Leading and Following: 1 Peter 5.1-7

Who comes to mind when you think of a great leader? Could it be a uniter, like Abraham Lincoln? A model of compassion, like Mother Teresa? Or, a motivator and teacher, like our own (here in Wisconsin!) Vince Lombardi?

The Apostle Peter’s letter 1 Peter is about experiencing God’s grace in the midst of suffering. Prominent themes include rejoicing, But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (4.13); judgment, For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God (4.17); and, humility, Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (4.19). The letter, likely written in 63/64 AD and to churches founded by associates of the Apostle Paul in northern Asia Minor (Turkey today), was penned by Peter amidst Nero’s persecution. Nero’s purge of the early Christians had, very probably, taken Paul’s life. Who will lead the churches now? Peter wrote to address the consternation and fear of these churches.

In this critical juncture, Peter talks about leading and following. He exhorts elders first, then followers, as “a fellow elder,” as a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” and as a “partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (5.1). How strange. He might have mentioned that he had observed Jesus in His glory at the transfiguration. Or, he could have brought up the bit about his being given the “keys to the kingdom” (Matt 16.19) that indicated leadership in the early church. Instead, Peter speaks language of co-leadership with the rising generation of Christ-followers, and the language of witnessing Jesus in His humiliation, and the language of future glory.

And what about Peter’s witness to Christ’s sufferings? Was Peter a good witness? Hardly … He denied Christ three times and ran away, remember? Oh, but then Peter was restored. “Tend my sheep” (John 21, three times). It’s this picture of the humbled, restored, refined-by-suffering, and zealous for future grace servant that becomes Peter’s picture of the ideal church leader.

Peter’s instruction to appointed leaders being refined by trouble is to pastor God’s people (:1-4). These elders are to be those who lead the church through this time of humiliation between Christ’s two comings. They’re to serve “freely,” not as those who have gotten their arms twisted, so that they serve grudgingly. They’re to serve “eagerly,” not as those looking out for their own interests. And, they’re to model Christ, not domineering over those in their charge. Those who serve well receive the “unfading crown of glory” (5.4) at the appearing of the chief Shepherd, Jesus Himself.

Such an appeal cuts against much “wisdom” of our day. Often, we default to what we know best. As churches grow, we tend to replicate the corporate character many of us know from the work week: pastor as CEO, elders as a board of directors, associates as middle-managing project managers, membership as shareholders, unbelieving community members as customers. Such a business model is not in keeping with Peter’s exhortation. Instead, elders are pastors who shepherd the church through humility now, but toward the future glory of the Great Shepherd. Our profit and bottom-line are different. We’re to speak and think the currency of humility.

What about followers? Peter’s instruction to those following appointed leaders being refined by trouble is to follow with humility (:5a). Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. 

Why would those “younger” need a special word? Children can learn, through discipline, that they’re to respect and obey their mothers. And, cheeky disrespect from children should be met, probably, by a strong response from their fathers. This is because their fathers see a different side of things. Their fathers know, among other things, just how hard the child’s mother is working. The fathers appreciate—better than the child will ever imagine, until he is a parent himself—all the unique tensions of parenting through which his wife, the child’s mother, must navigate.

So it is in the church. Peter found occasion to address younger people, because they often don’t appreciate the tensions of leading people in the unique community that will be each church. Problems must be “pastored” through. While a board room (or the Oval Office today) might be a place to say, “You’re fired!”, this won’t be how the local church is run. Decisions will be made, but often “success” will be found only by coming out united on the other side. Progress like this will be made slowly, and with humility.

Peter ends his exhortations with a general word. Cloth yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (5.5). Peter’s instruction to everyone is to humble themselves before God till Christ lifts them up. Followers are not told when they will be lifted up. In this life? Maybe. In the life to come? Certainly. Important is that such a “lifting up” will come about through imitation of humbled, refined-by-suffering leaders who themselves have learned to imitate Christ.

So, who is your picture of a great leader now?

 

Find someone you can talk to about leading and following from 1 Peter 5.1-7. Discuss the following questions.

What character qualities does Peter state are most important in a church leader? 

Why should church leaders receive special honor? (1 Tim 5.17-19 and Heb 13.7 also address this question.)

What are some ways that you can protect the reputation of those in leadership in your church? 

How is the local church unlike a a business or any other kind of organization? 

 

 

 

 

 

Membership: Hebrews 10.19-25

The whole idea of membership is in trouble. For one thing, we aren’t “joiners” like we used to be in the days of our grandparents. Compare our grandparents with the Millennial generation—who soon will be just about everybody—and the younger group comes off looking just about post-institutional.

Then, we have the added burden of competing with lots of negative images. Ask around to find out what people really think about local church membership and you’ll likely get descriptions of an inner ring of especially holy people … an exclusive club with privileges … a business with a bottom line, competing for limited resources … or, a group of people who gather to take care of the business operations of the church. Hardly anything to aspire to.

What is local church membership, anyway? 

The biblical doctrine of church membership is an especially interesting one, in that we don’t have a passage or verse that says, “This is what membership is, and here’s how to do it in the 21st century.” It is, rather, like the doctrine of the Trinity—not found in chapter and verse, but found through the Scriptures in numerous pictures of God interacting as a unity and in His “Three-ness”. Take away this doctrine, and the whole system comes apart.

So it is with the Bible’s teaching on church membership. It comes to us in pictures of groups of God’s people in particular places committing to meet together under the Lordship of Christ. In Acts 2, we see local church life—teaching, fellowshipping, breaking bread and praying. In Philippians 3, there’s the picture of heavenly citizenship: “… our citizenship is in heaven, and we await a Savior from there.” First Timothy 5 gives us a picture of family: Treat “… older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity”. First Peter 5 describes the roll of appointed pastor-elders who lead particular groups of people. Matthew 18 describes the work of the local church in disciplining—excluding from membership a professing brother who doesn’t properly represent Jesus: “… whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”.

My recent favorite, among these pictures, is Hebrews 10.19-25. We often hear this passage preached to embolden us to come to God shamelessly and with confidence, as individuals. Less often, we hear it preached to describe what local church life should look like.

Hebrews 10.19-25 describes two things that are true: We have confidence to go to God (:19-20), and we have someone to take us to God (:21). All of this is set against the Day of Atonement we read about in Leviticus 16. The priest of the Old Testament would make himself ready for God’s presence through washings and sacrifices. He’d carry the blood of sacrifices through the curtain separating God from everyone else. And, he’d enter God’s presence with fear and trembling, lest his sacrifice be found wanting.

Ah, but here’s the good news! We go to God through the very body and blood of Jesus. And, He’s perfect! And, while the priest would tremble to enter God’s house, we’re ushered into God’s house by the Son Himself, who transforms us (to mix the image) into the very house of God: “… Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (3.6, ESV).

In light of this confidence, we have some things we need to do with other believers in our local fellowships. Notice how, in verses 22-25, the commands grow more specific, more relational, more corporate, and more local. These are local church responses describing what membership looks like.

We’re to draw near to God (:22). We do this in full assurance of faith, consciences cleaned, bodies set aside for God’s purposes. The image here is, likely, that of baptism. It reminds us that our churches should be places where we come without shame. Whatever pathway God has taken to bring us to Himself, we’re clean. “Past is prologue,” as Shakespeare wrote. The church is not a place for shaming. Draw near to God …

We hang on to the Gospel (:23). The local church is the place where we preach the Gospel to each other. It’s not the place where we perfect ourselves, but the place where we hang on to Jesus. And, not only is the Gospel powerful, but it includes all of life. Marriage in trouble? Struggle raising kids? Tempted to sin? Run toward the church where the Gospel is preached. Hang on to the Gospel …

We’re to motivate each other (:24). “Stir one another up” (ESV). We get our word “paroxysm” from the word behind this expression. Think: hydrogen peroxide, bubbling away. We’re to have a godly agenda for each other. Motivate each other …

We’re to meet regularly (:25), ” … not neglecting to meet together as some are in the habit of doing.” While the original readership was having trouble breaking from the synagogue, our modern equivalent is the family who can’t decide on Saturday night whether they’ll come to God with others the next morning. Healthy church partners make the gathering of God’s people a commitment. Meet regularly …

And, we’re to encourage each other till Christ comes (:25). The word “encourage” will be variously translated as urge, exhort, implore, summon, or comfort. Push each other toward the prize, till Christ returns. The local church is the home field of the Christian life. It’s where we remind each other of our victory through Christ and come to God … together.

Healthy church members commit to come to God with others in the local church.  

 

Find someone to talk to and work through the following questions of local church membership.

What is your picture of church membership? Negative? … Positive? … Necessary? Necessary, but for what? 

If the thought of joining a local church is negative for you, what objections do you have? 

Have you ever thought of Hebrews 10.19-25 as describing the life that we have in Christ together? How does this passage help you think about church membership? 

Have you ever heard a sermon on the need to join a church in membership? How has considering this passage in Hebrews changed your thoughts about what joining a church might look like for you? 

 

 

 

Baptism: Romans 6.3-4

This week at Woodland we return to our study of healthy church partners (members, that is). Since the last two weeks were all about making much of Jesus as we celebrated our participation in His death, burial and resurrection, this Sunday’s mark of the healthy church member is an appropriate follow-up to Easter.

We’ve been experiencing storms in the Northwoods. With each gusty mix of wind and rain I’ve lost another half-dozen spruce trees. In our old life, that would have been tragic. Now, we have hundred, maybe thousands, to spare. So, no real damage. An unearthed tree is a thing of wonder. There’s the trunk and branches we’ve always seen. But then, there’s the sub-terrainian tangle of roots and earthen matter formerly concealed. That  much of the tree has always been below the surface is a great discovery after a storm.

This week we’re thinking about baptism and the church partner: the healthy church partner makes the invisible work of God visible through baptism. In our understanding at Woodland, baptism functions, along with the Lord’s Table, as an ordinance. Together, they make visible the invisible work of God in the one who has trusted Jesus by faith. The spirit of the thing is that, soon after trusting Christ, the new believer makes a living picture of the Gospel through baptism, then reaffirms her participation with Christ at the Table throughout her life. It’s like a wedding that signifies the beginning of a marriage, but then an anniversary that reaffirms the ongoing permanence of the marriage as long as the marriage covenant lasts. Both ordinances serve to reveal the work of God that—like unseen roots connecting a great tree to the earth—connect the believer to God, through participation with Christ.

No passages makes this more clear than Romans 6.1-11. While the passage comes on the heals of Paul’s manifesto of justification by faith (3.21-5.21) and serves to demonstrate how the mastery of Christ leaves the believer forever changed in his self-estimation, it’s Paul’s picture of water baptism (verses 3-4) that illustrates all God has done in Christ.

Through faith (pictured by baptism) we participate in Christ’s death (verse 3). Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? There’s grammatical subtleties in these verses. Prepositions in the accusative case indicate movement: “into Christ” … “into his death”. Such movement indicates that, through faith, we’ve moved into the reign, the realm, the sphere where Christ is our representative. Then, there’s the “suv” prefixes attached to many of the verbs, which even a casual glance at the passage in the Greek New Testament makes obvious. The preposition means, simply, “with,” but, attached to each of the verbs, broadcasts our (with)burial, (with)uniting, (with) crucifixion and (with) living with Christ. All this brought about by faith.

While the thought of our participation in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection thousands of years before our birth might cause us to tilt our heads a bit in puzzlement, we’re not completely unfamiliar with the idea representation. We send representatives to our nations capitol to serve us in government. And, while we might find ourselves in the minority in voting and at odds with the final decisions of our lawmakers, it’s beyond dispute that we’re vicariously present in the halls of congress.

So it was at the cross. Credo-baptism (that is, “believers’ baptism”) serves especially to make a visible picture of our representation by Christ. We’re lowered into the water as Christ was lowered into the stormy waters of God’s wrath. (Think: Genesis 6-7, or Peter’s picture of Noah above the waters of wrath, 1 Peter 3.21). Ah, but here is the good news! Instead, of tasting God’s wrath, we don’t remain in God’s judgment …

Through faith we participate in Christ’ resurrection (:4). We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Here again, in rising from the waters, baptism pictures our forgiveness for sins, in Christ (Col 2.11-13). And, as we rise, the cleansing, renewing work of the Spirit likewise is made visible (Titus 3.5).

The remainder of our passage serves to show that through faith we participate in Christ’s life (:5-11). We don’t have to sin anymore (:6). Just as a person who has died is finished doing things in the body that now lies in the casket, so we are done doing things in that old person who has died with Christ. Baptism, then, pictures the destruction of sin in the life of the believer. Likewise, we don’t have to go down to death anymore. The death Jesus died, he died once for all (1 Pet 3.18). Now, our inner-persons rest eternally with Christ.

All of this results in a new self-estimate (:11). Following Christ, not sin, is our new way of life, pictured in baptism.

A few implications follow form the powerful, multi-faceted picture of baptism. First, Baptism is really about Christ’s work, not us. And, while we might take joy in a new believer’s “decision” for Christ, that faith response is in response to something Jesus has done. It’s easy to see why the church, since ancient times, has celebrated its baptisms on Easter Sunday, together with its observance of the Lord’s work.

Second, the symbolism of water baptism reminds us that we don’t live the Christian life apart from Jesus. Jesus himself was baptized in preparation for his identification with us. It was at this identification with sinners that the three Persons of the Godhead met to rejoice. The Spirit descended as a dove and the Father applauded the Son: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matt 3.17; Mk 1.11).

The healthy church partner, then, makes the invisible work of God visible by taking baptism seriously. 

Find a friend and answer a few questions about this mark of the healthy church partner:

How has our brief look at Romans 6.1-11 (verses 3-4 especially) changed your thinking about the significant of baptism? 

What questions do you have, perhaps coming form your own religious upbringing or family background, about baptism? 

Why is it important to remember that baptism is a picture of God’s work and not the means of salvation itself? 

What thoughts do you have about the way we should speak to our children about baptism? 

 

The Christ We Serve: Matthew 28.1-10; 16-20

Have you ever had a completely inadequate mental picture of something?

In my formative years my father believed with all his heart that he was from the Pacific Northwest. During these years he would take us on long family vacations across the western United States. On one of these trips I was told we would visit Tuscan, Arizona. And, somehow, I got it in my child mind that Tuscan, Arizona was a person—likely a mature woman with a tall, bouffant hairdo who lived in a dark, air-conditioned house with lots of colored glass and things children couldn’t touch. So, there we were, thundering across the desert on our way to see “Mrs. Arizona”.

Inadequate mental pictures are not consequential when a child. But, when we come to Christ, our picture of the kind of person he is today, right now, is very consequential. And, there’s danger in coming up with the wrong image. Ask your man on the street to describe his mental picture of the risen Christ, and you might get a description of anything from a Renaissance Christ surrounded with chubby, naked angels to a “buddy” Jesus who might hang with you, but who can’t do much to change your life, to a picture of Christ on the cross, though he isn’t anymore.

What is your mental picture of the Christ you serve?

When we turn to Matthew’s account of the resurrection, Jesus’ followers must get their minds around the Christ they’ll now serve. The Christ we now serve is powerful (:1-7). 

In the setting to the account Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary”, the wife of Clopas and likely Jesus’ aunt, go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Before they arrive (the grammar suggests) there’s an earthquake. Since the New Testament records such quakes at Jesus’ death and at his future return, something enormous has taken place. They arrive to find an angel: … his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow (:3). The unbelieving guards seize up at the display of power: … for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men (:4). The angel instructs the women on how to respond to the power: … Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified … Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead … he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him (:5-7).

Jesus will demonstrate his power by doing what he promised (26.32). His plans will go forward, unabated. And, for all the display of power in Matthew’s account, Jesus has not yet appeared in the story! How awesome will be the power when he enters the account, we believe.

Does our mental picture of the Christ we serve include his power? And indeed, he is powerful, we must conclude. He’s powerful when we’re permitted to suffer hardship … he’s powerful. He’s powerful when we lack the will for obedience … he’s powerful. He’s powerful when we need strength to persevere … he’s powerful. And yet, there’s danger in seeing Jesus as only powerful.

The Christ we serve is also compassionate (:8-10). The women obey the angel and meet Jesus in the act of their obedience. Greetings! Jesus says (literally, “rejoice”). And, unlike the angel, Jesus permits the women to worship him. And, if it weren’t for his power, we wouldn’t recognize his compassion. Then Jesus repeats the command of the angel, Don’t be afraid … go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me (:10). The disciples had all abandoned him, but Jesus speaks of them with compassion. Still, if they want to see him, they’ll likewise have to exercise belief.

And we ask, does our mental picture of the Christ we serve include his compassion? And, he is compassionate. He’s compassionate when we feel crushed by our sins, and so come to him for the thousandth time in confession … he’s compassionate. He’s compassionate when we pray for a lost or rebellious family member … he’s compassionate. He’s compassionate when we are disappointed in life, and we simply want to be with him … he’s compassionate. And yet, there’s more to the Christ we serve than his compassion.

The Christ we serve is present with his church (:16-20). The disciples do obey, and they meet Jesus in Galilee. Some doubt, perhaps more from hesitation than from unbelief. Who wouldn’t? Their new understanding of the risen Christ had to be refined and completed. Jesus instructs them: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me (:18). He tells them what to do: Go therefore and make disciples … (:19) He tells them how to do it: … baptizing them … teaching them (:19b-20). And then, perhaps the greatest news of all! He tells them that he will be present with his church, And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (:20b).

Notice how Matthew ends his account, not by focusing on the disciples’ task, but by focusing on Jesus’ attributes. And notice how Matthew forms a link back to the beginning of his gospel. Way back in 1:23, Matthew introduced Jesus, Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). 

Does your mental picture of the Christ you serve include his presence with the church? The Christ we serve is present with his church. He’s present when we come together on Sunday mornings to open his Word … he’s present. He’s present when one in our churches is hurting immensely … he’s present. He’s present when we surround someone who has fallen into sin and needs to be restored … he’s present.

The Christ we serve is powerful, compassion and present with his church. 

We all start out with an inadequate picture of Christ. At first, we don’t know him at all. The solution for us is to recognize that we’ve missed the mark and run from him all our lives. Then, we understand that Jesus came for us, and those like us, to take our rebellion on himself and die, conquering sin and death. And then, we trust him by faith, transferring the dependence of our lives from ourselves to him. Only then do we begin to have an accurate picture of the Christ we serve.

This Easter we’ll gather. “Christ is risen!” someone will say. And then, we’ll respond, “He’s powerful. He’s compassionate. He’s present with his church. And, he is risen indeed!”

 

Forsaken: Mark 15.34

Some years ago, when returning to the States from some ministry training, Amanda and I shared an airplane aisle with a young, Indonesian software engineer named Bashir. Sharp, clean-cut, intelligent, Bashir turned out to be a devout Muslim and a ready apologist for Islam. Our own description of our work prompted lively discussion about God. We had a wonderful time! But, at each mention of the Christian Gospel, we’d smack an invisible wall: “God cannot sacrifice His majesty to become a man,” Bashir would repeat, endlessly. And so we reached our cordial impasse. We exchanged some emails later, but that was pretty much much that.

Looking back in reflection, I applaud Bashir for his conviction that God is bound by His own nature. But, unlike Bashir, my Christian understanding of God’s Person(s) allows me to approach God through Christ as One who is relational, personal, knowable; not distant, wholly other, or entirely transcendent.

Tonight at Woodland, we meet for Good Friday. We’ll meet to prepare for Sunday and will enrich our understanding of the death of Christ. In meeting, we’ll consider that transaction that took place between the Father and the Son at the cross that reflects the dynamic relationship between the Persons of the Godhead as—for one enormous, eternally weighted moment—the Father forsook the Son in our behalf. We’ll consider Mark 15.34, one of Christ’s Seven Last Words from the cross. My, God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

This Word has troubled many. Jesus appears confused, and it’s understandable how liberal scholars have pointed to Jesus’ questioning as showing that Jesus, in His humanity, lost control, that He was a victim. We don’t believe this. And, let’s consider why by looking at the Word in its parts.

My God, my God … We’re given Jesus’ address to the Father by way of translation from the original, Eloi, Eloi. Here we remember that the New Testament comes to us through the Greek language, the cultural language of the eastern Roman Empire. But, Jesus and His Palestinian Jewish contemporaries spoke Aramaic, and sometimes the original soaks through. The Eloi of this verse finds its Hebrew equivalent in the Hebrew term Elohim, the term referring to God in His power and majesty.

Catch the backdrop here. Jesus is dying in the world his Father created by him, through him, for him. All this takes place against the backdrop of the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son. Jesus has prayed (John 17.24), Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory which you have given me before the foundation of the world. 

It’s not that the cross is unexpected by Jesus. It’s that the cross is, so to speak, profoundly wrong!

My God, my God, Why … Here, we note that Jesus, far from actually asking a question, is actually quoting Psalm 22.1. That psalm takes the form of a lament. And, like a Shakespearean sonnet that has a certain rhythm and rhyme scheme, the Hebrew lament has a required shape that includes: a cry for help, a formal complaint, a confession of trust, a formal petition, a motivational element, a curse on enemies and concluding praise.

When Jesus quotes the cry for help from Psalm 22, he is referencing the psalm in its entirety. The psalm ends, amidst other declarations of triumph: … before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn that he has done it. 

In this Word from the cross, Jesus is identifying with those He came to save. This is not, in very fact, a question but a declaration of triumph!

And yet, there is real anguish at the cross. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Even more than unsurpassed physical anguish, there is unparalleled spiritual anguish as the wrath of the Father falls on the Son bringing about separation.

The forsakenness language describes this separation. Now, we find ourselves in the language of the Day of Atonement, originating in Leviticus 16. On that high day of Israel’s sacrificial year, the high priest entered the most holy place. He entered the presence of God to open the holy place, to bring cleansing and to provide final purification for any sins yet uncovered by sacrifice. As part of the sacrifice a “scapegoat” would be banished to carry the sins of the people outside the camp. To be “forsaken” is to be as the scapegoat who carried the sins of the people outside the camp. He made him who had no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5.21). This is Jesus’ work for us. As the goat identified with the people of Israel in their sin, so Jesus identifies with us at the cross. Forsaken!

What do we make of this? We see in this Last Word from the cross that Jesus laments his rejection by the Father in order to identify with those he had come to save.

It’s all horrific! And, by any account but God’s, wrong! But it’s the sacrifice God, in the Person of Jesus, could and did make for us … Praise Him! And, when we consider this Word of Christ, we come to God as One who is not unloving, distant, weak or small. We prepare ourselves for Sunday by enriching our understanding of the death of Christ when we will say, “He is risen! … He is risen, indeed!”

 

 

Undivided: 1 Corinthians 11.27-34

This week I picked up the phone. I picked up the phone over a matter that happened years ago—two people following Jesus, serving well and hard. Wires were crossed. Feelings were hurt. It happens. Was there sin? Maybe not, but there was division.

I picked up the phone, finally, in response to 1 Corinthians 11.27-34. There, we see that believers, when coming to the Table of the Lord rightly, make visible the invisible work of God. The work of Christ on the cross that unites God’s people to Him through faith (invisibly) becomes visible through the unity of His people at the table.

There’s a wrong way to come to the tableWhoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord (verse 27). For the Corinthians, coming in an unworthy manner was less about pious and personal introspection than it was about the way they were going about the table. The earlier part of the chapter  gives the picture (verses 17-22). First century church meetings took place in homes. Naturally, the wealthy, having bigger homes, would host the meetings. The observance of the Lord’s Table, New Testament scholars tell us, took place in tandem with the teaching of God’s Word and preceded a common meal. But, what a situation in Corinth! One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! … Apparently, the “haves” would push through the observance of the Lord to their own meal. The “have nots” would arrive later, and without their own food, to find their social betters tipsy and themselves excluded. Division followed. Hardly a picture of Christ and those united with Him.

Paul has hard words: these will be … guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord (verse 27b). Divisions do exists, Paul has earlier taught, because some in the community don’t belong to Christ (verse 19). But, when the table divides those who do belong to Christ, this division fails to show what it looks like to be united in Christ. Those guilty of the body and blood of the Lord behave as though they weren’t recognizing Christ at all. It’s not that they’ll lose their salvation. It’s that they’re sinning as though they were never saved in the first place. The one who comes to the table in the wrong way shares in the guilt of those who don’t recognize the significance of Christ’s death.

But, there is also a right way to come to the table. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. This examining is less about ones vertical relationship with God and more about ones horizontal relationship to others. Self-examination results in properly discerning the body, making God’s judgment unnecessary.

And, here we come to one of the twists of the passage. Up till now, it’s been about “eating the bread” and “drinking the cup” and the “body of the Lord” and the “blood of the Lord.” Now, suddenly, it’s just “the body”. What do we know about Paul’s imagery of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (10.17). And, again, Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (12.27). Paul frequently talks about the church as “the body of Christ”. So, discerning the body means to look around. “Who’s not here?” “Are we undivided?” we’re to ask.

Verses 30-33 describe the particular situation in Corinth: … many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (verse 30). Such a verse is reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 where the man caught in gross immorality is to be delivered over to Satan … for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. In both instances, God is, through discipline, preserving the souls of those who truly belong to Him. In both instances, God is preserving the unity of the church.

This doesn’t mean that behind every sickness there is a sin to be confessed. It does mean that God is very serious about the undivided unity of His people. And, He has every tool He needs to preserve both our souls and the unity of His church.  He is, after all, not a safe God.

So, we come to the table together. Since the Early Church, churches have generally moved into buildings. Since the Industrial Age, the elements of bread and cup, at least in American Evangelicalism, have been reworked to serve as many people as possible within a seventy minute service. And, as we wait for the signal to take our little pinches of bread and thimbles of juice, we probably no longer have trouble waiting for one another. Egalitarianism has taken hold in a big way. But, we are infinitely creative in finding ways to divide. Are we not?

This week at Woodland we come to the Table. Maybe you’ll do the same elsewhere. The invisible truth is that we’re saved by faith in Christ. And, God knows who is His. How will we make this truth visible? We’ll do it at the table, locally and visibly, all around the world. Are we separated by distance? No matter. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ (1 Corinthians 12.12).

The healthy church member is united with Christ and undivided with His people. Is it true? Are there feelings hurt, a cooled relationship? Division? If so, it might be time to pick up the phone …

 

Find a friend and talk through the following questions:

First Corinthians 11.27-34 is a passage that poses lots of questions. As you read through the passage what questions do you have? What questions do you have that are not addressed by the post above? 

 

How does God show in this passage that He is very serious about the unity of His people? In your own words, why is this so? 

 

The Corinthians knew a rift between the rich and poor. What are some ways that we divide in our culture? 

 

Is there anybody you need to “pick up the phone” for before you go to the Table of the Lord again? 

 

 

Heart Repentance: 1 John 1.5-10

“Get Up” by Matt Anderson, on Flikr, CC BY 2.0

Let’s call him Johnny. I was teaching 7th grade, and Johnny totally thrashed me.

A young teacher, I’d work each night to developed my own Bible curriculum for the large, Christian day school where I taught. In the morning, Johnny and his buddies were there to blow the class apart. One day Johnny stood on his desk and launched himself across the room. That got him sent to the principal, but they sent him back. Something about me needing to work out a relationship with him. Got it …

Then, Johnny got “saved”. It happened over a weekend church retreat. Apparently, Johnny surrendered his life to Christ. Now, he was celebrated by lots of cute girls. I went to his baptismal service. Something like a thousand people turned up. Jesus was mentioned, but the service was mostly about Johnny.

Three years later, I was studying in a popular sandwich shop when Johnny, now a young teenager, pulled up and jumped from his Jeep Wrangler. “Hey, Reg!” he said. (I was Mr. Reg in those days). I bought him a sandwich. Johnny started boasting about old times—the hellion he’d been, what a great time he’d had making things hard.

“Tell me about your baptism and your decision for Christ,” I prodded. “I was there. What was going on then?”

“Oh, that …” Johnny said, “I was just screwing around with that [religious] stuff back then. Nothing big ever happened.” And that was that. The lunch ended, and—unless he pops up in my life again—so did the relationship. Heart-breaking.

We’ve all known Johnnies, people who make a grand show of change, but then, a few years later … nothing. Are they genuine converts to the faith? It’s hard to say, especially with a young person, since we can’t look into peoples’ hearts. But, the church is the place where the invisible work of God becomes visible. And, when we consider the relationship between faith and repentance, it’s clear that saving faith will look like something.

We’re talking about conversion—that is, what it looks like to other people when we place our dependance on Christ in a saving way. And, the Apostle John’s first epistle is a wonderful place to go, because the old, revered apostle and friend of Jesus’ was sorting out for others just what genuine faith amidst apostasy looked like in the waning days of the first century.

Genuine conversion requires faith. In John’s imagery, the genuine convert has received “the message” from Christ of God’s holiness and has responded by “walking in the light” (1:5-6). That person’s life matches his confession. He is one who has ” … believed in the Son of God” and now has assurance of eternal life (5:13). “Walking in the light” for that genuine convert involves personal dependance on the person and work of Jesus.

But, in the words of the old adage, we’re saved by faith alone, but saving faith is not alone. It has a companion.

Genuine conversion includes repentance. As faith is the positive turning to God in personal dependance, so repentance is the turning from sin—the change of mind with regards to God involving godly sorrow and a desire to live for God.

We’re often hesitant to emphasize repentance. Maybe, we don’t want to dilute pure faith as the means to salvation, or we don’t want to lead others to rest their salvation in being sorry for their sins. We’re right to be careful. But, Scripture makes much of this change of mind in regards to God.

There’s Peter on the day 3,000 were gathered in, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ‘”(Acts 2.37-38).

And, Paul, to the Ephesian elders, “You yourself know … how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ …” (Acts 20.18 … 21). Faith and repentance appear here together, so as to appear almost inseparable.

Perhaps the image of the baseball pitch helps. The ball leaving the pitcher’s hand catches the eye, but few would consider the release the sum total of the pitch. There’s also the wind-up. And, for those who know the game, it’s hard to imagine one without the other.

So it is with faith and repentance. We’re saved by faith alone—not crying about or feeling badly for sins. But, faith results, sooner or later, in godly sorrow. It looks like something!

When we gather in our local church communities we’re watching God’s invisible work become visible. This involves discerning who among us has experienced God’s work of conversion, as evidenced by a heart-felt desire to turn from sin toward God in repentance. In the language of Woodland, the healthy, growing church partner is a genuine convert who repents from the heart. 

Ten years ago, some ten years after I finished teaching, I received a phone call. It was from Ben, also a former student of mine. While not a hellion, he’d been a rascal. “Mr. Reg,” Ben said, “I want you to know that I love you, and I’m sorry for how I treated you.” Then, he told me of his life in Christ and how he’d found a godly girl to marry. And, how he thought that he just ought to get right with me so that we could celebrate God’s work in his life together.

We’re saved by faith alone that is not alone. And, the invisible work of God, when seen in the genuinely converted in Christ, really does look like something.

Find somebody to share with, and talk the questions below:

How does it help you to think about conversion as a positive turning toward God in faith and a negative turning from sin in repentance? 

If you’ve trusted in Christ, how is this similar to or different than what you’ve learned before?

Do you think we avoid talking about repentance? If so, why? 

Again, if you’ve trusted in Christ, when did you experience sadness at your sin and a desire to live for Christ? Was it right when you trusted Jesus by faith? Before? A long time later? 

What about these ideas is perplexing or confusing or needing more talking about? 

Expository Listening: 2 Timothy 3.14-4.4

Imagine you’ve come to the end of your life. You’ve poured yourself out, and now you’re giving that last bit of advice to a young person who will carry on your work. What will you say?

That was Paul’s situation in 2 Timothy 3-4. He’s just advised young protege Timothy, in light of last days apathy toward God’s Word, to continue in God’s Word—the message Timothy received from him, as well as the Scriptures he grew up with under his believing mother (Acts 16). Taken together, he’s likely referring to what we now call the New and Old Testaments. This Bible, described as “breathed out by God” (ESV), will accomplish God’s specific purpose for the hearer—this to include teaching and correcting those in error, as well as instructing new followers of Christ still learning the basic things of God. The result for the one who learns to listen well will be full qualification for every thing God has planned for that person.

“So, Timothy, young pastor,” Paul says: ” … PREACH. THE. WORD”! … Full stop.

This week at Woodland we begin a new series we call Healthy Church Partners. We’re asking “What are the marks of the healthy (not perfect, but growing!) church member?” And, while we’re not all called to stand behind a lectern, we are all called to be good listeners to God’s Word, which includes the embracing of God’s Word preached. Make this mark characteristic of our involvement in YOUR church family and all the other marks of healthy church life will take care of themselves.

We’ll see that listening (expositionally!) to God’s Word producing healthy, growing followers of Christ. There’s a Cadillac-Lamborghini word here. “Exposition” means “a setting forth of the meaning or purpose of a writing” (Websters). In the handling of Scripture, this means that the main point of the passage becomes the main point of the message. “So, Timothy, don’t just give your testimony, or lecture, or share good ideas, or even just preach. Preach THE WORD!”

We might think of the good message then as a rifled bullet, or an arrow hitting the target. The good message aims to expose the particular purpose and intent of God as laid out in the particular biblical passage that is then rifled into the particular church situation. The opposite image would be the shotgun blast where the speaker aims to hit something … anything. He will, but not but not the hearts of his listeners. And, over time, they will only hear noise.

The flip-side of expositional preaching is expositional listening. And, returning to 2 Timothy (now, 4.3-4), we learn that listening (expositionally!) to God’s Word protects God’s people from falsehood and false teachers.

In the times between Jesus’ two comings, Paul forecasts, people will be driven by their desires. (See also 3.1-9). They’ll want their “itching ears” scratched and their feelings messaged. They’ll find teachers who will do their market research and say things that people want to hear. In the end, they’ll start out with the truth, but as (expositional!) preaching diminishes, they’ll add Jesus to their pantheon of good ideas and so “wander” off into stories.

Instructive for us is to note that Paul holds people accountable. This implies that there’s desire and skill in listening for the main idea of a passage and expecting to find it in any pastoral exposition of Scripture. The healthy, growing church partner is a trained expositional listener to God’s Word. And, like Timothy’s listeners, we have plenty of myths and pseudo-gospels and false teachers to shank us wide of the mark of God’s truth, if we don’t preach and listen for the gospel-center in each proclamation of God’s Word.

Here’s five suggestions for listening (expositionally!):

  1. Get into the text ahead of each message. If you’re a Woodlander, you’ll find the passage on this site by the end of the week. This will put you on your toes and not your heels as you come into worship.
  2. While you’re reading or listening, summarize the main idea of the passage in one statement. So, for 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2, you might say: Old Paul’s last advice to the young pastor Timothy is to preach the Word. That’s got it.
  3. Then, rewrite the main idea of the message to include your own situation. So, the statement above becomes: The healthy, growing church partner is a trained expositional listener to God’s Word. Not an infallible statement, but it connects the passage to our situation and our series.
  4. Engage your pastor with the main ideas you’ve written out. If you want to say something nice, don’t say, “Great message!” He’ll only think he stunk it up, and now you’re trying to encourage him. Tell him something specific about the passage and how God is applying it to your life.
  5. Finally, find somebody to talk to about how God is helping you apply the main point of the sermon that comes from the main point of the passage.

Now, find that somebody you’re sharing with, and talk through these questions:

Which of the pointers above do you find to be the easiest to do? The hardest? 

Are any of them unclear, needing further explanation? 

How has the idea of targeted, expositional preaching changed the way you think about how you ought to listen? 

What are some additional ways that you can listen “expositionally”? 

Risk! Romans 8.35-39

“Lindsey Sky Dive” CC by Steve Conger-NC-ND 2.0

When is the last time you took a risk?

I don’t mean a thrill-seeking risk. Or a risk, like a lottery ticket, to play the odds to get rich, to profit yourself, or to self-promote.

I mean a godly risk … A godly risk, as I mean it, is an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury and that is for the cause of Christ, after God’s own heart and under the direction of the Spirit for the purpose of making Jesus big in the hearts and minds of others.

If that resonates, Romans 8.35-39 is your passage. Its purpose is to show that growth in holiness—toward conformity to the likeness of Jesus—is built on the finished work of Christ and our assurance of our salvation in Christ. We’re secure in present suffering (verses 18-27). Secure as we move toward glory (verses 28-30). Secure until we arrive at the goal of our holiness—conformity to the image of Christ (verse 29). In total, God is for us!

Romans 8.35-39 is about what might happen when we take godly risks for the cause of Christ and why we have the courage to do it anyway.

Risk (for us) is Real (:35-36). There’s paradox here—”truth standing on its head” (G.K. Chesterton). Like in Luke 21.18-19 where Jesus says ” … not a hair of your head will perish” but ” … by your endurance you will gain your life” (ESV). In other words, in some ultimate sense, trouble won’t touch your head, but you could lose the whole thing chopped right off.

Paul is being autobiographical here. His “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (verse 35) is really just a paraphrase of his own litany of personal sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11.25-29. Plus, he throws in a snatch of Psalm 44. We’re considered as sheep to be slaughtered. It’s always been this way with God’s people.

We take risks as well. The mission trip to the big city. The child who risks ridicule by befriending the lesser-thought-of child. The family who opts out of Sunday morning youth baseball to worship in church. The parents who introduce another gene pool to their family through the wonder of adoption.

These risks are real in this life! Even so, while we risk for the cause of Christ, we remember that God doesn’t take risks. He knows the end from the beginning. Jesus secured the redemption of the cosmos (8.20-23). In fact, if you are in Christ, God foreknew you (a relational word!) before the foundation of the universe (verse 29). Nobody is lost between God’s foreknowledge in the past and God’s glorifying work in the future (verse 30). We can take risks because God doesn’t. Our risk-taking is done under the watchful care of a God who doesn’t risk anything.

This makes risk right! In all these things we are more than conquers through him who loved us (verse 37). It’s “in all these things” (all the apparently adverse effects of risk) that we become “more than conquers”. This indicates that the results of risk are actually turned to the good by God. As the commentator Tom Shreiner has put it, “Instead of believers being separated from Christ’s love through affliction the afflictions become the means by which believers ‘more than conquer’.”

We’re helped here by the overall picture of Romans 8. It’s a courtroom. God is the judge, and Jesus is the prosecuting attorney. But, Jesus is also the hangman. And, when we’re found decidedly guilty, Jesus points to us and says, “He’s with me! Guilty, yes! But, paid for by me all the more.” And, with each risk undertaken for Christ’s cause, there’s Jesus’ ongoing intercession for us to the Father. “That one … he’s with me!”

All this helps us remember that risk is in relationship (:38-39). I am sure, says Paul, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is Paul’s reflection on the backside of his own experience. Death nor life … That’s state of existence. Angels nor rulers, nor powers … That’s supernatural beings. Things present nor things to come … That’s time. Height nor depth … That’s space. Anything else in all creation … That’s everything else in all creation. Nothing can separate us from relationship to God in Christ.

If we understand this passage, we’re going to know that whatever we undertake for the cause of Christ we undertake in relationship to Jesus, and we’re secure.

We can take risks for the cause of Christ, because God in Christ loves us!

So, what’s your risk? Start small and ordinary, maybe.

Is there a need in your gathering of God’s people that will certainly take you outside your perceived gifting. That could be it—risking comfort, but trusting God to make up what you lack.

Or, maybe you ought to risk taking a break from technology to relate face-to-face with somebody. Your media “family” might miss you for awhile, but it could be where God is taking you.

Or, take somebody from outside your family on vacation. Or, join a small group where you’ll have to be vulnerable. Or, …

We can take risks for the cause of Christ, because God in Christ loves us!

Find a friend or talk to your small group about these questions:

How does Romans 8.35-39 change the way you think about risk? 

How does knowing that “risk is real” help you take the whole idea of godly risk seriously? 

How does knowing that God transforms the adverse effects of risk (and actually uses the results of risk to accomplish His ultimate purpose for us) help you take seriously the idea that “risk is right”? 

How does knowing that “risk is in relationship” give you courage to step out in faith?

What godly risk do you discern God is leading you to undertake? 

Then, consider picking up a copy of John Piper’s Risk is Right (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). It’s the source of some of these ideas and a book that sits permanently on my desk at Woodland. It’s actually a revised chapter from Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), another book I like to give away, especially to young people, but older folks need it too!

 

Joy and Satisfaction, in the Sanctuary of the LORD: Psalm 84

Why is your church building a special place? Is it attractive? … paid for? … built, project by precious project, by your church family? Go ahead, boast (in Christ!) about these things. They’re all good.

But, if we think big-picture, your church facility takes on greater meaning when we understand that it is a sanctuary—a meeting place set apart for God’s special purposes.

The place where the Old Testament worshipper went to find the grace and favor of the LORD was the Temple, the special set-apart place for meeting with God. In Psalm 84, we encounter a Hebrew pilgrim making his way up to Zion and the sanctuary of the LORD. In his ascent, we gather truths known to all God’s worshippers, no matter their place in the redemptive story:

Joyful and satisfied believers long to be in the sanctuary of the LORDHow lovely is your dwelling place … (ESV, verse 1). That is, the particular place where God dwells—not because it’s attractive, but because God is there! O LORD of hosts. That is “of armies,” as in, all the powers of heaven and earth . Take the two ideas together and you have the great, omnipresent (everywhere) God localizing his presence to a particular place to meet with man. Blessed are those who dwell in your house (verse 4), even, apparently, the birds who make their homes in the rafters of the Temple (verse 3). If birds are blessed, how much greater the man who gets to live there in God’s presence.

And then, I ask,  at this point in my reading: Do desire to meet with God like this? Is there a sense in my Tuesdays mornings and Thursdays evenings that I’m building toward a meeting with the presence of God Himself? When I leave my place of worship, do I sense that I’m being launched into my week to live out the truths of God’s Word, learned in the midst of His people? 

Joyful and satisfied believers prepare to be in the sanctuary of the LORD. Here, our pilgrim departs. Blessed are those … in whose heart are the highways to Zion (verse 5). Strength will be found in God for the way, until they should appear before Him. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion (verse 7).

And, I ask: What margins do I build into my week, that I might appear before God in worship, and in my right mind? Do my wife and I forgo the feature length movie on Saturday night that would put us to bed after midnight; instead, maybe, choosing the 45 minute episode that would have us turn in at 10:00? Or, would a melatonin and an earlier bedtime be still better? 

Joyful and satisfied believers lift up their king in the sanctuary of the LORD. The pilgrim enters the holy city and prays, apparently, for his Davidic king. So we take the image of the “shield” (verse 9), set parallel to the “anointed” whose face the LORD will consider.

And, I ask: How am I to relate to a king, our last American King being George III, long deposed, and Presidents Obama and Trump hardly being Davidic Kings … Ah, but I notice, we do have a Davidic King! …  the once and forever King whose lifted-high praise is, in the end, the main goal of my gathering with others in my own sanctuary. 

Then, finally, joyful and satisfied believers find grace and favor in the sanctuary of the LORD. The pilgrim enters the courts of God, and finds grace and favor. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere (verse 10). Better to take low position at the threshold of God’s presence, than dwell in intimacy with those who don’t know God. For God, like a “sun” shines grace on His people, and like a “shield” protects them and gives them glory. O LORD, “of armies” blessed is the one who trust in you! Joy and satisfaction belong no longer only to those dwelling in the sanctuary, but to all who enter in by trust.

And, I ask again, now from my place in God’s redemption story, viewing Psalm 84 through the work of Jesus on the cross: Why is my own church building a special place? 

And, I remember, the Temple has passed away. In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8.13). And, I remember further, Jesus is the temple through whose sacrificed body we now approach God. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up … he was speaking about the temple of his body (Jn 2.19 … 21). And, then I ponder how, when I trusted Christ, I entered his church, described (among other pictures) as God’s temple. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you (1 Cor 3.16).

And then I get it, the reason why my church meeting place is so special. The place where the joyful, satisfied follower of Christ finds the grace and favor of the LORD is in the midst of God’s people. 

So, tomorrow I enter our church building. We’ll lift high Jesus and learn from his Word. That meeting is worth longing for and preparing for, because there, through God’s people, we’ll know God’s grace and favor.

And that will make our sanctuary (beautiful and paid for, as it is) a very special place.

Find a friend or somebody you’re accountable to and ask and answer a few questions:

In the flow of your week, how do you think of Sunday morning? 

How do you prepare for worship each week? What margins do you put in place that help you separate out Sunday morning as different than any other time of the week? 

Do you ever think of Jesus as your king? How does this distinction add to what you understand yourself to be doing when you gather with your church family for worship? 

In what ways does God meet with you to show you grace and favor when you gather with His people for worship? 

How does Psalm 84 change the way you will worship God next time you enter your church facility?