Thinking Out Loud

April 4, 2014

Communion Service: Just Me and God

Church Established AD 33

Church Established 33 AD

A variation on this story appeared yesterday at Christianity 201.

So last weekend our friend Brenda — the one who wrote the short poem that’s been in the sidebar of this blog for the past three weeks — took us church hopping.  It was a storefront church in the central business area of a smallish town.

There, we participated in a most unusual communion service. The elements — the bread and juice — were placed on a table in a self-serve style. Nothing unusual so far, right? But to get to them you walked behind a curtain, single file, one at a time. Suddenly, you were in there, all alone, just you and God.

Others were waiting and they joked ahead of time that they’d ‘tie a rope to your feet and pull you out if you stay too long,’ but you had these brief seconds to enter into the ‘Holy of Holies’ and express to God in a whispered prayer whatever you would say to Him, or listen to whatever He would say to you. But you did have those few seconds, and I found it rather awe-inspiring.

It’s a communion or Eucharist that I will never forget.

It brought home the idea that although we worship corporately at weekend services, ultimately, our relationship with God is individual. We’re not saved, or counted among God’s people because of what our church does collectively, but because of our personal response to God.  Consider the difference between these two phrases:

  • ‘We had communion at church this Sunday’   or
  • ‘While in the service today, I communed with God’

That got me thinking about the broader aspects of making our experience(s) with God more individual.

I think that sometimes people are critical of the phrases “accepted Christ” and “personal Savior,” when the problem can be solved with a rearrangement of one or two words. Consider the difference between:

  • ‘I accepted Christ as my personal Savior’   and
  • ‘I personally acknowledged Christ as Savior’

But then, the personal has to go beyond the initial conversion experience. It’s got to stay personal. Consider phrases like:

  • ‘We’re now part of local congregation’
  • ‘I’ve joined a weekly small group Bible study’

Each implies the idea of assimilating into the larger body, and that’s right and good, but total assimilation would mean the loss of personal identity. (We once visited a church that had someone listed among the staff as ‘Minister of Assimilation’ or maybe it was ‘Pastor of Assimilation. Seriously.)

Your relationship to Christ cannot be expressed in terms of a relationship to a Church or study group; neither can it be defined in terms of your place in a biological family.

Rather than concentrating on the body you are part of, these more personal statements on for size; say them out loud if necessary; and see if they fit you:

  • ‘I am growing in my understanding of the ways of God’
  • ‘I am more fully aware of God’s presence in my life’
  • ‘I am increasingly making decisions subject to God’s desires’
  • ‘My appreciation for what Jesus did is a daily factor in my life’
  • ‘I am so thankful for God’s grace’

These I/My statements — and others like them you can add in the comments — should be at the core of our spiritual identity, not statements like:

  • ‘I’m really enjoying the church I’m attending’ or
  • ‘My pastor is absolutely amazing’   or
  • ‘Our lives changed when we joined this church’

Maybe your pastor is amazing, but he will have to give his own account to God, and you will have to give yours. Maybe all your life you’ve wanted to be part of something larger, but again, your spiritual life can’t be defined in terms of membership in a group.

Or maybe you need your own personal ‘Holy of Holies’ experience to remind you that it’s God that’s amazing.

II Cor. 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (NLT)

Romans 14:12

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (NIV)

February 3, 2014

Kids and Communion: Sacrament or Snack-Time?

This is a topic that was covered here twice before, in February of 2011 and December, 2011. I’m presenting both complete today, but including the links because the December one attracted a number of comments. You can join that old comment thread or start a new one here that might get seen by more people.  The first article is more practical, the second more doctrinal. The first article also appeared on the day after a piece about children and (immersion) baptism, which is why it begins…

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

I like the story of the little boy who wanted to take part in the communion service that followed the Sunday morning offering. When told by his mother that he was too young to take communion, the eager participant whispered loud enough to be heard five rows back, “Why not? I just paid for it, didn’t I?”

~Stan Toler in Preacher’s Magazine

Last week was Communion Sunday at our home church. We attended the 9:00 AM service so that we could actually get to a second service at 10:30 at our other home church. The 9:00 AM service is attended by families with young children who wake up early, and I was horrified to glance and see a young boy of about six or seven helping himself as the bread and wine were passed. Maybe this story describes the kind of thing I’m referencing:

At my church, we had a special Easter night service, and we took communion. My brother was in there, and he’s only 6, so he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. When he saw the “crackers” and “grape juice” being passed around, he said “mommy! Its snack time! I want a snack too!” Obviously, he’s too young to take communion. But for those of us who do take it, do we see it as “snack time”? Communion is great. I love to hear Pastors words describing the night when Jesus and his 12 apostles took upon the 1st Holy Communion. I think since we do take communion regularly in church, we overlook the importance there is in it.

~Summer, a 15-year old in Illinois

But not everyone agrees with this approach:

I have allowed my children to take communion ever since they have told me that they love Jesus. I think 3 was the age they were first able to verbalize that.

We explain it to them each time as the bread and wine come around, and while they dont get it all, they know they are considered ok to partake.

This would not have happened in the world I grew up in.

~Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary (no longer available)

The latter view is the one currently gaining popularity among Evangelical parents. And there are often compelling reasons for it. A children’s ministry specialist in New Zealand only ever posted four things on his or her blog, but one of them was this piece which argued for including all children because:

  • The historical reason: Children would be included in Passover celebration;
  • The Passover parallel: It is a means of teaching children about Christ’s deliverance for us;
  • Salvation qualifies them: If they have prayed to receive Christ, which is not exclusive to adults, they should participate;
  • The alternative is complicated: The age at which a child would be considered “ready” would actually vary for each child, and setting a specific age adds more complication;
  • Communion is an act of worship, something children should be equally participating in.

Having read that, it might be easy to conclude that this is the side to which I personally lean.

That would be a mistake.

Despite the arguments above, I really think that Summer’s comment adequately describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday. As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps we think will ‘seal’ them with God.

I thought it interesting that one of the pieces I studied in preparation for yesterday’s post suggested that the parents of children who would be strongly opposed doctrinally to infant baptism have no issues with their non-infant children being baptized very young. Another article described a boy so young they had to ‘float’ him over to the pastor, since he couldn’t touch the bottom.

I’ve often told the story of the young woman who told me that when she was confirmed in her church at age 14 — confirmation being the last ‘rite’ of spiritual passage for those churches that don’t practice believer’s baptism by immersion — she stopped attending because she ‘done’ everything there was to ‘do.’ She described it perfectly: “The day I officially joined the church was the day I left the church.”

Are we in too much of a hurry here to see our children complete these things so we can check them off a list? Are parents who would be horrified to see their daughters wearing skimpy outfits because that constitutes “growing up too fast” actually wanting their sons and daughters to “grow up spiritually too fast?”

I was eleven when my parents deemed me ready to take communion. While I question my decision to be baptized at 13, I think that this was a good age to enter into the Eucharist. I know that Catholic children receive First Communion at age seven, therefore I am fully prepared to stick to this view even if I end up part of a clear minority.

(more…)

February 6, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Praise Him In The Hallway

  • Napkin Thelogy: If you can communicate it better with a quick drawing, why not?
  • Just like universities agree to honor some of each others credit courses, four Reformed denominations and the Roman Catholic Church have agreed to honor each others infant baptisms. (For some this confirms that the CRC denomination is not evangelical.)
  • Here’s how some churches look at the issue of copyrights involving music or materials. This example is not a good example, though. 
  • Church planters sometimes are often guilty of reacting to existing trends or conversely, copying existing trends. There are three other factors that can motivate planters, and certain risks and dangers in all five types.
  • When you release a dove ceremonially, it’s not supposed to be attacked by seagulls.
  • Should communion (Eucharist, Lord’s Supper) be done with a common cup or several cups? Actually, that’s not the issue; the real reason I posted this is because it’s a great example of taking Bible study notes.
  • Or this question: Should Churches shift weekend service times to accommodate the Super Bowl game? Perry Noble’s church did.
  • Last week Rachel Held Evans linked to a trio of articles with the common theme, Do Christians idolize virginity? One of the recommended articles is being recommended here as well; the story of a girl who believed that, in her words, I am Damaged Goods.
  • For my local readers who enjoy Robin Mark’s annual visits here each summer, here’s the best version of the John Wesley song I can find. (YouTube audio.) Watched it three times on Saturday.
  • Michael Belote has a very lengthy, heartfelt article on dieting that he then uses as springboard for looking at our spiritual diet. There are some great principles here including this question: Am I using the right fuel in the right amounts? This is a five-star blog post!
  • We’re a bit late arriving at this one, but this February list transcends time. Here are 28 ways to show gratitude that are good anytime. 
  • Wanna start a church in Orange County, California? You’d be in good company, and there are currently 17 churches for sale.
  • A New Jersey pilot credits her faith in God for her and her passenger surviving a crash in the Hudson River.
  • When Michael Hyatt spoke to real estate professionals about social media, he discovered they didn’t know what to post to Twitter or Facebook. Here are his ten suggestions
  • Canadian hockey player Mike Fisher, now with the Nashville Predators, made Brad Lomenick‘s young influencers list for January. Here’s his testimony and a link to his Zondervan-published biography.
  • The Calvinists gotta hate this song; but probably the Arminians are glad they have enough free will to turn off bad church music. Click for The Free Will Song.
  • For something more contemporary… I’ve never been to the blimeycow YouTube channel before, but this take on five-minute instant worship songs, is far too cynical.
  • …Click the images for sourcing from Clark Bunch’s blog (top) and Close to Home (below)…Feel free to add your favorite recent Christian blog links this week in the comments…

Close to Home  02 05 13

December 3, 2011

Should Young Children Receive Communion?

At what age should children first participate in The Lord’s Supper?


The two children sitting next to me — a boy about six and a girl of four or five — were fidgeting during the entire service.  They spent most of the sermon time drawing pictures and there was a mild shoulder punch fight that took place during one of the worship songs where I thought the mom was going to split the kids up by sitting between them, but apparently opted not to.  When the communion elements were passed across our row, without hesitation the kids helped themselves.  The mom definitely saw the kids each take a piece of bread and the small cup of juice, and wasn’t the least concerned.


I grew up in a tradition where receiving The Lord’s Supper, partaking of Communion or Eucharist, or whatever name your faith family chooses to call it, was reserved for adults and those entering adulthood.  I was eleven years old the first time.  Anything younger, for me, would have been too young.

So when Christian Focus Publishing offered me a chance to review Children and the Lord’s Supper, I had hoped this book would address the question in clear and unmistakable terms.  I believe this topic is important as it bears on so many issues:  church, doctrine, worship, parenting, the spiritual nurture of children, the Christian education of our youth.

Make no mistake about it, this is an excellent book.  If you want to cover this topic in great detail, I can think of no better resource, and I will be most grateful to have this paperback in my library for any time that this topic surfaces.  However, for all that, there are reasons why I think this is the wrong book for the majority of readers here.

First, this is a very academic reference work that would cause most of my friends to glaze over after the first dozen or so pages.  The book is a collection of eight essays an introduction by editors Guy Waters and Ligon Duncan, which defines paedocommunion as “the admittance of a covenant child to the Lord’s Supper on the basis of his (sic) descent from at least one professing Christian parent.” (p. 11)  Persons looking for a simple answer to the question, ‘Daddy, may I take communion?” — which is also the title of an existing book — would find 214 pages of answer to what they perceive as a simple ‘yes or no’ question; not unlike the uncle at the Christmas gathering who recites the entire workings of the internal combustion engine, when all you asked was a simple question as to the frequency of oil changes.  Mind you, there are no simple answers here.

Another awkwardness for the North American reader is the use of the UK construction paedocommunion rather than the American which would favor the use of pedocommunion (only occurring 195 times in a Google search as opposed to over 28,000 for the UK spelling; which suggests something right there) just as we tend not to speak of paedobaptism (46,000 on Google) preferring the spelling pedobaptism (a more balanced 17,000).  This preoccupation with spelling is not a deal breaker, but is mentioned in passing here to highlight how North American readers would find this volume inaccessible at different levels. (When the absolute central focus of a book is a word that is spelled differently in both countries, perhaps it is time to consider a North American edition.)

More relevant is the Reformed perspective of the book.  This book raises all the right issues, but does so in the context of a growing movement among some Reformed denominations to include younger children in the Lord’s Supper — some already do — to which there is apparently much consternation. We share the same scriptures of course, and everything presented in this volume is entirely relevant to all our churches, but one must first decide to get past the denominational perspective of the writers.  In fairness, I should state that a couple of the writers do address the doctrinal understanding of the Lord’s Supper that is unique to the Roman Catholic mass, though this is done primarily for comparative purposes with the Presbyterian or Reformed view.  And one writer views as inconsistent those Baptist groups which baptize children, but do not permit them access to the Communion table.

Which brings us to the meat of the book. 

As it turns out, the issue of children of partaking of the communion elements is almost symptomatic to a deeper causal issue, namely our understanding of the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and Passover.  This is the true focus on which many of the arguments — mentioned or alluded to — hinge.  Certainly Jesus instituted this sacred meal in the context of a passover meal, but how strongly does the parallel run?  Children are allowed to participate in the modern passover — though some doubts arise as to, for example, the first such meal in the years immediately following the Exodus — so why not permit children at our New Covenant equivalent?  And some even argue that point, as to whether or not there is a tacit understanding that the youngest of children do not truly partake of the passover meal since they are too young to ask the questions (or you could say, be active in the liturgy) that is required of the youngest; even arguing the obvious point that the very youngest would be too young to chew food.

One writer suggests that in Passover, Jesus was instituting something that fulfills or completes the entire sacrificial system (p. 32).  Several of the writers point out that the Westminster Catechism (part 177) requires that the children be old enough to examine themselves, alluding to the words of institution in I Cor. 11, something I would term, if I may, the presence of “spiritual sentience,” a term which, as long as we’re quoting Google, occurs elsewhere 283 times.

Indeed, the book’s strongest premise is that we best remember the Lord’s death and atonement through the Lord’s Supper combined with active faith. (pp. 72-73)  The book also considers the various warnings that the apostle issues addressing the situation of those who would be receiving the communion elements in an unworthy manner.

…This is a book review, and book reviews are highly subjective.  I said at the beginning that this is indeed an excellent book, it’s just not going to fulfill the expectations of the average browser in the average Christian book shop, especially here in North America.  But subjectively, my personal reward for studying this book was a deeper understanding of passover, admittedly not the book’s stated purpose. I am much richer for reading Children and the Lord’s Supper, but I am clearly not the typical Christian book consumer.

And if I’ve caused your eyes to glaze over today, may I suggest that as parents of young children you err on the side of caution.  The children in the example I cited at the outset certainly had no sense of reverence for what was taking place, and may I suggest that by that lack of reverence they profaned the moment or occasion as it took place in their part of the auditorium. 


“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 NIV

September 11, 2011

Because People Tend to Forget

September 11, 2011

Seen enough of the TV specials? Tired of hearing of “9/11?”  You should know there’s a good reason why we need those programs and magazine features and internet tributes:

People Tend to Forget

Jesus understood this.  Scripture tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

But you already know that. Those words from I Cor. 11 are often the most-repeated words in most churches during the course of a church calendar year. “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you;” is somewhat how I think the KJV renders it.  The section from verse 23 to approx. verse 30 forms what is called “The Words of Institution” for the communion service aka Lord’s Supper aka the Eucharist.  Even if you attend a church where things are decidedly non-liturgical, these verses probably get read each time your church observes “the breaking of bread;” and even if your pastor leans toward the New Living Translation or The Message, it’s possible that he lapses into King James for this one.

Why did Jesus institute this New Covenant, Second Testament version of the Passover meal? 

Because people tend to forget.

Want proof?

Let’s look at the section we almost never read when we gather around the communion table, Luke 22.  In verse 19 and 20 he tells them to remember. He tells them his life is about to be poured out for them. What a solemn moment. A holy moment. But unfortunately, a very brief  moment.

In verse 24, Luke makes it clear that he’s trying to capture an accurate picture of what happened that night.  Even if it makes the disciples look bad.  It’s the kind of stuff that you would never include in your report to Theophilus if you were merely trying to make Christianity look good.  If you were writing propaganda.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

I don’t want to be disrespectful here, but Luke might as well have written, “At this point, one of the disciples looked out the window of the upper room and announced, ‘Guys, you gotta come here for a minute; there’s a girl out there that is totally hot.’”

I’m serious.  It’s that much out of place with all that has just happened.  Jesus is telling them — trying to tell them — all that he is about to suffer in order that a plan laid out from before the foundations of the world will be fulfilled.  And they’re arguing about who gets to be Disciple of the Month.  How could they go from one extreme to the other so quickly?  In a matter of seconds?

Easily.  People tend to forget.

Whether it’s what happened in New York City, Washington, and that Pennsylvania field ten years ago; or whether it’s what happened in Roman occupied territory in the middle east two thousand years ago; we need to continually rehearse these stories in our hearts and pass them on to our children.

This is a day that is about remembering and like the upper room disciples, we can get so totally distracted.  September 12th comes and everyone moves on to the next topic or news story.  We must not let ourselves lose focus so easily.  We must not forget.

Deuteronomy 4:9 (NIV)
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Image: The Cross or Rubble – Ray Tapajina
at The Art Project – Artists Respond to Terrorism

September 7, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Another collection of things my web history says I visited this week:

  • The Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit simulcast happens for Canada September 29th to 30th with the rebroadcast of  speakers from the U.S. event plus Canadians Tim Schroeder and Reginald Bibby. 
  • Clergy, or people doing the work of clergy, are entitled to IRS tax breaks in the United States including a generous housing allowance. But this doesn’t get applied in denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention that don’t offer ordination or equivalent credentialing.  So as applied by Baptists the housing allowance becomes a sexist issue.
  • And speaking of tax issues, is this another case of the head of a charity being overpaid? I refer to the case of lawyer Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.
  • New blog of the week — except it’s over a year old — is More Christ by K.W. Leslie where you’ll find some serious devotional articles, but, inexplicably, also a Jesus Junk page where you can purchase the t-shirt at right.
  • With the school year in full swing, Jon Acuff asks, When should you let your kids use Facebook?  130+ comments and counting.
  • Like most of you, I always keep a Salvation Army Captain or two on speed dial, and mine also happens to blog at Il Capitano Inquisitore. This week, he’s dealing with the contrast between the S.A.’s statement on gay and lesbian issues, and what it doesn’t say about when those same ‘welcomed’ people want to step into a leadership role. He tells me the comments pale in comparison to the off-the-blog mail…
  • Juanita Bynum updates Pentecostal and Charismatic distinctive theology by introducing typing in tongues on her Facebook page.  To which I say: fsdgklhs ddtowyet scprnap.
  • “…The man told me in the letter that he had seethed in a quiet fury and then picked up his Bible and walked out…”  Russell D. Moore tackles the thorny issue of “closed communion” or “fencing the communion table” in a piece at Touchstone appropriately titled, Table Manners.
  • Meanwhile, back at his own blog, Moore looks at the internet debates between people of different denominational and doctrinal (D&D) stripes as not much different than the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) club debates of his high school.  “The Dungeons and Dragons clubs came to mind because those guys, at least in my junior high school, seemed to be obsessed with something that seemed to have no relevance at all to their lives, or to anyone else’s. But D&D became their identity.” Read more, or rather, read Moore.
  • Glen Scrivener has written a poem that takes three minutes to read and contains 106 phrases that the King James Bible introduced into the language. He calls it a King James-themed something or other. (It may turn up here in full on a slow day, but you can read it now!) It’s also a video which you can watch here, or literally watch it here in the comments section.
  • Shawn Stutz offers his rant about Bible Gateway’s ‘sanctified’ version of Farmville.
  • Are you ready for “The Great Atomic Power?”  That’s the theme of a bluegrass/country song by the Louvin Brothers.  But as Darrell at SFL informed me, Ira Louvin’s story is a little checkered.
  • This one stretches all the way back to late July, but I guess this really hot breaking Christian news story took a little longer to reach us here.
  • This week’s cartoon — in keeping with our green t-shirt theme — is from No Apologies Allowed, which describes itself as “Weekly apologetics cartoons and quotes for the faithful, the faithless, and the full-of-its.” The blog consists recently of responses to atheists and Mormons.

February 26, 2011

The Lord’s Table: How Young is Too Young?

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

I like the story of the little boy who wanted to take part in the communion service that followed the Sunday morning offering. When told by his mother that he was too young to take communion, the eager participant whispered loud enough to be heard five rows back, “Why not? I just paid for it, didn’t I?”

~Stan Toler in Preacher’s Magazine

Last week was Communion Sunday at our home church. We attended the 9:00 AM service so that we could actually get to a second service at 10:30 at our other home church. The 9:00 AM service is attended by families with young children who wake up early, and I was horrified to glance and see a young boy of about six or seven helping himself as the bread and wine were passed.  Maybe this story describes the kind of thing I’m referencing:

At my church, we had a special Easter night service, and we took communion. My brother was in there, and he’s only 6, so he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. When he saw the “crackers” and “grape juice” being passed around, he said “mommy! Its snack time! I want a snack too!” Obviously, he’s too young to take communion. But for those of us who do take it, do we see it as “snack time”? Communion is great.  I love to hear Pastors words describing the night when Jesus and his 12 apostles took upon the 1st Holy Communion. I think since we do take communion regularly in church, we overlook the importance there is in it.

~Summer, a 15-year old in Illinois

But not everyone agrees with this approach:

I have allowed my children to take communion ever since they have told me that they love Jesus. I think 3 was the age they were first able to verbalize that.

We explain it to them each time as the bread and wine come around, and while they dont get it all, they know they are considered ok to partake.

This would not have happened in the world I grew up in.

~Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary (really good article)

The latter view is the one currently gaining popularity among Evangelical parents. And there are often compelling reasons for it. A children’s ministry specialist in New Zealand only ever posted four things on his or her blog, but one of them was this piece which argued for including all children because:

  • The historical reason: Children would be included in Passover celebration;
  • The Passover parallel: It is a means of teaching children about Christ’s deliverance for us;
  • Salvation qualifies them: If they have prayed to receive Christ, which is not exclusive to adults, they should participate;
  • The alternative is complicated: The age at which a child would be considered “ready” would actually vary for each child, and setting a specific age adds more complication;
  • Communion is an act of worship, something children should be equally participating in.

Having read that, it might be easy to conclude that this is the side to which I personally lean.

That would be a mistake.

Despite the arguments above, I really think that Summer’s comment adequately describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday.  As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps we think will ‘seal’ them with God.

I thought it interesting that one of the pieces I studied in preparation for yesterday’s post suggested that the parents of children who would be strongly opposed doctrinally to infant baptism have no issues with their non-infant children being baptized very young. Another article described a boy so young they had to ‘float’ him over to the pastor, since he couldn’t touch the bottom.

I’ve often told the story of the young woman who told me that when she was confirmed in her church at age 14 — confirmation being the last ‘rite’ of spiritual passage for those churches that don’t practice believer’s baptism by immersion — she stopped attending because she ‘done’ everything there was to ‘do.’  She described it perfectly: “The day I officially joined the church was the day I left the church.”

Are we in too much of a hurry here to see our children complete these things so we can check them off a list? Are parents who would be horrified to see their daughters wearing skimpy outfits because that constitutes “growing up too fast” actually wanting their sons and daughters to “grow up spiritually too fast?”

I was eleven when my parents deemed me ready to take communion. While I question my decision to be baptized at 13, I think that this was a good age to enter into the Eucharist. I know that Catholic children receive First Communion at age seven, therefore I am fully prepared to stick to this view even if I end up part of a clear minority.


Footnote: Finding a picture to accompany this article was a reminder of how the Catholic Church has allowed remembering Christ’s death and resurrection to become an occasion for both gift giving and a party, as First Communion pictures totally dominate the available images. Of course before a Catholic of any age can receive communion they are supposed to have been to confession. The confession that precedes First Communion is called First Reconciliation and increasingly, people are visiting Christian bookstores looking for an appropriate First Reconciliation gift and card. What goes on at a First Reconciliation party? Is there a cake? Do the kids dance? I need to know!

Related post on this blog: On The Night He Was Betrayed

November 7, 2010

People Tend to Forget

This morning was the second of two sermons I got to do back to back.   This one had a lot of scripture in it, so taking my cue from Ed Dobson’s sermons at Mars Hill, I got Ruth to read all the scripture.

I wanted to tie in with Communion Sunday, but found out later it was also Remembrance Day (that’s Veteran’s Day for y’all Stateside) Sunday.  So the message was called People Tend to Forget.

We began by asking the question, “Why do we always read those same words from I Cor. before the communion starts.”   One answer we came up with is that the account in Luke 22 makes the disciples look really, really bad!   One minute Jesus is talking about giving His life for them, and the next minute they’re arguing among themselves which one is the greatest.  (v. 24)

That led to a discussion about how some of the Bible’s spiritual high points seem end with a crash a few verses or a chapter later.

Exodus 14 has the Israelites crossing the Red Sea safely while Pharoah’s army is drowned.  Exodus 15 is their worship and celebration service.   Think Pentecostal worship on steroids.

And chapter 16?   They’re complaining about the food and wishing they were back in Egypt.  Yeah.  Back in Egypt.   For real.

Then we looked at Elijah’s defeating the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel.   (Well, actually it was God, but you know what I mean…)   Both of these O. T. stories were things we’d looked at briefly last week, but this time we pressed further.

Now remember, this guy just played a major role in one of the most dramatic spiritual warfare encounters of all time.   Where is he at a chapter later in I Kings 39?

Scared silly over a threat from King Ahab’s wife.   Running off into the desert.   Moping.   Wishing he was dead.   No, really, he says that, ‘I wish I was dead.’  This is either ironic or pathetic, depending on your view.

And then there’s Jonah.

Jonah is sent to tell Nineveh to repent. They do. That’s good news, right? Well, not for Jonah. His message was framed as “Nineveh is about to be destroyed,” and their world doesn’t look too kindly on prophets who get it wrong. So when God changes his mind on the destruction of the city, Jonah’s all out of sorts. Check out Jonah 3: 6-10.

The hero of “Jonah and the Whale” in chapter 1 – sorry, great fish – who is also the hero of “Jonah’s Preaching Converts and Entire City” in chapter 3 becomes the less impressive story of Jonah and the Plant in chapter 4. God can’t help but tell him that he’s put more passion and energy into mourning the death of a worm-eaten shade tree than anything concerning the salvation of the Ninevites.

And that was only the first half of the sermon.

Here’s a key scripture:

Judges 2: 8(NIV) Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the LORD’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the LORD gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.

People really do tend to forget…

Here’s another key scripture:

Isaiah 46: 9(NIV) Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10a I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come…

11b …What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.

The message ended up talking about Communion again.   Some major points:

Our fellowship, our communion is with God through Jesus Christ.

We don’t celebrate communion to remember what was, but we celebrate communion to remember what is.

We celebrate communion because Christ is in us, and because of who we are in Christ.

June 21, 2010

Masturbation and the Consequences of Sin

History doesn’t tell us who first came up with the notion that if you masturbate you will go blind.   Neither I am aware of any scientific corroboration of this connection, though I am sure that it has acted as a deterrent to many a young man, especially in less-informed times.

Sometimes, though, there are times when, if we give into our lusts, cravings or desires, there are definite consequences.

Heather was the friend of a friend.  I met her at least once, maybe twice.   She was an extremely attractive girl in her late teens at a time before people said, as we now do, that “the girl is hot.”  She got swept up by an older guy — some said he was in his 30s — and we don’t whether or not she was aware that he had AIDS before they had unprotected sex.

This was at a time — nearly three decades ago — before drugs could prolong the life of people diagnosed HIV positive and Heather’s life and beauty wasted away very quickly, and before much time had passed, my friend was suddenly telling me about “visiting Heather’s mom at her home the day after the funeral.”   Consequences.   Unavoidable consequences.

I don’t believe that today thousands of people have started down the road to blindness because of masturbation anymore than I believe that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.   But I do know of one instance where the Bible makes very clear the possibility of physical penalty for something which is obviously sinful.

It’s the passage that is often read at The Lord’s Supper, aka The Breaking of Bread, aka The Eucharist, aka Communion.  Perhaps you were raised with I Cor. 11: 28-30 in the King James:

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

Okay, I know.   But for some  of you-eth, the KJV script is all too familiar.  Let’s try the dynamic-equivalence translation extreme of the NLT, adding vs. 27:

So if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, that person is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.  That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ,  you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.  That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.

Wow!  It does seem a bit unmistakable, doesn’t it.  [At this point I paused to check out the verses in four different commentaries, but there was no convenient opt-out at this point, none of the writers suggested the language was figurative.]

It all raises the possibility of consequences.  I think the view would be of God striking someone with something, that the agency of disease or even death would be external.


But I have a whole other direction for our thoughts today.

I’m wondering if perhaps it is not the case that for some people — not all — willful sin creates a physical disconnect between the body and the mind, or between the body and the spirit.   Perhaps it creates a tension that puts us in conflict between our actions and that for which we were created, or, in the case of believer, a conflict between our actions and the way we are expected to be living.

We already know that many diseases are brought on by stress.   Is not the conflict between right living and wrong living a stress, even for those who are not pledged to follow Christ?  It can weaken the autoimmune system, or conversely, overstimulate it.   And for the Christ-committed, would the stress not be greater since the internal conflict is greater?

I had a story cross my desk this week about a person who I knew was involved in something that I considered a lifestyle conflict.   (Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not that one; this was rather obscure.)  This person was also involved in a ministry organization, so the degree of conflict would be more intensive, wouldn’t it?

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  (James 3:1 NIV)

Today, this person is fighting a rather intense physical disease.   I can’t help but wonder if there was so much tension between what he knew and taught to be God’s best versus what he was caught up in, that it some how manifested itself internally as a kind of stress.  But I know what you are thinking:

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.  (John 9: 2-3 NIV)

Not all affliction is the consequence of wrongdoing.   But the I Cor 11 passage allows for the possibility of affliction as direct consequences of sin.

Do you ever find yourself internally conflicted?   Paul said,

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise… I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.  t happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.   (Romans 7: 15, 17-23, The Message)

The inner conflict is going to be there.   The tension is going to exist.   The question is whether or not it is going to absorb us into something that becomes a lifestyle, and that lifestyle is going to bring consequences.

You can disagree with this of course, but you don’t want to go blind, do you?


Today’s blog post is a combined post with Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.

Photo credit (upper) http://www.lookinguntoJesus.net
Photo credit (lower) product available at http://www.zazzle.co.uk
Graphic (middle) adapted from Chapter One text at http://www.thepornographyeffect.wordpress.com

Read more:  Sin: It’s Kind of a Big Deal

May 1, 2010

Pyromaniacs: Don’t Tease Your Readers and Call It Serious Discussion

I’m not sure what to make of Thursday’s post by Dan Phillips at Team Pyro.   On the surface of it, it looks like a major concession for a conservative reformer to make:  “Women Must Preach in Church.”  (The use of must is probably the giveaway.)

But the (entire) text of the post says, “…on one occasion.”   And guess what, gang?  Despite the timing, he ain’t talkin’ Mother’s Day.

The text is also a link which takes you to:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  ~ I Cor 11: 26 ESV

(Well c’mon… if you know anything about that blog, you know it’s gonna be ESV)

So immediately, readers take the bait.

So then, after a bit of discussion about the role of women in the church, he reins it in:

OK, an ANNOUNCEMENT. I’d like to take this back to the topic of the post: the proclamation that is the Lord’s Supper.

I’m going to be pretty firm on this. My one regret about the last meta was not enforcing my call, after the first comment, to get back to the topic. So let’s stick with the topic.

So finally on topic, there’s some good discussion about this that you can read for yourself.  For those who don’t it’s basically about whether or not what some of us call “communion” is an act of worship or an act of proclamation or testimony.   And if it’s what others call “the Lord’s Supper” is a form of proclamation, who are we proclaiming it to?  (Especially when in some quarters this is often a separate, closed service only attended by believers in the first place.)

The problem here is that Pyromaniacs is widely read, and like I wrote a few days ago on the subject of prayer, every church’s — and every individual’s — understanding and expression of what yet others call “the Eucharist” is quite different.

So it’s a fair discussion on a worthwhile topic, and being good reformers, a few of the 160+ comments toss in the phrase, “the heart of the Gospel” just for good measure.

But I still say you shouldn’t bait your readers with what appears to be topic “A” when you really want to discuss topic “B.”

And don’t bring up topic “A” at all if you feel it just opens up a can of worms.   Because I think this time around, your readers thought topic “A” was equally worthy of discussion.

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