For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
-Romans 12:4-5

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

United by the Eucharist

In Romans 12, Paul describes believers in Christ as parts of His body. Each member is different, with varied gifts, abilities, and callings. Some are called to service, others to generosity, some to prophecy, or encouragement, or leadership. Each member serves a unique purpose within the body. Members are not alike. So how is it that we, who are all so varied, are all parts of Christ’s body?
The Eucharist may provide the answer to one way Christians are united, no matter how different we may seem from one another. 
In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Paul writes, “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 partake of the one loaf.”
Here Paul explains how participation in Communion unites believers. When we take part in the Eucharist, we are becoming Christ’s body by joining ourselves to Him and His church. More light can be shed on how this happens when we look more closely at the implications of the Last Supper. At the Last Supper, Jesus knew that He was going to die. At the time, when a prophet or a teacher was going to die, he would leave his possessions with his disciples. Jesus, however, had no earthly possessions aside from His body and blood. That was all Jesus had, and so when He tells His disciples that they are to take His body and blood, He is giving them their inheritance. Now, each time Christians partake of the Eucharist, we are accepting our inheritance from Christ. In this way, we are all Christ’s disciples, all held together as His body, by His body.
However, taking part in Communion does not just create unity among believers, it requires it. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, Paul writes, “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 of the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” If someone partakes of communion with selfish intentions, not considering the church as the body of Christ and themselves as a part of that body, they will be judged. Further in the text, Paul defines this punishment as sickness and death for those who take part in communion without first discerning the body. Paul emphasizes how important it is to understand what Communion is, and what it means for us before we partake. 
This also means that it is important for us to be in right relationship with others in the church, and with God, before we accept Communion. In this way, Communion acts as a way of calling believers back to unity with each other and God. It is a regular reminder of how we are all parts of Christ’s body and therefore must work together for His purposes. 
So, it is important as Christians for us to examine ourselves each time we take part in Communion. We must reconcile ourselves to God and the church first, and recognize the each time that we take part in the Eucharist, that we are accepting Christ’s inheritance, and unifying ourselves to His body. 

Barker, Kenneth L., ed. Zondervan TNIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.  
Cavanaugh, William T. Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ.          Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1998. Print.
Parks, Lynn S. Philadelphia. Speech.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Carlos Carmona

  Growing up, Carlos almost always sat on a wooden bench towards the front left of the sanctuary, closest to where the drums were. Even then he was drawn to music and beats. His parents were pastors at the time, but that didn't mean he always paid attention to sermons. He preferred doodling, or writing poetry to listening intently, and was more interested in reading Revelation than hearing the impassioned speech of his father on a Sunday morning.
  However, one Sunday, when he was thirteen, Carlos was drawn out of his distractions to his father’s sermon. It may have been the “Amens” of the people around him that did it, or it could have been their silence, but Carlos was pulled out of what he was doing. He looked up, and listened to his father preach about how a relationship with Christ should be. He told how it is something personal, something each individual has to choose for themselves.
This was news to Carlos. Prior to hearing his father’s sermon, Carlos had believed because his parents were pastors, he would automatically be saved. He thought that if you were part of a righteous family, where the other members follow Christ, then you too will be given entry into Heaven. In his own words, he thought it was a combo pack.
  So it was both jarring and pivotal when Carlos heard his own father saying that each person has to seek Jesus on their own. He was being told by the person he’d thought had bought him a ticket into heaven that it didn’t work that way – he was going to have to find Christ for himself.
  After that service, Carlos made the decision to build his own relationship with God, without relying on mimicry of others. Before, he would only pay attention to the congregation on Sunday to follow suit when God was praised or hands were raised. Now, he had to ignore those cues and experience Jesus for himself.
  When Carlos first started seeking Him, he’d hoped that God would become his best friend, someone he could tell anything to, who would protect him and comfort him, leading him away from sin and evil. As he tried to make that connection with God on his own, he realized that it wasn't easy. He struggled for personal experiences with Christ, and felt distant and unsuccessful for many years.
  It wasn’t until last summer, during the youth trip to Germany, that Carlos’ relationship with God took off. Before arriving at the YWAM base in Berlin, Carlos hadn’t known what to expect during his trip to Germany. He was looking forward to experiencing the culture of Berlin, and learning about Germany’s history, but he wasn’t anticipating much else. So, when on the first day he arrived, he was thrown into evangelizing people on the streets of Berlin, Carlos wasn’t sure how to cope. He was in a whole new country, surrounded by strangers who spoke a language he didn’t understand. In fact, he felt like the stranger.
  For the first couple days that Carlos was in Germany, he wanted only solitude. He sought to be alone, because that was how he felt – isolated. He was uncomfortable in this new environment, and believed he was unwanted and not needed. Even though the people at YWAM had invited him in, and he still had the support of his youth group, those things could not sink into Carlos’ soul because he felt too strongly that he was alone. Over those first couple days, Carlos kept repeating in his head, “I am not loved. I am an outsider. I am just this random guy that no one seems to care about.”
  It was the words of the prayer of St. Francis that Carlos read that dispelled the lie he’d been telling himself. It goes as,

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we’re born to eternal life.

  The parts about sowing hope and joy spoke most to Carlos in his own sadness and despair, and the part about seeking to love more than to be loved led Carlos to the solution to his desperation. It would be in giving love that Carlos would become open to receiving the love that was being offered.
However, giving love away, especially when one feels unloved, is challenging. It is through receiving the love of Christ that we are able to give the gift of love freely to others. At the time that he was reading this prayer, Carlos also found in his prayer book this picture.
        For Carlos, this illustration represented all the mess that surrounded him with Jesus waiting for him in the distance. Though he’d felt far from God for so long, Carlos knew that He had been waiting for him. It was then that he felt truly loved by God, and his relationship with Christ transformed into the intimate one he’d always desired.
Jesus and Carlos are best friends. They are inseparable. Where Jesus goes, Carlos goes, and they talk all of the time – about everything. Carlos feels especially close to Jesus when he plays music and worships Him. Jesus speaks to Carlos most clearly through song and melody, and in music, Carlos never feels estranged from Him. Carlos still struggles with keeping his relationship with Jesus his own, not reliant on others, but the friendship is there and it is thriving.