Baggage…

I have it, you have it, we ALL have it, but what is it? Our “baggage” is those things in our lives that we would rather forget, but can’t, those things we are NOT proud of. Lest you think that you don’t have any “baggage“, don’t forget that even Jesus had “baggage“. So did Matthew…

Jesus…
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. (Matthew 1:1-6)

Matthew opened his gospel by retelling Jesus’ genealogy, but why did he include some of the more “sordid” details? For him to include women in Jesus’ genealogy was unheard of in Jewish genealogies, but for him to include GENTILE women? Was he airing Jesus’ “dirty-laundry“? Or…

What was it about these women? Tamar was a Canaanite woman, and Judah’s daughter-in-law. Rahab was a harlot (prostitute) from Jericho. Ruth was a Moabite. David “stole” Bathsheba from Uriah and had him murdered.

Reading on in Matthew, we are told that Joseph found out that his fiance, Mary, was pregnant – out of wedlock, but it was “okay“, because she hadn’t “really” been unfaithful. This was to be a “miracle-baby“, and Joseph was going to have to raise him as his own. Let’s see: “miracle-baby“, unwed-mother, in a very “shame-and-honor” culture… It wasn’t going to be easy for them and it only gets “better“…

Jesus was born in a stable, in a barnyard. No baby-bed, just a manger. No baby-clothes, just “swaddling-clothes“. Their first visitors – bewildered shepherds. The “baby-shower” didn’t happen until a couple of years later, and forced them to run for their lives. Some “baby-shower“… Jesus then grew up in the hick-town of Nazareth, in Galilee, of all places. He was the son of a carpenter before He became an iterate-preacher. He was so “ordinary“… Is it any wonder that He drew the down-trodden, the sick and “sinners” like a magnet? Yes, Jesus had “baggage“…

Man who was demon-possessed…
After rescuing a man from wicked, violent, and destructive demonic oppression, Jesus says, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

“Go tell your friends...” doesn’t sound like Jesus wanted him to “hide” his past, rather, the man was commanded to showcase God’s love, grace and mercy on him. He was a changed-man because Jesus had changed him, and liberated him from the bondage of demonic oppression.

Matthew…
Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most despised occupations in 1st century Israel. He had “sold his soul” to the Roman government in exchange for a “piece of the action“. Even though he was a Jew, he was a TRAITOR. One would think that, if ANYONE would have wanted to bury his story, Matthew would, but he didn’t. When Matthew walked away from his past, he didn’t leave his friends behind, he threw a PARTY:

9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13″

The Pharisees were always concerned about “appearances“, but Jesus wasn’t. Jesus came to call those who knew they had a problem, a problem that only He could fix, and until we realize that we are broken beyond repair, we won’t see that Jesus is our ONLY solution, the only One who can heal our brokenness.

Matthew, as if to remind us of his brokenness and the healing he had received, when he listed the disciples in Matthew 10:2-4, he listed himself as “Matthew the tax collector“. Like Paul, Matthew’s brokenness is canonized in Scripture for us to see, for us to realize that NOBODY is “too broken” to be beyond God’s love, grace and mercy.

Your”baggage”…
What is YOUR attitude towards YOURbaggage“? Do YOU use it to showcase God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy in your life, making you more “relatable“, or do you want to bury it, causing people to think that you may be “too good to be true“, that you “have it all together“? Does it matter? Jesus and Matthew believe that your story “matters“…

During our CNA Spring Conference at Lake Como this last February, I told my “story” on Saturday evening, and then when I spoke Sunday morning, I used my “story” to help others build their “ministry-resume“, because I believe that our “stories“, our “baggage” really DO matter. There are parts of my story that are known only to God, and it will stay that way. We don’t see Matthew publishing a list of everyone he had defrauded, because some of those “details” don’t need to be disclosed, but both Matthew and I have told enough of our story for others to realize that he was, and I am, still a very broken man.

We are redeemed only because Jesus Christ has redeemed us. We couldn’t do it ourselves.

Please don’t hold a “funeral” for your “story“, for your “baggage“. Don’t be chained to your past, but don’t forget it either, because your story, my story, are all part of God’s grander story of redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our sins were nailed to the cross, but our stories still matter.

In Christ,
Steve

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Communion…

Shortly after I published “Unity…”, I realized that I had omitted what is probably the most divisive “issue” facing the 21st-century church, and that is Communion. Communion, which is also know as the Lord’s Supper, the Table of the Lord and the Eucharist, is that special meal which our Lord instituted on the night before His crucifixion. I am not going to get into how various denominations view this meal, because that is not what is particularly divisive.

Ownership…
Who “owns” the Lord’s Supper? The answer should be self-evident, but one would never know it by the way some churches and denomination treat it. If the Lord’s Supper truly belongs to Jesus Christ who instituted it, Christians should be able to walk into any church in the world and partake, no questions asked…

The way it is…
Quite a few years ago, when my oldest daughter was in elementary school, we were invited to go to a “First-Communion” celebration for one of her classmates. Her family was Roman Catholic, and we were Protestant, and we were told in no uncertain terms that we couldn’t partake of Communion, because we weren’t Catholic.

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I participated in a funeral at a Catholic church.

Several years ago, my parents were excluded from partaking in Communion at an Orthodox Presbyterian church, because they weren’t members of THAT church. The real irony is that my dad was a pastor, ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination. What was up with that?

I have been in churches where the Elders won’t serve anyone they don’t know. What about people visiting for the first time or on vacation?

A brass-ensemble has performed as part of our service a couple of times at my church, but when communion was served, they were passed-over, even though one of the members of the ensemble is also a member of my church. Was that arranged ahead of time, or did it just “happen“?

Children…
When are children “ready” to start partaking of communion? Only God knows for sure, but their parents should be the best judges of their “readiness“, lacking some formal “procedure” for communing-member status. When my own children were young, their mother and I determined when they were “ready“. My own experience probably more parallels that in the Catholic Church, even though we weren’t Catholic. When I was in fifth-grade, a group of us went through Catechism classes which were taught by our pastor. At the end of those classes, if the pastor was satisfied with our profession-of-faith, we were accepted into the church as communing-members, entitled to take communion. That was my “first-communion“.

My own participation…
There have been times in my life when I didn’t feel comfortable partaking of communion because of what was going on in my life. Because my marriage was in shambles, I didn’t partake of communion for several months a couple of years ago. One of the Elders, who noticed that I wasn’t partaking, asked me about it. After I explained it to him, he reminded me that my marriage being in shambles wasn’t my “fault“, and that I should partake in good-conscious, because I had done everything in my power to mend the marriage. Communion isn’t about my “goodness“, rather it is about what Christ did on my behalf.

Table of restoration…
I love the way Pastor David Hatton served communion during our service at the end of the Christian Naturist Festival. He read the words of institution and set the elements out, and then each of us was free to go to the Table when we were ready, leave our burdens behind, and take the elements as symbols of our restoration in Christ. That speaks to the depth of the meaning of the Lord’s Table. In Christ, we leave what we were behind and are given His righteousness in return.

The institution…
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:22-26)

Final thoughts…
No one is “worthy” to approach the Table of the Lord in our own merits, and that is what Communion symbolizes. We bring our sinfulness and brokenness to the Table and we receive His grace and mercy in return. Jesus Christ’s disciples were broken men, but He didn’t tell them to “get their act together” before they could partake. Jesus served them, brokenness and all, because what He was going to do for them, and what He did for us, mended their brokenness as it does ours.

I pray that each time you approach the Table of the Lord, that you do so in humble and total reliance on His grace and mercy. If you do, you will be blessed in partaking of Communion.

In Christ,
Steve