Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This is My Body. This is My Blood.

Dear Friends,

We call it Holy Communion and are reminded it is through this sacrament that we enter into communion – a oneness – with God and He becomes “God with us” [Matt 1:23]. We call it the Eucharist and are reminded as we are taken into His Presence that our only possible response is undiminished thankfulness: “thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” [2 Cor 9:15]. We call it the Lord’s Supper to remind us that this sacrament is God’s grace conveying His spiritual nutrition which strengthens, sustains, refreshens and renews us. The One who feeds us said, “This cup is the new Covenant in My blood which was shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” [1 Cor 11:25, Matt 26:28, Luke 22:20]

It may be difficult to absorb the significance of these words that we have heard so many times. But it was at that very moment in time that Jesus changed forever the covenant between God and the ones who He created. The old was a covenant of law. The New Covenant is the covenant of grace. All who repent and believe in Jesus Christ will have everlasting life.

The blood of Jesus...  Shed for you...  For the forgiveness of your sins... The apostles that night were astonished and astounded at hearing those words. Are you? 

New Hope Family Church places Holy Communion at the very center of our service. All else that we do – worship.. prayers.. sermon – revolves around the Eucharist – the Great Thanksgiving. We begin by joining our voices in a reading of scripture. We come into His presence with our offerings of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. There are times when we just want to linger in our worship of Him – when the presence of the Holy Spirit is touching us in those places where we need His healing. Then it’s time...

Confession. Forgiveness. Communion. We take His Body given for us. Take His Blood shed for us. The Body and Blood of Jesus mingling with our own body and blood. Communion means sharing and we share now the self-offering of our Savior.

We are reminded that the various rituals practiced on Sundays look nothing like what took place in the ancient church. And, we have been given a sense of the earliest practice of Communion  when we are at the pastor’s home for Christmas.

Twenty or so have gathered together in the largest room of the house. Talking, laughing, sharing. A worry or concern is mentioned and a quick prayer is said, inviting God into the conversation. Someone is in the kitchen preparing food. A large round loaf of bread dough slides from a thin, flat piece of olive wood onto a blazing hot 550 degree stone surface. Wheat flour, water, salt, olive oil and herb seasonings used in ancient biblical days have risen and formed into a life-sustaining loaf of bread. The aroma of hot bread ascends and begins to drift through the house. Wine is poured into small cups. The bread is taken from the oven and its very fragrance invites people to gather around the now cooling loaf. There is silence and stillness. An expectation of God’s presence. In anticipation, they bow their heads. As the loaf of bread is broken into pieces, they hear the words of Jesus that have been spoken for the past 2000 years. “This is My Body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” [1 Cor 11:24] 

This is the moment where our faith, tradition, ritual and reason come together in the mystery of the Communion. The actual presence of Jesus is mysteriously imparted into the bread and wine. We know not how that happens. The apostles were there the night that Jesus initiated the Lord’s Supper. They heard His words and then taught the first century church that His Body and Blood are truly present in the consecrated bread and wine. How can we possibly believe anything different?

The Body of Jesus broken and shared with us. And we must remember that we too come broken before Him. For it is in our brokenness we are refilled and refreshed by His presence. It is only then that we can share with others the God with us...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lord, Clamp Your Hand Over My Mouth

Dear Friends,

I love history, so when I was younger, antique stores would fascinate me. I loved looking at all the strange, old, sometimes unrecognizable things that I could imagine my grandparents using. Today, antique stores are a little discomforting. I see the toys and games I played with as a child. I see ancient kitchen implements that people point to and wonder about and I remember that I’ve got one in a drawer and I’m still using it. Old records from the sixties are on display. I have a closet full of them. That vintage fedora hat from the 50's? I’m wearing one. Walking into an antique store today is like walking into my own personal museum and it makes me feel.. well.. like an antique.

But last week I ventured into an antique store and immediately saw this sign...

It made me both smile and cringe at the same time. Because the sign reminded me of someone that I know.  Me.

Lord, forgive me for the times I have spoken when I should have been silent. When my words of frustration, anger, impatience, unkindness were hurtful to others. When my words were not a blessing but a curse. When careless words closed down the spirit of a loved one. Lord, forgive me.

Scripture is edifying, encouraging and comforting. And sometimes the comfort it offers comes from knowing that we’re not alone in our struggles to seek the righteousness of God. (Matt 6:33) David struggled with his words and knew the importance of praying that God would help him control his mouth. “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

A few days ago a friend of mine said that while she had been praying for me, Deuteronomy 3:19 came to her mind. “..I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life..” This literally refers to the Israelites’ life or death choice to either worship God or worship other gods. But metaphorically it refers to every one of the choices that you and I make every day – the things we do..the words we say. Our words of blessing bring life. And our words of cursing – hurtful words of condemnation and negativity – bring death.

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” The brother of Jesus tells us: “But no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:8-10  NLT)

With our mouth we can speak blessings or curses. It’s God's desire that we bestow blessings on others, it’s our human nature to bestow curses.  Think about a typical day and count how many times you spoke sincere words of God's blessing to another. Now count the times you spoke complaints, negativity, gossip or criticisms to others.

James said that no one can tame the tongue. That means that you can’t. But God can. Jesus said “for with God all things are possible." (Mark 10:27) 

We need to submit our unruly tongue to the Holy Spirit daily. Every morning our prayer should be: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

And if, like David, we have prayed for the Lord to set a guard over our mouth, we then need to listen for His direction during our day. You’ve heard people say, “think before you speak” but it may be even more important to “listen before you speak.” Everything I have ever said that I later regretted was because I spoke without first listening to the Holy Spirit. If, in the heat of the moment, we can shut our mouth and give ourself a verbal timeout, God will always show us how to say something in a Christ-like manner or tell us not to say it at all.

Lord, clamp Your hand over my mouth when I’m tempted to speak words of anger, unkindness or negativity. Let me choose words that speak life and not death. Let no unwholesome word proceed forth from my lips, O Lord, and may all the words of my mouth be pleasing to Your ears. Amen.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Immigration: A Christian Response

Dear Friends,

A family member recently asked me one of those truly great questions so complex and controversial that it forces you to wrestle with it for a spell until you are comfortable articulating your thoughts.

On the issue of illegal immigrants, she wrote, I “..would like your opinion as a Christian and as a law abiding citizen (which comes first??)” She also wrote, “Some Christians say, "what would Jesus do"? How far are we supposed to extend our freedoms to those less fortunate??”

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a law abiding, red-blooded American Conservative Republican who went door-to-door with my father to campaign for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Our house in West Hollywood was the only private residence with the American Flag on a 20' flagpole. And today, I’m a born-again, Bible-thumping, washed-in-the-blood, Spirit-filled, unabashed and unashamed follower of Jesus Christ. 

So what I loved most about her email was her asking me, “..which comes first??” Because that answer determines my thoughts, not just on immigration, but on everything that America struggles with today. What does come first? Do we look at politics through our faith based on God’s word in the Bible? Or do we read and interpret our Bible through the filter of our ingrained political beliefs?

Exegesis is the rendering of scripture to determine the original meaning of what the writer intended to say. When looking at Old Testament scriptures regarding “foreigners,” “strangers” and “sojourners” we need to do our exegesis to understand the practices 3,500 years ago before we can even attempt to extrapolate Godly principles to apply to America today.

We flag-waving Conservatives enthusiastically point to passages of scripture that refer to foreigners. Anyone outside the nation was inferior and possessed restricted rights (Gen 31:15). They could not eat the Passover (Ex 12:43) intermarry (Ex 34:12-16) become king (Deut 17:15) or even go to “church.” 

In fact, Acts 21:27-28 tells us that the very presence of Greeks (meaning the Gentile, non-Jews) in the temple defiled the holy place. It’s easy to cry “Yes and Amen” and use those verses to show that we need strong regulations to limit the rights of immigrants today. Then I remember that I too am a “Gentile” and according to these scriptures, that would have placed me in the category of the inferior foreigner. And of course, that puts a little different spin on things here...

We love to quote Jesus summing up Old Testament law in what we call the two great commandments: “Love God with all your heart... and love your neighbor as yourself.” But Jesus quoted the “loving your neighbor” part from Leviticus 19:18 and in verses 33-34 we read: “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” 

And then we read Matthew 25:31-46 telling us that we are to welcome strangers as if they were Jesus. But loving the friend or the stranger doesn’t mean we’re to enable their unlawful behavior and this is where it gets complex and controversial. 

In Leviticus, God rebukes Israel for their hostility toward “strangers” but the foreigners were not automatically granted the benefits of citizenship in Israel. Only by obeying and accepting the law and its requirements, could foreigners be included in the nation. Only when they were willing to give up all ties to their mother country and learn the traditions, the language, laws and customs of Israel, could the male immigrant be circumcised into the nation of Israel and bring the rest of his family with him.

And while we may not want to require the ritual act of circumcision as a prerequisite for citizenship in America, it is required that everyone living here obey our nation’s laws. And, as our government decides what to do with immigrants, I’m just going to love them like Jesus. Yes, I’m a flag-waving American. But above the flag, there’s a cross.