Table for one?

The communion service is a very important part of the life of the church. Many congregations make it a part of their weekly or monthly worship. But have you ever considered taking it on your own? I was first introduced to this idea in an article in Discipleship Journal, Nov/Dec 1996. The author went through a difficult time and felt God urging her to have communion with him every day. She did, and it changed her life. She shared her experience with others, and they also began having supper for one.

At first, I thought this sounded a little strange, especially considering my fellowship took it only once a year for much of its history, and always as a congregation. I didn’t add it to my quiet time until recently, though I have thought of it many times since reading the article. It turns out, this is a wonderful way to go deeper with God and experience a greater intimacy with him.

I go to a quiet place in my house, light a candle and read scriptures and quotations I’ve collected about communion. I pray, meditate on what I’m doing and what it means and then eat the bread and wine. I know you are probably thinking it’s supposed to be done in community with other believers and that’s true. But when I take the Lord’s Supper by myself, I’m not alone. I experience unity with all my brothers and sisters in the Christian community, including the cloud of witnesses from the past, through God’s Spirit. Because I don’t have to rush through, as we often do at services, I can take my time and linger as long as I want with Jesus.

If you’re looking for more intimacy with the Lord, set the table for one and let Jesus feed you. You might find yourself, like me, going back for more, again and again.

 

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One word for 2019

Beginning in 2011, I ditched resolutions and started the practice of using just one word to give me direction and keep me on track the whole year. Today, I looked back over my words and then tied them together in a prayer:

I immerse myself in the Word and in the life of Jesus, with a resolve to keep on in this life of following him, to breathe in Christ and breathe out the love the Holy Spirit has breathed into me, as I gaze upon his sweet loveliness. I ask for help to decrease, even as Christ decreased for us when he came to earth as a baby and died on the cross, and may I have the same attitude of death to self, obedience and humility. May I keep steady and rely on the steadiness of God, and may I learn to value Jesus above all else, to recognize the value of knowing him – nothing else matters – and to understand how much I am valued, loved and accepted by him. May I be still before him and know he is God, remembering his majesty and holiness, and that he is the great I AM; may I also be still in my soul and in my tongue. Help me live in the simplicity of Christ and his love – the simplicity of single-minded, pure, undivided, genuine and innocent devotion to my Savior.

Happy New Year and may you be blessed with the simplicity that is in Christ.

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Discipline God’s Way

As my children grew up, we were blessed to have both sets of grandparents living next door. While I appreciated the built-in babysitters, it was the relationships they had with each other that made such a difference in their lives.

Once when my parents watched the kids while we were traveling, an occasion for a spanking occurred. As my son learned, a little spanking went a long way, especially when administered by my dad. One little swat was all he needed to adjust his attitude. It was a lesson my son remembered for a long time.

Many people object to spanking these days but at the same time believe the discipline of the Lord is similar. They imagine God has a huge, heavenly paddle—with holes in it to make swats sting more—and he wields it often and with great gusto.

I must admit I used to believe God’s discipline would come in the form of physical illnesses or pain or other big trials such as financial problems, losing a home or the death of loved ones. And if you needed a big spanking, you might even experience trials of Job-like proportions. But in the last few years, I’ve come to have a different perspective because of what I’ve learned about the love embodied in God’s triune nature. I’ve realized he is not holding a paddle in anticipation of punishing me. Rather, he is gently and slowly giving me glimpses into his loving mirror. He has shown me things about myself, traits I wasn’t aware of and wish I didn’t have. Of course, it hurts. It’s painful to have your image of yourself shattered and to find out you need more work.

Could this be what the discipline of the Lord looks like—being confronted by your sin? Fortunately, I haven’t had to go through anything like Job experienced. God is gentle with me, but his discipline is always eye-opening and sure makes me think. I’ve had to really dig deep and work through it in prayer and then I thank God for his gentle and loving yet incisive work in my heart.

The discipline of the Lord can indeed be painful but it’s nothing to fear. Everything we experience at the hand of God is done in love and with our growth and good in mind—and no paddle!

How to forgive

Forgiveness is a tricky thing. As Christians, we know we are forgiven, and we are told to forgive in the same way. It’s easy to say, “I forgive you,” but it’s only real if it’s from our hearts.

Dallas Willard, in his book, Life Without Lack, said we make three errors when it comes to forgiveness. First, we tend to believe it requires reconciliation; second, we think we have to forget what happened; and third, we think we have to stop hurting. None of these are necessary.

We forgive by making the choice not to punish or seek revenge, which means we let people off the hook. It lets us off our own hook, too and frees us—from anger and bitterness—and allows us to love them the way God wants us to.

If we wait for reconciliation (which often never comes), tell ourselves we have to forget what happened (can’t do that) and wait to stop hurting (the pain might lessen, but will never go away), forgiveness will never happen, at least not in this life. Forgiveness is God’s way of life and his way to life (N.T. Wright) but doesn’t happen in our hearts without God’s help and much prayer. It is possible, even when it feels like it’s not, if we can avoid these mistakes and trust God to make it work.

Stop, Drop and Roll

The Bible has a lot to say about our words. We are to keep them sweet, kind and gentle. We are told to tame our tongues and use them to glorify God, and not to tear people down. But what about when unkind, hurtful words come our way? None of us like to be on the receiving end of insults or verbal abuse but it happens, and we need to know how to handle it.

One day, as I was thinking about how hard it is to deal gracefully with this situation, the phrase “stop, drop and roll,” popped into my mind. This is a simple fire safety technique taught to children, emergency service personnel and industrial workers in case their clothes catch fire. Stop—don’t run because that adds more oxygen to the fire. Drop—drop to the ground. Roll—roll on the ground to put out the flames.

It’s also a great reminder to not let the words of others bother or offend us. James calls the tongue a fire (James 3:6, NIV) which can set the whole course of your life on fire. When the flames from someone’s tongue get too close, stop—take a breath and calm yourself. Drop—just drop it. Don’t let the person or situation push your buttons. Roll—let it roll off your back.

Jesus was an expert at this. When he was insulted and falsely accused, he didn’t say a word. I can’t remember many times I’ve remained silent when being insulted—I could probably count those times on one hand. But it’s not just a matter of learning not to be offended. It goes to the heart of being a Christian, which is dying to self. Jesus wasn’t crucified so we wouldn’t have to be; he was crucified so we could be crucified with him (Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack). Being dead to self means we don’t let the circumstances of life, including being insulted, denigrated or verbally abused affect our sense of well-being, self-worth or behavior. (I hope it goes without saying that extreme cases of verbal abuse involving violence should be dealt with by the police or other authorities.)

Kathleen Hart, in her booklet “Taking Control of Your Actions and Attitudes,” says it’s a matter of choosing to react or act. Rather than letting knee-jerk reactions make the problem worse by returning evil for evil, we can choose to be in control of ourselves. How can we do this? Kathleen gives four principles: be prepared by choosing ahead of time how you will act; decide that your motives will always be to please and glorify God in all your words and actions; pray the life of Jesus will be manifested in your life (he lives in us); and live in obedience to God’s Word. By following these principles, we can be meek, not weak, and we won’t feel the need to demonstrate our strength with anger or aggression.

Prepare by training yourself to stop, drop and roll and by spending time with God, letting him change your heart, filling it with love and goodwill toward others. Then next time verbal barbs come your way, you’ll be ready to act rather than react, and the peace of Christ will be evident in your life.

Wait for it…

The microwave is one of the greatest inventions for the kitchen. It allows us to quickly reheat or cook food, including popcorn (my favorite). But it might have been only the beginning of the trend to deliver instant gratification and a cause of the increasing lack of impatience rampant today. Everyone wants what they want right now!

Impatience isn’t the only consequence of our want-it-now, get-it-now society. We’ve stopped thinking long term. In an article by Paul Roberts he talked about how the growing problem of wanting and getting what we desire instantly is causing more problems than just a lot of impatience. “Under the escalating drive for quick, efficient ‘returns,’ our whole socioeconomic system is adopting an almost childlike impulsiveness, wholly obsessed with short-term gain and narrow self-interest and increasingly oblivious to long-term consequences” (“Instant Gratification,” The American Scholar, Autumn 2014).

We see evidence of this everywhere, from drivers cutting each other off in traffic because they’re in a hurry to students cheating on tests rather than patiently studying to really understand the material. Get-rich-quick schemes are always with us, but more and more we see corporations focusing on making profits over the long term good of society.

Instant gratification is having a negative effect on overall maturity, as Roberts says: “The notion of future consequences, so essential to our development as functional citizens, as adults, is relegated to the background, inviting us to remain in a state of permanent childhood.”

People as a whole used to be able to wait patiently: farmers waited for their crops; we waited for letters in the mail; travel took longer and news wasn’t instant. We didn’t have mobile banking, mobile shopping or overnight deliveries. Everything took time.

I think this has also affected the way we think of God’s plan and how we anticipate the Kingdom. With the focus on getting what we want immediately, have we forgotten this life isn’t all there is? We want everything to be perfect now, forgetting the perfection of heaven is far off and is what we wait for with great anticipation.

Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, said something that struck me as a profound truth, especially in our impatient times: “I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated—that, in a way, life is overrated. …Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such unhappiness. The reason: If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe that this is your only chance at happiness—if that is what you believe, then you are not disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches, you are despairing” (Forbes MagazineSeptember 14, 1992).

Life is not about getting everything we want right now. It’s about doing the best we can, “living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NLT) and looking forward, with patience to the time when God will make all things new. This life isn’t all there is: we have a future well worth waiting for.

Losing Things

As I packed clothes for a trip, I discovered a favorite sweater missing from my closet. I searched everywhere, but couldn’t find it. I must have left it in a hotel on another trip. So I packed the matching top and found something else to wear with it.

I don’t like to lose things. It’s frustrating and upsetting, especially if the item is of value. Losing anything is annoying; so is forgetting where we put things, like lists, keys, important papers. Being robbed is even worse. All these situations give us feelings of helplessness and of being out of control. There’s usually nothing we can do but accept it and move on.

Loss is a part of life we’d rather do without but we all experience it. Dealing with and accepting loss is a lesson we learn early and often. Even with age and experience and the knowledge that things are easily replaced, it’s still frustrating. Some losses, like losing a sweater or keys, are easier to accept than the big ones, like the loss of physical abilities or those we love. And then we ultimately have to face the loss of our own lives.

How do we keep the right perspective? Jesus did warn us not to put our hearts and hopes in our temporary possessions, in treasures that can be lost, stolen or burned. Our lives are not made up of what we own. Our worth is not measured by the dollar signs in our accounts and happiness is not achieved in the accumulation of goods. The more painful losses are not so easily explained or philosophized away. Aging bodies, diminished abilities and senses, deaths of friends and family – how do we cope with these?

Our lives are a mere breath or vapor. We are like flowers that bloom in the morning and fade by evening. No, that’s not encouraging, but the words of Jesus are: he is the resurrection and the life. Through his life all will be restored, renewed and redeemed. In the words of an old gospel song, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.”

Because he lives, the losses of today will disappear into insignificance in the light of the glorious redemption of every single atom, moment, human, animal, theft and fire. Every tear, scream, nightmare, every fear and every heartbreak will be wiped away and replaced by joy in the life and love of the Father.

Our hope is in Jesus – in his cleansing blood, resurrected life and all-encompassing love. In a sense, he lost his life for us and he told us if we lose our lives, we will find them again, in him. On this side of heaven, all is lost, but in Jesus, all is found. And when that happy day comes, nothing will ever be lost again.