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.

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.

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.

The Dad Hat

Fathers have an exhaustive, and exhausting, set of responsibilities. The Dad hat is just one of a godly man’s hats, but it is a hat he never really hangs up on a hook. Here are a sampling of specific tasks that belong to fatherhood.

Dad should be the one who sets priorities for the family. He should be the first one one who seeks out sinners, who disciplines, and who brings the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation to bear. He should teach and train his household in the ways of being a disciple of Christ. He should provide food for them—even if he isn’t the one who prepares it—in a way that creates a table for the family to eat around. And dad should be giving tools and encouragement and assignments, even more as the kids get older, for their various jobs day by day.

A dad must do all of these things while doing his other jobs. He must be a faithful father while being a faithful husband, not one or the other. He must steward his money and his minutes as a neighbor and citizen. And he must worship God with the rest of his church.

Worship is where his responsibilities begin, and it is the result of fulfilling them. Worship brings us to our heavenly Father, and worship shows us what we are to be. God the Father gives us identity as His people. God the Father forgives us. God the Father equips us by His Word. God the Father communes with us at the Table. And God the Father blesses us to go work.

Fathers, you do not have a tougher job than our Father. He also is a father to many sinners, to many needy children, and He gives His favor to those who imitate Him.

Never the Same Person Twice

The Christian life is a growing life. At the same time, we are always growing in the same fields. We develop our knowledge and application of one Book–the Bible, one message–the gospel, one Lord–Jesus Christ. Growth involves greater and greater familiarity with a few great things.

But doesn’t familiarity breed contempt? It certainly can and has historically. Aren’t we putting ourselves in danger’s way by cultivating daily habits (such as Bible reading, prayer, fellowship) and weekly liturgy (such as singing, Lord’s table)?

Routine can cut deep ruts. Any man may live so close to special things that he forgets how special they are. But because we read a divine Book, believe an eternal message, and follow an immortal Savior, we can be sure that contempt or boredom on our part is a problem on our part.

In order to properly appreciate great things, grace things, we need grace. We will always need grace, and grace is always God’s to give not ours to take. We ask, we depend, we put ourselves downstream, but always we depend on God to give it.

He regularly gives grace at this Table. It is not magical, but it is supernatural. He doesn’t force-feed it into us without faith, but He will nourish and strengthen and unite believers here by His grace. It works and changes us so that we don’t eat in exactly the same way twice because we’re never the same person twice.

Formerly Known as Selfish Fathead

Growing in grace leads to unexpected challenges. As disciples we want to grow more and more into the image of Christ. As a church we want the whole body to be built up and knit together. Stagnant spirituality stinks, so how could spiritual progress not be necessarily refreshing? Growth is positive, yes, and sometimes painful.

Growing in grace can be painful when others see our growth and say something encouraging. A friend says, “You don’t fly off the handle nearly as often as you used to.” He’s thankful for the grace he sees in your life at work. You’re reminded how frequently you got up on the angry side of the bed. Your wife says, “I’m so thankful for how sweet and compassionate you’ve become.” You hear her talking about a husband formerly known as a selfish fathead. We wanted to be more patient and joyful. We prayed that God would make us more kind and loving. But now that other people notice, it hurts.

If they would just forget what we were like then maybe we could too. Of course, if they (and we) forget, the testimony of God’s grace is forgotten, too. Be careful when you grow in grace, other people may notice.

Be careful also when you want others to grow in grace. It can be painful, not only for them to see us grow, but for us to see them grow. When others grow it may make us fearful that our own weaknesses and immaturity will be seen, like when a new flowerbed starts to flourish and then highlights how ugly the house paint looks, or it make may us jealous that they’re receiving growth blessings that we want. If they would just stay where they were then we could too, but that’s not how God’s grace gets such a great name.