Category: 1 Corinthians (page 1 of 13)

God at Work: Sacrament

Sacrament: A physical symbol that acts as a means of God’s grace by which we participate in a spiritual reality.

This Sunday at Central we’re beginning a 13-weeks Bible class series on the sacraments of baptism, communion, and the Christian assembly. Our intent is to move more toward viewing these special moments together as places and times when our God is redemptively present and seriously at work. We want to learn how to focus more on what God is doing and less on what we are doing in these practices. And the word “sacrament” is significant for our understanding and growth.

The definition above is my own version of how the Church has understood the term for centuries. Let’s explain it using each of the divine ordinances.

Baptism – The physical symbol is the water. The water is real, it’s tangible. You can see it, you can feel it, you can experience it. It’ll ruin your phone, it’ll go up your nose — it’s real. But the water also represents a reality beyond itself. It points to something bigger. The water symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. What makes baptism a sacrament is that, by God’s Spirit, we actually participate in the reality it symbolizes. In baptism, we are buried and raised with Christ Jesus. Baptism connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection.

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Lord’s Supper – The physical symbol is the bread and the cup, the cracker and the juice. Those are concrete, real things, physical things. You can smell the juice, you can crunch the cracker; it gets stuck in your teeth, it can stain your slacks — it’s real. But the meal represents Jesus eating and drinking with his disciples. What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that, by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the thing it represents. We are literally eating with the Lord. Somehow, mysteriously, yes, he meets us at the table and eats with us.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” ~1 Corinthians 10:16

Christian Assembly – The physical symbol is the people in the room. It’s us. Real men, women, and children, wearing clothes, laughing, singing, whispering, chewing gum, praying; babies crying and people sneezing — it’s real. And it symbolizes something bigger. It represents the heavenly assembly around the throne of God. By God’s Spirit, we join that heavenly chorus — we are actually participating in what we can’t see yet. We are singing and praying with all the saints of all time in heaven, in the eternal presence of God. That’s what makes the Sunday morning worship gathering a sacrament.

“You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, to the spirits of righteous men and women made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…” ~Hebrews 12:22-24

God is present with us, saving us, nourishing us, changing us. When we view these three ordinances as merely commands to obey, we’ll focus on what we are doing. When we understand them as sacraments, we’re better able to focus on what God is doing.

Peace,

Allan

Leadership: Pleasing God First

“We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:4

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else.” ~1 Thess. 2:6

Paul and Silas and Timothy tell the church in Thessalonica that they all ought to follow their model of Christian leadership: We “make ourselves a model for you to follow (2 Thess. 3:7, 9). A critical component of their leadership style is their commitment to pleasing God instead of people. Paul’s ministry — his whole life! — is characterized by this attitude.

“Am I trying to win the approval of people, or of God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” ~Galatians 1:10

Paul is not one to take a vote or check the opinion polls before doing what he knows needs to be done in his capacity as a Christian leader. President Harry Truman had a similar disdain toward catering to the whims of the people:

“I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt? What would Jesus Christ have preached if he’d taken a poll in Israel? Where would the Reformation have gone if Martin Luther had taken a poll? It isn’t the polls or public opinion of the moment that counts. It’s right and wrong and leadership, men and women with fortitude, honesty, and a belief in what’s right that makes epochs in the history of the world.”

We’ve been entrusted with the Gospel (1 Thess. 2:4) as stewards of God’s Good News. So we are responsible to God, not people. We seek to please God first, not people. This was Peter’s leadership style, too. In Acts 5, Peter tells the Sanhedrin in the face of Jewish persecution, “We must obey God rather than people!”

But there’s such a strong temptation to please people. It’s human nature. We want to please people, not just to be popular, but because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We don’t want to make enemies. We don’t want to come across as mean. We want to keep the peace. Elders want to keep their members. Preachers want to keep their jobs.

Well, hold on. We don’t want to offend or upset our weaker brother. We’re responsible for our weaker brother.

You know, that passage in 1 Corinthians 8 is one of the most grossly misapplied passages in all of Scripture. The weaker brother Paul’s talking about is a brand new Christian. He’s just been baptized. He’s still wet behind the ears, figuratively and literally. He’s from a pagan, idol-worshiping, bacon-loving background. He doesn’t know anything. He hasn’t had time. He’s just a baby. That’s the weaker brother of the Bible. But I’m afraid sometimes it’s the men and women who were born and raised in the faith, baptized 20, 30, or 40 years ago, who are using weaker brother arguments to thwart Christian leadership.

When I was interviewing here at Central almost six years ago, the leadership told me, “We’re a Church of Christ. We’re always going to be a Church of Christ. We’re proud of our Church of Christ heritage and we uphold our Church of Christ traditions. But when those traditions come into conflict with the Gospel, we’re going to go with the Gospel every time.”

Sold! I love that!

Strong Christian leaders keep their eyes on the goal, they’re focused on the big picture. They lead with courage in the will of God, to please him. What’s going to challenge us and mature us? What’s going to lead to Christ-likeness? What’s going to move us toward more sacrifice and service? What’s going to make us more accountable to God and one another?

Well, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m not comfortable with that.

Who said anything about comfortable? That’s why they put crosses up in church buildings, to give you a clue that this is not about being comfortable!

Leaders worth following don’t pay much attention to the polls or public opinion. Pleasing God, not people. Remember, Jesus was OK with letting the rich young ruler walk away.

Peace,

Allan

Resurrection of the Flesh

heavenlight

“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power!” ~1 Corinthians 15:42-43

Christians believe in the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul. The resurrection is a physical, bodily resurrection. When Jesus was raised, God didn’t leave his body in the tomb. The Scriptures go out of their way to show us this. After the resurrection, the first thing Jesus did with his disciples in all four biblical accounts is eat and drink with them to prove he was not just a spirit. He even says it in bright red letters, “Look, I’m not a ghost! A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones!”

You’re not going to be an angel. You’re not going to be a ghost. No matter how much you threaten it or how badly you want it, you’re not going to be able to haunt anybody after you die.

1 Corinthians 6 says “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead and he will raise us also.” Romans 8 tells us we’re looking forward to the redemption of our bodies, not redemption from our bodies. God’s physical, fleshly, earthly creation is good; it’s very good. He’s not going to destroy the world, he’s redeeming it. He’s not going to destroy your body; he’s going to raise it and restore it.

There’s this very pagan, very Greek, and now very Western belief — conviction, really — that our true selves are our spirits. My true self is my soul and my body is just a temporary shell. My true self, my spirit, is trapped in my body and some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away! Like a bird flying away from prison bars, my soul will leave my body and I’ll live forever as a spirit, my true eternal self. So my body dies, but I really don’t. I continue to live on and pass over to the spiritual realm where I came from and where I really belong.

That is not what Christians believe.

We talk like it, though. We’ll look into a casket at a funeral and say, “That’s not really him. That’s just his body.” Or we’ll say, “She’s not really dead. Her spirit never died.”

That’s not true.

That kind of thinking and talking denies the terrible reality of death. The Bible never pretends that death’s not that big a deal because we don’t actually die, we just “pass on” to our new kind of living. According to Scripture, death is real and total and dreadful. Our Lord didn’t face death with the calmness of somebody just taking a trip to the other side. He faced it with loud cries and tears that God would spare him from death. He sweat blood in the garden and begged God to avoid death.

Death is hideous and terrible because it means the end of us. Scripture calls death the awful enemy, not the welcome friend.

Our hope is not the indestructibility of our bodies or the immortality of our souls. Our hope is in the creative power of God Almighty! Our God calls things that are not as though they are and he makes the dead live again! Our hope is not in some internal capacity we have within ourselves, it’s in the power of God who raised Jesus from the grave and promises to do the exact same thing for us!

Peace,

Allan

Resurrection Hope

resurrectionbodies“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.” ~1 Corinthians 15:19

Where is your hope? If your hope is in your health, you’re in trouble because you can’t control that. You can’t count on your health. There are lots of people in your life who can testify to that.

Is your hope in your money or your retirement account or your investments? I pray it’s not. You can’t control your money, either. There’s no guarantee with money. So what if you’ve got a million dollars, how much is it worth when the economy tanks?

Where is your hope? Do you even think about it?

So many of us are talking on the Bluetooth while we’re tapping out a text while we’re ordering at the drive-thru at McDonald’s on the way to a meeting that starts in three-and-a-half minutes. We’re just flying from place to place and going and doing and chasing and getting so frantically, we don’t ever think about the things we’re pursuing. What am I really hoping for?

The truth is we’re all going to die. The truth is that, eventually, you are going to stop breathing, you’re going to die, we’re going to put your body in a box, we’re going to put that box in the ground, we’re going to go inside and eat fried chicken and green bean casserole, and then in about two generations we’re going to forget everything about you. That’s the truth.

(Aren’t you glad you decided to read my blog today?)

There’s got to be more. There had better be more.

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” ~1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Our hope is in the resurrection of the body. That means, yes, our God has the final word over death. God has the final say. Not crippling disease, not mental illness, not violent crime, not war, not starvation — our Father has the final say. Your life on this earth might be long and happy or your life might be a bitter experience of pain and groaning. Whatever ravages the hostile powers might inflict on your body or the bodies of those you love, the empty tomb of Jesus and the resurrection promise of God fill us with a genuine hope that the body sown in weakness will be raised in power to life.

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” ~1 Corinthians 6:14

We put undo hope in things that can’t deliver. We don’t rely on God like we should. We put more trust in ourselves and our stuff. It’s not because we intentionally downplay or reject the promises of God, I think it’s because we don’t slow down enough to allow ourselves time to truly reflect.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be ignorant about death or to grieve like the rest of people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe…we will be with the Lord forever.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Peace,

Allan

The Universal Church

“We believe in the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.” ~Apostles’ Creed

steepleThe early Church thought of themselves as a worldwide movement through a network of gatherings spread all over Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he called them one group among those “everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — their Lord and ours.”

We are one people — everybody equal, everybody the same — with all Christians everywhere. Universal. One. There are so many wonderful, glorious, Kingdom things happening in and through your church. But it’s so puny compared to what God is doing globally. His Church is growing in every part of the world today except in North America. God is right now today growing his Church; he is today adding to his Church. And we are united together with all of it. One of the reasons we want people to go on short term foreign mission trips and help them pay for it is so they can watch other people following Christ. To see different cultures, different languages, different customs — to see people so different from us worshiping our God and submitting to our crucified and resurrected Lord is profound. The Church of Jesus Christ is a universal Church — all believers for all time in every place forever. One universal Church.

You love your church? Good! I love mine, too! I want you to love your church! But we’re not in competition with anybody (well, except the devil; and he’s already lost). Praise God for our brothers and sisters in the Baptist and Methodist and Presbyterian churches all over our city! Praise God for the Christian churches throughout this country and around the world who are faithfully preaching and teaching and praying and serving and living together in the name and manner of Jesus!

They might have their faults. They might have their shortcomings. They might have their misinterpretations and questionable practices. And so do we! We’ve got ours by the buckets! We’re all in this together!

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” ~Ephesians 4:3-6

And, I know, some of you are pushing back on this. “Don’t talk like there aren’t any boundaries. There have to be some boundaries. You can’t talk like everybody’s in.”

No, of course there are boundaries. If a somebody comes in saying that Jesus is not from God, that Jesus is not divine, he’s out! 1 John 4. If a guy comes in bragging about having sex with his step-mother, he’s out! 1 Corinthians 5. Believe me, the Bible gives us some lines. And we need to pay attention to them. But we don’t need to obsess over it. I mean, myself, if I’m not careful, I can go from zero to Pharisee in 2.9-seconds. But I will not draw any lines of fellowship between Christians that I can’t find in the Bible. I’m too conservative.

You know the disciples see these others casting out demons in Jesus’ name and they run to our Lord with their complaint: “Make them stop, they’re not one of us.” And Jesus responds, “Just because they’re not with you doesn’t mean they’re not with me.” Elsewhere our Lord says he has sheep who are not even from this pen. He says all those sheep will hear his voice and there will be one pen and one shepherd. Drawing those lines is above our pay grade.

When the Church is splintered into different factions, when the Church is divided into different denominations, when we draw lines between us because of our differences instead of tearing down the walls because of everything we have in common in Christ, what we’re saying to the world is that the Church is not holy and it’s not universal. We can no longer in good faith justify or excuse or explain away the sin of the divisions in God’s Church. Going along with the divisions, keeping our distance from other Christians in other churches, contradicts everything we say about one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, and one God over all.

Peace,

Allan

We Believe in the Church

Maybe you’ve noticed that people are leaving the Church. Not just your church, not just your denomination — people are leaving churches all across the board all across this country. The numbers are slow, but they are steady. Church attendance and church membership are on a decline. And the shifting attitude can be summed up like this: “Jesus, Yes. Church, No.”

jesusgoodchurchbad

“I love Jesus, but I don’t like the Church.” “I follow Jesus, but I don’t go to Church.” “I don’t go to Church because they’re all sinners, the Church is full of hypocrites” (which is like saying, “I don’t go to the health club because of all the out-of-shape people there). “I serve the Lord every day, but I don’t do Church.” “You can’t organize spirituality.” “Jesus, Yes. Church, No.”

Let me confess right here that I know the Church is a mess. What else could it be? Have you looked at the people who sit by you when you’re there? Yes, the Church is guilty. We’re all guilty of being smug, complacent, self-righteous, racist, misogynist, impersonal, unfeeling, dated, and stuffy — all these things and more.

But Scripture —and the song — says our Lord Jesus purchased the Church of God with his blood. Ephesians says Jesus loves the Church and gave himself up for her. Church is a pretty big deal.

But even “church people” are struggling. All the research and surveys show that the Christian Church and its message do not significantly matter in the lives of its members. Attitudes about sex, marriage, and divorce; ideas about race, poverty, and war; thoughts and actions related to recreation, work, and money — in all areas of life you can’t tell the difference between church members and people who aren’t church members. Lots of people see the Church as really good as long as it gives me personal comfort or meets my needs or confirms what I already think about myself and other people and the world around me. That’s it.

A lot of Christians pretty much ignore the Church as harmless or irrelevant and live their lives like it doesn’t even exist. Christians are increasingly just going through the motions on the inside of Church and, on the outside, the Church is ignored and laughed at for its irrelevance.

I think one of the main problems is that we don’t have a robust theology of the Church. We think the Church is where the theology is packaged. We think church is where religious people with religious things in common go to get their religious stuff. Church is just a place to get your spiritual needs met.

No! Church is theology! Thinking right about the Church is directly tied to thinking right about God.

From the Day of Pentecost right up until this hour Christians have always believed in the Church. That line about the Church in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed — I believe in the holy, universal church, the communion of saints — comes from a baptismal confession from the middle of the second century. Only a few years later, it was being recited together by all Christians every time they assembled. A belief in the Church has always belonged right in the middle of our theology. Just like we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; just like we believe in the dead, burial, and resurrection of Jesus; just like we believe in the forgiveness of sins and the second coming; we believe in what God is doing in and through his Church.

The Church is an utterly indispensable part of what God is up to in the world. Followers of Jesus have never believed anything less.

The Church can’t be treated like an optional extra. It’s not like ordering a side salad to go with your steak: I can take it or leave it, it just depends on what mood I’m in. The Church is the family of God, the called-out people of the Messiah, the baptized, sanctified, Spirit-indwelled, disciples of Jesus who become something together they can never be as individuals. Y’all are the Body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. Our identity in Christ cannot be understood outside our membership in his Church. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. To him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever!

This week in this space, I want to take a look at the three descriptors in that line about the Church in the Apostles’ Creed. These three words/phrases give us a great outline to point us to what the Bible says about the Church and what Christians have always believed. These three words/phrases — holy, universal/catholic, communion of saints — will give us a better Church theology.

Peace,

Allan

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