Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Table Fellowship and Discipleship

Mark 2:14-17:  14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Part of my devotions for today.  First, notice the word "rose" in verse 14.  I know many would disagree with this, but it is hard for me to think the word "rose" has no symbolic value.  The Gospel writers and Jesus chose their words carefully, and the fact is, we must rise from spiritual death if we are to follow Jesus.  No one can follow Jesus apart from a new birth that results from the hearing of his gospel word.

Second, notice the close connection between following Jesus and table fellowship with Jesus, particularly in verses 14 and 15.  Table fellowship with Jesus includes teaching and a meal.  Word and Supper are intimately tied to discipleship and walking with Jesus all of our lives.

Third, notice that the healing of sinners takes place through listening and eating (table fellowship), which was the exact way we became sick when we listened to the devil and ate of the one tree that was forbidden.  Now we are healed by listening to Jesus' words and partaking of his tree, the cross, partaking of his body and blood by faith.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Religion of Secularism

Seems to me that secularism is a religion. It deifies the state or self. It has two sacraments: abortion and homosexual "marriage," which point to and enable our right to be our own little gods. It considers the great problem of individuals to be guilt, which we should never have. It has a plan of salvation: to save the individual through self-esteem and to save the earth by fighting global warming. It hopes for an earthly utopia, where there is no religion, except secularism, of course!  It's way of living is self-grasping lust for power, wealth and pleasure. It is the exact opposite of Christianity, which it hates more than anything else, even Islam! 

On the other hand, Christianity worships the triune God, who is revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. It has two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper, which point to and enable our union and communion with the crucified and risen Lord. It considers the great problem of individuals to be the objective guilt that has resulted from our sin. It has a plan of salvation: to save the individual through Jesus' objective saving work and the Spirit's subjective inward work of Christ-esteem. It hopes for the utopia of a new heaven and earth. It's way of living is self-giving love in every area of life.  While it is the opposite of secularism and hates the false religion of secularism, it loves those who are blinded by secularism and prays for the salvation of those suffering and reduced by it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Feeding the Children and a Return to Weekly Communion

One of the ways Christian churches in the Evangelical and Reformed traditions fail to follow the biblical pattern of worship is through their practice of the Lord's Supper.  The giving of the Supper is infrequent, even though the evidence of the New Testament is that the Supper was received weekly. This is more than a mere theoretical problem.  It deprives the household of God the bread our Lord promises to give (see Matthew 24:45-46 and Luke 12:42-43).

Denominational rules and traditions prevent churches from returning to the pattern Jesus gave us of teaching and a meal.  By tying the administration of the Supper to the pastor, it becomes impossible to ensure the Supper is received each Lord's Day for the blessing and strengthening of the people.  If the pastor is sick or the congregation does not have a pastor, then believers are not able to receive this means of grace and life from their Lord.

Mark Thompson writes of the inconsistency and unbiblical nature of the restriction of the administration of the Supper to the pastor, when he writes:

By virtue of ordination, the presbyter [pastor] is given a special authority which is necessary if the Lord’s Supper is to be authentic. The presbyter [pastor] or ‘priest’ stands in a special relation to God, able to stand before God on behalf of the people and before the people on behalf of God. When such arguments are mounted, it is hard to avoid a
sacerdotal view of the presbyterate [pastorate], an idea which undermines the unique priesthood of Christ and both the singularity and finality of his sacrifice on the cross. It is also hard to avoid the suggestion that this activity lies at the heart of presbyteral [pastoral] ministry. When others are permitted to share in every other form of ministry exercised by the presbyter [pastor] (preaching, pastoral care, parish administration, leading services and even baptism) but are prohibited from administering the Lord’s Supper, the conclusion seems obvious that this is the distinguishing mark of presbyteral [pastoral] ministry: this is the essence of what it means to be ordained. Yet in the New Testament the ministry of the presbyter [pastor] or elder is not in essence liturgical but pastoral. The end result of an insistence on this prohibition, then, is confusion, or even distortion, of the biblical pattern of ministry. (1)

By unbiblically tying the Supper to one person in the congregation, we deprive ourselves of the meal Jesus instituted for our strengthening and blessing.  We become like those Jesus spoke against, who raised their human traditions above the Word of God.  Instead of following our Lord's authoritative pattern of teaching and a meal/sign, we do our own unbiblical thing.  Thompson writes:

It is abundantly clear that in both the New Testament contexts in which the Lord’s Supper is mentioned (Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11) it is a congregational activity rather than a priestly activity. The validity of the Lord’s Supper does not depend on the person administering it but on the attitude of those participating in it towards each other and towards the atoning death of Jesus which is its proper focus. The proclamation of the gospel which Paul envisages as the meaning of the meal shared by the Corinthians, is a proclamation by the congregation, not just by the individual who is leading the prayers and distributing the loaf and the cup. A similar point is made in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, which insist that the efficacy of the sacrament depends not on the worthiness or otherwise of the minister but on ‘Christ’s institution and promise’ (Article 26).
This biblical focus is compromised by our preoccupation with the identity of the one who administers the Supper (or with the precise words spoken or actions performed at the right moment). Things about which the New Testament says little or nothing become central in our practice and the more important things fade into the background. The insistence on only presbyters administering the Supper runs the risk of changing the character of the Supper, from being a corporate act of remembrance in which the critical factor is the attitude and focus of the participants in the light of Christ’s promise, to being something done for or on behalf of the congregation by a particular person with distinctive qualifications and authority. It becomes an exercise in priestly ministry rather than an opportunity for all present to testify again of the mercy of Christ in which we trust for a full and complete salvation. The focus turns from the heart and mind of the recipients to the words and actions of the one administering. At this level too, the absolute prohibition of all but the ordained presbyter administering the Supper brings in its wake confusion and distortion.

Returning to the biblical pattern of Word and meal promises blessing and growth to our churches.  It holds the promise of democratizing ministry.  Part of the reason for the failure of churches to evangelize and grow is that churches have restricted the ministry to the pastor.  The only way to return to the weekly pattern of Word and meal in our churches is to take the administration out of the hands of the pastor.  His role is to supervise and oversee the church (including the Supper), making sure it is taught and fed.  By restricting the Supper to himself, he actually causes the children to go hungry.  Let us start to feed them once again.

May the Lord have mercy on us and return his meal to us on a regular basis. Amen.

(1) Both quotes from Mark Thompson's article in the book The Lord's Supper in Human Hands.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Learning to See the Beauty of the Person the Body Makes Visible

"Concupiscent [lustful] desire draws us away from affirming the person 'for his or her own sake' and makes of that person an object of selfish gratification.  This also obscures our perception of the beauty that the human body possesses as an expression of the spirit.  For the man of concupiscence [lust], 'beauty' is now determined not by the visibility of the person in and through his or her body, but by what type or kind of body satisfies or appeals to concupiscence [lust].  This concept of beauty is often totally divorced from the person."  --Christopher West

Learning to See and Live in a New Way

Probably not the easiest thing to understand if you do not understand all of West's terminology.  Still, it might be helpful to someone.  We looked at the Sermon on the Mount yesterday in our Bible study on Sunday night (here in Omaha).  No doubt, Christ's words condemn us as guilty before God.  But he also calls us to come to him for forgiveness and a new way of seeing ourselves and the world.

When West refers to the spousal meaning of the body, he refers to how our bodies as male and female are like a sacrament, making the invisible God visible.  Our bodies, and especially our sexuality as male and female, point us to the deepest meaning of life.  This deepest meaning is to mirror the communication of persons in the Trinity, who relate to one another in self-giving love, and further, to participate in this love of God through union and communion.  This union and communion is inscribed on our bodies, which image God.

West's words:

"In Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount, he appeals specifically to the experience of historical [fallen] man.  There is nothing abstract about 'looking with lust.’  We all know immediately what that means in our own experience, in our own 'hearts.'  That is why Christ's words sting so much.  We know we are guilty.  But Christ wants us to penetrate more deeply into our hearts where that 'echo' of God's original plan still resounds.  Tapping into that deeper heritage gives us the key to reconnecting the objective meaning of the body and sex with how we  experience the body and sex subjectively.    It gives us the key to 'living the body' according to its true meaning and thus fulfilling the very meaning of existence.

"Through the previous analysis of man and woman's experience before sin, we have discerned the body's spousal meaning and rediscovered what it consist of as 'a measure of the human heart.'  The heart is still measured by this objective meaning of the body, that is, by the call to sincere self-giving.  Lust, however, attacks this sincere giving, depriving man and woman of the dignity of the gift inscribed in the beauty and mystery of sexual difference.  So when the man of concupiscence [lust] 'measures' his heart by the spousal meaning of the body, he condemns himself.  At this point he has three choices: normalize sin [this has what our society has done]; fall into despair; or turn to Christ who came not to condemn, but to save (see John 3:17). . . . Christ's words about lust do not so much condemn us but call us.  They call us not just to force a subjectively lustful heart to submit to an objective ethic.  They call us efficaciously to let the new ethos of redemption inform and transform our lustful hearts."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Receptivity toward God and Entering into Christ's Suffering

Luke 7:36-50
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman,“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

As we first begin to read Luke 7:36-50, things appear rather benign.  One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to dine with him, and he accepts.  But as we learn more, we see Jesus was walking into a hostile, cross-examination of his ministry by Pharisees, who were inclined to reject him and his message.

We learn this from the unthinkable lack of hospitality our Lord was shown by Simon.  Hospitality in Palestinian culture was a highly held value.  It was simply expected courtesy that an invited guest, much less a visiting rabbi, would receive the basic amenities of water to cleanse one's feet (v. 44), a kiss---equivalent to our handshake (v. 45), and olive oil to wash and anoint one's head (v. 46).  But Jesus, the Son of God come from heaven, is insulted by receiving none of these marks of hospitality and welcome!

From verse 39, we may also glean the probable purpose of this invitation.  The Pharisees were going to try and determine Jesus' credentials as a prophet, as though his public ministry in word and signs were not enough!  How hard and unreceptive were the hearts of these men!

How fitting, then, that a woman, whose body, like the bodies of all women, pictures the spiritual receptivity toward God the human race lost through original sin, should show us how we should once again respond to our gracious God.

At this display of fallen, hard-heartedness and insult for her Lord, the woman begins to weep.  Although she came with expensive ointment to anoint Jesus' head in gratitude for the gift of forgiveness, this lack of hospitality brings a change of plans.  Since the Pharisee will not provide water for her Lord's feet, she will use her tears; since the Pharisee will not provide a towel, she will use her hair; and since her Lord's head is not available to her, probably because the lack of hospitality has caused Jesus to recline more quickly than normal, she will use the ointment for his feet instead.[i]

Because of her new found identity in Christ as a forgiven sinner, the woman sides with Jesus, despite the animosity of the gathered Pharisees.  As Dietrich Bohoeffer so insightfully says, the woman "has been swept into the messianic suffering of God in Christ."[ii]  She publicly declares her loyalty to Jesus, though undoubtedly such loyalty will bring Pharisaical scorn.

This woman, who sometime before this occasion received forgiveness and entrance into our Lord's kingdom, is given insight into the beauty and glory of Christ.  Surely this insight will grow even greater, after the suffering and rejection of Christ on the cross, which this incident with the Pharisees already foreshadows.  May we, who live after the cross, pray to receive similar insight, so that we might display the same trust, loyalty, and love that leads this woman to identify with Jesus, even in his rejection and suffering at the hands of a fallen world.

[i] Bailey, Kenneth E.  Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. p. 243-44.  Bailey explains how the omission of hospitality causes Jesus to enter and recline first at the meal.
[ii] Ibid. p. 247.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hymn Based on Luke 7:36-50

We Pour Out Our Heart's Affection

Suggested tune: WARUM SOLLT ICH MICH DENN GRAMEN (  Meter: 83368336.  Based on Luke 7:36-50.  Words: William Weber, 2014. (after sermon, God's love, forgiveness, love for God, after confession and assurance, devotion to Christ, suffering, persecution/insults)

v. 1
We pour out our heart's affection,
to our Lord,
who has bore,
all of our transgressions.
For His cross a demonstration,
of His love,
from above,
saves us from damnation.

v. 2
By God's grace we are forgiven,
on the cross,
paid the cost,
Jesus opens heaven.
For such love what can we offer?
Thanks and praise,
all our days,
love to no one other.

v. 3
In His love how much He suffered,
paid the debt,
by His death,
all to free His brothers.
For such love what can we offer?
Thanks and praise,
all our days,
love to one another.

v. 4
Jesus came but was rejected,
was denied,
in men's pride,                                    
to their hate subjected.
 Let us join our Lord in suff'ring,
let us side,
as the bride,
with our Savior's off'ring.

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