Tuesday, February 2, 2016


As the church we are by virtue of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection a sacramental people. But what does this really mean and what does this look like as we seek to live lives transformed by the grace of God? To understand this fundamental truth we first need to know how we define a sacrament within our tradition. According to Nazarene theologian Rob Staples a sacrament is defined as “An outward sign of an inward grace.” A sacrament is our response to what God has done and is continuing to do in the life of believers. The two sacraments that we recognize within the Protestant church are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Communion). 
Although what we believe about Baptism differs between denominations concerning the mode of baptism (full immersion, sprinkling, or pouring), whether or not we have to be baptized again, whose name one should be baptized under and the recognition of infant baptism the one thing that unites all Christians is the idea that through the sacrament of baptism the believer has the opportunity to publicly announce their faith in Christ and their commitment to living a life that bears fruit worthy of their repentance. It is a symbol of the new covenant. 
Within the Church of the Nazarene “We believe that Christian baptism, commanded by our Lord, is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, to be administered to believers and declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and full purpose of obedience in holiness and righteousness.” Baptism is that outward sign (public declaration) of an inward grace (our salvation through the atonement). We also believe that Baptism can be administered through the means of sprinkling, pouring or immersion and that young children may be baptized at the request of their parents who give the assurance for them of the necessary Christian training. 
Throughout the New Testament we hear a lot about baptism and the significance of this great sacrament. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry we are introduced to John the Baptist, the was his job, it was what he did, he baptized. In Luke 3 John tells the crowd that he baptizing with water for the forgiveness of sins but there is one coming who is greater than he, the Messiah, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire. In Acts 2:38 the apostle Peter addresses the crowd after Pentecost and says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As folks were being saved the necessary step for them was a public declaration of the new life they now have in Christ through baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit as it descended upon Jesus as He arose from the waters of His baptism on the shore of the Jordan and the voice from heaven spoke, “This is my son, the beloved, with Him I am well pleased.” Peter also writes in 1 Peter 3:21 that baptism is more than a bath that cleanses the filth from our bodies that must be entered into over and over again, “And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” 
To me this suggests that one need not be baptized over and over again but that with the sacrament of baptism we are cleansed of the filth of sin that once defiled and defined us and are now under a new King who gives us the good conscience to choose the life of resurrection and not the life of death. So in baptism we quite literally put our old self to death in order that we might rise anew with Christ Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, refined and purified. As the church, my prayer is that we would live into and out of our baptisms, bearing fruit worthy of our repentance. 

May Jesus be for you the refiners fire who purifies you and makes you holy as the great praise chorus suggests: “Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver. Purify my heart, let me be as gold, pure gold. Refiner's fire, my heart's one desire is to be... holy; Set apart for You, Lord. I choose to be... holy; Set apart for You, my Master, ready to do Your will. Purify my heart, cleanse me from within and make me holy. Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin, deep within.”

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Eucharist: A Life of “Thanks” Giving

What are you thankful for? Giving thanks or “thanksgiving” is central to who we are as Christians. If we scour the Scriptures we will come across many references calling for thankfulness. The Psalmist proclaims, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving” (69:30). In the Old Testament, the book of Leviticus to be exact, the fellowship offering of thanksgiving is explained as a way to appreciate and honor the God who provides (7:12-14). And in the New Testament Paul always thanks God for the grace given the saints through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4). It is by the grace of God through Jesus we have reason to be thankful, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” God has revealed to me Himself as a God who cares, a God who loves, a God who gives and a God who deserves our “thanksgiving”. 
As the Church we participate in thanksgiving through the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup that helps us remember and participate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. A few years back a group of Christians caravanned to downtown Kansas City to offer thanksgiving to God through service to the poor. We give thanks to God through the act of service, offering hope to those without homes, jobs or families. I would like to think that this is what compassion is all about, “adjusting our wants with the needs of others.” The amazing thing about works of compassion is that we set out to change the lives of others and in the process God finds a way to change our lives as well.
As I reflect on this experience that I shared with my brothers and sisters there is no doubt that God commissioned us that day to live a life of holy love. We started out by leaving the homes and going to where the need was, downtown Kansas City. We arrived that chilly morning unsure whether we would even get the opportunity to pass out the hot meals we had prepared or the jackets we had collected. In the film, “Field of Dreams” a poor corn farmer in the middle of Iowa hears a voice telling him to construct a baseball field in the middle of his crop to which he asks, “Why am I doing this?”, and the whispering voice responds “If you build it they will come”. As we were preparing the vehicles to deliver meals, just as doubt began to set in God whispered as only He could, “If you build it they will come” and when we looked up a brother and over twenty homeless men came out of the woodworks to share in an unconventional meal of “thanksgiving”. 
In the words of Leviticus 7 this was our fellowship offering, we fellowshipped with those who out of all of us had no reason to be thankful, but surprisingly they were! Two of these men, Mike and Ut (you-t), reminded me that we all have reason to be thankful. Mike shared with us that he was in Kansas City from Costa Mesa, California because he wanted to be closer to his eight year old boy. In the same way Ut shared with us that he was from Vietnam, but had lived in California and Texas before his car broke down in Kansas City after he had came there for a job. Of course these two were homeless and had reason to be bitter, but they showed us the Christian character of thankfulness as they stuck around to fellowship with us, even after they had finished their meals. These men did not have much but what they did have they were thankful for. Stuff that you and I often times take for granted they found reason to be thankful; how much more would our Christian character shine through if this attitude of thankfulness overflowed out of our entire being wherever we were, whomever we were with, no matter the situation or circumstance? In both of Paul’s letters to Timothy he reminds him of the importance of being thankful. He urges Timothy to first of all offer prayers, petitions and thanksgiving for all people (1 Tim. 2:1) and then later reminds him of God’s good creation, that nothing is to be rejected if it is received in thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4), and he continually affirms his thanks offered up to God for Timothy as has been done throughout Scriptures (2 Tim. 1:3). So, to get back to the initial question, what are you thankful for? I believe the answer is right in front of us; in all things let us give thanks to the Lord!