Gifts and The Body

Last week at OutCast we read the “spiritual gifts” chapter (1 Cor 12) and added Eph 4 to the mix to help us understand what Paul was trying to get across. Before we were able to talk about spiritual gifts though we had to take the week to understand that Paul’s real intent was on emphasizing unity and awareness within the church. This week we took the same two passages of scripture and actually talked about spiritual gifts (sorta).

The Bible is not the spiritual equivalent of the Boy Scout Handbook. When you want to learn about spiritual gifts you don’t just hop to the part that talks about it and discover a well outlined and concise explanation of spiritual gifts. The most “spiritual gifts oriented” passages of scripture aren’t even about spiritual gifts. We have a tendency to want to pull out our notebook and pen and scour pages of the Bible and composite some form of definitive list of gifts. The problem is that it doesn’t work like that. Even if it did, I’ve yet to meet any two people with the exact same perspective on all spiritual gifts. There is plenty of wiggle room for debate, experiences, the Spirit and semantics. So what did we talk about at OutCast?

Well…us. The body to be exact-ish. The analogy that Paul uses in the latter half of 1 Cor 12 is one that resurfaces later when he writes his letter to the Ephesians. Paul made his point using a particular method. I’m about to go off in my own fashion (as I did Tuesday) to convey what he said in a different light.

You are so special and so very unique. No one is like you. No one has your personality, character, history, talents, hopes, cares, wants, or heart. Some of God’s favorite moments are when you are true to who you are and you live out the beauty of you. You are immensely important and you have an incredibly important purpose in life: to be yourself and share that wonder with the world around you via relationship. God says to you, “For I know the plans that I have for you. Plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. I want you to live out the wonder that you are and share that with the world around you! Is it joy or hope or prosperity that you seek? See yourself through my eyes and you’ll be amazed! The life you seek is one where you live out your being as faithfully as is possible. You are beautiful. You bring me so much joy.” And it goes on!

The church is a whole peoples who are this one-of-a-kind! Can you imagine?! Where one person excels another fails but when you put them in relationship together they fulfill each others needs! Paul makes it marvelously clear that no part of the body is more or less special than any other, just different. Some are flashy, some are honored, some are hidden for special purposes (yup, you know what that means), some are sensory and others still provide motor functions but all of them are a part of the body and are dependent on each other. THAT is what the church is! We need each other! When we all live out our function (aka who we are) we compliment one another! It’s mind-blowingly-gorgeous!

BUT WAIT! THERE IS MORE!!! When our hearts and our actions are faithful to the reality of who we are and are simultaneously in syncopation with the heart and will of God…we are blessed with spiritual gifts! They aren’t innate, they aren’t consistent from one situation to another, they depend on who we are around, they come and go, they fluctuate, they change throughout our spiritual maturing, they are things that we can strive for and come alongside God to seek out, sometimes they stick with us through our whole lives, they can seem more and less miraculous but they all share some things in common: they are given by the Spirit (every time), they are always potent “on earth as it is in heaven” realities, they are lived out for relational purposes, and they are always evidence of the Kingdom of Heaven in action through its citizens .

AND THAT ISN”T EVEN THE BEST PART!!! But that cleavage (you had to be there) is for next week.

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Unity and Awareness

Last week at OutCast we went over the “spiritual gifts” chapter. I (Luke) had a hard time preparing for that night though. The more that I read the chapter, the more that I felt something else was going on for Paul. I eventually went all the way back to chapter eight and found a pattern that continues at least through chapter fourteen of first Corinthians. Unity. Spiritual unity to be specific.

Whether Paul is talking about head-coverings, meat sacrificed to idols, gifts or the Lord’s Supper his intent is on spiritual unity and there being a lack of division amongst the members of the church. Unity requires awareness of each other. Paul wants us to be aware of each other.

It’s funny how many times in my life I’ve read 1 Cor 12 and only analyzed it for its list of giftings. Paul wasn’t even really trying to talk about spiritual gifts. His whole purpose was unity and awareness. So what did we talk about at OutCast? Unity and awareness. Have I mentioned unity and awareness yet? The church is meant to be bound in unity via their awareness of each other and the heart of Christ.

I’m actually going to leave this blog post in a very “lacking” way. Here is the question for you to explore (but not alone!) : what does spiritual unity with Christ and the believers around you look like and how does that play out in circumstances where you are aware of others needs despite a lack of unity?

Tonight at OutCast we’re actually going to talk about spiritual gifts, but that’s only because we’ve had a week to ponder unity and awareness. Ponder it.

The Lord’s Table Pt 2. (A Seat at The Table)

A couple of weeks ago, we worked through Paul’s instructions to the the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. We looked at what it might mean for them to have failed to discern the body and blood of Christ and what we can learn from their experience.

Whereas, in the circles I grew up in, we tend to see the problem as the sinfulness of the Corinthians, I contended that the issue which Paul felt the need to address was their divisiveness. In fact, far from being a barrier to coming to the table, I would suggest that ones sinfulness and awareness thereof are prerequisites to coming to the table in a “worthy” manner!

The table of The Lord, I think, is not a place to which we come having examined ourselves and purged ourselves of all unrighteousness to celebrate our purity. The table of The Lord is the place to which we come in all our sin and brokenness to receive the free gift of God’s grace! We come to Christ not as the healthy and whole, but as the sick — not as the righteous, but as sinners.

Last week, we used Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians as a diving board to jump into this approach to the table. The pool into which we dove was a couple of stories of people who came or were brought to the feet of Jesus full of sin, unworthy to come to the table, and received the free gift of his declaration that they were, indeed, worthy (one story occurring at a literal table).

In each of these stories, Jesus encounters someone who is (at least in one case explicitly designated) a sinner. I have heard some scholarship to suggest that this designation of “sinner” did not simply mean “someone who has sinned”. Such usage is an anachronism applied by Christians reading post-Romans-Road. Rather, it is said, in the vernacular of Gospel authors, “sinner” was a designation for someone who is perpetually outside of temple purity and Torah faithfulness. The sinner was, essentially, Godless. Jewish or not, they were effectively gentiles and Samaritans. The sinner was in contrast to the “righteous”, the one in right standing with God as mediated by the temple/Torah system. This, of course, makes Paul’s assertion that all are sinners and none are righteous all the more potent. To put it in legal terms, we are not simply temporary law-breakers; we are outlaws!

This was the rich tax-collector, the traitor whose whole life was spent colluding with—communing with—gentiles, perpetuating the subjugation of Judah by her Godless oppressors. This was the widowed, sonless prostitute, living a life of perpetual uncleanliness and unfaithfulness, spreading her impurity like a walking, talking pleague.

I tend to think that this was the sort of person who was brought to Jesus in Chapter 8 of John’s gospel. A woman caught in the act of adultery, brought to Jesus. If not before, at least in this moment she was on the outside. She was the untouchable one. When brought to Jesus, he did not settle for simply reducing her sentence: “Ok. We won’t kill you. But you’re still filthy and we have to deal with that.” No, Jesus embraces her. He declares her clean, at least as clean as anyone else: “Neither do I condemn you.”

Likewise—and this was the main focus last week—when Jesus was reclining at the table of Simon the Pharasee, he was surrounded, no doubt, by people who had been invited, people whose righteousness had earned them a seat at the table. And in walks (crawls?) a “woman of the city who was a sinner” (according to Luke) and she begins to shower Jesus with love. Of course, Simon and the other guests no well the identity of this woman, that she is a sinner and does not belong at this table. But Jesus, while he has plenty to say to Simon, has only these words for the woman: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Note that the woman’s only identification in the text was as a “sinner”. Again, I don’t think this was simply an identification, but an identity. In forgiving her sins, Jesus does not merely change her after-life status, he is making a statement about who she is here and now. He is saying, “Do you see this table? Do you see this feast? Do you see these people? You have a place here. You are not a sinner, a woman of the city. You belong right here next to me. You are on the inside, now.”

In considering what it means to be the body of Christ now, I think part of it is to continue in this practice. We, the hands and feet and mouth of Christ, are called to speak belonging to those around us. Each of us at Outcast has our own hopes for what she can become. One of my great hopes is that she becomes a place where people feel at home. I want everyone who enters to feel as if they have a place at our table. I want everyone who leaves to know that the chair into which they carved their name will always be there, that there is always a place where they belong.

As we passed the bread and cup last week, we did it as those inviting one another to the table where we were not mere guests. We invited one another into the table of The Lord where we all have a place, where we all are known.

Tonight, we will work through some of what we can do for one another once we get to that table. As before, I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Lord’s Table Pt. 1 (Discerning The Body)

(Due to a breakdown in communication resulting from phone issues, this post didn’t go public until <em>after</em> this week’s meeting. So, please, just you are reading this on Tuesday morning. Cool?)

So, we have been in 1 Corinthians for about six months, now, and we have covered nearly twelve chapters. The entire letter is, according to the NIV audio version on my bible app, only an hour long. While I usually prefer to digest whole works at a time when possible, if we are going to take it slowly, I think this is as good a pace as any!

In the time since chapter 6 (Luke’s last post-meeting update), we have moseyed right along the next five chapters. I would love to go back and lay out what we have discussed up til now. But, frankly, I don’t have the time. Perhaps I will work up a summary of the entire study once we finish. For now, however, I want to skip to our current conversation.

Last week, we began looking at 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. We are actually going to spend three or four total weeks with this passage, using it as an excuse to talk about community formation and identity and what it means to be the body of Christ. Of course, the text itself specifically addresses how the Corinthian church was practicing the Lord’s supper. So, to start, we dove into that.

There are, as is the case with most of what Paul has to say to this church, a plethora of opinions as to what Paul is saying here. Given that this letter is mostly corrective, I like to start with the questions “What is the problem that Paul is addressing?” and “What is Paul’s solution?” I think this helps us understand these sorts of books far better than trying to mine them for principles with which to build a systematic theology. I try to save such approaches for the more refined Hebrews or 1 John.

Even so, having narrowed our inquiry down to those two questions, there is still much debate to be had. For our purposes, I offered the interpretation to which I subscribe (most days). I think that the problem was that the Corinthian church had drawn lines of division around several of their differences including class, doctrine, favorite evangelist, and lifestyle practices. They had formed several different “in crowds” based on these divisions.

Yet, while the Corinthians saw their church as many different territories within the Jesus Nation at best and many different nations at worst, Paul saw them much as Luke depicted back in November, as a bunch of pixles on a color wheel, all seeking together to become more like their center. Thus Paul’s solution to the problem of division was to remind them of their center.

One of the many ways that this division was made manifest was in the church’s “love feasts”. When they gathered to eat, as had become custom for the first Christians (some gathered daily, others weekly), certain groups of believers had first-dibs status on the meal. The result was that some ate and drank to their fill while others showed up to scraps and went home hungry.

And so Paul reminds them that, when they gather to eat, they do so as the body of the one who named their meals his own body and blood. In dividing themselves for the meal, they have failed to discern the body of Christ!

(Side note: I think Paul sometimes like to play with words a little. Here, in discussing the broken body and shed blood of Christ, Paul calls division of the body of Christ a failure to discern the body of Christ. “Brokenness”, “division”, “discernment”. These are all, on some level, synonyms. I think Paul’s emphasis on the literal breaking of the bread in the Last Supper and his use of the word which we tend to translate “discern” is intentional. As a poet, myself, I like to think that he was possibly pointing out that the Corinthians’ division was the wrong kind of breaking. Perhaps the body of Christ was broken on the cross that it may be broken at the table that it might not be broken in the house. We, then, are the final, unified body of Christ.)

The message for Outcast is clear: we MUST NOT allow our differences to become our division!

One of my favorite things about this group is that there are so many kinds of people represented. Homogeny is easy. It’s hard for the pious zealot and the tax-collector to sit at the same table, the rock and the betrayer, the Pharisee and the shepherd, the Jew and the Pagan, the Apple fan-boy and the Google fan-boy, the dispensationalist and the covenant theologian, the young and the not-quite-as-young, the meat-eater and the vegan. It’s not easy for everyone to sit at the same table.

But the table of the lord is for everyone. And we invite one another as the body of Christ to the body of Christ.

And so, to make this real, we partook in the sacrament which symbolizes the meal which is the body that feeds the body. And as we passed the elements (the homemade bread and the sparkling white grape-juice. Cause you know how we get fancy) to one another, we did so as servants of one another, inviting one another in to Christ’s body.

I don’t know if this will become a regular practice at Outcast, but I sure hope so. We will continue to hit this meal from a couple of different angels for the next two or three meetings. Tonight, we will talk about what it means to be on the inside, to be seen, accepted, valued, to have a seat reserved at the table. We’ll let you know where we get with it.

–James

P.S. Once we finish this little digression, Luke will be back in the hot-seat some! He has been missed!

Winter OutCast Update

Hey everyone!

For those of you who follow the OutCast blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that it has been over two months since there has been a post. There are several reasons for this: a) During the holidays, a lot of “eve’s” were on Tuesday nights, b) due to the number of holiday related stuffs we ended up having several game nights, and c) I (Luke) had to take a large step back in terms of leading OutCast. A lot of very wise people have talked about how much more important family is than ministry and after a year and a half of leading OutCast I realized that my family needed more time than I was giving them (yes, I mean my wonderful wife Katie and our not-so-little monster, Yeti).

Right now OutCast Church is very much so a group effort. James has graciously stepped up to teach more regularly and the Gribble’s have allowed us to meet in their home while we look for a potential new place to meet. All in all it has been a very interesting season for us as a church. Prayers are always appreciated! Especially since OutCast means so much to all of us.

Continuing on in our hope to bring heaven to earth,

OutCast

P.S. There should be a new post asap from James about this past Tuesday’s teaching. 🙂

Answer To: What is OutCast Church?

Pre-post notes:

– I (Luke) apologize for having skipped the post on 1 Cor 6:1-11. Admittedly it was a great night and the conversation was fantastic but I never wrote out the blog version. For those of you who read this regularly, I am sorry for slacking on that one.

– This past Tuesday we ended up in unexpected territory. We didn’t proceed with 1 Cor 6:12-20 as scheduled. During the week leading up to that night I had several different lengthy conversations with both OutCast family and with people who have no affiliation with our church. In both cases there was a pretty heavy theme: people were hurting and struggling through difficult places. One of the awesome things about how God set up the body of Christ is that, because of His Spirit, we all have the capacity to speak into each others lives and encourage each other or simply comfort each other by sitting with each other in the midst of the awful. Tuesday night ended up being a night for those hurting or struggling to share their hurt, receive prayer and encouragement, and bear each others burdens. We all try not to be debbie-downers and kill the joy around us by unloading our troubles but as a church we kicked that cultural taboo in the butt and decided to dedicate the night to it. It was incredible to see the Spirit move in the room. For all thirteen of us there, it was powerful.

Post:

So newness and life and craziness and wonder and surprising joy-tears and hearts lightening and the unexpected and love and what and truth and the answer to everything ever! That is the Jesus I’m caught up after. When people hear about OutCast Church they always start firing off a series of questions trying to understand what kind of a church we are. If you ask different people in the family we’ll probably all give you different answers. The family means something a little different to each of us. There is a common denominator though.

Last night I was asked several questions about who we are and what our “services” are like. I noticed myself answering the questions but feeling like I wasn’t giving the real answer. When asked about our worship I pointed out that the point man for our worship leads his own metal band but that for worship he leads in a bluesy style. When asked if it was contemporary or traditional the answers both and neither weren’t quite right either. When discussing powerful worship experiences I realized that what makes our worship wonderful is the family as a whole making our worship time a time to praise God. We don’t have smooth transitions, the leader (though insanely musically talented) is tone deaf (for real) and yet God is always the center of our attention. It’s fantastic to come together and choose to praise God together.

I think that kinda describes every other aspect of OutCast though. With everything we aren’t flashy, edgy, traditional, contemporary, this or that. We’re just an odd hodge-podge of people who would never fit together if it weren’t for the afore-mentioned common denominator. We come from different parts of the world, different cultures, different spiritual origins, every type of nerdy is present but not all in the same people, some are intellectuals while others get annoyed with them, some are blunt and some are super sensitive, some love theology while some don’t care for it, three to four ethnicities are present, some are traditional while others are the farthest thing from, some are musical while others aren’t, and the list could go on. In a smaller church, our level of diversity has quite the potential to be a road block. In fact, it often is! We hurt each other unintentionally, we struggle to find common ground, we see so many differences in each other that often we wonder if we are the outcast at OutCast. Nope. There’s that common denominator thing again. So what is it?

If the answer in your head was Jesus, you get Christian points for being mostly right. The big common denominator for each of us is that we are pursuing Jesus. None of us have it all together. Each of us has a different relationship with Him. As a group though, what brings us together is that each of us is trying to know and understand Him better. We teach each other through our diversity because each of us is approaching God from a different angle and has experienced Him differently.

Last night, while talking with David, this analogy came out of the conversation: 

Let the outer darkness represent distance from God and the very center white pixel represent Jesus. Black is the absence of color. Black is simply non-reflective of light. White is not the absence of color, but rather all colors simultaneously. It reflects light in every visible spectrum all at once. God is a God of diversity. For those of us at OutCast we are all at different parts of that circle but we are all pointing inward. Some of us are in the green, some in the blue, some in the red and some in yellow. Because we are all pointing towards the white we are all growing, but the natural tendency is to advocate our color. Because we have gone from blue to a lighter blue (blue but closer to God) when we see someone who is red we tend to criticize their lack of blue because we mix up our progress towards God with some of our own color. The reality is that God is both, we are simply coming from a particular direction and unknowingly are moving into greater diversity while still retaining our own pigment. If it helps to use denominations as examples instead it’s like Pentecostals are green, Baptists are blue, Orthodox are yellow and Presbyterians are red. People with yellow tendencies will end up in yellow churches and likewise with the rest. We often criticize the each other for now doing things the way that we do them but blue people simply aren’t yellow and God is okay with that. God is blue AND yellow. And green. And purple. Churches have a tendency to gather people of a particular color and then head towards the white (Jesus) but as a result everything they do is yellow in some way or form. They’re missing out on the parts of God that are red or green or pink. It’s a singular expression of the body. At OutCast one of the things that we strive for is to be a place where people from every one of those colors (backgrounds, interests, ethnicities, cultures, sub-cultures, social classes, etc…) come together to point towards the white and learn and love each other for the differences in our colors. It’s a beautiful (and awkward) collage that is only held together by pointing towards the center and working together to get closer to it. It’s spectacular.

So there it is. If I had to describe OutCast, I think that’s the best way I could do it. We’re a bunch of color pixels on a wheel pointing towards Jesus and trying to get there together.

Heart of Life or Heart of Death?

1 Corinthians 5 could make for quite the fantastic fire and brimstone sermon. I’m positive that it’s been done many a time before. I just so happen to think that, despite it’s potential upon first glance, it has a much more profound (and encouraging) point.

One of the primary reasons that Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth was because of the sexual immorality that was being allowed to persist within the church (stuff that made the already sexually extreme locals seem modest). After four other chapters, Paul is ready to start addressing this stuff and he hits it hard. Paul strait up tells the church to kick the culprits out of their faith circle and not to even eat with them. Seems a bit severe, yes? So much for forgiveness and mercy!

Nope. More is going on.

Before we get there though I think we need some context for “God’s people”.

Leviticus 19:2  “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and tell them, ‘Be Holy, because I, the Lord your God, am Holy.”

Point numero uno, God’s people are supposed to be “set apart for a sacred purpose” and not one and the same with the rest of the world. What that means is that we ought to exemplify Gods heart and pursue relationship with Him passionately.

Romans 6:23  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Point numero dos, sin is equated with death and Jesus is equated with life. This isn’t a cute metaphor, this is literal. Jesus is the source of life (hence life eternal because life that continues to be life is eternal life) and sin is a break from the heart that is the source of life and therefor is the literal causal act for death. Sin things are death things. Jesus things are life things. More Jesus, more full life. More sin, deeper pursuit of death.

Bringing it all together, God’s desire for His people is to pursue Him and His ways because He is the source of life (love, truth, peace, hope, joy) and sin is actually the worst thing possible for us because it leads to death (false love, lies, unrest, hopelessness, grief). So when God throws a whole bunch of “does and don’ts” out there it isn’t because He is being a legalistic meany-pants, it means He’s saying to us, “I know these things look desirable, but they’ll lead to your harm and eventual death. These other things are things that I love and that are a part of me because they bring life with them! Do them instead.”

So what the heck is going on in 1 Cor 5 when Paul flips and tells the church to cast out the people belligerently acting in sin? Over and over again Jesus pointed out that what God cares about most is the condition of our heart. Our external acts matter only through the lens of our hearts motivation to perform them. So when Paul tells the church to cast a particular person out, what he is saying is that this person has a heart in full pursuit of death and not life(God). He goes on to explain how, “a little yeast affects the whole bread” meaning that in faith community where the unifier is their hearts pursuit of God, that a person with a heart exceedingly far from God will affect the hearts of the others and that the best thing to do is send the person on their way in hopes that their pursuit of death will bring them to a place where they are sober to the affects of their choices and turn back to pursue life.

Before concluding I have to insert this point here: Paul makes a strong distinction between performing this kind of judgement of sin on a believer versus a non-believer. Paul says that we’re to have zero judgement over any non-believer and only are to carry out this kind of act within the circles of our covenanted community in Christ.

I’ll end with an excerpt, “Don’t you know that a tiny grain of yeast makes a whole batch of dough rise? Clean out the old yeast so you can be a new batch of dough, given that you’re supposed to be unleavened bread. Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, so let’s celebrate the feast with the unleavened bread of honesty and truth, not with old yeast or with the yeast of evil and wickedness.”