Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | February 4, 2017

“Contending With Communion” by Guest Blogger Allison E. Robertson

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14: 17-26)

What do you think about when communion comes around? Some churches do it every week, others every month or quarter. Those who do not believe in Christ are asked not to partake. Especially if you’re not Catholic. Oh boy, I learned that lesson fast!

I first questioned communion a few years ago at my great aunt’s church. I was angry and not “right” with God. I thought I’d bring a curse upon myself if I partook, so I didn’t and went to the bathroom instead. I actually walked around outside seething.

My second thought was about why we collectively agree to assault our taste buds with a stale wafer and a chaser of grape juice to background music.

A third thought occurred each time I took my Hindu friend to church and she inquired about participating in communion. Embarrassed, I tried to explain without any good reason why she couldn’t. My final answer was simply: “I don’t know.”

These thoughts swirled around in my head for months until I asked God outright, “Why can’t everyone partake of the elements?” I do concede that one should not simply eat and drink for ritual’s sake. But by what doctrine do we insist that only believers may partake? Did Jesus ever say, “Hey, do this in remembrance of me… only if you truly believe”? I also concede that taking the Lord’s Supper in remembrance will typically imply that one already believes, but overall, did Jesus say, “only if you accept the Spirit and understand what this all means, you can partake”? Church leaders certainly think so.

Then there was the Catholic mass I attended just a few weeks ago. I went with a new friend to learn about the Catholic service. I had never been before. After the announcement of communion, my friend whispered to me, “You can stay here while we [Catholics] go up.” To my chagrin, I scathingly said aloud, “Oh, you have to be Catholic to do communion, you can’t just be Christian.” My response got the attention of my friend, so I myself went forward to partake.

I was watching as people filed through the line for elements. They did the “cross your heart” thing, took a Styrofoam-like wafer, and then sipped from a communal goblet. Ok, not too bad. However, I would absolutely not touch my lips to anything fifty people’s lips had already touched. Instead, I resolved to dip the wafer in the goblet. Wow, I was giddy. I got my wafer and did a little bow, eh, whatever. I dipped the wafer, and then as I turned, I absent-mindedly bit into the wafer. The priest called out, “You’re not allowed to do that!” I thought he was talking about the wine, so I said, “I don’t want to drink after anyone.” He meant “snapping the wafer in half.” I was supposed to put the whole thing on my tongue. It was a poignant experience… learning how even a Christian could be excluded from Catholic communion simply because they are Protestant and new to the service.

A common passage used for how to serve and partake of communion is from 1 Corinthians 11. Paul upbraided the church for desecrating the Lord’s Supper by not waiting for all to sit down at the table before eating the meal. Instead, they served their own families, ate individually, and filled themselves up while others went hungry. Paul was telling them to do it together and share the meal among everyone. Not waiting for one another so that the communion meal could be taken together as a family was what Paul referred to as “eating and drinking in an unworthy manner” and “not discerning the Lord’s body.”

Friends, taking communion “in a worthy manner” is a relational, community thing… not a “personal inspection for sin before you can partake” thing. Perhaps it’s this erroneous interpretation of the Lord ’s Supper which has caused the Church to exclude some from the table. After all, if you’re a believer, then you’re pretty much “clean” (as long as you haven’t sinned recently…), so you can partake. But if you’re not a believer, you are certainly “defiled with sin” and therefore cannot partake. But how can this all be, considering that Jesus ate with ALL of His disciples (including Judas) on His way to reshaping the entire faith into an inclusive one? How can this be, after Judas, the traitor himself, was eating right along with them… whom Jesus personally served at the table! How can this be, considering many disciples themselves struggled to understand and believe?

Christians these days, from what I’ve experienced, say they want everyone to belong and come as they are. Yet, once someone draws near, they are still not fully able to participate. Christians themselves are feeling excluded and tired of legalism. Yet it seems as though we are introducing others into exactly that by being exclusive at the communion table.

Jesus died and rose again to rip open the Holy of Holies, to allow everyone in, and we are laying out another hoop? What if, through taking the elements, a person can learn through symbolic actions God’s redemptive plan and actually come to understand Christ’s sacrifice and recompense for them? Though some may fail to accept Christ’s love, can we request that they not experience a meal with those who do embody his Spirit? What if, by allowing all to eat at the Lord’s Table, we invite non-believers closer? What if we all, believers and non-believers alike, held the elements as Christ’s words were recited? Couldn’t the Spirit work through that experience of touching and tasting, as well as hearing and seeing? Shoot, what if we were to ditch the whole juice and cracker thing and invite these people to dine on real food, to experience real love at a table together… all of us sinners, all of us shown mercy?

We all know how to eat good food. Judas knew that, and Judas was at the first Lord’s Supper. He got to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste along with the others. Even though he betrayed Christ, Christ did not bar him from the table. In fact, Jesus brought Judas closer before sending him on his way. I believe if Judas had repented like Peter, Jesus would have welcomed him back with open arms. But we can save that thought for later.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | December 14, 2016

The Church In Hiding

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Sadly, Christians can be some of the most insular people on planet earth.

During most of my 25 years as a believer, I was one of them. I attended a worship service on Sunday morning, another on Sunday night and another on Wednesday night. I attended a Bible Study on another night. And I participated in game nights and other social get-togethers… in the fellowship hall, of course. Most all of life revolved inside the four walls of that building which I called “church.”

I don’t think Christ ever intended for our gathering places to be our bushels. Yet whether we’re talking about the institutional church or house church or any other building where believers routinely gather, this turns out being the case more often than we may be willing to admit.

How will the world ever see our light shining before them to the glory of God if we’re always cooped up in our churches, fellowship halls or homes? How will they ever taste and see that the Lord is good? How will they ever see our love for one another, thereby knowing that we are His disciples?

Although some may say that we need to do a better job inviting people to “church,” I couldn’t disagree more strongly. Jesus did not say, “Invite your friends to come to your worship service,” but rather to go to all the world and make disciples. This involves relational engagement, actively getting to know someone, and being invested in their life, on their turf.

Now is the time to let our light shine before men…. to take it out from under our bushels and be relationally engaged with one another and our world within the arena of real life. Gathering together as a Body of believers in various places for our edification is invaluable, but if it doesn’t result in us demonstrating the love of God to humanity during our normal, routine everyday lives, then we’re missing the whole purpose for which Christ has deposited His very life in us.

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | October 16, 2016

Forgiveness Is A Two-Way Street

It’s easy to find believers that are enthusiastic about grace. Many speak very excitedly about having received forgiveness of sins through God’s grace extended to them in Christ, yet some of these same people have tremendous difficulty extending this same grace to those who have sinned against them.

Forgiveness goes much deeper than merely receiving it for ourselves and going on our merry way. What we have freely received, we must freely give. We’re called to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us. And how has Christ forgiven us?

Unconditionally.

Understand I am not talking about the issue of trust here. Trust must be earned, but forgiveness must be extended freely.

The power of harboring a judgment against another is an incredibly destructive force. Have you ever been around someone who can’t let go of what “so and so” did to them? Have you stuck around long enough to see the resulting fruit of that person’s life? I have, and it ain’t pretty. The unwillingness to forgive someone for an offense is an open door for the root of bitterness to take hold of a person’s heart which will not only defile the heart of the person harboring the judgment, but will even negatively impact the hearts of those in that person’s relational sphere (Hebrews 12:15).

Now consider a person on the receiving end of someone’s judgment. They may have experienced sorrow for what they did, even approaching the offended person with a genuine apology. But without hearing a genuine “I forgive you” from the offended, they can easily become a prime target for the accusations of the devil and suffer unnecessarily by carrying the weight of guilt and condemnation for their action, even though they’ve been completely forgiven by God.

For some Christians, it more or less seems like this is exactly what they would want. “He made me suffer, so now let him suffer some…” This is so sad, and in no way reflective of the Spirit of Christ.

Friends, we are called to be judgment breakers, not judgment makers; judgment lifters, not judgment inflictors. May God help us to not merely talk grace, but walk grace.

 

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | September 24, 2016

Re-Aligning Our Faith-Focus

I believe “Bible-Centered Christianity” is an appropriate phrase to describe what much of modern-day institutional Christianity has become. Read the Bible, do the Bible, live by the Bible. This is not a compliment, because the faith of the early Church (I’m referring to the Ekklesia… the Body of Christ) did not center on the Bible like we see today. Although scripture did play a role in their lives, their faith and practice clearly centered around a Person (Jesus) and the love & life of God which was shed abroad in their hearts through the Holy Spirit. Any honest exegesis of the New Testament scriptures after the resurrection of Christ will reveal this.

If all Bibles were confiscated in the USA, I have a gut-feeling that many Christians would no longer be able to carry on in their relationship with God… having been led to know “the Book” rather than to personally know its Author.

I recently came across a John Hagee broadcast on TV. Hagee, in front of thousands of people, lifted up the Bible and loudly proclaimed over and over as only John Hagee can, “The Bible Is The Owners Manual To Life!!” If Jesus were in attendance and approached Hagee after the service, Hagee would be surprised when Jesus disagreed. Jesus IS the life, and He is not an owner’s manual.

If one cannot function spiritually apart from a Bible-in-hand, then the Bible is their idol; they don’t yet know what “living in Christ” actually is in reality… having yet to experience the all-sufficiency of the Person of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit within. They may know their Bibles, but they’re relationally alienated from its Author.

There is precedent for what I’m sharing here. The Pharisees were the most scripturally literate people of Jesus’ day. Perhaps they could best be compared to some from the “religious right” of our day. Yet Jesus sees right through their dead, lifeless religion by proclaiming the following…. and what He says has implications for today:

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.” (John 5:36-42, emphasis mine)

Wow. To those who treated the scriptures as the “owner’s manual to life”, Jesus declared that they were 1) spiritually deaf to God’s voice, 2) void of God’s love in their hearts, and 3) destitute of the “true life” they claimed they had.

Not advocating “anti-Bible” here; it’s great to have the privilege of reading, studying and learning through the Bible, and putting the insight we receive into practice. But we are not called to worship scripture; we are called to worship the Person of Jesus. There’s a huge difference between the two.

Being a walking, talking Bible Encyclopedia and having a Masters in Theology does not necessarily equate to knowing God Himself and possessing/expressing LIFE.

Perhaps A.W. Tozer brings everything “full circle” with this eloquent quote on the subject matter:

“The error of textualism is not doctrinal. It is far more subtle than that and much more difficult to discover, but its effects are just as deadly. Not its theological beliefs are at fault, but its assumptions. It assumes, for instance, that if we have the word for a thing we have the thing itself. If it is in the Bible, it is in us. If we have the doctrine, we have the experience. If something was true of Paul it is of necessity true of us because we accept Paul’s epistles as divinely inspired.”

What this world needs is not more of our Bible knowledge…. My goodness, don’t we have enough of that already? What this world needs is more of Christ’s very life being expressed through our mortal bodies, which will manifest itself in love, sacrifice and service to our fellow man, to the glory of God. Demonstrating the power of the gospel in our daily lives is the need of the hour.

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | June 27, 2016

Church By The Dumpster, by guest blogger Tasha Lynn

On a recent Sunday morning, a soft rain had just started to fall. I was running late…again. My boyfriend and I were meeting another couple to watch The Jesus Lens, an enriching DVD series about seeing Jesus throughout the Scriptures. With a 90 minute drive ahead of me, I needed to quickly drop off the clothing donation in my backseat and get going.

I am often late. It is one of my downfalls. But according to God’s agenda, this time I was right on time! If I had left the house any earlier or later, I would have missed the meeting of the church beside the dumpster.

As I entered the thrift shop parking lot, I noticed her… a middle-aged Hispanic woman with a shopping cart, rummaging around the dumpster. This was not a particularly uncommon sight in this area. Any other day, I might have driven on by. But I was drawn by that invitation of the Spirit, unmistakably tugging at my heart.

I’ll call her Marta. In broken English, she kindly responded to my questions with answers I would not have guessed. No, she was not in need of food or clothing for herself. Rather, she was searching for magazines that might contain coupons. Marta helps those in need by blessing them with practical items. She is leaving for Central America next month to distribute supplies to those in need. She welcomed the bag of clothing I offered her for the trip. She explained how God has so blessed her, and now she passes that blessing on to others.

Our language barriers were not so much of a hindrance that Sunday morning. My newfound sister’s radiant smile and grateful heart spoke measures as we each prayed to our Father while we stood in the rain beside the dumpster.

I asked if she had an umbrella. She did not, so I began looking for my small black one. Not finding it, I was prompted to give her the enormous, more expensive golf umbrella in my back seat, because “she shelters many people.” I think that word of encouragement was more of a blessing to her than the umbrella itself. I heard the Spirit say how happy God is with what she is doing, and when I told her this, she was deeply touched.

Marta asked for a ride home, and I dropped her off at a modest little house, where she pointed out to me her garden and the beautiful plants native to her home country of El Salvador. Our visit that morning must’ve lasted maybe 15 minutes, much shorter than most “Sunday sermons”. But how rich, spontaneous, and beautiful it was to me.

Friends, can we take a moment to consider our own definitions of church? Church is not a building, or a program, or a man-made agenda. It is God’s children being together, wherever we are. May we all be open to that next encounter. Led by Him, it’s a joy to experience church wherever we go.

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