Back to Chicago

I feel the tears well up inside my eyes when I walk into my room after dinner. It’s Sunday night. The evening meal is over. The introductions have concluded. And it’s about to get real. I know my duplicitous life and my sins and I’m going to have to say out loud to our God why I’m here.

I had the same feeling during the evening prayers with the larger group. I can’t read the first couple of prayers through the tears. The candle. The liturgy. The knowledge that I must face our Lord. Will he receive me? Does he still want me? Will he accept me and work on me?

I’ve been made to acknowledge the burdens I carry. I’ve also been made to recognize my fears heading into this retreat and this two-year commitment. Out loud. I’ve named them. Here we go.

So I pour myself into the process. I give it my all. I’m journaling in my room, but realizing ten minutes into the exercise that I’m writing only about the things my three companions and I have experienced together on the trip. Lunch at the Lucky Monk. Something funny Mike said. Something weird on the plane. I’m probably stalling, avoiding the hard work God would rather be doing in me. I’m praying Psalm 32 and Psalm 100. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. But I can’t get still.

Until Monday afternoon in the chapel. Thank you, Lord.

A little over an hour by myself in that beautiful chapel and God revealed to me why I’m here. He gave me a peace, he washed me in a comfort, he blessed me by reminding me that I belong to him and he loves me deeply and he wants to change me. He wants me to live in him and rely on him alone.

Heal me. Fix me, Father. Give me peace in my ministry. Give me peace with myself as a minister of the Gospel. Reconcile all the spiritual and existential issues between my head and my heart. Heal me, Lord. Fix me.

Unsurprisingly, since my first Transforming Community retreat in Chicago, my life with Christ has been up-and-down. I’ve engaged / revived a couple of new practices and begun a couple of new rhythms to help me maintain some semblance of what I experienced in Chicago. Those exercises are keeping me aware of the presence of God throughout the day. And it’s good. But I feel I have a long way to go. I always have.

I know that I need continual transformation in my life. I know I need to pay constant attention to it. I also know that I cannot transform myself. Only God by his grace and the power of his Spirit can make me into the man of the Lord he wants me to be. And I welcome it. I’m committed to making space for it.

I’m reading all the books, I’m making the retreats, I’m writing the papers, and doing all the assignments with the view that God is hard at work on me. Some of this is going to stretch me, some of this will make me uncomfortable, but I’m convinced that God has been preparing me for years for this experience.

He’ll talk to me if I’ll just listen. He’ll heal me if I’ll just sit still. He’ll transform me if I’ll just trust.

See you Wednesday.



Expressing the Gospel

If the table is the place to experience the real presence of Christ and the real fellowship and community we have together with God’s people — if the purpose of communion is, well, communion — then the way we do it matters. The form of the Lord’s Meal serves the function. In fact, I’ll suggest the form is the function. In many ways, the medium is the message.

You wouldn’t raise money to fight the sexual exploitation of women by having a car wash at Hooter’s. You can’t hold a Weight Watcher’s meeting at Furr’s Cafeteria. We don’t ask people to pay for Financial Peace University with a credit card. That defeats the purpose. The form matters.

That’s what’s wrong with the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. That’s what the apostle Paul is so concerned about: the form, the way they were eating the meal. The form of their meal was working against the purpose of the meal. In fact, Paul tells these Christians, the way you’re eating it, it’s not the Lord’s Supper at all.

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each one eats his own supper without waiting for anyone else.” ~1 Corinthians 11:20-21

It’s important to remember that the Church’s Lord’s Supper started out as a full meal. For almost the first 300-years, the Lord’s Supper was a potluck. The Greek word “dipenon” is translated as dinner, feast, meal, banquet, main meal. It most commonly refers to the main evening meal. And, according to Paul, if the church eats the meal one way, it’s the Lord’s Supper; if you eat it another way, it’s your own supper.

So, what’s the problem Paul’s trying to correct? What are these Christians doing wrong?

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each one eats his own supper without waiting for anyone else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” ~1 Corinthians 11:20-22

The problem at this church was the breakdown of community during the Lord’s Supper. You’re not waiting for others, you’re not sharing your food with others, people are going hungry, people are being humiliated. The rich Christians are getting stuffed and drunk while the poor Christians are starving and being singled out as not belonging. People are going back for seconds before others have been through the line once. They’re saving seats. Members are on one side of the room and visitors are on the other. New members are eating by themselves. Division. Selfishness.

Even if they had no idea what the Lord’s Supper is all about, common courtesy demands they refrain from getting stuffed and drunk while their brothers and sisters are hungry. But their meal was being shaped by culture instead of Christ. The Gospel is all about breaking down barriers and uniting together in holy community. Only thinking about yourself, only worrying about your own needs at the Lord’s Supper denies the Gospel the Lord’s Supper is intended to demonstrate. Paul says it makes a mockery of God’s Church.

So, that’s the problem. What’s the corrective? How does he fix it? By pointing to Jesus. He reminds them of Jesus.

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’  ~1 Corinthians 11:23-25

The table is shaped by the salvation work of Jesus. The Church’s Meal reflects and demonstrates the Gospel values of sacrifice and service. The Lord’s Supper expresses the way of Jesus: selflessness, giving to others, considering the needs of others more important than our own.

“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” ~1 Corinthians 11:26

The Lord’s death broke down all the barriers between us and God and between us and each other. The Lord’s death unites all God’s people together. Around the table on Sundays and anytime we eat and drink together in his name, we’re proclaiming and practicing all the salvation things Jesus died for. The meal proclaims everything that was accomplished at the cross: acceptance, fellowship, unity, forgiveness, peace, love.

And when Paul uses the term “Lord” and when he says “until he comes,” he’s reminding us that Jesus is alive and he’s coming back! And until he comes, we express and experience the realities of our salvation with him and one another in holy community around his table. How we eat the Lord’s Supper matters.



Experiencing the Gospel

Some of us say the communion meal is the most important part of our Sunday assemblies. That’s the whole reason we come together. In fact, some people leave church right after the Lord’s Supper: the crumb, the sip, we’re good, I’m gone! Our actions betray us: We take communion to the hospitals and preside over a lady in a wheelchair breaking a cracker while three men stand by and watch. Our language betrays us: We say we offer the Lord’s Supper on Sunday nights or in our small groups to people “who need it.”

The Lord’s Supper is not a binding duty or a mechanical ritual. It’s not a box to check or a magic pill to swallow. It’s about love and unity and fellowship.

We’ve done everything we can to mess it up. For several centuries now the Church has gone to great lengths to make the meal as private and personal and individual as possible. The joyful communal meal of the early Church has become a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice in quiet, somber, introspective, individual bubbles: “Don’t distract me!” We’ve removed ourselves from the transforming character of the meal.

If the Gospel is that by the death and resurrection of Jesus we can be totally forgiven of our sins and be completely cleansed and pure and can come right into the very presence of God; if the Good News is that we can have a holy and righteous relationship with God and one another; if the Gospel is that we are united with Christ and united with one another in Christ, where do we experience that? How does that become real for us? How do we feel it and know it’s true?

At the table. We experience the Gospel at the table.

Let’s remember our big picture understandings of the communion meal. The Lord’s Supper is eating and drinking a celebration meal with God. Remember, that’s God’s goal. That’s what God is after, it’s what all of salvation history is about: God eating and drinking with us. Because sharing a meal together means there’s relationship. You’ve got things in common. No barriers. There’s acceptance and understanding and trust and friendship around the table. When we’re all dipping our chips into the same bowl of salsa, all the walls are down. There’s community. That’s what God wants with us.

What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the reality it represents. We are literally eating with Jesus. Somehow, mysteriously, he meets us at the table and eats with us. All of us.

The table is where we experience what it means to be saved. The oneness, the forgiveness, the community, the relationship, the unity, the acceptance, the fellowship, the common ground. The blood of Christ is what makes us righteous and clean. And the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10 that when we drink the cup together, we participate in those benefits. Eating the bread together is a communion or a sharing in the unity we have in Christ. We are the body of Christ together. And we experience that around our Lord’s Table.

The people of Israel eat the sacrifices and so receive the benefits of forgiveness and community that’s achieved at the altar. We eat the meal and receive the gifts of forgiveness and community that are achieved at the cross.

By faith, our baptisms make us one people in Christ. No divisions, no differences, no distinctions — we are one body in Christ. And we experience that around the table. The peace, the reconciliation, the community with God and one another.

You want to feel like you really belong? You sit down to a meal with your family.



Genuine Love

“In every moment of genuine love, we are dwelling in God and God in us.”

~Paul Tillich, 1954

Texas Matters

Never ask a man where he’s from. If he’s from Texas, he’ll tell you; if not, there’s no sense in embarrassing him.

The above video contains all three verses of our beloved state song. And this link takes you to the latest “Talk Like a Texan” column in Texas Monthly that discusses the etymology and pronunciation of Jim Bowie, Bowie Knife, and David Bowie. And the video below is the hilarious “Five States of Texas” scene from the remarkable movie “Bernie.”

Happy Texas Independence Day!


Unworthy Manner

“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” ~1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Boy, we have latched onto these three verses, haven’t we?! Our distortion of these three verses, maybe more than any other passage in the Bible, has irreversibly changed the dynamic of the Lord’s Supper from one of joyful and communal participation in salvation and life to one of somber and individual reflection on sin and death. And the key phrase in these key verses is “unworthy manner.”

The Greek word in the original text we translate “unworthy manner” is “anaxios,” and it’s an adverb, not an adjective. In this context, “unworthy” doesn’t describe you. This is not about the state of your soul or the status of your salvation or what you’re thinking about during the meal. “Unworthy” describes the way you eat and drink, the “manner” of your eating and drinking. “Unworthy” is describing the verbs, not the nouns.

Whether or not you are unworthy to eat and drink with the risen Christ and his holy people isn’t the concern. That question has already been answered: No, you are not worthy! None of us is worthy! We are unholy sinners who have no right to be in God’s presence, eating with him at his feast.


We are all worthy! By the death and resurrection of Jesus you and I are worthy! We’ve been made worthy by grace through faith in Christ. You see what we’re saying? The question of our worthiness is not the issue at stake in this passage.

The concern is, now that you’re at the Supper, how are you eating and drinking? Are you only concerned about yourself? Are you isolating yourself and others at the table? Are you paying attention to the people around you? As you eat and drink, are you recognizing the body?

The main point of the Lord’s Supper is to share it with one another, not satisfy your own needs. That’s the core of Paul’s instructions in this section of his letter to the Christians in Corinth:

“So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” ~1 Corinthians 11:33

Some translations say “welcome each other.” The point is that we eat together.

The joyful communal meal of the early Church has become a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice in quiet, somber, reflective, individual bubbles: “Don’t distract me!” Scripture says the focus during the meal, of our bodies and our brains, should be on one another.



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