Monday, October 26, 2015


I talked about Advent last week as a way to purposely infuse our own lives and hearts with the truth that God is the One True God and that it matters to our every day lives. Advent looks to the coming of Christ. We get to remember how He came to earth in an act of humility and love.  Philippians‬ ‭2:7-8 reads, “Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (NLT)

We also get to look to a future when He returns again to bring about resurrection for life in a new heaven and a new earth. Isaiah first uses that phrase, as we see recorded in chapter 65, verse 17.  “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.”‬ ‭(NLT‬‬)

We see that John was given the same understanding.  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”” (‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

What wonderful things to look forward to!!!  Praise be to God!

But Advent is a season, just a month out of twelve. And we should be living with eyes firmly set on the Promise all year long. How can we keep such focus?

Again, we look to Christ's example on how to do that. He gave us this gift we call communion and commanded we engage in this physical act as a church to center our minds and hearts on Him. 

I find this amazing. First, Jesus gives instruction, like “... “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’””‭‭Luke‬ ‭10:27‬ ‭NLT‬‬.

Then, He gives us the method to carry it out!  “He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭22:19-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We read again: “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭11:23-26‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Here we see that we are to love with every facet of ourselves and love one another. And then we see a way of engaging in a regular act to remind ourselves just what this life is all about:  communion!  A word for communion is the Greek word koinōnía and it means fellowship or mutual sharing that results in needing nothing more.  It is a oneness of many parts. We see it in the Trinity, in marriage and in the church. 

The church manifests koinōnía during the sharing of the one Body and Blood. As we engage in it regularly, according to Scripture, it spills into the rest of our lives. 

This is a two-fold act of communion. The first is inward, involving our bodies, souls, minds, and hearts; we experience a communion of self, being in full agreement.  Our bodies are doing what our hearts desire and our minds find reasonable. 

The second is involving each other. We come together in peace with forgiveness, wanting good for each other.  We share intimately and fully, agreeing that there is no better thing for us to be doing.  

We go through these motions--fully engaged and alert--and doing so aligns us to Jesus' death, resurrection and coming again. We serve each other, look into one another's eyes.  This says, 'Hold on. The end is not here yet, but when it comes, we will be ready and Christ wins!  Do not give up.'

We have talked about the word communion and the depth that the word has. I have another one for you. 'Thee' is a cool word.  It means you.  But, more. 'You' existed right alongside the word 'thee' and people chose which to use in each interaction.  Originally, 'you' was plural and 'thee' was singular. But by the times of Shakespeare and the writing of the King James Bible, people used 'you' to speak with someone who was an acquaintance or stranger.  It was used formally, keeping the receiver at arm's length. 'Thee', on the other hand, was for the closest of friends and family.  There are people groups who continue to use these terms today.  Pretty neat to read in the KJV people choosing to talk with God using 'thee', huh?

So, just as we do Advent each year, we do communion each week. Just as with Advent, we choose how to experience it, as well.  It is a steady diet of truth when we take part in this holy time together as Bride and Groom. Or, not.  We get to choose. Will we go through the motions of a mindless ritual?  Heaven forbid! Let us choose to involve our entire selves as we serve each other the "Body, broken for thee" and the "Blood, poured out for thee."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Being Sanctified

Advent and Communion both look forward to the coming of Jesus.  Here I would like to talk about Advent. 

Luke 16:9-13 reads as follows:
Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.c
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

O Come, O come, Emmanuel  is a popular Christmas Carol that tells parallel stories that can help guide us today.  The lyrics of the first verse go this way.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.'

Israel had rejected God and sought its own way, the world's way. In becoming a pagan nation, it determined to refuse a theocracy and chose the chaos of survival of the fittest, kings vying for power.  At the time of Jesus' birth, they were truly captives, living dispersed.  Those Jews who were in Jerusalem did so as subjects to the Roman Empire. Jews in charge were in a delicate political dance with Rome. They were only in charge as long as they submitted to the ruling empire. They were captives in need of a rescuer. And there were God-lovers mourning in lonely exile. And we know from the stories about people like Simeon and Anna that there was great rejoicing when the long-awaited Messiah finally, finally came!

American Christians are not so different. Our history is of racial tensions that spill into significant hate-filled violence in every decade of the country's existence.  We make justice more about politics than true righteousness. Our laws, courts and prisons give grace to the rich and severity to minorities and the disenfranchised. A casual observer could easily believe that Americans read the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 and instituted the exact opposite standards for the meek, merciful, mourning, peacemakers, righteous and pure from what Jesus prescribed.  

We trust that 'someone' will take care of the needy. In fact, according to the IRS website, from 2005 to 2010 average charitable contributions went from 2.5 to 2.1 percent, totaling considerably less than 2,000 dollars per income each year.  One of the richest nations with approximately 173 billion souls claiming to follow Christ, and these are the numbers on charitable giving!  How can that be?  

I saw a statistic recently that said if one family in three churches adopted an 'adoptable' child out of the foster care system and the three churches committed to supporting that family, we could effectively abolish the foster care program in the United States as an institution that cares for children who age out of the system without ever being permanently placed in a family.  We can make a difference in this world.  Believing we can't excuses selfish living and fulfills that prophesy.
All the while we are forgetting that obedience is not about results.“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:58‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Can we take a moment and be astonished that we actually stand tall and tell God no just because we think it will not turn out the way we want it to?
"Did you realize that you will find about 800 Scriptures that deal with money in the Bible?
Jesus talked about money more than He did Heaven and Hell combined. He talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. 11 of 39 parables talk about money. 1 of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke talks about money."  

Money matters.  We all know that loving enemies and forgiving everyone are commands by God that, while difficult, actually are for our benefit. We feel a peace and freedom when we obey them; so much so, that even unbelievers advocate a life of forgiveness and mercy.  Could it be that the instructions on money, the singular area of life that God actually invited testing (Malachi 3:10), are for our good, as well?

We are members of the eternal Kingdom of the One true God. Are you happy about that?  Can anyone tell?  Are you as burdened, stressed, unforgiving and greedy as your pagan family, neighbors and coworkers?  Have you invited Jesus to change your entire life?  Do you even want that?

I do not ask this to shame. I say it to identify. We are steeped in a culture of sin. Some of it we have become very comfortable with. And we need Jesus. We need Him to forgive us and transform us.  His blood washes us from sin and sets us before the judgment seat as righteous. We just need eyes to see this truth so that we live it. 

We are here to be living testimonies to a life of freedom that is possible on earth through Christ. But how can anyone believe what we have to say when our own behavior betrays that we do not believe it ourselves. 
Christmas is coming and we have some choices to make about how we will experience the Advent season. I guarantee we all celebrate advent, whether you know or like the word. It means Coming. In America, Advent seems to begin earlier each year and the focus is shopping, movies, sweets and decorations: the coming of pleasure and consumerism. In the tradition for Christians, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and the focus is on the Scripture, welcoming Jesus into our hearts and charity, which means love.  

These things are in opposition to one another. Jesus warned us in His great wisdom and care that we could not serve both. This world tells us differently. We like buffets and fear missing out, so blending a little from here and a little from there is super appealing. Tempting. While it is not a sin to be tempted, it most certainly is to not flee from it. What will the focus be for you?  What of the world will be welcomed into your homes, calendars and hearts?

Both the pagan* advent and the Christian Advent extend beyond the Christmas season, but they are heightened and glorified at this time that is fast approaching.  We will choose no matter what.  A passive choice will never land us with Jesus, but it counts as a choice nonetheless.
*I use the term pagan to mean non-Christian, referring to all who do not call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.