Brains and Bread

If you were God and wanted a way for people to remember the most important event in human history, what program would you use? More than a watershed event, this is the Son of Your love, Your eternal glory, who enfleshed obedience and sacrifice to purchase a people for life. How will you move the redeemed to remember and rejoice?

We might be tempted to focus on the mental aspect. After all, memory is the brain’s territory. Once the truth is in there, we need a trigger to recall it. We could also support it with specifics to remind us about the scope of this truth—say, that God planned it before the foundation of the world, and the comparative value of the truth—the resurrection of God-incarnate means more than any other resurrection. We can do quite a lot on the inside of our heads and all on our own.

This is what maybe most Christians make of communion in the individualist West. We are separated from one another, separated from connection with place and time. We are even tempted to be separated from our tongues. If we could just visualize communion, wouldn’t that be easier? Wouldn’t that make it less likely to get messed up by forgotten salt in the bread or by bitter wine from the bottom of the bottle or by a slow family at the start of the procession to the table? Isn’t communion about remembering Jesus?

It is, and Jesus instituted a meal for us. Words explain it; we don’t disengage our reason. But words explain it, that is the table and the bread and the cup of wine and the plural number of particular persons with faces and names. The symbols are not empty or superfluous. The eating and drinking together are not wasted physical motions. God cares about who He’s saved and that includes what He’s made them to be. Your body may be broken for now, but He has promised you a healed one for eternity, purchased by the giving of Jesus’ body for you.

Life in the Body

The Christian life is a life in the body. Paul told the Roman church to present their bodies as living sacrifices as part of their spiritual worship (Romans 12). He warned the Corinthians about sexual sins against the body, because “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

He made us with bodies, He redeems us to “control [our own bodies] in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4), and He promises that, we, with Job, will see our Redeemer in our flesh (Job 19:25-26).

God affirmed our body-ness by giving one to His own Son; the Word became flesh (John 1:14). And God declared Christ Jesus to be the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).

Jesus was eager to show the disciples His hands and feet post-resurrection.

he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:38–39)

Jesus died in the flesh. Jesus lives in the flesh. Jesus told us to eat His flesh and drink His blood in our flesh and blood.

We receive His grace-strength by faith, but that grace-strength is not for sake of mystical good-feels and holy-thinks. That grace-strength enables us to listen with our ears, to speak truth in love with our mouths, to take the gospel with our feet, and to make lunch/wash clothes/write code with our hands, all for Him.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Christmas

As we continue to move closer to Christmas I said that I would give a series of exhortations to help with our focus. Last week I urged us to be spiritually broken which is important for perspective keepers.

The second exhortation is: embrace the flesh. This also helps our perspective, but needs a clarification. There is a way, and it is the primary way, that the New Testament talks about the flesh where the “flesh” represents the sinful pull in all of us. The lust of the flesh, the works of the flesh, the flesh as enemy of the Spirit is most definitely not what we should embrace.

But “flesh” in those respects is not referring to material, not the muscles and nerves and blood and bones, which is also the flesh. This is the flesh that Jesus took at (what we celebrate as) Christmas yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). If God created that flesh and also clothed Himself with it, it can’t be all bad.

The incarnation shows that the flesh is not God. God, in the Word who was God before creation, existed without one. So we worship the Maker not the material. God is outside, before and beyond, human flesh. Christmas truth should keep us from worshipping our bodies let alone stuff.

The incarnation also shows that God identifies with human flesh. God, in the Word, became like us. “Since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things” (Hebrew 2:14). He took on our form, with the physical limits and needs and in every other respect. Christmas truth means that we don’t have to escape the flesh to please God.

And the incarnation shows that God redeems humanity. God, in the Word, showed grace and truth. In His flesh He obeyed, He washed feet, He broke bread, He suffered, He endured torture, He was put to death (and rose again). Christmas truth is our hope for joyful and fruitful obedience on earth.

So we must not teach a gnostic incarnation by our practice. As people of the truth we tend to prefer two-dimensions; three-dimensions are hard. We want our Word on a page, not in a body. Too often we have great Christmas ideas without glad sacrifices and generosity and being worn out and used up to spill grace onto others.

In your body love, be joyful, be patient, show kindness, do good, be self-controlled. Decorate, bake, clean, sing, give, cry, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in your body (2 Corinthians 4:11), just as He was manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). Let our celebrations not be spiritualized, but be filled with the Spirit to keep Christmas in our flesh.

Christmas Is Overboard

How do we learn what we should do on Christmas? By remembering what God did at Christmas.

Celebrate the stuff. Use fudge and eggnog and wine and roast beef. Use presents and wrapping paper…You do not prepare for a real celebration of the Incarnation through thirty days of Advent Gnosticism. At the same time, remembering your Puritan fathers, you must hate the sin while loving the stuff. Sin is not resident in the stuff. Sin is found in the human heart–in the hearts of both true gluttons and true scrooges–both those who drink much wine and those who drink much prune juice. If you are called up to the front of the class and you get the problem all wrong, it would be bad form to blame the blackboard. That is just where you registered your error. In the same way, we register our sin on the stuff. But–because Jesus was born in this material world, that is where we register our piety as well. If your godliness won’t imprint on fudge, then it is not true godliness. Some may be disturbed by this. It seems a little out of control, as though I am urging you to “go overboard.” But of course I am urging you to go overboard. Think about it–when this world was “in sin and error pining,” did God give us a teaspoon of grace to make our dungeon a tad more pleasant? No. He went overboard. (God Rest Ye Merry, 89-90).

Gravy That Requires Forks and Knives

One passage that Joe Rigney readily and rightfully keeps on repeating in The Things of Earth is 1 Timothy 4:4-5.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

I’m not sure how many week’s worth of exhortations are latent in this rich Scripture soil, but as we’re studying Genesis 8 and 9 at church, with Noah back on dry ground and God adding a whole protein-packed page to Noah’s menu, I thought we could think through at least one exhortation.

Many believers will get to heaven trudging on the sidewalks outside hell’s walls. I don’t mean this like other preachers have, as a portrayal of carnal Christians. Instead, I mean it as a reference for the religious who try to separate themselves from all earthly things. They don’t drink, smoke meats, or go with girls who do. Certain abstainers are monkish, mendacious, and Paul says that they are devoted to demon doctrines.

True, Puritanical pilgrims, “those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3) have yet to find a piece of meat too skunky for Scripture seasoning and a prayer marinade. That’s part of what quiet times are good for: to cook out light and fearful thoughts over the heat of a theology fire. Daily devotions ought to flour the broths of life into a gravy that requires forks and knives.

They Spirit says that some men will depart from the faith and try to be spiritual in infernal ways, while truly spiritual persons will be cooking with gratitude and the holy men will have second helpings.

Adorned with Divine Delight

A fantastic footnote (#10) found in chapter 6 of The Things of Earth (paragraphs added):

Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.’

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that Thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with Thy perfect pleasure. I confess to Thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving Thy creature and Thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised! Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in Thy sight.’

A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works….

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all His angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all His creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.”

–Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 158– 59.

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.

The Things of Earth

things_of_earthIf you already saw my book review on Goodreads, I’d still say go ahead and reread my plug for the book below anyway. For emphasis. But first, the following paragraph introduces the book on its back cover.

The world is full of good things…Ice-cold lemonade. The laughter of children. College football. Scrambled eggs and crispy bacon. But what happens to these earthly pleasures when Jesus shows up? Do the things of earth grow strangely dim? Or does he shine in all that’s fair?

I wish I had read this book twenty years ago. That would have been impossible, though, because the copyright is 2015. So I wish I had read another book like it anytime in the last twenty years. But if there is one, I don’t know about it. I wish the truths of this book were in the bones of my Christian discipleship, but since they haven’t been, I’m even more thankful for this book now.

Rigney tackles helmet-on-helmet how Christians must not love the world in one way and how those same Christians—Christian hedonists even—must love the world in another way. He does great work showing the Trinity’s story on earth and how we should think theologically and poetically and eat cake all the while. The categories of comparative love and integrated love alone are worth triple the price of the book.

I restarted reading as soon as I finished. I am telling everyone I know about it. I’ve already bought a copy and given it away.

I do wish the endnotes were footnotes, not only because endnotes are gross, but also because many of the endnotes deserve more prominent page space. I also think the book could have used some Kuyper alongside of Edwards, Lewis, Chesterton, but whatever. If you want to honor God with your heart and your hands then get The Things of Earth and READ it right away.

Christmas Counters

The apostle John wins for covering the Christmas story with the least amount of paper: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). What is there on earth or heaven that hasn’t been changed, or at least received orders to change, since the day our Savior took on a body?

The incarnation of the Son of God teaches us that God does not despise flesh, stuff, or material belongings. He made all things through the Word, the Logos (John 1:3). His ultimate revelation of Himself came when the Logos was born in the likeness of men (Hebrews 1:1-3; Philippians 2:7). In flesh Jesus served, making meals from loaves and fish and washing feet with a towel. In flesh Jesus suffered torture, died on the cross, and was buried in a grave. And in flesh He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

As Christians we are still learning not to despise flesh but how to enjoy and to use more than words. We like our sentences but, while Christmas can be summarized with words, it is itself the glorious story of stuff and places and persons. The good news of Christmas come as “great syllables of words that sounded like castles” (as when Dimble spoke the Great Tongue in That Hideous Strength). The words represent more than words.

The communion table is also more than words. So should our Christmas celebrations be. Christmas counters dualism. We were born in flesh, our bodies are a gift from God. He redeemed us and saved us to work here on earth for now, in body. We should honor Him with bread and wine, and with plates of cookies and strands of lights and stuffed turkeys and Scotch tape and pine needles and sticky buns. He calls us to give, and give ourselves, to eat and drink and sing as men not just mouths.