Monday, 31 March 2014

Why have the Lord's Supper every Sunday?

Christians tend to gather on Sunday, because it is the Lord's Day - the Day Christ rose from the dead.  But what do we gather for?  Why do we come together?

Christians come to be in the presence of their Lord, and we believe that Jesus is present with us in His Word and Sacrament.  And not just in the "He lives in my heart" sense - but in the real sense - in a reality we perceive by faith.  We know He is there to give us His gifts - forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  We know He is there to wash us in Baptism, speak promises to us in His Word and feed us in His Supper.  We gather to be with Jesus.

This is why the earliest Christians always celebrated the Lord's Supper every time they gathered.  It was why they gathered, because they believed that Jesus - their Lord who had ascended into heaven - was present with them in this Supper He instituted for His Church.  This is the most substantial way He comes to be with His people.

Think of the Lord's Supper as a kiss shared by husband and wife.  The minute you have to place rules on how often, the kiss loses its affectionate force.  But no one would ever say, "I think we have kissed enough," or "That kiss will have to do for the rest of the day."  No one says, "How often do we have to kiss?"  Instead we ask, "How often do we get to kiss?"  Let's face it, we kiss and get kissed as often as we can (at least when there is peace...hehe).

And with Christ there is ALWAYS peace.  Because the Lord's Supper is more than a kiss from God.  It isn't merely something we want - it is something we need.  It is the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in, with and under the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  It is God's New Testament for His people - His New Covenant Promise that we are reconciled - and this reconciliation - this Oneness - is in the blood of His Son.  So let us not ask, "How often do we have to commune with our Lord?"  But "How often do we get to commune with our Lord?"

Friday, 21 March 2014

What is the correct interpretation?

There is an expression that has become extremely popular in the last decade, one that you know very well.

"Well, that's just your interpretation."

It doesn't give certainty.  It doesn't communicate truth.  It doesn't offer the correct interpretation.  All it does is throw doubt into the situation.  Confuse things.  It reminds me of the garden of Eden, when the serpent asked Eve, "Did God really say...?"  My dear Eve, are you sure you aren't interpreting it wrong?  (Notice the double negative)

Do you see the deception in this question, in this statement?  Nothing is added.  But certainty is removed.  When someone says, "Well, that's just your interpretation," they are not saying "The interpretation is this... because of these reasons."  They are simply saying, "I don't like what you are saying, so I want you to feel like what you are saying is only true for you.  I want to remove your certainty."

Here's the million dollar question: Is there a correct interpretation of God's Word that is true for all people of all times and places?  God certainly thinks there is.  And He says we can know it, believe it, confess it to others.  He has not given us His Word so that we stumble around in the dark, but so that He may draw all people to Himself.  There are true interpretations and there are false interpretations.

Then, how do you know which is true and which is false?  So many people will throw their hands up in the air at this point, as though they don't know how to do this.  We do it with everything else in life, but when it comes to God's Word we suddenly feel like it is impossible to do.  It is not.  Because God has spoken His Word in a real language - that has real rules - and real plain meaning. 

The reason "various interpretations" arise is because people read wrong, they bring their own ideas to the plain text and "look" for things.  We all do it, but it is important to know how we do it.  This is most evident in the post-Reformation era where all the various denominations (confessions/interpretations of teaching) have sprung up.  The post-Reformation era was the Enlightenment, in which, for the first time, "man was the measure of all things."  People were influenced by philosophies not present when the Bible was originally written - yet they brought these philosophies to the text of Scripture.   We can trace how those secular philosophies continue to impact a denomination's tradition and interpretation of Scripture to this very day. 

Let's look at a household example of how different interpretations arise.

Mom: "Clean up the dishes."
Child 1: "Mom wants us to clean up the dishes."
Child 2: "No, Mom is telling us she wants us to clean up the dishes, AND we are able to do it."

Ok, these two children have a slightly different understanding of Mom's words.  The first child has taken the plain meaning of her words.  We ought to clean up the dishes.  But child #2 has added something - ability - we can clean up the dishes.  Evidently, child #2 has brought this to the text, because the plain meaning of the words "Clean up the dishes" only communicate the ought.  The can is assumed.  For whatever reason, child #2 wanted to interpret the words this way.  It is not the basic meaning of the words.  Should Mom have wanted to communicate what child #2 "heard" she would have said something like, "You are able-bodied and have no other responsibilities, and I know I can count on you to clean up the dishes.  Please do so."  It is certainly possible Mom also assumed they could do it - but that is not in the words.  An assumption made on both sides is the epitome of bad communication.

The example seems silly, I know, but I used it because it is a real discrepancy that different Christian denominations have over the text of Scripture.  Certain interpretation traditions assume human ability into God's commands.  They cannot imagine how God might want to communicate what ought to be happening, even if it can't happen right now.  Like the frustrated parent that wants their one year old to speak with words so they know what they want!  Not going to happen, no matter how much you want it...haha.

What does all of this mean?  Words matter.  The words of the text matter.  What do the words say?  The plain meaning is always the truth unless the context can prove it is otherwise.  So read your Bible.  But don't look for the social problem in the text.  Don't look for the agenda.  Look for the plain meaning - what is good in faith - because Christ is speaking there.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

What am I afraid of?

I can't!

Well, why don't you...  I CAN'T!  I just can't.

You know these words and so do I.  They are the words we use when we know we're supposed to do the right thing, but we find ourselves unable to do it.  I can't.  I can't be in the same room as that person.  I can't bring myself to tell the truth about what I've done.  I can't go back to that place.  I just can't.

These words are almost instinctual.  They are like the reaction you get when your wound is poked.  They come from deep within, almost without thinking.  Something lies hidden deep down inside of us, something we are trying to protect.  Something we react to like an animal caught in the corner.

Because the truth is we are afraid.  We are afraid of something.  These words declare our fear.  But do we know what it is?  Could we put our fear into words?  Or are we afraid to?

Do you want to know what I'm afraid of?  This is what I'm afraid of.  I am terrified that when I look into that dark, hidden place inside me.  When I stop defending it like a cornered cat, and actually look at it, I will find something I hate.  In fact, my true fear is that I know I will find something I hate, so 'I can't' bring myself to look at it.  I want it to stay in the dark, where nobody - not even me - can see it.  I'm not afraid of the dark.  I'm afraid of the light.  I'm afraid that when the light hits it - and I see it - I will have to acknowledge that I deserve to die.  That I truly am despicable.

And it is here that Jesus meets me.  Not to expose me.  Not to condemn me - for I am already condemned.  But to save me.  To love me when I know no one should.  He Himself said, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).  At the exact point when I know I deserve to die, Jesus says "I'll die for you."  At the moment when I know I am despicable, Jesus says, "I love you anyway.  I'll clean you up.  I'll be your light.  I'll take your fear."

"This is the judgment," Jesus said, "the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21).  I don't need to be afraid to expose my darkness, because Jesus has taken it to the cross.  I can come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that Jesus has done this for me.  That God Himself is my light.

Too many Christians are concerned with their own righteousness.  Are we trying to protect our self-righteousness, or are we confessors of the truth "I am a sinner, whom Christ has forgiven"?  Let us give God the glory and cover our own unrighteousness no longer - let us instead be covered by Christ - covered by His blood - covered by His light, for that is why He came - for you.

Monday, 10 March 2014

What makes the Bible unique?

How would the typical person react when they hear you regularly read the Bible? 

The Bible?!?  Why would you read the Bible?  What makes the Bible so special that you would actually read it instead of other books?

Take a look.

This "book" is unique in its continuity.  It is written over the span of 1500 years.  It has 40 different authors from 40 different generations from all walks of life: kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, herdsmen, poets, statesmen, scholars etc.  It is written in different places, from the wilderness, to a dungeon, to a palace, to a remote island.  It is written during war.  It is written during peace.  It is written in times of joy.  It is written in times of sorrow and despair.  It is written on three different continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.  It is written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  It speaks of hundreds of controversial issues that even in our own generation would never be agreed upon - and yet the Bible speaks with one, unified voice as though written by one author (say the Holy Spirit?). 

This "book" is unique in its circulation.  It has been read by more people and published in more languages than any other book - even languages that are no longer used! 

This "book" is unique in its translation.  It has been translated and retranslated and paraphrased more than any other book in existence.  By 1966, the whole Bible appeared in 240 languages with one or more of its books appearing in 739 additional languages - totalling 1,280 languages. 

This "book" is unique in its survival.  The Bible, compared with any other ancient writings, has more manuscript evidence than any 10 pieces of classical literature combined!  It has been persecuted, burned, outlawed, destroyed only to come back in greater circulation.  It has been criticized, doubted, said to be "on its last days" hundreds of times over the millennia and remains easily defended by scholars to this day. 

This "book" is unique in its teaching.  It is the only volume ever produced in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah - that can actually be shown to have been fulfilled.  It stands alone in historical accuracy and age.  It is the only document to outline ethnic and linguistic complexities in such a seemingly "modern" way.  It speaks frankly and honestly of the sins and errors of the people, something not found in any other histories, not even the biographies of today. 

This "book" is unique in its influence on surrounding literature.  "If every Bible in any considerable city were destroyed, the Book could be restored in all its essential parts from the quotations on the shelves of the city public library."  "It is evidence of His importance, of the effect that He has had upon history and presumably, of the baffling mystery of His being that no other life ever lived on this planet has evoked so huge a volume of literature among so many peoples and languages, and that, far from ebbing, the flood continues to mount."  There are more Christians today than at any other point in history. 

No - this doesn't prove the Bible is the Word of God.  But it does prove the Bible is unique.  It does prove that is SO extremely different from every other volume ever produced that if any person was truly concerned with truth, it would be the obvious first place to start, and perhaps the only place one ever need go.

Read your Bible.  Hear the Word of God preached.  Ask your pastor questions about anything you read or hear.  Because the Lord has revealed Himself to mankind from eternity and His unified message still speaks to those who have ears to hear.  And the best part - His sole purpose in speaking - the only reason the Bible exists is to deliver you the promise of forgiveness, life and salvation won for you in His Son, Jesus Christ.  You are forgiven.  It is true.