United in a Meal

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 10:14-17 (NIV)

There is something almost unexplainable which happens when people sit down to eat a meal together. As they gather around a table there is a sense of togetherness which permeates the air. The divisions which may exist between them appear to break down. Language barriers are less of a concern. Strangers become connected. Conflicting views are tempered for at least a brief period of time. The sharing of a meal together can strengthen bonds which previously existed and create new bonds where ones did not exist. This is one reason that experts have lifted up the importance of family mealtimes at a table in the home. It is also why meals are incorporated into meetings of heads of state, corporations, and other diverse situations.

Today, we remember Jesus taking a traditional Jewish meal connected to the Passover celebration and using elements of it to create a meal to remember him. The Christian church used these elements from the meal in their love feasts when the church began. Even now, this is a vital part of the practices of the Church and have become a sacrament within the Church. Jesus knew that eating together was something more than just a nutritional activity.

The passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth speaks of the transforming power of the breaking of bread. He reminds the people that in sharing the cup and bread, they are all sharing the same cup and bread. By this act, they are remembering Christ. They also are acknowledging their unity in Christ. It is the body and blood of Christ which unites us as one people.

Next time you sit down for a meal, whether at home or as part of a worship service, think about how this act impacts the relationships of those around the table. If you are sharing in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, remember Christ and the oneness which this meal creates within those who partake.

A Journey Companion

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

John 11:28-44 (NIV)

Having someone who can empathize with you and assist you in removing those aspects which hold you back in life is a great gift. We all need a person in our life who will walk the journey with us. The person may only be a part of the journey for a short period or for the whole of the journey. Who the person is may change as we continue down life’s path. These particulars are not important. What is important is recognizing the blessing we receive from having such a person on our journey with us.

For Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Jesus was such a person. We are not told how Jesus became so close to Lazarus and his two sisters. John records two stories in regards to Lazarus and Luke mentions Lazarus once. The first story John records is the one we read from today. Later in John’s Gospel he will tell of Jesus coming to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. In the second story Jesus eats at the house and Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. Luke shares another story of Jesus coming to the house but does not mention Lazarus, only Martha and Mary. There is definitely a bond between Jesus and the three individuals.

Two aspects of what we read today stand out. The first is verse 35. Often referred to as the shortest verse in the Bible, it contains only two words, “Jesus wept.” The significance of these words is they demonstrate to us the empathy and love Jesus has for these two women and those who were mourning. This empathy and love make Jeans someone who is valuable on life’s journey. Even though Jesus clearly knew what was about to happen, he still stood beside those grieving and spent time with where they currently were before leading them forward.

Second aspect which stands out is found in verse 44. The final sentence of the verse when Jesus instructs the grave clothes to be removed so that Lazarus may go, or be free to live again, is important. Jesus is telling them to remove the things which bind Lazarus to his previous life and hinders the man from living the new life which Jesus has now given him. Again, Jesus as the companion on the journey is a blessing because he assists in removing that which holds a person back from living life to the fullest.

Jesus is always the right companion to have on the whole of our journey. He empathizes with us exactly where we are. He weeps with us, laughs with us, lies awake with us, and celebrates with us. Jesus has given each of us new life. With the gift, and as he journeys with us, he assists us in removing the grave cloths from our lives so we are able to experience and enjoy this new life.

Invite Jesus to be your companion on life’s journey. You will not sorry that you did!

Acceptance

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:7-13 (NIV)

Frequently in life there develops an “in” group and an “out” group. Those within the special group achieve their membership based upon a defined set of criteria. This criteria can be items such as athletic ability, physical attributes, wealth, or even who the person knows. Sometimes being included may even be based on ancestry. Being part of the “in” group affords a person special knowledge, privileges, and treatment. If a person is a member of the “out” group, animosity and resentment can arise towards the members of the other group. There can be emotional and psychological pain experienced by those on the out. Trying to build acceptance among the groups can be a true challenge.

Reading from the letter to the Roman believers, we can see that there has developed a division among them. This division is based on ancestry and history. The Jews had always been considered as God’s chosen people since the time of Abraham and Sarah. This delineation was due to the events regarding Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away and Isaac became the chosen one to carry forward God’s promises to Abraham. This would begin the lineage of the

Jews, the “in” group. Those who are not part of the lineage were referred to as Gentiles and were on the outside. Paul points out that God did not intend this to be a permanent separation. In Jesus Christ, this division has been eliminated. The believers in Rome are to understand this as part of their belief in Christ and accept one another. Belief in Jesus Christ unites those who used to be divided.

This type of division still exists today in a different way. Too often today the “in” group is considered to be members of the Church. The “out” group are those who are not a part of the fellowship. There is an attitude of being special among those who worship God together. A special set of words and ritual behaviors have been established among this group. A set of criteria has been adopted which must be met to be allowed in the group. There is even an us versus them mentality. 

Like the believers in Rome, we must learn to accept one another and break through the walls which divide us; no longer in/out or us/them but an attitude and behavior of we. Those who are believers must lead the way by reaching out to those who are not currently part of the fellowship. Going outside the walls of a building or the barriers we have constructed through rules and rituals. Accepting people where they are just as Christ accepted us where we were.

Faith

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Romans 4:1-12 (NIV)

What does it mean to have faith? The dictionary states “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Having faith does not come easily nor does it mean abandoning what common sense tells us. The key to faith is the trust which is necessary. Trust takes time to develop so it is natural that faith takes time to develop. When faith has been established, the confidence one has in someone or something will aid the person in following and/or believing.

In our reading today, Paul writes about the faith of Abraham. Reading Paul’s letters can at times feel like you are on rabbit chase. If you are able to keep on the trail with Paul, you will obtain great insights into faith, Jesus Christ, God’s love and how to live as redeemed children of God. Paul speaks about how Abraham became righteous, or right with God. Paul writes that Abraham was right with God not because of any actions which Abraham did but because he had faith in God. Paul then continues in what may seem a very complicated manner to show that this righteousness is available to Gentile and Jew alike.

For us today, Paul’s connection between Abraham’s faith and the faith of people in Paul’s time is easily transferable to us. Abraham’s faith was in God, our faith is in Christ, the revelation of God in humanity. Like Abraham and the Romans, we are not right with God because of anything we have done or will do but because we trust and have confidence in Jesus Christ. Faith is all we need to have confidence in living as a redeemed child of God.

The Anchor

Today’s devotion is based upon a song written by Ray Boltz. The song is entitled “The Anchor Holds.” It speaks to those times in our lives when we are facing and experiencing challenges. Times when we feel battered. Listen to it and read the words as you watch this video.

Ray Boltz captures the essence of our human struggle. It can be easy to lose faith and we may want to give up in such times. The waves and the storms can seem overwhelming. Yet our anchor, our faith in Jesus Christ, our knowledge of the love of God as expressed by Christ, can and will sustain us. The anchor will prevent us from being bashed against life’s rocks. We can survive the storms and sail on calmer seas once again.

What did you hear in Boltz’s lyrics?

How do you rely on your anchor?

The Lord wants to be your anchor. Will you let it happen?

The Test

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspringall nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Genesis 22:1-19 (NIV)

This time of year can be dangerous for anyone choosing to venture out on a frozen body of water. As the weather warms up, melting and freezing takes place. This causes the ice to become thin and brittle. It can be difficult as we transition from winter to spring to know with any certainty how thick the ice is. This is why it is extremely important to test the ice before venturing out on it, or just stay completely off of it.

In the passage assigned for today, we discover a much different type of testing. This is a familiar story which can be very troubling to many. The request which God appears to make of Abraham seems extreme and does not fit our image of a loving God. There is clearly more to unpack here than this devotional can cover. Remember that we must read this passage through the contextual aspects in which it was written. The struggle for Abraham here is a question of being willing to give up the most precious item in his life to communicate his faith in God and be obedient. See this story is much more about Abraham than it is about God. God provides a substitute for Isaac. Here God is communicating that child sacrifice is not what is required. Abraham had faith that God would provide a solution to a difficult situation and God did.

There are times when life can really test us. During those times, we discover a lot about ourselves. Who is it that we turn to or rely on when we are tested? When what we are experiencing does not make sense, do we turn to the Lord? We may want to give up, and may even be justified in wanting to give up, but our faith tells us that God will provide a way. Trusting in the Lord to provide the right people, resources, or solutions demonstrates what we believe. As long as we are open to the possibilities which God creates, we can face the test no longer how short or long it exists.

Fan the Flame

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

2 Timothy 1:6-10 (NIV)

There are people who thrive being in front of groups to speak or perform. Others are extremely uncomfortable being in front of groups. One factor which can influence the comfort level of the individual is the type and size of the group. Another factor of influence can be the purpose or subject matter. The individual’s personality type may increase or decrease the comfort. A person’s sense of skill or confidence in knowledge impacts how he/she responds to being in front. All of these factors combined in varying degrees influence an individual’s willingness to be in front of others.

In what we read today, Paul is writing a letter to one of his disciples, Timothy. He is sharing words intended to build up Timothy in his efforts to share the gospel. A reminder to fan the flame which God has placed in Timothy begins this section of the letter. The flame is a gift of the Spirit which gives power, love and self-discipline. Through the gift, shame in sharing the story of the gospel is dispelled. The story of being saved and led to a holy life through God’s purpose and grace as revealed by Jesus Christ is what Paul tells Timothy to share.

Like Timothy, we can benefit from a similar pep talk at various times. We can become timid or lose our energy in sharing our gospel story. During these times, Paul’s words reminding us of the importance in fanning the flame in us and the power, love and self-discipline which we receive from the Spirit may assist us in sharing before others. Participating in the corporate worship of the Lord can fan the flame. Reading Scripture and being in fellowship with other believers can fan the flame. Time in prayer and consultation with the Lord can remind us of the gifts of the Spirit which we possess. Together this can assist us when we might become uncomfortable or ashamed to share our gospel story with others.

Shattering Norms

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

John 4:1-26 (NIV)

Society has a set of norms or rules which are to be followed by all individuals. These norms govern the behaviors and interactions of those people living in the society. A majority determines and adopts these for a smooth functioning of the given society as they understand. Today there seems to be a reduction of the norms and rules in place, or at least they are much more centered on specific locations and not as widely adopted. Many of society’s norms have been based upon ethnicity, race, religion, sex and sexuality in earlier times. While some still exist, there have been leaders, movements and courageous individuals who have worked at eliminating discriminatory norms and rules.

Today as we read the passage, we encounter a rebel, who through actions, attacks some of the social norms of his day. Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well contains actions which people would have considered totally unacceptable. First, he had a lengthy discussion with an unfamiliar woman. Second, this woman was a Samaritan woman which meant that she was part of a group despised by the Jews for centuries. They despised them since they were unwilling to let the Jews pass through their country on the way to the promised land. Third, she was a woman who Jesus somehow knew had had many men in her life. The man who she was living with now was not even her husband. All of this was very scandalous which is why the woman questioned Jesus asking her anything. Their conversation focused on the worship of God but actually is more about the arbitrary division of people. Jesus makes it known that God is more interested in the spirit of people than any humanly defined differences. The location of the people no longer even matters. The Spirit binds all together.

The example of breaking social norms and rules here is part of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus’s ministry was about introducing a new way of living. In the kingdom there will be no division because we all share in the same Spirit. The norms and rules based on old understandings and conflicts are not a part of the coming kingdom.

As followers of Christ, we are charged to be active participants in the coming of the kingdom. Whenever we say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Your kingdom come…” God has chosen us to be agents of bringing about the kingdom. We are to do as the rebel Jesus did throughout his ministry displayed in this passage. We are to challenge the norms and rules of our society which encourage division among people. Our challenge cannot be in mere words but must also be in bold actions. As we stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim or Jewish neighbors, or any who are harassed or ostracized because of their faith, we follow Jesus. As we walk alongside our neighbors who have a different skin color than our own in an effort to overcome unfair practices, we follow Jesus. As we learn from and embrace those of different sexual orientation, or those who have struggled with addictions, or those who have acted in ways deemed unacceptable to others, we follow Jesus. It is time to follow Jesus and be rebels in bringing forth the Kingdom of God on earth.

Jesus Knocking

A famous picture painted by Warner Sallman is entitled, Christ at Heart’s Door. Sallman completed this painting in 1942. Many churches and some homes can be found with this painting hanging within them. There is much symbolism found within the painting. Take a moment to study the image here. Then respond to the following questions:

  1. What do you notice missing? Why may it not be there?
  2. What shape can be found created with the light and architecture?
  3. Why are there blooms on some of the stems and some have no blooms?
  4. What is noticeable about Jesus’s hand? Does that communicate anything to you? 
  5. Why might Sallman have chosen to include the plants which he did?
  6. What change would you make to the painting in view of Jesus’s heritage?
  7. The imagery in this picture is to communicate a message. How would you articulate the message?