The Communion Feast

At the church I attend, they do something kind of unique after they pass the bread and juice (its a huge church so we pass trays…). Every week, they explain it so that newcomers won’t be surprised, and also as a reminder to the rest of us of WHY we do it. You see, after everyone has eaten their wafer and sipped the little cup of juice, you hear this massive sound as everyone shatters the little plastic cups. It is meant to symbolize that what Jesus has done on the cross is finished. The accusation against our lives (in all forms) is shattered. It might sound weird, but it’s pretty cool. I think I even wrote about it in a previous blog a while back.

I love when the body of Christ celebrates communion, as Jesus commanded us to, to remember what he did and the new covenant he ushered in. Yet there is still admittedly something else I always want to ask:

What about the rest? Does everyone forget what else He said?

No, they probably don’t, but its something that is rarely mentioned, which is why I love it and why I always tend to smile when I add this in my head after the communion liturgy is over:

“I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom” (Matt 26:29, NIV)

Why do I love this so much? Because its a promise. That one day, we will get to sit down and have a glass of wine with the One who has called us by name, the One who has walked with us every step of our lives. We will get to process with him one day. Laugh. Cry. And all will be well… for good.

It reminds me of a passage we read in my Old Testament class last semester, where Moses is up on Mt Sinai with the Lord, after the people told God that he could be their God and they would be his people. Exodus 24:9 tells us that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Ahibu and the 70 elders climbed the mountain and had a feast with God. They ate and drank with him, having a covenant meal.

That just blows my mind.

Now, you can think this sounds nuts, that it didn’t happen, or you can wonder if it really did. But what I love about this is that it reflects SO WELL the hospitality of the ancient near eastern world. Covenants involved meals. Celebrating what was going on. And in this case? God there, celebrating with the people he was calling his own.

We do this too, don’t we? We have meals to celebrate birthdays and graduations, engagements and weddings. We have family meals to get to know our kids friends, backyard barbeques to get to know our neighbors, holiday meals where we invite in folks who have nowhere to go. Meals are bonding…. and there are sometimes I will just sit back, look around, and realize that there is something beautiful and holy about what is going on. I hope you have experienced this at some point too, because I think it represents the best of how our God longs to relate to us.

So yeah, Jesus statement at his last seder to me is something I can’t keep out of my celebration of communion. It makes me think back to the first covenant meal in Exodus, where God called out to a people as his own, one day to be a nation known as Israel….

…. because its a picture of God, here again in the town of Jerusalem, having another covenant meal with his people, this time inagurating a new covenant that depended only on HIS ability to meet it.

Do you get the richness of this???

One day, my friends…. we will join him … and I have a feeling there will be a lot more at the banquet table than we realize. So I challenge you – make room for that in your life today. Open your table to the hurting, the lonely, the outcast, the ones that need to know the richness of His love. Goodness knows Jesus certainly did 🙂

Why are you silent?

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the recent Facebook post some of you have texted me about. At all. I have had this crafted for a while and just didn’t know how to finish it…and at the end you will know why I chose to post this finally.

The silence of God is something that is hard to navigate. I remember early in my walk with the Lord I had gone to a conference with a friend, and they talked about God’s silence in one of the sessions. It was a new concept for me, one that I had never heard of – that sometimes the God of the universe would be silent for a season, and he would seem to be far off, but that we should never be afraid of it because it is for our growth. He never leaves, but he might not answer us, and he might feel distant.

I had been taught that God always wants to speak to us, that he is just waiting for us to start listening… so I spent every waking moment as a young 20-something trying to hear God so I didn’t miss him. Needless to say, I didn’t quite know what to do with that teaching.

That was before I ever experienced a season where I felt he was silent.

For two whole years.

It was crushing. My kids were young, my husband at the time was dealing with some deep depression, and we had just moved far from all family and friends.

And this was before social media (2002) – so staying in touch required writing or calling. Yes people, it was lonely of a different kind.

I started using my runs to vent my anger, my frustration at God. Until that time, I had only ever run maybe three miles. Then 3 became 5, and 5 became 7. (And then my neighbor said if I could do 7 I could do 13 and that’s how I started distance running… )

I digress.

My runs typically were full of anger the first three miles. Then I pushed myself through miles 4 and 5, wrestling with and facing what I was really feeling. By then I was usually exhausted – but for me, it was the only way to come to the end of myself where I could find a center, and remind myself of what Hebrews 11 tells us, that faith is evidence of what we do not see. For me in that season, it meant I had to cling tightly to truth in the midst of not having community to reinforce it:

That nothing could separate me from His love

That His silence didn’t mean I had disappointed him

That I was not under his judgement

That I had the wisdom I needed as a young mom

That somehow, my struggle to continue to pursue God mattered to him, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

For someone who really cared what people though of them (because I hadn’t started even unpacking that yet) – and God seemed distant? It messed with my faith in ways you can’t even imagine.

Yet I am pretty sure some of you have been here too, wondering where God is?

• If he is there, why won’t He answer.

• I have prayed. Why won’t He change my circumstances?

• “Your will be done”, we say, is the Godly response, it is the right heart attitude to have.

But what if what is going on is something we are pretty sure is NOT the will of God? Goodness knows we see this every day on the news. Injustice is all around, and all I can think is …. there is no way that injustice is the will of God.

What if what is going on can only bring pain? Sometimes hard things in life happen and there is only the option to GO THROUGH IT. You don’t have a choice.

What if not hearing from God makes it seem like you are being ignored and that He doesn’t care? We reason, because if God really cared about me, He wouldn’t [insert whatever is bothering you] — let this happen, let me suffer, make it this hard…do I need to go on with how we complete this sentence?

My friend… this is when faith can feel like a jungle, one that demands you fight to see your way through. Sometimes its just .. hard. I’d encourage you to take a step back a moment though, and think about the big picture.

You are not the only one who has walked in these steps.

You are not the only one who has had to struggle and fight to keep your faith and belief in a God that is there, let alone good.

Sometimes the answer that we live in a world that is fallen just doesn’t seem to answer our deep sense of injustice, that things are not right.

BUT GOD IS THERE

Be like Jacob, and wrestle with him. Be like the writers of many of the Psalms and cry out. Then walk in ruthless trust in what he promises, that he says he will never abandon you. Hold onto that even when you aren’t sure you believe it. Proclaim you TRUST him. That can be hard, but when you have known him, HE is your lifeline.

HE HOLDS YOU… even when you cannot hold onto him yourself.

At the top of this blog there is a picture of a Torah scroll. I know it doesn’t seem to match this post… but let me try and explain. I was a bit undone when I saw that in the Denver Seminary library last week. I had to just stand and stare at it a bit, speechless.

What came alive for me was the passage in Luke 4:17-21, where Jesus unrolls the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61, then promptly says “I’m here, fulfilling what I just read”.

… and here is why I can finally finish this blog. You see, the faith I have, the faith you have…. really is timeless. It comes from a long tradition of people who have trusted God, people who have failed him, people and nations who have struggled to wonder where He was in the course of history — all of it. But God still came to them and loved them and said… I’m here.

You, my friend, have an irreplaceable role to play in the larger story of God and His movement on this earth. Don’t settle for the paltry “everything happens for a reason”. Believe that your God is strong, He will redeem and restore whatever it is you are going through. History testifies to this, in the midst of all the hell our world has been through. God is using you and me to bring his truth, his justice, if we will just step out and let him use us.

Fan, or… something else?

As I sit and think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I am struck by the reality that sometimes I have no clue how it really happens. I can look back over my life and I realize that one day I was introduced to the person of Jesus, and then nearly three decades later it’s like I blinked ….and I see that my life has been full of watching people and walking beside people that know Jesus, and that is part of how I learned. They have walked through the ups and downs of life with me all these years (and I have with them as well). As a result, I can honestly say I have fallen in love with who Jesus is, his purposes to show such ridiculous grace to this entire world, and his kingdom values where the poor are lifted up, the broken and lost find hope and healing, and everyone gets to play.

But see, I don’t think we can get a full picture of who Jesus is just by being around his people. Because, if you ask them, they probably learned much of what they know from studying Jesus himself, by reading their bible and diving in, and by leaning on the character of God when life didn’t measure up. But why is this hard nowadays?

Whether you have been in church for some time, whether you are new to it all, or somewhere in between — I think sometimes what we have a tendency treat the actual stories of Jesus as if they were on our Instagram feed.

We scroll through the pages of scripture, convenient with subtitles and/or red-lettering, and we go “that’s a cool story” (double tap HEART)… not sure about that one… and, just like on Instagram, we love and comment on the bite-size stories that present themselves.

Its like having a window into someone else’s life, much like we see on social media.

But we stop there.

If Jesus parables and stories are intended to be a window into the kingdom he came to bring, then shouldn’t we put a bit more study into it than just slighly remembering the story? Instagram pix might be great for catching up, showing something you are proud of or you think is beautiful, maybe its for selling a product or any number of other things… but Jesus came to transform us….. and it takes more than just liking a parable to transform.

I know sometimes we wrestle with seeing how very different Jesus and his ways were in his day and culture, and how shocking what he said might have been to his hearers, and maybe that makes it difficult for us to tranlate to our own day and age. But if we are to really be a disciple of Jesus, we must look. We must question. We must let it transform us.

Its the difference between being a “fan” … and someone who is falling in love with the God who loves them.

It’s interesting for me too, as I start writing my first exegetical paper for one of my seminary classes. See, I have chosen a passage from Hebrews (5:12-14) where the author is challenging his audience and their spiritual maturity. The writer is an intellectual of sorts, familiar with Greek reasoning and ways of dialogue, and he is trying to challenge things that are distracting the church body from maturing in their faith…. and they are distracted precisely because they have stayed at only being content to know the basics of faith: repentance, baptism, resurrection, etc.

N.T Wright leverages a challenge in his commentary on this passage, that we who profess faith should always be aware if our answer to grasping the more difficult things of the faith is “I don’t get it, that’s too difficult to understand”.

That doesn’t mean that we get it all right away though, so please don’t think I am saying that. What I am saying is that we need to remain teachable, always learners to how God is at work in the world around us, how the words of Jesus need to transform us from the inside out – and how we need to be willing to wrestle with the difficult things our world presents us today.

God is not absent from this world, my friends. We may not always be able to see it, but if you really seek to follow Jesus.. I can guarantee you will get it one day. Be willing to be like Jacob and wrestle, or like Thomas and ask for proof. Just don’t close your eyes and stop looking!

Parties in heaven?

The other night we watched a movie that, to many, may have not seemed that engaging. It took a while for some of the plot to develop and get the back story of the characters, but it was endearing enough for me to keep watching. The title? Gifted. It’s a story about a young man named Frank, who, due to tragic circumstances, ended up raising his niece Mary. It depicts the struggle in which he finds himself when the tiny town in Florida in which they live figures out that, at the tender age of six, Mary is already a brilliant mathematician.

Soon a court case ensues, spurred on by her grandmother – much to the uncle’s dismay. The grandmother (and exacting woman who seems to have no confidence in her own son and his ability to care for the child), insists that she has greater wealth and influence in her New England hometown, both of which could be used to help her granddaughter achieve greatness.

As part of the court case, the grandmother’s lawyer digs up the girls biological father – who conveniently names her as the legal guardian. Frank’s attorney quickly dismisses the father as one who has no right to make that kind of call. Although Mary is nowhere to be seen during this part of the movie, Frank at some point decides to tell her that her father testified.

The news is crushing. She locks herself in the bathroom, hunkers down on the floor, sobbing. Her uncle and a neighbor friend Roberta try to talk to her (well, Roberta actually chides Frank for even saying anything)… but the words the girl speaks are haunting: “My real dad is in town and he didn’t even want anything to do with me?”

Oh…..how movies can bring reality to life.

I can’t say I understand what she was feeling. My dad has always been in my life, and I have always known he loves me. Yet I know that is not the same for all of you. I know that some of you had absent fathers, abusive fathers, fathers that may have been in the picture but didn’t care about entering into your world. I cannot even begin to imagine what its like, yet my heart broke watching that scene because what cried out from that little actresses heart was a question every one of us has had, at some point (and some of you more than others):

Am I really wanted?

What Frank does next takes a while to follow, as he gives no hints what he’s doing as they get in the car (even to Roberta, who he drags along for the ride). All you see next is that they are in a hospital, and that they sit there….. for a very, very long time.

Initially I wondered if Mary’s biological father might work at the hospital, and Frank was waiting til he got off shift so Mary could meet him.

Nope. Frank had something much more important in mind.

You see, Frank could have coaxed Mary out of the bathroom, or waited til she came out on her own. He could have sat her down and explained to her that her dad didn’t even know about her, or that people are flawed and don’t often think about others. He could have sat with her in her hurt and simply acknowledged that sometimes people make dumb choices and this was one of them. All of those may have been decent ways of handling Mary’s grief… but none of them would have replaced those feelings of unworthiness with reality – and Frank knew Mary needed the truth.

The camera starts to follow the reaction of a family sitting near to them in the waiting room. The older man sits up straighter in his chair, and the women turn and look at each other, but it is silent so you have no real idea what is going on.

Frank taps Mary to wake her up, having fallen asleep since it was now the middle of the night. She scowls at him, confused.

All of a sudden, a young man comes out through the two doors of the hallway and shouts “It’s a boy!!” — at which point of course everyone goes wild and jumps up and down with excitement, hugging each other, eyes full of tears for the joy of this tiny life entering the world.

It reminded me of Luke 15:10 when Jesus talks about the angels celebrating over even one person who turns to God.

Mary sits up and looks at her uncle, who at that point leans over and whispers to her “THAT’S what it was like when you were born,” he says. In that moment, Frank communicates so much more than Mary realized she needed to understand:

You were loved from the moment you entered the world.

You were celebrated.

You still are, even if people who should care for you don’t…. Or never did.

You are worth fighting over

My friend, this is what you need to hear the Father in heaven speak over your life!

It doesn’t matter what your story is, or was. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done well or how much you’ve blown it. This is the joy God felt over you the day you were born, and even moreso the day you realized He loved you like this. He longs for you to find freedom from every lie you’ve been told, from every hurt that has kept you caged, from every wound that has left you broken.

What Mary does next is even more amazing. “Can we stay for another?” She asks her uncle….so they stay and watch until another family gets the happy news of the birth of their daughter. Mary practically jumps out of her chair with excitement, goes over to the family and joins them in the celebration, smiling and clapping for them. I’m sure they didn’t quite understand why it she joined them, but they welcomed her in and let her celebrate too.

This is the work of the kingdom, my friends. To know the joy the Father has over YOU, and then to join Him and rejoice when others find the same grace, love, and mercy for their lives. There really is nothing more beautiful and pure than watching the recognition of how much someone is loved by God wash over their lives, and to see His healing making them whole. Whether it happens in a moment or over time… it’s just flat out beautiful, no matter what their age.

So go be part of the kingdom: Find the joy God has over you. Bask in it, if you never have. Let Jesus bind up those wounds and show you how to trade truth for a lie. Then go share it with others and watch as God uses you to awaken them to His love. Its a lifetime work, my friends… but it’s worth it.

Here’s to more parties in heaven 🙂