Cutting the Cords

Things were desperate for David in Psalm 18. His situation was deathly.

The cords of death encompassed me;
The torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
The snares of death confronted me.
(Psalm 18:4-5)

In David’s case, the cords and snares were reaching up from below the ground trying to drag him down. His song praises God for delivering him, for cutting the cords and keeping him alive.

In another psalm David wrote about someone else who would defeat death by going through it. Peter preached this connection on the day of Pentecost.

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, … you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. (Acts 2:23-25, 27)

The word translated “pangs” in “pangs of death” usually refers to birth pains, to the anguish pre-accomplishment. But in the Septuagint the Greek word translates “cords,” and “cords of death/pangs of death” is only found in Psalm 18 and Acts 2. Peter’s actual quote, “For David says,” is from Psalm 16.

This is the marrow of our meal: it was not possible for Jesus to be tied down by death. God is not just the one who delivers from death, God is the one who defeats death. And for all of us in Christ, the same is true for us.

Garrulous Talk

Because men sin, men hide. We are bent to find hiding places because being exposed often hurts. We prefer not to remember, and prefer others not to see. The first thing Adam did after his disobedience was hide. Men hide behind isolation, they hide behind lies. They can even hide behind liturgy, and they can hide behind, rather than in, the gospel.

Consider this observation about Christian hiding that hits close to home.

“The Christians have never practiced the actions Jesus prescribed them; and the impudent garrulous talk about the ‘justification by faith’ and its supreme and sole significance is only the consequence of the Church’s lack of courage and will to profess the works Jesus demanded.”

Ouch. We hide our failure as disciples to observe “all that I have commanded you” behind the doctrine of sola fide. It is wanting deliverance but not wanting to be delivered, or being willing to acknowledge what we needed to be delivered from. It is wanting forgiveness, but not wanting faithfulness that comes from faith.

The above quote was written by Friedrich Nietzsche, no sympathizer to the religious, let alone to Christians. But he could see our Christian hiding better than a lot of Christians. We justify our disobedience rather than dealing with what it means to be justified by God though we were disobedient.

It’s another reason why worship shapes us. We do need to hide in the gospel of Jesus, by faith, from the legal, righteous requirements of God’s law, because Christ fulfilled the law. We do need to hide in Jesus, by grace, from the accusations of satan and the guilt of our flesh. This is not a game of words, it is a life of confession, faith, and reverent, obedient worship of our God who is a consuming fire.

Wisdom and Wonder

5 of 5 stars to Wisdom and Wonder by Abraham Kuyper

2019: This was my second read through the book, and it is as good as I remember. The church is most definitely not the boss of science and art, but the church should most definitely encourage Christians both to work in the spheres of science and art and also to appreciate where God’s common grace has allowed unbelievers (even though often inconsistent with their stated worldview) to contribute to humanity.


2013: More deep and wide application of Christ’s lordship over every thumb’s width in the universe.

It convicts me even more concerning my narrow, dualistic, wrong-headed Christian thinking. I cannot be little-zealed in helping to enculturate the next disciples.

There is so much work to do, just to expand the imaginations of men for the work they can do. Business and products wait to be created. Medical and governing solutions sit unconsidered. Music and media thresholds are far from being crossed.

As Christians we do not have the imagination, the ambition, the objective restraints, or the readiness to give ourselves to it. These come from grace, and we need that most of all.

The Idea Was More Than Ideas

The Lord’s Supper is a great place to get perspective.

The Table has two elements on it: bread and wine. The bread was baked and brought by someone, not dropped out of the seventh celestial sphere. The wine was bottled, and bought and brought by someone, also not delivered via a special Holy Spirit spigot. Anyone, with faith or without faith, could eat this bread, and anyone could drink this cup (though they might move on to another table if they see the portion size).

As believers in Christ we know that the ordinary bread signifies the bread of Christ’s flesh. We receive the wine as the emblem of His blood which atones for our sins. When we eat and drink by faith we do something particular, not common.

And remember, it was God’s idea to give us more than ideas. If all He wanted was for us to have the idea of bread, He could have given us a brochure of visualizing techniques. If all He wanted was for us to have the idea of wine, He could have told us to work on our pretending abilities. But, He doesn’t want us just to have the idea of bread and wine any more than He wants us to have only the idea of a Savior. He sent His Son to take on flesh and to die on a tree. He wants us to have more than just the idea of fellowship, He wants us to be together, around a Table, and share communion with Him and each other.

At the Supper God reminds us that He is much bigger than this life, and also that this is where He meets us.

Witnessing Songs

We take worship in song seriously. Singing is not the only act of worship, but the bones of praise move best with the muscles of melody held in by the skin of songs.

What happens when we learn and sing good songs of worship? The body is encouraged, yes. But the body is also made more accountable.

In Deuteronomy 31 the Lord told Moses that his days of leading Israel were almost finished. The remaining task the Lord gave to Moses was to “write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths….” The “Song of Moses” takes up 43 verses in chapter 32 and is harmonized in Revelation 15:3 with “the song of the Lamb”: “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”

But as it provided an outlet for expressing thanks and adoration, the song also provided accountability. “Put [this song] in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel” (verse 19). The Lord knew that after the many blessings He would give that they would have “eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me” (verse 20).

when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). (verse 21)

Much is required of those to whom much is given. We have been given the privilege of many psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and they call us to account for whether we are fearing the Lord and glorifying His name.

Range

4 of 5 stars to Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

Epstein challenges the modern idol of early specialization in sports, in education, in music, in everything. I have already recommended this to a bunch of people, especially in education circles, and will be rereading it immediately with a group of guys who are aiming to start a college. Epstein doesn’t refer to the lordship of Christ in all of it, but he makes a compelling case that there is a lot of good things to learn (in Christ’s creative and sustaining domain), and even more of a case that learning about a lot of those things helps us appreciate and connect and do more good things.

Keep Going

4 of 5 stars to Keep Going by Austin Kleon

This was probably my least favorite of the three (along with Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, but it still has a bunch of little verbal shots in the arm to keep one going, which is the point. I especially appreciate “Forget the noun, do the verb.” You can read more on that idea here and here, or obviously buy the book.

Thanks in Advance

The timing of the Lord’s thanks stands out at the Lord’s Table. According to Paul, Jesus gave thanks before He broke the bread and “in the same way also” before He shared the cup (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). What really stands out about the timing, though, isn’t only that He gave thanks before both of the elements, but that He gave thanks “on the night when he was betrayed,” before the cross.

Wouldn’t it have been better to wait, to inaugurate the communion meal after the torture was over, the blood cleaned up, the tombstone rolled away? Jesus knew what was coming. He knew His work wasn’t finished, and He taught the disciples to give thanks in advance.

From our historical perspective, Christ has completed His sacrificial work but He has not finished His sanctifying work of His Bride. He is still at work to purify and unite all of us, and we can give thanks before He’s finished.

When you look two pews in front of you, when you stand behind that person getting the bread and cup, are you only noticing all the ways that they fail? Are you thinking about how much more they need to grow? Or are you giving thanks, believing that He who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete it?

Jesus gave thanks on the night He was betrayed. The betrayal lead to His being mocked, beaten, and crucified. But His death lead to His resurrection, and His resurrection leads to our life. He gave thanks because He knew everything that was coming. Give thanks. He’s both done and not done yet.

Ruining the Taste

It’s been three weeks of the #samepagesummer so far, but whether you’re following that Bible reading plan or not, we won’t receive the food of His holy Word if we are full of sin. We must acknowledge and abandon sin before we’re free to feed on Scripture, and feeding on Scripture is necessary if we hope to grow in salvation.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation– (1 Peter 1:1-2, NAS)

Numerous translations (such as the ESV, NIV, NRSV) read as if there were two commands but, really, Peter provides one prerequisite and then one command. We could play up the grammatical structure: “having put aside sin…long for Scripture,” or “Crave the pure after getting rid of the putrid.”

Peter mentions five sins and, though not an exhaustive list, these five are sufficient to inhibit spiritual growth. “Malice” or viciousness exalts oneself as judge over others and rather than positioning oneself under the judgment of the Word. “Guile” or deceit honors false words rather than the Word of truth. “Hypocrisy” allows division of soul rather than bring one wholeheartedly before the Word. “Envy” promotes pursuit of competing satisfactions rather than promoting the Word that is more to be desired than gold. “Slander” likewise ruins a tongue’s taste for true goodness.

Any and all of these sins will cripple our spiritual growth. But which sin in this passage is the worst? The greatest sin here is not longing for the Word. The other sins ruin our appetite for that which will nourish our souls. Sin burns our tongues, it leaves a bitter taste. All sins must be confessed and put away so that we will hunger for the good Word and grow.

The Lord Builds

One thing to look for when reading Scripture is the order of the author’s points. For example, Peter said to put away sin for sake of hungering for the Word, and then he connected the Word to tasting that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:1-3).

Tasting His goodness seems like it would be the end, and in some sense it is. But Peter says more about those who taste and then “come to him,” that is, those who come to the Lord. He is good, of course you would come. But we don’t come alone.

We come as “living stones” who are “being built up as a spiritual house.”

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

What do we need to do for this building up, this identification to happen? We need to taste that He is good and come to Him, and then He does the work. “As you come to him…you yourselves like living stones are being built up,” the passive voice. The Lord builds.

God does command us to be of the same mind, to have the same love, to be in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:2). And He creates this fellowship by His Spirit as He builds us on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.