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Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Lord's Supper is Spoiled by Christians Who Forgot to Treat Each Other as Equals

The Lord’s Supper is Spoiled by Christians Who Forget to Treat Each Other as Equals

Christians around the world hear these words as they prepare to take communion in their churches: “The Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread…”  (1 Cor. 11:23b)   At the Last Supper, the words Jesus said for all of His followers to hear are read again: “When He had given thanks He broke the bread and said ‘Take eat: this is My body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of Me’ ” (1 Cor. 11; 24) and “…He also took the cup after supper and said: ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ ” (1 Cor. 11:25)

Jesus asks us (and all Christians down through the ages)  to set aside times to come together in His Name and share bread and wine to remember His death  – to remember that His body was broken for us and His blood was shed for us.    

Some Christian churches call communion by other names: the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Table, the Eucharist, or the (Catholic) Mass.  But whatever name we give it; when we come together before God to take the bread and the wine, Scripture says we are taking Jesus’ body and blood.  There is a deep mystery to the Lord’s Supper – a spiritual and sacred side in taking His body and blood that we can never completely understand.  It is a holy meal – We do our part in taking the bread and wine and God does His part in giving us eternal life in His Son. So we should always come before God at the communion table or altar rail with a spirit of awe, worship and humility.

The very scriptures here in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul is giving instructions concerning communion (verses 23-26) are set in a longer section (1 Cor. 11:17-34) where Paul is attacking the Corinthian church for some of the  members not sharing food with others while taking Holy Communion! Let’s listen to what Paul is saying to his flock - the Corinthian church.

“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.  For when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.  For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.  Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.  For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others, and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What!  Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?  Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?  What shall I say to you?  Shall I praise you in this?  I do not praise you.”  (1 Corinthians 11: 17-22) 

Historians tell us that in the first century many of the Roman citizens were poor and some didn’t have enough to eat.  Gradations of hierarchy existed in the Roman society– from the emperor to senators to knights to the lesser aristocracy to ordinary citizens to freeborn noncitizens to slaves.   Each Roman citizen knew his or her place on the social ladder and each knew who their “betters” were. There was little upward social mobility in first century Rome – no such thing as democracy or equality. 

It is into this social environment that Paul is asking the Corinthian church to reject the standards of the Roman society they have grown up in.  Christ was calling them to a new freedom.   Paul urged them to come to the Lord’s Table as equals (slaves and aristocracy all together!!!) even though they lived in a society that was steeped in inequality!  Even though in their society it would be unthinkable for the aristocracy to eat with the slaves! 

It would seem that when the Corinthian Christians came to the communion table, the more privileged Christians who did not have to work for a living would arrive early and eat and drink as they reclined around the table on couches.  But the church members who were slaves and laborers had to work until sunset and arrived to join in the Lord’s Supper later. By that time, the food would be gone and the early diners would be drunk.  (1 Cor.11:20-21)   The wealthier elite church members ate all the bread and drank the wine ahead of the others, shaming those who arrived late and had nothing to eat.  This is eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, says Paul.  (1 Cor. 11:29) 

The wealthier members of the house church must remember the “death of the Lord” Paul insists (vs.26) by waiting to eat a late supper with the working Christians that they had deemed inferior. These elite Christians must give up the recognition they expected because of their higher social status and wealth. Becoming a Christian should change all of that. Self emptying of privilege is at the core of Jesus’ gospel.  Paul is angry and insists that if the church group is not all eating together as equals and not sharing equally, then it is not the Lord’s Supper!  “You humiliate those who have nothing.”  He argues. (Verses 20-22)  

 Paul goes on: The wealthy elite members of the house church must remember the “death of the Lord” (verse 26) and in remembering the Lord they must all be as one (equal) in Christ.  The Christians who had a higher status must give up the special recognition they demand and treat the common workers and slaves in their church group as equals. Because Christ in great humility by His death emptied Himself of everything for us, we Christians are asked to empty ourselves of all our pride and privilege for Him.    

Paul goes on to warn the Corinthian church about the dangers of taking Holy Communion unworthily.  And this can be a warning for us too.  Let’s read the solemn warnings that Paul writes:  “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But let a person examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many have died.”  (1 Corinthians 11: 27-30) 

When I was nine years old and accepted Christ as my Savior, my girlfriend and I whispered and giggled together during our first Holy Communion.  The pastor stopped the service and read those verses in 1 Cor. 11:27-30 warning that we could be judged for coming to the table of the Lord unworthily. I will never forget that.
 Christians should examine themselves before they take communion and confess the sins in their lives that they are aware of.

 But also these scriptures warning us of God’s judgment if we come to the Lord’s Table unworthily also may be warning us against preferential treatment of wealthy Christians over poorer Christians in church and at the Lord’s Table.  I am not sure but that was the problem Paul was dealing with when he warned the Corinthian church about God’s judgment if they took communion unworthily.  In Christ we are all one – there is no male or female, no superior person or inferior person, no Jew or Greek. (Galatians 3:28)

Paul himself had given up the privilege of taking pay for his missionary labors of planting churches and spreading the gospel to the Gentiles.  He had refused all financial support, not wanting to be a burden to the people he served. (1 Cor.9:1-7, 12, 15).  Paul in his missionary work could have received financial support from some of the wealthy church patrons along the way if he had wished.  Instead Paul got his hands dirty and became a lower-class tent maker in order to be able to pay for his own food and lodging as he traveled around bringing people to Christ.  (Acts. 18:1-3) (taken from Rita Halteman Finger’s article in Sojourners’ Magazine, June 2012; page 29)  

Paul refused to play the status games the world plays. Along with refusing to be paid for his work, he refused to show off his intelligence or impress the churches he visited with his wisdom or status. (2 Corinthians 2:1)   Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians: “I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) 

 And Paul tried to teach his new Christians converts that following Christ would mean a new lifestyle of humility for them too.  Christ was persecuted for being a humble servant and those who followed Him would be persecuted too.  There would be a price to pay. And most of the new Christians in Paul’s churches paid that price.  They followed Christ and learned humility. Are you willing to follow Christ in His humility?   Are you willing to pay the price?      


Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to Hear What God is Saying to You

How to Hear What God is Saying to You

Jesus made us an amazing promise in John 14:15-20.  He promised to give each of us a priceless gift.  His gift for us is his Holy Spirit to live in our hearts, and be our teacher and counselor and comforter and guide– for the rest of our lives.  So we are never left alone to figure things out for ourselves.  The Holy Spirit will speak directly to our hearts.   

We read in Scripture: “The steps of a good man are directed by the Lord and He delights in his way.  Though he falls, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord grasps his hand and upholds him.”  (Psalm 37:23, 24)  We are not capable of running our own lives, so we need God’s guidance and strength.  If we take time to listen for God, we will be directed to the next step we are to take as we walk through our life.  So how do we do that?  How do we listen for God?  Are there things we can do to listen better?

First we need to want to hear God’s voice, and have faith that He wants to guide us.  Scripture says that God has given each one of us a “measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3) so we need to get the faith we’ve been given out and use it.  We need to take time to listen – get away from the business and stuff in our lives for a little time and wait upon the Lord.  An important part of prayer is being still and listening.  Being patient and waiting.  “Be still and know that I am God.”

And second, we need to keep an attitude of obedience.  Jesus said:  “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.”  A hard heart or an unforgiving heart can keep us from hearing God.  If we aren’t willing to follow where God is leading us then we may not listen to what He is trying to tell us.  So in order to hear God we need to be willing to obey.  Pray and obey. 

Third, we need to study the Bible since knowing God’s Word protects us from deception.  God is not going to speak to you and tell you to do something that the Bible – His Word – tells us is wrong.  For example the Bible tells us that it is a sin to commit adultery.  So if you pray and believe that God is telling you that you should start living with a person who is married to someone else, you can know that God didn’t put that thought in your mind.  We may hear what we want to hear, but that doesn’t mean we have heard from God.  Joyce Meyer in her book, “How to Hear from God” p.42 says:  “An idea can feel good to our emotions but fail to give us peace when it isn’t in line with God’s Word.”

If God doesn’t seem to be saying anything about a situation, it may not be that He isn’t leading us.  Perhaps He trusts us to do what we want and make some of our own choices.  One of His gifts is the gift of freedom. We need to act with kindness, love and forgiveness in every choice we make. And we need to use common sense and wisdom in making decisions.  And if we worry that we may not have enough wisdom to make decisions wisely we can ask God for wisdom and He promises to give it to us.  (James 1:5)

God can speak through prophecy. The Word encourages us to welcome divinely inspired prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14: 1-4)  Joyce Meyer in her book “How to Hear From God” says: “A prophecy that is inspired by God will strengthen and encourage and comfort the one who receives it.” page 51`.  “If a prophecy doesn’t bear agreement in your heart, don’t worry about it.  There are a lot of well-meaning people who think they are hearing from God for others, but they’re not… If a word is truly from God, He will make it happen in His own time.  Lay aside the prophecy and just wait to see if God brings it to pass.  He will speak to you in other ways to confirm it, if it is really from Him.”  Pages.51- 53.

God isn’t limited, He can use many different ways to speak to us. He speaks to us through nature and through our natural abilities.  He gives each of us talents and abilities to use in helping and blessing others and glorifying Him.  And God gives us “grace” for the work that He has called us to do.  Scripture also says that He can speak to us through the counsel of other people. (Proverbs 15:22-23)  God speaks to us through correction, and through other people who practice listening for His voice in their lives.  Start listening and watching for God to speak to your heart everywhere you go. It’s exciting to know that He is part of our work and our lives.   

Jesus promises us peace.  “My peace I give you, my peace I leave with you, do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  (John 14:27)  When God speaks to us He gives us a sense of internal peace. God speaks to us through our convictions and our heart’s desires. And He gives us joy to spur us on in doing the work that He gives us to do.  He wants us to enjoy life.   

Scripture says: “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”  (John 4:24)  Because the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts, He communicates directly to us often through a still small voice deep within our spirits.  We need to pray and ask Him to give us ears (spiritual ears) to hear what He wants to say to us.  I think that if we obey God it helps our ears to stay open to His Voice.  Proverbs 3:6 says: “In all your ways acknowledge (obey) Him, and He shall direct your paths.”  But does He direct our paths if we continually refuse to acknowledge (obey) Him in all that we do?  I don’t think so!

Even though we listen for God’s voice and obey, there will still be times when we may not hear from God as clearly as we would like. When we don’t know exactly what to do in a situation we can trust God to work things out.  Isaiah 42:16 says:  “I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known.  I will make darkness into light before them and make uneven places into a plain.  These things I have determined to do and I will not leave them forsaken.”  We need to keep trusting God when we can’t see our own way, because God’s ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8)  

Scripture says that God leads us like a good Shepherd leads his sheep.  One way that God speaks to us is by opening or closing a door to something we are considering doing.  We can pray that God will only open the doors through which He wants us to pass.  Scripture says that Paul and Silas tried to go into Asia to preach the gospel there but the “Spirit of Jesus prevented them.” (Acts 16:6-7)  The Bible doesn’t say how Jesus “prevented them”.  We can pray and ask God to close doors for us when He doesn’t want us to do something.  It’s nice to know that God can keep us from going places that are not in His plan for us.

A friend of mine has an adult daughter who hasn’t spoken to him for many years.  At first the rejection broke my friend’s heart and he begged his daughter not to shut him out of her life.  He tried sending her gifts and leaving messages but his best efforts were all in vain.   Finally he gave his painful problem to God.  He says that when he tries to figure out why his daughter has rejected him he only becomes more confused and depressed.  But when he leaves his problem with God he is left with hope and peace.  He can picture a time when he and his daughter will be reunited even if he has to wait until he is in heaven. He has prayed and asked God to heal the rift with his daughter and he believes that God has heard his prayer and that gives him a measure of peace. 

People who enjoy the good life are people who overcome problems by listening to the Holy Spirit speak to their hearts.  In her book “How to Hear From God” p. 257  Joyce Meyer writes: “The next time you have a decision to make, don’t try to figure it out with your head.  Go somewhere to get still and let your spirit search diligently for God’s voice.”  I agree with her.  That’s the only way to go.

Many of the ideas in this blog were taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “How to Hear From God”




Friday, May 11, 2012

I am the Vine and You are the Branches

I Am the Vine and You Are the Branches
(John 15:5)

Jesus said: “I am the Vine, and my Father is the Gardener.  He removes every branch in Me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit He prunes to make it bear more fruit.  You have already been cleansed by the Word that I have spoken to you.  Abide (remain) in Me as I abide (remain) in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the Vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the Vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in Me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from Me you can do nothing.  …My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”  (John 15:1-8)

We define a Christian perhaps as a person who believes in Jesus, studies the Bible and tries to follow Christ.  Somehow that definition sounds dry and intellectual.  But having a relationship with Christ is a living joyful adventure.  Jesus tells us here in John 15 that He is the Vine and we are the branches.  We are part of each other!  

The Vine –Jesus- provides the nutrients and water – the very essentials of life- to us – the branches.  And our job as a branch is to remain in the Vine and to bear fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, faithfulness, gentleness, patience, self control, kindness and goodness. (Galatians 5:22)  Our relationship with Jesus is dynamic- a living and growing thing!  An amazing mystery beyond our understanding- that Christ’s Spirit lives in us and we live in Him and bear fruit.

Paul prayed that the church –that his fellow Christians- would experience the love of Christ as He lived in their hearts.  Good relationships are based on love – love flowing both ways. “May Christ through your faith abide in your hearts!  May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love in Christ.  …that you may know the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God,” (Ephesians 3:17-19)  

When we abide deeply in Christ we begin to experience and feel secure in His love for us and we know that we belong, and that God is our Father. (Romans 8:15)  Once we begin receiving God’s unconditional love, we can begin not only loving Him in return, but we can also begin loving others.  We may know intellectually that God loves us, but if that truth hasn’t sunk down deep into our hearts and our emotions then perhaps we can pray and ask God to help us receive His love more fully. 

Perhaps we are insecure because parents or friends have been cold or critical of us.  Instead of letting these things bring us down we can throw ourselves onto the unconditional love of God and find security and worth in His love.  Romans 8:38 describes His love this way.  “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come.  Nor height nor depth, nor any other thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  We have a God who loves us and He wants us to love one another.
Intellectually I know that God loves me because the Bible tells me so and because God has been there for me during my life.  But often I need to “wait” on the Lord and listen for Him to speak directly to my heart before I can “feel” that love more deeply.  Only the Holy Spirit can take my intellectual knowledge of His love and cause it to go from my head into my heart.  I think when Paul prayed that we “be rooted deeply in love and founded securely on love in Christ” (Eph. 17:18) he was praying that we all know God’s love deeply in our hearts. 
You may notice in the John 15:4 passage that Jesus asks us to abide in Him.  “Abide in Me as I abide in you.”  There must be things that we can do to “abide” or remain in Christ or He wouldn’t need to ask us to abide or remain in Him.  For one thing we have to choose to remain in Christ.  Jesus stands and knocks at the door of our heart, but He won’t force His way inside.  Paul prayed that his fellow Christians might be “filled with all of the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19)   we can be “lukewarm” Christians or we can be hot – filled with all of the fullness of God!  So the choice is ours. 

But what can we do to help this process of being “filled with all the fullness of God?”  There are things we can do that will bring us closer to Christ and things that we can do that diminish our walk with Him.  God always seems to give us a part in our walk with Him.   
First (1) of all we can try to obey God and stay away from the activities that take us away from Him.  Second (2) of all we need to take time to pray and time to listen to His voice. “Be still and know that I am God..”  (Psalm 46:10)  Third (3), we can take time to study the Scriptures.  The Bible, God’s Word, is powerful and alive and is food for our souls.  And fourth (4), we can join a group of believers in worship and praise to God and in fellowship and ministry.
Paul says in Ephesians 3:17, “May Christ through your faith abide in your hearts…”  There’s that word “faith” again.  We are asked to have “faith” – to believe that Jesus does what He says He will do – live in our hearts. 
We live in a society that pushes individualism.  We like to be independent, do our own thing! Sometimes we feel like we are out there doing it all by ourselves.  But Jesus tells us that without Him we can do nothing.  We are not alone after all.  Individualism really doesn’t work.  He is the Vine and we are the branches.  He wants to be with us in everything we do.  Isn’t that exciting? 






Saturday, May 5, 2012

Jesus Commands Us to Love One Another - But Do We Do It?

Jesus Commands Us to Love One Another.   But Do We Do It?

Jesus commands us to love one another.  “I give you a new commandment: that you love one another, just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another.  By this shall everyone know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34-35)  Jesus instructs us to love our fellow Christians and our friends, but He also commands us to love our enemies!  (Matthew 5:44)

 The words of an old Christian hymn come to my mind: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  It all sounds so nice – Christians loving everybody.  But the real question is, do we do it?  Do we really love everybody?  Do we love the difficult people in our lives, the people that dislike us, and the people that harm us and act like our enemies?   

I don’t have any problems loving nice people, warm friendly people, or people that love me back. It’s just those problem people that treat me badly, criticize me and dislike me, and people that I disapprove of that I have a hard time loving.  Actually there are several people in my life right now that I don’t love but feel guilty about my lack of love for them.  I keep trying to love these ones and I keep asking God to just drop His love for them onto me.  But so far it isn’t happening.  Instead I keep thinking about all of the faults these people have and how bad they are.  And guess what?  I still don’t love them even though I know I should!  Why isn’t God answering my prayers and pouring love for these people down on me?

Recently I read Joyce Meyer’s book, “Reduce Me to Love,” and chapter 5 “Loving with Thoughts” p. 43-53 helped me see why my prayer wasn’t being answered.  I had been waiting for God to “drop” love for these folks onto me while I continued criticizing them.  Was I not doing my part?

 Joyce Meyer quotes Scripture that tells us that God has work that we need to do in this “love walk”.   While we are on this earth Scripture tells us that we are fighting a spiritual battle.  I was waiting for God to do all of the work of loving but now I see that there is work for me (us) to do too– a fight for me (us) to fight when it comes to loving those difficult folks.   

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 reads:  “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”  Hey, did I read that right?  I (we) are supposed to bring every thought we have into captivity to the obedience of Christ?   I had been busy thinking my negative judgmental thoughts about my two problem people. Was God asking me to replace my hateful thoughts with kind, positive thoughts about these folks? 

Joyce Meyer on p.45 suggests that our thoughts can minister death or life.  “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”  (Romans 8:6)  This scripture seems to be saying that the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life.  Negative thoughts minister death to us and to others, but positive loving thoughts minister life.  Joyce Meyer writes on p.47: “If you and I allow our thoughts about a person to be negative, our attitude toward that individual will also be negative.  If we want to love people, we must make a decision to think good thoughts about them.”  Proverbs 23:7 says: “For as a person thinks in his heart, so is he…” 

Joyce Meyer continues: “When I notice my attitude toward a person or a situation going in the wrong direction, I always find that the problem began with wrong thinking.  I have learned that in order to avoid thinking negatively, I must keep my thoughts renewed daily.”  Ephesians 4:23 reads: “And be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind.”  In other words, when Jesus commands us to love, there will be work for us to do in our thought life.  Love is something we need to do- (with our thoughts) on purpose.  We can’t wait to feel loving – have God drop love onto us – but we have to choose to love – to work at it.

Philippians 4:8 reads:  Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  So here we are instructed to think about the good in people and in situations.  Maybe if I thought about the good qualities my problem people have instead of criticizing them, then my negative attitudes toward them would change.   

Joyce Meyer writes on p.48:  “Take a moment and try this experiment.  Just sit and think some good thoughts on purpose about someone you know and see how much better you feel yourself.  If you keep it up, you will begin to notice changes in that person’s attitude toward you.  One reason that individual will change is because you will have changed.  Thinking good thoughts opens the door for God to work.”

We have been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) but we have to learn to let Christ lead us in our thought life.  We have to break old negative habits and form new ones and that takes effort and persistence.  Scripture instructs us to pray for our enemies, (Matt. 5:44) - give them to God.  When we pray that God will work in their lives we can think about how God is blessing them and leading them to Himself.  God can deal with the people who cause us big problems.  And God can take care of us too. 

Joyce Meyer writes on p. 52: Thinking right thoughts will often resemble warfare.  The mind is the battlefield on which Satan tries to defeat us.  In the Bible we are told to “cast down” wrong thoughts, but what does that mean?  It means once wrong thoughts present themselves to us, we are to refuse to receive them and turn them over and over in our mind.  We are not to give them strength by meditating on them.  The real key to victory is not only to cast down wrong thoughts, but to replace them with right ones…” 

Scripture does say: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)  It’s true; we get rid of the darkness by turning on the light. And we get rid of wrong thoughts by thinking right thoughts.

 I am going to pray for the two people I have had a hard time loving.  I am going to deliberately think about their good qualities and ask God to bless them.  First Corinthians 10:5 says that I should “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”  So I have some work to do- some thoughts to change out of obedience to Christ.  It will be an experiment and I wonder how it will turn out.  Do you have people you have trouble loving?  Would you like to join me in this grand experiment?