Working It Out – study questions

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wio-cover-v10A committed Christian sifts through the conflicting pressures applied by work, family, the church and his own conscience in search of a Christ-like response to one of the world’s most hotly debated topics. Putting that response into practice, though, will test his faith in ways he never imagined.

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Changed perspective: an offering meditation

A quick Google search of the word “perspective” nets a whole host of interesting quotes and motivational signage.  Maybe there really is something to the popular aphorism: “Perspective is everything!”

If you apply this sentiment to passages in the Bible, God’s Word really opens up with new and interesting meaning.  Take Psalm 100, for example.  Listen carefully as I read it while placing extra emphasis on the attributions referring to God:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before HIM with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is HE who made us, and we are HIS];
    we are HIS people, the sheep of HIS pasture.

Enter HIS gates with thanksgiving
    and HIS courts with praise;
    give thanks to HIM and praise HIS name.
For the Lord is good and HIS love endures forever;
    HIS faithfulness continues through all generations.

Did your perspective change like mine did?  Everything is the Lord’s.  He is the object of our joyful songs.  He made us—we are not our own.  He is our shepherd, our leader.  He owns the gates and the courts through which we must enter to give him our thanks and praise.  He alone is good and his love never fails.  He is forever faithful.  In short, it’s all His!  So are you prepared to give all of you to Him?

I thought I was, but then something happened that changed my perspective.  Several years ago, I attended a week-long Christ In Youth conference with our church youth group.  During one of the lesson times, the leader instructed everyone to break-up into small groups—ideally made-up of folks you didn’t already know.  After several confusing minutes, groups formed, and we launched into the lesson.  During a break, I struck-up a conversation with the other adult leader in my group.  Like me, he was just another parent volunteer—not a professional minister.  I asked if he was enjoying the conference so far, and his response is something I’ll never forget.  In essence, he said he’s been attending this same conference for several years and always enjoyed the experience.  “I look at it as a form of offering,” he told me.  “My wife and I wanted to give more than just our money as an offering to God, so we starting tithing our vacation time.  Every year we set aside ten percent of our paid time off from our jobs to be here or at some similar event.”

Wow!  Talk about conviction!  Other than knowing he was a fellow believer, this total stranger caused me to think differently about giving by showing me a different perspective—reminding me of another popular saying: Time is money!

Now, I’m not here to tell you to replace your regular monetary giving with vacation time.  (If I did, this would probably be my last time at the podium!)  But when you consider the eternal perspective God represents, it seems clear that He wants so much more than just our money.

da Vinci’s Last Supper: a communion meditation

Do you ever feel inadequate or unworthy when the worship service comes around to communion time?  Have you ever shifted uncomfortably in your seat when that somber moment arrives to help us remember Christ’s sacrifice for our sins?  Why would you do this for me, Jesus?  What’s so special about me, God?

Perhaps you learned you should abstain from taking communion if you’re struggling with your Christian walk.  Maybe your week didn’t go so well, or you’re grappling with on-going work, family, health or financial issues; and you find yourself grumbling to God.  Sometimes our busy schedules make it impossible to keep up with daily Bible reading and prayer, and we feel out of touch with God.  And surely, you’ve heard of other Christian congregations who only receive communion once a month to prevent it from becoming routine, thereby diminishing its importance and impact.  Has communion become routine for you?

Consider what Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper might remind us about this seminal event, which we celebrate and remember at communion time.  Although not authoritative since it was painted in the late 15th century, it is the famous artist’s representation of the last supper as recounted in the Gospel of John and depicts the moment when Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray him.

Interestingly, the Gospel of John largely skips over the portion of the last supper that we celebrate today as communion, focusing instead on several long, well-known passages and prayers that form the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  But, the context in which Christ spoke those words must never be forgotten—the first-ever celebration of communion where God’s covenant with mankind changed in a very fundamental way.  With that in mind, it is instructive to consider what we might learn from the people involved and the environment in which this blessed event took place.

Looking first at Jesus in the center of the picture:

  • he looks calm & composed despite his full knowledge of what was about to happen
  • despite the Apostles’ imperfections, he called them to follow him, he washed their feet (even Judas!) and prayed for them

Do you ever doubt Jesus’ ability to understand your life or empathize with your circumstances?

The twelve Apostles look like us:

  • Thomas has doubts
  • Judas is discouraged, hides a secret (that was just let out of the bag!)
  • Peter wears his heart on his sleeve & speaks before thinking
  • James & John (sons of Zebedee) are ambitious (or momma’s boys)
  • Matthew (former tax collector) probably wonders what he got himself into
  • The Apostles are arranged in groups of three, suggesting perhaps there may have been cliques among them—the fishermen, the tent makers, the farmers, etc.
  • In modern parlance, one or more of the Apostles may have grabbed their phone and sent a hasty “#WHAT?” or “#GodIsNotDead” in response to Jesus’ prediction.
  • They rush to ask, “Surely not me?” instead of seeking to understand the underlying meaning behind Jesus’ words

Do any of those traits sound like you?

The environment da Vinci depicts in the painting is also telling:

  • Upstairs room wasn’t fancy—poorly lit & little decoration
  • Attendees weren’t wearing their Sunday best
  • Food wasn’t noteworthy (other than the symbolism of the bread & wine), no feast
  • Table wasn’t ornate—not much more than a slab of plywood sitting on sawhorses

Does that environment reflect your house and tastes?

Again, the painting is not a portrait of the actual event when it took place, but the conclusions we can draw from it are likely very accurate: Jesus is in charge; his close associates weren’t handsome, well-dressed model citizens and the environment in which the celebration of communion was instituted isn’t notable in any exquisite interior design sense.

As imperfect as each one of us may be, the reality is that God sees those of us who put our faith in Jesus as perfect:

  • “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”(John 1:12-13).
  • Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us the Holy Spirit was given to us as a deposit that guarantees our inheritance. As heirs of God, we have an inheritance that no one can take from us.
  • Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit (Psalm 32:1-2).
  • For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14).
  • Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
  • Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But, we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

Therefore, there’s no need to wallow in our perceived inadequacy or question our self-worth during communion time.  Thanks to Jesus’ work, God sees each believer as a fully forgiven heir to his kingdom, and we look forward to the literal #BestDayEver when he comes again to take us with him to the place he prepared for each of us in heaven.  That’s the lesson all believers should take from this special time of communion.