Category Archives: Community

Communion with God

For those whose stories God has graciously given us in His word, we can see that people who have truly communed with God were different. They lived, and many died in order to spread the name of the one true God. Looking at these stories leads me to ask the questions of myself, have I every truly communed with God? Is communion with God something a lot of people, even believers, can miss out on in their lifetime? Is it possible that a person be redeemed by the blood of Christ, be united with Him, and be brought into the family of God, yet never experience the fullness of that community?

In his book Communion with the Triune God (with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Each Person Distinctly, in Love, Grace, and Consolation), Puritan Pastor John Owen writes about the believer’s communion with the God-head and here focuses on Communion with the Son (I had to read it slowly but don’t miss what he is saying):

The souls of men do naturally seek something to rest and repose themselves upon,—something to satiate and delight themselves withal, with which they [may] hold communion; and there are two way whereby men proceed in the pursuit of what they so aim at. Some set before them some certain end,—perhaps pleasure, profit, or, in religion itself, acceptance with God; others seek after some end, but without any certainty, pleasing themselves now with one path, now with another, with various thoughts and ways like them,—because something comes in by the life of the hand, they give not over though weary. In what condition soever you may be (either in greediness pursuing some certain end, be it secular or religious; or wandering away in your own imaginations, wearying yourselves in the largeness of your ways), compare a little what you aim at, or what you do, with what you have already heard of Jesus Christ: if anything you design be like to him, if any thing you desire be equal to him, let him be rejected as one that hath neither form or comeliness in him; but if, indeed, all your ways be but vanity and vexation of spirit, in comparison of him, why do you spend your “money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not?” […] You that are, perhaps, seeking earnestly after a righteousness, and are religious persons, consider a little with yourselves,— hath Christ his due place in your heart? is he your all? does he dwell in your thoughts? do you know him in his excellency and desirableness? do you indeed account all things “loss and dung” for his exceeding excellency? or rather, do you prefer almost anything in the world before it?

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Reading Rightly

As Christians, we are to make it a priority to read the Bible faithfully. When I say that I don’t necessarily mean that we need to read it daily—although I believe we should. By faithfully, I mean two things: First, we need to read it in faith, knowing that the Triune God of the universe has revealed Himself in it. Perhaps there are times we approach the Scriptures flippantly with no fear of God in our hearts. Similarly, perhaps the Scriptures simply become another textbook that we are forced to read, thus we focus on our method of reading rather than the God who wrote it. I have experienced this firsthand and it is a frightening thing to read God’s revelation of Himself and be unmoved by it. Second, it is absolutely necessary that we read the Scriptures with the faithful. The primary reason the Bible has been given is not so  I can lock myself in my study and discern what God has to say to me. The Scriptures are for the church, the community of faith and it is meant to be read within the community of faith.

Herman Bavinck, late 19th century to early 20th century Dutch Reformed theologian and author of Reformed Dogmatics (which I highly recommend) writes about the importance of the role of the historic faith community in our reading of Scripture (where asterisk is found, see definition at the bottom) :

Neither scientific objectivity[1] nor complete subjectivity[2] are possible. All knowledge is rooted in faith, and for faith to be real it must have an object that is knowable… Christian theologians must place themselves within the circle of faith and, while using church tradition and experience, take their stand in the reality of revelation […]

The concern for revelation-based normativity in dogmatics[3] must not be construed to serve as a reason to overlook or deny the importance of confessional and cultural factors in dogmatic treatises. No one is free from the biases of church upbringing and particular environmental contexts. We are always products of our background, including our ecclesiastical[4] upbringing. Awareness of this reality led some to attempt divesting themselves of their confessional identities and returning to the more confused and “pure gospel” situation of the New Testament and the early church. So-called “biblical theology” is then opposed to “scholastic theology,” as though the latter were not at all biblical. But setting Scripture against church teaching is as wrong as separating heart and mind, feeling and knowing. The sole aim of dogmatics is to set forth the thoughts of God that he has laid down in Holy Scripture. A good dogmatic method must take into account church teaching and Christian experience as well as Scripture. Dogmatic theology is possible only for one who lives in the fellowship of the Christian church.


[1] Objectivity can also be described as unbiased, or not influenced by one’s personal feelings.

[2] Subjectivity – whereas objectivity is unbiased, subjectivity means that one is influenced by their personal feelings. In other words they are biased.

[3] The word dogma, from the Greek word dokein (“to be of the opinion”), denotes that which is definite, that which has been decided, and is therefore fixed. When we use the term dogma, or dogmatics we are referring to beliefs in the Christian community that are non-negotiable.

[4] from the Greek word ekklesia, meaning assembly. Ekklesia is the word in the New Testament for church.

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Road Trip and Guys being Guys [ETS]

I just got back from my first seminary road trip experience. I figured that the road trips would end for me when I graduated from college but I have to say this was a good one.  A couple of my friends(JT English and Jared Perry) and I went to Atlanta, Georgia for the 62nd Annual Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meeting. Sounds exciting huh?

Well it was. I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard I almost had to pull the car over. These were my favorite moments:

5) Eating at The Varsity. We were told that this is “a must” for those visiting Atlanta. I was told they served hamburgers and hot dogs so I expected something along the lines of Angry Dog or Twisted Root. So we arrived at our hotel and sometime around 9:00 pm we headed for The Varsity. When I walked in the front door my first thought was, This is not what I was expecting. There was close to 15-20 registers with people screaming at me, “What’ll ya have?!” I was thinking, Can I get a second? I have never been here before. Be patient. Then I realized they really only serve hamburgers and hot dogs—oh and don’t forget the chili on top. Needless to say… Tums quickly followed.

4) The ETS Bookstore. Call me a nerd, I don’t care because I love books. I know the world is going digital and you have 10,000 ebooks on your iPad but what good is that going to do you when an EMP takes out all our electronics? No good at all and at that point you will come sit at my feet and beg me to teach you. Well maybe not but for me there is something about real books that just can’t be replaced by a digital reader. The ETS bookstore was worth the trip and the price of admission because pretty much every major publisher was there selling their books at ridiculously low prices. I am not talking about those books that are on your top shelf that you might reference once every five years. They were selling anything from new releases to classics for great prices. **Next post I will put up the books I bought.

3) The three of us had just finished eating hors d’œuvres (or as the Chick-fil-a cows would spell Or-derves) with a few of our profs and were heading down to our room. We were on the 27th floor going down to the 16th. This hotel was packed out so it was nearly impossible to travel 10 floors on the elevator without stopping. On this particular trip one of my buddies was feeling particularly gassy and cut the cheese with a real cheek flapper on the elevator. He laughed at first and then the elevator started to stop on a floor that was not our own. My friend, seeing that he had been found out promptly exited the elevator, leaving me and the other guy there to claim it. The two guys that boarded the elevators dropped a view expletives and chose to hop of at the next stop.

2) On Tuesday night when we were making our way to The Varsity,  we ended up in an enclosed parking garage with no escape. After trying several floors to find a way out, JT decided to get funny on us. As Jared and I exited the elevator to look for the way out of the garage, JT tried to close the elevator door and leave us on that floor. However, at the last moment his conscience persuaded him otherwise and he stuck his arm out in the door to stop it from shutting. Much to his surprise the door did not stop and his arm got caught in the elevator door. I stood there mystified hoping that the elevator would not start moving with his arm stuck. Eventually he was able to pry the door open and free himself. This image shown here is how I choose to remember it.

1) The best moment was on the drive home. This is where I nearly had to pull the car over because I was laughing so hard. However, I cannot disclose who said this but let me clear the air by saying it was not me. Boy A says, “My wife often tells me how bad my farts smell, but I like the smell of my farts.” Boy B says, “Yeah, sometimes I like the smell of my own farts.” Boy A and I start laughing and Boy B says, “What? You said it!” Boy A responds, “I was kidding!” Poor Boy B. There was no coming back from that. For the rest of the trip any 3 of us would randomly start laughing and even now as I write this I am struggling to keep my composure.

You are probably thinking, Wow that’s a lot of gas humor. You are right. I thought I was past the immature stage where this type of thing is funny, but I guess not. So reader, please do not judge because you know that you are a little immature and crazy too.

A Response to: Communion to Go?

Following my post entitled “Communion to Go?” a good friend of mine suggested I write a  post on how we can return to a biblical, historical, orthodox view of Communion. My hope is only to spur us on to greater love, adoration, and thanksgiving to our God the Father, Son, and Spirit.

One of my primary critiques of the common view of Communion in Evangelical churches, of which I attend, is that it has become incredibly individualistic. This may have something to do with our overall view of Communion in that we perceive it as only symbolic and perhaps we think, “This is when I remember what Jesus did for me.” However, this is not the only way it has been viewed historically. Some have stated that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus (Catholicism). Others believe that the elements remain the same but there is a real, spiritual presence of Christ in the bread and wine (Lutheranism). On the whole, Protestants simply believe it is symbolic, only a reminder. Is it a reminder? Absolutely. However, Is it only a reminder? I am not so sure.

A good friend of mine is Anglican and he explained that their view of Communion (which they partake in every week!) to me. He said that as we partake in the bread and wine we are joining all of creation and being lifted up together with them in worship to the Holy Trinity. There are a few terms that stick out to in this explanation: we, joining, all of creation, together, with them, Holy Trinity. Every single one of these terms points back to the reality that Communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, or whatever you want to call it is Communal.

My fear is that we will continue down this road of arrogance that claims we don’t need anyone else. We may never say that with our lips but we proclaim it loudly in our attitude and it especially shows in our attitude toward communion. This is a time of celebration, remembrance, and joining with all creation in adoration, thanksgiving, and praise to our great God! It is not merely about your or my relationship with God. It is about the church joining together in one faith, one mind, one Baptism, to the our one God, the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Communion to go?

Last week I received a pre-packaged Communion much like what is depicted here. The church where I received this was very large and so my initial thought was that is not a bad idea because otherwise Communion would probably take forever. However, I began to dwell on the root of what I was thinking, which was, “Okay, lets get through Communion so we can get on to the real part of the service.” I don’t think many pastors or leaders would say this, but think about how often  you observe Communion in your church. The early church frequently observed Communion, perhaps sometimes multiple times a week.

I have a problem with this for several reasons but I will only list a few:

1) It appears to follow suite with many other things in churches today in that it is consumeristic. I mean, just look at it. It is pre-packaged Communion for convenience. The whole point of Communion is remembrance and reflection on our Savior Jesus, who took on our sin, died in our place, carried our sin to the grave, and then conquered it when he rose! There is absolutely nothing convenient about the cross.

2) It takes one of the remaining active aspects of worship and makes it passive. Again, this comes back to our consumerist mentality. We often come to God’s house, not wanting to meet with Christ and be transformed by Him, but to receive a message on how we can make our lives better. So we sit in our seats and listen to the choir or band, then we listen to a sermon, and all the while there is no sacrifice on our part.  I believe active worship is something liturgical churches do very well. In the Apostolic tradition there was a dialogue that the bishop/pastor had with his congregation prior to taking Communion that displays the importance that they placed on the Lord’s Table (Early Eucharist Dialogue).

3) It seems to emphasize the individual. I googled “Communion to go” and the above picture is what appeared first. One of the primary selling points for this pre-packaged Communion is that you have the freedom to take it whenever, or wherever you want. There is a reason it is called Communion, namely, that it is to be observed in Community. Again, I believe this is something liturgical churches do well.

In conclusion, I don’t like this. Its not that the pre-packaging in itself bothers me that much, rather it contributes to the overall low view of Communion. I do not think that Jesus would have spent His last night with His disciples commanding them to, “Do this in remembrance of me” if we are to only observe Communion once a year, wherever we want, make it about us, and get to the real part of the worship service. Shame on us! This is to be a sweet time with our brothers and sisters as we remember and reflect on the fact that Jesus Christ, the incarnate second person of the Trinity, suffered and died on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. This time is not to be quick, overlooked, down graded, individual, or passive because it’s not about you. It is a time of celebration, genuine community, and active worship as the Spirit stirs our love and affection for Jesus, as well as our love for each other. In my opinion, when it comes to Communion, take as much time as you need because there is no better place to be.

Confession

Over the course of the summer the subject of confession has come up often. I have some buddies that I meet with and we know when we come together that we are going to ask each other tough questions so we can grow in godliness together.

I was at middle school camp a couple of weeks ago with three other adults and forty-one middle schoolers. Yes, a forty-one to four ratio is not favorable for the adults and needless to say, at the end of the week I had to confess… a lot.

The speaker at camp hit on the subject of confession hard one particular night and it really sunk in with many of our students and in our church group time, they starting confessing sin left and right. I shouldn’t have been surprised at what I heard. My belief in Total Depravity should have prepared me for anything, but it didn’t. The confessions ranged from hypocrisy and disobedience to parents, to self-loathing and cutting. All in all, it was a good time as a group. We were able to pray and encourage one another and I think the beginning of some real healing took place.

One particular thing the camp speaker said that really bothered me was he was stating how vertical confession (between us and God) is easy and involves no accountability. He stated that horizontal confession (between one another) is the difficult part because we are afraid for people to see us as we truly are, broken. I get what he was saying about vertical confession being easy because we have so privatized our faith that we can struggle with dark sin for years and no one will know because each time we say, “Sorry God, I’ll try harder next time.”

Again, what he said really bothered me, not because I thought he was wrong, but because I agreed with him completely.  So here is my question: Why is it so easy for us to confess our sin to God? Is it because we know He already knows? Is it because we take His grace and make it cheap? Do we take 1 John 1:9 (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.) as a license to sin?

Ultimately, this is where I land. If this is our attitude in our confession of sin to God, then we have revealed that we have NO fear of the Lord in our lives. I would also submit that it is impossible to put off sin without a hatred for it and we cannot truly hate it unless we have a genuine fear of the Lord. In Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Solomon’s last written words as an old man who tested everything under the sun and found no pleasure in them were, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether god or evil.”

So fear the Lord. Guard your steps. Jonathan Edwards once described God as an archer whose bow and arrow is pointed steadily at your heart and the only thing that keeps him from releasing that arrow is His love and mercy. We are often so arrogantly certain that God will forgive us, and He will. However, keep this in mind, he has killed some of His people for a lot less. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).

Disclaimer: In defense of Jeff Mangum (the camp speaker), his focus that night was not on fearing God, but on confessing sin to one another so that genuine community and healing would take place. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Jeff a little over the course of the summer and I do not think he would disagree with me on the issue of fear.

The Bride

With all the political excitement that has gone on this week. I think i will spin off this hot topic and spend time on something a little more important. Don’t get me wrong, i think politics are important but this issue which i intend to address deserves careful thought.

As this election process has gone on, i have noticed an over-whelming amount of political blog posts discussing crucial issues such as abortion, homosexual marriages, and our broken economy. Don’t get me wrong, I think these issues need to be written about at some level. However, my aim is not to discuss these issues but to point out what the discussion of these issues has done to brothers and sisters in Christ. I have seen guys that call themselves Christians straight up bad mouth their brothers, sisters, and the church as a whole. So it is not politics that has been my concern, but the division that i see it has caused between believers.

Before i get into what has been heavy on my heart i want to throw out a few questions regarding the church (I will use the terms church and people of God interchangeably). The answering of these questions is what has been on my heart:

Within the Scriptures, what terms do the authors use to describe the church?

Why and for whom did Christ die? God’s glory is a given… next!

In Paul’s address to the churches in the New Testament, what title does he ascribe to them?

First, the terms that I see used when talking about the people of God are numerous. These few come to mind: ambassadors, royal priesthood, holy nation, disciples, and most amazingly,the bride. Does anyone find in Scripture where God refers to us as stupid, jacked up, or slutty? If there is no where in Scripture where Jesus refers to his bride in a derogatory way, then why do we? This has recently slapped me in the face. If I bad mouth the church. I am bad mouthing Jesus’ bride. I am not quite married yet but if someone talks bad about my fiance, I am ready to battle. This leads me to the second question, let us never begin to tear down the bride for whom Jesus laid down his life. I know if i was Jesus (which i am not) that would make me furious. One of my favorite modern day theologians said, “Yeah she may look gritty but When her man come back she gonna look so pretty – She the Church You might see her acting crazy, be patient with her tho cause she still God’s baby – She the Church
Before you dis her get to know her, Jesus got a thing fo her and He died just to show her .” None other than Lecrae…

Finally, In Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he refers to the people there as saints. This is a church that was plagued by immorality. As a matter of fact, from the first letter to the second letter, there seems to be strong similarities in the content of his message. Why is that? Because they didn’t get it the first time! The Corinthians were over run with division and they thought the more they sinned the more Jesus was pleased to save. I don’t know if we would say we believe that but maybe if we are honest, do we live like this?

I think we recognize that there are many things that plague the church today. Our tendency has been to just drop the church, church structure, and move on. But don’t you see that it was a lack of church structure that hindered the Corinthian church. It was what Paul was working toward all along. My prayer is that we wouldn’t have the mentality to disregard the church just because we are frustrated. If God still calls us saints, are we justified in calling the church anything else?

I plan to write on this issue at length at some point but i just felt a need to plead with my fellow brothers and sisters not to trash the bride even thought it seems that she has lost her mind. I know there are things that need to be fixed within the church. But abandoning the bride is not the answer. If we will keep in mind, the church is made up of redeemed people who are a work in progress. It is only natural that the church would be a work in progress as well.

True Community

I love people. I like to be around people and getting to know their background. I like sitting down with a person and listen to their view on the world, Jesus, and whatever else. But i have come to a shocking realization in my own life that i think many people can resonate with. I am absolutely terrified for someone to truly know me. If you know me at all, you will be able to see that i usually dont blog or journal about something in length unless i have wrestled through it for some time. This is one of those times. It seems as though every sermon i hear, passage i read, or person i talk to all at some point or another turn or point toward true community.

I just started Seminary about a month ago and i am really enjoying it so far. One of the things that is required of students is the involvement in a Spiritual Formations group. Basically its a community group (there is that word again) where we meet together and talk about struggles, thoughts, and offer encouragement to one another. So needless to say, the theme of community has been a reoccurring thing in my life for some time now. I was just slapped in the face with this today that i am in desperate need to be lifted up at times. The past few years i have been in a ministry position and i was constantly investing in students lives and offering my two cents and prayers. I have a questoin: When did we get to the point where we have to act like we have it all together?

I just had one of the sweetest, Christ centered moments with a friend of mine. His name is Robert and we have been friends for about 3 years. I admire him because i can see that he truly loves Jesus. I was telling him that sense i moved to Dallas i have been really uneasy. For the first time in my life i am starting to struggle with the sin of worry and anxiety… as if Jesus, the sovereign ruler doesn’t know what he is doing. I told Robert my struggles: worry, anxiety, financial stress, balancing school, work, fiancee, family, and friends (not necessarily in that order). I am at a completely different place right now than i have ever been before. The kicker is… I know that no matter what I will have all i need in Christ, that he will meet my needs and that he is trust worthy! But I knew all these things! I didnt feel like i needed any type of brother or sister to tell me that because i know these things! But something happened tonight.. although i knew this truth, hearing come from Robert’s mouth totally knocked me on my butt.

Robert told me that in those moments where you feel anxious, when you don’t know how you are going to make ends meet, when you dont have a stocked refrigerator and you might have to sacrifice a meal that you find what you really need. See i have fooled myself into thinking security is ultimate. I have made a little god out of being financially stable with no worry of where money for food is going to come from. Now granted i am still very blessed. I am still richer than the majority of the worlds population where an entire family lives on $3 a day. Not saying that boastfully… i just recognize that i could be a lot worse off. What is really sweet about this is since i began struggling with these things, when i get in my Word it is a sweet time between be and Jesus. God is showing me that although i may not be as comfortable as i would like, he is everything that i need! What better way is there to teach me that he is sufficient than to strip me of some luxuries in order that he might show me the glorious riches of his grace? There is none!

Through true, genuine community i learned that i am in desperate need of community. It is okay if i am not okay. It is okay if i have struggles. It is through my struggles that God has shown me that i may not have much… but i have him! So for the season, or for the rest of my life (however long God chooses to allow me to stay in this spot), I will continually be reminded of God’s mercy. What once looked so horrible to me, financial insecurity, has become a warm blanket of God’s mercy to my soul.