Grape Juice at the Communion Table

From time to time I will have someone comment on the use of grape juice instead of wine as part of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Often times, the comments are said in a mocking way to try and paint those of us who use grape juice as some sort of prude.  Still, there are others who are genuinely curious.  So, for those, here goes.

To begin, there is nothing wrong with using wine for the sacrament.  In fact, where I commonly worship nowadays, wine and grape juice are both available.  Now back to the point.

Wine is a stumbling block for recovering alcoholics.  A brother or sister in Christ who has left a life of alcoholism faces a horrid dilemma when coming to receive the sacrament if the only thing available is wine.  In a nutshell, they can choose to risk falling back into the grips of alcoholism after drinking wine, or suffer from a self-imposed excommunication.

Now, the vast majority of us are not alcoholics and will never be faced with such a dilemma.  However, it is a terrible thing to bar someone from sharing at the Lord’s Table because they refuse to return to a life of sin that Paul describes using  some rather harsh language – something about drunkards not inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9).

So, before making snide comments about those who choose to use grape juice for the Lord’s Supper, remember that there is a quite charitable reason for the choice.

When all else fails, call’em names!

Before going too far, I should note that my blogging production will decrease in the future.  If you are one of the ten-or-so people that read this blog, then you will have noticed already that the once a week pattern has recently been abandoned.  For, you see, when I started this blog I was on vacation from work, and that is a period of time ripe for the Good Idea Fairy to strike.    Since then, things like work, family, and my interests in other stuff have made this blog a rather low priority in my life.  Still, I thought I would jot down a few words about a sad trend in person-to-person communication.

It seems that many of us have lost the ability to dialog.  Whether in politics, religion, entertainment, or just about anything else, there is no willingness to show respect for those we disagree with.  A conversation, especially on the internet, between two people who disagree on something can easily go like this:

Person A: “I like pork and beans.”

Person B: “Well, that’s because you’re an idiot.  Pork and beans are only for slobs and lazy people without an education.  Is that what you are?  A lazy, uneducated slob?”

Fortunately, in recent months, I have found a weekly radio program out of the UK called Unbelievable? to be a breath of fresh air.  It is a radio program that aims to bring together a Christian and non-Christian each week (there are exceptions) to discuss points of difference.  There is a moderator, which is certainly necessary, but the guests as a whole are respectful of one another.  Sadly, the exceptions to the civil discussions on this show almost exclusively come from people from the States, which is disappointing to say the least.  But, I digress.

The point of this rambling post is just to say that we, as a people, should strive to be better at addressing arguments instead of attacking people.  The ad hominem fallacy is so widespread today that it is seen as acceptable in many quarters.  This is a shame, and it will ultimately lead to a dumbing down of our society by silencing voices.

Beauty and Identity

I have been intrigued with how we as a people have become more and more expressive through the use of accessories.  We color our hair, we tattoo our skin, we pierce our bodies in various and sundry places, and so forth.  While there is nothing necessarily wrong with these things, I am surprised by how often people identify more with the accessory than what is underneath it.

What intrigues me is that people will often add things to themselves and then say, “This is who I am.”  Now, it may be true that some sort of accessory may express what is happening inside.  However, I like to think that the person is the person.  If you pierce your eyelid, then it is you with a pierced eyelid.  If you color your hair purple, it is you with purple hair – an alteration of your actual hair color.

I suppose that I should also say that I have no objection to a person accessorizing (sp?) as they see fit.  I do, however, find it troubling that we can start to associate beauty more with the accessory than with the actual person.  So, a woman may feel that she needs to pierce herself or modify her body in some other way not because of any desire that comes naturally from within her, but from outside pressures that tell her she must do x and y in order to be beautiful.  As a father, this breaks my heart.

From where I sit, on my couch on a Saturday afternoon, I like to think that beauty comes from the Creator.  As humans, we all bear the image of God and have intrinsic beauty.  It is good and healthy for us to maintain our health, but there should be no need for us to feel compelled to transform ourselves into the mold that that someone else has made for us.

Have a great weekend!

Putting Our Eggs in the Wrong Baskets

I write this post simply to state that a lot of us, as Christians, misguidedly place all of our eggs into the wrong basket. And, if someone has all of their eggs in a basket that fails, then the result is often times a very damaged, or even abandoned, faith.

For instance, a person can place all of their eggs into a particular view of creation (you can take your choice between Young Earth, Old Earth, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, or something else). If that view comes under attack and the holder of the position does not feel it can be adequately defended, a domino effect can take place in that person’s spiritual life that can lead to the ultimate demise of his or her religious belief.

It is important to note that the Christian faith stands or falls primarily on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul, himself, says as much. Outside of this, there is plenty of room for argument and discussion, but if you are going to put all your theological eggs into one basket, then this would be it. After all, the resurrection has several vital doctrines connected to it.

So, why am I spending these few moments to write this very brief post? The answer is simple. Many people will where themselves out battling over some obscure piece of turf that should have never become as important as they made it out to be. It would be like the United States being defeated as a nation, and surrendering unconditionally, in a battle in Greenland – no offense to the good people of Greenland.

Now, let me wrap this up with a note of clarification: the various doctrines we hold are important (even the ones we disagree on), and there are many things worth fighting for (even Greenland). But, it is my prayer that we don’t get so consumed by items on the margins that we lose sight of the most central component of the faith: the resurrection.

Conference, reading, and what not.

Greetings to the handful of people reading this blog.  I have been attending an Annual Conference for the United Methodist Church where I serve – not the most exciting event out there – and have just a few observations to post about.

While I enjoy connecting with fellow ministers that I have not seen in quite some time, there are many components of Annual Conference that I am not a fan of.  Primarily, you can only “church up” a business meeting so far, or throw so much business into a worship service, before making you end up with a completely bipolar meeting.  If I were king for a day, I would separate the two elements and simply have business meetings and worship services, but not worship/business meetings.  I appreciate what they are trying to do, but it seems too strained.

Now, onto something more interesting.  My family and I recently completed reading through the Bible together as a family.  Woohoo!  During the course of our study everyone had the chance to ask questions, offer comments, and voice concerns.  Interestingly, the questions that were asked by my children were not the ones that I find so often advertised in books.  While I certainly recognize the uniqueness of every person, I also found it telling because it raises the possibility that perhaps the folks at the brain trust (wherever or whatever that may be) are answering the wrong questions.

For instance, Natasha Crain wrote a book titled Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side.  While I confess that I have not read the book, the table of contents lays out all the questions it seeks to answer.  Of 40 questions in the book, my children asked at most 3 that I can recall, and this is over the course of reading through the entire Bible around the supper table.

I am certain that Natasha’s book is an excellent guide for conversations around the table, but I am curious who the questions are really for: the parent or child.  I encourage my children to ask questions, but they should be their questions and not mine imposed on them.  At the same time, I am okay with it if they don’t ask a lot of questions.  After all, as my grandfather used to say, “It’s their little red wagon and they’ll pull it how they want.”

All of this is to say that I am extremely proud of my family for the reading accomplishment. And yes, as a father and husband, I am extremely biased in this regard.

The Need for Christians to Read the Bible

Statistics show that few people take the time to actually read the Bible.  A survey conducted by Lifeway of 2,930 Protestant churchgoers indicates that only 19% read the Bible everyday and that 18% rarely or never read the Bible.  Furthermore, only 1 in 5 Americans claims to have read the Bible from cover to cover.  The American Bible Society also reports on the distressing Bible reading trends.

The trouble with these reports should be self-evident.  As Christians, we make the bold claim that the Bible is the very Word of God, but many of us do not regard as such in practice.  The average churchgoer can probably tell you a number of books that they have read, but the Bible, strangely, is not on that list.

So, why is it so important to read the Bible?  Here are a few reasons that I can think of right off the top of my head:

  1. It is the Word of God.  This should be sufficient reason alone for someone to want to read the Bible in its entirety.  Indeed, this is good enough reason to make Bible reading and study a lifelong practice.
  2. It is in the pages of Scripture that we learn about Jesus Christ – the one and only path to the Father.
  3. It prepares us, as Christians, to engage with the world we live in.  Christians should make Bible reading and study a habit so that we know what the Word says.  We should not be part of the number that thinks Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, or that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible.  In order for us to engage the world with a developed Biblical worldview, we must read the Bible.
  4. It provides the ethical and moral system by which God expects us to live by.
  5. It allows us to see the Bible as a whole and not as a bunch of random texts that are often read without context.
  6. It has had a profound impact on our culture throughout history that can be seen in numerous places, including literature, art, music, and history.

I am sure that you can probably add your own reasons to this list, but these are what popped into my head first.

While reading the Bible as individuals is important, I also think it is vital that families read the Bible together.  This allows for questions to be asked and answered; deep, thoughtful discussions to take place; doubts and concerns to be expressed in a safe and supportive environment; and it can help families have aligned values.  Reading the Bible in its entirety as a family is also important because it exposes difficult passages that are often overlooked.  Christians should be aware of difficult passages and have some idea, or framework, for how to deal with these.  This framework may vary depending on your theology (Arminian, Calvinist, etc.), but it will help guide you in understanding the Bible as a whole.

This last point, understanding the Bible as a whole, is of critical importance.  I have strange suspicion that a lot of people know bits and pieces of the Bible and build a caricature of the whole thing from those parts.  Similarly, I think many Christian try to engage culture with a very keen knowledge of a very small amount of Scripture, but do not have a good grasp of the whole Word of God.  Having an understanding of the Bible as a whole is of enormous value to mature faith.  After all, the canon of Scripture was given to us for a reason, and that is to learn what God has to say to us.

Happy reading!

The Lonely Text

A tragedy in much of the modern church is the lack of Bible-centered preaching. Perhaps you have sat in on a worship service where the biblical text sits alone by the wall while the one who brought it to the dance goes off and dances with something else. The scenario is familiar to many of us: a Scripture is read and the sermon hardly, if ever, acknowledges the text again.

Whenever I sit in such a service, I look around at all the people filling the sanctuary and think to myself, These people are starving for the Word of God. They come in and out of here each week looking for what the Scriptures have to say, and leave empty handed. It is my sincere hope that folks in such churches have the wherewithal to know that they are being spiritually undernourished and seek to be fed elsewhere.

With so many preachers delivering up “puff pieces” to congregations each week, it should come as no surprise that people are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face in the world. Consider this, according to research by the Barna Group, the top 6 reasons young people leave church are:

  1. Churches seem overprotective.
  2. Teens’ and twenty somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Popular “puff pieces” will never overcome these six items. The results of Barna’s research indicate that shallow and simplistic sermons simply will not do. A well-read, thoughtful, pastor who has a heart for Biblical preaching, however, can serve as the antidote to the poison that is destroying the spiritual life of so many young people.

So, getting back to the lonely text. There is simply no way that a person can leave church feeling that the Bible is relevant for today if the preacher ignores while instead choosing to tell fluff stories. If you are a pastor: feed the people! Don’t leave the text for that day’s message leaning up against a wall looking for someone else to come along. Be about the work that you have been called to and preach the Word of God.