Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Table of the King

Saturday 4/19/2014 4:30 AM
Tuesday of every week Jaci babysits for our grandkids that live in California.  When Andy and Jessica come to pick them up they usually stay for dinner and if Garrison and Emily are not working they join us too.  We sit around the table together and have a family dinner.  We sit and enjoy the meal together and when we finish eating the grandkids often get up to play while the adults sit around the table and visit.  The conversation is nothing special; we simply share what has happened during the past week while finishing a glass of wine or whatever it is we had to drink with dinner.  The atmosphere is generally relaxed with lots of laughter and good-hearted banter back and forth.
Last night we attended the Good Friday service at our church.  At the end of the service we had communion and the members of the congregation filed to the front of the sanctuary to partake of the elements.  During that time we sang Behold the Lamb, a communion hymn whose lyrics and music were written by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend.

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us - and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Savior Jesus Christ,
Torn for you - eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you - drink and remember
He drained death's cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond, - and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King.

As we sang, the last phrase of each verse reminded me of our family dinner night and, for the first time, I thought of communion as sitting around God’s table sharing with the family of God in the same way as when our family sits around our table enjoying good food and enjoying each other’s company.  In the sacrament of communion we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf that has resulted in the complete forgiveness of all of our sins, which makes sitting at God’s table possible.  Today I read Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  It is another reminder of the relationship that God desires with his people even when our lives are beset with things that are trying to sever that relationship.  During my quiet time each day I feel as if I sit down for breakfast with God, sharing my life with him and listening to the advice he has for me for the coming day.  God has prepared the table and he has made it possible for me to come and enjoy the food and the company it will provide.  The question is do I accept the invitation and take the time to feast at the table of the King?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Doing or Being

Saturday 4/12/2014 6:20 AM
Over the course of the past couple of months I have wondered about the effectiveness of my life in pointing others to God.  As far as I know there are very few people who are Christians because of my interactions with them.  Jesus said that if his disciples remained in him they would bear much fruit and sometimes it seems as if my life is a barren tree, with no fruit visible to those who are looking on.
In his book The Living Reminder, Henri Nouwen addresses this issue.  He writes, “The main question indeed is not a question of doing, but a question of being.  When we speak about the minister as a living reminder of God, we are not speaking about a technical specialty which can be mastered through the acquisition of specific tools, techniques, and skills, but about a way of being which embraces the totality of life, working and resting, eating and drinking, praying and playing, acting and waiting.  Before any professional skill we need a spirituality, a way of living in the spirit by which all we are and all we do becomes a form of reminding.  One way to express this is to say that in order to be a living reminder of the Lord, we must walk in his presence as Abraham did.  To walk in the presence of the Lord means to move forward in life in such a way that all our desires, thoughts, and actions are constantly guided by him.  When we walk in the Lord’s presence, everything we see, hear, touch, or taste reminds us of him.  This is what is meant by a prayerful life.  It is not a life in which we say many prayers, but a life in which nothing, absolutely nothing, is done, said, or understood independently of him who is the origin and purpose of our existence.”

As I walk through my day I am constantly reminded of God in the things I experience and through the people I meet.  I am aware of God’s constant presence within my own mind but I wonder if others watching my life are made aware of God’s presence.  Somehow it still seems as if the love and care of God that I experience in such a real way needs to be communicated to those with whom I have contact as I move through my life.  It is one thing for me to see the Lord working and moving in my life but, ultimately, others need to see and experiencing the Lord moving in their lives.  And how that is communicated is the conundrum I struggle to understand.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hearing Loss

Friday 4/11/2014 3:58 AM
I gave tests in each of my classes last week and Monday of this week.  The extra work to correct the tests takes a considerable amount of time.  I usually spend part of my weekend working on grading the tests but last weekend we spent time visiting with friends and enjoying their company and God’s creation together with them.  Most of the week I have had little sleep in order to finish my work and, as usual, my routine has been interrupted and I feel overwhelmed with the busyness of it all.

Urban Holmes writing in his book Spirituality For Ministry describes my life pretty well at this point.  “Many persons, ordained or not, live in a fairly constant state of noise, with their unresolved past and the uncertain present breaking in on them.  They lack a still center and it is only for such a quiet point that we can listen attentively.”  My listening for God’s voice has been nearly nonexistent recently.  The only voice I hear is the clamoring of tests begging to be graded.  It drowns out the voices around me that God is trying to use to increase my capacity to love or those voices he is trying to use to encourage me when I despair.  Either way I lose.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sweet and Sour

Monday 3/31/2014 5:06 AM
A phrase of my opening prayer caught my attention this morning.  “Give us such love to thee as may sweeten our obedience.”  Sweet seems like a strange adjective to describe obedience and, as I am prone to do, I tried to contrast it with sour obedience.  When I did so my mind went immediately back to when my children were small and I asked them to pick up their toys.  Sometimes they would do so cheerfully, especially if there was something special that was going to happen afterwards like going away somewhere or perhaps eating ice cream.  At other times obedience was accompanied by an attitude of resentment and done begrudgingly.
Pleasant tasks that need to be done can probably always be characterized by sweet obedience.  It is easy to maintain a positive attitude when the job I am doing is something I enjoy but when the task is unpleasant there are only a couple of things that can change my attitude from sour to sweet.  Unpleasant tasks can be made sweeter when you are working alongside other people.  Our church does service projects in a local neighborhood four times per year.  The job we do is usually painting and cleaning up yards by trimming bushes, weeding flowerbeds or disposing of piles of junk.  Jobs like that can be overwhelming when done alone but somehow working with thirty or forty other people not only make the job go more quickly but the job even seems more pleasant.  Unpleasant tasks can also be made sweeter if you love the person for whom you are doing the job.  I do not enjoy changing dirty diapers but when my grandchildren have a dirty diaper I gladly change it because I do not want them to be uncomfortable or get diaper rash.  My love for them changes my attitude about the job.
My opening prayer suggests that if my love for God increases then my attitude towards being obedient to God will be better.  The closing prayer of my devotional material this week says, “Be bound to Christ for this day and always.”  If I am bound to Christ then I will always be working beside him and any unpleasant task will be made sweeter.  Lord, increase my capacity for love and give me an awareness of your presence in my life to sweeten my obedience.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Love, Honor and Obey

Sunday 3/30/2014 7:05 AM
When Jaci and I were married we memorized our vows and recited them to each other.  My vows were, “I, Mark, take you, Jaci, to be my wife.  And I promise before God, and all who are present here, to be your faithful husband.  I will love, honor and maintain you as long as our lives will last.  I will serve you with tenderness and respect and encourage you to develop God’s gifts in you.”  Hers were the same, with our names and the words husband and wife interchanged, except she promised to “love, honor and obey” where I promised to “love, honor and maintain.”  In 1978, the year we were married, the women’s liberation movement was in full swing and many of her friends gave her a hard time for not standing up to me and refusing to say the word obey.  Little did they know that I didn’t insist upon it; she wanted to do it.  To be honest, I was more worried about fulfilling my vow to maintain since I was uncertain about my ability to adequately provide for all of her needs.  I figured that if I did an adequate job of loving, honoring, encouraging and serving her with tenderness and respect she would have little difficulty in obeying.
This morning I read Psalm 143:8, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”  It seems that David has similar feelings about God.  He figures that if he hears about and experiences the unfailing love of God daily then obeying God and walking in the way he directs is no problem at all.
I want to live my life with that same level of trust but in order to do so I need to constantly be reminded of God’s unfailing love to me.  If I am convinced of God’s love for me it should be easy for me to obey God.  The real question is do I have the same amount of trust in God that Jaci had in me?  Am I willing to say to God, “I will love, honor and obey you as long as my life will last?”