Christianity 201

October 23, 2021

Remembering Involves Restoration

NCV.Luke.22.19 Then Jesus took some bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the apostles, saying, “This is my body, which I am giving for you. Do this to remember me.”

CEB.1Cor.11.23 I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. 24 After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” 25 He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.”

Today we’re introducing an author new to us, Amber Dlugosh, who is a high school library media specialist, and writes at This Wordy World. She writes about books, libraries and publishing, but also includes some Christian devotionals like this one! Click the header which follows to read this. Because it was published just today, we’ll close comments here and encourage you to comment there if you desire.

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Jesus sat at a table with four fishermen, a skeptic, a wealthy tax collector, a political activist, and an embezzler who would get him killed. He passed out some bread and wine and gave them one poignant instruction: do this in remembrance of me.

Weekly, the pastors of my past would recreate this scene in my mind as I held a small plastic cup of grape juice in my left hand as my thumb traced the edge of an oyster cracker. Modeling those around me, I knew that to eat these things in remembrance of Jesus meant to call to mind all of the awful things I had done that required his body to be broken on the cross for my sins. I often hung my head in shame. Once I got chastised from the pulpit for laughing with a friend during this portion of the service, for it was not one of joy and laughter–but one of somber heart and mind. On the worst days, when I felt I couldn’t even cultivate the sense of shameful sorrow laced with gratitude, I would let the elements pass by me. I was not fit to remember Jesus.

But Jesus sat at a table with four fishermen, a skeptic, a wealthy tax collector, a political activist, and an embezzler who would get him killed. If these men were fit to remember Jesus, maybe there was something unfit with my approach to remembering, not something unfit with me.

I’d always associated the word “remember” with the act of calling something to memory, until Cathy Cox–a courageous mentor in the faith–expanded my view. “Member” is defined as an animal, person, or plant belonging to a particular group–a piece of a complex structure. To dismember means to rip that structure apart. The prefix “re” means “back or again”. Remembering involves a restoration back to belonging. To be unified again. Sometimes we do that by recalling a moment within our mind, but sometimes we do that by action

God so loved the world that they sent their one and only son to re-member Love on earth. Remembering Love involved bringing back together again what had been ripped apart, so humanity and divinity coalesced. Love sought no division; there was no need. In Love, all pieces find their integrated place.

I think there’s a beautiful purpose that Jesus first said this famous line to such a rag-tag group. We can become guilty of picturing them all as fishermen. It helps me to modernize the image.

God sat at a table with a factory worker, a fast-food employee, a mechanic, a maid, a curious professor, a corrupt government official, a Ponzi schemer, and a protestor. He passed them bread and wine. And then he told them, “This. You are all around the same table with the same bread and the same clean feet. This is what I urge you to do to remember God. This is where you can start with restoring Love. You all belong together, again.”

September 10, 2021

An Anniversary: A Time to Remember

Thinking about the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack in the United States got me wondering what we posted ten years ago on the 10th anniversary. Here’s what we talked about that day.

September 11, 2011

Seen enough of the TV specials? Tired of hearing of “9/11?” You should know there’s a good reason why we need those programs and magazine features and internet tributes:

People Tend to Forget

Jesus understood this. Scripture tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

But you already know that. Those words from I Cor. 11 are often the most-repeated words in most churches during the course of a church calendar year. “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you;” is somewhat how I think the KJV renders it. The section from verse 23 to approx. verse 30 forms what is called “The Words of Institution” for the communion service aka Lord’s Supper aka the Eucharist. Even if you attend a church where things are decidedly non-liturgical, these verses probably get read each time your church observes “the breaking of bread;” and even if your pastor leans toward the New Living Translation or The Message, it’s possible that he lapses into King James for this one.

Why did Jesus institute this New Covenant, Second Testament version of the Passover meal?

Because people tend to forget.

Want proof?

Let’s look at the section we almost never read when we gather around the communion table, Luke 22. In verse 19 and 20 he tells them to remember. He tells them his life is about to be poured out for them. What a solemn moment. A holy moment. But unfortunately, a very brief moment.

In verse 24, Luke makes it clear that he’s trying to capture an accurate picture of what happened that night. Even if it makes the disciples look bad. It’s the kind of stuff that you would never include in your report to Theophilus if you were merely trying to make Christianity look good. If you were writing propaganda.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

I don’t want to be disrespectful here, but Luke might as well have written, “At this point, one of the disciples looked out the window of the upper room and announced, ‘Guys, you gotta come here for a minute; there’s a girl out there that is totally hot.’”

I’m serious. It’s that much out of place with what’s just happened. Jesus is telling them — trying to tell them — all that he is about to suffer in order that a plan laid out from before the foundations of the world will be fulfilled. And they’re arguing about who is Disciple of the Month. How could they go from one extreme to the other so quickly? In a matter of seconds?

Easily.

People tend to forget.

Whether it’s what happened in New York City, Washington, and that Pennsylvania field ten years ago; or whether it’s what happened in Roman occupied territory in the middle east two thousand years ago; we need to continually rehearse these stories in our hearts and pass them on to our children.

This is a day that is about remembering and like the upper room disciples, we can get so totally distracted. September 12th comes and everyone moves on to the next topic or news story. We must not let ourselves lose focus so easily. We must not forget.

Deuteronomy 4:9
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Tomorrow, in another flashback to an earlier post here at C201, we’ll look at the idea of creating memorials to remember times of both hardship and blessing in our lives.


Read more about the cross at Ground Zero in this special-edition article we ran in August, 2011.

May 2, 2021

Communion Perspective

Ruth shared this mediation with the online church family this morning. Your church’s expression of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper may be different, but I hope that a holy imagination allows it to stir up similar thoughts each time you participate.

by Ruth Wilkinson

1 Cor 11:23-29 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way, after supper He also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

I love communion Sundays.

The first Sundays of each month, together in our building downtown, built with stones cemented together in centuries past, lit by coloured windows created in living memory, sharing bottled grape juice, and matzoh bread.

I love it when we all sit still and straight and facing the front while the silver trays catch the light as they’re passed up and down each row of us, hand to hand, becoming lighter and emptier as they go… like the collection in reverse. Everybody taking one small clear plastic cup and holding it. And waiting. Then the bread, already broken into small pieces by reverent hands. Taking our bread, and holding it. And waiting.

The pastor reads from the scriptures (“For I received from the Lord what I pass on to you…”), and then in his own words reminds us of what we do and why. We sit in silence together, pray together to the accompaniment of traffic noises and trains and the ceiling fans. Then we drink and eat together.

I love communion Sundays.

Partly because in ritual, in the familiar pattern, I find space to think. To be humbled.

…sitting still in a quiet room, being part of this family.
…knowing that, whatever our questions, the truth we share runs deeper.
…whatever our differences, the love we share runs deeper.
…whatever our struggles, we are here for and with each other.

I love communion Sundays.

Partly because in stillness, I find time to remember. To re-centre.

…staring down into the depths of that little cup of deep purple,
…seeing the light hit the darkness and make it glow just a little.
…just like Jesus entered the darkness of broken human life and brought the life that is the light of humanity–the light that was not overcome.

I love communion Sundays.

Partly because in interaction, I find a prompting to reset. To re-focus.

…holding that piece of matzoh between my fingers,
…seeing the stripes and the little holes,
…feeling the grit of it and the sharp edges.
…Remembering Jesus.

I love communion Sundays.

I love holding in my hand his blood and body. His bleeding and brokenness. Knowing that he bled and endured for us.

I love being aware of the people in my life. Being challenged to do what we can because of what Jesus did for us.

What did he do? He showed up. Lived our life, the good and the bad.
Did what he could, taught what we could learn.
Gave us his strength and health for the times when we would have none of our own.

He was broken so that he could put everything back together.
Including me. Including you.

We can’t hold our own brokenness in our hand. We can’t look from above into the depths of our own bleeding. We can’t always see the ways in which the topography of our skin and soul is irrevocably changed by scars and loss.
We can’t always see the ways in which our brokenness can help someone else.

Only Jesus is Jesus.
Only he could come and do what he did. Only through him can we do what we can do.

I love communion Sundays,

when I hold that little cup of purple, and that little shard of white.
Thinking about how much it must have hurt. And how much it does hurt.

And how much, how very much, it’s all been worth it.

And how very very grateful I am to have been bled for, and to have the chance to bleed for and with someone else.


For further meditation: Here again is the link to our Communion Sunday music playlist, 2 hours of worship and narrative songs.

December 5, 2020

When Communion Sunday Meets Advent

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.  “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!
 – John 12: 25,27 NLT

As I type this, tomorrow is the second Sunday of Advent, but it’s also Communion Sunday among churches which observe the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month. So which is more important: Christmas or Easter?

The Billy Graham Association website notes:

Both are equally important, because both were an essential part of God’s plan. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter—and without Easter, Christmas wouldn’t matter.

It’s true. The birth of a baby in an inconsequential Jerusalem suburb would hardly be worth noting if were not for the events which followed. And the death of a self-proclaimed Messiah might not have earned a place in history were it not for the events which preceded it, which includes what turns out to be a somewhat miraculous birth.

As simple as that seems, I think it’s something that Christians need to own to a greater degree. I say that because in a search for the phrase, “There’s no Christmas with Easter and…” etc., all of the page one search results directed readers to a quotation by a former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormon) and some of its related websites. While the sentiment is true, I would like to have seen more mainstream Christian expressions of that truth on page one.

Or in these words, as we put it this time last year:

There’s no incarnation without atonement.
There’s no atonement without incarnation.

As I looked at that article again, I felt I should just continue where it led us a year ago:

…There are key scripture passages associated with this time of year that answer the questions as to how Christ came into the world. The incarnation is key to Christian belief, so we need to define that. There are verses that explain where Christ came into the world. There are verses that explain who was around when Christ came into the world. But we need to get past the “Linus” verses — the verses that Linus in the Peanuts television special quotes from memory to Charlie Brown — and think about why Christ came into the world.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

If you’re on social media, you know the phrase Direct Messaging. After years of speaking through the prophets, God decides it is time to send a DM, not only to his followers, but to all humankind.

John 6 gives us more details:

 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Verses 33 and 38-39 are key: Jesus comes to give life, and to see the salvation (although the word isn’t used here) of His children on the last day

…The Apostle Peter talks about how angels longed to see the day when salvation would be offered in a new way:

1Peter1.3 …It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

As Jesus calls his first disciples, he ushers in this new way, an intersection of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm

Mark 1:15 The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

and urges his disciples this is the message they are to proclaim:

Matt.10.7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

For churches where the Eucharist/Communion intersects with Advent/Christmas, the key is not to say, ‘How do I deal with this awkward placement of two very different parts of our church calendar?’ but rather to meet the convergence head on by noting that the gathering around The Lord’s Table begins with the gathering around the manger to look at the promised child; and the gathering around the baby in the manger is the beginning of the path to the gathering in the upper room where “on the night he was betrayed, he took bread and broke it and said ‘This is my body…'”

Both of which lead to a gathering around another table, a banquet table we’ve yet to experience.

 

April 14, 2020

The Day of Judgment as a Cure for Fear?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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First, we have a few things to catch up on.

The popular UK Spring Harvest festival is an online event this year. It started Monday and runs through Friday. Already there are dozens of videos online and I wanted to share with you two that I watched.

There is one called “Any Questions Expert Panel” which deals with the response of the church both during and after the present world crisis. You’ll find that at this link. I also want to highlight — considering we spoke about Communion and the Last Supper yesterday — the section from 30:00 – 35:00 (approx) which looks at the subject of taking Communion at home. Many of you have been doing this.

I recently wrote to someone about this and he told me that in a Canadian Anglican context,

…We just have to “do without” until further notice, as there is no Church-sanctioned rubric in either the Book of Common Prayer or the Book of Alternative Services for families to consecrate Communion elements in their own homes.

Which brings us to the other seminar I watched yesterday, titled “Whatever Happened to Communion” in which the presenters make a very strong case for observing Communion in an individual or family context. (Their interpretation of the four cups of Passover is slightly different than what we had here yesterday, so note that as well.) You can view that seminar at this link.


For several years, Bridgetown Church in Portland has been following a number of disciplines or practices which are summed up as a “Rule of Life.” Yesterday I listened for the second time to a 50-minute audio podcast recorded April 3rd in which John Mark Comer, Bethany Allen & Gavin Bennett apply it the present world situation. You can find that discussion at this link.


Lastly, in today’s announcements, a few days ago we had a piece here about the two disciples who experience a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on the Emmaus Road. Two guys, right? Maybe. Maybe not. In this article, we get to consider the possibility that, since only one is named, the other might be a woman.


Today’s devotional is taken from a June, 2008 newsletter published by David Wilkerson (author of The Cross and the Switchblade) at a time when the world was facing another crisis, the fear of a global economic collapse.

Without Fault Before the Throne of God

“…I have to fight off these fears daily. I feel bad about even having such feelings, because I know I should be trusting the Lord. But, frankly, things are becoming so frightening, it’s hard to keep all of my fears at bay.”

I believe our friend was voicing what multitudes of other sincere Christians are going through: a struggle to keep fear out of their hearts. Like her, most believers who write to our ministry sense that our nation is disintegrating and that some kind of ominous disaster is looming on the horizon. Now as they hear all these terrible reports of what’s happening in America and around the globe, they struggle just to rest in the promise of God’s keeping power.

Many Christians write to us that they can’t help being gripped by a very human fear. They think they’re not prepared for whatever perilous circumstances an economic collapse would bring. Others say they’re making preparations for their physical survival, because they’re convinced a financial holocaust will usher in social chaos as well.

The fact is, no matter how righteous we may be, no matter how strong our faith is, all of these frightful uncertainties coming to pass cannot help but affect our human emotions. It’s all very scary. And the worst part is, things are going to grow even more ominous in the days ahead.

But for the overcoming Christian, whose sins are covered by the blood of Jesus, there is very good news. And I believe if we keep our eyes focused on this good news, meditating on it night and day, no evil report will ever faze us. Here is the good news God wants us to know: We are all going to stand before the throne of judgement.

Now, if it seems bizarre to you that I’m calling this statement “good news,” I understand. But the truth is, if you’re a Christian, this kind of news shouldn’t sound bizarre at all. Let me explain.

God’s people have good reason to look beyond troubling times.

“It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

As Scripture testifies, our lives here on earth are like grass. One day we’re here, growing and thriving, and the next day we’re fading away with the season. We’re like the vapor of breath we see on a frosty day: here one moment and gone the next. And I’m convinced that just one moment into eternity, we’ll all realize how unimportant and fleeting our present fears and trials have been. We’ll also see just how present the Lord has been with us the whole time, watching over us with his saving and keeping power.

April 13, 2020

On the Cusp of the Four Cups

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:23 pm
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Okay, I don’t know why I chose that title for today’s devotional, but there is definitely something afoot in Luke 22: 13-23 about cups. We join the Passover meal (aka The Last Supper) in the middle of the story, where Jesus takes the second of four cups. Then the third. Bread in between. Only Luke offers this sequence.

That there are two cups in this story probably confuses new Christians who are accustomed to the Communion or Eucharist where there is one instance of bread and one instance of cup. The cup-bread-sequence needs to be understood.

I was thinking about this reading Devotions by Chris by Chris Hendrix in a post entitled The Promise of Redemption.

A traditional Passover meal, called a Seder, is a meal to commemorate the Israelites leaving Egypt. They recline to eat instead of sitting in a chair, eat matza (unleavened bread), bitter herbs and four cups of wine. The first cup of wine represents sanctification, which is the process of being made holy. It’s to remember that God’s people are to be set apart. The second cup represents the joy of Deliverance, a reminder that we are no longer under the yoke of slavery. The third cup is the cup of redemption. It was after eating the lamb as a reminder of the price paid for redemption. The fourth cup is the cup of restoration, a reminder that God would make His people a nation.

Think back to the night Jesus was betrayed (Good Friday). The disciples prepared the Passover meal where Jesus had told them to (Matthew 26:19). There’s no recording of the first cup of wine, but in Luke 22:17 we see the second cup where Jesus says He won’t drink it again until the Kingdom has come. We then read where Jesus broke the matza and blessed it. In verse 20 it says He lifted up another cup (third – redemption) and told them that He was making a new covenant confirmed with His blood as the Passover lamb. Matthew and Mark then say the went to the garden after this cup. While Jesus was on the cross, John 19 records that Jesus said He was thirsty. They lifted up sour wine to Him (fourth cup). Verse 30 says when He drank it, He said, “It is finished” and died. He finished the Passover meal and the fulfillment of it in that moment to redeem us and to restore us to God.

This drove me deeper into tracking down the cups in a Jewish context which took me to Chabad.org and this article which states,

G‑d uses four expressions of redemption in describing our Exodus from Egypt and our birth as a nation:

1. “I will take you out…”

2. “I will save you…”

3. “I will redeem you…”

4. “I will take you as a nation…”

Our sages instituted that we should drink a cup of wine, a toast if you will, for each one of these expressions. We recite the Kiddush over the first cup, we read the Exodus story from the Haggadah over the second cup, we recite the Grace after Meals over the third cup, and we sing the “big Hallel” (Psalms and hymns of praises to G‑d) over the fourth cup.

 There are a number of explanations as to the significance of the various stages of redemption conveyed through each of these expressions. Here is one:

1. Salvation from harsh labor—this began as soon as the plagues were introduced.

2. Salvation from servitude; or the day the Jews left Egypt geographically and arrived at Ramses.

3. The splitting of the sea, after which the Jews felt completely redeemed, without fear of the Egyptians recapturing them.

4. Becoming a nation at Sinai.

During the Seder we can experience these elements of redemption in a spiritual sense.

Another article by a different author at the same website offers various interpretations of the four cups.

We were liberated from Pharaoh’s four evil decrees: a) Slavery. b) The ordered murder of all male progeny by the Hebrew midwives. c) The drowning of all Hebrew boys in the Nile by Egyptian thugs. d) The decree ordering the Israelites to collect their own straw for use in their brick production.


The four cups symbolize our freedom from our four exiles: The Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek exiles, and our current exile which we hope to be rid of very soon with the coming of Moshiach.


The words “cup of wine” are mentioned four times in Pharaoh’s butler‘s dream (Genesis 40:11-13). According to the Midrash, these cups of wine alluded to the Israelites’ liberation.

The website of Chosen People Ministries shows each of these fulfilled in Christ:

The ministry of Messiah speaks to each of these four promises:

Messiah sanctifies us – “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19).

Messiah delivers us – “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Messiah redeems us – “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Messiah is our joy – “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

But the view suggested at the top of today`s devotional, that Jesus completes the Passover meal with the wine mixed with vinegar on the cross is occasionally challenged. Religion professor Jonathan Klawans states,

Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples did not take place on the first night of Passover. There is a real difference between John and the synoptics on this question, and John’s chronology continues to make much more sense to me: Jesus was tried and killed before the holiday began. By Seder time, he was buried.

Which begs the question, was this truly a ‘second cup, bread, third cup’ scenario? I would argue that it was a Passover meal. The notes in most Evangelical study Bibles would argue that it was, indeed a Passover meal, but suggest that the completion takes place at The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. (Notice the parallel lamb reference.)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”
 – Rev. 19:9 NLT

Back to Luke, I believe this ‘third’ cup is indeed Jesus of Nazareth saying, “I will redeem you.” He redefines both the bread and the wine, and most importantly, becomes our Passover lamb.

But that doesn’t dismiss Chris’ idea quoted at the outset, because you could accept that the wine/vinegar mix is cup number four if you are still anticipating cup number five. Yes, five.

You see, I didn’t give you the entirety of the first quotation from Chabad.org and I’m going to give them the last word, because I think the imagery from a Christian perspective is rather obvious!

There is actually a fifth expression in the above mentioned verses: “And I will bring you to the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance.

While the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation were permanent, we have yet to be brought to Israel on a permanent basis.

In honor of this verse we have a fifth cup at the Seder: the Cup of Elijah. This cup is set up for Elijah during the second half of the Seder, but we do not drink it. Elijah will announce the arrival of Moshiach1, who will bring all Jews to Israel, for good.


1(lit. “the anointed one”) the Messiah. One of the 13 principles of the Jewish faith is that G-d will send the Messiah to return the Jews to the land of Israel, rebuild the Holy Temple and usher in the utopian Messianic Era.

 

April 10, 2020

For Me He Died: A Good Friday Collection

 

Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross He was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.

Dying for me, dying for me,
There on the cross He was dying for me;
Now in His death my redemption I see,
All because Jesus was dying for me.

– early 20th Century hymn; vs 1, William Ovens, vs. 2, Gladys Toberts


…It’s like sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior.

-Early Christianity 201 post


Christ died. He left a will in which He gave His soul to His Father, His body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes to the soldiers, and His mother to John. But to His disciples, who had left all to follow Him, He left not silver or gold, but something far better – His PEACE!

– Matthew Henry


For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

-Colossians 1:19


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.

~ Watchman Nee


It must have been agonizing for Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – to acknowledge that in what was about to happen – the powers of darkness, which He could have no doubt thrown back with a single word – had been given free reign.

– Grant Gunnink; quoted at Daily Encouragement (C201 link)


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

– I Cor. 1:18


My hope is in the Lord
Who gave Himself for me,
And paid the price of all my sin
at Calvary.

For me He died,
For me He lives;
And everlasting life and light
He freely gives.

Hymn, My Hope is in the Lord, © 1945 Norman J. Clayton Publishing © Renewed 1973


May I never put anything above the cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. Through Him, the world has been crucified to me and I to this world.

– Galatians 6:14


The Jews thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being the Messiah, the Greeks thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being God, people today think that in being crucified Jesus failed at doing anything relevant – but if God can be spoken of as failing at anything when Jesus was crucified – God failed to treat us as our sins deserve.

-Clarke Dixon (C201 link)


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

-Ephesians 5:1,2


It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God Reigns, verses 3 and 4


But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

-Hebrews 2:9


The problem of sin is that it is a contagion and a captivity, which involves our complicity.

As a stain, sin is like a contagion that must be cleansed— as a virus must be eradicated from the body.

As blame, sin involves our complicity and thus blame must be borne.

As a power which leads to the penalty of death, sin is a captivity from which we must be freed.

In His death on the cross, Jesus purifies us from the stain of guilt, removes from us and bears in Himself the blame, and frees us from the power of Sin and Death.

Good Friday, indeed.

-Glenn Packiam (C201 link)


And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

-Hebrews 10:11-12


Into the cross of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Following through the garden,
Facing the dreaded foe;
Drinking the cup of sorrow,
Sobbing with broken heart,
“O Savior, help! Dear Savior, help!
Grace for my weakness impart.”

-Oswald J. Smith, Deeper and Deeper (C201 link)


It is true that I deserved death for sin just as do all of humankind. I had been caught in Satan’s deceits and those practices that were offensive to my creator and sovereign. Had justice been served neither I nor anyone else would have survived. Satan would have won. There would not have been a single person suitable for God’s presence.

– Russell Young (C201 link)


■ Here is the embedded link to the Good Friday (and Communion Service) playlist we’ve been promoting all week. This will play continuously as long as you leave this page open, or you can click through to YouTube and watch it (some of the songs are lyric videos) there. Unlike the hymns quoted above, these are all modern worship cross-centered songs.

 

June 18, 2019

Christ, the Bread of Life

by Russell Young

Some Jews tried to entice Jesus into performing a miraculous act asking him what sign he would give so that they might believe and offered that their fathers had eaten manna from heaven. Christ responded that it was not Moses who had given the manna but his heavenly Father. He followed that by asserting that the true bread from heaven gives life to the world (Jn 6:33) and declared that he is the bread of life. It is easy to skip over this pronouncement without further reflection. However, later in the passage he presents, “For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.” (Jn 6:55−56)

The requirement to eat his flesh and to drink his blood caused many disciples to leave him. He is not talking about literally eating his body of drinking his blood. Such a thought is certainly repulsive; his words are metaphorical. As well, “eats” and “drinks” should be understood as “is eating” and “is drinking”; they do not represent a single act, but a continuous one.

Christ, the rider on the white horse of Revelation, is referred to as “the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13) That is, to eat his flesh is to be feeding on the Word. Matthew has recorded, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4) Eating his flesh is continuously feeding on his Word.

Likewise, the blood refers to that which is life, or the Spirit. The LORD admonished the Israelites, “But be sure that you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life.” (Deut 12:23) Paul has written that the last Adam (Christ), is “a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), and the Lord stated, “the Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63) While life exists in the blood of a living body, it is the Holy Spirit who gives life to the body of death by cleansing it from its misdeeds. (Rom 8:13)

When Christ said that you must eat his body and drink his blood, he is presenting that you must feed on his Word and allow the Spirit to quicken or to give life to the body that loves sin. This though is born out in Revelation. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) These believers had overcome Satan by the blood of Christ which provided atonement for sin and by the words that their life-testimony spoke; they way they had lived. In speaking to the woman at the well, Christ reported, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Paul wrote: “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth (his Word).” (2 Thess 2:13)

It is unfortunate that communion services have limited understanding to the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine as emblems of Christ’s offering on the cross. He also commanded people to eat and to drink of those emblems, to take them in, for he is both the Word and the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18). Communion is to be a reminder of what Christ has accomplished and of what he is still accomplishing and needs to be completed through his Spirit, the redemption or sanctification of the body. It is a reminder of that which believers must do to complete or to finish their salvation. (Phil 2:12)

John has recorded the Lord’s words of admonishment that people should “remain” in him and that they could be cut out. He stated, “Remain in me and I will remain in you” (Jn 15:4) and “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) and in John 6:56 it is recorded, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” The one who would remain in Christ and who would enjoy fellowship with him must feed on his Word and practices the life-giving power of the Spirit.

The person who would avoid God’s wrath and seek his eternal kingdom cannot gain his or her hope through easy-believism; the truth of God’s Word must be honored, and the Spirit must be obeyed. Christ is to be the bread of life and the Spirit must give life through the defeat of temptations as the believer is conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) and made into an offering acceptable to him, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:16)



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

June 28, 2017

5 Messages in The Lord’s Table

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Do this in remembrance of me – Jesus in Luke 22:19

Normally we wait six months before returning to a particular source, but this article at Parking Space 23 grabbed our attention a few days ago. The author is William Barrick.

Why Do We Observe the Lord’s Supper?

God appointed two ordinances to the church: believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper (also called the Lord’s Table and Communion). Baptism consists of the declaration of one’s salvation, of being “in Christ Jesus” by faith.

Baptism symbolizes our commitment of faith;
the Lord’s Supper symbolizes our obligation to brotherly love and to the “one anothers.”

Baptism is our Godward obedience;
the Lord’s Supper is our brotherward obedience.

The Lord’s Supper provides a picture of the full program of redemption:

  1. It requires Christ’s incarnation: “My body . . . My blood” (Matthew 26:26–29).
  2. It demands Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice: “for you” (Luke 22:19).
  3. It indicates Christ’s inauguration of the New Covenant: “the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20).
  4. It identifies the believer as united to the body of Christ, the Church: “we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17).
  5. It demands that we live for one another: “wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:17–22, 33).

The Lord’s Supper associates Christ’s future Kingdom with His institution of this ordinance and the church’s observance. At the conclusion of 1 Corinthians 11:23 – 26, Paul reminds us that by our observance of the Lord’s Table we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Jesus is coming again! Jesus referred to the Kingdom of Christ being on the earth “in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29; see Luke 22:18). When He comes, He will bring the kingdom of His Father with Him (Luke 19:11–15). And, that future Kingdom is associated with the coming resurrection and glorification of believers: “until the day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). When He comes, we will have fellowship with Him.

The Lord’s Table presents multiple messages. Note the following:

  1. The focus of the Lord’s Supper rests on our Savior: “do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
  2. The Lord’s Supper testifies to the fulfillment of prophetic revelation and to divine faithfulness with regard to our future: “the Son of Man is going as it has been determined” (Luke 22:22).
  3. The Lord’s Supper declares divine grace and mercy in the forgiveness of our sins: “for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
  4. The Lord’s Supper speaks of the future glory of the Kingdom as our hope (see the discussion of the Kingdom relationship above).
  5. The Lord’s Supper emphasizes our union with the body of Christ, the Church (1 Corinthians 10:16–17).

Concluding Thoughts

The Lord’s Supper presents the full redemptive work of Christ—past, present, and future. The observance of this ordinance provides a mini-catechism regarding our salvation in Christ and His work. The Lord’s Supper calls us to live in unity with one another and to exercise our spiritual gifts for one another—note how closely the instruction in spiritual gifts comes (1 Corinthians 12–14) after the section concerning the Lord’s Supper.


The Lord’s supper is a recurring theme here. Click one of the tags associated with this post to read more.

September 18, 2016

Communion: Eating and Drinking, the Forgotten Components

Communionby Russell Young

Communion should be a powerful reminder, not just of what Christ has done but of that which he continues to do in the believer’s life.  It is well understood that the body of Christ was broken for mankind; the significance of eating the bread and drinking the wine is less well appreciated.

Christ said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53 NIV) Although some do not connect this revelation to communion its linking seems obvious.  The Lord has made it clear that unless the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood is done, a person has no life.  Communion is not only a command of Christ; it should be a potent reminder of the Lord’s ongoing ministry for the believer and of each person’s need.  It is not so much obedience to the command that God requires as it is a reminder to continuously eat and drink of the Lord.

Luke has recorded the Lord’s Passover celebration: “And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in [because of, through] my blood, which was poured out for you.” (Lk 22:19-20 NIV) The new covenant, a covenant of the Spirit, was made available through the blood of Christ (Heb 9:15) and is only accomplished through the willingness of the believer to be led by the Spirit.

The bread of communion is to remember that Jesus, the Christ, gave his body as propitiation for the sins of the world. Bread also had great spiritual significance for the Israelites. Bread was and is a staple of life.  It nourishes the body and provides strength.  In the wilderness, manna, which was bread-like, had been provided for the Israelites. It was very nourishing and gave life to the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness.  However, Moses told them that “man does not live on bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:3 NIV) Christ said that he was the bread of life, the nourishment they needed.  He promised that those who “eat” (take him in) would never die. He said, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (Jn 6:48-49 NIV) Jesus is also referenced as being “the Word.” (Jn 1:1; Rev 18:13)

The Bible also states that Ezekiel was given a scroll and was told to eat. “Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (Eze 3:4 NIV) The apostle John was also given a little scroll and was told to eat it (Rev 10:9), after which he was told to prophesy again. The scrolls contained the words of God and these servants were told to eat them.

The bread not only represents the Lord’s death, the significance of communion also rests in the understanding that the bread is God’s Word which must be taken in daily. Bread needs to be chewed, to be digested, in order to be made useful; it cannot be swallowed whole. Likewise, the Word needs to be “chewed” and digested.

Neither is wine a mere remembrance of the shed blood of Christ.  Life is in the blood. (Deut 12:23) Blood symbolizes the Spirit and drinking it symbolizes taking in the Spirit.  “The Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63 NIV) “He [came to] convict the world [including the believer] of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) The Spirit saves through his sanctifying work. (2 Thess 2:13; Titus 3:5-6) Since his sanctifying work has not been completed (Gal 5:5), neither has the believer’s need.  Communion needs to be a reminder of that fact; he or she must take in the Spirit and allow their Lord to live within them, leading them in righteousness apart from the law (Rom 8:4 ), into sonship (Rom 8:9) and it is he who will provide the believer with eternal life. (Heb 5:9; Jn 10:27-28) The people who will dwell in the Lord’s eternal presence are required to “let the Spirit renew [their] thoughts and attitudes.” (Eph 4:24 NLT; Rom 8:29)

Eating the bread is a different issue than breaking it.  The eating is a reminder that Christ is in the believer and that his Word must also be within them.  The living Spirit provided through the Lord’s blood is necessary if the believer is to gain victory over sin and to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son. Christ in the believer is his hope of glory (Col 1:27) and the means of glorifying him. The acts of eating the bread and of drinking the wine will not clearly portray meaning to the believer until their significance is commemorated. Neither will the fullness of the Lord’s ministry and of the believer’s need be remembered until proper celebration takes place.

How great is God!  There is no good thing in us.  But, with Christ in us what great things can be accomplished.  What “good” is possible!  The fullness of His ministry must be commemorated! This must be remembered regularly.

January 17, 2015

On Being Worthy To Take Communion

Today we return to the website GreatBibleTeaching.com to look at a subject on which people might see it differently depending on their interpretation or their tradition. It’s a longer article today, but the author’s points are easy to follow. You can copy/paste the references into BibleGatway.com to read the texts in your preferred translation. Click the title below to read at source.

Taking Communion and Judgment

One of the beliefs that I disagree with in many churches today, is their understanding of being worthy to take communion. They believe that you have to be right with God, and not have sin in your life, in order to be worthy to take communion. Let’s take a look at the scripture they use to justify this position:

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

1 Corinthians 11:27-32 KJV

At face value, it appears they are right, doesn’t it? It is important to remember that just because the Bible says something, does not mean that the way we interpret it is correct.

What was Paul talking about then?

If you read the full context of the passage, it is talking about the unworthy manner which they were partaking. Most newer translations actually use the words “unworthy manner” (including the NKJV, NIV, NASB, ESV, and RSV). If you read the passage within its proper context, it becomes very clear what it was Paul was referring to. Let’s quote the entire passage:

When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

1 Corinthians 11:20-34 KJV

First underlining above speaks of what was actually going on – they were eating and drinking the communion elements to satisfy their physical hunger! It was so bad that they were getting drunk on the wine! Are you kidding me?! Paul was outraged, asking them if they had not homes to eat and drink in. If you study your Bible, those Corinthians were quite a handful. Most of us today wouldn’t dare think of mocking of work of Christ by consuming the elements of communion in such an unworthy manner.

CommunionSecond underlining tells us why they fell under condemnation and drank judgment unto themselves – it was because they weren’t discerning the Lord’s body! Biblically speaking, that is the reason for the condemnation that they came under. It had nothing to do with their hearts not being right in some area of their life.

Third underlining confirms the reason for the condemnation, and it all has to do with eating and drinking the elements to satisfy physical hunger rather than for the purpose to which it was truly intended. Paul tells us to eat at home so that when we partake in the elements, we are not doing so for the wrong reasons. Or in Paul’s exact words, “…if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation.”

Can it be any more clear what it was Paul was referring to in this passage? It’s written in black and white on the pages of God’s Word, but it’s up to us to choose whether we’re going to accept what the Bible really says, or if we’re going to hold on to a religious teaching because of our filters and preferences. You can continue to believe what you feel in your spirit, due to your religious tendencies, but I choose to believe what the Word of God is really telling us in this passage.

Partaking in a worthy manner vs being worthy to partake

Can we partake in a worthy manner? Yes, absolutely! Can even the best of us be truly worthy to eat of the Lord’s body and drink of His blood? No, absolutely not! And to claim that we are worthy is putting an awfully lot of confidence in the flesh and our ability to rid ourselves of sin. To claim that we are worthy to take of the Lord’s body and blood, is very prideful and self-righteous. None of us are worthy to partake in the blood and body of the Lord, and if we are to be worthy, it would only be through the body and blood of Christ making us worthy. If we don’t partake in it, then how are we supposed to become worthy then? That is like telling somebody to wash themselves before they are worthy to take a bath. (more…)

December 7, 2014

I Am Mess

There is a Roman Catholic tradition that one does not partake of The Lord’s Supper without having been to confession. The confessional booth was created for this particular purpose, and is often looked down at by non-Catholics as ‘one more thing the Roman church has added to the Christian faith.’ But while it institutionalizes something the Early Church would have seen take place more organically, it is part of the our mandate as we approach the Eucharist or Communion table.

In the instructions for instituting The Lord’s Supper, the King James version translated I Cor. 11:28 with the familiar words, “But let a man examine himself.” Here’s how The Message deals with it through to verse 34:

27-28 Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.

29-32 If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences. That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave. If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on. Better to be confronted by the Master now than to face a fiery confrontation later.

The posture with which we come to Communion is a posture of confession.

Unfortunately, this is not always emphasized in all of our churches, and while a few do provide a time of silence for such, many places of worship do not, and many who have more recently become part of our congregations don’t know this teaching.

Having been raised with this, I have no problem remembering this. Sometimes my prayer begins, “Lord, I’m a mess.” I know my heart, and I know God knows my heart. Yes, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9) and yes, we’re very good at rationalizing our own righteousness (Prov. 16:2) as in, ‘Hey, I’m not as bad as my friend.’ But the moments preceding the communion elements are no time for pretense, at that moment, transparency and honesty is the order of the day. My thoughts might be drawn to:

  • the anger I may feel toward someone who has wronged me, even things that happened years ago;
  • obsessing over regrets concerning past choices;
  • lustful thoughts and more lustful thoughts;
  • terrible stewardship over the use of time;
  • a climate of fear and anxiety which slows lack of trust in God;
  • neglecting Bible reading and study to the degree that would be expected of me;
  • wishes that certain proud or arrogant people would fail, or just people with whom I don’t see eye-to-eye.

Those are just a few that I thought of immediately. I’m sure there are more. You might be reading this and identifying, or maybe you’re further along in spiritual formation and now think I’m a terrible person!  Either way, I come to God with some very small inkling of what my life must appear like before a capital ‘H’ Holy God.

But today, instead of just saying, ‘I’m a mess,’ I found myself saying, ‘I am mess.’ (Take a minute to reflect on the difference.) I don’t just sin, but I am sin personified. Without God’s help, I am a picture of the human condition. I know some will read this and say, ‘Well that’s just the accuser of the brethren talking to you, don’t listen to it.’ But David said, ‘My sin is always present before me (Ps. 51:3).

Both scripture and church liturgy are full of prayers of confession.

But — and here the writers of scripture would add, ‘Thanks be to God’ — we don’t have to stay defined by and defining what it means to sinful and separated from God. We also have the assurance of pardon.

I John 1:9 reminds us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)


From the link above, here is the assurance of pardon as found in the Book of Common Prayer:

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has no pleasure in the death of sinners,
but would rather they should turn from their wickedness and live.
He has given authority to his ministers to declare to his people when they repent
the forgiveness of their sins.
God pardons and absolves all who truly repent and believe his holy gospel.
So we ask him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit,
that what we do now may please him
and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy,
so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

If your life is a mess, or if you just feel like you are mess, the Father wants us to come to him. But this is not something we do once upon a time and then write the date in the front cover of our Bible and that’s it, we’re done.  No God wants us to come to Him regularly and confess that we do wander from His best, and that we are a people in need of a Savior.  True repentance is a sincere acknowledgement of sin, but yes, we will mess up again. Maybe in another area. But his assurance of pardon is always there, even as we come to him over and over and over and over again.

 

Posted jointly with Thinking Out Loud

April 12, 2014

Cheapening Spiritual Progress with Gifts

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
  Matthew 7:6

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote about the trend toward feeling obligated to purchase a gift for someone who is being baptized as a teen or adult, an obligation perhaps borrowed from our Catholic (Confirmation) or Jewish (Bar Mitzvah) friends.  In that context, today’s opening scripture verse may seem a little extreme, but I believe the verse applies to anything which might trivialize or reduce someone’s sincere (hopefully) spiritual steps with gift-ware.

I suspect the logic works like this: Family and friends have been invited to the church. They will have everyone over to their house afterwards. Food and beverages will be served. There will be laughter and celebration. That constitutes a party. Therefore, I must take a gift.

I am all for celebrating spiritual occasions. When the prodigal son’s father saw his son returning in the distance his heart was filled with joy:

Luke 15:20“…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The son begins his well-rehearsed admission of contrition and humility, but the father interrupts:

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Sorrow and sadness
Turn into gladness.

But for many young people, a spiritual step that is marked with gifts — or even worse, cash — sends a mixed message. I know I have a very biased preference for books, but it seems like, if anything, a good time for a Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, or a copy of the scriptures in a novice-friendly translation.

Of the various youth-friendly, scripture-based things the gift-ware industry has created over the past decade, I’ve always liked the “Whatever” plaque from Abbey Press because it is a Bible quotation that is a good prescription for life for a young person.,

Whatever plaque

The text is based on Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

If a gift is absolutely necessary, that’s a sentiment I would endorse.

How else might we trivialize the things of God?  In looking back, I’ve referred to the “dogs” verse in Matthew twice before here.

One post dealt with several things at once:

  • We can pray repetitiously, reciting memorized prayers without thinking of their meaning
  • We can omit to pay proper reverence to the name of God
  • We can fail to regard as sacred the writings of scripture and the books that contain them
  • We can substitute subjective testimonies for actual Bible teaching
  • We can discount the importance of committing some of the scriptures to memory
  • We can have a rather casual approach to church services, small group meetings, etc.

In another post, I wrote about how as leaders, we can trivialize the importance of special times for The Church, using Good Friday as an example. We can neglect to immerse our congregations in His humility (washing the feet of The Twelve), his pain and sadness (showing how he would be betrayed and using the cup of sorrow in the Passover meal as example), and his anguish and suffering (at his trial, scourging, crucifixion and death.) For more of my thoughts on how might we ‘miss the moment’ on this particular day of all days, read this recent essay on the other blog.  In the two paragraphs that follow, I explain how we get to this conclusion from the opening verse:

Go Deeper: I should also say that there is much more going on in the ‘giving holy things to God’ and ‘giving pearls to pigs’ verse than what I’ve touched on in the three times it has come up here. While the verse seems to speak to all the things we’ve discussed, the context has to do with judging, but even there, this proverbial saying seems somewhat of an interjection and several Bible commentators skip over it altogether. In its most literal reading, the dogs and swine represent Gentiles, or by extension, unbelievers. It could be argued here that this is stating we are to judge within the family of God and not attempt to judge the world at large.

The broader application of this verse to mean “Don’t offer spiritual ‘pearls’ or things of great value to those who lack the understanding to absorb or process the meaning of them” is really being reversed to say, “Don’t take things which possess great meaning and value and expunge or excise (or we could say, diminish, depreciate or pejorate) all or some of that richness.

In the same Prodigal Son story we read in verse 10,

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

By all means celebrate. But don’t reduce someone’s pursuit of God and desire to live a set-apart life by offering something purchased only because you feel you had to.

We’ll close today with our opening verse as taken from The Message Bible, which seems to lean more to the way we’ve applied it here:

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

 

April 3, 2014

Meeting With God

Hebrews 10: 19+20

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,
(NIV)

This week we participated in a most unusual communion service. The elements — the bread and juice — were placed on a table in a self-serve style. Nothing unusual so far, right? But to get to them you had to walk behind a curtain, single file, one at a time. Suddenly, you were in there, all alone, just you and God.

Others were waiting and they joked ahead of time that they’d ‘tie a rope to your feet and pull you out if you stay too long,’ but you had these brief seconds to enter into the ‘Holy of Holies’ and express to God in a whispered prayer whatever you would say to Him, or listen to whatever He would say to you.

It’s a communion or Eucharist that I will never forget.

It brought home the idea that although we worship corporately at weekend services, ultimately, our relationship with God is individual. We’re not saved, or counted among God’s people because of what our church does collectively, but because of our personal response to God.  Consider the difference between these two phrases:

  • ‘We had communion at church this Sunday’   or
  • ‘While in the service today, I communed with God’

That got me thinking about the broader aspects of making our experience(s) with God more individual.

I think that sometimes people are critical of the phrases “accepted Christ” and “personal Savior,” when the problem can be solved with a rearrangement of one or two words. Consider the difference between:

  • ‘I accepted Christ as my personal Savior’   and
  • ‘I personally acknowledged Christ as Savior’

But then, the personal has to go beyond the initial conversion experience. Consider phrases like:

  • ‘We’re now part of local congregation’
  • ‘I’ve joined a weekly small group Bible study’

Each implies the idea of assimilating into the larger body, and that’s right and good, but total assimilation would mean the loss of personal identity. Your relationship to Christ cannot be expressed in terms of a relationship to a Church or study group.  (Note: Or biological family.)

Try these on for size; say them out loud if necessary; and see if they fit you:

  • ‘I am growing in my understanding of the ways of God’
  • ‘I am more fully aware of God’s presence in my life’
  • ‘I am increasingly making decisions subject to God’s desires’
  • ‘My appreciation for what Jesus did is a daily factor in my life’
  • ‘I am so thankful for God’s grace’

These I/My statements — and others like them you can add in the comments — should be at the core of our spiritual identity, not statements like:

  • ‘I’m really enjoying the church I’m attending’ or
  • ‘My pastor is absolutely amazing’

Maybe your pastor is amazing, but he will have to give his own account to God, and you will have to give yours.

II Cor. 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (NLT)

Romans 14:12

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (NIV)

 

 

March 29, 2013

Trivializing Good Friday

Matthew 7:6a “Do not give dogs what is sacred…”

Although the passage above normally refers to offering your spiritual gifts, your ministry, your teachings to people who are unreceptive, there is an equally opposite danger that can occur when people are receptive by virtue of being hungry and thirsty for the deeper things of God and those  in leadership fail to provide the spiritual necessities.

In other words, if you can profane your teaching by offering it to people who treat it with contempt and scorn, I believe you can also profane it — and treat it with contempt — by offering less than the best that is appropriate to a particular situation.

One of the ways I think we do this is by failing to really get inside the moment that is Good Friday. If we fail to allow our hearts to capture Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf, then we have nothing to share with others who want that to be the focus of their holy day. We show ourselves to be extremely shallow spiritually.

If you have the responsibility of planning a service for Good Friday — or any part of it — it’s so important to bury yourself in the story and then let the text speak to you as you decide which elements of that story to impart to others. Otherwise, you’re guilty of trivializing the text, trivializing the day, trivializing Christ’s atoning work in suffering and dying for us.

One of the shortest verses in scripture is “Jesus wept.”  We tend to want to reduce the events between His arrest and His resurrection — which we will celebrate on Resurrection Sunday, but in Good Friday, not yet — to a simple text of “Jesus died.” But in reality, it goes on for chapters, in all four gospels, and is the very centerpiece of our faith, and the centerpiece of all of scripture, first and second testaments included.

We dare not trivialize that.

In fact, three years ago I wrote about a familiar passage in I Cor. 11, and noted that really, the betrayal of Jesus what ‘hatching’ in the mind of Judas long before the Passion Week narrative begins. With the religious leaders of the day, Jesus’ death was a work in progress.

“On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and… broke it saying, ‘This is my Body, broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.'”

I didn’t even need to look it up. Here’s what I wrote back then:

As English shifts, modern ears might be getting this as “After Jesus was betrayed he took bread…”

I think a better reading would be, “On the night that Jesus was about to be betrayed…”

Or better yet, “Knowing full well that he was just a couple of hours from being betrayed, he took bread…”

Judas was about to exit the building. His scheming mind hatched the plan needed to locate and identify Jesus with the least interference from the crowd, and bring him before the Romans to mete out the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. There would be profit in this, not to mention a place of honor among both Pharisees and Romans alike.

But before he even left, Jesus says, “This is my Body, broken for you.” He is in control. He is giving Himself.

The Wycliffe Version isn’t the translation on Bible Gateway that most bloggers turn to, but its rendering is unique: “Take ye, and eat ye; this is my body, which shall be betrayed for you; do ye this thing into my mind.” (italics added)

It clears up the verb tense thing as it relates to the order of events, which shall (or will) be broken for you, only it has the surprise element of bringing betrayal in that clause as well: shall be betrayed for you.

Christ’s body was physically broken for us, but his esprit was no doubt broken by the betrayal of someone who He had walked and talked with; someone whom He had taught in the give and take sense of eastern teaching — for three years.

The Amplified Bible is one of the few other translations that addresses the order of events. Note the section I’ve italicized: “For I received from the Lord Himself that which I passed on to you [it was given to me personally], that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was treacherously delivered up and while His betrayal was in progress took bread…”

In a culture that grows less Biblically literate by the day, I think it necessary to sometimes look twice at details of the story that we just assume that people know. Necessary to clarify, to remove confusion.

But sometimes, in the examination, there is discovery, and the familiar narrative continues to take on shades of depth and meaning beyond anything we’d already considered.

Thinking Out Loud, Jan 4, 2010

… To which I add today, that it is in the closer readings, in the rediscoveries, we are drawn deep into those long ago days and less likely to rush through or trivialize the proceedings of a sacred time in our church calendar.

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