Jesus ate his way through the gospels….

From a blog post by Mark Glanville.

Ever noticed how many of Jesus’ meals are in the gospels? Meals feature so prominently in the gospels that scholars have commented: ‘Jesus ate his way through the Gospels.’ Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley even claim: ‘… they killed him because of the way he ate; because he ate and drank with sinners.’ Jesus revealed the Kingdom as he shared meals with others. And Jesus’ ‘fellowship meals’ are formative for the mission of the local church today.

Have you noticed how much ministry Jesus did around the dinner table? Here are some

The wedding at Cana, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, c. 1530

examples. For ‘starters’, pardon the pun, two meals, the last supper and the feeding of the 5,000, are recorded in all four gospels. Also Jesus’ meal with Levi the tax collector and his shadowy friends is found in all but John’s gospel. We add the feeding of the 4,000, found in both Mark and Matthew. Total these up and we have four meals, found in thirteen passages! But there are many more. Meals are particularly prominent in Luke’s gospel. Take a look at two very uncomfortable meals at the houses of Pharisees (11:37-54 and 14:1-24), the meal with Zacchaeus (19:1-10), and the meal that followed Jesus’ resurrection appearance on the Emmaus Road (24:30). The list is still not complete. You can see why scholars have said, ‘Jesus ate his way through the Gospels.’

Jesus’ fellowship meals didn’t come from ‘out of the blue’. They are the delightful ‘second course’ to follow the feasts and celebration of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament Israel’s yearly calendar was punctuated by festivity at the sanctuary, which always included eating! Feasts of weeks and tabernacles were joyful celebrations of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest (see for example Deuteronomy Ch 16:1-17). And tone of these meals is celebration: Israel is repeatedly exhorted to ‘rejoice!’ [1] Jesus’ feasting and celebration then was not a new invention. Rather, in his fellowship meals, Jesus was being what Israel was always supposed to have been: a centre of joy, celebration and justice for the whole world!

The relational richness of Jesus’ ministry contrasts with the isolation of suburban life today. Skye Jethani observes how private and isolated the lives of westerners have become:

Family zones are demarcated by fences. And within the home, family members are zoned into private bedrooms – each with a television, Internet connection, and telephone. The suburb, like the consumer worldview from which it came, forms us to live fragmented and isolated lives of private consumption.[2]

The result of individualism and isolation in western culture is pervading loneliness. Many people feel that they lack connection and meaningful relationships. I find myself regularly surprised as yet another friend expresses desire for richer relationships. My friends are capable and socially skilled but isolated by the suburban way of life. Jesus’ fellowship meals speak into our culture of individualism and isolation. They show us the shape of life and flourishing. They display the beauty, feasting and joy of the new creation – that is secured in Christ’s resurrection. There seems to be something about the bare sharing of a meal that reveals the kingdom of God. In light of Jesus’ fellowship meals, it is no surprise that the second coming of Christ is also conceived as a meal – the ‘wedding supper of the lamb’ (Rev 19).

We Christians must learn from these meals, to bring Christ’s joy to our neighbourhoods and workplaces. Tod, a city lawyer and friend of mine, demonstrates how this Biblical theme of festivity can shape the church’s mission. Every Friday Tod arranges for colleagues in his law firm to meet after work at a local cafe or bar. Colleagues gather to share life and relationship and Tod is the initiator. In this context of shared celebration, Tod takes opportunities to ‘give an answer for the hope that he has’. In this way Tod exemplifies how a Christian can bring the celebration of Christ into a work place. Jesus’ fellowship meals teach that we Christians ought to be hubs of relationship and celebration in our communities.

But dig deeper into Jesus’ fellowship meals by observing who Jesus eats with – this too is critical for the church’s mission. I will take Jesus’ meal with Levi as an example. Mark 2:15 says:

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him (ESV).

To continue reading…

A Meal with Jesus

We will continue with our focus on Everyday Church this Sunday by looking at how Jesus used meals to reach out to those needing him.

Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the table:

“Consider for a moment what happens at the feeding of the five thousand. God gives out bread. On a massive scale. Or think about the wedding at Cana. Jesus turns perhaps 120-180 gallons of water into wine. Quality wine. At the beginning of the Bible story, the first thing God does for humanity is present us with a menu: “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground, the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:8-9). At the end of the Bible story, God sets before us a perpetual feast. God likes doing the catering. He thinks food is a good thing.

God incarnate eats. Jesus would have eaten two meals a day. When he ate with the rich, he might have had white bread, but most of the time he ate the barley bread eaten by the poor, along with cheese, butter, and eggs. Meat and poultry were too expensive to be eaten except on feast days. He may have had fish on the Sabbath. There was of course no tea or coffee. Jesus would have drunk wine, generally mixed with three-parts water. Honey was the primary sweetener, along with figs. Pepper, ginger, and other spices were imported, but were expensive. Such was the diet of God incarnate.

The risen Christ eats. Indeed he makes a point of doing so publicly: “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them” (Luke 24:42-43). Eating in the presence of God is our future. Food will be part of the renewed creation. Food is not left behind with the resurrection. References to a future feast are not just metaphors for an ethereal future existence. Our future is a real feast.

The point is that food isn’t just fuel. It’s not just a mechanism for sustaining us for ministry. It’s gift, generosity, grace. Jesus gave thanks and broke bread. In so doing, he affirms that food is to be received as a gift from God. Food matters as matter. It’s a physical substance, and part of God’s good world. We’re to embrace the world as it is—not merely as a picture of some other spiritual world.

Food is a central ingredient in our experience of God’s goodness. It’s not merely an illustration of God’s goodness. If it were a mere illustration, we could leave it behind once we’d gotten the idea.”

From the book by Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus.

The Christian temptation to tell clean stories….

This is perhaps not what you are looking for.

By “clean” I mean that Christians often want to tell conversion stories that are clean: I was a sinner and then I found Jesus and now I’m squeaky clean. This kind of story happens sometimes — and I know lots of people like this. So this is one kind of story.

But there is another kind of story that is far more normal than the “clean stories” suggest. The fact is that many if not most Christians struggle, especially until they line up into the ruts and routines of middle age (and then some are still struggling). If struggling is far more common than we often hear, why don’t we tell more of those stories. Will it, as some have suggested, create a bad model and steer the struggling into thinking that their struggles are OK or that they can sin and it is OK?

I doubt it.

Some tell this story: I was a sinner and still am; I am a Christian but not all that good of one at times; I wish I were a better one. God be merciful to me a sinner.

Scott McKnight

Why Does Anyone Become a Christian?

I asked this question during one of our Wednesday night meetings. Tim Keller gives three very compelling reasons.

“The earliest Christians were widely ridiculed, especially by the cultural elites, excluded from circles of influence and business, and often persecuted and put to death. Hurtado says that Roman authorities were uniquely hostile to them, compared to other religious groups.

Why? It was expected that people would have their own gods, but that they would also be willing to show honor to all other gods as well. Nearly every home, every city, every professional guild, and the Empire itself each had its own gods. You could not even go to a meal in a large home or to any public event without being expected to do some ritual to honor the gods of that particular group or place. To not do so was highly insulting, at the least, to the house or the community. It was also dangerous since it was thought that such behavior could bring the anger of the gods. In particular, it was seen as treason to not honor the gods of the empire, on whose divine authority its legitimacy was based.

Christians, however, saw all these rituals and tributes as idolatry. They were committed to worship their God exclusively. While the Jews had the same view, they were generally tolerated since they were a distinct racial group, and their peculiarity was seen as a function of their ethnicity. Christianity, however, spread through all ethnic groups, and most of them were former pagans who suddenly, after conversion, refused to honor the other gods. This created huge social problems, making it disruptive or impossible for Christians to be accepted into most public gatherings. If an individual in a family or a servant became a Christian, suddenly they refused to honor the gods of the household.

Christianity’s spread was seen as subversive to the social order, a threat to the culture’s way of life. Christians were thought to be too exclusive to be good citizens.

But in light of the enormous social costs of being a Christian in the first three centuries, why did anyone become a Christian? Why did Christianity grow so exponentially? What did Christianity offer that was so much greater than the costs? Hurtado and others have pointed out three things.

First, Christians were called into a unique “social project” that both offended and attracted people. Christians forbade both abortion and the practice of “infant exposure,” in which unwanted infants were simply thrown out. Christians were a sexual counter-culture in that they abstained from any sex outside of heterosexual marriage. This was in the midst of a culture that thought that, especially for married men, sex with prostitutes, slaves, and children was perfectly fine.

Also, Christians were unusually generous with their money, particularly to the poor and needy, and not just to their own family and racial group. Another striking difference was that Christian communities were multi-ethnic, since their common identity in Christ was more fundamental than their racial identities, and therefore created a multi-ethnic diversity, which was unprecedented for a religion. Finally, Christians believed in non-retaliation, forgiving their enemies, even those who were killing them.

Second, Christianity offered a direct, personal, love relationship with the Creator God.People around the Christians wanted favor from the gods, and eastern religions spoke about experiences of enlightenment, but an actual love relationship with God was something that no one else was offering.

Third, Christianity offered assurance of eternal life. Every other religion offered some version of salvation-through-human effort, and therefore no one could be sure of eternal life until death. But the gospel gives us the basis for a full assurance of salvation now because it is by grace not works and by Christ’s work, not ours.

I hope that by now you can see the relevance of these studies. The earliest church was seen as too exclusive and a threat to the social order because it would not honor all deities; today Christians are again being seen exclusive and a threat to the social order because it will not honor all identities. Yet the early church thrived in that situation. Why?

One reason was that Christians were ridiculed as too exclusive and different. And yet many were drawn to Christianity because it was different. If a religion is not different from the surrounding culture, if it does not critique and offer an alternative to it, it dies because it is seen as unnecessary. If Christians today were also famous for and marked by social chastity, generosity and justice, multi-ethnicity, and peace making — would it not be compelling to many? Ironically, Christians were “out of step” with the culture on sex to begin with, and it was not the church but the culture that eventually changed.

Another reason Christianity thrived was because it offered things that no other culture or religion even claimed to have — a love relationship with God and salvation by free grace. It is the same today. No other religion offers these things, nor does secularism. Nor can the “spiritual but not religious” option really capture them either. These are still unique “value offers” and can be lifted up to a spiritually hungry and thirsty population.

The early church surely looked like it was on the “wrong side of history,” but instead it changed history with a dogged adherence to the biblical gospel. That should be our aspiration as well.”

Written by Tim Keller

 

 

If You’re Going To Do Church That Way, Do It Well…

I enjoyed this article written by Karl Vaters that I decided to pass it on.

“There are so many ways to do church.

As long as you’re honoring the Bible, worshiping Jesus and loving people, no method or structure is wrong.

But any method or structure can be done wrong.

Thankfully, it can also be done right.

Whatever program, asset or resource you think your church needs in order to become great, you can find a church somewhere that became great without it.

It’s not about what you have or don’t have. What you do or don’t do. It’s far more about doing it well, not matter what you have or don’t have.

For instance…

A church doesn’t need to own a building. But if you do, use it well.

Use the church building to honor God and serve people. Don’t use the people to serve and honor the building.

Use the church building to honor God and serve people. Don’t use the people to serve and honor the building.

If you don’t own a building, you can do that well, too.

There are so many advantages to not having a permanent building as a church home. From the portability, to the monetary savings and more.

So, if your church doesn’t own a building, don’t fight it. Lean into it. Find the advantages of not having a mortgage or maintenance, and use those advantages in the best way you can.

A church doesn’t need to have a pastor. But if you do, treat them well.

Many churches are lay-led and function just fine. But if your church has a pastor-led structure, do that in the best way you can.

Honor your pastor, appreciate their hard work, ask “how can I help”? And remember to pray for them and their family regularly. They bear a burden deeper than you’ll ever know.

And if you are the pastor, be the best pastor you can be. Pray, preach and teach. Equip the saints.

And always remember your family is your first and most important arena of ministry.

A church doesn’t need to be a certain size. But do your size really well.

Is your church mega? Do mega well.

Take advantage of the opportunities that come with increased visibility, resources and options to exalt Jesus and bless people even more.

Is your church small? Do small awesome!

Get to know each other. Help each other.

And create an environment that welcomes new members of the family with open arms and hearts.

A church doesn’t need to be in a denomination. But if you are, respect it and participate in it.

In the last few years, I’ve spoken to and worshiped with almost every major denomination there is. And I’ve learned a great deal from all of them.

One of the main things I’ve learned is that there are no perfect denominations. If you’re fed up with yours, look before you leap. Whatever group you’re thinking of jumping into has a bunch of pastors who are ready to jump out.

It’s not that switching denominations – or dropping denominationalism entirely – is wrong. It’s just that we need to look at them all with open eyes and gracious hearts.

Wherever you are, as long as you’re there, you owe it to that group to give it your best.

And if you’re non-denominational, do that well, too.

The nondenominational tag shouldn’t just say what you’re not. Find something to be for.

Use your independence to reach out to others, build networks, support each other and bless the entire body of Christ.

A church doesn’t need to have any particular liturgy. But honor and explain the liturgy you have.

Every church has liturgy.

Some are old, formalized and recognized.

Some are new, informal and unacknowledged. But it’s still there.

So, if you’re in an older church with a deep, rich, liturgical style, honor it and celebrate it.

If you’re more informal and casual, go with the flow.

But whatever you do or don’t do, please remember this. Explain to your guests why you do what you do – and don’t do what you don’t do.

Explain to your guests why you do what you do – and don’t do what you don’t do.

Not in a divisive way (“we’re not like that bad church down the street”), but in a way that helps newcomers understand what’s going on.

And not just newcomers. In every church there are people who have been doing things for years without knowing why.

Do you have designated seating? Are drinks allowed in some places, but not in others? Can I have kids in the adult service with me? Am I allowed to participate in communion if I’m a guest?

We do so many things without thinking about them, but they can be very confusing to a first-timer.

No, we can’t answer every possible question in every service. That would take the entire service time. But every church should make the answers to their FAQs as obvious as possible.

Other Things A Church Doesn’t Need…

Your church doesn’t need a worship team, a choir, small groups, Sunday School, hymnbooks, video screens, or any other “must have” resources, programs or groups. But if you have them, use them well.

If you can’t do them well, it’s better not to do them at all.

And if you don’t have them, don’t be in a rush to get them.

Churches don’t become great by adding more programs. They get better at the ones they already have.”

Written by Karl Vaters.

Sharing Your Faith 101

Maybe you’re afraid to share your faith because you don’t know what to say. Or maybe you’re sharing the Gospel but nothing is happening; people aren’t committing their lives to Christ. Are you doing something wrong?

You can’t open someone’s heart to the truth of the Gospel—but God can, by His Spirit. The Apostle Paul wasn’t eloquent, but God used him because he depended on the Holy Spirit to guide him (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). God guided many others in the Bible as well—like Moses, who at first asked God to get someone else to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, or Jonah, who didn’t think the wicked Ninevites deserved God’s mercy and tried to run the other way.

Remember that God does not call the equipped; He equips the called—and as Christians, we are all called to share what Christ has done. Some of Christ’s last words on earth were, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Sharing our faith isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a command. And God is with us when we obey Him.

What do I do?

One of the best ways to share your faith is to live a godly life. Non-Christians often look at Christians as hypocritical because we say one thing but do another. Show those close to you that you care—spend time with them, help meet their needs and offer to listen when they have problems. You might not be able to answer all of their questions, but they can’t deny the reality of what Christ has done in your life. If you find this is hard to do, perhaps God is speaking to you about your own need to walk more closely with Him every day.

Another important part of sharing your faith is to pray for those you interact with. If you can’t think of anyone who isn’t a Christian, pray for God to place someone in your life who needs Him.

Also make a habit of reading the Bible, praying and going to church. (Read more about diving into your walk with God through prayer, Scripture and relationships.) These things shouldn’t be done for attention or for the sake of doing them, but to help you grow in your own faith. Being passionate about Christ will help others see that there’s something different about you, and they will want to know what it is. You can also reflect Christ through kind words, patience, a gentle temperament, choosing to love even difficult people, carefully monitoring what you watch or listen to, and treating others with respect.

At the same time, we must do more than live godly lives. People need to hear the Gospel—to hear that God loves them, Christ died for them and that they can have eternal life. Romans 10:13-14 says, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

4 Simple Steps

To share the Gospel, you can follow these 4 simple steps:

1. Tell them about God’s plan—peace and life. God loves you and wants you to experience the peace and life He offers. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He has a plan for you.

2. Share our problem—separation from God. Being at peace with God is not automatic. By nature, we are all separated from Him. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God is holy, but we are human and don’t measure up to His perfect standard. We are sinful, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

3. Talk about God’s remedy—the cross. God’s love bridges the gap of separation between you and Him. When Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave, He paid the penalty for your sins. The Bible says, “‘He Himself bore our sins’ in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by His wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

4. Our response—receive Christ. You cross the bridge into God’s family when you accept Christ’s free gift of salvation. The Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

 

This article appeared in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organisation’s website.

How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God

Introduction to Lent

Growing up as an evangelical Christian, I experienced Lent as little more than a joke. “What are you giving up for Lent?” my friends would ask. “Homework,” I’d say with a smirk, or “Obeying my parents.” Lent was one of those peculiar practices demanded of Roman Catholics – another great reason to be Protestant, I figured. It never even occurred to me that Lent was something I might actually be interested in, or benefit from, or decide to keep, or come to value as a way of getting to know God better.

In the last twenty years I’ve discovered that Lent is in fact recognized by millions of Protestant Christians, in addition to Catholic and Orthodox believers. (The Eastern Orthodox Lent is longer than the Catholic or Protestant Lent, and it begins before Ash Wednesday.) Lent (the word comes from the Middle English word for “spring”) is a six-week season in the Christian year prior to Easter. (Technically, Lent comprises the 40 days before Easter, not counting the Sundays, or 46 days in total.)

 

In the ancient church, Lent was a time for new converts to be instructed for baptism and for believers caught in sin to focus on repentance. In time, all Christians came to see Lent as a season to be reminded of their need for penitence and to prepare spiritually for the celebration of Easter. Part of this preparation involved the Lenten “fast,” giving up something special during the six weeks of Lent (but not on Sundays, in some traditions.) Historically, many Protestants rejected the practice of Lent, pointing out, truly, that it was nowhere required in Scripture. Some of these Protestants were also the ones who refused to celebrate Christmas, by the way. They wanted to avoid some of the excessive aspects of Catholic penitence that tended to obscure the gospel of grace. These Protestants saw Lent, at best, as something completely optional for believers, and, at worst, as a superfluous Catholic practice that true believers should avoid altogether.

A Pastoral Word: Let me note, at this point, that if you think of Lent as a season to earn God’s favor by your good intentions or good works, then you’ve got a theological problem. God’s grace has been fully given to us in Christ. We can’t earn it by doing extra things or by giving up certain other things in fasting. If you see Lent as a time to make yourself more worthy for celebrating Good Friday and Easter, then perhaps you shouldn’t keep the season until you’ve grown in your understanding of grace. If, on the contrary, you see Lent as a time to grow more deeply in God’s grace, then you’re approaching Lent from a proper perspective.

Some segments of Protestantism did continue to recognize a season of preparation for Easter, however. Their emphasis was not so much on penitence and fasting as on intentional devotion to God. Protestant churches sometimes added special Lenten Bible studies or prayer meetings so that their members would be primed for a deeper experience of Good Friday and Easter. Lent was a season to do something extra for God, not to give something up. After ignoring Lent for the majority of my life, I’ve paid more attention to it during the last two decades. Sometimes I’ve given up something, like watching television or eating sweets, in order to devote more time to Bible study and prayer. (The television fast was especially tough because I love watching March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament, on TV.) Sometimes I’ve added extra devotional reading to my regular spiritual disciplines. I can’t claim to have had any mystical experiences during Lent, but I have found that fasting from something has helped me focus on God. It has also helped me to look ahead to Good Friday and Easter, thus appreciating more deeply the meaning of the cross and the victory of the resurrection. Before I began honoring Lent, Good Friday and Easter always seemed to rush by before I could give them the attention they deserved. Now I find myself much more ready to meditate upon the depth of Christ’s sacrifice and to celebrate his victory over sin and death on Easter. Let me be very clear: Lent is not a requirement for Christians. Dallas Willard has said that if a certain spiritual discipline helps you grow in God’s grace, then by all means do it. But if it doesn’t, don’t feel like you must do it. I’d say the same about Lent. If it helps you prepare for a deeper celebration of Good Friday and Easter, if it allows you to grow in God’s grace, then by all means keep it. If Lent isn’t your cup of tea, then don’t feel obligated to keep it. You should realize, however, that millions of Christians – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Independent – have found that recognizing the season of Lent enriches our worship and deepens our faith in God. In my next post in this series I’ll consider some of the symbolism of Lent, and suggest some possible Lenten practices to help you keep the season.

Do You Have to Give Up Something for Lent?

I grew up hearing about Catholics who had to fast during the season of Lent. No meat on Fridays, only fish. This, you must understand, was a costly sacrifice in the cafeteria of Glenoaks Elementary School! The fact that my Catholic friends had to give up decent food in Lent always seemed to me to be one more good reason to be a Protestant. (Photo: I expect that the Lent Promo at the Luby’s in Kerrville is much better than my elementary school’s cafeteria rations.) But, in the past fifteen years or so, I’ve sometimes decided to join my Catholic sisters and brothers in giving up something during Lent. This means, depending on how you count the days of Lent, fasting from something for about six weeks. (Officially in the Western world, Lent comprises the days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. But many traditions do not count the Sundays during this period as belonging to Lent. Thus Lent covers 46 days, but only 40 days belong to the Lenten fast.) People in my theological tradition (the Reformed tradition, pioneered by John Calvin) tend not to emphasize Lenten fasting. Partly this had to do with the conscious rejection of Roman Catholic practices that were not clearly based on Scripture. Lent is not prohibited in Scripture. But it isn’t taught there either. One can be a faithful, biblical Christian and never recognize Lent. So, in days gone by, many Reformed folk and other Protestants who wanted to make the season before Easter special in some way, chose instead to add a spiritual discipline to their lives as a way of preparing for Easter. It’s quite common today for churches that don’t have midweek Bible studies, for example, to offer a Lenten Wednesday Evening Study or something like this. Special Lenten spiritual retreats are also increasingly common in Protestant in addition to Roman Catholic circles. But fasting still plays a prominent role in Lenten practices of many Christians across the denominational and theological spectrum. Throughout church history there have been different kinds of Lenten fasts. Nobody, to my knowledge, expected anyone to give up all food for the whole season. In the Middle Ages it was common for Christians to give up certain sorts of food, like meat and/or dairy products, for example. This explains why, in my youth, Catholics abstained from meat on the Fridays of Lent. Many Catholics still observe this discipline. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lenten fast is taken even more seriously than in the Roman Catholic church, with many Orthodox folk eating vegetarian meals during the season. In recent years I have sometimes given up something in Lent, perhaps chocolate or watching television. The latter was particularly hard because I enjoy college basketball, and March Madness (the NCAA bastketball tournament) always falls in the middle of Lent. This year I have decided to give up something I enjoy. I’ve also adopted an additional daily spiritual discipline. It don’t think it would be appropriate for me to speak in detail about what I’m doing at this time. But I would like to share some reflections on what I’ve been learning through my version of a Lenten fast.

What I’ve Learned by Fasting During Lent

First, giving up something allows me to make a tangible sacrifice to the Lord. Although certain sacrifices are already present in my life, they’re sort of “built in” at this point. I don’t often experience giving up something for God on a daily basis. The act of sacrifice reminds me of my commitment to God and my desire to make him first in my life. Second, by giving up something I usually enjoy on a daily basis, I have sometimes found myself yearning for that thing. Frankly, I’ve been tempted to give up my Lenten fast at times. I could easily argue that it’s unnecessary (it is optional, after all) and certainly not taught in Scripture. But, though I don’t think my effort at fasting makes God love or bless me more, I do think it raises my awareness of how much I depend on other things in life rather than the Lord. I see how easy it is for me to set up all sorts of little idols in my life. Fasting, in some way, helps me surrender my idols to God. Third, when I give up something I like and then feel an unquenched desire for it, I’m reminded of my neediness as a person. And neediness, I believe, is at the heart of true spirituality. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”                                                                                      Matthew 5:3, 6

Of course feeling hungry for one of life’s pleasures isn’t quite the same as hungering and thirsting for righteousness. But when I feel my hunger, when I sense my neediness for some other thing, I can use this to get in touch with my hunger and need for God. Fourth, as I continue with my Lenten fast, I find myself less eager for the thing I’ve given up. Ironically, this makes my fast easier. It’s almost something I can take for granted, thus dulling the spiritual impact of the fast. But I’m also gratified to know that one of my little “idols” is being set aside in my heart, as I learn to depend more upon God. I’m experiencing a bit of freedom that makes me gladly thankful for God’s grace at work in me.

Adding a Lenten Discipline

Instead of or in addition to fasting during Lent, you might add a spiritual exercise or discipline to your life. If your church sponsors a Lenten Bible study, you might choose to join this study. Or you may want to participate in some act of kindness, such as feeding people at a homeless shelter. I like to add something that I can do every day. It needs to be realistic, given my nature and patterns of life. So, for example, it would be a bad idea if I decided to get up at 5:00 a.m. to pray for an hour each day of Lent. This would stretch me so far that I’d surely fail. But I could take on additional Bible reading. Some years I’ve read one chapter of a gospel each day of Lent, taking it in slowly and meditating upon it. Other years I’ve used a Lenten devotional to focus my thought. If you have no idea what to do during Lent, let me suggest the following. Set aside some time of quiet to as the Lord what he wants you to do. See if the Spirit of God guides you to something. If nothing comes to mind, I’d recommend that you read a chapter of a gospel each day. If you start with Mark, you’ll have time to read all of Mark plus all of one other gospel during Lent. Perhaps some of my readers would like to suggest Lenten disciplines that they have tried in the past, and how they have experienced God’s grace through these exercises. So, as we enter the season of Lent, I am grateful for the saints who have gone before me, some of whom discovered the blessings of giving up something in Lent, while others grew in their faith by adding a Lenten discipline. No matter what you do during this Lenten season, I pray that God will draw us closer to him, and prepare us for a fresh experience of Good Friday and Easter. May God’s peace be with You!

Written by  Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

 

Community Requires Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is the spark for us to enjoy and help cultivate true community.”

In the first 8 years of our ministry at an established church, I didn’t have a friend to my name. In those same years, I gave birth to and stayed home with three children. I remember that I willed myself not to get sick because if I was sick, I didn’t know who I would call for help. Community was something I created for other people, not something I enjoyed myself. At least that’s how I felt.

When we prepared to plant out of that church, my husband gathered prospective core team members in our living room and asked, “When you dream of what church could be, what is it that you think of?” For me, the answer was simple, and I timidly said out loud what I’d held inside for so long: “I don’t want to feel as if I stand outside of community or help make it happen but not enjoy it myself. I want our church to be the kind where I get to enjoy the inside. I want to have friends.”

What I didn’t yet realize was that community isn’t something that comes to us; it’s something that we go toward. We make choices that either invite community or hinder the very thing we long for. The reasons I struggled with friendship were many: I lacked initiative, I had very specific parameters placed around what type of friend I wanted and how they would relate to me, and I used time constraints as an excuse. But primary among them was that I chose not to take the risk and be vulnerable with other women.

God gave me a do-over with the church plant because the difficult nature of the work made it nearly impossible to hide behind carefully maintained facades or self-sufficiency. My spiritual, physical, and emotional neediness pointed like arrows toward asking wise and faithful women for help. And so I did.

Vulnerability is the spark for us to enjoy and help cultivate true community. Only through vulnerability can we fulfill the “one anothers” of Scripture—pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens—because only then do we know the burdens of others and only then do they know ours.

Vulnerability is risky and must be done wisely. I learned to move slow toward vulnerability with others and pray for God to give me wisdom and discernment not only in who I am vulnerable with but in what I share. Who are wise women around me? Who holds my confidence well? Who speaks truth with grace to others around them? Who values me as a child of God and not just as the pastor’s wife?

When we discern what to share, it’s important to note that there are some things that pastor’s wives won’t be able to talk about with anyone in our church community. However, I can almost always share about myself. I can share how God is at work in my life, how God convicts me, and how I need prayer. I can even share how I struggle with church-related things while in the constraint of details that are inappropriate to share. Simply put, vulnerability has been key for me to develop community that is not one-sided but mutual and life-giving.

I look back at those first 8 years of ministry and I see that I did, in fact, have fledgling friendships. All those prayers I had prayed to God for a friend? He actually answered it with Kelly, Jamee, Ashley, and Niki. Yet I never took the risk of vulnerability with them. I was more concerned with how to impress them rather than with how to know them or let them know me. As a result, the friendships faltered before they even truly started. I was my own worst enemy all along.

Dear one, don’t be your own worst enemy. Resist the urge to make excuses or think of yourself as “other” because of your role within the church. Yes, be wise, but don’t let fear and severe self-protection hinder the very thing that you long for. Take that risk of vulnerability.

Finding Beauty in the Ordinary….

 

 

“Once upon a time, there was an ordinary man,” begins Michael Kelley in his book Boring. “Every day, his alarm clock went off.” And then he did things like go to the gym (or not), go to work, answer emails, eat dinner, watch TV, and go to bed.

He was ordinary.

Ordinary isn’t cool. It’s hard to get excited about an ordinary life or an ordinary church. We crave extraordinary lives and ministries, and hate the mundane. Contrast, as Zack Eswine advises, these statements:

“I aspire to serve as a common, ordinary, mundane, normal, routine, average, usual, and humdrum pastor for an unexceptional, commonplace, everyday, run-of-the-mill congregation. As a preacher I am unremarkable and middling.”

Or:

“I aspire to serve as an Olympian, uncommon, surpassing, extraordinary, special pastor for a marvelous, remarkable, singular, exceedingly great congregation. As a preacher I am stellar and unforgettable.”

Most of us prefer the second. We want to be extraordinary.

“The truth is that we will all spend 90 percent of our time here on earth just doing life,” according to Kelley. “Just being ordinary.” We want extraordinary; we can’t escape ordinary.

Since we’re going to spend most of our life here, perhaps we should learn to find beauty in the boring and ordinary.

Looking for More

Our search for the extraordinary is a form of ingratitude. It’s the opposite of contentment. It’s a failure to be thankful for this place, these people, and this reality.

We are made to hope. Godly ambition is a good thing. It’s not wrong for us to dream about the future and to seek greatness. The problem is that our definition of greatness is often wrong.

According to Eswine, we usually define greatness in terms of how large, famous, and fast we can accomplish it. But God calls us to small, mostly overlooked things over a long period of time.

“Desire greatness, dear pastor!” writes Eswine. “But bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us. At minimum we must begin to take a stand on this one important fact: obscurity and greatness are not opposites.”

We want more, when what we have is enough. If we aren’t content with what we have, we won’t be content with more. Perhaps it’s okay to look for more: not more success, fame, or excitement, but more contentment, faithfulness, and depth.

Beauty in the Ordinary

We’ve had so many sunny days where I live that they’re starting to become ordinary. As we come to the last half of August, the days are getting shorter, and the mornings cooler. I’m reminded to stop taking summer days for granted. Winter will soon be here, and the warm days will be over.

I’m also reminded not to take the other ordinary things in my life for granted. My marriage? It’s measured in ordinary days, but those days have added up to one of the greatest gifts I’ve received. My kids? They grew up on ordinary days that passed without me noticing. My church? Most Sundays are ordinary, but our ordinary gatherings are full of grace and beauty that I’ll miss if I’m not careful.

There’s beauty in the boring and the ordinary. Too often we miss that beauty until it’s gone.

Do It Again

“Sometimes, chasing your dreams can be ‘easier’ than just being who we are, where God has placed you, with the gifts he has given to you,” writes Michael Horton in Ordinary.

He’s right. This means that the hardest, most heroic action we can take is to pursue contentment and faithfulness with what God’s already given us. When we do this, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Then, do it again. As Michael Kelley writes:

There is a great need for people willing to stand in the midst of the boring, convinced that there is no such thing as ordinary when you follow an ordinary God.

Rise and stand. Then tomorrow, do it again.

Written by Darryl Dash

Our Daily Work Matters…..

Returning to Our Work

I read the blog of Chaplain Mike each day. Yesterday, he posted this article on the value of our daily work. I could not agree more!

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

• Luke 2:15-21

On the Christian calendar, today is the second Sunday in Christmastide, and so our Gospel reading this morning returns to the scene we left on Christmas. The baby is lying in the manger in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph watching over him. They get some unexpected visitors — shepherds from the countryside, who report that angels appeared to them and told them of the birth of Messiah. The shepherds are amazed at the sight, and as they leave to return to their flocks, they spread the news throughout the little town that Jesus the Messiah is born.

I have always been intrigued by one line in this story. It’s in verse 20: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

The word I find striking is “returned.” The shepherds returned. Returned where? To their flocks. To the fields where their sheep were resting. To their work. To their daily lives. Back to the ordinary workaday world of shepherds. After one of the most heavenly encounters anyone has ever had, the shepherds went back to work.

Isn’t that interesting? You might think that the experience of seeing God in the flesh, the Messiah for whom Israel had been longing, the newborn King, the Savior, the Lord, might have had a different ending.

Perhaps the shepherds could have decided to become religious celebrities. Their story was so powerful that every Christian television and radio station would have wanted them to come and tell it to their audience.

Publishing companies surely would have contacted them to write articles and books about being out there in their fields, watching over their flocks by night, when the angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid. They would have readers breathless with awe as they told about the sound of the heavenly chorus singing glory to God. They would recount their exciting journey to Bethlehem and the wonder of seeing the Holy Family.

Perhaps these shepherds could have formed a contemporary Christian music group and made records about their experience. They could have sung dramatic arrangements of what they heard the angels sing, tender ballads of seeing the Christ-child with his mother, and exciting mission songs about spreading the good news far and wide.

Or maybe they might have decided, then and there, to take their lives in a new direction; to give up their ordinary occupations and follow religious callings. It would not have surprised me one bit if this story had ended with them showing up on the door of a monastery and applying to become devoted monks, giving the rest of their lives to contemplate the holy mystery they had seen and praying that the glory they had witnessed would fill the whole world.

Or perhaps, with this powerful message and testimony they now had, they would leave the shepherd’s life behind to become ordained preachers or evangelists. Maybe they felt that they should become missionaries, to leave their homes and travel to distant places to spread the gospel of God’s love in Christ.

This, in fact, happened to me, in fact. When I had a religious awakening as a young person, I felt that the only path that was worth giving my life to was what we called full-time ministry. I was so overwhelmed by what God had done for me that I thought the only way to adequately respond was to devote my life to ordained ministry.

However, they didn’t do that, did they? “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” The shepherds returned. These shepherds kept being shepherds. These shepherds went back to their daily work. They were transformed people because of this experience, that’s for sure, but they apparently realized that the best way for them to show God’s love and good news to the world was by going back and being the best shepherds they could be, by caring for their flocks.

As we face a new year, 2017, I think this is a wonderful message for each and every one of us. One of the reasons I later began to practice my Christian faith in the Lutheran tradition was because of what Luther taught on the subject of vocation. I came to see that all of life’s callings are sacred and that he uses all our work to glorify Christ and bring blessing to the world. Not just pastors. Not just religious professionals.

Back in Luther’s day, there was a great division in the way people thought about work. If you were extraordinarily religious and devout, you became a priest, a monk or a nun. It was seen as a higher calling. Those who pursued religious callings were considered closer to God, more honored by God; they possessed more merit and favor in the eyes of God.

Then Luther came along and blew the whole thing up. He himself was a monk, but he came to understand that all people have callings from God, and that one is not better than another, just different. The farmer, the housewife, the shoemaker, the carpenter, the shopkeeper — all are just as important and acceptable to God as the priest, the monk or the nun. Every person has the opportunity, through living out his/her God-given vocation, to bless the world, to bring God’s love and good news to the world.

God loves this world so much, and he calls all of us to care for it in an endless variety of ways. For this reason, all labor that is done with care and with loving regard for our neighbors is of equal value and, indeed, pleasing to God.

The past couple of years I have come to appreciate a concept that is well known in Judaism. It’s called Tikkun Olam, and it means “to repair the world.” The idea is that this world is broken and torn and dark in many ways, but that God created human beings to repair, mend, and restore his light to the world.

This world runs and functions because of a wondrous web of people who go about their daily work every day. God is mostly hidden, Martin Luther observed, behind all of us and the work we do. We are God’s masks, Luther said, God hides behind us, and in and through us, he accomplishes his will.

God calls all of us — including you! — to fulfill our vocations. As responsible individuals, we are called to maintain personal integrity, love and honor our families, live as good citizens for the common good, and do our daily work with a commitment to craftsmanship and for the purpose of blessing the world. We mask the common grace and goodness of God, who is behind and in and through us keeping this world turning and holding together and functioning with life and strength and skill. He does his work through our hands.

As we go forth into this new year, may we be like these shepherds. Having seen the Christ child, may we return to our daily work glorifying and praising God. May God bless the works of our hands. May he affirm to each of us that our daily work matters, that what we do accomplishes great good in this world, even when we can’t fully understand it. May we do our work well, with integrity and craftsmanship, with honesty and regard for our neighbors, so that we will plant hardy seeds of peace and righteousness that will bring forth a great harvest now and in the new creation.

Amen.

Blog of Chaplain Mike