Month: April 2016

Communion: The Legacy

communion-bread-and-wine

For the next few weeks we will be discussing Communion.  Four aspects of Communion are central, necessary for us to understand if we profess faith in Jesus Christ.  We will find that a study of Communion reveals:

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ

3) The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

4) The Legacy of His Church

Last week we discussed the sacrifice of Jesus about Communion.  This week’s reflection discusses the legacy of the Church, the body of Christ, as it relates to Communion.

The Church today, in addition to the foundational words and commands of Jesus Christ, looks to the forefathers of our faith, the early Church, for how we should carry ourselves as Christians. A brief review of the practices of the early Church makes it clear that there are certain traditions and practices that the early Church prioritized in their worship. Along with caring for the poor, the widow, and the needy, healing the sick, preaching the gospel, sharing what they had and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the early disciples met together in their homes regularly and “broke bread.”

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

This breaking of bread can only mean that they stayed true to the command of Jesus Christ by continuing to practice the communion modeled by Jesus during the Last Supper.

More than a symbol of the obedience of the early Church to follow Christ’s commands, this is a holy reminder for us today that the members of the early Church strove to never lose the true message of their faith. They knew that they were alive because of Jesus Christ; to forget that or to overlook Christ’s central role in their lives was not an option. For them, seeing at the broken bread and wine reminded them that they were alive because Jesus Christ chose to be broken and bleed for them. However, when they ate the bread and drank the wine, the Christians were reminded of how much God had given them and how united they were with the Son and the Father.

The Church in its current form often fails to effectively embody the spiritual fruit of the early Church. Why? Among many contributing factors, the casual approach of the Christian Church to communion, and in some instances the absence of it altogether, has served to distance the Church from Jesus himself, making room for a more Church-centered model, as opposed to the Christ-centered Church that Jesus was broken and bled for.

Tuesday Devotional: Nehemiah 12

bibleRead Nehemiah 12

Worship and Purification. A life devoted to the living God and to following Jesus Christ must be marked by these two words on a daily basis. It is impossible to devote your life to God without worship and it is impossible to follow Jesus without daily purification. To know the living God is to be confronted by the almighty in all that is good. To know the living God is to be daily in the presence of something greater than yourself and more beautiful than we could possibly imagine. It is not enough to know about Him. Knowing about Him is like acting overwhelmed by a painting that you’ve never stood in front of. There is superficiality to this kind of knowing. If we haven’t seen it personally, how could we expect to understand it, share it, rejoice in it? Merely knowing about Him is professing confidence in a King you’ve never allowed to command your steps.

If we haven’t accepted His authority and followed His commands, how we can claim any faith whatsoever in His authority and discernment? Knowing God is to know that HE IS and the implications of that revelation are life-changing. If HE IS then I am who He says I am: a child in desperate need of a good father. Once we know Him as Father we see His beauty and there is little else to do in the presence of His beauty than worship.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ IS purification. You cannot separate the two. They are inseparable and indistinguishable. He is the purifier and we NEED purification. Need AND needed. Jesus came to purify the world of its sin by taking the sins of the world upon Himself, setting the captives free and restoring sight to the blind. To know Jesus and follow Him is to live and breathe purification. Our first breath in the morning should remind us of the life we have in Jesus Christ. The day that follows reveals the continual and ongoing fight with sin within us which requires the daily purification of our hearts by the Gospel of Jesus. The cross purified us by paying the debt we owed, and the resurrection initiated the final chapter of the world that requires ongoing purification as it awaits the final return of the King.

To walk with Christ is to be in the presence of perfection and thus aware of our imperfections. However, although our imperfections become great in His presence, His forgiveness becomes greater. The cycle repeats and we are once again prepared for glorious worship. Amen!

 

Communion: The Sacrifice

communion-bread-and-wine

For the next few weeks we will be discussing Communion.  Four aspects of Communion are central, necessary for us to understand if we profess faith in Jesus Christ.  We will find that a study of Communion reveals:

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ

3) The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

4) The Legacy of His Church

Last week we discussed the provision of Jesus about Communion.  This week’s reflection discusses the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as it relates to Communion.

The death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ are at the heart of communion. While the Christian life must be marked by joy in the new life found in Jesus Christ, at the foundation of the Christian spirit is constantly awareness of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is not to say that a Christian life should be overwhelmed by grief concerning the sacrifice. Absolutely not. To know his sacrifice is to know his resurrection, and to know his resurrection is the ultimate joy. However, in order to experience the life-giving power of the empty tomb, one must also confront the weight of the sacrifice that preceded it.

As Jesus sat at the table about to break the bread and pour the wine, once again, he found himself completely alone in the understanding of what he was about to do. For three years, Jesus repeatedly alluded to, and in some instances stated outright, the price he was going to pay on the cross. However, he alone understood the weight of his mission. On the night he broke the bread during the last supper, Jesus was staring directly at the cross, again isolated in the knowledge of what was soon to occur. Jesus could foresee the fists. The Apostles could not. Jesus could foresee the spit. The Apostles could not. Jesus could foresee the verbal abuse. The Apostles could not. Jesus could foresee the crown of thorns. The Apostles could not. Jesus could foresee the nails. The Apostles could not.

Jesus could foresee the dehydration, the asphyxiation, the loneliness. The Apostles could not.

The practice of communion is not simply the reflection on the death of a good friend. The practice of communion recognizes suffering that we will never understand. To practice communion is to reflect on the sacrifice of God for children who have defiantly refused to sacrifice anything in return.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

In communion we reflect on the fact that Jesus had no reason to sacrifice what he did aside from his desire to see us reunited with the Father in the same way he has always been. In communion we acknowledge that we have done nothing to deserve what we have, but because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been given more than we ever could have imagined. We are fulfilled and satisfied in ways that only God has foreseen. Communion is a celebration of new life; it is only a celebration because at one point it was the greatest loss the world had ever known.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

Tuesday Devotional: Ezra 5

bibleRead Ezra 5

God is a creator, and, if we were designed in His image, we are creators as well. We were designed to design and create beautiful things worthy of a Holy God, reflective of His perfection. The issue is not that we have an inherent gift and desire to create. The issue is why we create. Sin makes us want to create so that we can become to focal point of worship. We create so that WE can make a name for ourselves, so that we can be remembered, so that we can obtain approval and value. Sin drives us to create a new thing, something that can add to something that already exists.

Ultimately this approach to creation tends to reveal the worst in us. Creation in the hands of sin leads to competition, rivalry, bitterness, pride, winners and losers, life and death. Creation in the hands of sin says, “Look what I did.” Creation in the hands of God says, “Look what God HAS done and IS doing.” Creation with the heart of God never seeks to glorify the self, but seeks to restore what has been lost.

The heart of God gives us an awareness of past, present and future in regards to His creation and reveals our place in that design. We become aware of how things used to be, how things should be and how we can create in order to bring this world back to God, not further distance from Him. A Christian with the heart of the Gospel is always restoring the world to Jesus Christ. Every creation should redirect people to what was lost by the first man and what was gloriously restored in the second man.

45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)

It is undeniable that we were designed to create and we have all been blessed with different skills and gifts in order to create. Creation is of God. Self-glorification is not. We cannot create for our own glory and simultaneously glorify the living God. This is impossible. Creation of God and for God reflects what HE created and lost through the sin of man and what lengths He went to in order to restore the sight to the blind. Until we create as a process of restoration we will never create anything worthy of the resurrection.

Communion: The Provision

communion-bread-and-wine

source

For the next few weeks we will be discussing Communion.  Four aspects of Communion are central, necessary for us to understand if we profess faith in Jesus Christ.  We will find that a study of Communion reveals:

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ

3) The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

4) The Legacy of His Church

Last week we discussed the command of Jesus about Communion.  This week’s reflection discusses the provision of Jesus Christ as it relates to Communion.

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ 

The practice of communion was not simply a command to be followed “just because.” As was the case in everything that Jesus chose to do concerning his earthly ministry, there was a deeper purpose intended for the eyes to truly see and the ears to truly hear. While the primary focus of the communion meal was to direct the Apostles’ hearts toward the upcoming sacrifice on the cross, Jesus, through the communion meal, also intended for the Apostles to reflect back upon the provision of the past three years with him. At the feeding of the 5,000, before Jesus performed the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish, Jesus took the bread, looked up to heaven, asked God to bless the bread and then broke it so as to feed the hungry crowd.

Mark 6:39-44

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

At that point in Jesus’ ministry, only Jesus could have known how poignant the breaking of bread to feed the hungry was in the light of his upcoming breaking of the bread at the Last Supper the night before he was ultimately broken on the cross as a result of his sacrifice. At that point in his ministry, the focus was on the miraculous provision of Jesus, not on his sacrifice. Thus, the practice of communion, while a somber reflection of the sacrifice of Jesus at the hands of a sinful and broken world, it functions also as a reminder that God has always given us what we needed precisely when we needed it.

John 6:35 

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The practice of communion is a call to reflect on the death of Jesus Christ, on the new life and victory given to us as a result of his death, and on the reality of daily and eternal provision in the person of Jesus.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Chronicles 7

bibleRead 2 Chronicles 7:11-22

14If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Can we lose the gift of Jesus Christ?

YES.

Jesus Christ is not a gift you receive, store for a later date and then use to your advantage.  To view him in this way is to receive without understanding, store the gift without valuing it and use it without respect.

How do we lose the gift of Jesus Christ?

We lose the gift of Jesus Christ if we stop practicing the following disciplines in regards to our sinful nature. Daily we must:

  • Openly identify with name of Jesus Christ
  • Humble ourselves to His authority and commands
  • Pray
  • Seek the face and presence of God in our life
  • TURN FROM SIN

We cannot be ashamed to be called Christians.  We cannot be embarrassed by our association with and nature in Jesus Christ.  This central reality of the Christian life should be our strength.  Being an ambassador of Christ is not just a burden we are meant to carry.  Representing Christ is to be His light in the world.  It is an honor and a privilege to be called a Christian and to hide our identity is to reject the gift.

When we receive the gift of Jesus Christ we no longer possess any authority in our lives.  Naturally there are times when our sin fights viciously to draw us away from the presence of the Lord.  This command is not a command of perfection.  However, it is a daily decision we must all make.  We must all decide if we will use this day to serve our own interests, or His.  We must decide if today we will follow His commands or our own.  To receive the gift of Jesus we cannot claim authority in our lives or wisdom in the steps we ought to take.  Jesus is the final authority, and the Gospel to which we dedicate our lives is His.

Faith in Jesus is a relationship, and like all good relationships, conversation plays a central role.  The fruitfulness of a relationship corresponds with level of communication between the parties involved.  How can we claim to love Jesus or to receive His forgiveness and mercy and at the same time be totally disinterested and apathetic about our intimate dialogue with Him? We cannot. Prayer is not asking for things or saying sorry for things we’ve done.  Prayer is a practice in faith.  In praying we believe that we are talking with the God of Creation and that He takes interest in what we have to say.  Prayer is a powerful gesture to God that we believe Him, we miss Him, and that above all else we need Him.

The gift of Jesus IS Jesus.  The gift of Jesus is not merely rescue from our problems, peace from our strife or joy amidst the misery.  The gift of Jesus is the fact that we no longer have to search for happiness or contentment in anything else.  We no longer have to try and fail to satisfy our own hearts.  The gift of Jesus is the fact that in Jesus we have the answer that our hearts have sought to find from the moment we were born.  Therefore, if we understand the gift of Jesus and resist or even resent the presence of Jesus in our lives as our King and Savior, we are continuing to rely on the gifts that Jesus replaces, and we continue to search for satisfaction that, apart from Jesus, is nowhere to be found.

If you are carrying a box that requires you to carry it with two hands and a person asks you to carry another box, both the same size, both requiring you to carry it with two hands, you’ll have to make one of two choices.  You can either drop the first box and pick up the new box, or you can refuse to carry the new box and continue carrying the box you were carrying at first.  In the same way we have to face our sinful desires and temptations in relation to the gift of Jesus Christ.  The gift of Jesus Christ is the second box.  To receive it we HAVE to put the other box down.  Where do we get the idea that we can carry both? In order to be a recipient of the grace and promises of Jesus Christ we have to lay our lives down, pick the up the cross and follow our Lord.

 

Communion: The Command

communion-bread-and-wine

source

For the next few weeks we will be discussing Communion.  Four aspects of Communion are central, necessary for us to understand if we profess faith in Jesus Christ.  We will find that a study of Communion reveals:

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ

3) The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

4) The Legacy of His Church

This week’s reflection discusses the command of Jesus Christ as it relates to Communion.

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

Communion has its roots with Jesus Christ on the night before his execution. Jesus Christ and his Apostles sat together, shared fellowship and “broke bread.” As the final hours of his earthly ministry were coming to a close, Jesus took the opportunity to clarify what was going to happen to him and what his Apostles in turn were going to be called to do. Aside from instructing them in continuing to spread the Gospel and loving one another, Jesus illustrated his upcoming sacrifice on the cross by using bread and wine found on the table.

Jesus proceeded to show that the bread that was broken was a symbol of his body that would soon be broken for them and for the world in his crucifixion. He then took the cup of wine prophesied that soon his blood would be spilled as he was sacrificed as a sin offering for the transgression of sin brought into the world since “the fall.”

Matthew 26:17-30

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

After using the bread and the wine in the same way that the Jews commemorated their rescue from the slavery from Egypt, Jesus commanded the Apostles to remember his upcoming sacrifice with the bread and wine to commemorate how he rescued them from the enslavement of sin.

 

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Chronicles 11

bible

Read 1 Chronicles 11:1-9

…because the Lord Almighty was with him.”

What do you put your hope in?  What do you have faith in?  What do you believe in?  What thing, if you have it, puts your life in order?  What thing, if you were to lose it, would cause your life to unravel and deconstruct?  The Israelites thought they had a King.  They thought they had a savior who would protect and bless them.  Then, abruptly, that King was taken from them.  The absence of this King left a void that the Israelites were forced to look into.

The loss of something we love causes us to ask questions.  We ask ourselves, “Why is this loss so painful?”  “Why do I miss it so much?”  “Why do I feel incapable of moving on?”  “What will I do without it?”

When we face loss, our most honest and sincere feelings are revealed.  When seeking answers to our reaction we often find uncomfortable truths:  that our love for what we lost was unnaturally great and what we loved was naturally finite.

To know God as HE is and to love Him for who He is we must lose something.  We must take the thing we treasure the most and let it go.  We must begin to see the things in our lives in their natural order.  Our love for people is naturally beautiful, but our faith in them is destructively irrational.  We love things, but a love for a mere thing that cannot love us in return is illogically unreasonable.

But ultimately, what we must lose is neither a person nor a thing.  We must understand that the love of self is the greatest opponent to the love of God in our lives.  The truth is that without Jesus Christ we are lost, sheep without a shepherd.  We will find temporary success, but only a success that is fleeting and painful to lose.  In Jesus Christ there is no loss, except for the loss of the one thing that could never truly give you anything in the first place.  In Jesus Christ we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and in Jesus Christ we are no longer investing in a losing battle.  With Jesus Christ, the loss of our self is the painful first step to a life where our treasure is Christ, and to know Him is gain.  With Jesus Christ we have a King that has already won the victory. Through faith in His life, death and resurrection, that same victory is ours and we can and will overcome.