That Big Piece of Leftover Cheesecake

I want to address a subject where angels fear to tread: dieting. I could give an amount of qualifiers named Legion. Gluttony is a sin out of the shrink-wrapped box; maybe I’ll try to tighten a belt around that later. I’m also aware that we should be good stewards of the temple of the Holy Spirit, that nourishment and activity are important. To be disciplined is not a sin. To diet itself is not to sin, but there is a certain sin that threatens dieters more than that big piece of leftover cheesecake in the fridge. The threat is discontent.

In Genesis 1:29 we read that God told Adam and Eve to behold all the fruits and vegetables for food. After the flood He includes meat on the menu for man. And the New Testament is full of warnings about those who require abstinence from certain foods, who say do not taste, and who define righteousness by foods eaten or rejected. Those who do that are in danger of denying what God says is good.

Maybe you need to discipline your intake. Maybe. But why? Who says? Was it an afternoon television doctor? And how do you think about food during the day? How are you thinking about the One who created and provided that food? It is possible for a person to be counting calories out of contentment, but it is very difficult. To be in this ample position, we have probably not needed to pray too often, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Perhaps we’ve eaten bread from five days in the future, and there are plenty more carbs where that came from. This provision, and the need to be disciplined rather than desperate, is a blessing. This is God’s gift. Our ability to give thanks is likely to give out before our waistline.

If we are giving thanks in want and in plenty, content in all our circumstances, joyful in feasting and dieting, then we are likely living in fellowship with God. If we are grumbling (or feeling guilty) because we’ve got too much, or grumbling because we’ve have so much we must forgo, then we are likely not in fellowship with Him and good chances are that we’re not in fellowship with each other either. How we eat or drink or don’t is an opportunity to glorify God.

More Than Thinking

One reason that the ordinances seem weird to us is that we have trouble believing that what we do in the body matters. There is plenty of mental and verbal pieces to our spiritual lives. We’re people who love prayer and Bible reading and singing and meditating on the law of the Lord. But while the Word explains the significance of the sacraments, the Word does not replace their blessings.

Baptism is a symbol of an invisible change; we have died, been buried, and were raised to walk in newness of life. The spiritual reality is represented externally. The physical act is visible. Likewise, with communion, the greatest thing we could ever think about–the love of God in the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of His sheep–God wants us to do more than think about. He wants us to eat.

Which is sort of surprising. Men keep messing up their desire for and use of food. In John 6, the crowd followed Him and wanted to make Him King because He had feed ten to fifteen thousand people from a few loaves and fish. He offered them a food that endures to eternal life. Wouldn’t it have been beneficial for Him to talk about it as something other than bread? When it came time to institute the Lord’s supper, why didn’t He choose something else that was clearly special, something sacred? The Corinthians abused it too, and Paul said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” But what makes the difference? It wasn’t the type of bread or wine. It was their attitude toward and use of the normal bread and wine before them.

God could have come up with any number of other ways to commemorate the good news of Christ giving His body and shedding His blood for sinners. But He took our common experience and transposed it. By faith we share mystical union with God and with each other through the earthly, material, ordinary bite of bread and swallow from a cup.

Dinner and Devotions

As we think about how God wants us to honor Him in His image, the opportunities are surprisingly practical. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul makes a series of arguments based on the fact that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” One result is that we can eat with unbelievers without worrying which gods they sacrifice to and, in our day, that applies even to the twin gods named Green and Gluten-free. We don’t need to ask questions about sustainable farming practices and fair-trade prices when we’re having dinner with our neighbor. Eat, enjoy, and don’t worry for sake of conscience. If you can partake with thankfulness, why should you be denounced because of that for which you give thanks?

The well-known conclusion Paul makes after the above is, “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). A body that hungers and thirsts, lips that can sip and teeth that can chew and tongues that can taste, food and drink themselves, are not only God’s ideas, they are God’s ideas about how He wants us to glorify Him. He made the things, and He made them means by which to honor His name.

How we do dinner is as important as how we do devotions. We aren’t necessarily glorifying God in doing devotions because it is a “spiritual” act any more than we necessarily can’t glorify Him in dinner because it is an “earthly” act. Which is better? Devotions done in the flesh (to honor you and how much you know and how disciplined you are) or dinner done in gratitude? Duh.

Let us not be more spiritual than God. Let us not decide for ourselves what glorifies Him. We don’t obligate Him by doing more of the activities that we think are Christian especially if we ignore the rest of what He says, including “whether you eat or drink.” And let us not grow weary in doing good. Once we realize that anything lawful could glorify Him, even our daily dinner, we may be tempted to be overwhelmed that there is so much. Do what you can, with the food on your table and the person sitting next to you.

Image Conscious

We live in a society that places a lot of weight on appearance. Red carpet events devote extra attention to what the stars wear and, at the other end of the spectrum, even those who don’t wear anything are trying to make a statement by how they look. As usual, it is not whether or not you’re going to present an image, but which image are you presenting?

Christians ought to be the most image conscious of all. Our problem isn’t that we want to make a certain appearance too much, it’s that sometimes we want to make the wrong appearance. But for those who have “learned Christ,” we must “put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

All of this is true: we were made in God’s image, we are created after the likeness of God in salvation, and we must put on the new self that God recreated. We can’t create ourselves or make ourselves new, but we can wear the new clothes He got for us.

The Lord’s Table is part of the put off/put on work. We leave our soiled garments of sin and self-righteousness at the cross and we take up the body of the Lord as our own. We identify with Him in His righteous sacrifice and learn to dress in imitation of Him.

The Stamp of an Image-Bearer

The most heady and holy contemplation a human can have is considering himself or herself to be made in the image and likeness of God. No other breathing, let alone lifeless, creature in the universe bears this almost impossible weight of glory. Our existence reflects our Creator beyond His skill and power. Our existence reflects something in His nature.

How might this look day to day? What sort of celestial meditation or global enterprise or eternal longings should stamp an image-bearer of Elohim? A man who is mindful of his privilege will have certain big thoughts. But the apostle James says such awareness should also make a man shut his big mouth.

James illustrates the tongue as a ship’s rudder and a spark that sets a forrest ablaze with hell’s heat. He says the tongue “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:8-9). He’s addressing members of the church. Unbelievers don’t bless God or submit to Christ as Lord or claim the Father as Father. “From the same (Christian) mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (verse 10).

The more we appreciate our status as image-bearers, the more we worship God and are fitted for His glory, the more we will talk nicely about our neighbors. A salt pond can’t yield fresh water, and if there is no fresh water coming out of our mouths about our spouse, kids, boss, neighbors, mayor, barista, parents, Canadians, or fellow members of the body, then we don’t yet appreciate the doctrine of creation and man as the imago Dei.

A Resurrection Relationship

If you could have whatever you wanted, what would you want? If you could define yourself by anything, what would you want said about you? There is more than one good way to answer those questions as Christians, and certainly a variety of vain answers for unbelievers. But, at least in one place, the apostle Paul wrote that he wanted nothing more than a resurrection relationship.

He listed his religious assets early in Philippians 3, reasons he had for being confident in his flesh. These were the very things he counted “loss for the sake of Christ.” Then he revealed his value system in two sentences.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8–11)

A Christian want list: knowing Christ, gaining Christ, found in Christ, showing Christ’s sufferings, imitating Christ’s death, and attaining Christ’s resurrection. Christ has made us His own. He fellowships with us now. He promises to raise us from the dead so that we will fellowship with Him without end.

The communion table gives us a taste and increases our wants for the power of His resurrection. No other bread endures to eternal life. No other cup satisfies. When we identify with Him here by faith, He will identify with us and raise us up on the last day. That will be gain.

Every Lesson Is a Gift

What is missing most in most education? For me, my public schooling was more like a week-old donut hole: bite-size, dry, and missing much of the context. I missed many great books, in part because I didn’t read what I was assigned and in part because significant others weren’t assigned. I missed a definition of revolution and how our war against the British wasn’t properly one. I missed logic–formal and in blue jeans. These are just samples. But what I missed most was teaching to thankfulness.

We learned things but we didn’t have anyone to thank. To be consistent with the materialistic, evolutionary worldview that drove what we did, learning shouldn’t have been fun, it was merely in order to survive and advance. But if God created all things and sustains them by His Word, then every page of every lesson and every fact on earth is a gift. That’s how to get kids excited. Unwrap the present that is parts of speech and scientific classification and counting by tens and A Tale of Two Cities and see the tag “From: God.”

This is the advantage of Christian education. The Christian God gives. More than blindfolding students from unrighteousness in the world, teachers at a Christian school work to open eyes to see God’s glory in the world. We give thanks for Christ and through Christ and to Christ. Not anything that was made was not made by Him. It’s all His. He rules it. He cares about it. He gives it to us to enjoy and use.

So Christian education is not only learning the Bible but also learning how to see all the things we have to be thankful for. (And perhaps learning how to not end sentences with prepositions. Or split infinitives.)

How do we get all of it in? We can’t. We’re finite. But what kid rejects a gift because it is too big for his hands? We try to get a hold of as much as we can, and the process we use at our school is the Trivium. Here is the advantage of classical education as it follows the “three ways.”

The Grammar stage is nonstop collecting, ubiquitous capture, building mental shelves and loading them. During the elementary years we teach the ABCs and 1+1s and Genesis one and Romans one and details about wars and who won. The students drink up as much as possible from the ocean of knowable things. But it tastes sweet because it’s gift for which we can be grateful. The 10 Commandments, Egyptian history, Latin declensions, math investigations, Narnia, these are all notes and lyrics and parts for our songs.

At this age, one readily…rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. (Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”)

For example, this year our grammar students in Bible class are learning a ten minute song from Genesis to Joshua that includes events and dates and Bible chapter for the six days of creation, the call of Abraham, Joseph as a slave in Egypt, the plagues, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. Our kindergarten students are learning a rhyming rap about counting by tens. Our second year Latin students are translating Green Eggs and Ham (or Virent Ova! Viret Perna!). This is a lot of work, but it is not burdensome because we receive it as good from God.

Next comes the Logic stage, a phase that trains for attentive assessment. We do not often think of a junior higher as distinguished, but we can help him to be a distinguisher. Students learn formal logic, a thing to be thankful for itself, as a way to spot lies in what the world says to be thankful for (i.e., personal autonomy) and what the world says not to be thankful for (i.e., God’s laws). Students take the store of information they’ve collected and dissect it, debate over it, and come to some conclusions about thankfulness.

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands. (Sayers)

The Rhetoric stage is persuasive presentation, not learning to dress up like an insincere salesmen but rather learning to adorn the truth and win others to thankfulness for it. Not only can students avoid being manipulated by advertisers and media propaganda, they can articulate the truth better.

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
(Proverbs 16:23)

This year our older students have read works such as Pilgrim’s Progress, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and others to see what rhetoric looks like driving down the road. We recently read The Communist Manifesto and observed how it argued for a worldview of envy, not thankfulness.

Is this classical approach to education (the Trivium) particularly Christian? It is when it runs on the energy of gratitude and to the goal of gratitude. That said, we acknowledge that unbelievers can and do learn and teach many things. We even know how that’s possible.

Common grace is what happens when God allows non-believers to participate in and enjoy that which could not be true if their view of the universe were true. Common grace is the blessing that results when God allows non-believers to be inconsistent. (Doug Wilson, Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education)

Non-Christians can give thanks, but they can’t give thanks consistently. And Christians can only give thanks consistently because of the evangel (a great name for a school). The gospel frees us from discontent and opens our eyes to see God. We are thankful for open eyes, and we are thankful for all the things our now open eyes see that God has given.

Thankfulness keeps us sharp, always receiving (from God who doesn’t stop giving), always discerning (from the world who doesn’t stop lying, or from our own sin that keeps whining), and always declaring. Following the Trivium we learn how to keep learning, in particular, how to keep growing in our appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Classical Christian education isn’t a bore or a chore. It keeps kids interested because it’s all for them and shapes their loyalties to the Father of lights who gives every perfect gift. For that we can be thankful.

The Living and the Dead

If Christ is not risen from the dead, then we are all still in our sins. Christians believe that Christ is risen from the dead, but that does not mean that all are out of their sins. Christ is risen but not all believe in Him. Those who believe in the resurrected Savior know His justifying work. Those who do not believe in Him will know His judgement.

Christians celebrate the resurrection because judgement is over. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The propitiation and resurrection of Jesus shows that God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” For those outside of Christ, however, all those who do not trust in His sacrifice, justice will be done as they are punished for their sins.

God has appointed Jesus “to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5). That means that every man in every generation must deal with Him and the issue is sin. We have all “sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sin deserves death, and the Judge doesn’t miss any evidence or overlook any offenses. Unless we are forgiven we will be punished.

As believers in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, we mourn our sin that cost the spotless Lamb His life. The more mature we become and the more we taste holiness, the more we hate sin past and present. The sweetness of our salvation contrasts with the bitterness of our rebellion.

We have burst out in anger and hatred, envied the positions and possessions of other, glutted ourselves on the world, been lazy, lied, lusted, slandered, and worshiped things or persons or ideas over God. We deserved His judgment. The good news is “that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” because He is risen from the dead.

Not Even the Days Are Figurative

The great resurrection chapter is 1 Corinthians 15. We are partaking of communion on Palm Sunday, a week before we celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. This is the most difficult and the most glorious time of the year on the church calendar. We should remember the history.

On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey and many hailed Him as the Messiah. On Monday Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleansed His Father’s house for the second time. On Tuesday He taught on Mt. Olivet and Judas agreed on a price for betrayal. On Wednesday we don’t know exactly what Jesus did. On Thursday Jesus ate the Passover Meal with His men, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed by Judas, and tried. On Friday Jesus was tried again and again, beaten over and over, crucified, and buried. There is no record of events on the Sabbath, but by early the following Sunday the tomb was empty.

This is “of first importance.” “Christ died for our sins,” “he was buried,” and “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the outline of the gospel story. Is any part of it figurative? The death? The burial? The resurrection? The 500 witnesses (in verse 6)? How about the three days?

Not even the days are figurative. Jesus did not leave the tomb three ages afterward when no one could verify who He was. His appearances were not three undefined seasons later. The details corroborate the week, the week is part of the gospel, and the gospel is our life.

Let us count our blessings these next seven days due to the work of Christ that important week.

Not Running Over Pedestrians

We finished our discussion about The Art of Neighboring at Men to Men last Monday and the ladies will finish at their next meeting. The elders recently finished another book, If You Bite & Devour One Another, and the Life to Life leaders and wives are working through it together, too. Being a good neighbor and not biting people is like driving a car and not running over pedestrians; that’s how it should be. Paul connected both behaviors with love in his letter to the Galatians.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:14–15)

Neighbor identifies any one who is next to you, someone on your street and, as was the case in the Galatian church, someone next to your seat. The whole point of the Old Testament can be tweeted with characters to spare and without losing any punch. It’s originally found in Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus called it great (Mark 12;31). Come to think of it, we might prefer the 613 laws in aggregate over this spear tip, then at least we’d have some cover.

In the flesh we do not want to love and build up, we want to criticize and tear down. We prefer sledgehammers over finishing hammers. Solomon said that he who belittles his neighbor lacks sense (Proverbs 11:12), and how much more he who attacks another part of his own body. A part that hits other parts should not be surprised when it becomes the head of the nail. Watch out.

And repent. Other people are not your primary problem. The flesh is your primary problem. A neighbor might sin against you. He probably will. What will you do? If you’re walking by the Spirit, then love will serve him, joy will draw him close, peace and patience will bear with him in kindness and more. It is not freedom to say whatever you want. It is freedom to love your neighbor.