Posts Tagged ‘the body of Christ’

Judges 8:1-21 (Part 1 of 4)
Gideon Kills Zebah and Zalmunna

I remember several years ago when Elena and I were co-directors of the Community Transformation ministry of our church (to outsiders desiring non-“church speak” nomenclature, we were co-directors of the church’s local outreach ministry). At the same time, I was the leader of our small group. In that small group, we had encouraged our small group members to participate in the upcoming major event in our church’s outreach calendar, the annual Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway.

As I have mentioned here before, our church has this major event where we invite anyone who feels less fortunate in our community to come to our church and get a complete Thanksgiving meal including an 11-12 lb. turkey to take home. In that way they can have a nice Thanksgiving meal with their family rather than sitting in some church gym eating a meal on long tables with hundreds of other folks they don’t even know. All the while, eating the meal off a paper plate with plastic forks, knives and spoons after having gone through a serving line where some nice church person is the one who determines how much of a portion of each foot item you get. Those generic en masse dinners though an act of generosity are often another slap in the face in the fact that you are poor. You want to have a Thanksgiving meal but you end up feeling like a kid in elementary school eating a meal with hundreds of others. It can be somewhat degrading to the spirit. That’s why we do ours the way we do. Allow these families some dignity where they can take their meal home and have a private meal with their family – not to mention that we don’t have an industrial kitchen at our church where we can feed hundreds of people at once…so there’s that!

Back to my story though. I had encouraged our life group members to get off the couch and help out on the day of the event. So, most of the group did, those that could get off work on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. But I had this one lady from our group that was not there early (we ask volunteers to arrive as early as possible but no later than 7am on the day of the event) for the prep meetings and volunteer assignments to the various functions, just show up around 9am. This particular year, because the weather was going to be unusually warm for late November (it was going to be in the upper 70s that day), we held the event outside. All the stations of our process for the event were outside. It was already in the upper 60’s by event time and it turned out to be a great choice for that particular year. Meanwhile, this lady came directly to me and it seemed to because she knew me, was in my small group, and I was a co-leader of the event that she thought she would get a plum assignment out front engaging people, a place where she could be seen. However, since all positions had been manned I gave her a position as bathroom monitor since we needed someone inside to direct our guests to the bathroom. You know the person that directs others to the bathroom and making sure that people do not wander off into the unattended areas of the main worship center of our church. You know, this lady, though not said directly to me, was telling others how angry she was that she had such a demeaning position. She wanted to be seen. She thought because she knew Elena and me that we would put her in a prime position where she could be seen. She didn’t want to be behind the scenes.

But sometimes in life we have to “guard the bathroom.” In serving the Lord, there are times and there may be many times where we are not out front. We may talented in ways that cause us to be like the old BASF commercials. Remember, “We don’t make the ______. We make the ______ better!” Sometimes, we may be called to rearrange the chairs in the worship center for an event, but not be on stage. We may work in the kitchen at the soup kitchen and not be the ones serving and interacting with the guests. We may build the coat racks but not be the ones who gives the coats away to guests at the coat giveaway. You may be the one running a camera during a church service but not be the pastor delivering the sermon on stage. You may be the accountant who manages the church’s financial reporting but no one notices other than a few people within the church. We must remember who we are working for. We are working for the Lord. We are not working for personal acclaim. We give what we give in our time, talent, and resources not so our pastor will notice us but rather to give glory to God.

That was the first thing that I noticed about this passage, Judges 8:1-21, this morning was how those leaders of the Ephraimites were mad at Gideon because they were given what they considered a lesser role. That was a reminder of how we are sometimes in the church. How we will fall away from participating in some task because it is not in the limelight. Let’s read the passage now:

8 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously.

2 But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided.

4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. 5 He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”

6 But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?”

7 Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.”

8 From there he went up to Peniel[a] and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. 9 So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.”

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. 11 Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army. 12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army.

13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. 14 He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. 15 Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” 16 He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. 17 He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.

18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?”

“Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.”

19 Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.” 20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.

 

21 Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.

In this passage, we see that Ephraim’s leaders felt left out because Gideon had not called them to join the battle but had left them in place to “clean up” the escaping Midianites (the “leftover grapes”) and so they angrily confronted him. Gideon assured the leaders of the tribe of Ephraim that their accomplishment was even greater than his own clan (Abiezer). His diplomatic explanation pointed out that the rear guard had managed to capture the enemy’s generals, thus, cutting off the army of the enemy from its leadership – effectively destroying the enemy. Not every necessary job is a highly visible leadership role. Much of the necessary labor of any effective enterprise is considered by many to be dirty work (the behind the scenes seemingly unrewarded and unnoticed). But such work is vital to getting any big task done. Engineers and millionaires may design and finance an elegant building, but it is the metalworkers, brickmasons, electricians, drywallers, and so on that actually get the work done. Pride can cause us to want recognition. Are content to be God’s bricklayer when he needs you to be or are resentful of the work you have been assigned (and thereby miss what God has in store for you).

Oh, Lord, in your infinite and mighty wisdom, you assign us to serve the body of Christ in ways that are not always out front or on stage and help us to remember that it is you that we are out to please and not our own egos. Help us to be willing to crawl through the mud for you if that is what you call us to do. Help us to be your humble servants because you are a great and mighty God full of infinite wisdom and understanding of a far greater plan for our lives than we can see in our limited nature. Help us to trust you and to glorify you in everything we do regardless of whether it is a job out front or it is a job that is in the background. All parts must work together to make the body of Christ effective. Help us to learn that as part of the body there are no unimportant roles and all roles have a purpose as part of God’s plan. Help us to be humble and serve to the best of our ability and for Your Glory in whatever we do for you, Lord.

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 33:6-25

The Blessings for Each Tribe

Sibling rivalries. Unless you are an only child, you know about this topic. My brother and I were no different than any other set of siblings when it comes to this subject. We fought over everything. My brother is two weeks shy of being one and a half years older than me. My mother was only unpregnant for about nine months between the birth of my brother and when she got pregnant with me. Because of the way our birthdays fell, my brother and I were one grade apart in school. Competition between us was fierce, academic, athletic, you name it.

 

There are memories of our sibling rivalry that stick in your mind, random pictures of the subject that stick in your memory banks. One that sticks in my mind was like when I was 6 years old. My brother was in the second grade and I was in the first. It was the morning of his 8th birthday. Mom was making over him because it was his birthday and he was soaking it in. It was early in the morning on a school day. I remember (and honestly I don’t why I remember this) asking mom what time of day 8 years earlier that my brother was born. She said like it was like in the afternoon or something. I blurted it out that it wasn’t his birthday yet because that was like 6 or so hours away til the time he was born. I didn’t want him to have his birthday glory before it was time, ya know. I was jealous. Sibling rivalry. You don’t want any positive spotlights on your sibling that you can’t have yourself. A birthday was one of those exclusive things that is unique to each child. One of those days where the positive spotlight is squarely on them and not you and there is nothing you can do to change it.

 

Other sibling rivalries were our backyard basketball games at whatever parsonage we were living at over the years. Our basketball games grew less and less as we grew up. But there were years though where basketball games were a daily thing and particularly once we got done with our weekend chores on Saturday morning. Yes, we had chores, weekday ones and weekend ones. Weekend ones involved vacuuming, dusting, among other things. All those things that seemingly to us that your parents dreamed up to keep you from going to play on Saturday mornings. But once we got to play, our basketball games were quit fierce. My brother was always taller than me (and still is, by about 4 or 5 inches), so I developed and outside shot over the years so I would not have to go inside on him. However, sometimes, you just have to go inside (if your outside shot is not going well). I learned over the years to bump and bang with my brother on the inside game so I could create space for a shot with him rejecting it. Same thing on defense. I would bump him hard so that he couldn’t easily get his inside shots off. After a while, all the bumping and banging would get the better of us and we would degenerate into arguments. Sometimes the arguments would degenerate into football on the basketball court – tackling and fighting. Ah sibling rivalries!

 

It continued as teenagers when I started going steady with the girl who became my first wife. On weekends we would date and back in those days you would go find a secluded place in the late evening to go “park”. “Parking” would involve getting in the back seat of the car with your girlfriend and doing what teenage girls and boys do when alone. You would have music playing on the radio low. My brother was socially awkward at the time and rarely if ever had a date. So, on Fridays and Saturdays, he would hang out with one of his equally socially awkward friends. One of the games they would play was to find our where my girlfriend and I were “parking”. One place that we would park was in any of the cul-de-sacs of an, as yet, unfinished subdivision called Hampshire Hills. In Phase 2 of this subdivision, they had built the roads for it long before they started building the first house so it was a great place for TR kids to park. My brother one time with his friend found us and started throwing tennis balls at my car. Another time, he and friend pulled a log into the middle of the entrance to the cul-de-sec. Sibling rivalry was full on during our teenage years. And we won’t even talk about all the snide remarks, the arguments. As the years went by, I just didn’t like my brother very much at all. It took him leaving home to go off to college before our relationship started getting better. But oh back when we were at home, it was on!

 

My sibling rivalry with my brother was the first thing that popped into my mind this morning when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 33:6-23. Let’s find out why after we read through this passage together now:

 

6 “Let Reuben live and not die,

    nor[a] his people be few.”

 

7 And this he said about Judah:

 

“Hear, Lord, the cry of Judah;

    bring him to his people.

With his own hands he defends his cause.

    Oh, be his help against his foes!”

 

8 About Levi he said:

 

“Your Thummim and Urim belong

    to your faithful servant.

You tested him at Massah;

    you contended with him at the waters of Meribah.

9

He said of his father and mother,

    ‘I have no regard for them.’

He did not recognize his brothers

    or acknowledge his own children,

but he watched over your word

    and guarded your covenant.

10

He teaches your precepts to Jacob

    and your law to Israel.

He offers incense before you

    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.

11

Bless all his skills, Lord,

    and be pleased with the work of his hands.

Strike down those who rise against him,

    his foes till they rise no more.”

 

12 About Benjamin he said:

 

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,

    for he shields him all day long,

    and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”

 

13 About Joseph he said:

 

“May the Lord bless his land

    with the precious dew from heaven above

    and with the deep waters that lie below;

14

with the best the sun brings forth

    and the finest the moon can yield;

15

with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains

    and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills;

16

with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness

    and the favor of him who dwelt in the burning bush.

Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,

    on the brow of the prince among[b] his brothers.

17

In majesty he is like a firstborn bull;

    his horns are the horns of a wild ox.

With them he will gore the nations,

    even those at the ends of the earth.

Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim;

    such are the thousands of Manasseh.”

 

18 About Zebulun he said:

 

“Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out,

    and you, Issachar, in your tents.

19

They will summon peoples to the mountain

    and there offer the sacrifices of the righteous;

they will feast on the abundance of the seas,

    on the treasures hidden in the sand.”

 

20 About Gad he said:

 

“Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain!

    Gad lives there like a lion,

    tearing at arm or head.

21

He chose the best land for himself;

    the leader’s portion was kept for him.

When the heads of the people assembled,

    he carried out the Lord’s righteous will,

    and his judgments concerning Israel.”

 

22 About Dan he said:

 

“Dan is a lion’s cub,

    springing out of Bashan.”

 

23 About Naphtali he said:

 

“Naphtali is abounding with the favor of the Lord

    and is full of his blessing;

    he will inherit southward to the lake.”

24“Most blessed of sons is Asher;
    let him be favored by his brothers,
    and let him bathe his feet in oil.
25 The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze,
    and your strength will equal your days.

 

As a person who grew up with a heated sibling rivalry always operating in the background of my family’s life, the thing that I noticed here was the different blessing given to each of the tribes of Israel. They were all different and not the same. Man, at my house when I was growing up, my brother and I would pick up on anything that was not equal between us. If my brother got X, if I got something that was perceived less than X was cause for family discontent. My parents had to tread softly when it came to gift giving, compliments, things that they would let us do and not do. But were times they had to fjord that river without caring what the results would be. Because my brother and I were totally different people with totally different issues growing up, they had to parent us differently. It caused jealousies, arguments, seething anger in us back then. But it was not until I became a parent myself that I understood how different your kids can be and how each requires a different approach, and sometimes a completely different parenting style.

 

That’s what you notice here is the different blessings. To one, God gave the best land. To another, strength. To another, safety. Too often in the church, like with our sibling rivalries growing up, we see someone with a particular blessing and think that God must love that person more than us. However, we should be looking at this thing from the perspective that God makes each one of us unique and that He has to “parent” each of us in the way that is right for us based on the talents that He gave us, the strengths that He has given us and the weaknesses He has given us. All of our combined gifts, strengths and weaknesses are all a necessary part of the body of Christ completing the commission it was given long ago by Jesus.

 

Let us not be envious of the blessings that God has given others. Instead, let us celebrate the diversity of gifts among His people and celebrate how God has brought all these different talents together at this one place at this one time in history to accomplish what God has for this particular body to accomplish in this place in this time. Let us resolve to quit looking horizontally and developing jealousies of what God is doing for this person over here and that person over there. Let us look vertically to the Lord and thank Him for the gifts that He has given us personally and resolve to serve Him in the ways that He has uniquely ordained us to serve Him. Let us not have rivalries with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us celebrate rather what God is doing through us collectively and be amazed him, the Mighty Conductor who orchestrates the symphony of the body of Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 22:14-30 — Have you ever done something so many times that it has become mindless to you. Like for example, taking my shower each day. There is the initial rinse. The lathering up your body with soap. The second rinse. Then, there’s the washing of the hair and the third rinse. Have you ever been in the shower and just finished one of these steps so mindlessly that within seconds you can’t remember whether you have done it or not. Sometimes, we take one of the Jesus-commanded ordinances of the church in this way.

The Lord’s Supper. One of only two Christ-commanded ordinances of the His church, baptism being the other. Therefore, it must be really important. But for the most part, many of us miss its significance. We go through the motions. We know about the ways that we do the bread. Sometimes it’s wafers. Sometimes it tiny squares of bread. Sometimes we tear bits of bread from a loaf. We know about the wine. Some churches use real wine. Some use red grape juice. Some churches give you miniature glasses of wine or juice from a silver tray specifically designed for this purpose with little cut-out circles to hold the wine or juice miniature glasses. The miniature glasses are just large enough for what we call a swig in the South. Some church will have a chalice in which the wine or juice is contained and participants dip their torn-off piece of bread in it as you pass by the pastor or priest. Some churches have modern-day disposable communion packets. It is a plastic container of grape juice with a prepackaged wafer of bread sealed on top of the tear open seal for the container of juice. We all know the ways we participate in the Lord’s Supper. But do we understand its significance? Do we really understand its significance. We have done it so much in our past that it may have become repetition to us. Like forgetting whether or not you shampooed or not seconds after you did it, we may have lost the beauty and importance of this most important ritual.

There is such beauty in the Lord’s Supper. And there are things we should understand about the meal that are important to the everyday life of a Christ-follower. esus instituted the Lord’s Supper at his last meal with his disciples as part of the Jewish Passover (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20). Unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine were part of the meal. Jesus indicated that the bread was symbolic of his body and the fruit of the vine symbolic of his blood.

The unleavened bread symbolizes the purity of Christ, for he was without sin (Hebrews 4:15) and thus his body was an unblemished sacrifice for our sins. Leavened bread has yeast in it and just a dab of yeast mixed in bread dough and kneaded with spread throughout the dough. Sin is that way for us as mankind. Many think that if we just do more good that bad then we will be ok and get into heaven. Ask anyone who knows anything about baking bread from scratch. You cannot remove yeast from bread once it is mixed in it. The form and structure of the dough is forever changed by the presence of the yeast. Sin with the first one committed changes us our form to be a distortion of the image in which we are made and disqualifies us from being in the presence of God for eternity. Thus we need to replace our damaged dough with the purity of the unleavened bread of Christ. When we eat the bread of the Communion, it does not somehow transform and give us salvation. It is symbolic of that which has taken place already. It reminds us of the fact that Jesus was pure and spotless and his body was given for us on the cross to make us pure and right with God once again. His purity becomes our purity. The symbolism of ingesting the bread of communion is that at the moment of salvation we take on the purity of Christ. At the moment of salvation, we become part of the body of Christ. When we take the bread of communion into our bodies, it represents our unity with the pure and spotless one, Jesus Christ.

The juice from crushed grapes symbolizes the blood that Christ shed for us. In Old Testament (OT) times, God agreed to forgive people’s sins if they would bring animals to the priests to sacrifice. When the OT system was inaugurated, the covenant between God and His people was sealed with the blood of animals (Ex. 24:8). But animal blood in and of itself did not remove sin (only God’s forgiveness can do that). As such, animal sacrifices had to be repeated day after day and year after year. Jesus completed the covenant and called it a new one. Jesus would die in the place of all sinners for all time. Unlike the blood of animals where it was imperfect and had to be repeated, Jesus’ sacrifice finished and completed the OT system and established the new covenant. His sacrifice of blood, because He is God in the flesh, was perfect and final and need not be repeated again. It would be good for all eternity. Thus, when we see the wine or grape juice, it is symbolic of the blood of the slain, sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ. His blood was shed on the cross to atone for our sins. For this is what God said the purpose of the cross is. The OT sacrificial system was practice for recognizing what Jesus was to do at the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, he spilled His blood for us. He sacrificed his life so that the penalty of the law would pass over us. We are made imperfect by our sin. Like a drop of flavored water enhancer into a bottle of water forever changes the contents of the water and stains it, we are so stained by sin. We are not pure clear water any one. One drop changes the color of the water just as much as multiple drops. We are sin. God is sinless perfection. Sin cannot exist, any one sin, cannot exist in His presence. We would be destroyed. We need help to turn us back into pure clear water. Jesus’ was the perfect solution and completion of the OT sacrificial system. His sacrifice, the once and for all sacrifice, seals our purity through His blood. All you have to do is to believe that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and did this for you at the cross because you and I are sinners and are incapable on our own of making ourselves right with God. At that moment, you are saved. So when you drink the wine or grape juice at the Lord’s Supper, be forever reminded that it is a symbol of what Christ has done for you at the cross. The Christ follower should be humbled by the drinking the wine or grape juice. Jesus Christ, friend of sinners, loved you so very much that He willingly shed His blood at the cross as the atonement for your sins so that you could be made right and pure before God. Think on that when you drink the symbolic wine or juice.

Just because these things are symbols of Christ does not mean that they in and of themselves are insignificant. They are important because of their divine origin. They are not human creations but given by God to assist us in declaring and sharing the gospel (1 Corinthians 11:26) and motivating us to live the Christian life (1 Corinthians 10:16-33; 11:29). Because of the significance, there is great debate among believers as to whether nonbelievers should participate in the Lord’s Supper. However, with it being symbolic of what Christ has done for us, it is my opinion that non-believers should respect the symbolism and wait until they become believers to participate in this symbolic act. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 that we have in partaking of the Lord’s Supper we are symbolically showing our fellowship, our participation, our communion with Christ. As with baptism, we are declaring our communion with Christ, our oneness with Christ. Thus, honor should be given to it by the Christ followers who participate in and respect should be bestowed upon it by non-believers by not participating in it until they, themselves, become believers. That in and of itself should push us toward evangelism and sharing the gospel of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. We take baths robotically and mechanically and mindlessly. So much so, we sometimes forget whether we did all the steps in the process. Did I really wash my hair five minutes ago when i was in the shower? Let us never robotically, mechanically, and mindlessly participate in the Lord’s Supper. It is so beautiful. It is so remindful. It is so symbolic of what our Lord and Savior did for us at the cross. Let us approach communion with honor, with humility, with remembrance, with thanksgiving and most of all with the highest of praise. We should walk out of church on the days that the Lord Supper is offered shouting to the heavens in thankfulness and honor for what were just a part of! Amen and amen.