Sunday, October 27, 2013

Spiritual Communion

"While this recipe was good. I'd like to hear your thoughts on how we serve communion to the church body on a spiritual level."

This comment was left on the communion bread entry and kept me thinking. On a side note, thank you for sharing your thoughts and responses! When you leave a comment or idea, it is a great encouragement for readers around the world to see God at work. Leaving a topic or comment makes it more of a conversation than a one-person megaphone--and conversations are ever so much more fun!

Thoughts about how we serve communion to the church body on a spiritual level? It had never entered my mind. Until now.

What happened when the Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Lord's Supper? Who made the bread? Set the table, provided the meal, furnished the room? Here is where my thoughts took me--and the next two paragraphs are, as I often say when teaching, "free of charge."

On Sunday preceding the Passover, Jesus told His disciples, "Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say, 'The Lord has need of it.'" (Luke 19:30-31 NASB)

The Lord has need of it. That phrase rings in my mind when I feel taken advantage of or the Lord requires something I didn't think to offer--yet. I know it's all His, but in those difficult moments, the reminder, "The Lord has need of it," brings comfort and conviction.

The same attitude was reflected Thursday, the "first day of Unleavened Bread.... And He said to them, 'When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters.

'And you shall say to the owner of the house, "The Teacher says to you, 'Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?'

'And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there."" (Luke 22:10-12 NASB)

Many Bible scholars believe this was the home of John Mark, who followed Jesus and the disciples to the Garden that evening and later travelled with Paul and Barnabas. We don't have specific names; we do know arrangements were made by the disciples. The cooking and details were taken care of by __?___. That's just as it should be. The making, preparing, serving is anonymous in our own churches. The focus is not on the preparations. It is "the Lord's Supper," a reminder of His death, of how He "loved them to the end" (John 13:1). It's all about Jesus.

The bread represents His body, broken for us. The cup represents the new covenant of His blood, shed for us. Earlier Jesus had aid, " He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." (John 6:56). It's no wonder that many left Him at that time. But knowing the end from the beginning, we understand that He was not talking about a physical meal but a spiritual one. Followers of Christ we are called to ingest Him--to receive His personal sacrifice by faith that we may inherit eternal life. Through His death, His body, we exchange our unrighteousness for His righteousness through repentance (1 Peter 3:18). We come with weakness, failure, sin, ineptitude. He extends grace, forgiveness, righteousness, and holiness, when we turn away from our own efforts and rely on His.

Could it be that when we share, or speak of, the death and resurrection of Jesus, we present the body and blood of Christ? 

Among fellow believers, then, perhaps we serve one another spiritual communion when we share testimonies of God's grace, His work through His Son: over the phone, via email or Facebook, on a street corner, in a store aisle or library, even in a Sunday evening service or home church.

The Lord's Supper is not to be taken lightly--with disregard for others, harboring unconfessed sin, or in an effort to fulfill unmet desires--but with reverence, gratitude and reflection. May our memories, words and expressions of gratitude point to Christ and His sufficiency rather than to ourselves, our wit or self-righteousness. And  as we speak, as we partake of physical, regular celebrations of Christ, may we "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." (1 Corinthians 11:26)

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord...
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God." (Ephesians 5:8-10, 15-21)

Friday, October 18, 2013

An Untouched Portrait

I used to think that reading the Bible was enough. I can quote verses about the importance of God's Word, meditating on it day and night, the spiritual sustenance it provides--and that's true, of course. If I set time aside, walked through a passage, prayed about it and took away an application, I was doing well. There's a far deeper level than that.

What I failed to see for so long is now staring back--it's me, myself. Obviously, learning about God is the most important part of Scripture: He is not like us, He is the Creator, the Sustainer. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. In the Bible we connect with Him, learn of and find Him. But the piece we easily overlook in church-world is implanting the Word in our imperfect lives--not just looking at the Word, the mirror, but looking intently at the untouched reflection of ourselves. 

Our words and thoughts agree with God, "It's wrong to lie. It's a sin to cheat. I need to love God with all my heart, mind and soul and love my neighbor as myself." But without the working of the Holy Spirit, I am blind to the lies I tell to make others feel good or how easily I cut corners to get the best deal. Without God's help, I don't see the many ways I love myself and want what I want instead of loving Him. Apart from His working, I gloss over the God-words of the Bible: always, never, every, all, love. Instead, I read Scripture through my best persona, the one I want to be instead of who I really am. In that mode, I look at Scripture with agreement instead of conviction.

Thanks be to God, I am learning to see myself more clearly--the repeated struggles and strengths, tendencies, likes and dislikes. With God's help, I am reminded throughout the day of my failure to obey, to love, to live according to His Word.

The other wonderful thing about pulling Scripture out of the sacred world of church and quiet and into the cesspool of real life is that God's love becomes more full, rich and free; His mercy deeper, His grace miraculous.

Don't be afraid of yourself--God's not. You are who God made you and He promises to accomplish His purpose through you--for His glory. It has been said, "If God predestined you to be conformed to the image of Jesus, just how much change can you expect?" Change. It starts where you are.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.... (John 1:14)

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:8-21)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Letter to an Older Woman

Ten years ago I wrote a letter from myself at age 35 to myself at age 50. I stumbled across it this morning and have found both encouragement and conviction. The print in italics is my husband's reply to "the younger woman." I pray you will be encouraged.


Dear Self at 50:

You feel very far away.  I have been looking for an older woman, so I’m writing to tell you who I’m looking for.  I want someone who will look me in the eye and ask how I’m doing while waiting for an honest reply.  After listening, she would ask if she could pray for a specific need.  I want someone who will encourage and correct me.  Encourage and correct, you ask?  Yes, even correct me.  I would love to have someone who will make that  kind of investment. 

Dear Self at 35:
I enjoyed hearing from you – how interesting, I seem far away to you, but you are so close to me.  It could have been yesterday, or so it seems.  I have a few words to say that I hope will encourage you, and help you to become who you want me to be.  Rest assured I am praying for you too!  I appreciate your desire to be corrected, so let me give you a loving correction before we talk more. Know that God created me unique, fashioned and gifted for His specific purpose.  He crafted every circumstance, event and experience in your life to specifically fulfill His design.  Oh dear me, please never forget that who you are and what you do matters very, very much, yet, they are valued and measured more differently than we can even imagine by Him.  Did you know that what you spend time doing each day is the choice our Lord made for you?  Thank you for working diligently and tirelessly to be that faithful servant that He called you to be.  Look around.  Great is your reward! Don’t you see how immense your influence is; don’t you see how you are impacting lives for eternity?

That’s a bit of what I hope you will be able to do for women like me when you’re older….  Yes, you’re right.  I should be doing that even now.  So what other things would I appreciate from someone like you, someone whose children are relatively independent?  Without putting an undo burden on someone (but I can ask you), it would be lovely if someone would watch our children for me once a month, even once every few months.  I rarely take someone up on an offer to “help out anytime.”  It’s easy to forget who has offered.  Please be someone who calls and says “When could I pick up the kids this week?” As an older woman, listen carefully to younger women and look for opportunities to help.

So, you did recognize that you don’t have to wait to be me to pick up the mantle.  What you may not have seen with total clarity is that you are already the “older woman” to many younger women.  They would eagerly sit at your feet for advice and encouragement.  In fact, there are times even now that they are quietly observing. Look around, don’t you see them in the shadows of busyness or hiding behind the distractions of clamoring children?  They ask for advice, watch to see how you manage, then measure your response.  Ah-h, looking back to where you are– that was when I was truly in my prime as a mentor. I taught by quiet example, selflessly reaching out from my busyness to minister.  Now, I only have words and those who don’t know my history can’t test me, validate me, or examine my legitimacy because they can’t see all that I share with them.   By the way, Self, did you forget that you husband was there to help when you need an escape?   I have learned more about him over the years and one thing I learned is that he has a great desire to meet your needs, but you have to ask.

Share yourself—not just your past, but also your present relationship with the Lord.  One of the most inspiring comments I remember came from a woman with older children who answered when I asked about her day:  “You know, I spent the day sitting in the backyard with my Bible and the Lord.  It was a really great day.”  Wow!  As a mother with four young children, I rarely sit anywhere for long without interruption, but this mother had made Christ her priority.  She gave me a glimpse of the glory I can look forward to.

I well remember the day when you reflected on this woman’s comment and anticipated the quietness and reflection of the future.  I agree that she made Christ a priority in her life.  However, I want this season of my life to be as full and satisfying as you imagine it will be.  To make that happen, you must seize and capture the small bits of quietness that He gives you now. Pursue them. Collect them.  Give some away to new and wonderful activities, let some be stolen by those you love, but keep enough back, so that in time, in His time, you can have a beautiful collection of quiet to give to your Lord only.

The two areas I’ve struggled with the most this last year are loneliness and a sense of lacking purpose.  I’d love to have a “mom” of my own nearby.  Do you know how priceless it would be to have a relationship with a woman who’s older than I am? As a wife and mom, you understand the unending laundry, cooking, cleaning and other menial tasks that sap time and energy.  Life can look bleak and senseless at times.  As a young woman who looks up to women your age, you would impact many lives if you would teach me the value of loving my husband and children, of being kind and self-controlled, effective at home and helpful to my husband (Titus 2:4-5).  Their importance remains critical, but they are difficult tasks, nonetheless.  Maybe you struggle with a sense of purpose yourself.  As life changes, being a mentor to younger women might establish God’s purpose for both you and the younger women you encounter.

Well – I have probably said too much and I need to run, but I did have a final point of encouragement.  Regarding all those unending laundry loads, meals, and dust mites you dealt with—they were more important than you might have imagined.  You made a difference daily in the lives of those God gave you, namely your husband and children.  Through your faithfulness, you opened doors for the kingdom of heaven.  While still on this side of eternity, we will neither understand nor see all the intricacies. Rest confidently, my former me, that in God’s plan, because you did His work, and fulfilled His plan, you made a difference in eternity that far –far—surpasses that of many who pursued the road more traveled.

As I’ve watched many older Christian women, I’ve wrestled anger.  My heart cries, “Why aren’t you teaching the younger women?  Do you see me?  I need you!”  Silence.  As a younger woman, I urge you -- I implore you -- to take up the mantle of mentoring younger women.  We are yearning to know you better.  We covet your guidance and nurturing.   Would you be vulnerable enough for us to learn from your mistakes and failures as well as your successes?  Please be one of those older women who will take the time to invest in the lives of younger women.  Invite yourself in.  Be a friend.  Offer to help.  Be obnoxious if you must, but get involved!

I wish I could know you now.  I’d love to see how God is working in your life and what the children are doing.  There are many things I’m curious about: Do you live in the same house?  What are you doing with your life now that you’ve “grown up?”  Have you returned to the working world?  All in time…. I know that the Lord is good.  Even now, He has given each of us a need to meet for others and an opportunity to meet others’ needs.   “…He knows how we are formed, and he remembers that we are dust”  (Psalm 103:14).  Thank you for being my dust-mate.

Because He is Faithful,

Your Younger Self