Category Archives: Reflections on the Restoration

Iv’ry Tower

By: Steve Holt Sr.

When I was in my mid-teens, Dad decided to build a motel.  He had built houses before, but this was his first venture into a project of such magnitude. I watched as the Iv’ry Tower Inn took shape from the ground up to become the premier “motor hotel” in our small but growing town.

Since our family traveled a lot, my dad took notes at every motel we stayed in to record those amenities and features that stood out so that he could incorporate them to enhance a traveler’s stay.  For examples, the Iv’ry Tower was one of the first motels that featured an “endless loop” hot water system so that travelers would not have to wait for their bath water to warm up.  He selected the best mattresses he could find and replaced them at the first hint of sagging.  There was always free, fresh coffee in the lobby.  The motel’s restaurant was the first in the area to feature Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken.  And the $3.99 all-you-could-eat Sunday brunch buffet was the best in town.

I started working at the motel when I was about fifteen years old doing a variety of odd jobs, one of the oddest being driving through the parking lot of our biggest competitor, the Holiday Inn down the street, counting the cars and reporting my findings to dad.

There were many nights when the Holiday Inn had twice as many cars as the Iv’ry Tower, and on other nights, we had a few more cars than the big “franchise” hotel.  I often wondered why anyone would want to stay anywhere other than the Iv’ry Tower.  We had the best service, the best amenities, the nicest swimming pool, and the best restaurant.  We cared for the traveler.  Our rates were better.  It was the traveler’s home away from home, offering all that anyone could possibly want and need while on the road.

I remember becoming quite angry when anyone suggested that the Holiday Inn was the best motel in town.  I mean just because the place had world-wide recognition, was part of the number one motel chain in the world at the time, was considered by some to be the only place to stay when on the road, was easily recognized by the “great sign” out front…none of that mattered.  Dad’s place was a better idea because it focused on the comfort of the individual traveler.  “If they only knew…” I would lament.

If they only knew.

My affections for the Iv’ry Tower Inn were, to a much lesser degree, pretty similar to my love for God’s church—greatest idea ever!  The church—the repository of the redeemed—was made to perfectly fulfill a human being in virtually every way, designed to nurture, encourage, guide, and protect.  It is a place of grace and latitude, receiving its charter from none other than the Loving Shepherd, Jesus, himself.  Among  fellow saints, weary travelers receive the strength and provisions to continue the journey.  With locations around the world, pilgrims are nudged forward, often carried the last mile or two when the going is too tough for some.

I envision a community that, when working as it should, enjoys the “favor of all the people,” as it did when first born. I imagine a community to which people flock—like the ark—for refuge and safety.

Why, then, are people settling for less in a traditional religious institution that calls itself “church”? If people only knew, they wouldn’t be lured away by the name recognition and familiar design of institutional churches with their fancy buildings, large congregations, elaborate music, hip preachers, and programs for every demographic. Rather, they would find what they seek—and so much more— within the comfortable confines of God’s purposed group.

It’s not that institutional churches are all that wrong, it’s that they are so far from being all that God wants for his community. In God’s family, every voice is heard, every gift is encouraged and used, every need fulfilled.  In God’s family, the direction for the group is determined by listening to the voice of the Father together and joining God in his work, together—no child is left behind.

There are wonderful, godly folks who choose the institutional brand of church. And they aren’t bad people for doing so. They’ve just settled for less, and I’m truly sorry for them. They’ve opted for the known, the safe, the secure, the familiar, and in most cases, the comfortable.  It’s like their attitude is “Oh well, we’re here; it’s not so bad.  So, let’s just stay with what we know.” And they never come to know what they are really missing.

Through his family, the multi-faceted wisdom of God is laid bare for all to see.  Here, the world gets a glimpse of how people, so different from one another, co-exist and move toward a common goal. Here, the world gets to see all the ways God does his work of loving, feeding, guiding, and nurturing human beings. Here, the wisdom of “little ones” is esteemed as highly as the “learned.” Here, scripture is not just talked about; it’s lived out. Here, the needs of those not yet in the community are tended to as purposefully as those in the community.

God’s design holds the possibility of a “vital family within easy access of every person on earth.” God’s group is easily reproducible. It is simple, transportable, and fluid. God’s church can function fully with as few as two and clearly demonstrates the maxim that “less is more.” It costs nothing but blood—his blood—to maintain. God’s church is the only great leveling presence on earth where human beings find equality, purpose and meaning.  Only God himself determines membership.

If only they knew…

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Dear Rosten

By: Steve Holt Sr.

So you think today is a good day to harvest?  You are joking, naive, uninformed or deceived. I would ask only that you go out today and test your position.  Do some harvesting.  Go bring a soul into the Kingdom.  Then let us know how that went.  Even if you were fortunate enough to find someone ready to harvest, it only means that someone before you has done the “hard” work of getting that person ready.  Christendom’s efforts to reap, at least in the northern part of our hemisphere, are coming up empty.

Have you read the stats? Have you noticed that harvesting in America is coming to a grinding halt? Have you noticed that the fruit in the bins is growing older, not being replaced by fresh fruits and veggies?  Have you read where more and more people are becoming less apathetic and more hostile toward Christianity?  In your last post, you attribute that to poor harvesting techniques.  Good try, but even the best techniques and tools won’t bring in a harvest that’s simply not there.

There’s one other possibility as to why we hold such differing views on this issue…miscommunication.  Perhaps we are not speaking the same language. Perhaps “harvest” to you means something completely different than what Jesus and I mean (notice what I did there?).

So, allow me to dumb down the discussion. (I could only say this to my friend who knows when I jest. I truly esteem this man highly.)

First, a few thoughts on your first rebuttal.  You really missed the point of why I used these two passages, so let me break it down.

About Mark 4, you said: “The miracle (of growth) isn’t accomplished by his (the farmer’s) careful, loving attention.”  I was not discussing how God miraculously brings about a harvest but about how each step in the process requires a farmer’s participation. (The farmer scatters the seed; the farmer harvests.)  You and I, friend, have a role in the whole process.  God won’t grow squash in our gardens unless we plant squash.  He won’t override our stupidity of not watering by bringing about a plentiful harvest.  Likewise, unless we as his people plant and water, God won’t (can’t?) bring forth a harvest.  So, I would edit your sentence to read, “The miracle of growth isn’t accomplished by his careful, loving attention, but growth would be impossible without it.”

To restate, we have not done the “hard” work (love and service) of preparing the field, planting the seed and watering the crop.  As a result, we have nothing to harvest.  And even if we did, unless God’s farmers set about the task of harvesting, the fruit will lay waste in the fields.  The demise of God’s church in America is clear and unmistakable.

Next, you said: “John 4 and Mark 4 paint a picture of a plentiful harvest.” Yes they do.  And that illustrates my point all the more.  Sowing the fields to result in what Jesus called “ripe for harvest” was begun hundreds of years before when prophets like Isaiah painted those beautiful images of the “suffering servant” who would bring justice and peace to his languishing people.  What a contrast this passage makes between the fields of Jesus’ day and our day.

You just can’t escape the lesson Jesus presents in these two passages:

  1. Farmers play a crucial part in the whole process.  If the farmer fails to do his part at each phase, the crops fail.
  2. Often, the one who reaps is not the one who sows and waters.  Such was the case with the Samaritans and especially the multitude that was “harvested” on Pentecost. The Samaritans who believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony had been prepared to receive that word (You did a good job of recounting the Samaritan’s rise to ripeness and favor. Jesus is so good and so inclusive!)  Too many people think that simply spouting information will result in a harvest when there has been no preparation.  How shortsighted and wrong!
  3. Each of the phases in farming is distinct and vital.  (More on this in my next post.)
  4. Sowing and watering are the hard work.  Harvesting is relatively easy in comparison.

 

What few ripe souls there may be in twenty-first century America were prepared by faithful farmers who took the time to love, nurture, and feed them.  We can expect fewer and fewer ripe souls as God’s church continues to believe that the fields are ripe and, therefore, refuses to do the hard work of loving and serving. It’s time to sow!

 

Love you, Ross,

 

Steve

God Sends

By: Steve Holt Sr.

God sends.   He sent Jesus.  He sent the Holy Spirit.

Jesus sends.   He sent the 70/72.  He sent the apostles.  He sent the demoniac.  He sent the blind man to wash.  He sent the man with leprosy, and he sent the paralytic. He sent the woman at the well.  He sent, he sent, he sent…look it up.  And he still sends his disciples…even today.

*Church keeps.   Church ensnares.  Church creates a membership.  Church keeps count.  Church traps and manipulates.  Church exacts money.  Church maintains lists.

Jesus knows that in the safety of his shadow is no place to grow spiritually.  If it were, he would have stayed forever.  He knows that outside, where there are threats and dangers, is where one grows in faith…where one displays faith.  Jesus knows that away from his physical presence, where there are obstacles, traps, temptations and enticements, his power to provide and protect can be seen in its fullness.  Otherwise he would have built a temple and lived here permanently.

 Jesus calls, then he sends.

Church calls and keeps.  Church is afraid to let its people go.  Church doesn’t trust its people to trust God.  Church has deceived its people into believing that they can’t make it “out there,” that membership in their institution is where it’s safe and secure.  Therefore, Christians are afraid to let go of Church in order to walk more closely with Jesus.

Jesus trusts his people to trust him and him alone.  Not all do, but he continues to trust.  His goodness and power are so overwhelmingly obvious that the competition pales in comparison.  “Where else…?” is the response of those who have truly tasted his goodness and power.

Jesus takes away guilt. Church induces guilt.

Church is jealous of the competition.  Churches compete for the affections of the public.  Read it in the newspaper ads and Church bulletins and other shameless promotions.  Church lives in fear.  Church constantly has to improve, become more, do more, do better, do bigger, build bigger, build better.  Nonetheless, Church blends in with the competition, and in most cases, pales in comparison to what the world has to offer.  Jesus says Be last.  Churches all claim to be number one.  (One day I saw the “Blessed and Highly Favored Christian Center,” I kid you not.)

Aside: Take a look at the Church bulletin where you are a member.  Be truthful…have you ever seen a more blatant display of self-promotion?  Can you imagine what Jesus would say if his disciples ever presented the concept of a Church bulletin to him?

I think I’ll place all my eggs in Jesus’ basket and see where that gets me.

What about you?

 

(*Church with a capital C refers to an institution of Christendom with its pomp and ritual and countless denominations.  Church with a little c means God’s eternal family which transcends denominations and that he brought into being through Jesus.  If your Church has a name out front that differentiates it from other Churches in your neighborhood, it would probably carry a capital C.)

 

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 5)

By: Steven Brice

A Call to Repentance & Restoration

            Therefore my beloved heritage, I am calling you to repentance. I am calling you to turn away from the contribution we have made in defining Christianity as merely an event that people attend on Sundays. If Jesus’ life and ministry has its locus among the poor and the oppressed, then the heartbeat of our life should reflect Jesus’ ministry. When people were looking for Jesus, they didn’t contact Jesus’ secretary to schedule an appointment. Jesus was found in the streets of the poor, oppressed, and rejected. When people are looking for us, will they find us in a nice looking building or will they find us in the streets like Jesus?

            I am calling my beloved heritage to be restored back to authentic Christianity, to be a community of believers who are called family, exercise filial responsibility. The greatest calling that Disciples of Christ are called to is love. It is by our love that the world will know we belong to Jesus.[1] We are called, my beloved heritage, to be salt and light to those who are suffering within hopeless situations. We possess the hope that is within Jesus; therefore, let us exercise the hope we cherish. Will we be like Mother Teresa, who “grasped the depth of Jesus’ identification with each sufferer and understood the mystical connection between the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of the poor? Will we embrace her humble service and endeavor to ‘bring souls to God – and God to souls.’”[2]

Conclusion

            I am fully aware my beloved family members within the churches of Christ can read this letter and criticize the core of Christianity to which I hold firmly. I acknowledge those unsaid things, positives and negatives, which should be said. I am mindful of the things I have mentioned within this letter and the possible errors within my belief.  I welcome dialogue, corrections, and instructions. Such healthy, respectful, and loving conversation can be illustrative and expose the things we are ignorant about.  However, the purpose of this letter is to awaken us to the realities of God, Christianity, and this world. It is my intention to generate healthy dialogue which will challenge us to re-imagine the church in a postmodern society.  Therefore, my beloved heritage, let us all be humble, pray, discuss, and grow.

 


[1] John 13:35 – “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (New American Standard Bible).

[2]Ibid, pg. 43.

Unavoidable Conflict

By: Brent Bailey

I’ve written a few times on this blog about the rich gifts I’ve encountered through my participation in house churches over the last two years. After spending the first 22 years of my life actively engaged in institutional Churches of Christ, I became interested in different approaches to the form and function of church and decided to investigate the simple church movement firsthand. Over the course of that experiment, the contrast between the two systems has been dramatic, with each challenging me and encouraging me in distinct ways.

 

For example: I don’t like conflict. I’d describe myself as what those in the personality-labeling business would label a “conflict avoider,” which means I do anything I can to deflect or prematurely alleviate friction. It’s much, much easier for me to avoid conflict in a church of 450 people than it is for me to avoid conflict in a church of 13 people. In the case of institutional churches, I’ve typically seen people handle conflict in two primary ways: One approach is to allow conflict to become divisive, with the result that conflict splits the church (either internally or externally). The other approach is to avoid conflict entirely, whether that occurs in the minds of individuals (“I’m just not going to bring this up.”) or in the collective consciousness of a congregation (“That’s just something we don’t talk about.”), with the result that unresolved conflict simmers and festers and rots. Because of my personality, I never want to be the source of division, so I’ve usually tended to ignore or suppress any of my feelings I perceive as negative. While that maintains the semblance of peace in my relationships, it also tends to cultivate a spirit of bitterness and resentment.

 

In the case of a house church, though, it’s much more difficult for me to avoid conflict. Maybe it’s because I’m much more directly active in each of our gatherings, such that silently stewing in a pew and slipping out early is not an option; maybe it’s because we strive for richer intimacy and sharing, and I’m never good enough at hiding my fear or anger for long; or maybe it’s because our weekly rhythms place us into direct contact so often that I quickly lose the stubbornness required to stifle my feelings. Whatever the reason, throughout my time in house churches, I’ve often surprised myself by expressing feelings I would have silenced in institutional churches.

 

The bad news is that house churches don’t necessarily handle conflict any better or worse than institutional churches. Disagreements can still become divisions, and those divisions can leave deep wounds. The good news is that I’ve begun to see how conflict can produce growth and maturity. About a month ago, I was wrestling with dissatisfaction about certain pieces of my church’s weekly rhythms, and the conflict avoider in me told me to keep my mouth shut. One morning’s reading in Ephesians 4, though, told me something different: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” I realized I had a responsibility to confess my dissatisfaction for the sake of building up the body. Furthermore, I realized with no little gratitude that my church was a safe place that welcomed that difficult honesty. The conversation that resulted was fruitful and led to almost immediate changes in our practices.

 

Over the last two years, I’ve started keeping an unofficial list in my mind: “In my future, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with a church that doesn’t…” Here’s my latest addition to the list: In my future, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with a church that doesn’t make room for the kind of honesty that produces conflict, messy as that conflict might be.

 

What’s been your experience with conflict in church? Do you find yourself tempted to avoid conflict, and does your church setting enable that temptation?

Church is the problem

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Christendom is in real trouble, and it doesn’t even know it. 

With only 12 dysfunctional appointees and a few other ragged men and women, Jesus began a revolution that took the earth by storm…for a while.

In the century that followed his return to heaven, Jesus’ followers ushered countless men, women, boys and girls into the Kingdom by doing what he did…loving, serving, showing mercy, and living holy, joyful lives.  There wasn’t a church building in sight and not one program for kids, seniors or families.  Ample evidence points to the home as the center of Kingdom life during the earliest centuries.  Yet, despite growing apostasy, the church grew on the margins of life.

Then in AD 313-314, Emperor Constantine of Rome made Christianity the official religion of the vast Roman Empire, built on a vision, Constantine claimed, from Christ himself.  “Legitimizing” Christianity appears to be the greatest coup that Satan has ever made against the Kingdom of God.  In a series of edicts, Constantine took Christianity out of homes, neighborhoods and from the margins of society and virtually confined it to ornate structures, making Christianity fashionable, for the first time.  He established a clerical hierarchy, corralled the Spirit of God into a canon to be interpreted only by those properly “educated,” and put in place a religious system that continues to define both Catholic and Protestant expressions of faith to this day.  Churches today look and function more like the institution that Constantine established than that which Jesus established.  Christians today act more like the programmed, conditioned minions of Constantine’s kingdom than the joyful, generous, self-sacrificing disciples of Jesus.

Beginning with Constantine and continuing through the ages, mankind bound what God chose to leave boundless.  Mankind confined what God freed.  Mankind pronounced impotent that which God empowered.   Mankind excluded those whom God included.  Mankind snuffed it out where God breathed life.

After Constantine, church buildings became the center of religious activities.  Liturgy defined worship.  Clergy became the experts without whom ordinary believers couldn’t possibly understand God’s message.  Church officials were the final authority in all things related to faith.  Sinners were exploited and manipulated.  The poor and alienated were ostracized.  None of this was ever God’s intention.

In the end, the spirit of individual faith was wrestled from believers and replaced with a pattern beneficial first to the institutional church.  Over time, Christians have willingly given religious institutions more and more power to interpret all things spiritual and to put the institution’s well-being above the individual’s.

Today, we have a world of weak, ineffective and generally apathetic “Christians” who look nothing like the first disciples who transformed the world often at unimaginable costs.  In many parts of the world, Christianity is scoffed at because of its arrogant claims and distorted ideals.  I blame Church for conditioning parishioners and members over time to consider first what the Church thinks and does and to ignore God’s call and the Spirit’s work in the individual.

Believers today have given up a relationship with God for knowledge about God as interpreted by the “learned.”  Churches have tricked Christians into believing that money given to God must pass first through the institution to have any validity.  Most Churches would have Christians believe that meeting at the church building on Sunday morning is more important than feeding the homeless in City Square on Friday night.

Every new church building or addition, every church “service” or activity, reinforces what Constantine legislated.  Local congregations segregated by race or culture testify to the ineffectiveness of religion to bring all things together in Christ Jesus.

Most Christians have no faith in what God can do in them, with them and for them.  Most would never believe that their home could again become the center of Kingdom activity.  Most do not believe that God’s Spirit could lead them into “all truth” without an “expert” to guide them.  Most believe that evangelism is an activity rather than a lifestyle, and few have any idea what a “disciplined life” looks like.  Far too many Christians believe that eliminating sin is their primary calling.  Too many Christians see the Bible primarily as a rule book rather than a revelation of what God has done, is doing and will do.  Too few Christians truly believe that one can develop a real and personal relationship with Jesus that is infinitely more fulfilling and meaningful than one’s relationship with another person.  Too many Christians live only in anticipation of heaven rather than seeing today as the opportunity to experience and model life “on earth as it is in heaven.”  Like the local Church that provides their spiritual guidance, too few Christians have the faith to return to the margins of society where real life is lived and where they can lend their resources, skills and blessings to people of a different race and social standing.

Finally, too few Churches and Christians have any idea, let alone a plan, for restoring and passing on life in the Kingdom as God intended from the beginning.  Christians are living as if things can’t change.  In fact, most Christians don’t have any clue as to why things must change.  And that might be the saddest reality of all.

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 4)

By: Steven Brice

An Example of Christ

Once in the life of Christ, Jesus and John had a dialogue. It went like this,

“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.  For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”[1]

While this text has been refuted and redefine by some to argue against those who are not a part of the Churches of Christ are not with us and/or are not Christians, it is clear that Jesus is concerned about people who carry the name of Christ (whether in the churches of Christ or not) are doing good deeds. While the immediate context is referring to casting out demons, Jesus gives us a practical example and application by stating, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”[2]

Mother Teresa is a prime example of someone who does not have a Church of Christ heritage, but who has been a light of world to many who have lived in darkness. In her earlier years, Mother Teresa served as a teacher at the Loreto school in Entally, eastern Calcutta. She served this school for nearly twenty years. Although she was satisfied with her career at the time, she was highly disturbed by the growing poverty within her purview. She is believed that she received a call to leave the school and to serve Jesus among the poor. She writes,

It was a vacation to give up even Loreto where I was very happy and to go out in the streets to serve the poorest of the poor. It was in that train, I heard the call to give up all and follow Him into the slums – to serve Him in the poorest of the poor … I knew it was His will and that I had to follow Him. There was no doubt that it was going to be His work.”[3]

Who reflect the story of the gospel more closely? Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to the poor or Christians or those who define Christianity as an event that all “faithful” Christians attend on Sundays? For her every human being carries the image of God. God can be seen within every individual. Therefore, not only do we, as Mother Teresa has done, carry the light of Christ to people, we, like Mother Teresa encounter Christ in the messiness of people’s lives. Kolodiejchuk writes, “not only did Mother Teresa bring the light of Christ to the poorest of the poor; she also met Christ in each one of them. Jesus chose to identify Himself with the poor and with all those who suffer…”[4] What kind of people did Christ identify Himself with? Who do we identify ourselves with in comparison? Are we a people accused of being among the poor, the rejected, and marginalized? Or are we people who are accused of being among people who think like us? Was Jesus not accused of eating with sinners? When was the last time we were accused of eating with outcasts?


[1]Mark 9:38-41 (New Revised Standard Version).

[2]Mark 9:41 (New Revised Standard Version).

[3]Kolodiejchuk, Brain, Mother Teresa: Come be my Light (New York: Doubleday, 2007), pg. 39-40.

[4]Ibid, pg. 43.

The Lord’s Supper…Ha!

supper

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Lord’s Supper.  Lord’s Table.  Communion.  Holy Communion.  Breaking Bread.  Eucharist…             

The names are almost as diverse as the ways of participating.  In my tradition, it’s the “quick and efficient” method.  Men (has to be men) line up and are given trays holding the emblems.  Usually a rote prayer is uttered, the huddle breaks, and the men scatter to pre-determined locations in the auditorium to distribute the goods.  When the tray arrives, you have exactly 15 seconds to break off a bit of bread, put it in your mouth and bow your head like you and God have your own little session going.  Same goes for the juice:  gulp, pass and bow.  Oh, and this ritual is done only on Sundays.  Heaven forbid that we remember Jesus in this fashion on any other day of the week.

I think God throws up every time this scene is repeated in the many churches that use the “quick and efficient” method.  But, lest I be accused of being preferential in my condemnation, I don’t think God is all that pleased with any method found in Christendom.  Yes, I suppose you could find scriptural justification for these forms of communion, but come on, have we really captured the spirit of what Jesus set in motion when he borrowed the Passover tradition for this sacrament?  (Form over spirit is at the center of so much church stuff.  But that’s a topic for another time.)

“Do this in remembrance of me,” seems to be the guiding principle Jesus was setting forth.  In fact, Paul, recounting what Jesus had told him about the supper (1 Corinthians 11), mentions the remembrance part after both the bread and the wine.  Remember what?  Well, it looks like we’re to remember Jesus, his death and his return.

My question is, how many times a week does God want us to remember his Son?  As often as possible, I would think.  That’s exactly why I think Jesus chose two of the most ubiquitous (found everywhere) items on the face of the earth—bread and wine.  In Jesus’s day, and I dare suppose the same was true throughout the history of Israel, these two staples—bread and wine—could be found everywhere people went.  Every home had a loaf of bread and a skin of wine somewhere.  Same with inns.  So, whether you were at home, at a neighbor’s house or traveling, at some point during the day, you were going to see and sample these symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, and you would be reminded of him.  Pretty neat, huh?

Further, I think it’s no accident that Jesus used a meal with friends as the setting.  What better way to remember than with loved ones who cherish the memory of the loved One?  To remove the ritual from a full-blown meal with friends is to really dilute its full, intended beauty.

God also knew that whatever practice he called his people to has to be readily available to anyone in any age and any culture.  Unleavened bread, wine, gold-plated communion set, laminated serving instructions, etc. will certainly be out of reach for some people somewhere.  But the spirit of the event is possible anywhere and anytime by anyone—believers make do with what they have.  So, picture this:  you and some of your favorite people are at Lytle Land and Cattle about to chow down on some ‘que.  Someone in the group hoists a glass of sangria (or ice tea, water, etc.) and toasts the King of Kings.  Another passes around a basket of rolls, and together, the table remembers the Savior.  The same thing happened earlier at breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and at lunch at Bogie’s.  “As often as you drink this cup and eat this bread…”

Sacrilegious?  Only if the participants don’t have a pure heart.  Only if they use the occasion to get drunk or gorge themselves or if feelings are hurt or if done for show.  (You can check Paul’s list in 1 Cor. 11).  Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection—his amazing show of love and mercy—are remembered every time we eat a meal, not just during the 15-second habit practiced in most churches.

I thought about this “automatic response” recently when I sat down at home with my wife for dinner.  Before me was a plate of food, and I had this overwhelming sense of gratitude for what God had provided.  I thanked him quietly and remembered how good he is to our family.  Food triggered my thanks.

“The Lord’s Supper” is also meant to remind us of God’s goodness.  Why confine this beautiful act to a set place and a set time?

I’m Guilty

mentor

By: Christiana Cha

I’m guilty of depending too much on myself and trying to figure everything out on my own, using my own resources and my own brain.

The past year of my life has not been my easiest, but it has been full of lessons and small blessings along the way. One such blessing has been a woman (we’ll call her M) who has been friend, mentor, sister, prophet, and mother to me. M’s and my meeting in life seems increasingly serendipitous, and we are able to gain encouragement, a sense of not being alone, and words of wisdom from each other.

I was still a teenager the first time someone called me an “old soul,” and growing up I tended to be the one in a friendship who played the part of listener, mentor, and adviser. It wasn’t until I was an upperclassman in college that I had my first real mentor figure, and now a few years later I can confidently say that M is a mentor to me. It’s a relief – a relief to be on the receiving end of a mentoring relationship and a relief to know that no matter what, there’s someone who loves me unconditionally and will gently advise, comfort, or challenge me as the occasion arises.

It’s a relief to know there’s someone on my team, that I don’t have to go it alone.

I spent the first twenty years of my life almost refusing to be on the receiving end of a mentoring relationship, but as I’ve made it a little farther along in my twenties, I’ve realized how important it is to have a mentor. I was hungry for a mentor. I searched for a mentor the first year and a half or so of graduate school with not much to show for it, and just when I was getting discouraged, M and I clicked.

Each day I am thankful for M’s friendship and loyalty, and I eagerly drink in her Spirit-inspired words of encouragement. I let myself be alternately a child and an old woman with M, and we pray together and listen for the still, small voice together on each other’s behalf.

If you don’t already have a mentor figure or someone to mentor in your life, I would encourage you to carefully or prayerfully (whichever one is your thing) seek one out. It is a mutually beneficent relationship I would not trade, and I hope that you can be open to the baring of your soul to another person.

God: Flexible then, now and later

flexiblejesus

By: Steve Holt Sr.

How many times have you heard people quote Hebrews 13:8 (“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”) to protest some new idea, a change that is happening in their church or an assault on some long-held doctrine?  I suppose their rationale is that if God said it thousands of years ago, the same still applies today.  It’s like saying, “It was good enough for your grandpappy; it’s good enough for you.”

Well, I’m not so sure.

Sure, it’s true that the basic nature of God (and his son) hasn’t changed.  He was love then; he’ll always be love.  He was justice then; he’ll always be justice.  But I think there’s another side we must consider as we face the cultural tides that ebb and flow creating havoc in our churches today.

Have you considered how changeable God really has been through the millennia?  If you are honest in your interpretation, you’d have to admit that God changed his mind quite often; in fact, if he were running for office, someone might call him a waffler.  A few examples:  Remember how Abraham kept whittling down the number of righteous people necessary for God to spare Sodom?  God was going blast that huge city, but Abraham talked him out of it.  And remember how God was going to kill all the Israelites because of their complaining (Numbers 14), and Moses interceded to beg God to reconsider?  And he did.  And again in Jonah 3 when God repented of the evil he planned to inflict on the Ninevites?  Then there’s the story in 2 Samuel. 24 of God being “grieved” at the plague he sent on Israel for the sins David committed and told the angel of death, “Enough!”

Think about the huge shift in covenants from the Law to the one founded on the blood of his own Son.  And then this Son comes along and turns upside-down the “way things have always been” in order to usher in a new Kingdom.  If you ask me, God is not as static as some have portrayed him.  He is ever-changing.  Just when you think you’ve got him nailed down, he does the unexpected…sometimes the outrageous!

Here’s how I know in my very soul that God is capable of reversing, revising or rethinking even the “firmest” doctrines that you and I have claimed to be unchangeable for so long…I’ve done it for my kids.  There was a time when tattoos, for example, were absolutely forbidden in our family (“You get a tattoo,” I told my younger sons, “and you will never, ever be allowed to drive the family car.”).  The same went for smoking, drugs, and so much more.  These were issues that held no wiggle room; they were firm and the consequences, dire.  And while I still hold to some of the no-no’s from years-gone-by, I can’t imagine anything that would forever alienate me from my sons.  The peace that exists between us now is not because they are perfect sons living up to my ideals for their lives, but because I have changed my heart and mind over the few things that would certainly create distance.

Scripture implies that God’s main purpose for all he did, does and will do is to make sure I (you, too) get to be with him forever one day.  Scripture further reveals that if it’s up to me (you, too), it ain’t gonna happen!  For me to have any hope of being in the very presence of God someday, he’s going to have to overlook a whole lot; he’s going to have to change his mind about some things.  There are flaws in my character that are so deep and so ingrained that I will never flush them out.

Think about that next time you judge someone for having an abortion, or for their sexual attraction,  or personal habits, or their choice of churches, or taste in music or even for their tattoos.  The Kingdom of God is big enough for us all, overseen by a Father who has done what it takes to make sure we make it.  Always has, always will.

The scripture is true:  “Jesus Christ (God) is the same yesterday, today and forever.”  He was flexible then, he’s flexible now, and he’ll be flexible later.  And that alone is enough to endear Him to me forever.