Thursday, January 29, 2015

Consumption, Communion, and Caring for the Least of These

All across our country people are preparing for this upcoming Sunday. Mainly they’re preparing for Super Bowl Sunday by buying super amounts of food! Economists estimate that over $55 million worth of food will be purchased in the next few days. All that money buys us among other things, 20 million pounds of chips, 3.8 million pounds of popcorn, and get this, 12 million pounds of avocados. The only other day we Americans eat more food than Super Bowl Sunday is Thanksgiving. Fortunately, much like Thanksgiving Day, we will not be attempting this marvelous feat of consumption alone - according to Hallmark Cards, the Super Bowl, is the #1 night for in home parties all year long, outdoing another festive holiday, New Year’s Eve.

At my church, Southland Baptist Church, we are also making preparations for this Sunday that also involve a bit of food. Last night our children baked the bread that we will use in our Communion service. While we primarily know the Lord’s Supper as a ritual we do at church in a very solemn manner at very set times, in the early days of the church, it may have looked more like what will be going on in our homes Sunday night. No, there wouldn’t be a football game, and I’m not sure they had guacamole in the first century. But there would have been a gathering of family of friends in someone’s house, and there would have been a meal.

This gathering would include singing, reading of scriptures, prayer, probably a reading of one of Paul’s or another apostle’s teaching, and almost certainly a meal which would come to be known as an “agape meal” or love feast. Think of it as a weekly pot luck. Far from being a separate, ritualized affair, church history tells us that the Lord’s Supper most likely occurred either during or after this agape meal. If there were leftovers, they would be distributed to the poor. Later, as the meal became more of a ceremony and less of a meal, the distribution of leftovers was replaced by a monetary collection for those in need.

We continue this practice at my each time we observe the Lord’s Supper by taking up an offering for World Hunger. Other churches take up a collection for their own benevolence ministry during their Communion services. What a difference it might make if this upcoming Sunday if we gave to the poor that which we intended to spend on junk food? Our waistlines and our neighbors would both thank us for this very different kind spending in preparation for the big game.

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need – Acts 4:33-35


Read more on this topic:

  1. Texas Baptist Hunger Offering – See one of the ways Texas Baptist churches care for the needy around the world.
  2. 49 Things You Need to Know About Super Bowl XLIX – OK, you don’t really need to know these things, but this Forbe’s article contains a lot of fun facts about this year’s game.
  3. Souper Bowl of Caring - Nationwide, youth-led effort which encourages people to give one dollar while leaving worship services on Super Bowl Sunday.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Most Important Question for Christian Leaders

Following mom
Following Mom by Tambako The Jaguar on Flickr

One of the great blessings in my life is a pastor peer group that I meet with once a month. We gather to pray for one another, learn from each other, and just as importantly, to enjoy one another’s presence. That last part is the most important part. Everyone needs friends who love them just because.

Our desperate need for unconditional love has been reaffirmed by a book we've been reading together by Henri Nouwen entitled, In the Name of Jesus. In classic Nouwen style, the book makes the case that Christian leadership is not primarily about leading, but rather, being led. If we are Christian leaders, the leadership we most need to be concerned about is Christ’s leadership in our own lives and not our influence in the lives of others.

That our relationship with Jesus is primary is a reminder even preachers need to hear on a regular basis. It’s easy in this life to think that our value and our worth and our significance depend upon any number of factors other than our relationship with Jesus. Nouwen especially takes to task the temptation of thinking our importance to God depends upon our relevance to the world around us. The desire to be relevant is basic human desire. We want to believe that our lives matter. We want to believe that we have made a difference in the world. We are tempted to think that is only possible if we remain relevant on the world’s terms.

This is not only a problem for individuals. As the church’s influence in our culture diminishes, it is tempting for the church at large to spend an inordinate amount of time on issues of relevance. Nouwen reminds us that we follow a Savior who was not relevant in his day. Instead, he was “crucified and put away . . . by a world in search of power, efficiency, and control.” Nouwen goes on to challenge us by writing, “The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus?”

To be significant in the Kingdom of God requires not relevance but love. Jesus loves us. That makes us relevant to him. Let us now, in gratitude, love the one who first loved us, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We love because he first loved us – 1 John 4:19

Read more on this topic:
1. In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen. This is the book I mentioned in the post. It’s aimed primarily at ministers, but would be valuable to anyone who longs to find their worth in Jesus alone. You can read this book in an afternoon, but the fruit of its wisdom proves long lasting.
2. The Church Needs More Followers – a book review of Len Sweet’s book, I Am a Follower over on Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed. Good conversation starter about the evangelical church’s views on leadership.
3. Leading the Follower by Bob Wells. This is a lengthy essay on the healthy tension between pastoral leadership and active lay followership. Wells argues that there isn’t a one size fits all model for congregations but that every congregation needs an engaged laity that is willing to both follow and challenge their leaders.