Before or After?

Most of us are familiar with Paul’s warning about eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner. Unworthy eaters “will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). So a person should “examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (verse 28).

Some Christians with sinful attitudes towards another person, let’s say toward their spouse, do not eat or drink at the communion table. Something isn’t right there, so something isn’t right here. Their marriage affects their worship.

It goes the other way, too, doesn’t it? If something isn’t right here, something won’t be right there. Worship affects relationships, including marriage. It is unlikely that a man will be faithful, engaged, eager to commune with God week by week and then be a hermit at home, at least he won’t be that way forever. It is unlikely that a woman will be humble, teachable, eager to commune with God and then be a spoiled, cold brat at home. If either, or both, are half-hearted, motion-goers here, their marriage investment probably won’t amount to much either.

Which is worse, disunity before or after worship? Which is unworthy, fussing with your spouse before taking communion or after taking communion? Paul warns about unworthy partaking not so that we will get our hearts right for this Table and then relax. The point isn’t to survive a communion table gauntlet only to be a pain in the butt at the lunch table. The point is having our hearts right for whatever table we’re sitting around. The communion table reminds us of Christ’s work that makes wrong hearts right and ready for communion wherever.

Before we eat and drink, let us examine ourselves. And after we eat and drink by grace, let us examine ourselves to see if we are guilty of profaning the image of God by our unworthy attitudes toward one another.

Inching up the Triangle

I’ve heard it described before that marriage is like a triangle with God at the summit. As the husband and wife get closer to God they necessarily get closer to each other. I like the illustration well enough. It is true that the man and the woman have their own, personal relationship to God, a relationship that in many cases existed before the wedding and one that can provide support during marriage.

But most of the Christians I fellowship with on a regular basis do not usually struggle to remember or attend to our individual access to God. “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ regardless of what happens around me.” That is true, and there is a proper way to emphasize that. It becomes a problem, though, when we value our individual access to God in such a way as to consider our spouse (or children) as an obstacle between us and God. We come to think of our husband or wife as a hurdle to get over, and then even as a hurdle to leave behind on our way to God.

There is a sense in which every man by himself and every woman by herself bears the image of God. But a married couple bear God’s image together. So your spouse–even your sinning, selfish, stand-offish, criticizing, fussy spouse–is less of a hindrance to Your fellowship with God and more of a reason for it. Christian couples should think correctly about their connection. In other words, it is not a time to congratulate yourself when you’ve inched closer to God on your side of the triangle but your spouse stays further back.

Husbands, if your wife is falling back, then your individual Christian growth (which you should pursue) will result in your loving sacrifice that, by grace, will win/woo your wife to come along. Likewise, wives, if your husband is falling back, then your individual Christian growth (which you should pursue) will result in joyful respect that will, by grace, push your husband further. Individual Christian growth that does not look to unite, even if that unity doesn’t happen overnight, is not growth in godlikeness. God unites us to Himself, He doesn’t just celebrate that He is better than us.

An Interrogative Shovel

I value the Why? question. I think I’ve mostly lost the smart-alecky junior high attitude underneath the asking, but I still appreciate and utilize the interrogative shovel to dig for idealogical treasure.

The reason why God created the universe and the reason why God created marriage between one man and one woman and the reason why Christ came and died and rose again and the reason why we make disciples and the reason why every disciple belongs to the Church is the same reason. If we said that the reason is “for His glory,” we’d be correct but perhaps still clouded behind the Christian jargon. So again, why creation, marriage, salvation, and church?

It’s because the three Persons of God so loved one another and enjoyed their union together that He made other beings to know and enjoy that glory. The understanding and affection and joy between the Father, Son, and the Spirit is part of His magnificence. It’s what makes Him awesome. His incommunicable attributes such as omniscience and omnipotence and eternality are at work for spilling His communicable glory into us.

Therefore, the reason why God made the world, instituted family, forgives rebels, and knits His people together in one Body is so that we will have understanding and affection and joy with Him and between ourselves like Him.

We glorify God when we see His glory truly, when we say it accurately, and when we sing it wholeheartedly. We also glory God when we receive His gifts thankfully and then imitate Him through loving generosity/sacrifice for the joy of others and in order to increase fellowship between us. We glorify God vertically and horizontally, through praise and through practice, through communion with Him through Christ and communion with each other by the Spirit.

What did God want with us and for us? He wanted us to taste His love and joy in union with Him as well as in our relationships here, especially in family, both by blood and by Christ’s blood. Why? Because it’s truly glorious.

Indeed a Political Act

1984coverA happy marriage is a political act. (Note: the adjective is key in the previous sentence.) George Orwell meant as much in his dystopian novel, 1984. The totalitarian State prohibited–to the degree that they could–passionate marriages and sexual pleasure. Orwell’s main characters couldn’t vote for change but they could defy Big Brother by their adultery.

Their motivation, however, was strictly rebellion. Just do what you’re not allowed do to to stick it to the Man. Then you’re truly free. But in opposing bondage to the State Winston and Julia chose another bondage, the bondage of sin. They could not liberate themselves by their defiance, let alone anyone else, less because the government was so powerful and more because they chose to believe a different set of entangling lies.

Their misunderstanding, and Orwell’s himself, doesn’t change that the committed life of one man with one woman and their honoring the marriage bed is indeed a political act. It makes a statement to both neighbors and the nation. Such union is an embodied claim that says the president and politicians and police do not have the authority to make or break marriage however they desire. A male and female in covenant one-fleshedness are enfleshing theology. Husband and wife, then father and mother, are God-instituted relationships for the glory of the human race. This is a political act in that it declares that God is God, not the state. God is the lawgiver and not the people themselves or the lobby groups or big donors or liberal judges sitting on courtroom benches.

God instituted marriage as an incarnational reflection of His own Trinitarian, eternal relations as well as an illustration of the union between His Son and His Son’s Bride, the Church. How we love our wives, respect our husbands, raise our children, none of these are invisible, let alone hopeless acts. Through them we pledge our allegiance to the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

Two Adams

There are two Adams that we need to know about. The first is Adam from Eden, the first man on earth, husband, father, gardener, and eater of forbidden fruit. The second Adam is Jesus, the eternally-beggoten Son of God the Father, carpenter, prophet, and sinless sacrifice. He is called Adam because He, too, stands at the headwaters of a people. Paul compares and contrasts the two in 1 Corinthians 15.

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:47–48)

God gave life to Adam from the ground. God gives life through the second Adam now risen from the grave. Not only do both Adams represent us, we reflect them.

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)

The first Adam was brought to life in glory in a garden. The second Adam was buried in a garden and then raised to life in greater glory. The first Adam lost glory for all of us when he sinned. The second Adam secured glory for all of us when He rose again. We enjoy the blessings of both the natural body and the spiritual body; we follow and image both Adams. We were born and we were born again. We are humans and we are Christians, so we eat and drink on two levels, looking to our resurrection glory like the second Adam.

For more on how the spiritual man is still a material man read this post by Doug Wilson.

An Act of Life

To riff off Chesterton, a man cannot draw a triangle with four sides no matter how resourceful a geometry teacher. A man cannot sketch a giraffe with a short neck no matter how creative his imagination. A man cannot write iambic pentameter with six feet and only four stressed syllables no matter how free a poet he fancies himself.

[I]t is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. (Orthodoxy)

More than art, life itself is limitations. A man cannot build his savings account by spending more than he makes no matter how much he increases his income. A man cannot procreate with another man no matter how official the State seal on his marriage license is. A man cannot define life however he wants. True liberty always exists within given boundaries given by God.

A sane man, a free man, will not claim he is a woman, a dog, or a result of millions of protoplasmic spasms. These are impossible. They are lies. And they imprison liberty.

When a man defines everything, he defies the truth, starting with the fact that he is not allowed to sit in the seat of the Ultimate Determiner of Definitions. When he attempts autonomy he becomes the greatest slave. God told Adam that in the day he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that he would die. As soon as Adam took the prerogative for himself to define what was right and wrong he lost his life.

This is why confessing our sins is an act of life. We hear and accept and act on God’s defined limits. We have sinned, but when we agree and submit to His law then we know the truth and the truth, with all its glorious limits, sets us free.

The Day of Resting Revelry

The Church changed the day of resting revelry from Saturday to Sunday as a recognition that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Christ’s work did not change the duration of the work and rest cycle. We still work six and stop one. But there is a different order in the cycle. We rest first and then work.

This is a spiritual reality that our weekly cycle reminds us of. We do not work to be saved, we work because we are saved. God has finished creating and Christ has finished satisfying God’s wrath. We’re not working to appease the Father but rather because the Father accepted the Son’s finished work.

In one sense this is a permanent rest. We do not ever get over the good news. We are only saved through grace by faith in Christ and every Lord’s day we affirm our rest in Him. We’re reminded of the object of our faith and taste the rest for our consciences in Christ. Our bodies benefit from the break, but even more our hearts are refreshed.

The cycle continues until He returns. The Lord’s day is not like a fat kid at the other end of a teeter-totter from six skinny days. This first day of the week is like that fat kid spinning the other days on the merry-go-round in joy. Because of how we’re made, we can’t get up more speed in our work by non-stop work. We must recognize the only One who can bless our work in fruitfulness, and one way that we revel in Him every week is by receiving the bread and the cup from His Table.

Baby Kittens Harnessed to a Bobsled

I gave the following address at our school’s fundraising dinner last Saturday night.


“Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.” This is either a proverb for soldiers or smack talk between them. It’s probably both and that’s probably why I like it so much. It’s wisdom, it’s snark, both of which a man can use on the battlefield. We could also use more sages and smart-alecks in the sphere of education, so tonight I want to tell the story surrounding this salty sound bite and then see if there is any application for us.

In 1 Kings 20, the King of Syria, Ben-hadad–also known as “the son of Hadad” (since Ben means “son” in Hebrew), or we might call him, “Jr.”–gathered his troops together and formed a coalition with thirty-two other provincial kings. They all marched south to take over some new territory, and Ben-Hadad and this motley military clobbered Samaria. Feeling pretty good about himself, Hadad sent messengers into the city to inform the King of Israel, Ahab, that he was next in line. Hadad told Ahab the sticker price of peace up front: “your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children are also mine.” That’s quite a toll.

We should remember that Ahab was not a righteous king. According to chapter 16 Ahab did more evil than any previous king of Israel (verse 30). His wife’s name was Jezebel, that one and only Jezebel who cut off the prophets of the LORD, hunted Elijah after the fire showdown, and had Naboth murdered for his vineyard. Ahab himself abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals, including setting up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal in Samaria (verse 32). “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (verse 33). Ahab was, however, king over God’s people and that’s important later.

For now Ahab agreed to Hadad’s terms. “As you say, my lord, O King, I am yours, and all that I have.” He offered zero resistance to Jr.’s list of demands. But, as usual with spoiled tyrants, giving in didn’t appease him, and Hadad served notice that he was going to come the next day, look around, and “lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.” Hadad was just rubbing Ahab’s face in a puddle of mean.

That was too much for Ahab. He called an emergency session of Israel’s congress and all the officials agreed that Ahab should not give in. Ahab sent word, “All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.” He’s still trying to mostly capitulate, but Hadad smelled blood in the weakness.

So with his most bloviating bravado Hadad sent the message back, “The gods do so to me and more also if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” He meant that he would pulverize Israel like such fine flour that there wouldn’t be enough for each of his soldiers to have their own personal scoop. It’s smack-talk oath style, with 33 armies worth of muscle to back it up.

I’m not sure what got into Ahab at this point. Knowing what Hadad did in Samaria and the resources at his disposal, Ahab picked up his spine and said, “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as one who takes it off.” A Roman might have said, “Ante victoriam ne canas triumphum,” “Before victory don’t sing triumph.” An actor in an 80’s Naval aviator movie might have said, “Your mouth shouldn’t write checks that your body can’t cash.” Or, as country singer Kenny Rogers might have put it, “You never count your money while sitting at the table.”

Ahab’s confidence was about to thicken from there. A prophet told Ahab that the LORD promised to give the great multitude into his hands. Uncertain about how that could be, Ahab asked by whom? The prophet said not by soldiers but by the servants of the governors. Ahab asked who was going to fire first? The prophet said, “You.” They found 232 servants and backed them up with all the remaining men in Israel, only seven thousand.

Jr. Hadad was out having a pre-victory party with the other kings and they were drinking themselves drunk in the middle of the day. Even though Hadad escaped, the servants of Israel struck down the Syrians and Israel was delivered (for the time) just as the Lord promised. Hadad had indeed counted his chickens before they surrendered.

Does a war story like this have anything to do with a school story? On a feast night like tonight, should we be talking about a fight? And if the account does apply, at least by analogy, which side are we on? What are the unit objectives for us?

Since the Garden of Eden the seed of the dragon (or “serpent” if you prefer) and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), whom Paul identified as Jesus (Galatians 4:4), have been in conflict. Everyone on earth wears army boots for one side or the other. Neutrality does not exist on the Internet, in courtrooms, and certainly not in class rooms. There are more than two fighting styles but there are only two fighting sides. We’re with Jesus or we’re against Him.

If we’re with Jesus then we’re against an enemy that, from the world’s perspective, doesn’t just outnumber our resources, he makes us look like baby kittens harnessed to a bobsled right after a bath. We don’t appear to be able to pull much weight and our bite is not much of a threat.

We don’t have the facilities, the subsidies, the salaries, or the rules on our side. It may be lopsided but it’s still a fight that needs fighting. What God will be recognized by the school board or on the white board? What God/god gets credit for math, history, science, line diagramming and poetry? The nameless god of the state? The great god of the mirror, man? Or the Lord Jesus Christ?

Wisdom about war absolutely has relevant wisdom for a Christian school. Issues such as supplies, costs, personnel, tactics, aims, all overlap. So can we learn from the interaction between Hadad and Ahab?

When I first thought of this proverb as applied to our almost three year-old school, I read our part in the story wrong. It may seem as if we’re the ones who are putting our armor on, the ones who need to gird our lips with non-boasting duct tape. After all, what can we do? What have we done?

But the more I read the story the more I changed my mind. We have less reason to be humbled like Hadad and more reason to be feisty like Ahab.

Like Ahab, Christians have been willing to make too many compromises when it comes to giving our kids over to a godless system. Thankfully more believers are realizing that the State has overstepped it’s proper shoe size. Barak Ben-Obama cannot bully us into giving him whatever he wants. Even Ahab wouldn’t have sent his kids to a school accredited by Ben-hadad’s education commission.

Like Ahab we initially cower when the world crows about their success. They are turning the tassels of their standardized test scores and drinking themselves drunk. They mock, threaten, and parade over Christian homeschool and private schools. But they’re the ones who don’t know what they’re doing, which is part of the reason for endlessly-new and improved teaching models, which is part of the reason they need more money. They won’t get the best laugh, let alone the last one.

Like Ahab we do not deserve deliverance. The Lord gave grace to His people and it’s only grace that does us any good, too. In the fight of education we are not perfect but we are on the side of the Lord. The Lord blesses His people even in spite of themselves at times so that we may know that the Lord is Lord.

We are also like Ahab in that the Lord often uses servants to do His fighting. The weak of the world defeat the strong, the foolish confound the wise. In fact, we are more like the unskilled servants than trained soldiers anyway.

Unlike Ahab, however, we look back at the biggest battle. Jesus said, “It is finished.” When we stand with the Lord, we stand on the winning side. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Me.” He has taken off His armor, having defeated sin and death and risen to the fight hand of the Father. We are His messengers, and though we don’t know everything, we know that the victory is His. “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.” I’d like to imagine that one of Ahab’s God-fearing messengers had a sparkle in his eye when he told that to Hadad. So should we.

When our students sing and we eat meat and drink wine it’s in joy because the great victory is won. Tonight the Marysville Grange is our temporary Mead Hall where we feast because Jesus lives and Grendel and his mom are dead. Grendel’s modern day cousins keep attacking, and we wisely, and feistily, call them amateurs.

We also believe that He supplies His warrior-servants with equipment and training. We’re here celebrating what the Lord has been doing at Evangel Classical School, and we believe that more of His people want to see this feisty worldview enculturated to the next generation.

How to Go Glutton-Free

Previously I took a crack at a predictable sin among dieters. In light of the abundance given to us by God, a certain sort of calorie counting and package reading panic belongs with, and nurtures, a discontent person. He is not thankful for the gifts or the bounty and he thinks too much about No and not enough about Yes.

I mentioned that I might chase that exhortation with one about gluttony. Restrictions in dieting and asceticism, whether of all food or of culturally taboo foods, is often the rejection of good. Gluttony must be the opposite, craving and consuming too much of the good.

Though we might focus the contrasts between dieting and gluttony, both share the most common ingredient of discontent. Abstaining tendencies tell God (usually in an ill-defined thought) that He’s wrong for giving too much, while overindulgent tendencies tell God He hasn’t given enough. In both cases a man is being selfish. In both cases he’s telling God that He is wrong.

A man might become a glutton because he’s lazy, like the Cretans who were “always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Being drunk on food is a way to get out of working for food. He’s discontent with God’s plan to work. A man might also become a glutton because he’s afraid. He’s unsure when or if he’ll see food again so he eats four helpings to give himself some padding. He’s discontent with God’s promise to provide.

The only way to go glutton-free is in Christ. It’s by eating and drinking in thanks. We see again how the insidious yeast of discontent makes skinny souls and how thankfulness raises fat ones.

All That He’s Provided

After God identified the man the woman as His image-bearers, He eagerly showed them all that He had made for them. All kinds of food were available to enjoy and to energize them in their work. They would constantly be recognizing God as they received all that He had given to them.

Likewise, after God identifies a believer in baptism, marking him as one who has died and risen in likeness to Christ, so God eagerly shows him all that He’s provided. All righteousness, wisdom, and redemption are available to enjoy and to energize our work. We constantly recognize God when we receive what He has given us in His Son.

This is simple, but it is a needed reminder of our need. Our lives orbit the Son; He is the gravity that holds us together. Our life cycle is given by Him; we wake and walk and work and wind down and worship week after week according to His watch. Our responsibilities and relationships are given by Him and for Him. Our joy in the process and strength to persevere are given by Him. So we keep coming to Him by faith, at least once a week to this Table that reminds us of His provision. Jesus is our Lord, our Savior, our food, our everything. Our declaration of dependence by eating and drinking honors Him.