Category: Lord’s Supper (Page 1 of 14)

Not a Potluck

I was raised on church potlucks. It feels like to me we had them all the time when I was kid – fifth Sundays, a couple of times during the summers, and almost any other time we could find an excuse to have one. I love the church potluck because it does so much to form us into a people of God.

Everybody brings a dish to the church potluck, one they prepared or at least paid for, and places it on a common table and everybody shares. You’re cooking for each other at the potluck, serving one another. Everyone’s eating the same meal together. There’s unity: Hey, we’re one big family! There’s hospitality: Hey, y’all come sit with us! There are kind words: Who made this? Lisa made this? Lisa, this is so good! There is common conversation, common laughing, common love at the church potluck. And seventeen kinds of banana pudding!

I regret that church potlucks are disappearing because they are the closest thing we have today to the Lord’s Supper the way our Lord Jesus instituted it during his ministry and the way the first Christians practiced it in the early church. The potluck is the best thing we have for experiencing and expressing the unity, community, sharing, and love that happens when we’re saved.

The good news is that we are all invited to eat and drink at the great feast in the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ invitation to his banquet table is for you and me and for everybody you know. The best news is that it’s not a potluck.

You don’t bring anything to the feast but yourself. God through Christ has paid the price for the great banquet. He alone has prepared the feast and provided the meal. Nothing we could possibly bring to the table would be less than an insult to our gracious and generous Father.

We try, though. We try to pay our way in or contribute somehow to our salvation. We show up with a little bowl of self righteousness. We bring a little platter of good works with a side of baptism. We bring a basket of Bible classes and mission trips.

No, no, no! Jesus Christ has become for us our righteousness, holiness, and redemption! The great feast in the Kingdom of God has been completely paid for by Jesus at the cross! The whole thing is a free gift of our God’s amazing love and grace. The invitation is not to bring anything. It’s to sit together at the table with Christ to experience and express the abundance of God’s rich blessings.

It’s a feast where all the walls are down and the guest list is unlimited. Where crippled people are walking and blind people can see. Where hungry people are eating and sinful people are completely forgiven. Where enemies are sharing lunch and swords are turned into spoons and forks. And all you need to do is simply show up.

Peace,

Allan

His Strategy is a Table

God does not hide from us. A lot of people think God won’t associate with sinners or with brokenness, that God separates himself from the fallen creation. But we know that’s not true.

God went out looking for Adam and Eve, right? Where are you? What’s going on? Our God is very interested in redeeming the world and restoring broken relationships. He goes to the lost and he finds them. He goes to the sick and he heals them. He goes to the broken and he fixes them. He goes to the sinners and takes all of their sin into himself and he forgives them. God’s mission is to do whatever it takes, everything it takes, for as long as it takes, so long as it takes him into closer relationship with you and me.

So he hangs out with us. He eats and drinks with us. He talks with us and shares himself with us around a table. That’s his strategy for expressing his acceptance of you and how you experience that relationship with him.

Jesus says, “I am bringing food that lasts for eternity. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.” He calls himself the true bread from heaven and the bread of life. He tells his disciples, “I am giving you a Kingdom!” Why, Jesus? “So you may eat and drink with me at my table!”

The Pharisees didn’t like the people Jesus hung out with. So they called Jesus names. They called him a glutton and a drunk. They called him a friend of sinners. They didn’t eat and drink with tax collectors and “sinners,” they didn’t associate with the poor, the crippled, the lame, or the blind because they thought God doesn’t hang out with those kinds of people.

They had God wrong. We’ve had him wrong for a long time. Our God wants to be in relationship with everyone. He always has. Jesus didn’t come here to change God’s mind about us, he came here to change our minds about God. When our God has his way, he is sitting at a great feast, eating and drinking with all of us – the lame who are now walking, the blind who can now see, the poor who are eating now, the sick who are now completely healed, and all the sinners whose transgressions have all been totally forgiven forever.

That’s what happens at the table of our Lord. That’s his strategy.

Peace,

Allan

A Week Late & 50 Degrees Warmer

Due to COVID restrictions and our desire to try something completely different, we had planned an Ash Wednesday Drive-Thru event in our church parking lot. But on Ash Wednesday last week in Amarillo, it was four-degrees and there were nine inches of snow on the ground. So we postponed the event until last night when it was 50 degrees warmer and 100-percent drier.

As a church family last night we joined our Lord on his way to the cross. We participated with Jesus, we walked (drove) with our Christ as he willingly traveled to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of all humanity. It was a come-and-go event with four different stops or stations to remember and reflect on Christ’s baptism, his triumphal entry into the Holy City, the supper he shared with his followers on that last night, and his crucifixion. We read the biblical texts and prayed focused prayers at each stop. We had meaningful conversations.

 

 

 

 

 

Last night we remembered that, while he was in the water, God publicly declared his eternal love for Jesus. In the same way, our heavenly Father acknowledges us as his precious children and commissions us for service in his Kingdom. We looked each other in the eyes last night and said, “You are loved by God and he is well pleased with you.”

 

 

 

 

We waved palm branches outside our car windows and shouted “Hosannah!” as we drove our vehicles over other palm branches and robes and coats. That’s where our people did some double-takes. “You want me to drive OVER the robes?” We discussed the differences between the way Jesus rules and the way worldly kings rule. We told each other, “God saves you.”

We shared the communion meal together last night. We thanked God for meeting our deepest needs in Jesus. We thanked God for washing away our sins in the blood of Christ.

And then we parked our cars facing the floodlit cross Leon Wood and Tom Grant had built and erected in front of our ancient chapel. Our shepherds met each car with words of blessing and prayers for peace. Holy moments. Sacred conversations. Nobody was in a hurry. Blessings were being given and received. God’s Spirit was comforting and transforming all of us. As the cars departed the event, our elders painted a gray cross on the window of each driver and passenger, reminding us that we are human – we are made of dust and to dust we will return – and that we need God and each other. The ash-colored crosses on our car windows acknowledged that the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus far surpasses in glory the burnt offerings made by the priests.

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the essence of the Gospel. God created us out of his great love, we have sinned and fallen short of his glory, we are in desperate need of forgiveness and salvation, he forgives us and restores us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

 

 

I am so grateful for our ministers and shepherds, for our church staff, and every member of this wonderful Central congregation. We have found creative ways to remain connected over the past year and we have seen our Lord at work in everything and everybody around us. May our faithful God continue to bless us during the days and weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. May we remember. May we walk with Christ. And may his will be done in and through this church and our city just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

House Call: Relationship

“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” ~Luke 5:30

Jesus broke in to the tax collector’s world so he could eat and drink with Levi and his friends. This is God’s great goal through Christ: relationship with you expressed and experienced around a table. Eating and drinking with Jesus communicates relationship. Everybody around the same table, eating the same food, sharing the same drink; community and acceptance, nothing between us, no barriers or animosity. Perfect face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow, feet under the same table, please pass the mashed potatoes relationship. This is how our Lord communicates the new realities in the Kingdom of God.

It’s not that people are in two different categories so you’re either righteous or you’re a sinner, you’re either healthy or you’re sick. It’s that we are all sinners, we are all terminally ill and racing towards eternal death, but Christ Jesus has come to us and changed everything! Jesus totally blows up all our categories and classifications. His table is for everybody! The table says God’s mercy and forgiveness is alive and active, there is healing and celebrating, there is the creation of a brand new world, and all are invited to receive it.

If this is the mission of Jesus – and it is – then it is also the mission of Jesus’ Church. We initiate with others. We go to the sick and dying, we invite the lonely and lost, we go out and we bring in, we make room for others at the table.

Jesus went to Levi’s workplace, he went to Levi’s house. Jesus is always looking for lost people and, when he sees them, he runs to them. We’re not always like that. We typically run away from people who don’t have it all together like we do. We think it’s going to be too messy. They’re going to have issues. It’ll be awkward.

See, there are two strategies on sick people. The Pharisees say quarantine. Isolate. Keep them at a distance. But Jesus says herd immunity all the way! Everybody together around my table at the same time! In my grace! In my presence! That’s how we heal the sick!

There are lots of women and men out there who have negative feelings about Jesus. They’ve had bad experiences with the Church. They’ve been ignored or neglected, judged and condemned. But if we will show a steady, regular, consistent, and persistent expression of Christ’s love and grace and invitation to his table, or to yours, they will see Jesus. They will experience the Great Physician, the promised Messiah who came here to shoulder our sins and to die our death so we can be forgiven and saved and healed.

Peace,

Allan

From Scattered to Gathered: Part 2

This Sunday at Central will mark the tenth consecutive Sunday we have worshiped together online only. One more time we’re going to livestream the “assembly” from a nearly empty worship center to our scattered church participating in their homes via the marvel of the internet. We’ve added stage lights and changed the camera angles, we’ve manipulated the sound of the praise teamĀ  and paid careful attention to start and stop times, we’ve incorporated more videos of our own people from their own settings and been as interactive as we know how.

But it’s just not the same.

Christian author Brian Zahnd writes: “Virtual church is like a virtual beach vacation — it’s just not the same thing. A real beach vacation means sand between your toes. And real church means human contact and sacraments.”

Our online offering is pretty good. But it’s no day at the beach. As a church, we’re not gathered right now. We’re scattered. And, I’ll tell you, it’s not my favorite thing. But it’s not the worst thing, either. Because the Church is God’s scattered people, too.

Yours is not the first church that’s ever been forced to scatter. And this is not the first time in history the Church as a whole has been unable to gather. In fact, it happened early on. The very first church, that Pentecost church in Jerusalem, got scattered pretty quick. Stephen was stoned in Jerusalem for preaching the resurrection…

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church (assembly) in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church (gathering).” ~Acts 8:1-3

Randy Harris says if the Church only knows how to be Church in mass gatherings, then it was never really the Church in the first place. And I agree.

We are, all of us, each of us, saved by God in Christ and called by God in Christ for the sake of others. The Church of God exists as people on a mission, men and women saved and called by God to join God’s acts of salvation for others. And sometimes our assemblies have to be broken up by outside forces, we’ve got to be dispersed in order to remember that the Church is God’s scattered people, too. And he can work in powerful ways whether we’re worshiping together in the same rooms on Sunday mornings or not.

“Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” ~Acts 8:4-8

Think about those followers of Jesus in Jerusalem who had witnessed amazing demonstrations of the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. The worship services at that church must have been over the top awesome. Peter’s preaching the Word as an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ. People are being healed. People are speaking in tongues. The Holy Spirit is there in visible pillars of fire. They’re singing 19-verses of Just As I Am because hundreds of people are being baptized every Sunday. And no announcements! That’s an awesome worship experience!

And they were forced to give it up. But the church didn’t shut down. The church actually expanded.

“Those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch… telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” ~Acts 11:19-21

During the early weeks of the Covid-19 shutdowns, the most loving thing we could do for our neighbors and our community was to stay apart. To not meet. Which is so strange because God always calls us to community, to be together, to be present with each other — bodily, physically, face-to-face present.

But look what’s happened to us. All of us have been forced to not just talk, sing, and pray about the mission. We’ve had to live it. You can’t lean on the crutch, “Well, of course I’m a Christian! I go to church!” No, you don’t. Not right now. And our hearts and our lives have been refocused for the past ten weeks on the mission. We’ve been given the time, space, and circumstances to actually do what we claim to do, what we really want to do. We’re serving our neighbors, we’re checking on the elderly, we’re providing money and meals to the needy, we’re reaching out to folks we know who live alone.

Your church has not been closed, it’s been expanded into all of your neighborhoods. We’re paying closer attention to the vulnerable and weak, we’re all thinking more about the marginalized and compromised. And the Bible says if we’re not doing those things, then our worship stinks and it’s not doing us or God any good anyway.

Worshiping online from our homes has brought other unexpected blessings. Some of us have become more acutely aware that Christians all over the world are doing the exact same things we’re doing. We’re all singing awkwardly by ourselves in our homes. We’re all eating and drinking the communion meal with whatever we can find — Cool Ranch Doritos and a bottle of Pedialyte? Sure! It works! All disciples of Jesus are doing the same things right now, every Sunday, and we feel more closely connected to the global Church.

God has done some very surprising and glorious things while we’ve been scattered. And we praise him for that. He’s helped us be creative. He’s opened our eyes to people who need the Gospel. He’s stirred our hearts to be more generous and kind.

But God’s Church is at a handicap when we’re not meeting together. It’s part of our essential nature.

So how do we make the transition from scattered to gathered? And do we even want to?

If Sunday morning worship is a beach vacation and online worship is not — no sand between the toes; it’s not real — then what’s it going to be like May 31? Or whenever your church reopens for in-person worship? With all the distancing and masks and weird communion kits and a lot of our older brothers and sisters staying home, it’s not going to be a day at the beach. It might be more like sticking your finger in a jar of sand you brought back from South Padre four years ago.

That’s not great. We need to anticipate that it’s not going to be the same for a while. It’s going to feel very different. So do we even want to do it?

Peace,

Allan

From Scattered to Gathered: Part 1

Most churches are beginning to reopen for in-person Sunday worship. Church leaders are taping off pews, sanitizing doorknobs, and trying to figure out what to do with the kids. There are many questions that come as a church transitions from scattered to gathered in the middle of a global pandemic, some of them seemingly unanswerable. All of us are doing this for the very first time, we’re flying by the seat of our pants. But one question that must be answered is this: Why bother?

Central is reopening for public worship next Sunday May 31. And it will not be like it was in February. In fact, it won’t be like it’s ever been in the 112-year history of this congregation. We’re asking our people in the at-risk categories to stay home. We’re blocking off two out of every three pews so we can maintain nine to twelve feet of distance between us. We’re wearing masks. We’re using those individually packaged “Rip n Sip” communion kits (yuk!). No Bible classes for a while, no children’s programming.

What is that going to look like? How is that going to feel?

Eric Gentry is a CofC preacher in Memphis, Tennessee and he wrote an article a couple of weeks ago asking this question: “Is there something about God, church, worship, or community that we are not experiencing now online that we will experience once we return, even under the restrictive conditions? If so, what is it?”

That’s probably the question we need to answer. Whatever “it” is, if we’re eager to experience “it” together at church, we should probably be able to define “it.” I keep hearing how desperate we all are to be back together in the same room, how we can’t wait to meet again as a church. But do we know why? Because when we do come back together, we’ll do so at the risk of compromising the health of our members and guests. It’ll cost us more money in utilities and cleaning than we’ve been spending for the past two months. And with all of us spread out so far apart and wearing masks and the weird communion, it’s going to be a diminished worship experience. It won’t be the same.

So, let’s work through this.

I believe the desire in us to assemble together on Sunday mornings is so deep and so strong because it is the very essence of who we are as God’s people. The Church is God’s gathered people.

In the account of the inception of the Church of Jesus Christ, the Bible makes clear that the people in Jerusalem that day had come from all over the known world. Acts 2:8-11 lists all the foreigners who were there the countries from where they came. The author doesn’t want you to miss it. God had brought these people together from all over and that’s when he established the Church.

Peter preaches that God’s Holy Spirit had raised Jesus from the grave and that Jesus is alive and reigning at the right hand of God and that the crucified Jesus is indeed both Lord and Christ. And three thousand people were baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and they each received the gift of God’s Spirit living inside them. And they responded. Saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, guided by the power of the Spirit, notice how they lived and worshiped and served together.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” ~Acts 2:42-47

Our God, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, has saved us and called us to be a gathered together people. Staying away from each other goes against our nature as Christians. It’s like a bird trying not to fly. It’s like Ted Nugent trying not to cuss. It’s not going to last very long. We must be together.

The literal definition of Church in the Bible is an assembly of people. The original Greek word is ekklesia. It means a gathering or assembly of people. You find it 111 times in the New Testament. Everywhere you see the English word “church,” it’s a translation of the Greek word for assembly.

David Watson writes, “The word ekklesia always speaks of the coming together of God’s people in answer to his call, in order to meet with God in the company of each other, and to meet each other in the presence of God.”

Meeting together — it’s the very definition of who we are. We are first and foremost a gathered people.

The Christian faith is an embodied faith. Coming together to share the same space, to breathe the same air, and to eat and drink the same meal embodies our incarnational God. In Christ Jesus, our God joins us in physical bodily form and calls us to also come together in community in one another’s physical, bodily, face to face presence. The things we do together like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and congregational singing are communal acts meant to be shared and experienced in community. We don’t baptize ourselves. We break bread together. We believe the Church, the assembly of God’s people, is a spiritual reality that is manifest and given its power in physical acts done by physical people in physical proximity.

Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I’m right there with them!”

I think that’s the “it.”

That’s what is so special about Sunday mornings together. It’s the unique presence of our God with us when his people all physically come together. It’s the powerful presence of God with his people on the Day of Assembly. It’s God himself eating and drinking with his people when they come together at Mount Sinai. It’s the Lord’s glory appearing in the midst of his assembled people during the appointed times. Being together in the same physical space in the presence of God — that’s the deal! That’s what we’re craving.

And you can’t get it online.

Peace,

Allan

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