Defeating Strongholds

I recently wrote to a dear friend:

I’m convinced that victory over besetting sin is secured by a pattern of small, seemingly unrelated, ostensibly insignificant decisions, which add up to a life-style of holiness. Make the right decision repeatedly, at any moment, on sundry topics…and it becomes a force of habit more powerful (and more nurtured) than the force of selfish lust.

So help us, God.

I’m sitting in the audience of my own sermon feeling the conviction too!

The Lord’s Supper

From 1555 to 1558, during the reign of Queen Mary (aptly called “Bloody Mary”), 288 English Protestants were burned at the stake for their opposition to the Roman church. Out of this number 55 were women and 4 were children. The primary issue over which these martyrdoms turned was the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Over and over the Protestant members of the Reformed Church of England were asked a variation on the following question as related by John Rogers:

” I was asked whether I believed in the sacrament to be the very body and blood of our Saviour Christ that was born of the Virgin Mary, and hanged on the cross, really and substantially? I answered, ‘ I think it to be false. I cannot understand really and substantially to signify otherwise than corporally. But corporally Christ is only in heaven, and so Christ cannot be corporally in your sacrament.’ “-Fox in loco, vol. iii. p. 10l, edition, 1684.[1]

The doctrine in question was the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Did they, or did they not believe that the body and blood of Christ were really, that is corporally, literally, locally, and materially, present under the forms of bread and wine after the words of consecration were pronounced? Did they or did they not believe that the real body of Christ, which was born of the Virgin Mary, was present on the so-called altar so soon as the mystical words had passed the lips of the priest? Did they or did they not? That was the simple question. If they did not believe and admit it, they were burned. [2]

Bishop J.C. Ryle explained why Christian men cannot embrace the false doctrine of transubstantiation:

Grant for a moment that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, and not a sacrament . . . You spoil the blessed doctrine of Christ’s finished work when he died on the cross. A sacrifice that needs to be repeated is not a perfect and complete thing. You spoil the priestly office of Christ. If there are priests that can offer an acceptable sacrifice to God besides Him, the great High Priest is robbed of His glory. . . . You overthrow the true doctrine of Christ’s human nature. If the body born of the virgin Mary can be in more places than one at the same time, it is not a body like our own….[3]

So while I believe that something more significant than mere recollection occurs at the celebration of the Eucharist, I cannot conclude that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, nor that it involves the very body and very blood of our Savior. It is a memorial, and in its celebration we join the ranks of a great cloud of witnesses who have often paid much more dearly than we for the right to celebrate our Lord’s once and final act of atoning sacrifice on our behalf.

 


[1] J.C. Ryle, Five English Reformers (Joseph Kreifels). Libronix Edition

[2] John Charles Ryle, Light from Old Times (Moscow, Idaho: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2000, first published 1890), p 55

[3] Ibid., pp. 58-59

Emerging

We are all emerging from something. I like the biblical metaphor of emerging from Egypt to Sinai and beyond. The process of becoming a former slave, part of a new people, and a person with a mission.

A pivotal question for us all to ask ourselves as we leave behind our past, is whether we will allow our past or our future) to define our present.

Sounds good, eh? However, when the rubber hits the road it becomes a different thing. For some of us that means letting go of bitterness over having been lied to in the past. Focus instead on the overwhelming amount of truth that was imparted to you. For some of us that means holding on to our identity as members of a flawed ancestry, rather than attempting to embrace a new identity that is not really our own.

The “emerging church” sparks a lot of reaction these days, and I have often said that I like a lot of the questions they’re asking though I cringe at some of the answers posited. I was glad to read someone from the midst of the emerging movement say that it is not enough to embrace disequilibrium, one must also cling to the healing nature of the Gospel message.

The emerging church is a place where people have felt the freedom to explore questions and experiment with new forms of lifestyle and corporate practice. Often these questions have been about the essence of the Christ-message, vocation, the nature and form of the church, cultural and philosophical analysis, and the present agenda of God in the world.

We should acknowledge that, for many of us, the door was opened to re-imagine faith and the church through pain, disappointment, failure, fatigue, burn-out, public or private humiliation, or a sense of personal alienation. …

At times I’m fearful that permission to be deconstructive has attracted personalities that are prone to criticism, angst, and melancholy. Some of us seem to avoid our unresolved personality issues, organic depressive tendencies, and relational difficulties by transference to a perceived “spiritual crisis.” Some among us need encouragement and support to face our personal difficulties more directly, rather than attributing so much of our struggles to ecclesiological or philosophical issues.

An Emergent Manifesto of Hope: Some among us, like the animals of the forest, have sensed a storm on the horizon…

My question is: will we embrace the transforming changes the Holy Spirit is working in our lives while still cherishing our history, or will we plant the seeds of our own brokenness in the lives of our children? Thereby forcing them or more likely their grandchildren to working through the same issues that crippled the beginnings of our spiritual walks.

Why Community?

A community that heals is a community that believes the gospel provides forgiveness of all sin, a guaranteed future of perfect community forever, and the freedom now to indulge the deepest desires of our hearts, because the law of God is written within us—we have an appetite for holiness.

Either we can live as unique members of a connected community, experiencing the fruit of Christ’s life within us, or we can live as terrified, demanding, self-absorbed islands, disconnected from community and desperately determined to get by with whatever resources we brought to our island with us.

The calling of community is to lure people off the island onto the mainland where connection is possible and to provide it. Only then do we truly bear the image of the Eternal Community who created us to enjoy connecting.[1]


[1] Crabb, Larry. Connecting. Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997. p 31

Evangelism

When God forgives us for violating his design, he pours his life into us; and that restores our capacity to connect, first with him, then with others. He makes us alive with the actual life of Christ. The energy with which Jesus heard and obeyed the Father, the impulses that lay behind everything he did…are in us.  The impulses that energized Jesus’ life on earth are actually in us. That’s part of what it means to be alive in Christ.

Non-Christians do not have that life. They are still dead in sin, separate from God, controlled by a very different energy….

At the core of non-Christians, however, is the same capacity for relationship that exists at the core of Christians. Everyone was designed to connect. In non-Christians, though that capacity is functionally dead, there is a haunting memory of what once was, a lingering appetite for what could be.

When a person possessing the life of Christ pours that life into non-Christians, the memory gets clearer, the appetite deepens. When the Spirit of God then whispers, “This is what you’ve been looking for,” he draws non-Christians to Christ, to the source of the connection for which they long.

In Christ, peope are then forgiven and quickened, adopted as members of the family of God and provided with the nature of that family.[1]


[1] Crabb, Larry. Connecting. Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997. pp 29,30

Personal Devotions

I will never forget sitting on my bunk in Dorm 4 at a Christian University, getting ready to open up my Quiet Time Diary. I was 21 years old and desperately in need of a connection with and a word from God. Before cracking it open to see where I would be reading that day, I pleaded,

“Dear God, I desperately need to hear from You. I need communication; I need to know what is true, what is right, what to do, what You mean. Please speak to me from Your word.”

The passage that day was somewhere in the Gospel of John, and I heard nothing from above. I recall the despair with which I confronted Him after reading the text over and over again.

“God, it’s just a story; it’s history, but I don’t see any deeper meaning. I don’t hear or see any answers to my questions…. I need to hear from You; what am I to do?! What am I to understand?!”

I didn’t receive an answer for 7 years. Those were 7 arid years of wandering in a spiritual wilderness.

It was marriage that revealed the proper role of personal devotions. The walk of a believer is one of relationship with our Creator. Just like any earthly relationship, the degree to which we feel the reality of that relationship is determined by how much we put into it.

In other words, I have experienced moments of pure relational ecstasy with my wife over the years. However, they were hardly daily events, and they would never have happened if it wasn’t for the many, daily moments of relational “drudgery”, which I invested into our relational bank account.

The amazing thing is those daily talks about seeming nothingness, the daily laying down my desires to honor her, are transformed by the relational highpoints into something much different than “drudgery.” What is the feeling of love after all, other than the sum of many highpoints? Highpoints that are the result of a daily, momentary decision to put the desires of your loved one above your own. And the amazing result is when you discover that putting your loved one above yourself has become your own desire!

When my brother and I were growing up he was a poster boy for proper fiscal behavior. It didn’t matter whether he received $2 or $20, he was going to deposit some of it in his savings account. I, on the other hand, felt it was hardly justified to deposit anything less than $20 or $50, after all it made no discernible difference in my account statement.

Guess who graduated with quite the nice bank account? Hint: it wasn’t me. Daily devotions sometimes prove to be $50 or $100 deposits, and I treasure those moments, but more often they are $ .50 or $1 deposits that eventually add up to a deep, abiding relationship with my God. And the amazing thing is that years later I now delight in $ .25 deposits!

Sometimes I use what I’m studying deeply as personal devotions. Sometimes my study is dry and academic and I simply randomly read the Scriptures for devotional purposes; at other times I follow some sort of plan, like the weekly Torah portion or 2 chapters of the Old Testament and 1 chapter of the New Testament a day. It doesn’t really matter any more; the point is that I find out more about God in His Word to me. Sometimes I find gold nuggets and sometimes I leave puzzled. Either way, the information I’ve gained, re-iterated, or made available for meditative pondering is precious to me…all because I’ve chosen to love God.

Currently I’m studying the weekly Torah portion (among other things) and reading the weekly Gospel portions for devotions. However, I am hesitant to make a hard distinction between devotions and study, because what is the point of Scripture study after all, if it doesn’t relate to our daily walk.

There was a day when I forced myself to stay sitting at the supper table with my wife because it was the right thing to do. Today I look forward to those times. Those moments rarely merit recording in my diary, but I wouldn’t trade them for all the harems in history!

Worth Contemplating

“We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam, which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.”

– First generation Quakers at Balby, York in the late 17th century, as quoted in the book Why We Live In Community by Eberhard Arnold