When Leaders Fall

Recently there have been several young influential leaders on the modern Christian landscape who have either partially or completely rejected the faith. It is always disheartening to see people become overwhelmed by doubt and pain and respond by turning away from Christ. More concerning then even these examples of rejection are the responses of some people. I have seen people who are crushed because they feel they have lost their “hero” or they see their rejection as a proof that Christianity must not be true. I only point to these recent examples because they have gained so much attention but there are countless examples of leaders who have fallen into sin, heresy, or lost their faith for one reason or another. When this happens it causes us to ask a question, “does the falling away of religious leaders weaken the truth of Christianity?”

A clear answer to this question, “does the falling away of religious leaders weaken the truth of Christianity?” can be found all the way back in the 3rd century in The Prescription Against Heretics written by Tertullian. Although Tertullian had his own theological weaknesses his words ring true concerning our present situation. He wrote, “It is usual, indeed, with persons of a weaker character, to be so built up (in confidence) by certain individuals who are caught by heresy, as to topple over into ruins themselves. How come it to pass, (they ask), that this woman or this man, who are most faithful, the most prudent, and the most approved in the church, have gone to the other side?” Tertullian points out that the reason we are so shaken when religious leaders fall away is because we elevate them in our hearts and our minds and make them examples of what it means to live a “good Christian life”. We see their charisma and their influence. We notice that the church approves of them and declares them champions of the faith. Maybe we even remember ways that they have impacted us personally and helped to define our relationship with God. When they fall away we are baffled and our confidence is weakened. Even in the 3rd century Tertullian recognized this as a common and damaging reaction. He then continues, “If then a bishop or deacon, a widow, a virgin or a teacher, or even a martyr, has lapsed from the Rule of Faith, must we conclude that heresy possesses the truth? Do we test the faith by persons or persons by the faith?” Tertullian answers this question with a question, “Do we test the faith by persons or persons by the faith?” The truth of the Christian faith stands on whether it is true or not. It does not stand on who accepts or denies it. The world was round even before we knew it and germs ravaged our bodies even before we could comprehend their existence. Just imagine the state our world would be in if we judged truth by who accepted it and not by its own veracity. It is heart breaking when people turn away from the faith but their turning does not weaken the truth of Christianity. There are many great men and women in history who have wrestled with the same questions we wrestle with today and have come out on the other side more assured of their faith. We look at modern Christian leaders and aspire to be like them. We follow their teachings and are encouraged by their faith, but our faith does not rest on the popularity of any individual it rests on the truth of the Gospel.

So how can we avoid the becoming distrait the next time a Christian leader falls away? Firstly we need to be rooted in the word of God and have an active prayer life. Sometimes we rely too heavily on Christian leaders in an attempt to make up for deficiencies in our own spiritual life. It can be easier to listen to a sermon or follow a social media feed then it is to study the Bible ourselves or spend time in prayer. Although sermons can be enlightening and social media feeds can be encouraging they are a poor substitution for meditating on God’s life giving word and approaching His throne in prayer.

Secondly, we need to choose different people to look up too. Ultimately our faith rests on no one except Jesus Christ, however the ability to look at mere humans and be encouraged by their devotion to our Savior is an amazing gift. Although the gifts and talents of young leaders should not be ignored and should serve as an encouragement to the Church, these gifts and talents are not the essentials of a life well lived. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul’s ministry was so great because he lived and died on mission for the kingdom of God. People do not enter the Hall of Fame during their rookie season no matter how spectacular their first appearance was. We should look up to people who have went through the pains of life, wrestled with the tough questions, and at the end of their life can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Instead of being swept off our feet by the new charismatic leader lets be rooted to the truth by the example of men and women like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Mother Teresa, A. W. Tozer, Florence Nightingale, John Wesley, Charlotte Moon, and many others.

So the next time you are discouraged because someone of importance has rejected the faith remember that our faith is built on the firm foundation of truth and we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.  

Author: Associate Pastor Nathan Phillips

Ordination and Mission

odell ordinationThis past Sunday we were blessed to host the ordination service for Chris O’Dell at The River.  Chris and his wife Jamie were part of The River in the early days and then left for ministry in Taiwan.  They serve at a coffee shop/church called The Aroma.  You can find out more about their ministry and how to partner with them on The Aroma Website.  Chris and Jamie and their boys continue to be part of The River extended family and we partner with them as they are ministering in Taipei.  It is a great partnership considering our similar kind of ministry focus at Dunn Bros. here in Chaska.  This is a way for us to be fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission for us in Matthew 28:19-20 where he says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We are in the process of making disciples here in Chaska, MN and at the same time we are partnering with them in making disciples among people we may never meet this side of Heaven as we partner with Chris and Jamie in Taiwan.  Please join us in supporting them.  Check out The Aroma Website for more information.

Discerning God’s Will

pexel one wayI was recently asked a question about discerning God’s will.  How do we know what God wants us to do?  I believe that Romans 12:1-2 is a great passage to help us answer that question.  In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul uses the word therefore in verse 1.  That is important because we need to pause and connect what he is about to say with what has been said.  Now the word therefore in this case actually marks a transition not just from chapter 11 to chapter 12, but from Paul’s overall direction up until this point to what he is going to talk about through the rest of this letter.  In the first 11 chapters of this book Paul has been focused on doctrine and now he is challenging them to put that into practice in the way that they live for Christ.

He also uses the word appeal.  That word can also be translated as urge or exhort.  He is challenging them with a bit of authority.  It is stronger than just asking.  So considering all of this great stuff about God that they have learned in the first 11 chapters, Paul now challenges them on how they are to live.

He begins by telling them to present their bodies as living sacrifices.  Let’s break that down a little bit.  A sacrifice is basically offering, giving up or dedicating something.  Like in the OT when the people would bring a lamb to be sacrificed on the altar.  But Paul here is talking about a living sacrifice.  That means that it is still something that is given or dedicated, but it is not killed like the OT sacrifices were.  The living sacrifice he is referring to here is our bodies.  So putting all of this together, Paul is talking about our lives being given or dedicated to God.

Notice also that Paul tells them to present their bodies as living sacrifices.  That might seem like they are to work really hard to be a good Christian, but that word present can also be seen as offer or yield.  I would suggest that yield is a great way for us to understand what Paul is talking about here.

The word yield means to give way or submit.  So yielding our lives to the Lord as living sacrifices would be like submitting ourselves to him and his plans for us rather than our plans for ourselves.

Paul then goes on to talk about not being conformed to this world.  The word there carries the idea of us being squeezed into a mold.  We are constantly being bombarded by messages from this world about what we are supposed to look like, want, desire, believe, feel or think about things.  And much of what the world suggests is contrary to God’s will.

But Paul is saying, don’t let that stuff corrupt our thinking.  Don’t let the world dictate what we believe or think.  God has something better for us.  God is calling us away from this world and toward him.  Rather than being conformed by this world, he is calling us to a transformation.

You know the word for transformed there is the word from which we get our word metamorphosis.  The way this is written suggests a continual renewing of the mind.  He will give us a new way of thinking that may not make sense to this world, but God’s knows what is best for us and he will show us a better way.  This continual renewing of our mind then will lead us into God’s will.  The more we yield to his plans for us, then the more we will be able to understand what God really wants for us.

So let’s get back to the original question.  I know this is the big picture answer.  It is kind of a long term approach to answering this question, but this is how we know God’s will.  It is through choosing moment by moment and day by day to yield our lives to God that we get to know his will.

The problem is typically when we ask this question, it is that we want to know God’s will right now about a particular situation.  Paul is describing much more of a long term process.  He is pointing out to us that we need to grow in this area and it will take time of gradually, more and more being able to discern his will.  If we are not yielding to God moment, by moment and day by day, then it is going to be hard to know his will for a one time event.  So the first thing that I want to impress upon us is to start with these basics.  Let’s begin yielding our lives to God as living sacrifices, choosing his way instead of our own and over time we will be growing in our discernment of God’s will.

But I am not totally sure that that answers the intent of this question and I think there is also something here for the times when we want to know the will of God as we make decisions in our lives.  Notice this idea of not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Too often when we are faced with a decision, the main things we consider are the things of this world.  Most of the time we make decisions based on the same way the world makes decisions.  We tend to weigh the pros and cons like finances, happiness, future possibilities and things like that.

We need to stop letting worldly priorities dictate our choices and instead earnestly seek Gods will.  You know there are plenty of things that we know to be God’s will that we choose to ignore when we are trying to make a decision. Sometimes I am faced with a choice that makes all the sense in the world, but it kind of steps on some of the things that I already know to be true about God’s will. Many times we choose to ignore those things or compromise them just a little bit, so that we can grab hold of a bigger paycheck or some measure of enjoyment that we so desperately want for ourselves.  When we do that, we are letting ourselves be conformed by this world, rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

I believe that if we lessen the voice of this world and stop listening so much to what this world says is best, and if we focus on the stuff we already know to be true about God’s will,  then while that may not give us a definite answer it is going to narrow things down quite a bit and help us be able to see things more clearly as we try to discern God’s will.

 

 

Rahab’s Example

pexel window2Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho when the people of Israel showed up with the command from God to go in and take the promised land.  The Israelites sent in spies to check things out and they wound up at the home of Rahab in Jericho and she went out of her way to hide and protect them when they were in danger.  Even though she was not an Israelite she believed in the stories she had heard of their God and chose to align herself with him rather than with her own people.  And she and her family were spared when God destroyed the city.  You can read more about the story of Rahab in Joshua 2.

Later on Rahab is mentioned in Matthew 1:5 as part of the genealogy of Jesus.  She was David’s great, great grandmother.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as part of the faith hall of fame.  And she is given as an example of faith showing itself in works in James 2.

In that passage James poses a very interesting question in verse 14: 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

This is a strong challenge.  He is questioning people’s salvation.  But notice that James is not comparing those who have faith to those who have works.  That is not really the point.  He is comparing those who say they have faith, but it doesn’t show in the way they live their life, compared to those who are visibly demonstrating their faith by how they live.

He gives an example in verses 15 and 16: 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

In this specific example James is not talking about a stranger, but about a brother or sister in Christ.  He is talking about someone within the body of Christ who is in obvious need.  This implies that the person who says they have faith knows the person in need, knows their need, and rather than helping them out, simply says “go in peace, be warm and well fed.”  This almost seems sarcastic, because the words they say are in direct correlation to the specific needs of the person.  But rather than help them, they just say some words.  This is the exact issue that James has with their so-called faith.  It is nothing more than words.

James calls that kind of faith dead in verse 17: 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James is calling for our faith to be alive.  Our faith should be evident in our lives.  People should be able to see Christ in us.  Our testimony cannot just be a testimony of words, it needs to be a testimony of life.

In verses 20-23 James points to the example of Abraham and how his faith showed up in what he did and then he shares a controversial statement in verse 24: 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

In this verse it seems like James is kind of contradicting the belief that we are saved by grace through faith, rather than works.  But we need to understand verse 24 in light of the rest of what James is saying.  He is not comparing faith to works, he is not even saying it is faith plus works, he is saying that true faith is shown in works.  If we really have faith, then it should be evident in our lives.

And then James points to the example of Rahab and ends with a strong challenge in verses 25 and 26: 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

So like the example of Abraham, Rahab is commended here for her actions or works.  That does not mean that she was saved by her works, but rather that her works were a response of faith.  The work that James is referring to is that she harbored the spies and hid them and went out of her way to help them.  Why do you think she did that?

In Joshua 2:8 – 13 Rahab actually answers that question for us.  She tells the spies about how word of the Lord had spread and fear of him had fallen on the land and then she testifies to what she believes at the end of verse 11: for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

The reason she helped the spies is because she believed in their God.  She believed that he was who he said he was and that he would do what he said he would do.  That is faith.  She had faith and so she did what she did.  Her works were her response of faith.

I believe the example of Rahab is very poignant.  Notice that James refers to her not just as Rahab, but as Rahab the prostitute or Rahab the harlot.  Her life was so defined by prostitution that that is how she is known.  And yet James refers to her being justified by her works.  He is not talking about her work as a prostitute, but by what she did when she took care of the spies.  So even though she is known as Rahab the prostitute, with that stigma attached to her for her whole life, she is described here and in the book of Hebrews as a woman of faith.  She could have let her past define her and continued along that path, but she stepped out in faith and followed God.

I think that is a powerful reminder to us.  We may often look back at our lives with feelings of failure and discouragement.  We may even feel defined by things that are not flattering.  But while we can’t change the past, we don’t have to let it define how we are going to move forward.  I am not calling on us to focus on the work we haven’t done, or the things we have messed up or done wrong.  I am calling us forward from this point on, that our faith would be alive and that we would step out in faith and follow God.

 

 

Does God Contradict Himself?

pexel gravesI was recently asked the question, “why does God contradict himself?”  This person was focusing on how God says, “thou shalt not kill,” but then there were lots of times in the Old Testament where he called for whole cities to be wiped out, which seems a lot like genocide.  Have you ever struggled to put together something you believe about God with the way you see him act in Scripture?

Before I consider the specific example, I think it is important to take a look at the big picture.  In 2 Timothy 2 Paul is challenging and encouraging his young apprentice in his pastoral role, and he wraps up the passage with an interesting quote in verses 11-13: 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

So Paul seems to be quoting something here, but it is not Scripture.  Some scholars believe it was a saying or possibly even a hymn within the early church.  We don’t know.  It seems to connect with the previous two verses where Paul talked about his own personal suffering in prison.

The first half of this statement connects with the hope of resurrection that awaits us as Christians.  Those who believe in Jesus, have had their sins forgiven, are brought back to a right relationship with God and can look forward to eternal life in Heaven.

The quote then moves on to those who have denied Christ.  This word is sometimes translated disown and suggests a deliberate choice to not follow Jesus as Lord.  So Paul is saying that if we deny Christ, that he will deny us.  If we don’t accept him, he won’t accept us.  Now that sounds harsh, but God has offered his free gift of salvation to the whole world, and those who deny him or turn their backs on that free gift will also be denied.  Those who accept Christ will be accepted, but if you want nothing to do with him, then that is your choice.

But then Paul’s quote moves on to one final point that I think brings out an important characteristic about God that is good for us to consider regarding our question for today.

Paul talks about being faithless.  That doesn’t mean to not have faith, it means to be unworthy of faith.  It means not doing what would be considered faithful.  We are faithless a lot.  We mess up and don’t keep our end of our covenant with God.  We go our own way, do our own thing, and faithlessly fail to live out what we say we believe.

But notice that this quote says that even though we are faithless God remains faithful.  That means he always keeps up his side of the covenant.  And Paul points out that God remains faithful because he cannot deny himself.

This means that God is who he is, all the time.  We talk about how God can do anything, but one thing he can’t do is something that is contrary to his nature.  Who God is, is who God is.  He will always act in a way that is true to his nature.

So what does that have to do with our question for today?  It means that God doesn’t contradict himself.  So we need to take what we know to be true about God and let that influence how we understand the things that don’t make sense.

Now, I understand that actions need to back up words.  I don’t like hypocrites any more than you do.  Sometimes people say one thing and do the opposite and so we tend to judge people more by what they do, than by who they tell us they are.  That is understandable, but it is also not entirely informed. Sometimes we might see someone do something and misconstrue what is really going on.

We see this all the time in situation comedies on television.  They are great at creating circumstances where someone sees someone else doing something but only gets part of the story and it leads to a whole bunch of funny outcomes.

Allowing someone’s actions to dictate what we believe about them is ok, but it is not complete, because we may not really understand what is going on.  If we know their character and we see something that doesn’t fit with that character, we are probably going to give them the benefit of the doubt, because we know them.  We should do the same with God.

I believe that if we hold on to what God says about who he is in Scripture, it is okay to wrestle with the things that don’t make sense.  But we have to do that while maintaining a firm grasp on what God has already revealed to us about himself.

So how about we start with what we see here in 2 Timothy that God does not deny himself.  He will always act in a way that is consistent with his nature.  We also know from James 1 that God is the same, yesterday, today and forever and does not change like shifting shadows.  And in Numbers we are reminded that God does not lie.  So if we believe all of that, then we can hold on to those truths and wrestle with any apparent contradictions we think we see.

So let’s apply that to our earlier example of the apparent genocide we see God commanding in the Old Testament compared to the command to not kill in the 10 commandments.

There is not some simple, easy answer, but let me first point out that technically speaking, the Hebrew word in the 10 commandments could be translated either as kill or murder.  And there is a difference.  Killing in a war or executing a person for crimes he has committed or killing someone while defending yourself from someone are very different than murdering someone in cold blood.  On the flip side, we could look at the word murder referring to unlawful killing.  With that in mind, even if we are against all forms of killing we would recognize the difference between killing and murder.  So comparing what we see God commanding the armies of Israel to do in a war is not the same thing as committing murder which is probably what the 10 commandments are referring to.

But when God has the Israelites wipe out an entire town, what do we do that?  Is God really commanding genocide?  That is a tougher question, but if I hold on to what I know to be true about God I can wrestle with that question as well.

In Exodus 34 God declared to Moses who he is and he said this about himself, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,[a] forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

In that description I see a God who is loving, merciful and gracious, and yet also holy and just and aggressive in his dealings with sin.  Those are both facets of his character.  I think sometimes we only want to think about God as being loving, merciful and gracious.  But that is not a complete picture of God.  It is only in light of his holiness and justness that we can real understand his love and mercy.

God could have wiped us all off the face of this world because of our stubborn refusal to obey him and he would have been totally justified.  What should amaze us more is not when he chooses to show wrath, but when he chooses to show mercy, because we all deserve death.

Now I know that is a very imperfect explanation, but I think we also need to consider that the Old Testament was a long time ago and it was a very different time in the life of man, that we do not understand.   Things have changed a lot over the history of man, through the dark ages and medieval times and then on to where we are today.  And while God doesn’t change, man does and therefore God’s dealings with man, while coming from the same character, look different depending on our viewpoint.  So ultimately I believe God is who he says he is and that he will not contradict himself, and I continue to trust in him even if there are some of the things that I do not understand.

 

Kiss One Another

pexel kissDid you know that there are about 59 one another statements in the New Testament that specifically deal with how we are to be in relationship with each other?

Some of the verses overlap so that there are more than one verse about the same instruction.  15 of the 59 verses specifically talk about how we are to love one another.  That is the most talked about one another topic.  The next two most referenced one another instructions are tied with 4 each.  One of them is to encourage one another and the other is the instruction is to kiss one another.

In 2 Corinthians 13 we read: 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (2 Cor. 13:11-14 ESV)

In these verses Paul instructs the church to greet one another with a holy kiss.  That instruction is mentioned four separate times in the New Testament making it one of the top three most talked about instructions among the one another passages.  We find it mentioned in Romans 16, I Corinthians 16, and I Peter 5 as well as here.

Paul actually gives us several instructions in this passage about how we are to relate to one another.   He is probably summing up what he has said in this letter with a few perfunctory statements about how they were to live.

He tells them to rejoice, to be restored, to comfort one another, to agree with one another and to live in peace.  Overall there seems to be a common theme of unity that is to exemplify the way they treat one another.

And then he tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss.  Apparently the early church used that method to greet one another.  In the ancient world this was not uncommon and actually today in many societies it continues to be a tradition.  However, in the early church it appears that the kiss was meant to signify the special union that they had with one another in Christ as part of one family.  Notice it is a holy kiss.  It was not meant in a sexual way at all.  It is devoid of that kind of emotional desire or intent.  It is a different kind of kiss that symbolizes the unity and intimacy that they have with one another in the Lord.

So is this something we should do?  I am not suggesting that we should start this practice, but when I read this and picture the early church greeting one another the image I have is of a church that was excited and happy to see one another.  I picture a church that was so invested in one another’s lives that they were like family.  I picture a church that had gone deeper into an intimate relationship with one another than we would typically consider with the church in our society today.  I picture a church that truly loved and cared for each other.  I picture a church that had authentic, real relationships with one another.

So while I might not be that interested in beginning a tradition of kissing one another, I do like that intimate family like picture of the church.  I like the depth of intimacy I see in this passage.  And I would love to see that at The River.  That is my challenge for us as a church family.

Emptied

pexel pourIn Philippians 2 we find a somewhat well-known passage that is often referred to as the kenosis passage, referring to the Greek word for “emptied” that is used in verse 7.   It is an important Christological passage that reveals a lot to us about who Christ is, although it also opens up a lot of theological questions about what it all means.

One thing we find out from this passage is that Jesus’ existence did not begin with his birth in Bethlehem.  He was with God before coming to earth as a baby.  And not only was he with God, but this passage points out that he was equal with God and shared the same nature.  In other words we find out that Christ and God are one.  We also find out that rather than holding on to that equality with God, he chose to humble himself, leaving heaven to come to earth as a servant for us.

This is a deep theological issue that is very difficult to understand.  Biblical scholars have spent a lot of time and a lot of words diving down deep into the Christological ramifications of these verses.

However, because it is so theologically significant, when we look at this passage, we tend to focus so much on the theological underpinnings that we sometimes miss an important point that Paul is making.  He is not just teaching us doctrine.  He is actually making a practical point.

First of all it is important to understand that what Christ did in leaving heaven and coming to earth for us is a big deal and that he did it in humility and servanthood out of love for us.

With that in mind, notice the beginning of verse 5: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus

Paul is saying that this example that we see in Jesus, leaving his lofty position and humbling himself to the position of a servant for us is the same kind of attitude we should have.

Actually, if we look at the verses leading up to the kenosis passage we find that Paul is talking about our relationships with one another.  He is talking about how we are supposed to take our eyes off of ourselves and start living for the good of one another.  Instead of my job to be to take care of myself, it is my job to look after your interests.  My role is to be your servant, just like Jesus showed me.

He is not saying that we are to have a low self-image or to think poorly of ourselves.  He is talking about putting others needs ahead of our own and being others-focused rather than self-centered.

When we consider the surrounding verses, we recognize that the kenosis passage is still theologically significant; but, it is also extremely practical.  Paul is teaching us about how we are to live with the kind of humility and servanthood that Christ exemplified to us.

Instead of each of us looking out for ourselves, what if we all looked out for one another and served one another in true humility?  That sounds like the kind of community that I would like to be a part of.  How about you?

Discerning the Body

pexel churchWhen we partake in communion at The River, I typically quote these words from I Corinthians 11: 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Just about every time we partake in communion at The River I use those verses before we partake of the bread and the cup.  But rarely do we ever look at those verses in context.  When we examine the context of the passage as a whole we find that Paul is confronting the church in Corinth about a problem with the way that they come together for communion.  In the early church coming together for communion involved a whole meal called the Agape or Love Meal.  This was probably somewhat similar to what we do with potlucks today.  The problem with the Corinthian church was that when they came together it seems like the food was being divided unequally with the rich getting plenty to eat and drink while the poor were going away hungry.  This implies that the rich were so focused on themselves that they were missing the needs of others in the church.

Considering this overall context there is a phrase that we find a couple of verses later that I believe is often overlooked and yet very important.  A friend of mine, Dr. David Fitch, first pointed this phrase out to me in a lecture at a pastor’s conference.  We find the phrase in verse 29: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  (I Cor. 11:29, ESV)

The phrase is “discerning the body.”  Now that is a bit of a strange statement.  I think typically we tend to just lump this verse in with the two verses before it which talk about examining ourselves and not eating and drinking in an unworthy manner.  Those verses are important, but think about the context of this passage as a whole.  Paul is spending a lot of his time dealing specifically with the issue of the way that when they got together some were getting fed and some were going hungry.    And in the midst of that, we find this verse.

It is also important to note that in the both the chapter before this and the chapter following this one Paul talks about how the church is a body.  We are the body of Christ.   God has brought us together and made us a church family.  We have a role to play in one another’s lives, to encourage one another, challenge one another, carry one another’s burdens, hold one another accountable, disciple one another, and also to just make sure that we are all doing okay.

I believe that in this passage Paul is talking about how important it is for us to discern the church.  Do we know how each other is doing right now?  Are we so focused on ourselves that we are missing the needs of those around us?  Do we know the specific needs that others might have?  Do we care about those needs?  And if people are hurting or needing help, are we doing our best to come alongside one another and help out in whatever ways we can?  We may not have the resources to meet every need, but maybe we can do something.  That is what it means to be a body.  That is what it looks like to be the family God has called us to be.  That is what it means to “be the church.”  #bethechurch

 

Response to Waiting for Eagle’s Wings Post

pexel eagle1After the worship service last Sunday when I preached from Isaiah 40 on Waiting for Eagle’s Wings (see earlier post), I was approached by a woman from our congregation.  She told me that she had written a song that fit incredibly well with what I had preached that morning.  She then sang that song for me.  I was amazed at how well it expressed what I had been talking about in the sermon.  It says in I Corinthians 14:26, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”  (ESV).  I believe this is something that she had to share with us, so I have asked her permission to post this song on our website.  Here is her song:

 

Lord I Need You

Rebecca Heerdt

 

Lord I need you,

I’m broken and worn down.

The battle is so hard Lord,

Can’t do it on my own.

 

Here I stand,

Worn and weak,

Waiting on You, Lord,

Your strength I need.

 

To run and not grow weary,

To walk and not faint.

To rise up with wings like an eagle.

Lord renew me again.

 

Here I stand,

Quiet and still.

Waiting on You, Lord.

I seek Your will.

 

Here I stand,

Waiting for You,

Here I stand,

I’m waiting on You.

 

Thanks for sharing that Rebecca!

Waiting for Eagle’s Wings

pexel eagle2One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 40:27-31: 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;  they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

I believe that we all wrestle with the kinds of questions we see in verse 27.  We all have times in our lives where we wonder if God sees what we are going through or if he does see us we wonder why he isn’t stepping in to fix things.

Verse 28 reminds us that God is the Creator and that he is all-powerful and all-knowing.  We know that to be true, but in the midst of tough times in our lives it is hard to not have questions about why God does not seem to be saving us from the trouble we are facing.

Verses 29-30 go on to remind us that God is in the business of giving strength to the weary and that it is normal for us to be weary at times.  We are all going to face times where our strength is waning physically, spiritually and emotionally.

And all of that leads us to verse 31, which is an often used verse that gives us the image of God swooping in like an eagle to carry us away from the trouble we are facing.  At least that is what I used to think it was talking about.  However, after closer examination it seems like the point of this passage is not God saving me from the tough things in life, but rather renewing my strength and helping me to grow in the midst of my struggles.

Notice that verse 31 does not say that we will be carried away on eagle’s wings, but rather that we will mount up with wings like eagles.  It seems to indicate more along the lines of the wings being developed in us.  That also fits with the focus on the Lord renewing our strength so that we can continue to walk and to run even though we are weary.

I think one of the most important words in this passage is the word “Wait.”  I believe that waiting implies an expectation that someone is going to show up.  Like when I am waiting for a friend, I am waiting because I am expecting that friend to show up.  If I didn’t expect him to show up, I would not be waiting for him.  Waiting on the Lord implies that we are expecting him to show up.  But I think often in the midst of my troubles I don’t really have the expectation that God is going to show up.  Or if I do expect him to show up my expectation is that he is going to deliver me from the tough stuff that I am going through.  But that is not what I see in these verses.

This passage is saying that in the midst of tough times I should wait in expectation for the Lord to show up and renew my strength and to help me continue to walk through what I am facing and in the midst of it even to grow in such a way that I will be better able to handle all that I am going to face in this life.

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