Archive | September, 2014

What would you do to get a new body?

26 Sep

new bodyWhat would you do to get a new body?

Think about how much money, time and effort people go through to get new bodies. I love a good weight-loss story because I lost a bunch myself, and it feels great. But some other new body stories scare me. Endless plastic surgeries, injections, pills, etc.

What have you tried to get a new body?

Our culture oftentimes gives us a very distorted perception of the body. Take a look at this lady, and how she got her new body:

But did she really get a new body? This week as I was studying a bit about what Americans do to try to get new bodies, I came across a very interesting article in which the author says it is not possible to get a new body.  Check it out here and see what you think.

Here is the author’s conclusion:

Because even though it will change in various ways over time, nothing and no one is with us more than our one, never new body. It shows up more for us than anyone or anything ever will, even when we’re not happy with it, even when we wish it was different, even when we talk poorly about it and to it.

You’re never getting a new body (and neither am I). And that’s the good news.

When it comes to learning to be satisfied with our bodies, when it comes to focusing on being healthy rather than achieving a false standard of beauty, I agree with her. But this week we’re going to see that Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, on another level, has a serious disagreement with her. Can we get a new body?  You can find out for yourself by preparing for Sunday and reading 1 Corinthians 15:35-50.  And please feel welcome to join us at Faith Church on Sunday at 9:30am to hear more.

How the most obscure verse in the Bible can change your life – 1st Corinthians 15:12-34

24 Sep

ChangeOne commentator said 1 Corinthians 15:29 has been called the most difficult and obscure verse in the entire Bible. Here’s a Bible trivia question for you: how many verses in the Bible? There are 31102 verses in the Bible, and this is most obscure of all?  Really?  If so, why?  Keep reading, you’ll learn why and it just might change your life!

Scholars don’t know for certain what this verse is referring to, and none of the options I reviewed are totally satisfying. The reason is that in the verse Paul talks about baptism for the dead.  It is the only place in the NT that something like this is mentioned, and church historians tell us that whatever baptism for the dead was in Corinth, it didn’t continue beyond them, except in one cult-like expression called Marcionism, and 1800 years later in Mormonism. It could simply be that the Corinthians believed that living people could get baptized additional times for people who were already dead, thus hoping the dead people could be saved after death.

Here’s why it matters, and here is why I bring it up: Paul’s point is that whatever baptism for the dead was going on in the church at Corinth, it is futile if there is no resurrection of the dead.

Basically he is saying, “You Corinthians practice baptism. Do you realize that baptism is based totally on faith in the belief that resurrection is true?” Look at the symbolism in baptism, and you see it. You go under the water to symbolize Jesus’ death. Baptism would be pretty terrible if all it did was symbolize Christ’s death. (How long can you hold your breath?) What makes baptism so meaningful is that after you go under, you also come back up, symbolizing new life in Christ because of his resurrection!

As Paul continues to show the Corinthians why resurrection is so vital, in verses 30-32 he gives an example from his own life. Because he believes resurrection is true, he gives himself fully to cause of Christ. Look at how intense he is in verse 31. When he says “just as surely as a I glory over you in Christ” he is basically giving to them, as commentator Alan Johnson notes, “an affirmation based on something of ultimate importance to them: ‘I swear by all that I hold dear’ that this is true.”

Because Jesus has been raised, for Paul it is a game changer. We often talk about how, because of 9/11, the world changed. Paul is saying something like that. Jesus’ resurrection was so momentous an event that it not only changed the world but it should change our lives as well. Paul shows how it changed his. He now knew the meaning of life, that Jesus was God, that Jesus won the victory and thus we should give ourselves fully to him and his kingdom because we, and the hopefully many, many more who will follow him because of us, will experience both the abundant life of Jesus now and eternal life in heaven. Resurrection motivates us to mission!

Last week (verses 3-8) Paul said Jesus really did die, but he rose again. The miracle happened! There were plenty of people who had a strong interest in stopping this new Christian movement. Primarily the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. All they had to do to stop the movement was produce Jesus’ body. The movement was entirely dependent on that one claim, resurrection. And Paul is right, as he says in verses 13-16, if Jesus didn’t rise, our faith falls apart. So if you want to destroy Christianity, like those religious leaders did, then produce the body. They never did. And in fact there were many people Paul says who Jesus appeared to who were still alive and could affirm that he really did rise again.  That’s world-changing!

Because he did rise again, then we have a mission! A mission to holiness and a mission for God’s Kingdom to make disciples.

Because resurrection as a concept is true, it is vital that we believe that Jesus rose again, and because he did, our response should be a vigorous pursuit of holiness and discipleship.

If resurrection as a concept is not possible, then truly we should close up shop. Sell the church, disband, and go on a crusade to tell people to stop believing a lie.

But if the resurrection is true, well, that truly changes everything, and we should put aside everything for the cause of Christ.

So is the resurrection truly true?

If you want a scientific answer, with insurmountable proof, I’m sorry but I’m not able to give that. Having said that, Paul gives us some strong evidence for the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. People who had very, very good reason to kill the Christian movement only had to produce a body, and they didn’t. People who said there were eyewitness accounts gave their lives to die for it.

But scientific proof? No. Instead we must place our faith in the resurrection. As Paul said in Romans 10:9,10, “believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” If God is all-powerful, it’s not hard to envision the possibility that God could do this. But it is still a matter of faith.

I urge you to place your faith in Christ, that he died and rose again, and that in him we can all be made new. Because of his death and resurrection for our sins, we can experience his abundant life now and eternal life in heaven.

Will you answer the call the discipleship? I’m not talking about just showing up for church, I’m talking about fully embracing the resurrection life that Jesus has to offer. If you want to follow the pathway to discipleship, let’s talk about it!

Feel free to listen to the whole sermon here.

Do you believe in the walking dead?

19 Sep

The_Walking_Dead_title_cardIt returns in about a month.  The Walking Dead.  A very compelling show for many reasons, The Walking Dead is the story of a group of survivors trying to eke out life in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

Zombies have become quite a fascination in our culture of late.  Much of the attraction is just simply thinking “What if it were true?”, what if a zombie apocalypse could really happen?  Then, after envisioning a world where dead people come to life as zombies that want to eat you, the next question asks “What would it actually be like to live in that kind of world?”  The creators and writers of The Walking Dead do an amazing job trying to answer that second question.  The movie World War Z, a book adaptation, sought to do the same thing.  Another way some have tried to answer that second question is to apply it backwards, such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies tries to do.  I have never read Pride and Prejudice, but when I saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the audio version, in our local library, I knew I had to check it out.  It was hilarious.  I felt the adaptation was convincing enough that I imagined the actual novel must have been set in the middle of a plague-like context.  It’s not.  Just this morning, here’s a report that it, too, is being turned into a feature film.  It seems we can’t speculate enough about what the world would be like in a zombie apocalypse.

But what about the first question.  What if were true?  People coming back to life.  What if people could actually come back to life?

By asking that, I’m not thinking of zombies, I’m thinking of resurrection.  The dead rising to new life. There are many examples of how the undead could be a real possibility, but the central idea about zombies is that they are still dead.  Or undead.  Resurrection is different than an idea of walking dead because in resurrection, a living human dies, and then rises to new life.  Admittedly, it is a wildly odd idea.  That which is inanimate is not able, by definition, to become animate.

Ironically enough, as fascination with the undead or the walking dead seems to be growing, belief in a real bodily resurrection to new life seems to be declining.  Mike Regnerus in First Things recently said that while “a general resurrection of the dead is something orthodox Christians across the centuries have long anticipated…many of the faithful aren’t so sure.”  Regnerus bases his findings on new research, showing that in many churches, 1 in 4 parishioners no longer believe in the resurrection.  Want to know that group that has the highest affirmation of belief in the resurrection?  See this chart:

resurrection beliefs 2014Shouldn’t evangelicals be at the top?  Second place isn’t bad, though we drop to third when considering active attenders (3+ times per month). Again, look at the total percentage.  One in four evangelicals does not believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead.  What could be the reason for this?

The church in Corinth seemed to have a skeptical group as well.  Paul starts this section by saying “How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?”

And yet in the Christian faith, we hold resurrection to be lynch pin of our entire system.  You pull Easter out from the story, and our faith falls apart.  As Paul will say in the next section of 1st Corinthians that we are studying on Sunday, if there is no such thing as resurrection, we have nothing.  A dead savior is no savior, Paul says.  As you prepare for worship on Sunday, take a look at 1st Corinthians 15:12-34 and you’ll see what I mean.

Believing the Gospel is not enough – 1st Corinthians 15:1-11

17 Sep

gospelLast week I asked “Have Christians Forgotten the Gospel?

The reason I asked that is because in the next section in our study through 1st Corinthians, 15:1-11, Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that he needs to remind them of the Gospel.  Did they forget it?  Seems that way, at least to some extent.  Since we started this study at the beginning of the year, we’ve gotten to know the Christians in the church of Corinth.  A person can see why Paul would think they needed a reminder.  They were out of control in many ways.  Disunified, undisciplined, selfish, etc.  And now we come to find out, as we’ll see in the next section, someone there was teaching that there was no such thing as resurrection. Maybe these Christians were no longer Christian?  Maybe they would be reading through Paul’s letter wondering the same thing about themselves: “Are we too far gone?  Have we messed this thing up?”

Paul begins by reassuring them, like he did in chapter 1, that they are Christians, which he affirms by reviewing that they not only received (verse 2) the Gospel message, they also believed it (verse 11).

That whole receive and believe thing has been a big part of our evangelical Christianity for decades.  We have pounded home that there is a certain content to the Good News message that must be received (as a free gift) and believed. Paul will talk about that content in the second part of this passage. He is very concerned about the Corinthians losing that content, especially the part about resurrection. He reviews it for them: Jesus died for our sins according the Scriptures, and he was buried and rose again, according to the Scriptures.  He talks about the amazing grace that God gave him, of all people, a Christian killer.  He talks about how wonderful the grace of God is.  Thinking about the content of the Gospel, it is washed in God’s grace.  We Christians, and especially our evangelical tribe, has majored on the content, which has essentially said that becoming a Christian means you need to receive and believe the content of the Gospel.

That would be well and good if that was where Paul stopped.  But he didn’t.  In addition to the content, he has quite a lot to say about the commitment.  Basically he says that believing the Gospel is not enough. He says that on the Gospel “…in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”  Look at how much further he goes beyond just intellectual belief!  Three ways:

  1. in which you stand
  2. by which you are being saved
  3. if you hold fast to the word I preached to you

Each of these phrases are so fascinating.  Each of them relates to the idea that being a Christian, being saved as we call it, cannot be satisfied by mere belief.  Perhaps you’ll take a listen to the sermon to learn more.  In the sermon I look at all three of these phrases and what it could mean for Christians to believe not only the content of the Gospel, but also respond with commitment. Check out the podcast here.

Have Christians forgotten the Gospel?

12 Sep

Christians talk a lot about the Gospel.

As they should.  The Gospel is the foundation of our faith.  But what if Christians have forgotten about the Gospel?

This post is written to Christians, but I would be very interested to hear what those who are not Christians would think of it as well.  Maybe those of you who are not Christians actually have a better perspective on Christians than we do about ourselves.  So if you are not a Christian, what do you think?  Do you think that Christians have forgotten the Gospel?  Perhaps you have rubbed shoulders with Christians in your neighborhood, or at your kids’ soccer game, or at work.  By their actions would you say they have forgotten the Gospel?

dont-forget-post-it-noteTo answer that, it would be good to know what the word Gospel actually refers to.  It doesn’t originally come from the Bible, believe it or not.  Some of the writers of the New Testament took a word that was common in Greco-Roman society and used that word to describe the story of Jesus.  That word was Euangelion, which by looking at it bears a striking resemblance to Evangelical.  It was Euangelion that came first.  Euangelion referred to a proclaiming of good news, and one of the most notable occurrences of Euangelion was to celebrate when a new Caesar would take power in Rome.  We can see, then, why the writers of the New Testament would use Euangelion to describe the proclamation of the good news of Jesus, the person they claimed was the true Lord.  But were they right?  What is the content of this Good News about Jesus?  How could those early Christians say that a peasant from a relatively unimportant corner of the Roman Empire was truly Lord?  The Roman Empire dispensed with Jesus easily.  How is that Good News?

In our next section of 1st Corinthians, 15:1-11, Paul talks about this Gospel, this Good News.  In fact he specifically wants to remind the Christians in the church of Corinth about that Good News.  It seems they had forgotten it.  They certainly weren’t acting like they remembered it.

Now some words to the Christians reading this post?  Do you remember the content of the Good News?  If you have a couple minutes to describe it, what would you say?  Without looking at 1st Corinthians 15:1-11, how about doing a little self-test, and write out the message of Good News in your own words.  Then click on the link for 1st Corinthians 15:1-11 and see how closely your description matches Paul’s.  But that is just the content side.  While the Good News is most certainly comprised of a particular content to be agreed with and believed, action is also part and parcel of Good News.  It must be lived out.  As you’ll read in this passage, Paul says that the Corinthians had not only received and believed it, but they staked their lives on it.  Yet, they were making a reputation for themselves, and it was not a good one.  Perhaps they had forgotten the message of Good News.  Perhaps they needed a reminder.

Maybe we need one too.

 

Experimental Worship? – 1st Corinthians 14:26-40

10 Sep

I have read that early Christian worship was influenced by the order of worship in Jewish synagogues.

The picture that Paul gives us in 1st Corinthians 14:26-40 (and in all of chapters 11-14, really) is a very disorderly kind of worship as practiced by the Christians in the city of Corinth.  I introduced this concept last week here. In the beginning of chapter 11 and later in 14, he talks about how disgraceful their women might have been handling themselves. We talked about that extensively here and here. In 11:17, about their practice of the Lord’s Supper, he says “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.”  He describes his concern further as stemming from disunity and selfishness, which we talked about here and here.  In chapter Later on in chapter 14 he gives the impression that people were misusing spiritual gifts, placing speaking in tongues on a pedestal, using it harmfully. And now Paul concludes his long teaching about their unruly worship services by saying that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

I agree.  But aren’t you missing something Paul?  What about the order of worship?  No comment?

In verse 26 he describes how “everyone” was involved, which I find very helpful.  Worship should not be a spectator experience where only a few paid professionals do the work.  The smaller the group, the more easy it would be, I suppose, for everyone to be involved.  But what if a church has 100 people in the audience?  What if they have 10,000?  What are some ways that we can have worship services that are more participatory?  Do we have to stop having large group worship services?

We also need to note what Paul felt was important about the purpose of worship.  Sure we worship to glorify the Lord.  I have a feeling that Paul assumes that. Notice what else he says in verse 26.  All the ways everyone participates in worship (singing, teaching, etc) should be done “for the strengthening of the church.”  That raises a couple questions in my mind:

How do we help strengthen the church if we just sit there during worship?  Is giving and singing enough?

What about the sharing of tongues and prophecy and revelation that Paul mentions?  Have we cut them off?  And if so, is it wrong?  To consider the possibility that it might be wrong, consider Paul’s closing comment in verse 39: “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”  Should only the pastors be eager to prophesy?  Paul certainly didn’t limit prophesy to the paid professionals.

“But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

I for one am glad that Paul or any other apostle didn’t give us a specific order of worship that we had to follow.  Maybe it would make things easier if he did. I have the sense that it is much, much better for us to implement principles as we see fit.  As the comment discussion bore out in last week’s intro post, it seems to me that different churches with varying approaches to worship can be a very healthy expression of God’s Kingdom.  We are unique people with so many kinds of personalities.  We love to express ourselves in many ways.  And it is okay if we are different.  Thus is it okay if some churches are more intellectual in their worship, if some are more emotional, if some have the same order every week, if some mix it up.

A few months ago I was talking to a visitor to Faith Church, and he asked what kind of worship service we have.  Was it traditional, was it contemporary?  I said “We call it experimental.”  He got a really strange look on his face.  At Faith Church we like to change things up from time to time.  We stopped printing an order of worship a long time ago because we wanted people to stop focusing on words on a page, and instead to focus on worshipping God that morning.  We know that people can still worship God by looking at a printed order of worship in a bulletin, but we made the change anyway as a small way to symbolize the attitude that we believe is central to experimental worship: humility.  At the heart of experimental worship is a belief that we do not have worship figured out.  Instead we see ourselves as learners.  We look to many traditions, many sources for teaching about how to worship God. By containing ourselves to only one style of worship, to only one order of worship, we felt that we were potentially missing out on learning a wider richness to the concept of worship.  That’s why we’ve had Church Has Left The Building Sundays, Silent Sundays, Artistic Sundays, Worship in the Park, and more.

EXPERIMENT-facebookWe know that experimenting can run the risk of coming off as gimmicky.  We’re okay with that. Our heart is anything but trying out something for kicks and giggles.  Instead, we are passionate about learning more and more how to worship God.  We committed to doing things in a fitting and orderly way.  We know we have much to learn and we’re eager to experiment more so that we can learn more!

Sure, on most Sundays, if you worship with us at Faith Church, things will feel pretty much the same week to week.  But as you look back over the course of a year, you’ll see that we have experienced worship in a variety of ways.  We’re still looking to experiment!  So if you have suggestions for us, please comment below.

Do we need an order of worship?

5 Sep

Raised in a Conservative Baptist church that practiced a style of worship very much influenced by the frontier free worship tradition, I will never forget two of my first experiences with liturgical style. The first was at a mainline Presbyterian Church in New Jersey where my mother’s sister and her family attended. After quite a few series of standing and sitting for unison prayers and creeds, all of which I was very unfamiliar with, I said “This is crazy!” a bit too loudly and received a stern look from my parents. About six years later, now a college student and bit more mellow, I attended a cousin’s wedding in an Episcopal Church. One feature of the ceremony was communion, first for the couple and then for anyone else who wished to participate. My dad decided that our family would not participate. I remember feeling quite relieved as this church’s sights, smells and sounds were very foreign to me, and thus uncomfortable. I didn’t want to have to experience its venture into the sense of taste as well. What if it was…(gasp)…wine! But I suspect my dad had us abstain due to theological reasons, feeling we shouldn’t align ourselves with the Episcopal Church.

As I reflect on these two occurrences and many subsequent forays into different Christian liturgies, it is clear that the corner of the world of worship that I grew up is just that, only a corner, a small expression of a much larger body. It is interesting how quickly we can assume that our particular expression of worship is the only one, or at least the only right one. Still more interesting is that God never inspired a biblical writer to direct us into one particular liturgy. In that we see his genius, allowing worship that can change from one time to the next, and from one culture to another. At times I wish I could see exactly how the earliest Christians worshiped, or perhaps discuss my church’s particular liturgy with Paul or Peter. Do we have it right? What could we change? Would we even like what they did?

Does your church have an order of worship?  Is the order of worship printed in a bulletin or program so people can follow along?  Does the order change much week to week?  Does it matter?

Should a church allow space in a worship gathering for the people to choice on the spur of the moment how they want to express themselves in worship?  Or should everything be planned in advance, following an order?

Frank Viola in his book Pagan Christianity, which I have currently loaned out or I would be able to quote directly, talks about the history of the order of worship as having been born from pagan gatherings.  Viola points to a few lines of Scripture that seem to teach a much more open, participatory style of worship.  Those verses are the next section of 1st Corinthians, 14:26-40.  The first few lines are compelling: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.”  Does that mean no one was leading the service, that there was no order of worship that they followed?  Viola thinks so.  He suggests that worship gatherings are actually damaging to discipleship when most of the people sit passively while a couple paid professionals do all the work.

46_1cor14_26_gifts

But if we don’t have an order of worship, won’t our worship services get out of control?  They sure did in Corinth. Can we possibly open the worship service to let everyone be involved?  What if someone talks too long?  What if they say something crazy?  What if the same people monopolize the time every week?  What if they are obnoxious?  What if they teach something that isn’t true?  Isn’t it really better to have an order of worship that is led by a few people while the rest join in by singing a couple pre-selected songs, giving, and following along with the rest?

What is the purpose of worship?  To give everyone a chance to get involved?

Join us at 9:30am on Sunday at Faith Church as we talk about this further!