Focusing on the Wrong Thing

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In the debate about ‘gay rights’ there is consistently a focus on the wrong thing. As agenda-driven language modifiers continue to force-feed a generation erroneous concepts such as ‘gay marriage’, there are other things being lost in the discussion other than an attempt at redefinition for personal gain. Surrounding the anti-logic of male-male and female-female ‘marriages’ is a deeper issue that is all but buried when the moral upholders meet the social deconstructionists.  Any thinking person of any degree of consistency can see that hijacking marriage is wrong purely from a non-moral position as words (and particularly socially significant words/standards) have meaning and consequence. However, I’d like to look at the right thing for a minute.

What gets lost in the homosexual shuffle is the fact that despite their same-sex affections, they are still sinners. Regardless of whether or not one believes in homosexuality as a particular sin, what about the rest of their behavior? The Scripture lays out a whole host of sins from gossiping and lying to hatred, murder, strife, childhood rebellion, despising authority, envy, jealousy, greed, anger, self-ambition, etc.

We focus on the wrong thing when we pick one particular sin and use it as a whipping post. The truth is we are all sinners. Every single one of us. We are condemned by God as such and can only escape our just judgment through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ who lived perfectly and who died horrendously as a substitutionary payment for what we deserve. Through His loving commitment to die in our place, we can receive the forgiveness of our sins, not matter how long the list.

No one can withstand the judgment seat of God on their own since we all fall short of perfection. Don’t get caught up in self-righteous thinking – defining yourself as one who doesn’t do X or Y because trust me, you may escape one thing, but will find yourself trapped in plenty more. It’s what sinners do; they sin. And for that we will all be held accountable. Straight, gay, pretty, fat, thin, smart, not-so-smart.

As the apostle Paul told the Greeks in Athens, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man [Christ] whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31

So in the midst of debating about morality, don’t get lost in the wrong thing. Focus on redemption. Focus on our need. Focus on grace. Focus on Christ.

The Greatness of Grace

We like to be forgiven, but we can find hardness in our hearts when it’s our turn to erase the debt. Our hands readily form tight tepees while in half-stance begging for understanding, and yet sometimes our ears have selective hearing when someone else implores us to sympathize. It’s hard to be consistent, especially when we want satisfaction. In between holy desire and yet-to-fully-redeemed weakness lies a seemingly endless tutoring session where we must be taught that only One deserves to maintain the throne. Only lashings, bruises, bumps, woodshed-strap moments, bitter failures and infused empathy can move us along our progressive path. I wish it were quicker.

Enter the Cross. A dagger placed into a cliff that drew a line between maybe and yes and provided us with the privilege and power to forgive.  Behold the Lamb of God who takes away our sin! Behold the sacrifice that frees us from justly deserved punishment! Behold a new heart that takes years to grow! We’ve been given release from the greatest merited consequence of Hell and that should breed the greatest gratitude; a gratefulness that sees each soul either receiving a rightful sentence or being given unfathomable mercies. At the Cross we gained everything and it cost us nothing.

When we view our misery at the foot of Calvary, it should compel us to think deeper for we’ve been given not just another chance, but endless mercy. By grace and through faith we can now rest. There is peace. Peace eternal. Because of Christ’s payment and position, we can now rest from trying to appease God’s just anger against our iniquity. We can rest from guilt and shame and the condemnation that goes with it. We can rest fully in Him who is our Righteousness, the Resurrection and the Life. 

And what comes of it ?

A greater grace. A greater fold of compassion towards those still lost in the wheel like confused and blind vagabonds too stubborn to see. What comes of it is a melting down of the callous shell that protects a fearful heart not willing to be vulnerable. Through trials and broken relationships the heart barriers that make us cold crumble as the overflowing love of the Father seen in the provision of Christ the Son wears away the stone and there is a reshaping of what was once a hardened and impenetrable glob.  The old man is laid to rest and the new man learns how to walk freshly bathed in the heavenly waters.

We should be choked-up more over what we once thought to be sentimental silliness. We should be less upset and more heartfelt. We should be more soft. We should be less impatient and more trusting. We should be full of faith. We should be more like Him.

The apostle Peter said that if the Fruit of the Spirit are found in us and are increasing, “…they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2Peter 1:8-11)

Death and True Life

Men fear death no matter what Donne may pen, and youth think little of it.  As one sees more sunsets and more hours turning into more funeral invitations, the ever-present elephant in the room becomes the inevitable end that awaits us all.

One day, someday, somehow, somewhere and for whatever reason, we will expire. Life will leave our sustained skeletal shell and we, as our friends and family know it, won’t be anymore. Our “I” will no longer exist.

We don’t last forever and ever since we were born we are dying, but have you ever wondered why?  Sometimes the most obvious is the most overlooked.

For all the theological discussions that are had each day by millions of people around the globe, very few ever ask the simple question: why do we die at all? What causes deterioration in the first place? Why can’t we be born and then live forever? Too many times we accept death itself as a sort of music of the spheres that generates a silent hum and looming dirge. As Emily Dickinson once wrote –

 As all the heavens were a bell,
And being, but an ear,
And I and Silence some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here.

Thankfully, God has given us the answer. The elephant’s mother gave birth to death and her name is SIN. She entered the world through one decision against God and so, too, did death.

“…through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…” Romans 5:12

Ever since her appearance she has been mocked and coddled and ridiculed and denied, yet everyone knows her and feels the weight of her presence. Because of Adam’s transgression all of humanity died, first spiritually and then literally.  At the Fall in Eden, what was good became not-good and the inherited corruption and degradation spread generation to generation even through the other created orders so that even now, we see the effects.

Death is the punishment and just retribution for sin and all deterioration and decadence and destruction and disease are the parts and pieces of God’s curse upon this rebellious and self-glorifying world. We don’t like that answer. We kick against its implications. We fight and create idols to cope with our denial. It’s true anyway.

But God will redeem this wretched place and we are not without hope for He has provided a means of renewal and a way of reconciliation through the person of Jesus Christ. You will not escape the death of this life, but you can escape the final judgment in the next. It is all there by faith. Believing the message of the Cross frees us from the inevitable and brings us to true life.

Are you GOOD enough ?

“…There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:1-2

Black Friday’s Grayness

In an attempt to promote anti-materialism there seems to be a darting out into fundamentalist traffic that emerges this time of year from the social media realm.  This week begins its inaugural dash between semi and sportster as Black Friday reared his ugly face into the news.

Sure, there are some who feed like starving jackals upon any excuse to swipe their overloaded plastic for the chance at even more goodies. However, there are plenty people who simply know a good bargain when they see it.  Why be snarky about good stewardship?  What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and 70% off ?

Too many people run their lances through anything that seems to imitate WORLDLINESS, and yet, isn’t sniping generically at gray areas a bit ungracious? The Scriptures speak about money and stewardship hundreds of times because where your heart is, so too, shall your wallet be.

At this time of year it is apropos to begin to hear the lamenting of Black Friday and too much emphasis on spending, but spending within your budget is not overspending on credit. If you do the latter, you are a fool, but buying within budget and saving money by taking advantage of great sales makes you neither stupid nor materialistic. It makes you wise.

Lastly, remember that sometimes the greatest human gift you can give is yourself. Visit your old friend. Call your grandmother in another state. Pray for those who need it. Be slow to judge. Quick to listen and remember mercy.

Seeing through Blindness

While helping a friend return an electronic vision aid he bought for his father at the Lighthouse for the Blind in New Orleans, I was once again taught important refinement lessons without ever asking to enroll in class.  Being purged in an instant is as subtle as being pickpocketed through tight crowds and it brings on a strange self-awareness only after knowing you’ve been hit.

As I paced through the product shelving glancing at things in their store, I was struck by the irony of ‘looking’ at items for the blind.  When shopping, we evaluate our options without much thought as to the gift of sight, but most of their patrons haven’t been afforded that normalcy and instead, have to learn new ways. While patiently perusing magnifying glasses and braille chess boards, I was preoccupied with an empathetic dualism as I tried to imagine not being able to see. Touching minute braille patterns gave me pause to think beyond mere grabbing and each item revealed itself as an agent of mercy.

Then, as if being assaulted by a robbery in progress, a mid-30’s man about six feet tall, darted in past the counter and zipped straight to my face then back to the counter and then up to the watch case and yelped in inaudible spurts and grunts; his hands semi-flailing a bit as he tapped his own watch repeatedly.  My first thought was to defend myself, since he so quickly violated our space until I saw that he couldn’t see. He was legally blind. Then I understood that he couldn’t speak either; nothing beyond a few variant sounds. Suddenly and softly, as if a Linus blanket had been draped over me, my heart shifted.

The store manager, who was preoccupied with our return paperwork at the time, quietly told us that this anxious fellow was an employee.  Apparently, he scares most visitors by his invasive demeanor and impatient stammering. Here, in the midst of what was supposed to be just another routine refund in a retail store, was a vivid picture of life, splendor and corruption. Mercy and grace were dancing right in front of me within a banner of the Fall as I keenly watched his every move.

Beauty and death were exercising in the same parallel, at the same time – strange partners and roommates in a fallen corridor. The random click of cane taps beat out a pattern in the hallway as another visually impaired person passed by. All of us, made in His image, yet carrying the effects of sin in our very bodies.  All around me were crooked backs, high blood pressures, hearing losses, blindness – all remnants of the Eden event where man fell into hopeless disrepair and in the center of this choreography – mercy. There was mercy, grace abounding through tireless effort and compassion. Invention turned to aid. Regular routines transformed into encouragement.

Every ounce of grumbling from the past few months about my own challenges and trials was pressed out of me by the grinding of greater tribulation. I was, again, tutored by new reminders of how God cares for us even when He isn’t obligated to care and how He uses many avenues to bring that grace into our lives. His main instrument is people. We are the conduits of purposed affection and change – agents of mercy sent from His inner sanctum through the empowerment of Spirit as He lives and breathes through our good works.

He chose to do so before you were even born.

Light in the Pit

In counseling a friend who is struggling with his faith through a battle with gross sin, he followed my encouragement and read Scripture even when he was not wanting to. After reading Isaiah he sent this message to me:

Even though I don’t know why He would permit/allow/plan evil in the world, and all of its pain and suffering upon His own image bearers; and even though I don’t feel like he’s doing everything for His own glory and name is something to be praised… I do know that a God who would send His son to die and become a man for all eternity for the sake of His own is one who probably has a good reason for allowing it, and is worthy of my trust and faith, even if I don’t like it.

A God who would bring about the gospel is not a God who is inherently evil or selfish.

And noticing that half the Psalms were laments… I didn’t feel out of place. I felt like I was experiencing what God puts all his people through.  It was reassuring.

They questioned His faithfulness too, and His love.  It seems it’s part of the faith process, because otherwise it’s just mental assent to facts, not a heart-felt commitment and trust refined through fire.  It’s like the difference between watching Saving Private Ryan and actually being in war.

 

Even in the darkest pits, He shines in mercy and grace.

 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:15-18

Slow Six

Six years ago, my oldest daughter was only almost ten years old and my youngest barely over two. We lived in Natchez for a few months while the world settled its focus on a post-Katrina environment of chaos and purposed aid.  It seems like much longer.

From the crusted-mud pavements of flooded streets emerged Homeland Missions, a community relief organization based out of our church in Slidell. We were instantly catapulted into unfamiliar roles and unique opportunities to live out what we’d been teaching and preaching for over a decade. It was both a horror and a privilege, the kind of orchestrated dance that only God could have composed in His mercy, grace and unsearchable wisdom for He always knows what we need and when we need it.  I’m reminded of the crucifixion of  our LORD where both realities were juxtaposed in prime view. The greatest horrific crime perpetrated simultaneously with the greatest act of love ever. I’m still floored by the expanse of it all.

Much spiritual growth has happened since that monstrous hurricane came beating us out of our comfort chairs for a mad sprint northward.  Through the  marsh-grass mounds, house muck,  failed promises and sacrificial gifts came new wisdom – an insight into faith-filled perceptions that let us know that  we’re better off for having been shaken to the core.  Sometimes you need a trip to the woodshed to discipline your focus. Sometimes you need to lose what you were taking for granted in order to know what you actually had – a Big Yellow Taxi moment is a powerful teacher. Katrina filled the bill.

Increased faith, more patience, greater grace and an acute sense of our need for others are our fruit stands – evidences of God’s handiwork in molding our hearts towards Christ.  These six years have gone by slowly like the methodical churning of an overburdened dough hook longing to complete the next batch, yet it isn’t over.  Much is left undone and in reality will never get done. Interest is almost nonexistent, funding has evaporated and the bureaucratic overload is so high one is hard-pressed to even see beyond the immediate. However, we press on.

Through many challenges and setbacks, our community work continues as we are able and we  pray that the LORD will continue to use us as He sees fit.  It took a mighty storm to mobilize us from a status-quo congregation into an outwardly-minded fellowship. In between that mobilization has come a greater awareness of His providential provision as well as man’s great need of the Good News. May the next six years bring even more people to the same praise through the Spirit-empowered efforts of our labors and through the help of others just like you. Soli Deo Gloria.  Amen.

On the Focus of Weekly Gatherings

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about church ontology or how we ‘do church’.  Most in our Western tradition have a mentality of church being the geographical presence of God on earth. This has always struck me as interestingly temple-oriented and not found anywhere in the New Testament record of early church life.  They gathered weekly to break bread, learn, pray and encourage one another and were constantly devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings (Acts 2:42); however, the notion of a formalized ‘service’ as we know it today is not to found in Scripture as the mandated means of corporate gatherings.  We have submitted to a mode of corporate church gathering that has more to do with never getting out of an impersonal, passive audience, we’re-still-thinking-in-terms-of-the-temple type of worship and togetherness.  At least that’s how it seems to me.

I’m not trying to be a renegade nor do I think I can advocate for the dismal of other traditions that I deem as dregs of the not-yet-fully-reformed movement of early centuries.  What I’m after is a form and practice of weekly gathering that actually models what we see in the New Testament descriptions and prescriptions of New Covenant church life.  And I am convinced that we rarely see it.

Enter this article I recently found that actually puts into words where my head has been on this topic. It’s by Rick Owen and I don’t really know him, but I believe what he’s written expresses my current convictions.  Read it and let me know what you think.


The Regulative Principle of Ekklesia

By Rick Owen

Many who love Reformed theology have pointed out that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in its reformation of church practices. Its ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) perpetuated the distinction between the clergy and the laity of Roman Catholicism. The clergy were the ordained religious specialists (priests, clerics, preachers, ministers) who dispensed spiritual things to a largely passive laity (average church members). This was and continues to be unbiblical. The New Testament represents the church as one unified body under the headship of Christ — not two groups consisting of clergy and laity. (See “Building Up the Body — One Man or One Another?”) [1]

The word “clergy” comes from the Greek word kleros. The fundamental meaning of this word is “portion, lot, inheritance.” [2] In reference to God’s people, it may allude to the inheritance God has given to His people; or it may refer to God’s people as His own portion or inheritance who belong to Him and have been entrusted to the spiritual care of church leaders (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). This word never refers to ordained religious professionals who lead a church or its services, baptize people, dispense the Lord’s supper, or conduct weddings and funerals. This word applies to all God’s people.

The word “laity” comes from the Greek word laos. The basic meaning of this word is “people.” [3] In reference to the church, this includes all God’s people — those who lead as well as those who are led. Every believer is part of God’s people (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:17, 68, 77; Rom. 9:25-26; 2 Cor. 6:16; Titus 2:14; Heb. 8:10; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).

The Reformed “Regulative Principle of Worship” speaks of approaching God in the only way He has approved and appointed: through Christ alone, in spirit and truth. This part of the definition is important and essential. Unfortunately, there is more embedded historically in this concept than this. The underlying assumption is that a worship service consists of people in the pew (the laity) sitting in front of specialists in the pulpit (clergy) who preach to them, pray for them, pronounce certain blessings upon them, and then part from them, as each one considers his or her religious duty completed for the week. The specialist’s role is similar to that of an Old Testament priest standing before a congregation of Israelites. In addition to these underlying assumptions, it is considered a ‘given’ that the reason a church meets is to have such a worship service. These ideas are apparent in this fairly typical article on this topic: “The Regulative Principle of the Church.” [4]

Worship in the New Testament

The New Testament never states that the reason a church meets is to have a traditional worship service as we usually conceive of this and practice it in the modern church. This is not to deny that Christians should worship God in various ways when they come together. How can Jesus’ disciples help but honor and glorify God as they consider the amazing truths of Scripture together, sing His praises, fellowship in His Spirit, share the Lord’s table, encourage and exhort one another, and pray? Such collective activities clearly constitute meaningful spiritual sacrifices or expressions of worship (literally, “service,” Greek: latreuó) to God. God-centered devotion should be the overarching purpose and outcome of all we do in the Christian life (Rom. 12:1), including when we assemble as Christ’s church. But this is like saying a husband should love his wife all the time. Loving his wife is not (or should not be) limited to special occasions.

My point here is that the New Testament never states that a worship service (whether we conceive of this as an orthodox, traditional or contemporary service) is the reason for Christ’s brethren gathering as His church. As Daniel Thompson has written,

“There are few doctrines in the New Testament that give us as much surprise as the doctrine of worship. One might even say we are stunned. Although there are references to worship in the Gospels, the book of Acts and Revelation, the New Testament Epistles — the doctrinal/explanatory part of the New Testament — is completely silent as to worship. This is all the more incredible when we consider: First, 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 is an extensive treatment of church life and interaction with no mention of worship. Second, 1 Timothy was an epistle written to make known ‘how thou [Timothy] might behave thyself in the house of God.’ Surely one would expect a reference to worship here, yet there is none. Third, our Lord tells the Samaritan woman that ‘the hour is coming … and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him’ (Jn 4:21-23). With such a definitive statement of future devotion, it is inconceivable that worship would be passed over completely in the instructional part of the New Covenant, the Epistles, yet this is exactly what we find.” [5]

Old Covenant Model versus New Covenant Model

Advocates of the regulative principle often say we should not offer “strange fire” (or do unapproved things) in approaching God. (This is an illustration from the Old Testament cited in “The Regulative Principle of the Church” referenced above.) This imagery, however, applies primarily to the removal of sin in salvation. It is true that we cannot approach God any other way than He has appointed through Christ. But this paradigm was fulfilled by Christ through the offering of Himself once for all time (Heb. 10:10-14). We gather as Christ’s people on the other side of the Cross. The veil of the holy of holies in the earthly temple was split in two when Christ offered himself to God in the holy place of heaven (Heb. 9:11-12). The days of sacrifices are over. Christ is seated now at the right hand of God, ruling with all authority until His enemies are made His footstool (Heb. 10:12-13).

The Roman Catholic church re-sacrifices Christ in the mass as if an Old Testament priest were presenting an offering to God on behalf of a gathered assembly for the forgiveness of sins. This is an idolatrous misuse of an Old Covenant paradigm which became obsolete when Christ fulfilled it (Heb. 8:13). New Covenant believers gather together to remember, proclaim, celebrate and share in the New Covenant realities they now possess together in Christ (1 Cor. 3:21-23; Rom. 8:32), as God’s inheritance and chosen people, through the perfect and complete work of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:15-23). The church is not reenacting the Day of Atonement when it gathers as God’s people. It celebrates the blessings of Pentecost poured out by a risen Savior (Gal. 3:14). God’s people live now in light of the good news of an empty tomb and a reigning Lord (Heb. 12:22-24).

The Regulative Principle of Ekklesia

The first disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to be sent to them in a powerful way after Jesus’ ascension and session at the right hand of God. The outpouring of His Spirit resulted in specific Christ-magnifying practices which remain with us today as the core essentials for New Testament churches. We might call this the regulative principle of Christ’s ekklesia (the New Testament Greek word for God’s “called-out assembly”). This is the New Covenant model which the church should practice when it gathers as God’s people.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42 ESV). This is how Jesus began building His church (Matt. 16:18). And He continues the same work in the same powerful way today as His followers obey His command to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18-20).

1. “the apostles’ teaching” = revealing Christ from Scripture

2. “the fellowship” = relinquishing our spiritual and material gifts to God and one another

3. “the breaking of bread” = remembering the Lord in His covenant meal

4. “the prayers” = relishing God (adoration, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession)

These elements represent an interactive matrix which connects us to God and one another. They form a cohesive process which nurtures us as the body of Christ toward spiritual maturity. These four areas are not strictly divided. Various activities mentioned in the New Testament easily intermingle and overlap.

For example, Ephesians 5:18-20 connects singing with being filled with the Spirit and fellowship. Colossians 3:16 connects it with the word of Christ dwelling in us richly as we teach and admonish one another. Romans 15:8-12 connects singing with praising and worshiping God in prayer (cf. Heb. 13:15; Rev. 5:9). Likewise, the Lord’s supper is connected to both symbolic and verbal proclamation of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26). Such proclamation could include Christ-centered teaching, singing, praying and conversation (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 5:8).

Jesus died to save people who would praise God (Rom. 15:8-12). Each activity of Jesus’ called-out assembly is meant to magnify the Lord and build up His body to God’s glory.

1. The apostles’ teaching

Teaching is obviously very important in the church. But this involves much more than preaching traditional sermons to a passive audience. The word of God is God’s gift to Christ’s entire body. The whole church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Every believer is to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Therefore, not only should pastors and teachers encourage and instruct God’s people, as the apostles originally did. Each member of Christ’s body should encourage, instruct and admonish his or her brethren at some level according to sound doctrine — not necessarily as an appointed teacher, but — as a fully-functioning member of God’s royal priesthood who has been set apart by God to proclaim His excellencies (Acts 20:32; Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 14:1, 31; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:19-21; Titus 2:3-4; Heb. 5:12; 10:23-25; James 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:9).

Hermeneutically sound, Spirit-enlightened, Christ-revealing teaching is not limited to expository sermons. It can employ several kinds of speech and engage other believers in the body of Christ. We find the apostle Paul using three types of communication on the same occasion when addressing the church in Acts 20: lecture (Greek, logos) and dialogue (Greek, dialegomai) in verse 7, and personal conversation (Greek, homileo) in verse 11. The last two obviously include other people. All speaking and teaching, of course, should be done in a way which edifies the church (Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:15-16, 29; 1 Thess. 5:11). Wise and effective church leaders use a variety of methods in teaching; and they train others to do the same so that God is magnified through His word (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:10). Jesus gave us an example in making disciples as He walked, talked and served alongside His brethren.

2. The fellowship

Our fellowship connects with all we share together in Christ through His word, breaking bread and prayer. It includes loving and caring for one another by meeting both spiritual and physical needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). We see the early church doing this enthusiastically. Through a process of generous, loving hospitality and joyous fellowship, God added more people to the church (Acts 2:46-47). Jesus was building His church and expanding His kingdom as He said He would, and He was doing so in very personal and practical ways. Christian love proves that we are children of God as we care for even the least among Christ’s brethren according to His new commandment (Matt. 25:40; John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 11:22; 1 Jn 3:11-24).

3. The breaking of bread

The Lord ’s Supper is called “breaking bread” and “the Lord’s table” in the Bible. To break bread meant and still means to share a real meal. The Greek word deipnon is used to describe the Lord’s supper. [6] This word consistently refers to the evening meal (dinner or supper), or a banquet or feast. Breaking bread (or the Lord’s supper) was a primary reason — in fact, the only reason stated as a purpose clause in the Greek — for meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). Most churches need to learn how to make a church meal of the Lord’s supper — as a Christ-centered covenant feast — and make the Lord’s supper of their church meals. (See “The Table of the Lord” for more on this.) [7]

We see from Scripture that the meal begins by breaking and distributing one loaf representing the sacrificed body of Christ which brings us eternal life. This is followed by eating the bread and meal together. Then “after eating supper” (from the Greek deipneo), the meal is completed and concluded by dividing and distributing the cup which represents the New Covenant which was signed, sealed and delivered in Jesus’ blood (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). So the biblical pattern is bread > meal > cup. On whose authority or by what better tradition than that of Jesus and Paul should the church vary from this?

4. The prayers

Christians are to pray not only in their daily walk with God (1 Thess. 5:17), but especially when gathered as His people (1 Thess. 5:25). This is because believers in Christ — all believers — are fellow priests who should praise and petition God and intercede for one another (2 Thess. 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:8; Heb. 13:18; James 5;16). God delights to answer prayer (Luke 11:9-13). He brings glory to Himself as we rely upon Him to do what we are unable to do (2 Cor. 1:11; cf. John 17; Heb. 5:7).

Prayer should never make a spectacle of us (Matt. 6:5). It should focus on God’s greatness and goodness (Luke 11:2). God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). Therefore, we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God when we pray (1 Pet. 5:6-7). We gather to call attention to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27; 15:6; Eph. 1:18-19; 3:14-19; 6:18; Jude 20).

Putting This Into Practice

The New Testament does not give us a specific meeting agenda to follow — only the various elements of what happens when the church gathers. Here are a few suggestions for encouraging the church to function as a body instead of an audience in front of a platform with a keynote speaker.

An average-size congregation (anywhere from 50-150 people) can implement these core church practices very simply, but it will take commitment from the whole body to follow through with this and learn how to do it well over it time. The biblical role of elders is to encourage and cultivate these practices as mentors and co-participants in (not substitutes or proxies for) the New Covenant priesthood. [8] They are to be examples to the flock, showing God’s people how to do these things (1 Pet. 5:2-3).

Instead of setting up the church meeting with conventional auditorium seating, try using an arrangement similar to a prayer breakfast, business luncheon, or wedding banquet. This creates a clear visual for what the New Testaments states is our purpose in gathering as Christ’s people. We “come together to eat” (1 Cor. 11:33, ESV) or “break bread” (Acts 20:7) in Jesus’ name — to remember, celebrate and proclaim Him, as we feed by faith upon Him as the true Bread from heaven. A room full of tables highlights Christ’s gathering as a time of mutual participation in Him (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The entire group can be addressed by elders, teachers, and any others who might speak, while everyone is seated comfortably at each table. Singing, prayer and the Lord ’s Supper can flow in any order which works best. Instruction, discussion, fellowship, prayer and praise can easily precede the Lord’s supper or follow it to the conclusion of the meeting. Children can be included and the whole process can flow as naturally and simply as a family gathering.

May the Lord give us wisdom, discernment and grace as we seek to understand and follow His will.

—————————-

FOOTNOTES:

[1] http://www.searchingtogether.org/articles/zens/bodybldg.htm

[2] http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=2819

[3] http://www.searchgodsword.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=2992

[4] http://www.apuritansmind.com/puritanworship/mcmahonregulativeprinciple.htm

[5] http://www.solidrock.net/library/thompson/worship.php

[6] http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=1173

[7] http://comingintheclouds.org/church/basics/table_of_lord.pdf

[8] http://www.bible-researcher.com/knaub.html

Professor Saddle Bur

It’s been a long blog recess.

In the last year, since Michelle’s health condition requires an avalanche of co-pays and prescription costs; I began working as a manufacturer’s rep with a restaurant and hospitality supply organization.  On only a non-profit/church income our financial vessel became so tight that our home was waterproof. Compound that tightness with the current Obama-nation of Desolation in our land, and the trickles of support had created a serious dehydration effect.

I’ve learned plenty in the last five years.

Most of it coming through supreme aggravation and a sovereign two by four graciously applied to my forty-plus year old forehead.  The Divine woodshed is a mighty teacher.  God made me an extrovert who is energized by people and social interaction, but those same people can cause me to wince and repel, becoming burs under my saddle. I’ve come to further understand that my impatience with life and the burs is a reflection of a prideful heart that isn’t content with what God has given me.  It’s in the intensity of a purifying flame that I’ve come face to face with my own inadequacies and imperfections and my great need to turn my resentments into teaching moments; not just for myself but for others as well.  Through all of it, I’ve learned that grace is supreme.

The more I’ve been put down to the ground, the greater my compassion for those who are out. The more I’ve found people weak in areas where I’m strong, the greater my desire to instruct and impart rather than becoming resentful towards them. Gifts are to be used not as a club, but as an aid.

I live as a visionary with many hats and with that comes frustration, for the world rarely sees what I see and I constantly see what others are afraid to dream and few keep a steady, enduring pace.  Sometimes I admire the simpleton for with large gifting comes large responsibility. I continue to see my holes and cracks as He keeps a well-polished mirror in front of me.

Aloneness is a leader’s companion when he’s yet to fully understand; and I know I’m still in school.  Not biting off more than I can chew isn’t just a pithy slogan for me; it is a daily personal duty to restrain yet another thought developing down a newly inspired path.  If I were currently being raised under the pop-psych reign of terror, I’d be the ADD/ADHD poster boy for sure. However, I know that self-control and mental discipline go a long way in staying effective amidst the whirlwind.

So here I sit.

Grace and understanding grow in and through me as only He can bring about and wisdom’s spray mists where I’m planted. There is much to do, but I’m not so bent of driving it faster than I see it happening. I’m glad that His love is greater than my pride. I’m happy that His grace is ample. I’m ready to stay plodding the fields wherever that may take me.

 

Beyond the Waterline

It’s hard to imagine that it’s five years later.  In some ways it feels like it has been a lifetime of swimming through concrete.  In other ways, it seems like just yesterday we came back home to a new normal – freshly renovated by the hand of God and a fist of furies.

As you travel through the tri-parish neighborhoods, you see a suffering urban triad. New homes sit next to empty lots that lay in between yet-to-be touched properties.  Blight sits like an ugly blind date among two other more attractive choices.  Much has yet to happen, but no one seems to want to dance.

There is an ADD view of charity in America. While we do give abundantly through many benevolent organizations, we are still a nation of distraction. One day our attention lingers over one disaster and then, just as quickly, it shifts over to a new area with little thought about long-term commitments. Devastated cities are not rebuilt quickly and people take even longer.

Yet, even through the confused difficulties and mire of mountainous and lethargic bureaucracy, we can see light. Hope was transported by God’s grace through thousands of churches and car after truck after van of volunteers. FEMA, the military, Red Cross and other agencies showed up week after week to help and assist in cleanup and recovery.  We were overwhelmed by a continuing trail of faithful servants who helped us sew up wounds and re-lay new foundations and in spite of all the delays, political pandering and illogical insensibilities; help arrived. Mercy is beautiful even when born next to death.

In long-term urban relief ministry, we’ve seen a juxtaposition of opposing truths that seem to wage war in a paradoxical fist fight.  Great blessings coexist with intense trials. One hand seeking to serve and love like Christ, while the other demands a better menu and preferential work projects.  One hand is grateful for whatever help it receives, while the other is never satisfied with the free labor it gets; even though it could never afford in the first place.  Grace and demand live as sneering neighbors sobering up those who pay attention.  Sometimes it seems like a miracle that anything gets done.  It is.

Beyond the waterline, we’ve learned much about our own weaknesses and self-interests and have been made clearly aware of our ongoing need for sustaining grace – the grace that only Christ can bring.  When funds disappear and interest wanes, the real fiber of your heart is tested.  As promises laced with good intentions break away into disappointment’s wake, it is through His sufficiency and new provisions that we press on. In the long haul, you notice both your utter dependency and inadequacy. God uses hard-baked vessels to bring truth and life, even when they are bruised and cracked.

Establishing our internship program at Homeland Missions has been a deep passion as we have sought to anchor and transfer the heart attitudes and practicalities that we’ve learned in half a decade. We know we are mere pups, but He’s taught us so much already.

As we move past another August 29th and into more unknowns; one thing has not changed. We are even more committed to sustaining a generational beacon of salt and light in our community. We aren’t sure about exactly what the end product will look like, but we are faithful to see it through. He never abandons us no matter how much the darkness feels empty.  Pray for us. Pray for the people we help. Come lend a hand. We need you.

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