Taking Three Views at Communion Time

communion

Christians around the world take communion.  Some take it every time they go to church (Catholics, Lutherans, Christian Church among others).  Others take it monthly and some just at Easter or Christmas.  Since Jesus said to observe communion as a remembrance of Him and what his death on the cross meant, I question why some churches only take communion occasionally.  Do we only need to remember that sacrifice for us from time to time?

Through communion we are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the  Messiah.  That is why we need to realize that communion is not just a ritual we go through each week, but it is a reminder—and a celebration of all that the death and resurrection of Jesus really means.

As we take communion each week, we need to look three different ways:

past

We look back.

cross

When Jesus shared that Last Supper with His disciples He told them, “‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me”.  Luke 22:19.  This should not be a hurried “Oh yeah, Jesus died for me” kind of remembering.  We should take time to reflect on what that death on the cross cost Him.  The  agony in the garden as He asked if possible this death could be     avoided.  The human side of Him must have experienced such distress that we cannot imagine    because He knew the painful suffering that was ahead of Him.  We do not totally understand what He was feeling as He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but it indicates there was also a moment when God the Father turned His back on Jesus.  We cannot even begin to understand what that would have been like?

We look inside.

heartTaking communion is a sacred thing.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 tells us “that is why a man should examine himself carefully before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if he eats the bread and drinks from the cup unworthily, not  thinking about the body of Christ and what it means, he is eating and drinking God’s  judgment upon himself; for he is trifling with the death of Christ. ”  When we take communion we need to look inside, reflecting on the meaning of the ordinance and confessing personal sin.  Do we really understand what communion means, and are we taking it for that purpose? Are we actually walking out our faith and living in active relationship with God, allowing Him to do His sanctifying work in our lives? If so, communion is a sobering celebration of Christ and His church. If not, we make a mockery of the ordinance.

We look ahead.

returnJesus told His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of 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. “  The second return of Jesus—not as a suffering servant—but as victorious Lord of all is the hope of the Christian.  When we take communion we need to gain hope as we realize  that the death and resurrection of Jesus means ultimate victory for us—victory over sin in this life and victory over death in the life to come.  But more than that, it means that someday we will have the joy of seeing Jesus face to face.

“We shall behold Him!!!!”

 

Tradition in Religion – Good? Bad?

This past week I was at a women’s Bible study when our leader asked us:

What is today?

Everyone immediately called out:

It’s Valentine’s day!

valentine.png

She then asked us:

But what else is it?

Sadly, only a few realized it was the beginning of Lent, it was Ash Wednesday.

ash wed

For this week’s lesson we had been asked to read the first 15 chapters of Exodus.  Strange you might think to read in Exodus when you are studying in Mark.  Our leader used Exodus to point out to us the similarities between Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and our belief that Jesus came to lead us out of bondage to sin.

She shared with us the tradition of Passover and how the Jewish people at Passover reflect on their past deliverance from slavery and look forward to the coming of the Messiah.  She said, for the Jewish people, celebration of Passover allows them to:

experience what they do not remember and to remember what they have not experienced.

During the Passover time, the story of how God delivered the Jewish nation is recalled.  Though the present generation naturally cannot remember that event from thousands of years ago, through the special food and the retelling of the story, they take time to try to understand what their ancestors experienced that night.   They take time to remember what they did not experience and let it give them hope and encouragement as they look forward to the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy when he shared the word of God:

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

As Christians we celebrate our own time of deliverance from bondage and we look forward to the return of our Lord and Savior.  With His death and resurrection He gave us freedom from the bondage of sin.  We now celebrate this important event every year just as the Jews celebrate Passover.  We call it Easter but I think a better name would have been Resurrection Sunday.

Many churches at this time observe Lent.

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.

Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection…..from the United Methodist website

Coming from an evangelical background I never observed Ash Wednesday or Lent as a child.  To be honest (please forgive me my dear Catholic friends), my church thought the whole “ashes on the forehead” and giving up something for Lent was simply “tradition.”  And we all knew that Jesus condemned traditions of men.  Right?  We go to the Gospel of Mark and the encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees when they questioned why His disciples did not follow the traditional washing of hands before they ate.  We know Jesus said, in part,

And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered:

So we have taken pride in rejecting the “tradition” of the mainline denominations.  We have felt that we were somehow more “spiritual” because we, like Jesus, rejected religious tradition.

But, in rejecting many of the traditions of the other churches, have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?

This week I have continued to think of how the Jewish people still observe Passover.  It is not just a meal that they hurriedly consume and move on.  There are days of preparation as they remove all trace of yeast from their homes and prepare the special food they will eat at the Sedar.  They take time to really remember their past deliverance and look forward to their expected future.  There is a lot of thought and reflection in this time.

As I look at our evangelical Christian community, I see little time spend in real reflection on what Good Friday and Easter should mean to us.  We might attend a short Good Friday service, but for most of us Easter is one service on Sunday morning celebrating the resurrection.  Little or no time is spent reflecting on what Good Friday really meant.  We take no time to reflect on our own lives and as the Jews remove yeast from their homes, ask God to help us remove from our lives the things that hinder our walk with Him.

I feel I missed something growing up without observing Lent.  Without taking time from my busy schedule to take a closer look at my own life, to really remember the pain and suffering Jesus went through for me.

To take a long hard look at the cross

the cross

before I rush into celebrating the empty tomb.

tomb

The dictionary says a tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.  Perhaps some of the break down in our society today is the failure to pass on beliefs or behaviors that were the very foundation of our own lives.  The word is derived from the Latin tradere and literally means to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.

So, I ask myself as I reflect on Lent this year:

  • Are we missing something in rejecting some of those traditions of the church?
  • Are our children really understanding the true meaning of  Easter or Christmas when we make it basically a one-service event at church and little more?
  • Should we not take more time in celebrating the events of Good Friday and Easter?

I’m not ready to put ashes on my forehead (again forgive me my dear Catholic friends), but I’m taking time this year to observe this season of Lent and do more serious reflection on what my Savior’s death really means.  Not just an empty tomb, but pain and suffering that He took on Himself for me.

Give me some tradition!

The Big Little Word “If”

If

Definition of if

a – in the event that
b – allowing that
c – on the assumption that
d – on condition that
Doing a study on 1 John in the Bible, I noticed how many times John used the word “if.”  That started me thinking about all the “ifs” in the Word of God.  It seems to me that there are many promises of God that we claim without taking into account the “if” that is associated with it.
It is clear that we can never earn our salvation.  We can never do enough good on our own to earn that gift of eternal life.  John 3:16 makes it clear that if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, he grants us forgiveness and eternal life.  Paul the Apostle also stated very plainly in Ephesians 2:8-9 that:
 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
But once we begin that walk with the Lord, it is clear that if our relationship is to grow and we are to develop as true disciples, there are conditions to be met.
The “ifs” seem to indicate that there is something required from us.  How we respond to these “ifs” will determine our receiving from God what He has offered.
Here are just a few for you to consider:

For IF you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…Matthew 6:14

forgiveness

We talk a lot about how God forgives us if we ask.  But we must remember that forgiveness is tied to our forgiving others.

IF you are faithful to what I have said, you are truly my disciples…John 8:31

OObeying Word

So — if we are not faithful to God’s Word, how can we claim to be His disciple?  And how can we be faithful to His Word, if we never read it, never study it, never really know what it says?

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another…John 13:35

 

One another

Interesting – the mark of a disciple according to Jesus is not all the great sacrifices we might make, the many talents we might use, but the love that we have for others.

IF anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our abode with him…John 14:23

obeying

We love to talk about desiring the presence of the Lord in our life, in our family, in our church.  Many of our worship songs are all about how much we love God.  But again, that big little word “if” says we only really love God and we only can expect His presence, if we keep His Word.

One of the biggest IF’s I think is found in Matthew 16:24

IF anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.

cross

Again, we love to talk about our commitment to Christ, but we are only committed when we truly deny our-self, take up the cross and follow Christ.  The idea about a cross is really lost to most in our society.  To us a cross is a decoration on the wall of the church or on the steeple.  It is a piece of jewelry we wear or hang on the wall of our home.  But to the society to which Jesus spoke these words, the cross represented death.  To truly follow Jesus requires a willingness to die to our own desires and be led by Him.

But one of the greatest “ifs” in the Bible is found in Revelation when Jesus said

Behold I stand at the door and knock.  IF anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him.

jesus_christ_image_117

What a great promise!  To open the door – to invite Him into our life, that is all we have to do and He will be glad to come in, to have a relationship with us.  Notice that we are the ones to open the door.  He is a gentleman and does not force Himself on us.  But he extends that wonderful invitation.

If you have not done so, I encourage you to open the door.

 

 

 

 

 

Between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday – Sad, Somber Saturday!

lock

First, the cross

We talk a lot about the cross and how terrible the death of Jesus was.  The story of Peter’s denial of Jesus and the rest of the disciples fleeing from the garden where he was arrested are familiar to us.  It is good that we take time to reflect on the agony, the pain, the shame that Jesus suffered for us on that Friday.

The Resurrection

Then we jump to Sunday morning and the wonderful fact of the resurrection!  The surprise, the doubt, the joy as they realized that Jesus was alive.  Again, it is good that we celebrate this tremendous event, this foundation stone of our faith.

But, what was that Saturday like?

Have you ever wondered what that Saturday was like for the followers of Jesus as they hid behind locked doors?  After the shock, the horror of his death, can you imagine the range of emotions they felt on Saturday?  Sad, somber Saturday!

Of course, there was the sorrow they experienced at the loss of their friend.  I cannot really begin to understand the pain his mother must have felt as she reflected on the suffering he had experienced.  Perhaps she could not even sleep, or fell asleep only to wake up from a nightmare seeing him once again being viciously beaten.

There must have been great confusion.  Questions as they remembered all the miracles he performed, all the parables he had told.  Wondering how he could have come to this end.  Had he not made tremendous promises?  Had he not proclaimed that he was the only way to God?  Had he not even raised a dead man after four days in the tomb?

There must have been great disappointment.  What were they to do now?  They had left their homes, their employment to follow him.  They had been so excited about the kingdom he would set up, even arguing over who would sit on his left and his right hand in that kingdom.

There must have been great fear.  Would the Romans come after them now?  How could they get out of Jerusalem and back to their villages and their old life safely?

Had they really heard Him?

We have the advantage of looking back on history, on knowing how the story turned out.  So it is easy for us to say, “Did they not really hear him?”  After all he had told them that he would be killed and would rise again on the third day.  Did any of them think about that and wonder if it could be true?

We have our Saturdays too

But before we berate them for not really hearing Jesus, not really understanding, not really believing what he said about his death and coming back to life, are we any different today?

When our Fridays of suffering and difficulty come and we face a sad, somber Saturday dealing with the problems we face, do we forget his promises?  He said he would never leave us.  He said we would have tribulation in this world, but to be of good cheer because in him we could overcome.  He said he gave us his peace, not the peace of the world, but that peace that comes from knowing who is in control.

Today, before I rejoice at the resurrection, I ask God to help me in my times of sorrow, confusion, disappointment and fear.  I ask him to remind me that Fridays come and we have sad, somber Saturdays dealing with the problems of Friday, but for the child of God, Sunday is always on the way!

 

The Servant

Though he was God, He did not think equality with God as something to cling to:  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.

 

Philippians 2:6-8