Finding Unity in Diversity

Most congregations don’t understand unity. We understand uniformity, but not unity. This is why we have so many church buildings, each full of people who are largely the same with very little difference. If you like this music, go to that church. If you like this translation of the Bible, go to that other church. Most congregations understand uniformity, but not unity.

The Apostle Paul sought unity in the church through diversity, a very different approach than we usually see today. Romans 14 speaks a great deal about how Christians find unity in their mission through Christ while still embracing different practices and beliefs! Though the setting is a bit different in Romans, the application is much needed in the American church today.

 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 

Romans 14:2–4 NIV

Notice that Paul does not attempt to get everyone to see things the same way. Rather he reminds them that they all belong to Christ and will all be judged by God. It is not your job, nor my job to judge others (v. 13). Instead, Paul reminds the believers that everything they do should be focused on peace and building each other up (v. 19). And to further clarify that Paul expects the practices of the church to be diverse, he reminds people that wrong to feel pressured into doing things against their beliefs.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. 

Romans 14:22–23 NIV

So how does this apply to today? As we come back together in our places of worship (as East Side has already done) we will have some that think we should have stayed open the entire time, and others that still don’t think it’s safe to meet in public. And Paul would say this is fine. And neither group should condemn or pressure the other. Wear a mask or not? Same answer. Join a peaceful protest? Same answer. Voting? Same answer.

There is room for difference of opinion in the Kingdom of God. There is room for difference of practice in the Church of Jesus. But there is no room for disunity, accusing, arguing, fighting, and disfellowshipping over these differences. Those don’t come from faith, but from sin (v.23).

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Romans 14:19 NIV

Faith or Fear?

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

Psalm 56:3 NIV

During these strange days of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to lose our discernment. We’re bombarded with information coming at us from all directions. 24 hour continuous TV coverage of sick people, or possible sick people, or the stock market falling, or the sky falling. It seems to never stop. And it’s enough to drive a person crazy!

So how do we know what information is helpful, and what information we should ignore? Simple. Ask this one question.

Does this build my faith, or my fear?

Pretty simple right? Much harder to apply though. We get sucked into the vortex of the news cycle. There’s always another case, there’s always another news report, there’s always another distraction. We want to be informed (and we should be informed), but be careful where you are getting your news from. Not everything on the news is beneficial. After all, CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, and any other member of the alphabet soup news media is ultimately trying to accomplish one thing: make money.

“If it bleeds, it leads” as the old expression goes. And if the most engaging news story is the Coronavirus, they will report on it non stop, even if there is nothing new to report. And this type of news builds our fear, not our faith.

So how do we build our faith instead of fear?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Romans 10:17 NIV

If you want to build your faith instead of fear, turn off the news and open your Bible.

Every day we are trying to offer Christ-centered, Spiritually fulfilling content to build your faith, not your fear. Sunday morning livestream Bible studies, Monday blog posts, Tuesday videos, Wednesday morning Bible studies, Wednesday evening prayer time, Thursday afternoon Bible questions are answered, Friday blog posts, and Saturday we rest.

And we’re not the only ones pushing out Biblical content. It’s my opinion that the Gospel is being preached more in this time when we cannot meet than it has ever been preached. Virtually every congregation is trying to get the message of Christ broadcast wherever they can, which sadly is a brand new concept for some of them.

This is a wonderful time to grow in faith, but you have to say no to fear.

So this week before you click on the news story, or before you watch the news, or before you have that conversation with your friend who swears the sky is falling…ask yourself:

Does this build my faith, or my fear?

I look forward to opening God’s word with you on Sunday morning at 10:00am CST on Facebook, our church website, and on YouTube. Until then, build faith.

Communion at Home?

We trace our roots to the American Restoration Movement. Thomas & Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone were dedicated to seeing their churches return to simple Biblical Christianity. So many divisions had occurred in the Church over matters of opinion, and because over disagreements over things that are never enumerated in Scripture.

The Restoration Movement sought to restore simple Christianity in order to bring unity to all Christians everywhere. And one of the major ways they did this was through the Lord’s Supper.

If you grew up in the Church of Christ like me, you might be surprised to learn that the practice of the Lord’s Supper was once a battleground for division. We assume it’s always been done this way and there’s really nothing to consider that is new. But in the not-so-distant past the Lord’s Supper was a point of division, not unity. The Campbells ultimately broke their denominational ties over the issue of who could partake of the Lord’s Supper. The denomination they were a part of required people to pass a test and receive a coin as proof that they were worthy of partaking, and only ordained elders were allowed to distribute the elements. The Campbells saw no such exclusion in Scripture and welcomed all who professed faith in Christ to participate.

The desire to welcome all at the Lord’s Table led the Campbells, and similarly Barton Stone, to seek a way of practicing Christianity that was consistent with the Scriptures, and nothing more. They sought to unite in Christ, and in Christ alone. Nothing other than faith in Christ would be required for fellowship.

Some Christian traditions are struggling right now with how to share the Lord’s Supper. Sincere belief that only some can distribute the elements and only some can partake is causing real struggles for some congregations. But we view Scripture differently.

Here are some reasons why you can (and should) take communion at home, and why I believe you can do so on more than just Sunday.

  • If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are ordained by God as one of his priests. (1 Peter 2:5-9)
  • All the early believers were committed to “breaking bread” in their homes (Acts 2:42, 46)
  • It seems that the early church gathered to break bread on the first day of the week, at least in Troas (Acts 20:7). Historical writings from the 1st and 2nd century tell us that the practice varied from place to place.
  • Notice, however, that the church was ok with eating the Lord’s Supper after midnight, meaning this meal took place on Monday morning (Acts 20:7-11 shows they “broke bread and ate” after midnight).
  • Luke informs us that the early church had the practice of eating the Lord’s Supper daily (Acts 2:46).

I’m not trying to change your theology of the Lord’s Supper with this article, but I do want you to rest assured that you aren’t doing anything contrary to Biblical practice if you choose to eat the Lord’s Supper with your family at home.

I’m praying home church will be a blessing to you this week. Don’t forget to tune in to either our website, our Facebook page, our YouTube channel for some announcements, a time of prayer, and a message from God’s word on Sunday at 10:00am.

Sinning Against The Body and Blood of the Lord

What does Paul mean when he tells the Corinthians not to eat the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner?” 

“So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 11:27 NIV

I have heard many teachings on the Lord’s Supper over the years, and most of the conclusions based on this verse indicated we need to spend this time focusing on the sacrifice that Jesus made. We need to visualize the cross, the suffering of our Savior, and the blood that was spilled. This should be a somber, quiet, and sad occasion.

The problem is the above describes an altar (a place of sacrifice.) We have often confused the table with an altar. We, however, are called to gather around a table, not an altar!

The first thing we need to realize is the Lord’s Supper was originally part of a meal. It was a time of feasting and celebration, not mournful reflection. Yes, a full meal that fed hungry people. This was not a sip of juice and a pinch of cracker. People were eating their fill. “Supper” is the evening meal. And the explicit problem with the church in Corinth was the wealthy were arriving early and eating all the food, leaving the poor hungry. Paul indicates this type of “dinner” should be done at home, not in worship gatherings. (1 Cor. 11:20-21) Paul further states that their actions show that they “despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing.” (v. 22) So the problem Paul is referring to is the Church being divided by not eating the Lord’s Supper together as equals.

Paul reminds them that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was for all of them (v. 24 – “you” is plural, as well as plural “drink” in verse 25). 

So how do we eat and drink in a worthy manner according to Paul? John Mark Hicks summarizes this passage well in his book, “Come To The Table.”

Consequently, to eat and drink worthily is not about private introspection, but about public action. Paul is not stipulating a kind of meditative silence on the cross of Christ or an introspective assessment of our relative holiness. On the contrary, to eat in an “unworthy manner,” in this context, is to eat in a divisive manner like that which existed in Corinth. The church must examine itself about the manner in which the supper is conducted (1 Cor. 11:28). There may be many ways to eat the supper unworthily (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:18-21 where Corinthians ate unworthily because they ate with a dual commitment, serving two masters), but the specific unworthiness in 1 Corinthians 11 is a communal problem, not an individualistic one. The church eats worthily when it eats as a united community embodying the values for which Christ died.”

John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2012).

3 Sins You Likely Ignore

Most followers of Jesus could probably recite the fruit of the Spirit. But Paul actually gives two lists in this passage; one list to live by, and one to avoid. Unfortunately we don’t do a very good job of avoiding the so called “acts of the flesh.” Do you know what’s on the list?

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 NIV

Some of these are fairly self explanatory, but I’d like to focus on three that you may not have paid attention to. The first is discord. The Greek word is eris and is translated as discord, dissension, rivalry, arguments, strife, and quarrel in your New Testament. The second word I’d like to look at is dissensions. This Greek word dichostasia is only used here and in Romans 16:17 to instruct the church to stay away from those who cause “divisions.” The last word I want us to look at is factions. The Greek word is hairesis which is translated as factions, heresies, sect, and party (group).

Most of us would heartily agree that sexual immorality, fits of rage, drunkenness, orgies, idolatry and the like are clearly wrong. Of course living like this would keep someone out of the kingdom of God (v. 21). But causing division? Arguing? Rivalry? Really? Yes! A divisive person “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

It’s clear that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament hated division. It’s almost always listed along with all those sins that we hate. And yet we seem to be ok with division for some strange reason. The only time it’s really ok to divide is from a divisive person. The church is supposed to have nothing to do with people like that! (Rom. 16:17)

So before we speak we need to check our hearts, check your motives, and carefully watch our words. We are the people who are called to build up the body of Christ, not tear it down.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:9 NIV

Why You Really Need Joy and Sorrow

Our thoughts for the past couple of weeks have centered around a Season of Hope, and our theme at East Side this year has been “Hope.” Advent is a season of hopeful waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises.

The last several weeks have been looks at the prophecies leading up to the destruction and exile of Jerusalem & Judah. Last week we looked at Isaiah 40 and the hopeful promise that God’s people would return home, and he would come to them! This week we see the fulfillment of God’s promise that the people will return home, but not all is joyful.

Ezra begins in the same way 2 Chronicles ends with a proclamation from Cyrus king of Persia. Ezra also wants us to remember that this fulfills the Jeremiah 25 & 29 prophecy that the people would return home from exile. God is keeping his promise to the people!

Ezra 3 tells the story of the reestablishment of worship in Jerusalem. The altar was rebuilt and the people celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). I find this a fitting first celebration for the newly resettled exiles. Tabernacles was to remind the Israelites of the time they lived in temporary huts during the journey out of Egypt. The entire festival recalls the journey out of Egyptian slavery/exile to the promised land; a fitting reminder to those having just journeyed back to the promised land from Babylonian exile. In both generations, God was faithful in keeping his promises.

Our text in Ezra this week ends with the end of chapter 3 and the laying of the foundation of the temple of Yahweh. I find this text both beautiful and haunting.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:11-13 NIV

Notice that everyone praised God in this moment, but the emotions were very mixed. Some were joyful to see this day come. Some were lamenting the loss of the original temple. What brought joy to some brought mourning to others. Excitement and weeping. Yet a great shout of praise came from all.

Our church family is much like this group in Jerusalem, a place of rejoicing and mourning. Sometimes those two feelings are so intertwined that we feel them all at once, especially this time of year. A friend recently reminded me Advent is a time for the church to come together as one, despite our emotions, in hopeful expectation of the second Advent of Christ.

For some the waiting brings joy, for others sorrow. We need both. We are called to rejoice together and mourn together because we are called to be together! The church becomes more like Christ when we rejoice and mourn together.

Wherever you find yourself in the emotional spectrum, you are welcome here. Join the body of Christ as we worship our God in hopeful expectation of his Advent! Come Lord Jesus!

Sermon text for 12/15/19 – Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 3:1-4, 10-13; Luke 2:25-32

Waiting Beyond Death

During this Season of Hope, we are studying texts related to the Advent, or coming of the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Messiah. Just like ancient Israel had to wait for his coming, we too wait for his second coming.

Isaiah 40 makes reference to this time of waiting.

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
“All people are like grass, 
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
because the breath of the Lord blows on them. 
Surely the people are grass. 
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:6–8 NIV

In these verses we have a heavenly voice (the speaker is unclear, perhaps Yahweh, an angel, or some other heavenly being) telling Isaiah that humans are like grass and their works like flowers. What the voice is reminding us is that grass and flowers are only around for a season before they wither and fade away. They do not last forever. But the word of God does indeed last forever.

Let’s put this in the context of Israel coming out of exile. They have been away from their homes for a generation, and there is this promise of return. God will make the path easy, he will restore Jerusalem, he will keep his promises. His word will not fail! But humans don’t live forever. We all die. God’s promises, however, do not die.

Isaiah is trying to remind us that we may wait for God to fulfill his promises, and they may not be fully fulfilled in our lifetime before we “wither.” Isaiah wants us to remember that our waiting does not negate God’s promises. Even if we never see them fulfilled, we can rest assured that they will be fulfilled because God’s word endures forever.

Centuries after this text was written, one would come as “a voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.” (Isa. 40:3, Mark 1:3). Mark, as well as the other Gospel writers, want us to realize that God kept this promise fully in the ministry of John the Baptist, “and the glory of the LORD” was revealed in the Advent of Jesus (Isa. 40:5).

Though Isaiah’s words to exiled Israel were not fully realized in their lifetime, God fulfilled his promise through the Advent of Jesus. And though God’s kingdom has not fully come, we can rest assured that God will fulfill his promises through the Advent of Jesus.

Sermon text for 12/8/19: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-4 

Josiah’s Passover & The Lord’s Supper

This week we wrap up our series Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We’ve taken an overview of the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of God’s faithfulness. We’ve discovered that Yahweh keeps his promises regardless of what we humans do. We also discovered that our actions affect the way God’s faithfulness impacts us. When we live the life he calls us to then his faithfulness is a blessing. When we live contrary to his faithfulness, our sinful actions have painful consequences. This is what we saw the last two weeks as we looked to the 8th century BC in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah. The sin of Israel and Judah will bring painful consequences to the people, but God will remain faithful to heal and to save when they repent.

This week we turn to 2 Kings 22 and look at the story of Josiah. About 100 years after Hosea and Isaiah the 8 year old Josiah became king. Following the wicked reigns of his father and grandfather, Josiah chose not follow in their footsteps. We read that he was much like King David, and today is recognized as the 2nd greatest Davidic king.

All of Jerusalem had forgotten Yahweh. His temple had fallen into disrepair and had become the site of worship for Baal, Asherah, and star worship. Josiah ordered to restore the temple of Yahweh, and during that restoration a copy of the Torah was found (presumably Deuteronomy). Nobody knew about God’s word, or what to do with it. When Josiah heard the Torah read, he ripped his robes and sent his advisors to the prophet Huldah to confirm if what they were reading was true. 

The female prophet told these men that indeed the word of Yahweh was true and the punishment foretold in the Torah was coming. But she also had a word of peace for Josiah because of God’s appreciation for his heart. This destruction would come upon Jerusalem, but because of Josiah’s repentant heart, it would not happen during his lifetime.

Josiah calls all the people of Judah and reads aloud the Torah (as prescribed in Deuteronomy). When the people heard the words of Yahweh, they all pledged themselves to keeping the covenant. All of the idols and instruments of pagan worship were destroyed and removed and Josiah issued this decree:

“Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” – 2 Kings 23:21 NIV

In celebration of the renewed hearts and renewed commitment to Yahweh, the people eat the Passover.

Every Sunday at our gathering, we renew our hearts, we renew our commitment to Yahweh, and we eat the Lord’s Supper, a reapplication of the Passover by Jesus on the night he was betrayed (Mk. 14:16ff).

This week as we gather to worship, let us recommit to the mission and the covenant that Yahweh has made with us. And then let us eat the Passover of Jesus.

Sermon Text for 11/24/19 – 2 Kings 22:1-23:23; Mark 14:16-25

Daily Psalms – Psalm 105

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 101-105

Today we focus in on Psalm 105, a poetic history of the people of Israel. If you want a summary of the Hebrew Scriptures in a concise package, you’ve come to the right place. The psalmist begins by reminding us of our part in the story of God:

Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.

Psalm 105:1-2 NIV

How often are you stopping to “tell of all his wonderful acts?” Or better yet, how often are you stopping to recognize all his wonderful acts in your life? The psalmist recounts Israel’s history, which is also your history and my history because we are children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). We need to know this story! It’s your story!

Your personal story is also important. Every generation of believers learns the historical story of Yahweh’s people. We are also called to be witnesses of what he has done in our lives. We need to tell others the story of Jesus and how he has changed our lives! Lost souls need to hear that God remembers the promises he has made forever, and those promises extend to us as well! (v. 8-10)

Telling our story also keeps us focused on what matters. History is selective. We tend to tell about the winning goal we scored rather than what we ate for lunch in the 4th grade. We tend to leave out the unimportant details in favor of the ones we view as more important.

So how important is God to you?

How important is the saving power of Jesus in your life?

If it is important to you, are you telling that story?

If not, why not?

These questions get us thinking about what is really important in our past, and those realizations should influence us to focus on what is important in the present and the future.

Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Look to the LORD and his strength;
    seek his face always.

Psalm 105:3-4 NIV

Our history is his story. Let us all focus on what truly matters, and tell that story in our lives. Blessings.

Women Praying & Prophesying With Their Heads Covered?

Why does Paul ask women to cover their heads while praying and prophesying? (1 Cor. 11:2-16)  Most people will assume something cultural is going on here, and they would be correct! But what exactly?

Women’s hair was seen as a major object of lust in the ancient world, as well as in some cultures in the middle east today (remember a lot of the Bible was written to people in middle eastern cultures). It seems foreign because hair doesn’t really cause us to lust. But as a means for cultural understanding, let’s equate the “uncovered head” of these women to wearing a very revealing bikini.

Now imagine someone dressing in such a way in front of the congregation on Sunday morning. Now you’re starting to understand the problem. In the ancient world an uncovered head meant you were sexually promiscuous; not such a crazy idea because this is one of the ways pagan temple prostitutes would wear their hair. The idea of a bikini in worship in our culture, and an uncovered head in theirs, is clearly inappropriate.

One of the greatest physical shames a woman could have in this culture was having her hair shaved off. What Paul is saying here is that if you see nothing wrong with uncovering your head in a worship assembly then you might as well go ahead and shave your head. The female readers would understand the level of shame Paul is equating to what they were doing in the assembly.

Why were they doing this? Keep in mind that churches met in homes, not church buildings. It was perfectly acceptable for a woman to have her head uncovered at home in front of her family, just like you might walk around in clothing at home that you would never wear in a public setting. When a more formal gathering (worship assembly) gathered in the same homes, it seems that some of the women were leaving their heads uncovered – again, inappropriate for male non-family members present. 

This was new territory for most of these Corinthian people. We are having a public gathering in a private home. How do we act? Paul here is teaching modesty within the assembly. How do we know this is the assembly? Paul tells us so in verse 16. “Churches” is the Greek word ekklesiai, the plural form for “assembly.” There is no assembly that practices uncovered heads (again cultural) while women are praying and prophesying.

But did you notice what is assumed in this passage? Women are clearly praying and prophesying (v. 5) openly in the presence of men in the assembly (v. 16), and that is totally ok! It is never questioned if women can pray or prophesy in the assembly, but rather can they do so with their heads uncovered. 

Somehow, women praying and prophesying in the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11 is not a violation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. But how can that be? We’ll take a closer look at that next week. But as a starting point, read all of 1 Corinthians 14 while asking yourself this question: 

What goal does Paul have in writing this chapter?