Come and Eat

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Most of us love to get an invitation like that – “Come and eat!”

We get together with others (family, friends, and strangers) around eating a great deal of the time. It doesn’t need to be fancy for us to be drawn to interaction over coffee, a burger, picnic, or a full meal. And few homemakers would deny the enjoyment we have when someone else makes the invitation and we are not doing the cooking, or at least not most of it.

Now it is more common to meet at a restaurant when we do that than once was the case, and it is still fun to do but there is little argument that sitting around a table in someone’s home opens conversation to levels that are somehow unlike a public setting. Our busy lives don’t always make that as easy and yet I have fond memories around a table in the home I grew up in as well as our own. So many stories get shared.

It was not unusual for us to invite a couple or family to dinner at our home when we wanted to get to know them better. Coming to our home conveys a desire for fellowship and getting better acquainted. You get to know someone better by seeing their home and the things they have that show a bit of their lives whether those are pictures on the tables or walls or some other thing that makes that home unique. And invariably when we have done that we end up sitting at the table talking long after we have finished dinner despite having more comfortable chairs elsewhere in the house. About then my husband will remind us all that we do have chairs that are more comfier in our family room.

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One of the bonuses of time around the table is how it can transcend generations, so you gain that experience of what life was like in different seasons or places. Our family still recalls asking my dad questions and the stories we heard at times around the table were ones we never seemed to hear any other place we gathered. It also makes a great place for children to learn how to interact, ask and answer good questions and feel included in the whole of the group. It’s one thing to teach them about that but quite another to have the live experience of what it is like.

When our children were young, and we had friends of similar ages most of our interactions as families took place gathering at each other’s homes around a meal. We couldn’t afford restaurants back then and sometimes babysitters weren’t in the budget either.

“Meals, in all cultures, seem to have this capability of stretching from the ordinary to the extraordinary and interpenetrating them. The three meals of our ordinary days are routine. But when we want to celebrate a great occasion, wedding or birthday or anniversary, we do not find it unnatural to use the meal as the means of expressing intensity, ecstasy, and consummation.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

But there is more…

Consider how often we see Jesus interacting around food, a meal, or a celebration such as those mentioned in the quote. His first recorded miracle was at a wedding and He invited himself to dinner at the house of Zaccheus, to share the message of salvation. The last meeting on earth with his disciples happened on a beach on the Sea of Galilee.

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“Jesus was fond of using common settings of meals, dinners, and wedding suppers both for telling stories and engaging in conversation.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

Little wonder that so often gatherings of believers so often do that as well and have done so from the very beginning. It was hospitality but far more than that when a meal was shared together.

And then there was that last night before the crucifixion in the upper room where He shared a meal and washed the feet of his disciples. As He broke the bread and poured the cup, He told them to continue this in remembrance of Him. Here we are many centuries later following that command of sharing the cup and the bread in communion over a eucharistic meal.

“Considering the overall faithlessness and forgetfulness characterizing Christians through the centuries – the general squalor of our conduct, our propensity for heresy – one of the truly incredible exceptions is the persistence with which this meal has been eaten. There is no single element of continuing obedience that is more impressive than this. Through the centuries, cultural accommodations to the radicalness of the gospel are made here in one direction, there in another. The worship of Christians has found architectural expression in all sizes and shapes of buildings. All through these differences and changes and conflicts the meal has been eaten: the same words always spoken, the same elements of bread and wine always consumed. There have been, it is true, arguments about what the words meant, what the elements are – but the arguments have never interrupted the obedience.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
Photo by Pam Ecrement

How like Jesus to use the common things of daily life to illustrate the uncommon gift of salvation so that everyone could understand his broken body and poured out blood for all who would believe. This practice says so much more than we sometimes take into consideration as we participate in it. We hear the priest, or the pastor and we enter the tradition of our faith community and yet miss so much about this. It was not until reading Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder that I even considered or recognized this was the one lasting command that has survived all our foibles and sloppy response to the greatest gift and sacrifice we could ever receive since Jesus spoke the command in the upper room.

“The meal makes it impossible to keep salvation as a private preserve between God and us in the interior depths of one’s soul. The snobbish cultivation of devout feelings of salvation that withdraws from mingling with unsavory people and trafficking with everyday things comes to grief at the eucharistic table. It is impossible to preserve a devoutly pure subjectivity when you have to deal with spilled wine and bread crumbs. Nor does the meal make it easy to experience salvation primarily as the cozy manipulation of spiritual feelings in carefully arranged settings with people we like a lot, insulated from the grosser aspects of the world. The eucharistic meal will not accommodate these reductions: the people at the table are those the Lord invites, not the ones we like; the elements on the table are material bread and wine, not spiritual thoughts and devout feelings. At the meal we listen to the unvarnished words of Jesus; at the meal we eat and drink under the straightforward command of Jesus.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

And so it should not surprise us that when we come to the end of the book, the Bible, we as believers are invited to another meal – the marriage supper of the Lamb. That is one invitation I have already sent an RSVP to and I can hardly wait to see what Jesus has planned.

I hope you’ll be there too.

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Do You Know the Storyline?

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I love a good story.

You know the kind I mean.

No matter what the genre or whether it is told or written, a good story pulls you in and catches you up in the story. I sense the person beyond the character descriptions and watch how each one develops while cheering on my favorite. There is just a hint of uncertainty about what will happen next that makes me want to listen longer or keep turning the page and the author doesn’t show me how the plot will unfold specifically despite clues along the way.

I have always loved to read and by now I have little patience for a book that doesn’t coax me to keep on reading because it gives too much away, has stereotypical characters, words used that require a dictionary on nearly every page, or a plot that wanders to such a degree that I am no longer sure what it is.

This spring has been a banquet for me because nearly every favorite author of mine in the world of fiction has published a new book and yes, I pre-ordered each one (except I just discovered I forgot one). I always like to have one good fiction book going while I have one or two others going at the same time. The others will usually include something related to healthy lifestyle or food, something very inspirational, and something that contains new information I want to explore. Stories that contain historical settings never fail to appeal to me as do great biographies.

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My husband knows that if I am caught up in a good story and it nears the last few chapters, I may not be able to go to bed until I finish it. That happened to me in childhood as well and sometimes I would get into trouble with my mother when she found me with the covers over my head and a flashlight reading after I was supposed to be asleep. Sometimes the book I would be caught reading back then was the Bible. Each one of the 66 books seemed to offer a new adventure to follow even if sometimes I got lost in the lineage sections at the beginning or couldn’t follow the archaic King James words as well. I can still recall the smell of the paper of that first Bible that was tucked under the covers with my flashlight. I kept hoping I wouldn’t get caught and need to stop reading but that hope usually was not realized. But it didn’t deter me from trying again and again. The themes of good against evil and stories of the most unlikely heroes were more fascinating than the reading books I had from school.

Each of us has a story of our own that is being added to moment by moment. Each one includes comedic points, sad points, and points that are chaotic, and crisis filled. How we respond to our own stories impact how we respond to the stories of those around us and whether we will value them. They will shape the lens we use to see the world, its unfolding events, people, and circumstances. Some of us will be realists. Others optimists or pessimists. Major events play a significant role in shaping these lenses.

We can see that from the dawn of history there has been one catastrophe after another and there appears to be no end to them or a way to stop them. If we didn’t know it before, we learned it well with the “war to end all wars.” It can cause some of us to use optimism to create a world that is better or where we can control the outcome. When we do that, we also miss the big storyline and plot we see written in the Bible when those who believe it see the beginning of all created things. From the outset the story seemed to be less than perfect with one catastrophe happening after another. How could God allow that to happen? Where was the plot going anyway?

Certainly, Lucy wondered about that as she sought out Aslan to sort out what was happening in Narnia that had changed spring into winter. C.S. Lewis captures our puzzlement about what is unfolding with an unmatched skill in his epic tale, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Our belief system points to the storyline we believe and what we understand the plot is all about.

“The catastrophe was caused, Christians believe, by a primeval act of rebellious disobedience that attempted to circumvent or displace God. But that is not the popular belief. The popular belief is that however bad things seem from time to time, there is no catastrophe. To face the fact of a catastrophe would involve, at some point or other, dealing with God. Anything seems preferable to that. So the devil doctors the report, the world edits the evidence. People reduce their perceptions of catastrophe to a level that is manageable without getting God into the picture in any substantial way. And so the same act that caused the catastrophe, perpetuates it.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

If we take that route (some of us may have tried), it doesn’t get us very far or work very well because it seems one catastrophe after another occurs with increasing intensity. Those who know the plot of the story the Bible tells know a better way.

“Salvation is the plot of history. It is the most comprehensive theme of scripture, overtaking and surpassing catastrophe. Salvation is God’s determination to rescue his creation; it is his activity in recovering the world. It is personal and impersonal, it deals with souls and cities, it touches sin and sickness. There is a reckless indiscrimination about salvation. There are no fine distinctions about who or what or when – the whole lost world is invaded, infiltrated, beckoned, invited, wooed: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” God takes on the entire catastrophe.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

If you are wondering when He will settle the score once and for all, don’t stop reading his story (the Bible) until you see how He wraps up the storyline in the end. It’s a spectacular ending and I think you will want to be a part of it with Him.

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How Long?

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It has been decades since our family vacations when our children were young but so many rich and fun memories of those years run through my mind often. It was a tradition that we traveled by car since it was most economical, and we also wanted to see the countryside on our way to the destination. As a result, we often were up by 4 or 5AM and letting the children fall back to sleep for the first few hours of the drive. As the hours went by the question would invariably come up, “How long until we get there?” My husband’s response with a twinkle in his eye would usually be a hundred thousand miles! (Of course, they had no concept of mileage back then.)

Years later we had a grandson who would ask our son and daughter-in-law how long it would be until we arrived for a planned visit. He would ask, “How many night nights?” to anticipate the time. We still recall his eagerness to see us back then even as he is about to graduate from college.

Asking the question, “How long…” is a query that most of us have asked many times across the years whether it is wondering about length of time till Christmas, a birthday, a special vacation, or some other event we look forward to. Add to that wondering how long until we get braces off our teeth, can learn to drive, or go on a date and it all starts to add up. We tend to be looking forward to some next thing.

Adults ask that question as well but the content changes to how long until the next pay raise, how long until we can move to a better house, how long until we can afford a new car, and more. There are also those even harder waiting periods such as how long until I can be done with chemotherapy, how long until I don’t need these crutches, how long until I don’t have to feel this pain, and an endless list of things that impact our quality of life.

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We have challenges adapting to injuries and the length of time it takes to regain our physical health. Even when we were young and got hurt it never seemed to take as long as it does as adults. So, we ask the question, “How long?” We may get an answer but sometimes the answer is either vague or very discomforting because it is much longer than we hoped it would take. We don’t like to wait for things we want, wish for, or think we need. We don’t handle waiting to feel better very well either. Suffering was not a part of the plan for our lives at any point we considered what lay ahead of us on the timeline.

But all throughout history that same question has been asked for other causes and reasons. If we look at the waiting time for these issues it can be even more daunting.

The children of Israel asked that question after Joseph died and they became slaves to Pharaoh for 400 years. They wondered when or if their suffering would ever end and if justice and judgment would come and set them free. Periods of such subjugation echo with that question from the beginning of time to the present day. The question echoes during long wars, famines, and plagues.

The longer the wait the more we want to demand judgment for what we are enduring or suffering. We can’t quite accept that life was never promised to be fair or easy for any of us. As a result, we can become increasingly demanding.

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The better team doesn’t always win. The best candidate doesn’t get the scholarship. The hardest worker doesn’t always get the promotion or the raise. The kindest person doesn’t get a great deal of credit for all they exhibit in a success driven society. The healthiest person doesn’t always escape illness. The dreams we have worked so hard to see come true don’t always unfold before us despite our efforts and sacrifice. We cannot believe this is supposed to be how life works. But one thing becomes very clear to us before we have grown into adulthood – life isn’t fair and justice doesn’t always come. Judgment is often delayed or shows bias to one person or group or another. And frustration that grows because of it can result in us trying to take on that task of bringing about what we believe should happen while failing to recognize our own inability to see the entire thing as it is.

“The world is not a good place for justice. We learn this early. Children, with instinctive moral sense, ignorantly but accurately paraphrase scripture, “It’s not fair.” Nobody gets what they deserve, whether in reward or punishment. The consequences of both virtue and vice are far out of line with their causes. Sometimes we get less than we deserve and know we are exploited, sometimes more and feel lucky (or guilty). Most of us, throughout the years, develop moral callouses and get on the best we can. Then a radical injustice erupts – political terrorism, domestic abuse – and the question is fresh and urgent again: How long?”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

How poor we are at our estimations of what we deserve or are owed. Matthew writes one of the parables Jesus uses to teach us about an unforgiving debtor who was forgiven a great debt but goes on to try to extract a very small debt owed him by someone else. It can be easy to read that passage in Matthew 18 and see it as a story without remembering we need to apply it to ourselves as well. If we are believers, we have been forgiven the biggest debt we could ever have, one we could not repay, and yet we exact from other debts of a much smaller amount.

As turmoil increases around the globe in every land and culture and dark storm clouds gather the question of “how long” is on our lips and in our prayers. Reading Revelation, we see that question lingers to the very end of the world. And yet the question itself suggests something very significant.

“The persistence of the prayer “How long?” issues, apparently, from a deep, unshakable conviction that God will bring an end to injustice, even though he shows no signs of calling the court room to order.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

It seems clear that our orientation must be off somehow. Looking at where we may be off according to John when he was writing Revelation gives us a direction. His words and truth remind us we have lost the context for the whole of living life. What is the context in the midst of waiting, in the midst of “How long?”

“Worship provides the context for the paradoxical simultaneities of believing in justice while experiencing injustice…”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

Worship takes us out of the center and puts God back there where He belongs…central to everything and the only One qualified to judge and bring justice.

If we are impatient and our desire for judgment is becoming a desire for revenge, perhaps we need to have our context adjusted through worship before we try to exact what we see as a debt owed us that is small compared to the debt we have been forgiven.

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Don’t Be Duped

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One of the tools that is regularly used against us is to create a sense of powerlessness within us. Sadly, it can be very effective whether it stems from a direct spiritual assault or from a person, group, organization, or governing body. The goal of creating a sense of powerlessness is to create doubt, despair, and hopelessness within us so we yield to the source that wants to have power over us. And it can be easy to believe the lie because there are places, times, and people that can exert a great deal of power over us but be clear – it is because you actually have something they want and only if you sense powerlessness can they succeed. In truth they know you have power to deny them what they want.

A clear example of powerlessness is seen in abusive situations of any type. The internal damage can linger long after the abuse stops. Self-doubt has been a favorite tool of the enemy since the Garden of Eden, and he uses it expertly. It can result over time in a learned helplessness.

“Learned helplessness is an orchestrated retreat that has learned to give up before one even tries, because there is no point to pursue an objective that is doomed to failure before ever begun.”

Dan Allender in The Wounded Heart

When that operates in anyone’s life or sphere it moves down a slippery slope to despair and a need to deaden our souls.

“Despair is a protective blanket that shields the soul against the cold demands of harsh self-doubt; depression is the middle ground between pressured energy to change and the total abandonment of hope.

Those who abandon hope deaden their soul by cutting off parts of it that still feel rage, pain, and desire and exiting those parts to the furthest reaches of the unconscious.”

Dan Allender in The Wounded Heart
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Little by little the thing, entity, or person who seeks to have power over us and create a sense of powerlessness causes us to lose our sense of self, wreak chaos in the values and beliefs we hold most dear, and set us up to question our judgment or make errors in using it that would not ordinarily be the case for us. Since often the quest to accomplish this in us begins in subtle ways we may not recognize, the impact can sometimes take time for us to identify. That too is the goal so that we are too far “down the rabbit hole” before we see where we are headed. Those who seek to gain power over us are very good at what they do and use all manner of deceit to take the upper hand.

Despite what you may be tempted to believe or conditioned to accept about the idea of power, a power grab was where it all started when Lucifer wanted to be equal to or above God and it is what was at play with Adam and Eve’s interaction with him. Little wonder that we are snared in the arena of power in one way or another.

“We are centers of power – power that can curse or bless – and are responsible for managing and directing that power. Power doesn’t disappear or diminish when we enter the way of faith. If we are naive with power or disdainful of it, we will either misuse it or allow it to be used by others who are neither innocent or scrupulous.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

We have seen the sense of powerlessness grow during the pandemic and how each of us has responded helps to exemplify the theme. We have felt powerless against the virus and also powerless about the various new requirements about how we are to conduct our lives as a result of it. It was hard at the outset but most of us submitted to it. More than a year later we look at this a bit differently in questioning more about how much we are to yield who we are, what we believe in.

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We want to be prudent and safe, but many are considering the toll of such a long period of feeling powerless. That is when wisdom and discernment is most needed. A sense of powerlessness can hamper judgment and tempt us to use any and all means to take power back from whatever source we believe has taken it from us. But the enemy counts on that as well and loves to tempt us to behave in ways that we would not tend to do and reveal character traits that we may not have identified within ourselves previously. Our best source for deciding is as it always is – God. He is the only One who can show us the path for how to use his power within us to avoid or escape any snare the enemy sets up for us. Make no mistake – we are either following Him or we are following the one who intends to destroy us through evil.

The path we choose is not always as easy as it may appear. The way of the cross never is. But even then, we see that no one took Christ’s life or choice, He gave it up because He knew the true source of power was his Father.

As we inch closer and closer to the end of the age the battle for power will only increase. Power always wants subjects who are available to use for its purposes.

“We choose: we follow the dragon and his beasts along their parade route, conspicuous with the worship of splendid images, elaborated in mysterious symbols, fond of statistics, taking on whatever role is necessary to make a good show and get the applause of the crowd in order to access power and become self-important. Or we follow the Lamb along a farmyard route, worshiping the invisible, listening to the foolishness of preaching, practicing a holy life that involves heroically difficult acts that no one will ever notice, in order to become, simply, our eternal selves in an eternal city. It is the difference, politically, between wanting to use people around us to become powerful (or, if unskillful, getting used by them), and entering into covenants with the people around us so that the power of salvation extends into every part of the neighborhood, the society, and the world that God loves.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

The choice is always ours. Choice was the power God gave us at his creation of us and the responsibility for how we use it is what He will hold us accountable for.

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When Enemies Thunder

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A few days, ago I wrote a post entitled Cease Striving…Stand as I reflected on how we respond when our lives feel as if they are being upended. I took a brief look back at Watchman Nee’s classic work, Sit, Walk, Stand, focusing on the book of Ephesians. Since then, I have heard more than one or two messages or reminders of how key it is for us to rest when all around us are faltering. The sources have been broad and varied and it occurred to me that I think the Lord is speaking to His body on this issue. I don’t think He is asking us to be passive when He says we are to rest, but rather to actively trust Him.

I can recall more than a few seasons where my world was being upended and I was being pulled in every direction. I was exhausted and easily caught up in all the things I absolutely had to do. One of those was the season over a number of months where both of my parents died. In February of that year, my father suddenly became ill after always being healthy and five and a half weeks later, he went home to be with the Lord. During that same time my mother (who had congestive heart failure) was hospitalized several times and then died in June three months to the day of my father. Additionally, my only living sibling who was developmentally handicapped, had other mental problems, and lived with my parents became my responsibility.

Those months tested my limits in every area of my life. Their deaths were hard enough, but also dealing with their estates simultaneously while seeking guardianship of my brother and petitioning to find placement for him in a group home, left me fully depleted.

I had no choice except to fall into the Lord’s arms knowing all that I faced was too much for me to handle. Did it feel like the enemy was about to do me in? Absolutely, yes!

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It is easy during such times as believers to know what we should do and can do but fall prey to old demanding voices assailing our hearts, minds, and spirits. Ultimately what I was facing was so “over the top” that I could not help but relent and fall into His arms. It wasn’t that I immediately went there first.

When I read Old Testament passages or histories of the faith it can sometimes be easy to deride the persons in those stories for their lack of faith, their flaws, and more. Then when a trial of my own comes along, I discover I am not always so much different than they are. I also discover those who stood when everyone around was faltering.

I look at David when he was considered to have nothing to offer by his brothers or much of anyone. He gives me a glimpse of the model I seek to emulate. The enemies surrounded Saul’s army and Goliath was bellowing and demeaning these chosen people of God as well as God Himself. When David arrived on the scene, he appears to have been shocked that no one had responded to Goliath and everyone seemed to be cowering in fear.

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It can be easy to revere David and look at his courage, his skill with a sling, or even his youthful risk-taking as he called out Goliath to meet him on the field of battle. If we do, then we are failing to recognize the headline that day. I think it might have read something like this: “David Trusts God and Defeats His Enemies” or “Young Boy’s Trust Wins the Day”.

The story behind the headlines was even more important. David could only have trusted God in that moment if He truly knew Him. Knowing Him allowed David to trust Him. David had been the shepherd boy who had been tested before while caring for the sheep and looked up at the stars in the heavens and felt a certainty of God’s greatness and power. He had learned trust in other challenges. When it was time to choose how he would respond to the taunts of Goliath, the answer was clear to him.

I like to think God stood up that day as he heard young David when he reminded the faltering men of Saul’s armies that Goliath was defying the armies of the living God and pronounced his unwavering trust that God would deliver him. His earlier experiences had helped David to know God with a certainty that allowed him to rest in the trust that God would be with him. He even reviewed his history (his testimony) with God for the army around him as the source of his faith.

My response and yours when those days of upending and shaking come will likely be determined by my or your history with Him and if we have learned to rest or trust in Him. In the moment when we must choose, we cannot then summon up something that is not there.

If we have come to know Him, really know Him, then we will find it easier to fall into His arms and rest, trust that He has us in that moment and for eternity.

Why do we need to be desperate until we trust Him? Has He not given us enough evidence long before those life-altering experiences?

Psalm 121 is often attributed to David. The psalmist’s words give evidence that he knew the Lord well. Do we?

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121 (ESV)
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Photo by Pam Ecrement