny this reality, so a testimony like that in When Abortion Suddenly Stopped Making Sense is potent.

[Abortion] gets presented as if it’s a tug of war between the woman and the baby. We see them as mortal enemies, locked in a fight to the death. But that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? It must be the first time in history when mothers and their own children have been assumed to be at war. We’re supposed to picture the child attacking her, trying to destroy her hopes and plans, and picture the woman grateful for the abortion, since it rescued her from the clutches of her child.

Communion Against Abortion

Here is an outrageous claim that I believe is true:

We must rejoice more when we remember Christ in communion if we want to stop abortion in our nation.

The decision of Roe v. Wade came 43 years ago last Friday. Since 1973 over 59 million unborn babies have been killed that we know about in the United States. God knows how many have not been counted.

The Supreme Court’s decision and its consequences have worked alongside a swelling cultural desire to stifle faith. You can believe whatever you want as long as you believe that your faith can’t breathe in public. Faith, if it must exist, cannot be allowed to grow to full term. This is analogous to abortion, a desire to kill any fruit.

Living faith has two eyes to see, two ears to hear, a mouth to speak, two hands to work with, and two legs to stand on. Watch out for living faith. Living faith is fruitful. Living faith is dangerous to the status quo. Living faith is a weapon against selfishness and greed and fear, our own and then our community. Living faith makes those who don’t have it afraid.

Which is why our celebration in communion is so crucial. Any external fixes, including changes in the legal and medical and cultural policies on abortion, must be driven by internal faith in Jesus Christ. The gospel is our only hope of salvation, but those who are saved by faith will live by faith. This is a meal that nourishes our faith. We eat and drink and our gladness grows, our hope blooms, and our union with the Head–Christ–and His body is sensed.

The evil one sows doubt. The world suffocates conviction. Our own flesh attacks trust. But faith that is fed conquers kingdoms, enforces justice, obtains promises, and is made strong out of weakness. Faith that is fed is ready to be imprisoned, mocked, mistreated, and sawn in two. Faith lived out makes us men and women of whom the world is not worthy (see Hebrews 11:32-38), and it will have an impact on generations yet to be born.

Busts along the Wall

We started a string of exhortations on the Ten Commandments and last week we considered how Jesus summarized the first four commands by calling men to love God with all that they are (Matthew 22:37-38). It is also true that all men must love God, and all of man’s love must be for God, not split among gods.

In Exodus 20 we read that God spoke the following words (verse 1), starting with a reminder to the Israelites that He delivered them out of Egypt (verse 2). Because of His saving work, they were to worship Him only.

You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

The words “before me” could be read as if one were sorting a list by priority; i.e., put eggs above milk. But that’s not what it means here. God is not requiring the right ordering of busts along the pantheon wall. The LORD did not command them to make Him the first chair in their orchestra of gods, He commanded their undivided worship. There are to be no others in addition to, none together with, none other “besides” Him.

The words “before me” also indicate that the first commandment is of first concern to God. In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “These words before me…teach us that God, who sees all things, takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god.” The Lord is close and pays close attention to whomever (or whatever) else we worship.

While it’s true that the LORD hasn’t chosen the United States as His covenant people, we still owe our existence to Him individually and collectively. By His common grace He has blessed us greatly but we have given glory to those which are not gods. Some god is always being praised and obeyed in public view, even if that is us–the people. Apart from repentance and faith and thanks to God our nation will continue to deserve His wrath.

Likewise, in the church we are often distracted, if not at times even acting as if we were independent of Him. But more than Israel’s exodus, He has delivered us from our slavery to sin. He has brought us out of a house of darkness and death. Therefore we are responsible to acknowledge all things as being from Him and through Him and to Him alone.

Chosen Symbols

Why do we observe communion? We do it because Jesus gave the ordinance to His disciples and commanded them to keep it until He returns. We eat the bread and drink the cup because He gave His Word.

Without His Word the Lord’s Supper would be a superstitious snack, a ritual resulting from man’s imagination and upheld by man’s tradition. It might make a man feel good or even think about good things but it would have no authority. Being man-made would also make it open to constant challenge. Who’s to say what the bread or wine might represent? Who’s to say that either represents anything at all?

Jesus said. He chose a body and blood and He chose symbols for both. He wanted us to think, but He also wanted us to do more than think. He wanted us to remember in our minds as we chew and drink with our mouths. His Word tells us to eat and drink, what to eat and drink, why to eat and drink, and what happens to us when we eat and drink. By faith we are fed, we are united together, and we proclaim the Lord’s death.

So think about the glory of the cross whenever you want, but think and eat baked grain and drink pressed grapes according to His Word. The cup of wine blesses us as we participate in the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). The bread is one, and we who are many are one body partake of the one bread as we participate in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17). We are not following cleverly devised myths, but we are following a fully confirmed word.