Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Communion Warning...

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

What comes to mind when you think of communion? Do you have images of watered-down grape juice and stale crackers, or do you have images of Jesus' last supper with His disciples, right before He was arrested and crucified?

My father is a pastor, so I always grew up in church listening to his sermons. When I look back at all of the Sundays in which I took communion as a little girl, the main thing that I recall is the reverence, fear, and confession that accompanied them. When my dad served communion, he always stressed that this was not something to be taken lightly. He would refer to this passage in 1 Corinthians to warn us that taking communion when one is not right before God could lead in death. Yep, you read it correctly...he continually reminded us that if we didn't take communion with a pure heart, we could be in danger of a fatal judgment. Since I'd always grown up with this mentality, I remember how shocked I was when I visited other churches in college and saw how casually communion seemed to be treated! Most pastors don't refer to this warning passage on communion found in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, because it sounds pretty morbid. Let's dig into it deeper and see if my father's severe warnings were actually justified or not!

In this passage, Paul starts out with a stern rebuke to the Corinthian church. The Christians in Corinth would typically join together for a feast before taking communion. The problem with this was that there were factions developing among the church, and the more wealthy church members were hogging all of the food before the poor could get any of it! There also seemed to be some drunkenness going on. Paul comes down hard on the Corinthians for this, and he reminds them what the purpose of the Lord's Supper was originally supposed to be.

At Jesus' last supper with His followers, Jesus broke bread and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (1 Cor 11:24). Then He took the cup 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). So we see that the bread and the wine were symbolic of Jesus' body being broken and blood being shed. Since this was always symbolic, I do not believe in the Catholic view of transubstantiation, which states that the bread and wine literally transform into the flesh and blood of Christ (a belief that led many of the early opposers to Christianity to call them cannibals!). At the last supper, Jesus didn't literally cut off a piece of His flesh or drain His own blood, so there's no reason at all to think there is something literal about this...it is purely symbolic. This represents the new covenant, which came about after Jesus' death on the cross and enabled all people to be saved by believing in Him.

Paul goes on to voice another rebuke for the Corinthians concerning the manner they are taking the Lord's Supper. Apparently, some of them were taking communion in "an unworthy manner" (1 Cor 11:27). This meant that they were taking communion while they still had unconfessed sin in their lives. Because of this, they received judgment from God. Verse 30 says that this was the reason many of them were sick, weak, and even dead. I know this seems overly harsh, but it does show us how serious God took the practice of the Lord's Supper. It is also an obvious reason that nonbelievers should never take communion. Because they haven't confessed faith in Christ and accepted His forgiveness through the cross, they still stand condemned before Him.

How do we avoid guilt and judgment when we take communion? Verse 28 tells us that we need to examine ourselves first. This means that during that period of silence when the elements are being past, we need to close our eyes and ask God to examine our hearts for any sin in our lives. As David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way." Once you've thought about those sins, confess them to God. Also, spend some time remembering the cross and thanking God for sending His son to die for our sins. Communion is supposed to be a time in which we remember and reflect upon that time.

Does this make you see communion any differently? Before you say that my dad was overly harsh or morbid, you have to admit that his teaching is straight from this passage! The next time you take communion, think about this passage and the real purpose of the Lord's Supper. This should not become a meaningless ritual or mindless routine in our churches, but it should be a holy and reverent time in which we confess our own sinfulness and thank God for His incredible sacrifice.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"I'll do it when I'm older..."

Read 1 Timothy 4:12, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe."

One of the main excuses I get from teenagers when they are challenged for the way they are living is, "I'll do it when I'm older." Teenagers say they will read the Bible when they're older, they'll get serious about their faith when they're older, they'll share the gospel when they're older, they'll go on mission trips when they're older, etc, etc... Have you heard (or used) these excuses before to justify your spiritual laziness or complacency?

The problem that many of us face is that we see ourselves as immortal. No matter how many times we may hear Kris Allen's single, "Live like you're dying," we simply don't go around with the idea that each moment could be our last. Psalm 144:4 says, "Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow." Whether we want to face it or not, our lives are short. 2 things could happen at any moment that would cut off your time from this earth. First, I know it sounds morbid, but you could die at any moment. Death happens all around us all the time, even to healthy teenagers like yourselves. This is reality. Second, Christ could return at any moment. We don't know when the Second Coming will take place, but we do know that we are living in the end times, and "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thess 5:2).

Do you see the flaw in the reasoning of those young people who are waiting until they're older to really live for Christ? Don't fall into this trap! Instead, take to heart the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:12, given to his young protege, Timothy, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe." Young believers are not excused from Christian service because of their age! Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to serve God in His youthfulness, setting an example of Christian living to others, despite his age.

Notice the 5 different areas of Christian living that Paul mentions to Timothy in this verse. First, Paul mentions his speech. I'm sure you are fully aware that young people have a problem with filthy speech! Though there are many adults who also struggle with this sin, I think cussing and coarse jesting may be the worst in young people. For example, if you heard a teenager use the "f" word, you probably wouldn't bat an eye, but what if you heard a middle-aged woman or an elderly man use the word? That's a lot more alarming! Young people who have tamed their tongue will really shine in their generation. If you vow not to use your tongue for cussing, filthy humor, gossip, and critical words that tear others down, you will serve as an amazing example to those around you.

Second, Paul mentions Timothy's conduct. Many young people are impulsive and foolish, doing things that older people wouldn't imagine doing. Young people are more likely to do things like hit someone's mailbox or spray graffiti on the wall than older people are. Don't buy into the lie that doing foolish things as a teenager somehow excuses your behavior. You know better. In your youthfulness, live a life that would make Jesus proud. As Matthew 5:16 says, "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Third, Paul challenges Timothy to live a life of love. I'm sure you remember that loving God and loving others are the greatest commandments (Matt 22:37-39). How many people do you see in your schools who are living out these commandments? Not very many, I'm sure! There is so much hatefulness, bitterness, back-biting, and criticism going on today. How radically different you would look if you rose above that and loved people like Jesus did?

Timothy is also challenged to live an example of faith. As people grow older, they generally become more hard-hearted and more skeptical. Studies show that individuals are so much more likely to become Christians before the age of 18 than in adulthood. Hold fast to your faith in Christ despite the different circumstances you may encounter in life. As Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful."

Lastly, Paul mentions purity. In an age where girls are maturing and losing their virginity at shockingly early ages, take a firm stand for abstinence. However, don't make it your goal to simply keep your virginity, but make purity your goal. This involves keeping your mind innocent of evil, and guarding what you allow into your heart. Are the TV shows, movies, books, and topics of conversation that you allow into your mind and heart pure or impure? Purity is a beautiful virtue for a young Christian girl to display. It not only pleases God, but it provides a powerful witness of your Christian faith to others.

After reading this, do you still believe that you're too young to make a difference? God's plan for you doesn't start after high school or in adulthood. God wants to use you right now, in the place that you are in right at this moment. It is not an accident that you're in your particular community, neighborhood, or school. God has you there for a reason, and He wants to use you for His glory as a young person. Why not embrace this calling and shine for Him in a dark world, just as Timothy did all those years ago??

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Are You Like a Child?

Read Mark 10:13-16

OK girls, before you marry a guy, there are a few things you should know about him first. One of the little "tests" you should make sure your guy passes before you say "I do," involves watching how he acts around children. I think this shows a lot about a guy's character. Many men can be dismissive of children or see them as unimportant or not worth their attention. This shows arrogance and self importance. Guys who go out of their way to show attention and love to a child, are in my opinion, more compassionate and humble. This is one of the many things that attracted me to Lee. He was so kind and loving to children and showed a genuine concern for them.

This is one reason I love this story in Mark 10:13-16...it reveals a side of Jesus' heart. In this story, that you've probably heard many times, people were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might touch them (and subsequently bless them and pray for them). As the people were bringing the children to Jesus, His disciples started rebuking them and trying to get them to leave. In their minds, I'm sure they saw these children as insignificant, and they wanted Jesus to be available for bigger and more important things. However, we see a glimpse of Jesus' loving heart when He in turn rebukes the disciples for trying to hinder the children from coming to Him.

Now think about this...Jesus is God in the flesh. He's a pretty important person, to say the very least! However, despite His identity as God's son, Jesus continued to exhibit a shocking amount of humility on earth. The way Jesus played with these children is one of the many examples of His great humility. Jesus didn't see Himself as too good for this task. These children had souls too, and their lives were just as sacred in His mind as those of the religious officials or leaders in the community. What compassion Jesus had on these little kids! He saw the task of praying over them and blessing them as one that was worthy of His time.

I think that oftentimes we see some types of ministry as more worthy than others. However, while working in the nursery, visiting the elderly, or cleaning someone's windows may not be as glorious as serving on the mission field or leading a Bible study, these tasks are still worthy ministries! We should never see ourselves as "too good" or "too important" to serve God doing a more lowly task. Jesus really demonstrates this by taking time out of His teaching, healing, and preaching ministry to minister to some insignificant children.

Notice what Jesus says about the children. In verse 15, He says, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." What do you think He is getting at here? It doesn't seem to make sense on the surface that Jesus would want us to revert to becoming like a child rather than growing into maturity. What I think Jesus is getting at here is not a childish faith in Him, but a child-like faith. We're not supposed to be like a child in the sense that we are immature or devoid of knowledge or growth. Rather, we're supposed to be like a child in the sense that we wholeheartedly believe in the Lord without reservation, doubt, or skepticism, and that we love and trust Him wholeheartedly and with full humility.

Have you ever tried to tell a child about something totally out of the ordinary? For instance, you could tell them that there are monsters under the bed, there is an old man who delivers presents to every house in the world in one night, that unicorns exist, etc. They grow completely wide-eyed and totally buy the whole story immediately, no questions asked. What if you tried to tell these same things to an adult? The response would be radically different! Not even the most gullible person would believe those things. Now, these things are all totally ridiculous and untrue. However, the truth about God is 100% accurate, but also totally extraordinary, miraculous, and supernatural. You can't see God, so you have to believe that He is real by faith. You didn't see God part the Red Sea, save Daniel from the Lion's Den, or make the sun stand still. However, because you have faith, you believe these things to be true.

Do you see the analogy Jesus is making? Our faith in Him is to be like a child's faith. We are to fully believe His Word without any doubts, skepticism, or questions. Like a child, we're to simply believe what His Word says is true, rather than trying to rationally explain away the miracles of the Scriptures like so many adults are prone to do.

Here's another thing to think about along these same lines... Think about the way a child runs to his mother or father. He climbs into their lap, hugs their neck, and kisses them on the cheek while loudly proclaiming, "I love you!" Now think about the way an adult greets his father or mother...not quite the same reaction! There is more reservation from adults. We hold things back, as opposed to a child who has no inhibitions whatsoever. Adults will greet their parents warmly, but it won't be the same outpouring of affection. We are to go to our Father in heaven like a child, humbly crawling into His arms of love and unreservedly giving our whole hearts to Him, holding nothing back!

Do you have a child-like faith and affection for the Lord? Examine your heart and surrender all of your doubts and reservations to Him~