Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eating Together

One time a student came to Socrates and said, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, because anytime I meet you, you show me what I am.” God’s a lot like that. Someone has said, “Our problem with God is not His existence, it’s His essence, for when we see Him, He shows us what we’re not.”

One time Luther was asked by a friend, “Where are you going to stand when everyone is against you?” Luther replied, “Right where I stand now, in the hands of Almighty God.” You see, Luther knew that his standing was not the product of the work of Luther; it was the product of the work of God.

Generations ago some unknown author wrote: “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me; It was not I that found, O Savior true, No I was found of thee.”

Years after Watergate, Chuck Colson said, “My greatest humiliation was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life. He chose the one experience, in which I could not glory, for His glory.

And the Apostle Paul knew that. After writing two letters to the church at Corinth, Paul writes a third letter that we call II Corinthians. (We’re missing the first and maybe another one.) Near the end of it, the apostle returns to a familiar theme – humility. Indeed, both of the Corinthian epistles take on the issue of egotism as the primary problem in Corinth. And Paul begins his rebuke in the first chapter of the first letter. Twenty-six chapters later Paul says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” The problem in Corinth is factionalism. It’s a factionalism born of pride, and Paul hits it head on. In fact his most devastating critique of egotism is a reference to Christ’s teaching in II Corinthians 12:1-10. Here Paul recounts the time when he was caught up into the third heaven and there he heard things that cannot be told. But in I Corinthians 11 he tells us one of the things Christ told him. And guess what? It’s all about oneness!

Think of it. When Paul meets the Risen Christ, whether in the desert of Arabia (Gal. 1) or here in the third heaven, the subject the Lord addresses with him is communion. That’s the Corinthian problem. That’s our problem, too – factionalism and individualism born of egotism.

When one considers the marks of a life that’s becoming more and more like Jesus, one of the clearest and strongest is a corporate identity. This stands to reason, for in all the Gospels there’s only one thing that Jesus says He earnestly desires (read “lusts after”) and that is to eat with His disciples. Indeed, His final command prior to the cross is, “Love one another as I have loved you.” As we noted last week, when the Holy Spirit transforms a life, one of the clearest byproducts is a whole lot less “me” and a whole lot more “we.” And that’s exactly what we find again in Sunday’s text: I Corinthians 11:1-2, 17-34.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. Find some Scriptural examples of eating together as the sign of intimacy.
2. What experience might Paul be referring to in II Corinthians 12:2?
3. How could Paul’s experience of 14 years earlier relate to what he’s saying in I Corinthians 11?
4. What does the word “communion” mean?
5. Why does Paul say that when the Corinthian Christians come together in verse 17 it’s not for the good, but for the worse?
6. Why is it that the most pressing thing on Jesus’ mind before the cross is eating with His disciples?
7. In verse 24 Paul mentions something Matthew and Mark fail to mention in their accounts of this first communion. What is it?
8. What can we learn about our corporate identity in Christ from the word “Eucharist”?
9. What does it mean to eat and drink in an “unworthy manner”?
10. How do both of the variant readings in verse 33 make the same point - that it’s all about the “whole” and not the “parts”?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rescued Together

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be wasted away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”
John Donne 1624 A.D.

John Donne was a Christian Monk. His intention in authoring this piece was not to create a “stand alone” poem, but was a part of a devotional contemplation entitled, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. For Donne, and other thinkers of his Renaissance Era, rugged individualism and self-reliance were not the hallmark of progress, but the devolution and corruption of God’s original intentions.

Today we live in a culture where the quest for “islandhood” is at epidemic levels. Many see it as progress; and yet, it’s actually quite the opposite. As John Donne knew, Satan’s first temptation in the Garden of Eden was an appeal to individualism and isolation. The effect of the fall of man was not only isolation from God, but isolation of man from man, man from self, man from creation. Indeed, all of human history is marked by a tension between individualism and community.

In the last 50 years “self-help” books have been at the top of the sales volume list of all publications. Many of the books of this genre have multiple chapters on acts of altruism. The author’s intention is clear – one necessary step toward human fulfillment is the undertaking of acts of kindness to others; ergo: “No man is an island.” Indeed, even someone as accomplished as the Secretary of State and former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, could author her epiphanous book, It Takes a Village, as a declaration of the truth of Donne’s discovery.

There is something fundamentally intrinsic in fallen man that seeks to isolate and individualize one life from another. Indeed, throughout the Scriptures we find that isolation and individualism are the inevitable results of sin. See Cain and Abel. See Achan. See the Gergesene demoniac. See Judas. The list goes on and on. But the converse is also true. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, where His regenerative power is on full display, there is a glorious fellowship that results. One needs only to look to Acts 2 (Sunday’s companion text) to see the power of divinely authored interdependence among Christ’s body – His church.

For months we’ve been examining the effects of spiritual transformation on lives that rest on the finished work of Christ. We’ve looked at the different kind of love that begins to flow from the transformed life. We’ve looked at the hope, the forgiveness, the power, and the courage that mark every truly transformed life.

This Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, we turn to our final mark of transformation – community. The evidence of Scripture is overwhelming. Those who are truly being transformed by the Holy Spirit will find a growing desire for fellowship and interconnectedness. This is necessarily so, for Jesus came, died, and rose again to redeem a company of people – His body – the church. Simply put, every one of us who names the name of Christ, who worships God in spirit, glories Christ Jesus, and puts no confidence in the flesh, should find within ourselves a growing, intense devotion to other believers. For all that Christ has done, He’s done for “US.”

This week we look at our RESCUE. We find ourselves in Joshua chapters 3 & 4 where, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, God leads His people, together, from the Jordan River and into the Promised Land.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. Who are these people who come to the banks of the Jordan River? What is their relationship with the ones that come through the Red Sea?
2. What similarities and differences can you find between the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 14) and the crossing of the Jordan?
3. What is the purpose of delaying them at the river for three days (3:2)?
4. What is the meaning of the parenthetical comment in 4:15?
5. Who leads them through the waters?
6. How many pass through the Jordan? And how wide is the dry riverbed? (See 4:16)
7. What is the meaning of sending one man from every tribe to the feet of the priests to pick up a stone? (See 4:2-3.)
8. Why carry the stones on the shoulder? And how far do they carry them?
9. What is the meaning of Gilgal?
10. What is the message of the stone “sign”? (See 4:6)
11. What is the meaning of “crossing over” together? (See Genesis 2:18.)

See you Sunday – Pentecost Sunday!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Courage to Die

"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church" is a statement that has stirred the spirit throughout the years. It seems that often the death of a person for the sake of the Gospel has been used by the Holy Spirit to compel others to Christ. We so often speak of Christ's death for us but this week we think of those who died for Him. Obviously, they were willing to give all for Him because He had given all for them.

Stephen is the primary example we have of a martyr in the New Testament. He was an amazing follower of Christ who was powerful in his witness and bold in his preaching. Opponents of "The Way" (as Christianity was first called) hated his theology and ministry just as they opposed our Lord. False witnesses were set against Stephen but to no avail. Finally, his direct challenges to his opponents and vision of the Triumphant Lord brought about the stoning that killed him. We will consider in the text this matter of hatred against Christians, Stephen's fearlessness in the face of death, and Christ's honor of this faithful martyr.

The transformed life calls us not only to be willing to live for Christ but to be willing to die for Him as well. Thankfully we live in a nation where religious freedom has flourished. However, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ in other lands still face persecution and even martyrdom.

Along with the biblical record of martyrs, I have read an old book called Foxe's Book of Martyrs and viewed the website for "The Voice of the Martyrs." These testimonies have stirred some questions in my mind. Do I love Christ enough to die for Him? Would I have the courage if called upon to be a martyr for Him? When we consider questions like these and the sacred sacrifice of Stephen, we are looking at ultimate transformation!

See you Sunday.

1. What "S" word gives an indication of where Stephen's power and fearlessness came from? Acts 6:5, 10, 55

2. Looking at Acts 6:15 and Acts 7:51-53 what curious combo do you see in Stephen? Compare John 1:14.

3. Study Acts 6:7-11. Why was Stephen opposed? What methods did his opponents seek to use to combat him?

4. What is unique about Christ’s recognition of His martyr, Stephen, in Acts 7:55?

5. Read some of the other "stoning" stories in the N.T. John 8:5, 59; 10:31; Acts 14:19

6. Christ honors the martyrs of the O.T. beginning and ending with whom? Matthew 23:35

7. Consider the 5th Seal of Revelation 6:9-11 and its description of martyrs for Christ.

8. What is the promised reward Christ gives to martyrs? Revelation 2:10

9. Where is our source of courage? Joshua 1:9; Psalm 31:24

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Courage to Come

There’s a political scientist at Dartmouth who, along with a colleague from Georgia State University, is examining the results of political pollsters who say that since 2006 the political landscape of America has flipped.

Six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, three-fourths of Democrats believed that President Bush could do something about high gas prices, while the vast majority of Republicans said, “No, he can’t.” Today it’s the exact reverse, with three-fourths of Republicans saying President Obama could do something to bring gas prices down and two-thirds of Democrats saying he can’t.

This same “flip” is seen on nearly every issue. In 2004 most Democrats felt that Bush was politicizing September 11, 2001. Today a vast majority of Republicans think Obama is politicizing the killing of Osama bin Laden. “The whole political landscape has flipped,” says Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth.

What these researchers are examining as a reason for the “flip” is a concept popularized by French sociologist Emile Durkheim in the late 19th century. Durkheim called it “cognitive dissonance.” It is the experience of holding in one’s head several inconsistent ideas at the same time. Nyhan says, “When Democrats hear the argument that the president can do something about high gas prices, that produces dissonance because it clashes with the loyalties they feel to Obama. The same thing happens with Republicans when they hear that Obama can’t be held responsible for high gas prices.” In other words, in both cases the information challenges their feelings about the president.

The researchers hypothesize that partisans reject such information not because they reject the facts, but because it’s painful. Therefore, they say that a possible solution is: if people were made to feel better about themselves it could help them more easily absorb the impact of the information that threatens their pre-existing view. Indeed, much of their current research tends to support that very idea.

Now all of this relates in a direct way to the subject before the house this Sunday. In Matthew 15, Jesus encounters a foreign woman who’s desperate to have her daughter delivered of demon oppression. She feels deeply about it. However, in this encounter she comes face to face with the power of facts, and rather than rejecting them, she embraces them.

Throughout my ministry I have been continually amazed at the power that feelings have over what we think, how we act, and what we believe. When Augustine utters his famous line that I quoted last week: “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you don’t like, it’s not the Gospel you believe, but yourself,” he’s largely speaking of one’s feelings. It’s not the facts that get in our way, it’s our feelings. So we will begin at that point this Sunday and attempt to see how, for every transformed life, the power of our old personal feelings begin to recede and new desires are created in a heart by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is these new desires that Jesus meets.

In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is known about the region of Tyre and Sidon at the time of Christ?
2. What is the backdrop for Jesus traveling there?
3. How did the Greeks define hypocrisy? How does Jesus define it?
4. What does Jesus find in this woman that’s different from the Scribes and Pharisees and illustrates His definition of hypocrisy?
5. What is this woman looking for when she comes to Jesus?
6. What would the laws of Israel require Jesus to do with her?
7. There are two Greek words for dog – which one does Jesus use? Any significance?
8. Where does her response in verse 27 emanate from?
9. On what basis does Jesus proclaim the greatness of her faith?
10. Why is the NIV translation of Jesus’ words in verse 28 so weak? What does it mean when He says to her, “Be it done for you as you desire”?

See you on Mother’s Day as we look at The Courage to Come to Christ.