Remembering


Lord's_cup_and_BreadAt my church we take communion every fourth Sunday of the month. Communion is one of the religious rituals Christians adhere to, since Jesus Himself instituted it. “Take, eat; this is My body,” He said. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Same with the wine, which He said was His blood. Then the command, recorded in 1 Corinthians: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

So I’ve been thinking about Psalm 103 ever since one of our guests preached from the first three verses. The key verse is, “Bless the Lord, O my soul / And forget none of His benefits” (v 2; emphasis mine, here and below).

That verse is the flip side of Psalm 77 in which the author, a musician named Asaph, said, “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; / Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” Then he began to recount things that God did to bring Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Don’t forget, do remember.

In Psalm 78, also written by Asaph, he said

They did not remember His power,
The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,
When He performed His signs in Egypt
And His marvels in the field of Zoan

The rest of the Psalm recounts the things that God did for Israel, but also features their callous response:

Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
And did not keep His testimonies,
But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
For they provoked Him with their high places
And aroused His jealousy with their graven images. (vv 56-58)

In light of Jesus telling believers to remember, Israel’s not remembering stands out in stark contrast. They had symbols and rituals to remind them, too. God instituted a system of sacrifices and the celebration of Passover and the Sabbath day of rest. And still Israel forgot.

Christians have baptism and communion, the latter being the only one that Jesus ordained specifically as a remembrance.

I recall thinking some time ago that the need for this continual remembrance seemed odd. How could a believer ever forget Christ’s body broken for us or blood spilled for the cleansing of our sins?

And yet, how many people today identify as Christian but speak only of Jesus as a good role model, a great moral teacher, even a way to God. But they leave out the concept of Him dying to buy forgiveness for sins. So, yes, it seems there are people who remember Jesus but forget His broken body, His shed blood.

Remembrance, then, needs to take a high place for the Christian. If we forget what God has done for us, we lose the purpose of His coming, we lose the way of reconciliation with God which He provided.

Another thing Asaph paired with remembrance was telling—specifically telling the next generation.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD
,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. (Ps. 78:2-4, emphasis mine.)

Of course a person can’t tell something he doesn’t remember, so the telling starts with the remembering.

How often the prophets admonished the people of Israel for forgetting God, His covenant, His law, His Sabbaths. No wonder Jesus instituted Communion as a way to remember. We are a forgetful people, more mindful of what’s happening today than what Jesus accomplished all those years ago.

So to help us remember, God gave us His word, written down so we could know for sure what He said and what He meant. He gave us the symbols of bread and wine and the rituals of eating and drinking. How easy, how common, how routine.

And I think that’s the point. Jesus didn’t demand we go on some long, hard pilgrimage or pay some enormous portion of our income in order to connect with Him. For one thing, he doesn’t want a part of our time or product. He wants our whole lives. All of us. Each moment, not just Sunday. Every dime, not just a tithe.

So in the simple acts of eating bread and drinking wine, everyday kinds of things, Jesus says, Remember. And in the remembering resides praise!

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in January 2014.

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Church: How?


St._Paul's_Baptist_-_west_sideHow do we conduct church in the twenty-first century?

Above all, I think we should look to the Bible to show us what we are to do. Sadly, in western society, our church services are too often run as if they were a slick entertainment-style program. Everything is planned out ahead of time and fit into a slot, and horrors if someone should run over or go off script.

And yet, our former pastor said repeatedly that his sermon wasn’t entertainment, that we weren’t an audience sitting back and determining whether we’d been properly entertained. We were participants, he said, active agents in the process, not passive judges.

So which is it? A slick program or a vibrant interaction, believers with each other and with God?

I don’t think the Bible indicates anywhere that Christians assembling together should be a slick program. There isn’t support for such a notion in Scripture.

We are to do things orderly, but even in giving that admonition, the Apostle Paul left room for the spontaneous.

I am a teacher though, and spent the majority of my working life in a classroom. To be an effective teacher, a person needs to prepare, so the idea of just showing up and letting the Spirit move, which denominations like the Quakers once upon a time believed, doesn’t seem wise.

Perhaps, like so many other things, we’ve become so dependent upon our own abilities or ideas or inventions, we no longer see the wisdom in trusting God. Be that as it may, I don’t see churches going back to a “no pastor” system where they meet together and wait quietly for someone in their midst to receive a stirring of the Spirit and share what God has “laid on their heart.”

I can’t say that I’d want to return to that type of church service either. I believe we are to love God with all of our mind, as well as with all of our heart and all of our body. I see great value in learning from a teacher who has done his homework, who has studied and prepared.

Our interaction, then, is with the content the preacher presents. We should not be caught up in whether he’s told us a good joke or a touching story, whether he has a good video clip to support his point or includes information flashed on the screen via his PowerPoint.

None of those things is wrong, just like it’s not wrong to quote a passage from a novel or include a short drama. These are methods, they are not content. The method should not be The Thing.

What church needs to do is involve people. The assembling of ourselves together should be for edification—that is, “the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually” (Oxford American Dictionary). Paul spent long hours instructing believers on his way from church to church. See for example Acts 20:7b—“Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”

In that instance, of course, the young man Eutychus wasn’t as involved in the teaching as he should have been because he fell asleep. But the point here is, Paul wasn’t prepared with his thirty minute talk that he’d polished to a well-rehearsed shine. He was teaching what the people in Berea and Troas and Thessalonica and Colossae and Philippi needed to hear.

This instruction actually follows the model Jesus gave to his disciples after his resurrection. He spent chunks of time opening up Scripture to them about Himself.

The issue of the edification of believers becomes clear not only by example but by instruction. In one of his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul addressed the topic of using gifts in the church. He included what many today call the ecstatic gifts—prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, healing. Whether a Christian believes those gifts came to an end after the first century or where he believes they are on going, is immaterial for this discussion. The point here is what Paul says about preaching, or instructing the body of Christ:

For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Cor. 14:7-9)

The priority, in other words, was to be the people in the congregation learning from the teacher—whether that was instruction in the word of God or praise and thanks. None of it was to be a solo effort. All was to be done for the edification of the others.

Church also fulfilled other important functions, not the least of which was to provide communion—the remembrance of Christ’s death by the breaking of bread and drinking from the cup. Jesus had commanded His disciples before His crucifixion to “do this in remembrance” because our relationship with God the Father hinges on our relationship with the Son.

What He did at the cross is central to the Christian faith. Without an understanding of His death as an atonement for our sins, Christianity is an empty religion, not a means of rescue from the kingdom of darkness.

The Church is tasked to pass on from person to person and generation to generation the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. This too, of course, is interactive, as is all of church—at least, as it played out in the first century.

No slick programs. Just preaching and taking communion, helping the needy and singing.

Yes, the church also took care of the poor in their midst. I don’t see them giving to the poor outside their fellowship. though perhaps they did, and undoubtedly individuals did. But the church itself set up a plan and a program to take care of the needy, particularly the needy widows who had no other means of survival.

In their day, they were at the mercy of others. There were no pensions or social security, and an elderly woman without a husband had no means to provide for herself. God in His great love for the least directed the church to care for them.

Another “how did they do church”—they sang. I’ll need to elaborate on singing in the church another day because it’s become a much more complex issue than . . . well, I suspect than any in the first 1900 years of the church ever dreamed it would be.

Suffice it to say, that first and foremost the church is to edify believers. That’s pretty much a non-negotiable.

Published in: on December 30, 2015 at 6:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Defining Easter


A few years ago, I watched an unpopular senator get re-elected, though many thought she’d finally met her match. However, she got ahead of her opponent by defining her for the public through a number of attack ads. By the time the challenger came out with her ads saying what she would do as a senator, few people were listening. They already had her labeled, courtesy of Ms. Unpopular Incumbent.

That political race told me a lot about how the public works in this day and age. We deplore attack ads, but we listen to them. We may not even realize we do, but it shows when people start saying what they believe about this or that candidate—they often parrot material straight from the playbook of one candidate or the other.

In the same way, Christians are allowing non-Christians to define us, to the point that we’re buying into their judgment of us. Worse, we are regurgitating the ideas, as if they have merit, as if they are true.

I heard one a few years ago that really bothered me: “Protestants don’t like to think about Jesus on the cross.” All that blood and death supposedly makes us want to look away. The Catholics, now they embrace this dark side of salvation. By implication, the idea was, So should we.

I admit, I felt a little defensive—mostly because the accusation is scurrilous. In my church we regularly take communion, and usually that has been a time of reflection on Christ’s sacrifice, His broken body, His shed blood. How many times have I sung “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” or “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” or “‘Tis Midnight, And On Olive’s Brow” or “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”?

We no longer sing those hymns, but the fact that contemporary song writers are not writing about Christ’s suffering doesn’t mean that Protestants don’t or haven’t put an emphasis on what Christ did in dying.

In addition, I’ve heard from our pulpit more than one sermon about Christ’s death, none more powerful than “Death on a Cross” that graphically took us through Christ’s scourging and beating and humiliation and nails and hours writhing in pain, to the spear piercing His side and proving His death. (You can listen to a sermon from the same text in the book of John by the same pastor, this one entitled “Jesus: A Lamb Led to Slaughter”)

I find it ironic, though, that we Christian Protestant Evangelicals should be taken to task for focusing on Christ, the resurrected Lord, seated at the right hand of God. In fact, the cross Protestants display, whenever we do, is barren because Jesus didn’t stay dead. He is, in fact, a risen Savior. But is this a point for which we should be ashamed?

For all Christians Easter is a joyous time, less about mourning Christ’s death, and more about celebrating His resurrection.

The cross is significant, no doubt. The whole idea of communion is to obey Christ by remembering His body broken for us, His blood given for the forgiveness of our sins.

In Colossians Paul says clearly that our “certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which was hostile to us” was nailed to the cross. Without Christ’s death, we’d still have the insurmountable burden of what we owe.

The cross affected Christ in every facet of human existence. He was forsaken, betrayed, denied, humiliated, rejected, tortured, misunderstood, condemned, doubted, and killed. For me. For you.

Yes, it was bloody. Yes, it was painful, like few have experienced. But focusing on the physical alone is to miss the wider scope of what Jesus did. He bore our sins. The Man who had the nature of His perfect Father, who lived accordingly, took on the stench of His fallen brothers—the sin which separates us from God.

How can that be? A Holy God, bearing sin? An immortal God, dying?

It is by Jesus’s blood, by His precious blood, we are redeemed. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. So we bring to God nothing but our broken and contrite hearts. How can anyone say, Protestants look away from the cross? Perhaps they’ve mistaken our weeping for closed eyes.

This post is a revision of one that appeared here in March 2012.

Published in: on March 31, 2015 at 4:48 pm  Comments (6)  
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Remembering


Lord's_cup_and_BreadAt church Sunday we took communion. It’s one of the religious rituals Christians adhere to, since Jesus Himself instituted it. “Take, eat; this is My body,” He said. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Same with the wine, which He said was His blood. Then the command, recorded in 1 Corinthians: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

So today I was reading Psalm 77–and the author, a musician named Asaph, said, “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; / Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” Then he began to recount things that God did to bring Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land. In Psalm 78, also written by Asaph, he said

They did not remember His power,
The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,
When He performed His signs in Egypt
And His marvels in the field of Zoan

The rest of the Psalm recounts the things that God did for Israel and their callous response:

Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
And did not keep His testimonies,
But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
For they provoked Him with their high places
And aroused His jealousy with their graven images. (vv 56-58)

In light of Jesus telling believers to remember, Israel’s not remembering stands out in stark contrast. They had symbols and rituals to remind them, too. God instituted a system of sacrifices and the celebration of Passover and the Sabbath day of rest. And still Israel forgot.

Christians have baptism and communion, the latter being the only one that Jesus ordained specifically as a remembrance.

I recall thinking recently that the need for this continual remembrance seemed odd. How could a believer ever forget Christ’s body broken for us or blood spilled for the cleansing of our sins?

And yet, how many people today identify as Christian but speak only of Jesus as a good role model, a great moral teacher, even a way to God. But they leave out the concept of Him dying to buy forgiveness for sins. So, yes, it seems there are people who remember Jesus but forget His broken body, His shed blood.

Remembrance, then, needs to take a high place for the Christian. If we forget what God has done for us, we lose the purpose of His coming, we lose the way of reconciliation with God which He provided.

Another thing Asaph paired with remembrance was telling–specifically telling the next generation.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD
,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. (Ps. 78:2-4, emphasis mine.)

Of course a person can’t tell something he doesn’t remember, so the telling starts with the remembering.

How often the prophets admonished the people of Israel for forgetting God, His covenant, His law, His Sabbaths. No wonder Jesus instituted Communion as a way to remember. We are a forgetful people, more mindful of what’s happening today than what Jesus accomplished all those years ago.

So to help us remember, God gave us His word, written down so we could know for sure what He said and what He meant. He gave us the symbols of bread and wine and the rituals of eating and drinking. How easy, how common, how routine.

And I think that’s the point. Jesus didn’t demand we go on some long, hard pilgrimage or pay some enormous portion of our income in order to connect with Him. For one thing, he doesn’t want a part of our time or product. He wants our whole lives. All of us. Each moment, not just Sunday. Every dime, not just a tithe.

So in the simple acts of eating bread and drinking wine, everyday kinds of things, Jesus says, Remember. And in the remembering resides praise!

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 5:48 pm  Comments Off on Remembering  
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