Snapshots of Knox Church life

The 2019 rummage sale

Church work day — making Knox beautiful!

Bev and Bill’s 50th membership anniversary

Passing our first goal of our “Save the Ceiling” campaign!

Last playgroup of the year

Sunday school picnic

The Lord’s Supper and you

On the first Sunday of every month at Knox Church, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper during our worship service. This is one of the two sacraments (with baptism being the other) ordained by Jesus Christ for his church to perform faithfully until his return. In Luke 22, Matthew 26, Mark 14, and 1 Corinthians 11 we read the events, template, and instructions for this sacrament.

Despite its regular appearance, there remains some confusion and misunderstanding about the Lord’s Supper, and I wanted to clarify what communion is and how we in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church celebrate it.

Chapter 29 in the Westminster Confession of Faith explains the nature of the Lord’s Supper, saying, “The night Jesus was betrayed he instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, called the Lord’s supper, to be observed in his church until the end of the world as a perpetual remembrance of his sacrifice in death and as the seal of all the benefits of that sacrifice for true believers. It also signifies the spiritual nourishment and growth of believers in Jesus and their additional commitment to perform all the duties they owe him. Finally it is a bond and pledge of believers’ communion with Jesus and with each other as members of his mystical body.”

In short, Jesus isn’t physically present in the bread and cup, but rather he is spiritually present through the Holy Spirit and works through the elements to encourage us spiritually. By partaking, we share in the suffering and death of Jesus as well. This is an awesome thing!

According to the EPC Book of Order, this “holy sign and seal” represents Christ, confirms our relationship to him, and reveals power through the work of the Holy Spirit. We as a church should not neglect observing the Lord’s Supper, but at the same time, we must properly approach this table when we do come to it. It is vital to examine your relationship with Jesus and confess your sins before coming to the table. Anyone who has made a public profession of faith may partake, but those who have unrepented sin in their life, have not made a public confession of faith (i.e. children or new believers who have not appeared before Session), and those who do not know Jesus Christ.

There are a few rules that we must observe. First, only a lawfully ordained minister may administer the sacraments on behalf of Christ and his Church, while Ruling Elders or Session-approved members may distribute it. Second, communion is ordinarily observed during worship along with the reading and preaching of the Word (but may be administered to those ill or on other days approved by Session). Finally, the Lord’s Supper should be followed by a time of praise and thanksgiving through hymns as a sign of gratitude toward God.

“Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)

The church of the willfully ignorant

I’m starting to dig into the prophet Micah’s words in my devotions and have come to an interesting little passage in chapter two. Micah is pronouncing upcoming judgment for Israel and Samaria for their sins (namely, idol worship and gross abuse of power), and the false prophets of these nations bristle at these statements.

So [the false prophets] said to Micah, “Do not preach! One should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.” (2:6)

In other words, they’re incensed that Micah is pointing out their sins and that these sins will have dire consequences. They are content to wallow in active ignorance of the upcoming doom instead of facing the truth head-on.

It’s what I like to call “The Church of the Willfully Ignorant,” and this passage is a terrific microcosm example of a serious problem among both believers and non-believers.

The thing is, we like to be told affirming statements about our life. That we’re not that bad. That we’re doing OK. That we are loved. Pour on the encouragement from the pulpit and people eat it up. And it’s certainly not wrong to be rightfully told that God loves us and that we should encourage each other, but when we abruptly stop at the hard stuff, the stuff that makes us take a long, hard look at our lives, we put a quick end to the path of salvation.

Talking about hell and destruction from the pulpit makes no friends. Nor does being blunt about our nature as sinners who are wholly incapable of redeeming ourselves from the rightful wrath of God. Mention these, and people bristle. They claim offense and fear-mongering, but what is really going on is a rebellion against the truth. We know it’s the truth, and we have a choice when faced with it: willfully ignoring it to the point of self-delusion and denial, or embracing it even though it is profoundly uncomfortable.

Micah isn’t merely criticizing and castigating people here; he’s warning them of the very real consequences that their choices have caused. He knows he’s making no friends, but that’s the thing about love: When you care about people, you tell them the hard truth instead of the easy-to-swallow lie, especially if there’s a chance that it might save them from further pain and possible death. You get past the worry that you might offend them because awkward feelings are of little importance when lives and souls are at stake.

This reaction by the false prophets of Micah’s time are echoed throughout the Bible. Jesus and the apostles experience it several times. We see crowds happily following Jesus for the miracles, excitement, and uplifting teaching. But when he calls for repentance, when he tells them that following him means bearing their cross, some get offended and leave. Micah has a great response to the false prophets in verse 7:

“Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Has the Lord grown impatient? Are these his deeds? Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?”

He’s throwing his arms wide and asking them if he’s lying. Deep down, they know he’s not. They just don’t like hearing it said out loud. But Micah goes on to point out that these uncomfortable words will “do good” to those who follow God.

Listen, I hate having my sin pointed out to me as much as anyone else. I have a thin skin and I’m quite aware of my failings. But when it’s done out of love and not spitefulness, it can be a good thing. The Spirit can and does convict me, loving fellow believers have rebuked me, and the Bible serves as a hard reality check for my life. And each time I have that choice of rejecting or accepting the truth.

But here’s the thing: Even though embracing that truth is initially painful, it does “do good,” as Micah says, in the end. It puts me on a path to repenting. It helps me identify what parts of my life I need God’s help adjusting. It hopefully uproots the little sins before they can blossom into big ones.

Or, we could flock to the liers. Micah gets a good dig into the crowd in 2:11:

“If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!”

I’d rather have a real minister in my life than a party-loving fraud who’s trying to coddle my oh-so-delicate feelings. My prayer is that the church would too.

He is my shepherd

Today’s guest post is a poem by Ellivena Olivetti, who wrote this after last Sunday’s message about Jesus the Great Shepherd.

He is my shepherd
My one and true King
His love is forever
And my heart still sings

He is my shepherd
Using his staff,
He will always protect me
From the devil’s wrath

He is my true shepherd
Jesus is coming
He will always save us
And God is still loving

He is my shepherd
And within his miracles
Is bread and fish
And we enjoy popsicles

Jesus is coming,
And yes, it’s the end,
And the devil is done for
Plus, Jesus is our friend.

What does God require of me?

In my exploration of Micah, I reached the sixth chapter today and came upon a famous verse — with some added context that I never noticed before.

Basically, God is challenging the wicked people to appear before him and plead their case in a court of law. God is the plaintiff who accuses his people of doing him and his loved ones wrong. He reminds them of the good that he’s done for them in the past, using the word “remember” over and over.

For the repentant people, the defendants, they know they are guilty and that restitution must be made. So the question is asked, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” (Micah 6:6). In other words, what does God want from me?

God begins by telling the people what he does not want. He doesn’t want what the people assume, what other nations and their gods practice. He does not want nor need their gifts of cattle, or precious oil, or even their children. He does not want what they own, but as he soon makes known, he desires what they are to be better. In verse 8, God says that what he requires of us is not a secret: “He has told you, O man, what is good;and what does the Lord require of you…”

Then he outlines three of his most desired aspects for his followers:

1. “To do justice”

The prophetic books of the Old Testament are rife with complaints about the wickedness of the people against each other. The abuse of violence, of lying, of false testimonies, of cheating, and particularly of abuse from those in power and with wealth against those weaker and poorer. God is the ultimate judge and final arbiter, but he charges us to promote and seek justice in the world. We are not meant to be insular, caring only of ourselves and blind to the pain around us, but to stand up for what is right and to do what is right.

2. “To love kindness”

This is also translated as to have “steadfast love” or “love mercy.” It’s a developed quality that follows God’s heart — to love others completely and fully, without condition or prejudice. The heart full of love has no room for hate, and the life lived in love is one that pleases God greatly and makes this world a better place. We do not exalt “kind” people as much as we should in our hero worship, but we should. We should emulate those who have grasped the kindness of God and extend that to everyone.

3. “To walk humbly with your God“

Not just to walk with God, but to walk humbly. The theme of arrogance vs. humility is one that is repeated so often throughout the Bible that a reader really has to be blind not to pick up on how important it is to God.

It is possible to walk arrogantly with God, assuming that one is above the law and looking down on everyone else. It is very possible to expect God to capitulate to one’s personal whims and be at one’s beck and call, but not to do the same in reverse.

A humble walk with God paints a picture of a soul that knows the true need for God’s saving grace and continuing forgiveness. A humble person does not demand of God, but requests. A humble person remembers God’s kept promises and praises him for them. A humble person knows that he or she does not know everything, and that it is always important to keep a reign on ego and extend grace as much as possible. The humble person puts God first, others second, and themselves third.

It’s very difficult to do, and I’m ashamed to say that I often lack the humility needed for this walk. Reading this is a good reminder that these three qualities are goals to strive for as I grow spiritually.

God’s former home

I’ve been reading the saga of King Solomon’s construction of the temple in 2 Chronicles, including all of the decoration details that most folks probably gloss over. Today I got to 2 Chron. 3, where he built the Holy of Holies, which reminded me of how fascinating this one room was in all of Israel.

He said to me, “This is the Most Holy Place.” (Ezekiel 41:4)

To understand the Holy of Holies, you have to trace the path of God’s relationship with his people. In the beginning, that relationship was intimate and familiar; Adam and Eve walked with God, talked with him, and had no reason to hide from him. Sin changed that by severing the relationship, causing God to expel the people from his sight because he could not bear to be in the presence of sin. But God still loved us and strived to reunite with his people, but that process would be long and somewhat complicated.

Some of the first steps back to reestablishing that relationship was God descending to be among his people in a safe, acceptable way that would not incur the proper penalty for his wrath among sinful folk. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses as a sign of his perfect law to be delivered to the people. The Commandments were put in the Ark of the Covenant, which became the physical vessel and symbol of God being among his people.

Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place,which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. (Hebrews 9:3-4)

However, when the people stopped to make camp, they had to sequester the Ark in the tabernacle, in an inner room that was designated for the “Holy of Holies.” It was in this 15x15x15 cubed room that the Ark rested, in the midst of the people but still cut off from them — again, both physically and symbolically. Solomon’s temple (and the subsequent second temple) had a more permanent Holy of Holies, still separate from the people by a three-foot thick curtain and inaccessable except by the high priest once a year. God was still among and with his people, but he was not united with them.

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance […] They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (Hebrews 9:7-10)

The author of Hebrews does a great recap in chapter 9 as to the purpose of the Holy of Holies and how it connects to the lives of believers. In these verses he illustrates how the high priest would arrive in that room with a sacrifice that wasn’t fully able to absolve sins, but was commanded to be done to keep the people mindful of the need for forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of the innocent.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:50-51)

The detail of the temple curtain tearing often goes unnoticed in the death narrative — there’s a lot going on, of course. But notice that here in Matthew, it happens the second Jesus dies on the cross. He dies, and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the people is torn in two. Jesus’ death accomplishes God’s plan to reunite with his people by delivering a perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. The barrier between God and man is lowered, and God no longer needs to be hidden from his people.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)

Hebrews pontificates on the theological implications of Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus is the ultimate high priest who does what every high priest before him cannot. He enters the Holy of Holies, he absolves sin with the blood offering, and the people are made righteous before God. The Holy Spirit then moved out of the temple for good and into the new temples — the lives of believers.

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God,and they will be my people.” (1 Corinthians 6:16)

We are the temple of God. What the people of Israel could only imagine seeing in their lives in the Holy of Holies now exists inside of each of the elect. This verse in 1 Corinthians is a joyous proclamation that God has finally reestablished that long-broken relationship — he lives with us, walks with us, and belongs with us.

Save Our Ceiling campaign

In the book of Haggai, the Israelites were starting to return from exile to rebuild their lives back in Jerusalem. Yet God is not happy to see that they were more concerned about building beautiful homes for themselves while letting the destroyed temple rot: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

The point wasn’t that God was obsessed about a physical building, but that he wanted his people to prioritize God over their own lives. God wanted to be foremost in their thoughts and efforts as they rebuilt Jerusalem, and that meant taking a run-down temple and transforming it into a worthy sanctuary once more.

This month, Knox Church is kicking off a campaign to take this house that God has given us and restore it in part. The church roof has fallen into great disrepair and needs fixing in order to make it through next winter — and those repairs will cost around $20,000. The hope is that these repairs will help sustain the building and protect the sanctuary long enough for the mortgage to be paid off and a plan to fully replace the roof go into action.

The “Save Our Ceiling” campaign asks Knox members to help contribute above and beyond normal tithes and offerings to some crucial building projects. We are hoping that this will be done through a combination of donations and creative fundraising ideas from our members. If we are able to raise beyond the $20,000 this year, other much-needed projects such as repairs to the boiler and a permanent sanctuary projector can take place.

Please keep this campaign in prayer, as we know that God does indeed provide from the bounty of his great storehouse. Knox can come together to make this happen, and I look forward to seeing what can be done when we honor God by restoring his place of worship and ministry.