Tag Archives: community

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When does a believer take Communion in an unworthy manner?

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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #27: When does a believer take Communion in an unworthy manner?

I am taking a short break from examining Jesus’ good news of the kingdom to continue to speak to the subject of Communion. Years ago I hosted a vigorous discussion about Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper with a group of pastors from different traditions. At stake was the request of one pastor to serve Communion to the shut-ins at the town’s only nursing home, since he felt the weekly service we all took turns leading was their true ‘church’ now. One of my friends suggested that this would constitute taking Communion in an ‘unworthy manner’ since other pastors in the room (including the requesting pastor) did not believe the same things about Communion.

Paul, who was a Hebrew of the Hebrews and also a Pharisee before his conversion, understood the covenantal aspect of the Lord’s Supper better than the people who made up the Corinth church. Some of these people were evidently wealthy enough to be able to host a congregation in their homes. Following the customs of the time, they would put on a supper for their close friends in the church, but also allow the poorer members to show up to observe (that is, watch their betters eat) the meal—they were there for the ‘entertainment’ and not the food. And so they were excluded, since the wealthier members considered their dinners as having the Lord’s Supper together.

Paul did not think so. He spoke forcefully, “So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.” (1 Corinthians 11:20-21) This exclusion of others who were present and not offered a morsel to eat was not merely repugnant because it smacked of snobbishness. It went against the very nature of Communion as a covenant meal. Sharing in Communion meant that, “We belong. We are included.” Communion, at its heart, was about being in Jesus’ community—in communion with God and all the others in covenant with Him.

They had twisted it to mean, “We are special. We can retain our social distance and be Christian at the same time.” Draw a direct line between this rebuke and what Paul is saying about taking Communion in the following verses.

“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. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Paul’s concern was that these wealthy members were actually guilty of sinning against the covenantal sacrifice of Christ. Their treatment of fellow believers for whom Jesus died was what Paul saw as taking Communion in an unworthy manner. Their unworthy manner divided the church into factions—the haves and the have-nots… or the theologically correct and the incorrect, for that matter—and chose to ignore the fact that Jesus has now made us one body through the good news of the kingdom. No superiors. No inferiors. All equal at the foot of the cross.

You cannot call this shared meal Communion and at the same time exclude members of your covenantal family. To do so is stating that you know of whom God approves better than He does. That is what is unworthy. It invites judgment from God.

“So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.” (1 Corinthians 11:33) This is what it means to be the body of Christ. Our covenant meal includes rather than excludes people who are different from each other, because through the cross, they were made family.

-Steve Smith


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Learning from Brokenness How to Be a Safe Person

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 7Learning from Your Own Brokenness How to Be a Safe Person 

How do you unlearn deeply ingrained judgmental beliefs that get in the way of loving someone enough to engage in their restoration? Paul’s answer is to watch yourself or you too may be tempted. He is saying self-knowledge of your own vulnerability plays a role in being able to restore others caught in sin. The recognition that there is no sin that could not also trap you if you were not held safe by God is critical. How does this work out in real life?

One answer is not what I wish for anyone, but I can tell you that the day that I crashed and burned—when my sin was publicly outed by God—was the day I finally unlearned the beliefs I had so painstakingly held onto as foundational up till then. It is hard to unlearn faulty beliefs until you discover this personally. The lightbulb moment when you really see the consequences of your own addictions and God’s mercy and grace to restore you, will start you looking at the failures in those you lead with ever so much more understanding and compassion. A ‘search me, God, and see if there is some wicked way in me’ approach may make you a more able servant of God than any Bible knowledge you have ever gained.

Some sins seem so much more devastating than others. Extra-curricular sexual dalliances, especially with a child, top many believers’ list. Brutality in the home, the duplicity of a double life, lying which results in destroying someone’s reputation, amorality in life—we are often hard pressed to believe these people are even Christians. “I would never do that. Let them go, they will never willingly repent!” is the thought that allows us to be at peace with not trying to restore them.

But here is the reality of depravity. There is nothing we could not do and, but for the grace of God, you and I would not do. Incest? Murder? Robbing the elderly and the poor? We would like to say, “No, I’d never.” But if we’d never it is God alone who empowers us to ‘never.’ And perhaps you have done things—though those days are long behind you.

You need this level of candor about your own brokenness to become safe. And for your church to be a safe church, you have to lead the congregation to understand this with you. Many churches are unsafe because people are afraid to be transparent about their own sin. Judging others is actually a defensive reaction to keep the spotlight off from themselves.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.” is the confession of the safe church. There is zero difference between the ability of any of us to be good for God. We all could be in the pit if left to our own devices. But we should neither fear this nor abandon others because it happened to them. It is because God gives us grace by the Spirit that we, as one family, should fearlessly restore each other. Unlearning judgmental beliefs in order to learn love is what spiritually maturing people do.

Steve Smith


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Learning from John How To Be a Safe Person

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 6: Learning from John How to Be a Safe Person

Learning to be safe requires that you first grasp what it will cost you to accept that those who mess up still belong to the family. This is neither easy nor cheap. According to all we know, John was the last survivor of the Twelve. He reportedly finished his life out as the overseer of the churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern western Turkey) after returning from his exile on Patmos. Clement, an early leader of the church in Rome, passed on the story that in John’s last years, he committed a young man who deeply impressed him to the discipling ministry of a pastor in one of his churches. John then returned to his home base in Ephesus. For a while the pastor diligently followed through. But at some point, he let up and the young man fell into the company of some pretty rotten characters, finally engaging in robbery with them. In time, he became their bandit chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.

Sometime later John returned to deal with an issue at this church. Asking after the young disciple, the pastor groaned deeply and burst into tears, saying, “He is dead to God, for he turned wicked and [became] a robber.” John was stunned with grief by this tale, but demanding a horse and a guide roade off  to find the young man. When he arrived at the robbers’ outpost, they took him prisoner.

Fearlessly, he urged his captors to lead him to their captain. As soon as the bandit chief caught sight of John, he ran as hard as he could to get away. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him, “My son, why do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you have still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.”

The young man stopped and wept, allowing John to embrace him. Falling on his knees, John kissed the young man’s right hand and assured him that he would find forgiveness from Jesus. He returned with John to the church. John stayed with him a long time until the young man was restored and he never wandered from his faith again.

Here is the starting point of being safe. You have to be willing to put even your life on the line for the person who messes up. If the wandering one knows you mean this, it changes the game. This is what agape looks like. “I love you no matter what you have done. You still belong and I will not let you go. I will sacrifice myself to make sure you do not.” The time you will give this person is not coming from one who is pouring out judgment or from someone who is standing in a place of superiority. The time is coming from someone who has experienced God’s love and is giving it to the person because they matter, whether they want to receive it or not.

Steve Smith


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Is Restoration Worth the Trouble?

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 4: Is Restoration Worth the Trouble?

Transformational churches are full of people who are just as messy as those who attend churches that teach reformational life. So what do you do with people who have messed up . . . again? Or maybe are at the point of their lives when you would think they should know better, should be more spiritual, should demonstrate more maturity? Or maybe everyone’s question is, “How did he or she hide their sin so shockingly long from us?” Can these believers ever come back? And if they do come back, can they come back into your church?

Getting rid of the evidence of failure is such a temptation for churches. This is so because we tend to personalize people’s sin failure. Especially if the sin is very public (hits the newspaper, airwaves or the internet). We feel betrayed and maybe a little angry… or a lot angry. So statements are made, such as “This person has hurt the testimony of Jesus,” (which is our code for saying they have embarrassed us). Many times the choice of the church is to ask the sinner to step away from the faith community and maybe not come back until he or she gets fixed, if at all. But this is backwards. Jesus’ testimony is not hurt by someone’s sin failure as much as it is when we deny his mercy and grace at work among us by failing to seek to restore such people. That is far more serious because we have failed to love as Jesus loves.

A clear commitment to restoration keeps the transformational church from kicking people to the curb. Churches that have a transformational culture take Galatians 6:1-2 seriously and value fellow believers so much that their spiritual demise has to be challenged. You should care for each other enough to want to stop someone from going to destruction. I know when I see people strolling down the path toward an addiction that I lived with in the past, I want to stop them cold if I can.

This is what the body does. In this passage, I am pretty sure that Paul is focused on sin which has caught and is already controlling a fellow believer in such a way that it is leading to personal destruction as well as broken relationship with God and his or her church family. To engage in restoration means pursuing people who we are to love in the way Jesus loves them—this is the actual meaning of “so fulfill the law of Christ,” in this passage.

Steve Smith


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What is Restoration?

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 3: What is Restoration?

My first exposure to restoration of sinful people took place at the church I attended during my college years. I was dumbfounded first when a lovable church member got mixed up with ‘the other woman’ and left his family and the church. Then a grandmotherly woman who had personally invested in me raged publicly at the pastor and left the congregation with her husband trailing after. “What’s happening here?” we who were left behind wondered. I also remember the day when the man, back in church months later, stood unexpectedly and confessed his sin to the whole church as his wife sobbed by his side. Two years after college, I was back for a visit. I found that the spiritual leader of the men’s ministry was now that man and the spiritual leader of the women’s ministry was now that grandmotherly woman.

What took place over that period of time was biblical restoration. But what exactly is it? Before I give my definition, here are a couple of things it isn’t. Restoration is not to be equated with forgiveness. A lot of people in the church get these two confused. In the new covenant, people are forgiven the moment they turn from sin and repent. But this does not mean they are safe from the schemes of Satan, who desires to pull them back into destruction. Nor are they safe for the body. This leads to another thing that restoration is not—it is not about positional restoration. It is not primarily about returning people to involvement in ministry or even leadership. That is a secondary issue to be taken up when a believer is safe in their walk with Jesus again. I have seen the folly of the church so-called restoration process that hurriedly returned people caught in sin back to a position they held before. Talk about mega-disasters for all concerned.

So what is it? Restoration is restoring people in their walk with God, into a healthy relationship with the people they wounded and back into community with the body of Christ. It involves getting under their outer life facade to help them discover the causes of the spiritually unhealthy choices that led them to jump into the pit. The goal is to lead them to surrender these choices to God, not for forgiveness, but for eradication by His grace. Further, it is to guide those caught in sin to restore what they took from others in their selfish pursuit of self-centered choices.

Restoration is not merely a ‘make it all nice again’ endeavor. It is allowing people caught in sin time to discover alongside safe people why they chose that path of destruction. This is neither easy work nor is it tinged with the cheap mercy of tossing a blanket over their sin and ignoring it.

Steve Smith


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You Can’t Restore Those You Don’t Value

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 2: You Can’t Restore Those You Don’t Value

I am guiding several leaders who are collectively dealing with a deeply tragic family situation. Unfaithfulness, addiction, inner family conflict and extended family abandonment, coupled with long standing wandering from God by the key players are intermingled in this dizzying spectrum of issues. More than one family member needs to be restored. For many of the believers entering into this morass, it is the first time they have ever participated in restoration.

The first question with which you have to grapple is the one of value. “How much value do these broken people have for me?” I know our official doctrine informs us that they all are precious in God’s sight, that they matter to Him so much that He gave His Son’s life in exchange for them. But how valuable are they to you? You have to get real with yourself to even get to the starting gate of wanting to restore them when they jump into the pit.

Stop and think about this. Who in your church would you want to restore if they messed up?

  • A beloved pastor who has invested in you and others?
  • A key leader whose visibility to and influence over the congregation has made a spiritual difference?
  • A faithful attender who would be missed if he or she was allowed to go on sinning?
  • An indifferent sibling in the faith?
  • An aggressively messed up person whose participation in the church seems like an intrusion?

If some of the people I listed are of unequal value to you, accept that you have a skewed view of the body of Christ. Also accept that your ability to be used by God to restore someone caught in sin will be compromised. Truthfully, to be able to pursue restoration for anyone, you have to want to restore them all, even the ones that constitute the greater challenge. Otherwise you will quit way too early on those who need you to hang in there the most. This is what Paul means by characterizing restorers as living by the Spirit.

The messy lives of those I mentioned are going to take time. It will involve 10-12 believers investing their precious time weekly for the unforeseeable future. There is no guarantee that those they seek to restore will humble themselves to God and be made whole. They are doing this because they value the wandering ones as Jesus does.

You will never come to value people caught in sin equally until you ask the Father to change you. It is one thing to say that you belong to the family of God. It is another—a costly another— thing to treat all the people in your congregation like family. You have to ask God to take away your indifference, your fear of involvement, your inattentiveness toward doing good to those who belong to the family of believers.

As Paul says, we get to reap a harvest if we do not give up doing good (Galatians 6:9). The benefits I have already received from restored family members—whose names meant nothing to anyone but the Father—far outweighs the effort put in when they were at their worst. Seeing a person living in freedom and following hard after the Father again is worth every minute I gave. And they, knowing the destruction they were flirting with, have never wandered again. This is why I teach others how to restore those caught in sin.

Peace!

Steve

 

 


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Restoring Those Who Crash and Burn

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Crash and burn

Restoration in a Transformational Community 1: 

Restoring those Who Crash and Burn

It’s tough to talk about the tragic. A formerly well respected pastor, loved son, husband and father dies by his own hand. This came after a year of sad revelations. Shock waves raced through the faith community and unfortunately confirmed the belief system of the non-believer who considers Christianity all hucksterism anyway. What makes me wonder is not that it happened—I have seen it before during my lifespan—but about the rest of the story not being told. And I am not talking about the dirt whispered about this man in the news reports.

What I wonder is what was being done by those who rightly stepped him back from ministry to restore him in his walk with Jesus. I wonder if they knew how to do what they needed to do and at what depth. The need to know this is not mere idle speculation. We are losing too many Christian leaders in the battle. Men and women who, like Tryphena and Tryphosa, have worked hard for the gospel. And besides them, many believers, who live under the radar, are being left to stew in their own damaging sin choices, almost invisible to our eyes.

Our challenge is to live as God’s Holy Church. Being the church includes restoring anyone we see caught in a sin. So what do you have in your toolbox that indicated you are prepared to battle for the soul and even the very life of people with whom you share a common Savior?

Not to say this pastor was a willing participant in his restoration process. Maybe he was so ashamed and out of control he resisted help from those who loved him. Maybe they did their all they knew how and walked beside him the best they could. Certainly his opting for suicide was not of their making. It was a sloth choice—the conclusion of a man who was unwilling to take responsibility for himself except to determine his family and friends would be better off without him. This is why sloth is included as one of the seven deadly sins.

This is an invitation to learn something that someday you will need to know. You may need it today. Or last week, for that matter. I understand that it is hard to learn this by reading alone. Most of us need to see it done to understand what the defiant, the broken, the addicted, the runaway, the unrepentant, or the out-of-control person of our family needs for us to do and say in such moments. Some of what I share will only make sense when you are actually walking someone through restoration.


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