Monday, December 12, 2011

Unleash Tebow!!!

This is an awesome mashup.

DJ Steve Porter mashes up First Take's Skip Bayless to create the ultimate Tim Tebow tribute..."All He Does Is Win" (from ESPN1stTake)

By His Grace.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Road of Chance or Decision

Stumbled on this thought-provoking post on NPR. Apparently the chance of you or me existing is 102,685,000

Here's how it ends up getting worked out. It again begs the question whether we think we exist by chance of random events occurring over a really really really long time or if Someone actually had (and still has) a hand in all this.

By His Grace.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Almost Christmas, Chicago!

This is a MUST BUY for your Christmas JAMs.

You can listen to the whole album here.

Here is my iTunes review of the album:

So I bought this right when it came out and broke the rule of not listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Totally worth it. I have not stop listening to this. I love the fresh, unique takes on the classics. Highlights are Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Little Drummer Boy & Auld Lang Syne. Of course the best track is the brand new original, It's Almost Christmas, Chicago! I just can't get it out of my head and that's a good thing. Listen to it repeatedly, pass it on to your friends, get it onto the radio and enjoy it all this Christmas season!
Make another album soon???

By His Grace.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Friend, the Deer

Just another day of running into a deer on campus. Could have gotten so much closer. Tried, but failed.

By His Grace.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Justification: The Issue of First Importance

So I preached my final sermon at The Line this weekend. Bottom line is if you have questions at all about God, life, joy, being a good person - all that and more - this is a sermon to listen to or read.

This is probably one of the most important aspects of Christianity that has finally begun to set in for me. If you are not a Christian, this is one of the most foundational aspects of Christianity, so if you want to understand more about where Christians come from, it's a solid sermon to listen to. If you're a Christian and need the reminder of the importance of the gospel in your life, this is one to take in.

Here's the link to listen.

Below is the sermon manuscript. It is a joy to preach God's Word, regardless of if I feel "qualified" or not.

justification: the issue of first importance

Rom 4:1-5  What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but  not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say?  “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but  believes in  him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

As Aaron mentioned last week, this will be the final shot I get to preach to the church that has been my home for almost three years now. This will be the longest time I have ever remained at one church and God has done so much in my life through doing life with you all and serving with The Line. I could take the time up here just to tell everything Jesus has done for me while at The Line, but I won’t this morning.

Last week I spent time praying over what God would have me preach. Nothing was clear. On Monday I continued to pray, “what would you have me preach in my final sermon?” The Spirit provided clarity pretty quickly – preach in your final sermon what is of first importance. So that’s what I’m gonna do.

In these five short verses Paul touches on so many major issues that we consider so important for our lives. He deals with how we try to live our lives, how we ought to live our lives, how we are tempted to view God, how God views us, and how we might actually be happy! All of these are important to most, if not all of us in this room. At some level, we want to know if we are living meaningful lives. At some level we want to know if we are “good people.” And we want – we want so much – to be happy. We want joy! So if these are important to you, then this text is important to you and it has much to say. However, Paul does not necessarily deal with each of them directly. He deals with the foundation. We can think of them then as rooms in a house. Each room is vital to make house complete, but if the foundation is faulty, the house will collapse. So we can say the foundation is of first importance to the house and all its rooms. For Paul the foundation is this: Justification. The text is saying that the core issue for our lives, the issue of first importance for you and me is justification.

As we work through this passage we’re are going to see two points. The first is that you and I have a major problem – we can’t justify ourselves by our works. The second is that there’s only one solution – to trust in the One whose work does justify us. Before getting to these points, it’s necessary first to define justification biblically.

On its own, justification means, “right standing.” The way we use the term justify or justification most today is in the realm of psychology. It has to do with trying to explain or defend wrong actions. Another term is rationalization. A friend told me a story of a four year-old who threw rocks at his younger sister. When his parents asked why he did it, he said “the evil things inside of me said ‘I have a good idea!’” He was only four and that was a more brilliant response than I could ever come up with even now in all my wisdom and experience. What was he trying to do? He was trying to justify his actions to put himself back in a position of “right standing” with his parents.

But the Bible speaks of justification on much different terms. First, justification is applied to our relationship with God so it deals with right standing before God. Second, it’s a legal term, a term that’s used in law courts. So it’s as if we are in the law court of God with him as the Judge. Third, justification comes only by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Fourth, justification has a double meaning. Negatively it means being declared not guilty for your sins. It means Christ’s work has pardoned you from the punishment of your sins and they are forgiven. Positively it means Christ’s righteousness is given to you and you are accepted, approved, and loved by God.

Another way that’s helpful to of justification is as the opposite of condemnation. Condemnation means that you are declared guilty, that you deserve punishment and that you receive it because of your sins. You are rejected, disapproved and hated by God. In Scripture, when it comes to standing before God there is either one or the other. You are either justified or condemned. You can’t be both. Two implications should be drawn from this:

He’s not ambivalent
The first implication is that there’s no neutrality, no ambivalence with God. Your life matters to God and He’s not just twiddling his thumbs with lack of care or concern or involvement. He does not just sit back and let you live your life. He created you and you reflect his image on earth. He knows the numbers of hairs on your head. Each and every one of us will go before God and give an account to our Judge for the lives we’ve lived He will know it all. You matter immensely to Him whether or not He matters to you at all. So God isn’t ambivalent.

He’s all in
The second implication is that God is all-in with his judgment of our lives. There is fullness with both justification and condemnation. You are either fully justified or fully condemned. You are either fully accepted or fully rejected. There’s no in-between. God does not accept you with conditions nor does he condemn with them. He doesn’t look at you and say, “well, I’m just not sure about that one…” There are no reservations in God’s decisions, even if you have reservations about Him and say, “well, I’m just not sure about God.”

Okay, with justification defined we can get back to the two points this passage makes. The first is that we have a major problem: We can’t justify ourselves by our works. The passage deals with this by providing a test case. In 4:1 we are introduced to Abraham. Paul has spent quite some time developing his case for justification because it is the core of the gospel message for him. In fact, he began all the way back in 1:18 and will go all the way through chapter 8 striving for a clear, robust understandable meaning of justification. Where we are at is crucial for his argument. This is the first time he’s brought someone from the history of Israel into the argument. A good question to ask then is, “Why Abraham?” Well he mentions here in v. 1 that Abraham is “our forefather according to the flesh and again the one who is “father of us all” in v. 16. Paul is writing to the church in Rome, a ragtag mix of converts to Christianity who came from a variety of backgrounds that were both Jewish and non-Jewish in origin. In any case, all can trace their ancestry back to him. In a very real sense, if what Paul has argued doesn’t work when applied to Abraham, it doesn’t work at all for any of us. That’s why he brings him in here.

Paul says in v. 2, “for if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about.” Now when Paul talks about “works” he is referring to the works of the Jewish Law, which was established after Abraham lived. One scholar says that “The Jewish people looked up to Abraham as the primary example of the pious Jew who kept the law even before it was given.” The Law permeated every aspect of Jewish life and they believed that Abraham upheld it well enough to be justified by God. In other words, Abraham’s actions made him a good person. He would be a guy that we could even look up to today with our own standards of goodness and say “he lived a good life” or “I respect him” or “He’s a good person.” So, according to how we view goodness today, how does Abraham measure up? Was he a really “good man”? Let’s look at this from a number of angles.

Some of us might define a “good person” by their wealth, or we may at least say that that person has “the good life.” Abraham was wealthy and smart business man. Genesis 13:2 tells us he was “very rich” and by the accounts that follow, he’d probably be up there with Bill Gates if he were alive today. At the same time he didn’t horde his wealth. He was willing to give the most plush land to his nephew and he even gave a tenth of all he had to Melchizedek, meaning he tithed to the church!

If we don’t define goodness by just wealth, what about family? Some of us think a good person is one who loves his or her family. Abraham loved his wife and was committed to her, even when she couldn’t bear children, which was a big deal back then. He took her advice, even when it wasn’t the best, and he sought to protect her. When his son Isaac was born, we learn that Abraham loved him deeply. Not only that, but Abraham made sure to take care of his entire “household” which was at least 320 people.

If goodness isn’t just defined by wealth and family, what about leadership? In Genesis 14 we learn that not only was he wealthy and a family man, he was also a warrior where he took 318 men from his household and fought to rescue his nephew Lot. He won the only battle we know he fought. He was a skillful warrior and tactician who led them well. So if wealth, family, and leadership don’t make him good, what about his religion? Genesis 12:1-3 tells us that Abraham was willing to leave everything he knew in order to do what God told him to do and receive what God promised. Passages like this and others make a very strong case that Abraham was obedient to God and listened to what God wanted for his life. So to sum it all this up, Abraham is basically is Bill Gates, Bill Cosby, Maximus, and Billy Graham all rolled up into one person. You get the sense that he could make that elusive perfect cup of coffee Aaron preached about last week and that he could even give Chuck Norris a run for his money. So then we hear the words of Paul, “for if Abraham is justified by works, he has something to boast about?” Based on what we’ve seen it seems like Abraham had something to boast about? He had to be a good person, right?

If that isn’t clear, let me provide another example. Perhaps the best contemporary example we have is Mother Teresa. Saying her name immediately causes reverence and respect. She was world famous without trying to be world famous, successful to the point of receiving a Nobel Peace Prize without trying to receive recognition from anyone, sacrificial beyond our understanding as she served in the slums of Calcutta for decades. Should 2000 years pass, her name will still be written in books much like Abraham’s is here. What about her? Are not her works her boast? It seems so easy for us to say yes. If there is anyone who is good it’s her. She deserves to be justified by God and accepted by him based off of all she’s done.

Now here’s where the crucial question is asked: How do you measure up to Abraham? How do you measure up to Mother Teresa? We look at lives like this and can’t help but compare ourselves. They are such high standards of what we think a good person is and it’s easy to feel guilty, but that only lasts for a little bit, doesn’t it? What do we do? We throw up our hands and say, “Well, I’m no Mother Teresa.” So are we admitting that we aren’t good people? No, because what comes out in the same breath? “…but I’m still a good person.” How do you come to that conclusion? Could it be that instead of comparing yourself to Mother Teresa, you compare yourself to the homeless alcoholic you pass on the street, the Muammar Gaddafi’s of the world, the abusive mom or the coach who takes advantage of young boys he’s been entrusted to protect? Could it be because you say “I’m no Mother Teresa, but I’m sure not like those people.” You live as though you might not have done anything like Mother Teresa to boast about, but you sure as heck have done some small things to boast about which keep you out of the company of “those people” and thus puts you in the company of “good people,” justified before God. Or are you?

Look at what Paul says again, “for if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about but…” but what? But not before God. Here’s the crux of the problem. If we look closely at what Paul is saying here we see that even Mother Teresa can’t be Mother Teresa and Abraham can’t be Abraham! In reality Mother Teresa could never be the woman we think she is nor could Abraham be the man the Jews thought he was.

The problem is we’ve mixed up that psychological definition of justification with the biblical one. We compare ourselves with others and try to find a way to justify ourselves before them and think that will work before God. The biblical definition clearly shows that neither Abraham, nor Mother Teresa, nor we can do this before God. That’s Paul’s point in these first two verses. Abraham’s works can’t justify him before God and therefore neither can ours. This is our major problem. So what can we do? Can we do anything? Paul begins to show the solution in verse 3 to show in fact that Abraham was justified, just not in the way we think as he quotes Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Now we come to the second point where we see that there’s only one solution. Paul gives us the solution through contrast in vv. 4-5. He moves to build off what he means by v. 3 by focusing on this word “counted.” This is language of the marketplace and here he is giving two situations.

Productive Laborers
First, look at v. 4. What does he say? Paul writes, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift, but as his due.” He says if you work you get compensated. It’s as simple as that. He recognizes the transactional nature of work. It’s not a gift to get paid to do your work. On payday you’re not looking at your check saying, “What??? What’s this??? I’m getting paid???” You don’t start balling, crying “What a gift! What generosity!” The term “counted” means something credited to your account for what you are owed. It’s looking at your bank account and seeing the direct deposit go through for teaching the past couple weeks. You get the idea. In short, Paul is talking about someone who is a productive laborer. What do I mean by a productive laborer? Well it is simply someone who is a productive member of society, somebody who contributes to the maintenance and building up of society and in turn gets compensated in some fashion. This is common sense to us. This is how we are raised. Nearly everything we do when being raised reinforces the notion of being a productive laborer. And this is tied to our boasting. So parents boast of their baby before she can even boast in herself. “Potty trained already! Smartest child in the world!” Then, as kids get older it’s report cards that boast you can produce at the next level of school. Then in high school it’s extra-curricular activities combined with your report card that boast you can cut it in college. Then in college it’s all these that boast you can make it in the “real world.” All the while you develop a morality that says “I’m a good person because I’m a productive laborer.” This is reinforced so much in our lives that it seems like the logical next step to apply it to God. We think, “God – here is what I’ve done. Here is the job I held, here are the friends I had, here is how I volunteered, here is what I created. Here is how I stayed out of trouble and yeah, here’s how I got in trouble, but it’s not that bad because I’m still a productive laborer. I’m a good person. Therefore, God, give me what you owe me.” Sure, God is loving and accepting, but does that mean God is in your debt? Does God really owe you his love and his acceptance, based on what you’ve done? If so, what kind of God is that? An employer? Who would want a God like that? Some of you believe this with your friends, that if you do enough for them they owe you their love. For some of you it’s the same way with your parents.  How does it feel? It sucks. It’s painful. It’s draining. It’s such a burden, isn’t it? We don’t even want parents or friends like that, why would we ever want to have a relationship with a God like that? Thankfully that is not the God of the Bible. Paul shows us another way.

Paralytic lawbreakers
In v. 5 Paul writes, “And to the one who does not work.” Did you catch that? DOES NOT WORK. Perhaps this isn’t as shocking given what we’ve already seen in v. 4. But it still serves to emphasize what he’s said already. He goes on, “And to the one who does not work, but trusts him who justifies the ungodly his faith is counted as righteousness.” The best way to illustrate this is to look at a particular episode in the life of Jesus. Mark, a writer of one of the four gospels, writes of a time when Jesus was at home preaching. By this time Jesus was famous for both his preaching and his healing, so the place was packed to the point that nobody could enter through the door. Up comes a paralytic being carried on a bed by his four top dudes. They see it’s too packed, but they are so determined to bring their friend to Jesus that they go on the roof, removing a part of it so they could lower him down. Imagine being the person lowered from the roof and being set before Jesus. The entire crowd is looking at you. You have no place to go and even more serious is the fact that you are incapable of going anywhere. You’re looking up at him and the whole crowed is looking down at you. What do you want Jesus to do in that moment? I know what I would want. “Heal me Jesus! Make me walk!” But what happens? Jesus looks at him and his friends, sees their faith, and says “My son, your sins are forgiven.” For us this might not seem like a big deal. They just seem like words. Anybody can say that. For us we say, “Everyone sins…it’s no big deal.” Jesus acknowledges the ease of saying it, but fact is, sin is a huge deal. It’s against God’s law, a punishable offense against the sinless, perfect, holy God where just one sin deserves his wrath. It’s easy to say, “your sins are forgiven,” but only God can truly accomplish that. It’s such a crazy thing to say that some Jewish leaders in the room began to question him. Jesus then, knowing the magnitude of what he said and knowing the hearts of those who questioned him, challenges them. Do you not believe I have the authority to both say and do this? He tells them, “so that you know I have the authority on earth to forgive sins…” then he looks at the paralytic and says to him “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” Mark says that the paralytic who just moments before needed to be carried on a bid rose immediately, carried his own bed and obeyed Jesus.

What’s the point? The point is that you’re not a productive laborer before your employer God who can earn your justification. Rather, you’re like this man, a paralytic lawbreaker before your holy God who deserves condemnation! It means you’re in no position to do the work necessary to be made right with God. You’re paralyzed before Him, meaning you have no ability to do anything. And you’re a lawbreaker meaning you rebel against Him and never want to do anything. Moreover, even if you do have the ability, you don’t want to do the work and even if you wanted to do the work, you don’t have the ability. In other words, it’s impossible. We all are, as Paul puts it, “ungodly.” So how then are you and I justified?

Let’s look at this story more closely. Notice what Jesus does. He doesn’t immediately heal the man physically. He healed the man’s sinful life by forgiving his sins. The man was a lawbreaker against God and needed forgiveness or he would be punished. Contrary to the thoughts of others and perhaps your thoughts, this was the man’s primary need. He didn’t primarily need food or shelter and he didn’t even need to be healed physically. He needed to have his sins forgiven because they separated him forever from God. And though much has changed over 2000 years, this primary need has remained the same. It doesn’t matter when or where you grew up. It doesn’t matter how many opportunities you had for success growing up. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done with your life up to now – your need is the same as this man’s. Maslow was dead wrong. The most fundamental issue in your life is being justified by God. Jesus knew this so while the man, his friends, and everyone around him may have expected physical healing, Jesus instead decided to first meet his most basic need – the forgiveness of his sins.

I got an e-mail this week from a friend in his early 60s who’s not a Christian, but has been searching for at least 8 years which was when I first started getting to know him. I asked him how this journey is going and he wrote back, “I think the best news I’ve received in recent years…is that we must accept God on his terms and not our own. This makes sense to me more than anything ‘man made.’” This is such an important insight. We don’t see the paralytic’s response, but in the very least we don’t see him say, “What? You’re just gonna forgive my sins? I thought you were a healer, a miracle worker. I got jipped Jesus.” We don’t see that. This means the man accepted Jesus on Jesus’ terms, not his own. Are you willing to accept God on his terms and not your own?

You might still ask, “What are God’s terms? Isn’t his standard high? But what does Paul say? “And to the one who does not work, but trust Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” How does God justify the ungodly? He lays it out plainly later on when he writes, “For if while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Christ didn’t die for nothing or nobody. He died for you. Paul also spells it out earlier when he writes, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:22b-25). You hear that? Justification comes by grace as a gift through faith! Do you see what God’s terms are? Trust. You know what your only job is? Trust. The good news is that God doesn’t want your righteousness, just your trust in His Son’s righteousness and it will be given to you. Paul is surrounding our passage with these beautiful words to show that Christ has done all the work already. It’s finished. It’s only by faith in the good work of Jesus Christ on the Cross that we are justified. Try, try, try as you might to stand, to walk, to run, to dance before God to show off all you can do and see that you don’t even have the ability to move your big toe. You’re paralyzed. He just wants your trust. And then ask, really ask, even if you could do something, anything, would it really be for God at all? You’re a lawbreaker. He just wants your trust. Justification is “by his grace as a gift.” We deserve nothing but punishment, but he forgives us completely; we deserve nothing but rejection, but he accepts us fully, without reservations. We are unrighteous, but we are declared “righteous” because we have been given Christ’s righteousness. That’s such unfathomable, rich, abundant grace. That’s justification.

So we’ve have a major problem in that it’s impossible to justify ourselves by our own works. Yet we also know the only solution is to trust in Christ’s work to justify us. This is the heart of the gospel. It’s the issue of first importance. Some of you today need to stop trying to be productive laborers, running the futile race in this world that may seem to get you countless places, but nowhere with God. Open your eyes and see that you’re just a paralyzed lawbreaker laying there before the Cross and trust in Him who justifies the ungodly.

And still there are some of you that have forgotten this truth. You still think sometimes that you have to earn God’s acceptance. You sometimes believe the lie that you are condemned by God when you do wrong. You sometimes think you’ve ruined your relationship with God by what you’ve done or not done. You sometimes think God’s commitment to you wavers depending on what you do. Remember that you matter to God infinitely more than He matters to you. He is all in with you in a way that you can never be with Him. You need to remember this gift of grace you’ve received. You need to pull it out from the corner you hid it in, wipe the dust off and grip on to it with all your might, remembering what Christ has done for you. You can do nothing more. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You can’t ruin Christ’s work because it’s finished forever. You’re fully accepted. You’re fully approved. You’re fully loved by God. You’re justified and just as you have no power to make that happen, you have no power to destroy it either. Trust in Christ and receive the news of your justification with joy just as Paul writes, quoting David who’s so happy in the truth of his justification:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven
                 and whose sins are covered;
            Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:6-8)

By His Grace.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Huge Announcement

There comes a time in every man's life when he must grow up and move on. This year is marking much of that reality for me. In January I still had a full year to go in school and no real next step for after school. I had an idea, but it was faint and fleeting. Had I come all this way at Trinity - learned two dead languages, taught how to preach more effectively, developed a love for theology and certain theologians, fostered an ability to ask the right questions, was given the tools to attempt to answer those questions, etc. -- and not come out on the other side with a role or position to actually apply all this wonderful training?

This is the question that pops up regularly. The conversation goes:

"When do you finish school?"
"It's looking like it'll be December?"
"Oh that's great! Congrats! What's next, then?"
"Next? What do you mean next? I'm supposed to do something after Trinity? I...I don't know."
"Oh...something will happen, I'm sure."
"Thanks for the reassurance."

Back in April I began inquiring about some opportunities, but was left with nothing. Then summer hit and I battled my way through two fairly difficult summer classes while taking some opportunities to preach and also cultivating the budding relationship I am currently in (which is just plain fantastic). As my second summer class began an opportunity popped up in a very unlikely place to work at a church in a pastoral role I felt ill-suited to perform effectively. However, thanks to a close friend, I was encouraged to pursue it. What's the worst that could happen, right?

After sending in my resume, answers to a few mock scenarios, and several phone conversations, I was flown out to the church in order to meet everyone in person and do a series of interviews there. I reconnected with the close friend who encouraged me to pursue the job, saw the church and how everything functioned, met the pastor who I would be working under, and saw the sites of this wonderful city. I returned home not knowing if I had the job, but that was okay; by this point I was thrilled to have gotten this far. Meanwhile, another job was offered to me in a way that took me completely by surprise. So, if you're keeping track, by September of this year I had two very solid job opportunities before me, one offered and the other likely, when as late as July I had no idea what was next!

To make an already long story short, I ended up turning down the job that was first offered to me to take the job at the church that was eventually offered to me in the middle of September.

This is the sweet building for MHUD,
located near The Ave, which is the heart
 of the social life for the University of
So at the end of December, after Christmas, I will pack my car and begin the drive to Seattle to work at Mars Hill Church! More specifically, my role will be Executive Deacon (akin to an Executive Pastor, but I have to go through the eldership process first) of Mars Hill U-District (U-District stands for "University District" because of the University of Washington) where I will serve under Lead Pastor, Matt Jensen, and will be reunited with that close friend and former boss in CRU, Jimmy Trent.

In straight-up, legit honesty this role is an answer to prayer. When I was asked about next steps I thought of my ideal situation that would include a mixture of using my training and developing more tools which focus on the so-called "business" side of church. This role allows me that opportunity. Furthermore, I wanted something that would stretch me and leave me in a position to rely regularly on Christ and not my own strength. Again, though I may be gifted in some areas for this job, on the whole I feel very inadequate. This is a role that I believe will lead me to a place of greater humility and dependence on God while I get to serve His people and watch Him continually do amazing things through Mars Hill by His Spirit.

I graduate December 16th. I begin my drive December 27th. I begin my job December 30th. Whirlwind. So for now, with three classes finished an only two more left, I am beginning some major transition with school, with friends, with church. If you pray to God through Jesus Christ, please pray for all that will go down over the next two-plus months. This is huge and I have a feeling there's still more to come before I leave...

By His Grace.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My New Wedding Dance

This will easily be the dance I do at the next wedding I go to. No problem, right?

(HT: Timmy Brister)

By His Grace.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Can You Get This Right?

I was able to get the right number of passes right the first time. Can you???

What effects does this have on how we learn?

By His Grace.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sermon: Remember Our Future in Christ

'Twas a joy to preach at The Line yesterday. My text was Hebrews 10:32-39 and the big idea of the message was: In order to persevere to the end of this life, we must remember our future in Christ.

Here's it is for your listening pleasure and worship: Remember Our Future in Christ (to download: right click the link and chose "save link as")

By His Grace.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Evolution, Adam & Jesus Christ: My Thoughts on NPR's Intriguing Profile

Today I posted on Facebook and Twitter a story on NPR that profiled the battle between evangelicals on the issue of the historical existence of Adam and Eve. First I want to say that I appreciated the balanced presentation of the story. No side seemed to be favored and a good guys vs. bad guys tone was avoided. Take the time to read/listen to it. Several folk have asked for my response. Below is a smattering of thoughts, a fairly unorganized list of what I think.
  1. Dennis Venema's argues that the historicity of Adam and Eve is dependent upon a "literal" reading of the Bible. He says that, "if you read the Bible as poetry and allegory as well as history, you can see God's hand in nature — and in evolution." He says that other readings allow for a "better understanding" which would lead to a rejection of their existence. Now I think he makes a good point.  I agree that the Bible has different genres. I think the Bible is filled with narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, and in places, allegory. But does that mean those genres aren't also "literal?" Can't one claim that Paul believed in a literal, historical Hagar and Sarah yet also used them develop an "allegory" (see Gal 4:22-33). The Psalms and the prophets rooted many of their poetic words in historical, "literal" situations. So I'm not quite sure what he means by literal. Does he mean holding the Bible as a historical document? His terminology is more combative than helpful.
  2. Venema's point also reveals his interpretive lens. His emphasis on evolution leads him to this conclusion:    
    To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, "You would have to postulate that there's been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.
    What this communicates to me is that God is not in control. In fact, from his perspective it seems the possibility of getting down to two ancestors is just as likely as, say, someone raising from the dead (cf. Luke 16:16-30).
  3. I don't think this is a "Galileo Moment" as Karl Gibberson claims. What the Catholic Church did to Galileo is perplexing and is a black mark on the history of the Church, but the entirety of Scripture is not built on the notion that the earth is the center of the universe. The weight of this issue is much greater. The reality of sin and God's answer for that does not rest on the centrality of the earth, but on Jesus Christ.
  4. I agree with Dan Harlow that "This stuff is unavoidable." Developments in science and history have always been unavoidable, though history also tells us that Christianity has tried. The controversy over inerrancy of the Bible in light of the rise of evolution presented the challenge to Christians around the world to either engage or disengage. I do think today we should not look back to Galileo, but to that controversy and others since to see how willing we are as evangelicals to thoughtfully engage culture while also thoughtfully engaging Scripture.
  5. Today science is "fact" and by the standards of many cannot be questioned. Therefore the lens through which we see the Bible has shifted to that of biology, physics, and genetics. It has become for a growing number of evangelicals the first step on the path of getting a better understanding of the Bible. I have to admit that this lens has affected me more deeply than I realize. For example, though I claim theologically that miracles still do occur today, my deep-seated skepticism due to my learning of scientific laws and principles hinders a sincere belief immensely. Now I do not want to downplay science because it has been a great aid in many aspects of life, I merely want to suggest that my reading of the Bible is already colored because of science.
  6. I want to have intellectual integrity, for sure, and this will always keep me exploring, but I also want to submit that more to the worship of the God who exists and redeemed me through Christ. I have to be careful with what I say here because it may come across as if I am willing to "bury my head in the sand" as Harlow puts it for the sake of holding my theological convictions together. But again I turn to the resurrection of Christ. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15 are vital here. He writes:
    For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and  you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 
    But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
  7. Paul was no slouch. His letter to the Romans was once taught in law schools around the country. And here all of it ties together. Are Paul's words poetry here? Is this really allegory? Paul brings it all into clear focus. Death in our sins is a result of the Fall of a historical Adam, according to Paul. The answer is the physical death and bodily resurrection of the historical Christ to make us alive in the word's fullest sense. If it is not clear by now, the lens I choose to see the historical reality of Adam and Eve is the historical reality of Jesus Christ. Though there are some caveats and nuances, I believe the Bible calls Christians to begin with Christ. So in a sense, though I want to be aware and engaged in the conversation, I think the approach is flawed.
  8. Finally, from a literary and historical standpoint, there is a framework that holds Christianity together. In short, without a historical Adam and Eve, there is no historical Fall, there is no historical good and sin, there is no historical need for redemption, there is no historical need for God to become man, there is no historical need for Jesus to die, there is no historical resurrection, there is no historical ascension. The Bible and thus history from the Bible's perspective falls apart.
Anything to add or challenge?

By His Grace.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Most Amazing Meal Ever: Audio and Q & A

As promised, the audio from my most recent sermon is now available. I also took about 20 minutes after the sermon to answer some questions. You should check those out too. Finally, I'm also providing a link to the manuscript should you like to read it as well.

I do hope that this all ministers to you and points you to Christ.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Most Amazing Meal Ever

Below is the manuscript of the most recent sermon I preached at The Line. I'm gonna admit, it is really long. I will not even try to make up some notion that it's so riveting that you'll want to read the 5,000 words. But I have space. It's free. So it's here. The audio should follow soon. The format is a bit off here, but I'm sure your eyes can manage.

1 Corinthians 11:17-29
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! 

 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 

 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

I’d just woken up from a glorious nap on May 1st when I received the text from David. My heart immediately started racing. “Interested in having some amazing food tonight?" it said. "We just got reservations from Next and need one more.” In that moment my phone somehow turned into a fish as I fumbled it around trying to text him back. I texted back one word: “What???” You see, Next is a new restaurant here in Chicago and is the brainchild of the already highly successful chef Grant Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas. Achatz is considered by many as one of the top chefs in the world. His first restaurant, Alinea, which he opened back in 2006 in Lincoln Park, is now considered the top restaurant in America and one of the top 10 in the world. The idea for Next is to change the menu regularly, but in an innovative way. Instead of changing it from something like Mediterranean to Asian, the focus is much more precise. For example, the first menu, the one which we got to eat, was an updated version of what a fine meal in 1906 Paris would have been like. Needless to say, I was thrilled to grub on this first-class food with some great friends.

The next day I was so blown away I even journaled about it. In the days that followed I couldn’t help but tell my friends and anyone who would listen about what we’d just experienced. I told them that the meal was life-changing, that this was how it should be, that it was a foretaste of things to come in God’s kingdom. Many of my foodie friends were excited for and jealous of me. Many of my other friends just didn’t care that much and thought I was exaggerating. Either way, I had pics. Lots of sweet pics to show them each course and to try to explain, as best I could, what each item was. But I have to admit that I had no idea what I was talking about; the menu, even to this day, is a mystery to me. On top of that, I’m not sure I would even have the words to describe what happened that night. To me, it honestly was an experience that transcended understanding.

Haven’t you had an experience like this before? You know what I’m talking about, right? Where it all seemed to come together just right. You were with friends or the people you care about the most. The atmosphere is filled with joy and laughter, but at center stage of it all was the food. It’s even a meal you might still brag about to this day.

I have another question. When I say the Lord’s Supper, what comes to mind? Some of you are like me. What you think about reminds you of when you were little and had to go through all those First Communion classes. You remember the long, drawn-out formality of it all. Each week in church was just another ritual though you remember getting to drink wine as a kid and feeling cool about that. Some of you remember it differently. It happened every so often, maybe once a month or even less than that. The sermon was shorter than usual to accommodate the shift. You passed the plate with little tiny wafers and a small plastic cup of Welch’s grape juice, or if your church was poor you had that off brand that didn’t really taste all that grape-like. Perhaps your only experience with the Lord’s Supper is a non-experience; you’ve never actually been to church or had it before. Point is there’s most likely a huge disparity in your minds between that meal you brag about to this day and the one we celebrate every Sunday here. Why is that?

If I’m right, then we’re all coming here this morning with some confusion and misconceptions I hope to change some of that today. What I’ve sincerely prayed for you to see today is how vital the Lord’s Supper is for our everyday lives, both for our personal identity as Christians and for our community as a whole. I’m not gonna be able to expound on every detail of the Lord’s Supper, but only that which I think pertains to where our church is today and what I believe the Lord has given me to share with you all this morning. If some questions remain – and they undoubtedly will – I’m more than happy to talk afterward or answer some during the Q & A. Now let’s get into the text. I’m gonna re-read vv. 17-22

THE LORD’S SUPPER DOES NOT CAUSE DIVISION. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, contrary to much talk about it being the letter to a “Church Gone Wild,” does have some bright spots. Paul hints at this in 11:2, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” So there are some good moments. But this isn’t one of them. Some have called this an early perversion of the agape meal or “love feast,” which was like a private gathering of believers over a meal, but that’s not the case here. Basically what was happening is that they would gather together as a church, meaning this was supposed to be a time specifically dedicated for worship of the Lord, much like we are doing today. This would be in someone’s house who was typically wealthy and could own a home. When it was time for the Lord’s Supper, he would host the meal according to the cultural customs of the day. Now the home had what was called a triclinium, or a dining room that seated about 8-10 people. It also had an atrium leading into the dining room that could hold about 30 people at most if all stood. The custom of the day established that the wealthier or higher esteemed people would have the right and perhaps duty to go sit in the dining room. Once that filled up, everyone else was left out in the atrium. Furthermore, it was customary to eat as much as they could before giving anything else to the lower class folk. It was a meal of deep division, a meal that clearly revealed the “have’s” and the “have nots” And this is what they were calling the Lord’s Supper. Because they chose to follow their culture it became a meal of selfishness and greed.

This is why Paul calls them out so fiercely and says the even though there are some things he can commend them for, this particular aspect of their gathering he surely can’t.

Now, we live in a city much like Corinth, a city of haves and have nots. This is pretty easy to see just by taking the El or walking the streets. It’s a beautiful city, don’t get me wrong, but one with much division. We see it, for example, in the way the city is segregated. As one This American Life episode states it, “Whites on the northside, blacks on the southside, and Hispanics on the Westside.”  Now that’s just one of many examples. Here Paul confronts the reality that even the church – even a small church like the young one in Corinth – can be a place of haves and have nots. But what’s also implied in his words are that wherever you may find this in the city – its segregation, its politics, its wealth, its food – wherever, you should not be able to trace it even one bit in the church of God and this becomes even truer when celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Now I say this only as a warning. We are a small church. We are a young church. We’ve dealt with our share of struggles and God has been so faithful to carry us through them. But division, like this one in Corinth, is something we haven’t gone through. That’s not to say it can’t happen or that it won’t, but I’ve heard too many stories of churches being split over dumb things, like the color of the carpet. Seeing as how we don’t have carpet here, we might be okay. And this is why understanding the true nature of the Lord’s Supper is so important, because as Paul goes on to explain, it’s not a meal taken out of selfishness or greed, but one that is “for you,” one that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ and one that unites the church.

Now Paul moves on to how the Lord’s Supper is supposed to really be. Let me read them. Vv. 23-26 are short in length but much writing, conversation, and ironically division has occurred throughout the centuries over what they mean. I should say it is more vv. 23-25. Regardless, these verses show that there are at least three components to this meal.

COMPONENT 1 - TRADITION: The first component is in v. 23 and it’s tradition. I don’t want to belittle the Lord’s Supper in any way, but this can be considered a family recipe if you will. In our family it would be my grandma’s lasagna or my Zizi’s homemade pasta sauce. You know, where it’s been passed down for generations; you have to follow the exact recipe; there’s always someone’s name attached to it like Papa Nino or something like that. Well Paul says that he received this ‘recipe’ “from the Lord” meaning that it was given to him by Jesus or, as some scholars maintain, as a tradition, perhaps one of the traditions mentioned in 11:2. So it is something of importance either because Jesus himself gave it to Paul or because it was being practiced in the church early on. But he didn’t just keep the family recipe. He passed it on. He delivered it to the church in Corinth. This language is very similar also to another important passing on, that of 15:3-6, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” Essentially, this was a core teaching of Paul to the church in Corinth – the gospel! This gospel points to the person and work of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross that is “for our sins.” Along with it too is another core teaching of Paul to the church in Corinth – the Lord’s Supper. It also focuses on Jesus Christ, his death and it is a meal that is “for you.” So what I mean by a family recipe is that it is both something that is passed down from generation to generation and that it is also something very important to our identity as the Christian church or as God’s family. Furthermore, it points to the very originator of that recipe. The tradition we’ve receive now in Scripture points to Christ. It’s the Lord’s Supper.

COMPONENT 2 – REMEMBRANCE: So the first component is that it is passed down, or it’s tradition. This is in part what Paul means by, “do this in remembrance of me,” which is our second component. Immediately, the question we face is, “how?” “How do we do this in remembrance?” Or even “how do we remember?”

First it’s good to say what remembrance is not. Remembrance is not used here or anywhere else in the Bible as mere recollection. It is not referring to a notion of acknowledging the past and moving on as if it has absolutely no bearing on today. Instead, remembrance biblically is tied to action. Let me give a few examples. First, the meal that Jesus and his disciples were sharing the night he was betrayed was the Passover meal, the annual meal given by God (almost like a family recipe) to remind Israel of all He had done for them in Egypt, especially how he passed over their houses, saving them while judging Egypt. It was a meal of celebration, but one also tied to the act of worship. Or how about following God’s commands. They are tied to remembering who he is and what he has done. Moses told Israel, “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deut. 8:1-2). So obedience is tied to remembrance. And then there’s Peter, who, after he denied Jesus, remembered what he said, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times” (Mark 14:72). What did Peter do? He broke down. He wept. He repented. So repentance is tied to remembrance. These are biblical examples, but you can think it this way: The memory of food leads to action today. My auntie – yes I seriously call her my auntie – will not eat Butterfingers to this day because of a bad experience had with them when she was a kid. To this day she won’t tell me what happened. She remembers so strongly that she chooses not to eat. So the point is when we remember Christ in the Lord’s Supper, it’s not just a recalling of what he did in the past and acknowledging it and leaving it there, but it’s a remembering that calls us to action. It is a meal that leads to worship of him who died, was buried and rose from the dead, it’s a meal to be thankful for what he did, to repent of how we have sinned against him, and to be obedient to him.

Now, I want to dig deeper into remembrance because I think it’s that important. What I just said is part of remembrance in the broader idea of what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called “narrative identity.” What this essentially means is that true remembrance carries with it an entire story for you and me, or plot, that flows from past to present and then to future. Theologian Anthony Thiselton develops this further and what I’m about to say follows his thought, but it’s in my own words.

Past & Present: The first is the narrative identity of past and present. We’ve already hinted at this, but it’s worth hashing out more. Bottom line is that when we take of the bread and wine today, it binds us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the past. When we read the tradition, we see that it’s given in the present tense: “This is my body for you.” The exact meaning of these words has been debated for a long time, but it’s important not to focus on that. In the very least, what we see is that the present tense in these words for the Lord’s Supper binds us to the past event of his death. In other words, it unites us with Christ and identifies us with Him who is alive, risen today, and present with us by His Spirit! Paul writes with this idea in mind in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ (past tense). It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (present tense). And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). Notice how personal it is. Paul writes this specifically about his life. Do you see how tightly our lives are wrapped up in Christ? This is how it is for each of you if you believe the gospel. Furthermore, this is not just about personal identity, but corporate. When we come to the table, we remember not only that Christ died for us individually, but for the entire church of God. Again, Paul in Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). We – all of us who call on His name – are bound together as one body to Christ. More on this in a little bit.

Future: And not only the past and present, but this remembrance carries with it the narrative identity of the future. Verse 25 says that we drink of the cup of the new covenant established in Jesus blood. Jesus, when he instituted the Lord’s Supper, said this with reference to the cup: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29). Jesus’ words envision a day that still has not come. So it is a meal that not only looks back and not only looks at the present, but anticipates the future. It is a meal that anxiously anticipates the consummation of all things, the restoration of all things, the return of our Lord and Savior and the coming of God’s kingdom. It is a meal that anticipates the great feast we will have with Jesus!

So the biblical notion of remembrance is, in short, robust! It is the beautiful, unchanging story of Christ, His gospel, and our identity is caught up in it. We also see here how Jesus completely turns Passover on its head. The Passover meal celebrated that God passed over Israel to rescue them to destroy the houses of Egypt who were judged. But the meal Jesus institutes shows that God has passed over us who deserve judgment to destroy His One True Son so that we may be rescued. This the remembrance we are called to each time we take the Lord’s Supper.

COMPONENT 3 – PROCLAMATION: And while we wait, while we hope for Christ to return, the Lord’s Supper has yet another component - proclamation. Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Again, it’s good to say what this isn’t. By proclaim, Paul is not merely referring to us being broadcasters of the news, where the Lord’s Supper serves as a means for us tell of the event of Christ’s death while we remain detatched from it. We are in a sense broadcasters, but we must see it on the heels of the robust remembrance of the meal. So, we are not only broadcasters, but participants in Christ’s death who also share in His life. This is where each one of us is the preacher who announces to each other and to the world all Christ has done for us, continues to do for us, and will do for us until he comes! This is where each one of us gets the joyful opportunity to tell people about Jesus, his gospel, and invite them to this meal he’s prepared.

So the Lord’s Supper has at least three major components to it: tradition, remembrance and proclamation.

Now in vv. 27-29, Paul moves to make offer some thoughts based off of what he just said. Let me read these bad boys. The major conclusion that I see in these words is that this is not a meal of strife but of unity.

Almost nothing can ruin a good meal like strife. Spouses may be able to forgive a hot pasta gone cold, tasty bread gone burnt, or a delicious recipe just gone plain wrong. If the relationship is good and thriving, the meal will still, in some small way, be good. You’ll be able to have conversation. To smile at and enjoy each other. But a meal, no matter how good, can become tasteless and pointless when there is strife or bitterness or anger at the dinner table. I think we’ve all had this experience before. Eating dinner right after a big fight. Attitudes are cold while the hot steam of a well-prepared pot roast wafts through your nose as it comes up before your eyes, ready to be eaten. The problem is you can’t look at each another and it’s almost as if each mouthful functions as an excuse to remain silent and unforgiving. The meal then only becomes utilitarian, its only purpose is to fill up the stomach and provide energy. This is why we “examine ourselves” and “discern the body” because, like I said, it’s not a meal of strife but of unity and we see this unity in two ways. The first is unity with Christ.

UNITY WITH CHRIST:  What does Paul mean by “an unworthy manner” and being “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord?” Paul is concerned with the attitude and heart of the believer here in light of what he just said regarding the Lord’s Supper. We stand before Christ guilty if we come to the able as one’s who claim identification with him, but have no regard for what this meal actually proclaims. Now most people who come to the table do claim identification with Christ; pretty much every week most, if not all of us, approach the tables in this room and eat the bread and drink the cup. So how then can we still profane the body and blood? I think by sheer unbelief, because while we may claim identification with Christ on the surface, we lack the firm conviction of our identity in Christ Every week there’s a point in the service where we individually take time to confess our sins silently in our hearts. We also confess church. But I know there are times where some of us:

Come to the table with the lax attitude. We are distracted in the moment or we do not see how this aspect of the service relates to the rest of the service or our lives throughout the week.

Come to the table with heavy hearts. We are overwhelmed by our own guilt. We come to church struggling and try to hide it. We think that there’s no way we can be forgiven our sin and not even taking the bread & cup can change that.

Both downplay Christ’s work. What is common between the lax individual and the burdened individual is that both downplay Christ’s sacrificial death and what is offered at the Lord’s Supper. Here, you must know that Jesus is at the table extending his hand of love, grace, forgiveness and acceptance.  “This is my body which is for you.” Now this is combated by genuinely “examining ourselves.” There are at least two ways I can think of for how this can be done.

First combat: The first combat is to just come to the table! In short, an “unworthy manner” can simply mean that we are believing Christ is not “worthy” of us to receive the bread and cup. Wherever your heart may be this morning, whether you’re distracted and don’t care or if you feel too guilty to go to the table, that’s for you to genuinely examine in your heart. And when you do, confess that to Christ who is truly worthy because of who he is and what he’s done for you and come.

Second combat: Second, examine yourself not just here on Sunday, but throughout the week. Here’s a question to ask yourself each day: Am I holding fast to gospel truths? The truth that Christ died and was raised from the dead to forgive my sins; that I stand before God declared “not guilty” because of Christ; that his goodness and righteousness cover me; that I am not condemned; that God’s Spirit dwells in me just as much on Monday as on Saturday; that I am a child of God? The Lord’s Supper on Sunday serves powerfully to reorient us to focus on these truths Monday through Saturday.

UNITY WITH ONE ANOTHER: So the first unity is with Christ. The second is with one another as we consider what “discerning the body” means. It may also seem a bit ambiguous, but it has major ramifications. Paul’s words should not be taken lightly. More specifically we should be asking “what exactly is ‘the body’ that we are to discern?” Well Paul provides the answer earlier in this letter when he writes, “I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The body, then is two-fold, but can’t be separated. When we come to the table we are participating in the body of Christ – more specifically the person and work of Jesus as we’ve talked about. But also, and here is what I want to emphasize, we are participating as the body of Christ – meaning that we are all together united to him as one body. Paul writes elsewhere, “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.” As one contemporary author puts it, this meal has “community-making power.”

This is in part why we’ve switched up the liturgy a little bit during communion. We realized that by going to the table alone with just the bread and the cup before you, it was still in some sense an isolated event. We have chosen instead to have Cord members serve the bread and the wine or juice to reflect more accurately our desire to show that this meal has community making power. It is a beautiful thing to look at your brother or sister in Christ as you hear them say to you, “The body of Christ broken for you” and “The blood of Christ shed for you.” We are truly blessed to share this meal each week together as a family. But what about when we’re in conflict with one another?

Let’s go back to the original analogy. You’re at the table with someone you care about deeply, but even as the meal is before you, it is hard to eat properly because of the hurt, pain, and sin and you can’t even look each other in the face. So let me ask this, if we’re about to claim our unity with Christ as I just talked about and fix our eyes on him during this Lord’s Supper, does it not follow that we should be seeking to do whatever it takes to seek unity with one another so we can look each other in the eye? In the words of Paul, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. The gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives makes us individually God’s chosen ones, makes us holy, makes us loved by God. It unites us to Christ and we see this in the Lord’s Supper. But we also see that this supper is community-making with each other and can help to resolve conflict!

There is no division in this meal. If you’re bringing unforgiving hearts to church this morning, the Lord’s Supper beckons you to forgive one another and be reconciled. If you’re not loving one another, it calls you to love. If you’re fighting with one another, it constrains you to seek peace. Thus this meal is not of strife, but unity, both with Christ and with each other.

Let me end by going back to the beginning. I’ve looked back on that night at Next quite a bit. I am honestly still telling people about that meal and probably will for years to come. It truly was amazing. But as I prepared for this sermon I had to see that meal in light of an even more amazing one – this simple meal of bread and wine that we get to partake in today. It dawned on me then this fact: No matter how hard Grant Achatz or any chef works, no matter how innovate or creative they are, no matter how much they pursue making the perfect meal – this is the one meal none of them in their wildest imaginations could ever prepare. And on the flipside, as a lover of food – and by this I mean whether it’s Charlie Trotters or Chick-Fil-A, Graham Elliot or Golden Nugget, Moto or McDonald’s – no matter how many obscure or plain foods you’ve tried, no matter how many restaurants you’ve been to, no matter how refined your palate may be, this is the meal you’ve been longing for your whole life.

Now we get to celebrate as a close family, children of the Most High God, our Lord Jesus Christ and The most amazing meal ever prepared for us.

By His Grace.