Tag Archives: faith

Communion

communionI grew up in a very “low church” worship environment.  Our Nazarene Manual directed us to receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter and, apparently, we saw that as a maximum rather than minimum frequency.   As a young pastor I followed that same schedule but over time I moved to a monthly observance, trying to find a middle way between seeing the sacrament as the featured act of worship at one extreme, and as a mandated add-on at the other extreme.

While I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach in how most churches observe the sacrament I do think that the freedom to vary the emphasis and approach and even mechanics of observing it can be an advantage for less liturgical churches.   Whether or not you agree with me here, I hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful.

Communion is more of a celebration than anything else.  We don’t believe Jesus dies again each time we receive communion and it isn’t only about shed blood and broken body.   Mainly, we’re celebrating the amazing love the Lord has for us.   Jesus willingly went to the cross because “God so loved the world.”  There, on that old rugged cross, he conquered sin and death.  His victory has become mine.  We don’t celebrate the brokenness and bleeding but we do celebrate the reason for it and what it has accomplished in and for us.  “We come today to celebrate the greatest act of love, the most beneficial sacrifice ever accomplished….”

Communion is the perfect platform for inviting people to come to Jesus.  As a young person I somehow had the idea that the Lord’s Supper could be hazardous to one’s health.  We were to examine ourselves and if we had experienced any spiritual failure we might be wise to skip communion that quarter.  Over time I began to understand that, while it was possible to receive communion in an unworthy manner (that is, without showing proper reverence) that, honestly, no one is worthy of receiving these emblems of the Lord’s body and blood.  Had we been worthy, he would have never had to go to the cross in the first place.  With that in mind, I began to see the sacrament as an invitation to Christ.  As I examine my heart and realize that there are spiritual failures I’m not disqualified from the bread and wine.  Rather, I’m being given an opportunity to avail myself of the mercy and grace of the Lord in a fresh way.  If I come, viewing my receiving communion as a substitute for repentance and faith I’m moving into the “unworthy” territory.  If I come seeking forgiveness and restoration, though, I find life in that sacrament.  “The Bible says we’re to examine ourselves before receiving communion.  So let’s do that.  If, as you consider your relationship with the Lord and find that things aren’t what they ought to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive communion today.  Instead, this is an opportunity to make things right with the Lord.  As you receive the bread and wine, receive Jesus into your life all over again.”

Communion is a great way to introduce your child to Jesus.  Honestly, I think our liturgical friends with their emphasis on “first communion” have a great approach.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages to a less structured, low church approach.  As a pastor I allowed parents to bring their children forward to receive communion provided the parent agreed to have a discussion with that child about allowing Jesus to be their Lord and Savior before the day was over.  Symbols are powerful and children can grasp spiritual realities earlier than we might think.  I let parents decide if their children are “there” yet.  “Parents, I’ll let you decide when your children are ready to receive communion.  If you do allow your child to come today, I ask this of you: let’s agree that before this day is over you will sit down with your child and talk about the meaning of communion and how it is that a person places their faith in Jesus.”

Communion ought to be the focus of at least one service a year.  Baptism has been called the “entry sacrament” to our life in Christ.  Communion is the “continuing sacrament.”  One Sunday a year the church service should be all about the Lord’s Supper (World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday of October).   Sing songs about it, read the appropriate scriptures, and preach a sermon that reminds us why we celebrate communion.  Talk about our unity with believers across the ages and in the various traditions of Christianity.  Talk about God’s love for us and Christ’s willingness to die for us.  Remind people of its connection to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Tell them why the Lord’s Supper is called a “means of grace.”  Then, invite people to the table of the Lord.  Pastor, on this Sunday, you do all the serving, taking the role of Jesus, himself.  “Today is World Communion Sunday and we’re going to join Christians of many traditions around the world in receiving communion.  Before we do that though, let’s think about the meaning and purpose of this sacrament of the Church.”

God sometimes colors outside the lines

One of our challenges as God’s people is to know what we believe and why, yet at the same time, allow God to work in ways that, to us, color outside the lines. We aren’t saved by believing all the right things — we’re saved by grace. In the OT story of Jonah he knows for sure that the people of Nineveh are bad people, enemies of God’s people. He doesn’t want to go and warn them of judgment to come because he fears they will repent and escape that judgment. He knows God isn’t like him – that God is compassionate and forgiving…and all Jonah wants is to see Nineveh destroyed.

We can arrive at an understanding of the basics of Christianity and pretty much agree that some things are outside of our faith. We can condemn some beliefs as out and out heretical – and do so for all the right reasons. One result is that we believe we are mandated to take the real gospel to those in that “Nineveh.”

At the same time – and here’s the challenge – we have to remember that believing all the right things is, for some reason, more important to us than it is to God. By his grace he colors outside the lines, accepting people who are on a journey and a long way from arriving at the “right” destination.

I’m glad for God’s grace to me. Sometimes, I’m a bit uncomfortable with his grace to you.

What Nazarenes Believe

One of the first questions people ask about a church is “What do you believe.”  Since I want our alvinnazarene.org website to actually minister and serve as an outreach for the church I made the effort some years ago to put pertinent portions of the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene on the site, under the subject of “Our Faith.”  According to the server logs those pages receive many hits as people search for “What do Nazarenes believe about….”

Recently, our beliefs concerning the Bible have come under scrutiny from a small, but vocal group, so I’ve referred people to our Articles of Faith.  People don’t have to agree with what Nazarenes believe about the Bible, but they ought to be honest enough to not pretend that some denominational leader or pastor is being something less than “Nazarene” for believing exactly what our Manual says.  To attack a Nazarene for believing about the Bible what Nazarenes have believed about the Bible since 1928 is either an indication that one is ignorant about what Nazarenes believe or is somewhat dishonest.  Anyway, you’ll find that information under Article IV here: http://www.alvinnazarene.org/articles-of-faith-faith.html

The main purpose of this post, though, is not to rehash all that tired old stuff.  Rather, as I worked through this section of the church website, updating the information to be sure it meshes with the new 2009-2013 version of the Manual I’m impressed with how complete and well thought out it is.  Our theology is a “thinking man’s theology” and it is no where more clear than in the statements of our Church Manual.

As I think about issues like “Human Sexuality” and “War and Military Service” I’m proud of both my heritage and of the current application of our faith.

You’ll find lots of thoughtful material on how Christians apply Biblical principles to life in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.

http://www.alvinnazarene.org/our-faith-mainmenu.html

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

I’ve been thinking about this command of Jesus: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1).

I have a responsibility, in fact, I am under direct orders from Jesus to “not let” myself be troubled upon hearing bad news. The specific bad news Jesus is talking about is that he was going away. Still, in the face of this bad news, Jesus told the disciples to take control of themselves and stop being troubled and instead to start trusting.

If I willfully ignore this command it could possibly be understood to be sin (disobedience). Even if I don’t go that far, I can surely understood that I will be the one who suffers if I ignore the Lord’s intention for my life. Simply stated, my life will not be of the quality it could be if I lived as Jesus ordered.

I may not like it when God doesn’t answer my prayers the way I directed him too but that doesn’t seem to bother God very much. He looks me in the eye and rather than explaining it to me simply says: “Trust me.”

I’d better do it.

Dividing soul and spirit

Hebrews 4:12 says: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

The emphasis in the passage is on the ability of God’s word to discern the heart behind the actions. Our human nature is subject to frailty and is a source of failure even when our heart is right. We are complex beings and often we, ourselves, don’t understand why we say or do or feel a certain way.

So what can I do about it? Shall I struggle with doubts and uncertainties? Shall I count on others to tell me what they think?

No, there is a rest for the people of God. Only he knows the difference between sin and rebellion on one hand and misunderstanding and human frailty on the other. All man can see is what is on the surface, and my own perspective is clouded. However, God has perfect vision and his word (not the Bible, but what he says) discerns to the most indiscernible parts of my life. If he speaks words of condemnation to me, it is because he sees rebellion in my heart. If he speaks words of comfort, it is because he sees my failure but also that I have failed with a pure heart.

You see, this passage isn’t intended to help us formulate some bilateral or trilateral view of human existence, it is to cause us to rest in the Lord and let him unravel our lives and our mysteries as to why we say, do, or feel as we do.