Category Archives: Faith

The Lord’s Supper and the Church As Family

As you know, one of the metaphors used to describe a church is family. In the best sense, family is a warm and lovely image. So it is with the church, the family of God. Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ, bearing the burdens of each other and supporting one another. But as we all know, a family can also have some stressful moments too. Anyone who has grown up with siblings know that brothers and sisters don’t always play so nice together. And so it is with any local church at any given moment.

Family-Church

Churches are people with a myriad of different personalities, who bring all sorts of different baggage to the table. At any given moment, someone says or does something that bothers someone else, unknowingly causes offense, and may even create some level of animosity and division. How does the church deal with this?

The Lord’s Supper

The Corinthian church had a lot of problems. Among those problems was their participation in the Lord’s Supper. According to 1 Corinthians 11, some of the Christians were stuffing themselves and getting drunk (imagine that!) while leaving nothing for others, leaving some still hungry (vv. 20-21). So what does Paul do to remedy the problem? He tells them about their participation in the Lord’s Supper. Here’s what Paul says in vv. 23-26:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Paul reminds them that this Lord’s Supper involves both remembering and proclaiming.

Remembering goes back to the Passover in which the Jews would come together and remember how God delivered them from Egyptian bondage. So partaking of the body and blood of the Lord is to remember the redemptive grace God has shown us in the death of Christ. Proclaiming is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” says Paul. The scope of this proclamation is past, present, and future. It is to embrace the grace of Christ, which involves the most unselfish act of giving his own life up for the sake others, as the church’s way of life.

Reading the remaining part of 1 Corinthians 11, we see how effortlessly Paul moves from participation in the Lord’s Supper to how it ought to shape the social-practice of the church. What the church remembers and proclaims (belief) as it participates in the Lord’s Supper must extend beyond the actual meal and transform how the church relates to one another (practice). This has everything to do with being a family.

As Christ, So We

In his book Captive to the Word of God, Miroslav Volf suggests the connection between belief and practice involves an as-so structure saying “as God has received us in Christ, so we too are to receive our fellow human beings” (p. 46). This is a helpful way of understanding how our participation in the Lord’s Supper ought to shape the social-practice of the church as a family. It says that as a church remembers Christ and proclaims his death until he come, so also should every believer grant the same grace God has granted them to their brothers and sisters in Christ. In this way, participation in the Lord’s Supper is a rehearsal of what we believe, which is wrapped up in the grace of God, so that we can act towards each other as we have rehearsed.

So as a family, Christians are going to say and do thing that get on the nerves of each other from time to time. Sometimes the offense has caused enough harm that it creates division and in those cases, with repentance, an apology is necessary so that reconciliation can take place. However, what is also needed is an assumption of grace. Every Christian has a bad day, moments when they don’t put their best foot forward . . . times when they say something wrong. In those moments people need to know that they’re forgiven and that their brothers and sisters in Christ don’t hold what they said or did against them because they’re a family who grants each other the same grace that they have received in Christ.

That’s how the many imperfect churches lives as a healthy family! Families forgive rather than hold grudges. I grew up with two brothers and two sisters in my nuclear family. Sometimes we would say and do things that irritated each other, made each other mad, etc… But we learned to love each other, let things go, and carry on as brothers and sister. That’s how it should be in every church and when Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper, they are saying this is how it will be in their church.

Blessing The Children

Yesterday the Columbia Church of Christ had our blessing of the children. Besides singing songs and reading scripture about the abundant blessings of God, the message was about the role parents and the church plays in raising children as faithful followers of Jesus. At the end of the message, the parents brought their children and committed to raising them as followers of Jesus, with the church lifting each child up in a prayer of blessing. After blessing our children, we shared in the Lord’s Supper together.

The following was part of the prayer of blessing offered for our children:

As the family of God, a congregation of whom Jesus is the head…We ask for you God, our Father in heaven to bless these children…

Lord, we praise you for the life of these children and ask you to surround everyone of them with your blessing, that they each may know your love and may be protected from all evil, knowing your goodness all the days of their lives.

Lord, we ask that you bless the parents of these children, giving them the grace to love and care for their children with patience and faith. As they stand before us as a profession of their commitment to teach their children to be followers of your Son, Jesus, may your Spirit grant them wisdom and guidance to live as Jesus, setting an example of what it means to be a Christian!

And Lord, as we give these Bibles to the newest born children among us, we pray that as they grow up, they will receive the scriptures as your word, shaping them and becoming their story… our story…your story, Lord! Amen!*

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* Adapted from an Anglican prayer of blessing for children.

Do We Have To Go To Church?

“Do we have to go to church?”* said most everyone of us at some point in our life. I’ve asked that question before and I’m sure other minister have done so as well.

I get the question. People are asking if attending a Sunday church assembly is necessary. Part of me wants to whip out Hebrews 10:25 as a prooftext, where the writer of Hebrews warns against forsaking the assembly. If were looking for a law, which a question like this often assumes, then the instruction in Hebrews appears sufficient. Having said all that, something else has already gone afoul when we have to ask the question of whether it is necessary to assemble with our church… on Sunday or any other time when the church assembles.

What Are We Asking, Saying, and Doing?

The question of whether we have to go to church also assumes a view of church that is widely accepted but still wrong. The assumption is that church is where we go and what we do rather than who we are as a community of disciples. Hence, we speak of church in the third-person singular rather than the first-person plural voice. Church is no longer thought of in terms of who we are − our identity as a community of disciples − but as an independent part of our life.

The problem is deeper though. As I pointed to earlier, the question assumes a legalistic approach to the Christian faith. This legalism holds that there are certain laws that must be kept in order to remain a faithful Christian and the question wants to know if going to church is necessary to remain a faithful Christian. However, most of the time it seems as though the person asking is looking for an out… a legal loophole, so to speak. Perhaps the person wants to justify sleeping in on Sunday morning, heading out to the golf course, the deer stand, etc… Because church is already regarded as just a part of life, something the person goes to do rather their way of live, church is now becoming even a lesser part of life.

In reality, the question of whether or not we have do go to church says much about our relationship with God. Since church is only a part of our life and is becoming a lesser part of life, God is no longer first. God is replace with something else, which is now more important and that is a deeper issue.

A Spiritual Disease?

As I think about the deeper issue, I am reminded of the story in the Gospel of Luke about the rich ruler (Lk 18:18-29). The man’s problem is not his wealth, it’s putting his wealth before God! Trying to justify himself he comes to Jesus inquiring about what is necessary for eternal life, so Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. Of course, this wealthy man is already keeping the commandments. There’s still one problem and Jesus calls him on it… This man loves his riches more than he loves God and so his riches, rather than God, are his top priority. So he left, unable to follow Jesus into the kingdom because he loved his riches more than he loved God.

We can’t and don’t go to church because we are the church! Yet as the church, we gather together as an assembly in various formats and these gatherings are important. There are times when we cannot assemble and have legitimate reasons for not being able to do so. But when we begin to see the assembly as the church and separate that into just one part of our life, we inevitably do the same with God. For our relationship with God is bound within the community (church) of God’s people which God has made us a part of. When we relegate this relationship into one part among other parts of our life like family, work, hobbies, and so on, those other parts have the potential of becoming more important.

When this happens we end up asking questions like “Do we really have to go to church?” It’s a spiritual disease because what we really seem to be asking is “Do we really have to put God first?”

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* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (October 1, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

My Top 10 Books

After receiving a nomination to do so, I listed on Facebook the top 10 favorite books sitting on my bookshelves. All of these books have been read within the last fifteen years of my life and I selected each because of their impact when I read each book. I’m listing them here with a brief comment for each book as to why it makes my top 10 list. Regardless of what edition I read, I am providing links (click on the titles) to each of the latest book editions. Also, this should go without saying but for the sake of clarity, this list pertains to non-biblical books. The Bible is obviously my favorite and most read book.

So here are my top ten books… for now:

  1. Vincent J. Donavan, “Christianity Rediscovered.” This is the story of how one Catholic missionary begins anew with one desire, to teach the Masai people about Jesus, and rediscovers what it means to live by faith as a follower of Jesus. The book is full of fascinating insights for the missionary, pastor, or parishioner.
  2. N.T. Wright, “Surprised By Hope.” This book is about what the future life to come will be like because of what God has redemptively accomplished in Christ. It gave a succinct voice to a lot of thoughts I was already developing as I read scripture.
  3. Jürgen Moltmann, “Theology of Hope.” This book is fairly dense reading on the subject of Christian eschatology rooted in christology. The idea of our future being present to us in the resurrection of Christ was a theological paradigm shift for me and remains very provocative idea in a good sense.
  4. Alan Hirsch & Micheal Frost, “The Shaping of Things to Come.” This is the book that opened me to the missional church conversation that had started emerging. I read the book just after having moved from Memphis, TN to Ithaca, NY and I needed to think more like a missionary and help lead churches towards a missional (as opposed to pastoral) stance.
  5. John Howard Yoder, “The Politics of Jesus.” Um… Although this is a pretty dense book, I managed to read it during my last year as an undergraduate student at Harding University. Major paradigm shift! Prior to that, living as a Christian in America was easy because both my understanding of the life Jesus calls us to follow him in living and the American life were pretty much flowing in the same direction. After reading this book, everything changed.
  6. Christopher J.H. Wright, “The Mission of God.” This book offers a comprehensive theology of the Bible showing how the entire Bible is the story of God’s mission and how this shapes the way we read scripture. The author’s treatment of sub-topics such as faith, idolatry, covenant, and so forth are also more than worth the time you’ll take to read through this tome.
  7. N.T. Wright, “The New Testament and the People of God.” This book really helped unlock the culture and mindset of the world of Second-Temple Judaism which the gospel unfolds within, giving rise to the New Testament. Wright’s treatment of how this shapes the way we understand the New Testament and his “five-act play” treatment of how we read and practice scripture as participants of the story is essential reading, in my opinion, for any minister of the gospel.
  8. Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew, “The Drama of Scripture.” A friend and fellow Christian gave me a copy of this book and since reading it, I have been recommending it to other people (I’ve even given a few copies away myself). The book is an easy read, written for undergraduate students with little to no understanding of the Bible. Therefore the book is sort of a “cliff notes” version of the Bible, presenting the coherent account of the Bible as a single narrative projecting it’s own worldview which Christians are called to live out of. 
  9. Rubel Shelly, “I Just Want To Be a Christian. At a time when my understanding of Christianity was very sectarian, this book helped me see a vision for nonsectarian Christianity by showing me what the formative leaders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement were seeking in attempting to restore New Testament Christianity. I believe this book and the author, more importantly, is the most important piece of literature to be written among the Churches of Christ in the last fifty years because of the impact this book had (for the better too).
  10. Walter Brueggemann, “The Prophetic Imagination.” This book is a short treatment of the prophetic voice in the Old Testament and the author is challenging and thought provoking as he seeks to have the reader take seriously the alternative vision of the prophetic vision. I can assure you that the next time I preach through one of the prophetic books in the Old Testament, I’ll be reading this book again.

When The Glamour Fades… Discipleship

I’ve been preaching through the Gospel of Mark, which is probably my favorite  of the four Gospels in the New Testament. In a nutshell, the Gospel of Mark is about what it means to truly believe in Jesus. Discipleship!

Reading through the Mark’s Gospel will remind you that Jesus did call us to be just good “church-going” folks. Jesus calls us to follow him and as Mark reminds us, that call takes us to the place where we must choose to pick up our own cross and continue following Jesus into this narrow way that leads to life (cf. Mk. 8:34-35). So I’ll leave you with a quote from a book I recently read by Richard V. Peace, Conversion in the New Testament, reminding us that the following Jesus will not always be an ecstatic journey:

“To follow Jesus as the teacher/prophet/Messiah of popular imagination is one thing. This has glamour and appeal. Clearly Jesus is in touch with the power of God, and equally clearly he plays a unique and special role in God’s scheme of things. But the glamour fades quickly when following Jesus is defined in terms of self-denial and cross-bearing” (p. 257).

Whatever it may look like to deny ourselves and bear our own cross on a daily basis, we do it not because it is easy or pleasurable but because we believe in Jesus… because we believe that salvation only is found in following Jesus into his crucifixion and resurrection.

As darkness and evil continues among the world, may we remember our faith in Jesus!

Discerning The Question of Vocation

For most Christians who work, who are employed in some capacity, we are expected to diligently carry out certain job requirements that support the organization of our employment. Whether your vocation is an auto mechanic, school teacher, lawyer, engineer, truck-driver, military soldier, or even a pastor of a church, you work in an organization of some sort. Whether it’s the government, a private corporation, or in the non-profit sector, it’s an organization of some sort with its own express mission, values, and goals. So, theoretically, as Christians we must ask a very discerning question about vocation:

Can I carry out the responsibilities of my job, supporting the organization of my employment and remain faithful as a follower of Jesus?

Now I want to know the following…

  • Does your church do anything to equip the body of believers for discerning this question of vocation?
  • How should the church equip the body of believers for discerning this question of vocation?
  • If you are a parent, what are you doing to equip your children for discerning this question of vocation?

The Gift

There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is standing in the temple watching the wealthy give their offerings.* Somewhere in the midst of all this comes a “poor widow” who only has two coins to offer. After placing her coins in the offering, Jesus saw the difference between the two offerings. According to Luke 21:3-4, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

At first glance this story may appear as a blight against the wealthy or it might lead us to believe the only acceptable offering is giving every last cent in our pocket. Or maybe we’re just missing the point.

Some Baseball Cards, Dad!

Today is my 41st birthday. I’ve already received birthday greetings, cards, and a few gifts. I appreciate them all but there is one gift that stands out, one that I’ll remember throughout my life.

Yesterday my son Jared gave me a set of baseball cards because he knows I’m a baseball fan. And he’s becoming a fan, as we’ve taken in an Orioles game each of the last two years. So he decided to give me some baseball cards.

What makes this gift so special is that it’s the first time where Jared has decided on his own to give me a gift. In the past, his mother has always taken him shopping on our dime (insert smile). Not this year. Jared picked out his own gift to give. And he was so excited it! So much that he couldn’t wait until my birthday… He gave me my gift yesterday.

As I opened the gift and saw the baseball cards, I saw the smile on his face and the joy in his heart. That joy that radiated through his smile lit up the room and filled the air with joy. That was the real gift he was giving, a gift from the heart born out of the love he has for his dad.

The Heart That Gives…

Back to the story of the widow’s offering. What was it that she gave out of her poverty? Was it just two small coins or was it something much deeper, of an unmeasurable wealth?

I wasn’t at the temple with Jesus to see this woman’s expression or the expressions of her wealthy neighbors. Nevertheless, it seems that the gift this poor widow gave was her heart. Yes, the gift was expressed through two coins but the gift was the heart nonetheless.

The heart that gives is the gift that pleases God, that brings a smile to his face like it did when my son gave me the set of baseball cards. The heart that gives is a gift that can be expressed through two coins, if that is all one has, or through an abundance like the wealthy temple-goers had. Likewise, one can give either an abundant or just a small amount such as two coins and still never give from the heart.

What matters when we worship and when we serve God is that we do with a heart that gives. That’s not an offering that can be manufactured or taught. That’s the heart that gives because it’s the heart that loves… loves God and loves neighbor!

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* This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (August 6, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.