We live in an old house. The basement has sandstone walls and wood beams with the bark still on them. If you know anything about an old house, you know that it makes noises when you walk everywhere, there are strange drafts of air that come through holes that shouldn’t be there and various other oddities we refer to as part of its “character.” Another great feature of an old house is that due to lots of settling in the foundation, there are tiny little holes that allow for some of God’s creatures to get into the house. A couple of weeks ago, we discovered to our dismay that a mouse had gotten into our pantry. So, we threw a bunch of food away, cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more. I also set out on a testosterone-fueled campaign to set up a gauntlet of death for the little critter in our house. Shortly after the gauntlet was laid, there were no more signs of the mouse. However, a couple of days went by and a slight funk developed in the basement. I went in search of the source of the funk and came across two very dead mice.
Then, while I was leaving for work this morning, I nearly stepped on the mangled, half-eaten carcass of an animal on the sidewalk leading up to my front porch. I have no idea what it is and why it is there and just to be clear, we live in a small town, not in some sort of untamed wilderness. It was rather startling and not the norm for the start to my day.
Yesterday, while driving home from our church’s Easter service, I commented to my wife that so many people had very obviously not gone to church today. They were out working in their yards, riding their motorcycles, and eating at McDonald’s (that one really perplexes me). I honestly felt sad. I occasionally think about people who I see on the way to church on Sundays who are very obviously not going to church, but there is something different about Easter. So many people who rarely attend church at least attend on Easter out of some kind of guilt.
So you may be asking yourself, what do the dead mice, the mangled mystery carcass and all the McDonald’s-eating, skipping church on Easter people have in common? Death. It is very easy to tell when something is dead by the smell. You know the smell. It’s unlike any other smell on the planet. It is a rotten stench and you can’t miss it. It’s also not difficult to determine that the carcass on my sidewalk is dead nor is the road kill that we see along the road. The sight of blood or a mangled body leaves little hope that there is any life left in the creature. But the kind of death I saw on the way home from church can be difficult to spot.
You may be saying what my wife said, “maybe some of them went to a Saturday night service?” It is possible that some did. Many of the larger churches in our area have Saturday night services. But we of course all know that every single person didn’t, which means that many were not in church yesterday. It is a stark reminder of the increasingly post-Christian world in which we live. People are less prone to being fence-sitters and are more polarized, which one could argue is an easier environment in which to share the Gospel. People are a little more clear on where they stand. There are potentially fewer people who think they are “cool” with God and are actually not. However, it doesn’t really matter whether they think they are “cool” with God or whether they want nothing to do with God, because the Bible states that without Christ we are dead. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world,” (Ephesians 2:1-2a ESV). I heard John Gerstner speaking on that passage once on RefNet and he basically said that dead means dead, not sick or any other lighter term that we might want to use there. All of us, apart from and without Christ are spiritually dead.
However this death doesn’t always have a stench or a bloody appearance. It can be difficult to pick up sometimes. We can go along being such nice people, helping others, giving to those in need and speaking well that we may seem quite alive. In fact, many who are spiritually dead and apart from Christ would probably claim at some point or another that they feel quite alive in the life that they live. They may not always feel miserable about their lives, what they do or their lack of relationship with God. The fact that they are dead is not something of which they are aware. Their lives are marked by a kind of hidden death and they don’t even know it.
Maybe it was the emphasis on evangelism at Together for the Gospel or maybe it was the Gospel presentation yesterday at church that has me thinking so much about death. It’s hard not to think about death, even for those of you that don’t have pests that get in your house or random dead animals on your sidewalk, there is the reminder of death everywhere. How can we then not think so clearly and so intentionally about those around us that don’t know Christ? We are like Peter asking, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68, ESV). There is no other place to go or no other person to whom we can turn in the face of death but Christ. As we encounter those that don’t even know they are dead in their sins as we once were, how can we not point them to Jesus? Isn’t this where the truth of the resurrection plays itself out in our lives? In the resurrected Christ we have real hope and a real promise of being brought from death to life.
I spoke with a neighbor about his wife yesterday who is dying of cancer. We talked about treatments she had gone through and all the work that he had been doing in caring for her. He was told that she has only days left at this point. Her body is breaking down and she is down to nearly 60 pounds. I asked him if we could be praying for them and asked about their faith. The reality of death could not be more real for that family and because of that I wonder if their Easter was a bit different from many of ours? I get excited singing “Up from the grave He arose,” but I suspect that truth has a very present hope for someone like our neighbor. What would it take for us to be that gripped by the promise of the Resurrection in our own lives?
Life After Death
When we are living on the other side of the cross, having been redeemed by Christ by grace through faith, we live differently. We don’t simply live differently in that our morals, our behavior or our thinking are different, but also the way we think about others has been changed. The society in which we live leads us to be as individualistic as possible. We are compartmentalized, driven away from community and shut off from people. Certainly we have our friends and the people we may spend some time with, but we are not engaged in people around us. Life in Christ calls us to be aware and to see and smell the death that still lingers around us. The people who are now just as we were before Christ got ahold of our lives. This should lead us to prayer and action, but should not lead us to think that we have to fix it all. This should lead us to where we need to be when we feel like something is too big for us, which is before the feet of Christ. The neighbor I talked to said that someone told him that God never gives people more than they can handle, to which my neighbor replied,”either God must think I can handle a lot or He has been helping me this whole time.” I think he knew which one it was and thoughts like this about death should lead us to the same conclusion. We don’t throw our hands in the air and give up because it is all just so much to bear. We pray, we live and bring others the hope of new life in Christ. May the Resurrection of our Lord give us a fresh look at life in, for and through Him.
This is my message on the Body of Christ for tonight’s Good Friday communion service:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV)
Our Bodies and Flesh
Without Christ, we are so engulfed by sin that Paul refers to our bodies as “a body of sin” in Romans 6:6. Any reference to our body in the Bible is usually meant to encompass all of us, not just the parts of which we are made of, but all of who we are as a person and who we are as a being. And as the verse from Romans and many others say, our bodies are entirely corrupted by sin and do not have a speck of goodness in them, apart from Christ. We are bent and pulled towards sin. We sin because we are sinners.
The Bible also refers to our bodies as flesh and often times the flesh is referred to in a negative sense, talking about anything that is sinful or worldly about us. Paul says nothing good dwells in him, that is in his flesh, Romans 7:18. Flesh is commonly referred to as either skin that covers the body or the stuff of which our bodies are made. It tends to be more of a biological term, than an all-encompassing term of who we are as people. Either way, it is commonly used to describe how our flesh, the substance of which we are made, is corrupted by sin. Sin has corrupted us so deeply that even our biological impulses (our brains, stomachs, and other biological urges) lead us to go after that which is sinful and apart from the will of God.
Christ’s Body and Flesh
However, the same terms that are used for body and for flesh in the New Testament are used concerning Christ. These same terms that we just said were usually connected to sin, were used of Christ. We know that Jesus did not sin, so that must mean that His body and flesh were different from ours. He came as a man so He was like us in every way in that to see Him, He would not be any different from us biologically. But the difference in Christ’s body and flesh is that He was uncorrupted by sin, unstained by the damages left by sin, and was entirely undefiled by having never given into a single temptation. This was possible because He is also God, he is fully God and fully man. Jesus represents what it is to be truly human, to be as God created mankind to be before the Fall. Jesus represents redeemed and corrected humanity or humanity as it was intended.
He does not merely represent and display redeemed and corrected humanity, but He also secured, bought and paid the price to make this possible. Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life in John 6:51 and says that all who will eat this bread, which He says is His flesh will have eternal life. He says earlier in the chapter (John 6:35-36) that to eat this bread, which is His flesh, is to believe in Him. It of course is not a literal eating of His flesh, but a consuming of who He is through faith.
Towards the end of the Gospel of Luke, (Luke 23:50-56), it says that Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb. That same body had just received lashing, beating and scourging beyond imagination. That same body was nailed to a cross. That same body hung on a cross while he slowly suffocated. That same body, not long before all the beatings and the cross, sat with His disciples, took bread, broke it and gave it to His disciples and told them to eat. He said that this bread was his body that was given for them.
Christ’s Body and Flesh in Communion
Jesus gave all that He was, body and flesh, to secure this redemption of His people, of whom we are a part if we have put our faith in Him. In communion we don’t merely remember. In communion we don’t merely reflect on the awful things that Jesus endured for us. We should not simply be moved to sadness over what torture He endured. In communion, we look to the cross and past the cross in awe and praise at the finished and completed work of Christ on our behalf. Through faith, the breaking of His body and the tearing and piercing of His flesh redeems us and makes us truly human and truly alive. Communion literally means unity, fellowship, closeness, accord or agreement. There is so much more going on than merely remembering, we are assured of the unity we have with Christ in the death that He died for us. Through faith in Jesus our body of sin died with Him, and through faith in Him our bodies are resurrected to new life in Him. In this new life we are then made a part of Christ’s body, the church, where we may serve, praise and honor Him. We live out and celebrate that new life as His Body tonight in communion.
Back in December, I went to SOLA 13 in Michigan. Before I went, I watched this, in trying to prepare for the conference. There is so much anticipation when you know you’re going to a conference. There is excitement to hear the speakers, the impact that you pray the time has on your walk with Christ, the anticipated fellowship with others that are attending with you and I am always super geeked out about books, books and more BOOKS! I had been looking forward to T4G now for a few months and last week the time finally came to go. With all the anticipation and preparation that goes into going to a conference, now that I am home and back to work, I think someone needs to talk about how to come home from a conference.
There is a sacrifice in going to a conference. There is a financial cost. I was blessed to have my ticket and hotel covered by my church, but I still dropped some coin for food and coffee. There is also a sacrifice when you are married with kids. If you have young kids, like my wife and I, someone is probably going to be staying home with the little one(s). My wife graciously put up with me being gone for a total of nearly two weeks over the last couple months. She stayed home with our wonderful, little, teething daughter while I went to this conference (Thank you honey!). Finally, there is of course the sacrifice of time, whether it is leaving work, taking vacation time or just leaving the other duties of home and everyday life behind for a few days. With all these sacrifices, one prays that there will be fruit from the trip.
I love the heart behind T4G; thousands of people together, literally for the Gospel. There is an encouragement from brothers and sisters from various facets of the church all gathered together; pastors and lay people, Baptists and Presbyterians, men and women all seeking the will of Christ together. It is an awesome experience. And the singing, good grief, the singing! The theme for this conference was evangelism and the various ways in which each speaker approached the Gospel and evangelism built a rich, overall message.
However, this morning, I put on my shirt and tie, packed my lunch and drove a half hour to sit at a desk all day, catching up on emails, pulling reports and playing in Excel. It is hard to do this after a week like last week. How do we carry this charge that we receive from a conference home with us?
- Accountability – I was blessed to have attended with five other guys from our church. I didn’t go alone to this, which I think is important. If we can attend a conference with someone else or a group, then that is probably best. This will help as we continue to feed each other’s fire while we walk back into regular life.
- Read – Having attended both the Band of Bloggers event and T4G, I came home with a gaggle of free books. Many of these books were those that the speakers wrote, referenced or recommended. So my next step will be to read and read and read and read. This is a helpful way to keep the fire going.
- Write – I was challenged and encouraged by the Band of Bloggers event both to get better at regularly blogging and to understand this practice as part of the ministry to which God has called me. I will be continuing to process through some of what I learned at T4G here on my blog. Maybe writing isn’t your thing, but whatever it is that you do to process what God is working in you, then do that.
- Teach – Another way that I process things God is showing me is through teaching. This is also another ministry to which God has called me in the church. My lead pastor and I were planning on me teaching a series on evangelism before we went to T4G and before either of us really thought about the fact that evangelism was the theme this year. I will be starting that series in May and plan to use J. Mack Stiles’ book, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, which we got for free at T4G. His breakout session on creating a culture of evangelism in your church was great and was largely from his book. (I am assuming that it will eventually be up to watch on the T4G site).
- Live – As with any conference, there is generally a theme and/or an emphasis that should change the way we live. As I mentioned, the theme for this conference was evangelism, so I want to be intentional about doing evangelism. That seems simple enough, but how often do we really do the things that we get fired up about at conferences? Evangelism in my life has always ebbed and flowed based on whom God has put around me or in my path, but I feel an extra burden to push myself to be obedient when God gives opportunities.
- Pray – David Platt’s message on prayer was really good and incredibly convicting for me. As Platt and DeYoung both said, “All we have is the word of God and prayer.” This is relevant for any topic relating to our walk with Christ, but is particularly important in evangelism. Just watch/listen to Platt’s message. He said it better than I could here.
Like any mountain top experience in our Christian lives, we need to constantly figure out how to then go back down in the valley. We can’t live in conference mode. Our life in Christ does not consist of conference attendance. Conferences are good, helpful and edifying, but they are not life. Life is life and conferences like any other event are to build us up for life. The challenge is that we be good stewards of what God has given us in these events for the enrichment of our lives to the glory of God. My pastor prayed last night at our small group for the speakers at the conference. He said that they, like us, had to return to real life and had to live out what they spoke on. It was a great reminder and comfort that we all faced the same challenges, but all have the same Lord to walk with us through them. Blessings as you get back to real life and may God be glorified in our lives!