Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. [Ephesians 2:20-21 (NLT)]

We believe in…the holy catholic church. [Apostle’s Creed]

dayflowerWhen reciting the creeds as a youngster, I wondered why I said we believed in the catholic church when we didn’t go to one. My family didn’t attend the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our priest was married, and our service was in English, so why did we attest faith in the catholic church? It wasn’t until my confirmation class that I clearly understood that the creeds weren’t referring to the Roman Catholic church. Coming from the Greek katholikos (derived from kath holos, meaning “throughout the whole”), catholic simply means universal! The term originates from the first century and the words of Ignatius of Antioch: “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”

The catholic church wasn’t founded by Peter, James, Paul, Clement, Ignatius, or Polycarp. It wasn’t founded by Augustine, Emperors Constantine or Theodosius, or Patriarch Michael Cerularius nor was it founded by reformers like Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, or John Calvin. The catholic church was founded by Jesus! The “catholic” in the creeds simply confirms the universality of the entire Christian church—a church that is not confined by ethnicity, race, geography, language, culture, or time. The catholic church shares a common confession of God’s redemptive work in Christ and our necessary response to it.

While we Christ followers may disagree on a number of secondary and minor issues like celibacy for the clergy or the day to worship, we agree about the essentials of faith and are united by the beliefs stated in the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. It is this unity that transcends our various denominational differences. Our brothers and sisters in Christ may belong to different churches and worship in different ways, but we all are members of the holy catholic church.

Nevertheless, some still mistake catholic with the small “c” for (Roman) Catholic with the capital “C.” To avoid any confusion, some Protestant churches prefer to say “holy Christian church” when reciting the creeds but it’s the same thing. Regardless of the term used, the catholic church is what remains when all the Christian church buildings burn down and the priests and ministers all leave town.

Sadly, however, Christians sometimes forget that we’re in the same family. A friend attended the same church for nearly two decades and, as one of the parish’s “prayer warriors,” she received a weekly list of prayer requests. Within a week of her quietly changing to another Christian church, she stopped getting the list. She contacted her previous pastor and, after pointing out that her love for her brothers and sisters in Christ did not stop when she changed her place of worship, she respectfully asked to keep receiving the prayer list so she could continue offering prayers for their needs and praises for their blessings. Unfortunately, her request fell on deaf ears. Perhaps, just as I did when a child, the pastor confused one’s place and manner of worship with what it means to be part of the catholic church.

Indeed, wherever Christ is, there we find the church. Without a doubt, Jesus tells us to pray and why anybody would arbitrarily decide who is allowed to pray for someone or whose prayers God will hear is beyond me. I’ll gladly welcome any prayer sent on my behalf, regardless of who offers it or where they attend church. If they believe in and worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, they are my brothers and sisters and members of my church—the holy catholic church—the body of Christ!

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NLT)]

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Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God.  [Hebrews 12:28 (MSG)]

big cypress fox squirrelCan worship be fun? In various translations, Hebrews 12:28 tells us to worship God with reverence and awe, honor and respect, or deep reverence. No where is there any mention of fun. In fact, except for the somewhat cynical and world-weary words directing us to eat, drink, and be merry in Ecclesiastes 8:15 Scripture uses the word “fun” in a negative way—that of “making fun” of someone. Hagar was sent away after she and Ishmael made fun of Isaac, Delilah accused Sampson of making fun of her with his lies, and the fertile Peninnah made fun of Hannah because of her barrenness. So, if, by “fun,” we mean mere amusement (especially at another’s expense), it doesn’t seem that fun and worship go hand in hand. On the other hand, if by “fun” we mean something deeper than light-hearted entertainment or diversion, perhaps it does.

When using fun in its broader definition of enjoyable, pleasurable, and joyful, it appears that worship can and should be all that and more! After all, there are well over 300 instances of joy, joyful, or joyous in Scripture, many of which are associated with worship. 2 Chronicles 30 tell us that the people of Judah enjoyed the seven-day festival of Passover so much that “they celebrated joyfully for another week” and “there was great joy in the city.” Although having fun should never be our primary purpose for worship, we often find that worship gives rise to enjoyment, pleasure, and joy! Indeed, worship can be fun!

Worship, however, is more than an act; it is an attitude not limited to Sunday mornings and church. Since God’s Holy Spirit lives in us, we should live in a way that corresponds to His nature at all times. Colossians 3:23 tells us to work as though we were working for the Lord, perhaps we should play the same way—as if we were playing with the Lord! Just as we worship in our work by serving, witnessing, honoring and glorifying Him as we labor, we should do the same in our leisure time and fun.

But, does the way we relax, play, and spend our free time honor and glorify the Lord? Do we choose our reading material, movies, or TV shows with Him in mind? When socializing with our friends, do our words and actions give evidence of God’s presence in our lives? Do we honor God and His children with our humor or does it consist of mockery, sarcasm, or ridicule? As for sports—does the way we compete and react to the coach’s decisions, the umpire’s call, another player’s error, or our defeat honor God? Do we bring Him to Bible study and choir practice but leave the Lord behind when going to the gym, pickleball court, golf course, yoga studio, bridge table, or book club? Is Jesus invited when we dish with our friends over coffee, watch our child’s baseball game, or relax at the 19th hole with our golf buddies? Do we pack God in our bag when we go on vacation or is He left home with the work clothes and computer? What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas but whatever happens in Vegas is how we’ve chosen to worship the Lord!

Worshiping God in spirit and in truth means we worship with our entire lives, at all times, and in all places—whether at church, work, or play. Regardless of what we’re doing or where we’re doing it, our words and actions always should bring glory to God. The question really isn’t whether worship can be fun; the question is whether our fun is worship!

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. [Romans 12:1-3 (MSG)]

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BEWARE THE YEAST (Yeast – Part 2)

“Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread? So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” Then at last they understood that he wasn’t speaking about the yeast in bread, but about the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [Matthew 16:11-12 (NLT)]

oleanderFor a single-cell microorganism member of the fungus family, yeast is mighty powerful. When added to water and flour, it starts to grow and multiply as it ferments the sugars in the flour, releases carbon dioxide, and causes the dough to rise. Moreover, once added to something, yeast can’t be removed. When a small amount of old fermented dough called a starter or seor is kneaded into flour and water, it permeates the dough and makes it rise. Some of the newly leavened dough can be saved to become the starter for the next batch of bread and so on.

In the right conditions, yeast seems nearly immortal. San Francisco’s Boudin Bakery uses a sourdough starter originating in 1849.  Scientists even revived yeast microbes from 4,500 years ago to make a loaf of bread! Indeed, the longevity, growth potential, and pervasiveness of yeast makes it a powerful substance.

The way yeast permeates and affects the dough with which it is mixed certainly makes it a good metaphor for the influence of one thing on another. Even though the Hebrew Scriptures never equated leavening with sin or evil, leaven and corruption had become almost synonymous with one another by the 1st century. Although Jesus used yeast’s power in a positive way as a metaphor for the growth and spread of the Messianic Kingdom, He also used yeast in a negative way; just as good can influence the world around it, so can bad.

At various times, Jesus used yeast as a metaphor for the power of evil to spread. He warned the disciples about the yeast of skepticism and unbelief found in the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod. In spite of the bountiful evidence of Jesus’ true identity seen in His miracles, the Pharisees and Sadducees demanded yet another “sign from heaven” to prove His authority. When Jesus appeared before Herod, the king wanted to see the proof of His miracles, as well. Not wanting His followers to be infected with such distrust or thinking of His miracles as entertainment for unbelievers, Jesus made this warning several times. Taking Him literally at first, the disciples thought Jesus was speaking of bread until they finally understood His meaning.

Along with the Pharisee’s skepticism, Jesus didn’t want his disciples influenced by their addition of the Talmud’s oral traditions to God’s final word in the Hebrew Bible or their hypocrisy in meticulously following the letter of the law while ignoring the most important commandment—that of loving God and their neighbor. Jesus also didn’t want His disciples affected by the Sadducees’ deceptive teachings. More concerned with their ritual purity than people’s welfare and politics than religion, the Sadducees denied things like angels, heaven, hell, and the resurrection while believing that people’s souls died with their bodies. As for Herod’s evil influence—Jesus didn’t want His disciples influenced by the actions of this immoral and self-indulgent man.

In letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians, the Apostle Paul also used yeast as a metaphor for the powerful influence of erroneous thinking and sinful behavior. When the Corinthian church ignored the flagrant immorality of one of its members, Paul warned them to remove him from the congregation lest such immorality spread through the entire congregation (as yeast does when added to fresh dough). In the same way, Paul warned the Galatians about the danger of accepting the perverted gospels of both the Judaizers (who insisted Gentiles had to adhere to Jewish laws like circumcision) and the Legalists (who preached a doctrine of salvation by works). Such false teaching was dangerous because, like yeast, it spreads out and affects everything with which it comes into contact.

Be it even a little false doctrine or immorality (whether sexual sin or things like abuse of power, financial fraud, deception, decadence, hate, hypocrisy, or gossip), when such evil is tolerated by the Church, it is like yeast. It’s evil works invisibly and will permeate and influence all that it touches. Just as a little leaven leavens the whole lump, a little sin can destroy the individual as well as the Church—the body of Christ. Let us beware!

Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. [1 Corinthians 5:6-7 (NLT)]

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Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others.” [Mark 4:13-14 (NLT)]

The Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all repeat Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Soils. As the farmer sows his seeds, some lands on the packed soil along the footpath. The birds steal the seeds so nothing takes root. Some seeds land on a thin layer of dirt over underlying rock. Although the seeds quickly sprout, without deep roots, they wither and die. Other seeds land among the thistles and thorns. Although they take root, the fast-growing weeds crowd them out. Only the seeds that fall on fertile soil take firm root, grow into maturity, and bear fruit. Rather than teaching Agriculture 101, by comparing those soils to the various ways God’s message is received, Jesus was teaching about evangelism.

The parable’s farmer scattered his seeds without determining beforehand which soil would be most receptive. In the same way, when we sow the seeds of God’s word, there’s no quick way to determine if or when that seed will take root and grow. Moreover, sometimes those seeds might lie dormant for years until conditions are optimal for them to take hold. For example, lodgepole pine seeds actually need the intense heat of fire to explode their seed cones before they can germinate. In the same way, the seed of God’s word may lie dormant until a person’s life goes up in flames.

As for the seeds on the footpath and the birds and other animals who might eat them—when they deposit their feces, those seeds may end up in a more receptive environment. In fact, passing through the belly of an emu actually helps germinate the seeds of an Australian plant with the wonderful name of Snottygobble. Even if our testimony is rejected, it may inadvertently get passed on to a more receptive person!

As for the shallow rocky soil—leaves could fall on it, decompose, and add nutrients and depth to the soil while rain might keep the plants from withering and dying. Having seen trees growing out of mountain sides and wildflowers peeking up through sidewalk cracks, I know that seeds can take root in the most unlikely places. Just as it’s possible for seeds to grow in adverse conditions, it’s possible that the word of God can soften even the hardest of hearts! As for the thorny weeds—what if someone came along and did some weeding or hungry goats or pigs (who apparently like thorny vines) passed by and ate the weeds? Beautiful flowers can grow in the midst of weeds!

Even in good soil, some seeds might never germinate. While the synagogue in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth should have been fertile ground for Him, it wasn’t. His message there ended with a furious mob wanting to kill him! Yet, in the unlikely soil of the Samarian city of Sychar, Jesus met a woman of questionable morals who realized He was the Messiah and brought the village’s people to meet Him. The city of Corinth, with its cults of pagan gods, 1,000 prostitutes, temple to Aphrodite, and reputation for drunkenness and debauchery, didn’t seem to be fertile soil and yet the Apostle Paul planted a successful church there. Indeed, God’s word can take root in the most unlikely places.

While Jesus knew how people would respond to Him, we don’t. None of us can accurately predict if, how, or when the seed of God’s word will be received. In 2005, without knowing if the seeds would germinate, scientists planted thirty-five 2000-year-old date palm tree seeds excavated from Israeli archaeological sites. Even though it took those ancient seeds two millennia to sprout, against all odds, seven of them took root and are now producing fruit!

Rather than trying to analyze the soil or waiting for optimal growing conditions, our job as God’s farmers is to continue sowing good seeds whenever and wherever we can. Eventually, some will fall on fertile soil! God will take care of the harvesting and sorting when the right time comes.

The Parable of the Soils tells us that, regardless of hardened hearts, superficiality, competing pressures, and even failure, the promised harvest is “a hundred times as much as had been planted.” Without a doubt, in spite of setbacks and challenges, God’s Kingdom will prevail, but only if we continue to plant those seeds!

It’s what you sow that multiplies, not what you keep in the barn. [Adrian Rogers]

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. [2 Corinthians 9:6 (NLT)]

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canada geeseI appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. [1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)]

Seeing a couple of first-timers at our church, I went over with programs and introduced myself. From the well-worn Bibles they carried, I surmised they weren’t new believers. The man explained that they’d been seeking a new church in our town since leaving their church five years previously. When he asked to see information about our church, I explained that our Scripture-based statement of beliefs and vision statement were on our web site. Responding that he had studied them but still had several questions, I assured him our pastor would be happy to speak with him after service. Asking me if the church had a formal statement of belief regarding the Rapture, he wanted to know whether it was pre, mid, or post-Tribulation. Never pausing for an answer, he added that he was a Calvinist, as well. Wondering if he was looking for a church or a theological debate, I was tempted to split hairs and ask if he was a four or five-point Calvinist or possibly a “hyper-Calvinist” but, fortunately, the service began. From his pointed questions, I understood why the couple had failed to find the “perfect” church in five years of searching!

In the past, Christians often settled their religious differences with bloodshed; nowadays, we just start another denomination! According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as of 2019, there were 45,000 Christian denominations in the world! For the most part, the major differences among them have to do with baptism, predestination, and the Eucharist. Other issues of contention include everything from the nature of Mary to the interpretation of Revelation.

Many doctrinal differences are inconsequential—not unimportant—but inconsequential when it comes to our saving belief in Christ. If we truly believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the questions of juice or wine, immersion or sprinkling, day of worship, type of music, women in the pulpit, marital status of clergy, and whether Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is actual, figurative, or symbolic, really have no bearing on our salvation!

The Bible doesn’t speak to every issue and several verses are open to a variety of interpretations. If knowing things like the timing of the Rapture or which Bible translation God wants us to use were essential to our salvation, our infinitely wise God would have made it crystal clear to His church. When it comes to the essentials, there’s no misunderstanding His meaning with Jesus’ words: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying,” and  “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” [John 11:25,14:6] If the Apostle Paul managed to find common ground with unbelievers, surely we can find common ground with our brothers and sisters in Christ!

As for that couple—since they made a speedy exit after service, our church must not have met their dogmatic requirements and I suspect no church ever will. Whether we’re Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Calvinists, Orthodox, or independents, we’re not likely to agree on every theological point—not with the person sitting beside us at church or even the clergy conducting the service! Nevertheless, as brothers and sisters in Christ, let our focus remain on where we do agree—on loving God, loving others, and following Jesus.

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. [Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)]

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During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. [Acts 1:3 (NLT)]

COMMUNION CUPBy now, the visiting family has returned home; the jelly beans, Peeps, and chocolate eggs have been eaten; the Easter lily has wilted; the baskets and bunny décor are back in their boxes; and the hardboiled eggs are long gone. While Easter has been put away for another year, its message didn’t end with the resurrection.

The resurrection miracle continued for the next forty days during which Jesus was seen, not just by the disciples, but by hundreds of people. Able to appear in a locked room, the resurrected Jesus seemed less limited by time and space than when He was a man. Although Scripture tells us that He wore the scars of His crucifixion, He talked, walked, ate, drank, and could be touched just like anyone who hadn’t endured crucifixion, death, and burial. Can you imagine what it was like for those fortunate enough to spend time in the presence of the resurrected Jesus? No wonder their faith was so strong that they were willing to endure terrible persecution and horrific torture rather than deny their Lord.

While we can only imagine what it was like when people were in the presence of the risen Christ 2,000 years ago, we can come close to that experience when we share in the Lord’s Supper. Most Communion liturgies include Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and, upon hearing those words, we recall that last supper in the upper room and Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Nevertheless, I think we do the Eucharist a disservice when we think of it as little more than a rite to remember an event long past.

Although most Christians believe that Jesus is present in some way during the Eucharist, there is serious disagreement about how and in what form His presence takes; theologians have argued this point of contention for centuries and will continue to do so until the end of time. Nevertheless, while they disagree on things like transubstantiation and consubstantiation, they do agree that in some mysterious way the Lord is present when we eat the bread, drink the wine, and remember His death and resurrection. About this conundrum John Calvin wrote, “It is a mystery too sublime for me to be able to express, or even to comprehend; and to be still more explicit, I would rather experience it, than understand it.”  C.S. Lewis wisely added, “The command after all, was ‘Take and eat,’ not take and understand.”

One day, we will dine with Jesus in His kingdom but, until then, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are as close to touching the body of the resurrected Jesus as we will be here on earth. When we eat that bread and drink that wine or juice, it’s almost like breaking bread with Jesus in Emmaus, being with the disciples in that locked room Easter morning, or having breakfast with Him beside the Sea of Galilee.

In actuality, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrected presence didn’t end when He ascended into heaven forty days after Easter. In some inexplicable way, He’s with us every time we celebrate the Eucharist.

We should come to the Lord’s table with the confident expectation of meeting Christ there, of receiving there a blessing. [Rev. Chas. A. Savage]

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:20 (NLT)]

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

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