Come and Dine

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We were invited to dinner recently by a member of the Hispanic church we partner with here in Birmingham. The woman, somewhere in her 50s or 60s, lived alone. We knew her, somewhat. We knew some facts about her life and engaged in small talk every time we saw her. When we entered her home, however, and dined at her table we went from being acquaintances to confidants.

Whereas once we knew a few facts about her, now we knew her in relationship. Through her hospitality and meeting a basic need of ours -- food -- she confided in us events from her past and other personal matters. We saw the pictures her grandchildren had drawn hung on her walls. We saw mementos that sparked story after story about her personal journey. We heard about her trials and pain as well as some of her joys.

The next time we saw her at church, we exchanged hugs and smiles. We engaged in more meaningful conversation all because of a shared meal around her table.

This recent experience is nothing new. Earlier this year we had four unexpected house guests when Birmingham was paralyzed with snow and ice in January. We were transformed from strangers to friends as we shared dinner, breakfast and a roof over our heads. Back in the fall I blogged about a dinner experience we had with another family from the Hispanic church.

What are your table stories? Who have you gotten to know by simply sharing a meal with them? Have some of your best and deepest conversations come from around the dinner table?

My husband tells me that when he lived in Scotland while working on his PhD that if someone invited you over to their home for lunch after church it meant you spent the rest of the day with them. Lunch wasn't an hourly event; rather you stayed through the afternoon reading, reflecting, going on walks and talking with each other. You would finally leave to go home around dusk.

For those living in the first century, table fellowship was a significant part of the culture. As Joel Green explains, table fellowship was practiced largely in the Second Temple period much in part by the Pharisees. At the same time, you also had the practice of what was called the "Greco-Roman symposium," also known as a drinking-talking party, where there would be some kind of philosophical discourse. We find in Luke a series of table scenes that fuses these two traditions together. It is at the table where Jesus breaks societal and economic boundaries and eats with the most unlikely of people and then uses the table to teach about the kingdom of God. In both word (teaching) and deed (the sharing of the meal), Jesus communicates who he is and what his ministry is all about.

So as we approach Maundy Thursday, the day that we commemorate as Christians the Last Supper and the first event of the Passion week, I invite you to look at five table scenes in Luke with me. As we are invited to the table as readers and hearers of God's Word, what are we to learn about Jesus, the kingdom of God and how we are to live and love others? Does loving others demand a pluralistic and postmodern understanding of faith? Does Jesus call us to follow a set of laws as a prerequisite for relationship? What does bread have to do with the kingdom of God?

Over the next several days we will consider these questions as we look at the following passages: the Calling of Levi (Luk 5:27-32), the Sinful Woman Forgiven (7:36-50), the Feeding of the 5,000 (9:10-17), the Last Supper (22:7-23), and the post-Resurrection Meals (24:28-49).

So pull up a chair to the table and let's spend this next week dining with Jesus. What will he have to say to us?

Read the series:

Table #1: Dining with sinners Table #2: The uninvited guest Table #3: Where is your faith? Table #4: Do this in remembrance of me Table #5: And they recognized him

Lenten Devotional: A False Fast

IMG_3576 For the first six months after my son turned 2 I felt like all I was doing was disciplining my son and all he was doing was disobeying my commands. It was during this time that we left Chick-fil-a after eating lunch without going to the playground because he would not obey my telling him to sit in his chair and stop touching the sign hanging from the ceiling. Some days I felt like Philip was in timeout more than he was not in timeout. It was exhausting and all I wanted for him was to obey so he didn't hurt himself or our belongings.

Around the 2 1/2 mark something happened. I remember that day perfectly. He stood up on the kitchen chair and began playing with the light fixture. I said, "Philip sit down right now." He signed and said, "I'm sorry." I was so excited! He was sorry that he disobeyed. Two minutes later I looked over and Philip was standing up again in his chair hitting the light again. Before I could get out a reprimand, he was signing and saying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

For about 4-6 months after that time, Philip believed he could still disobey as long as he said he was sorry. He would say, "I'm sorry," but not mean it. I knew he didn't mean what he was saying because after apologizing he would turn around and do the act again.

Watching Philip do this cycle reminded me of God's people in Scripture. The Hebrews would disobey God's commandments, repent and then go back to doing what they were doing before. Consider this particular example from Isaiah 58:

"'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high."

This generation, like many before it, had forgotten that YHWH discerns "thoughts from afar" and that even before a word is on their mouth God knows it (Psalm 139). They also had forgotten that there is no place they can go away from the Spirit of God (Psalm 139). Yet, despite knowing that nothing is invisible to God, including the desires of one's heart, they thought they could trick their God with false worship. "Why won't you accept our fasting, God?" they asked. God responded saying, I won't accept your fasting or worship because you are living in disobedience to my commands. Not only are these people oppressing their employees, quarreling, and fighting, but they are also not sharing food with the hungry or caring for the homeless (v. 7). The problem is not that they should change one work (fasting) for another (social justice). Rather, God says one's worship and repentance should match up with how one lives life. The real issue, here, is a heart issue. Someone whose heart is not rendered to God will act unjustly and not love his or her neighbor. Then, when he or she tries to worship through acts like fasting, it is false worship because his or her heart is not given to God as revealed in how he/she lives.

I have been following the Lectionary daily Scripture readings this Lent, which has had me in Jeremiah. Here the people of God again are professing one thing with their mouths while disobeying God with their actions.

"Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Though they say, "As the Lord lives," yet they swear falsely" (Jeremiah 5:1-2).

"I'm sorry," they say to God, yet they continue to disobey. "As the Lord lives" I will do this thing, they say. Yet, they swear with false intentions. "I'm sorry!" the people of God continue to say over and over, yet they worship false gods, intermarry with foreigners who worship false gods, murder, cheat and steal. And this wasn't an issue that stopped with the Old Testament. This was still a persistent problem that even Paul addressed in his letter to the Roman believers.

"You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. ... For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God" (Romans 2:21-23, 28-29).

And now, you would think that after all this time we would not do the same thing that the Hebrews did in the Old Testament and the Christians did in the New. Yet this is a sin we still commit today! We, too, are guilty of trying to trick God with a false repentance. Especially during Lent it is very easy to fast without rendering our hearts to God. We think we will somehow please God by giving up food, Internet, or drink while we continue to disobey Him in our daily lives. We, like Philip who thought he could appease me by saying sorry while still disobeying, think we can appease God by saying, "I'm sorry," but not truly mean it. We think we can substitute loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and our neighbors as ourselves with a false fast or a false "I'm sorry."

During this season of Lent let our fasting match our obedience. Let us turn our hearts over to God so that our worship will not disgust the God whose Son died for us. Instead of being quick to say, "I'm sorry," let us learn true repentance and what it means to honor God with all our lives.

God, I'm sorry for being quick to apologize without truly repenting. Help me to face my own disobedience so that I can turn from it to obedience and honoring You, who died for me. May your Spirit help me in my weakness, and may I not be quick to worship with acts like fasting while dishonoring You in my daily life by not loving my neighbor. May my worship match my life and may you be pleased and glorified in all that I say, think and do. Amen.

My Reward: What Philip Teaches Me About God's Love

IMG_3290 Last night Philip, our 2 year old son, had trouble falling asleep; so he brought his blankets and lovies with him into the living room and asked if I would rock him. How could I say "no" to that? So I gathered him up as well as all his soft things into my arms and rocked him. He fell asleep within 5 minutes but I held onto him for much longer staring at his sleeping face and his little hands and long fingers.

It wasn't until I became a parent that I experienced the indescribable gift and blessing of a child. He's my son. I don't deserve him. Although he can drive me crazy at times and will do things to spite me, he is my great reward. Solomon says this in Psalm 127:3, "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward."

Reflecting on this last night brought to mind another son I didn't deserve. "For God so loved the world (which includes me and you!), that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8). "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

I am constantly reminded when I look at my son the great sacrifice God made so that we might find forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with Him, our Creator through the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Just like I don't deserve my son Philip, I don't deserve what God's Son did for me on a cross. Just like Philip is my great reward, even more so and greater is the reward I have in Jesus Christ.

I cannot imagine giving Philip up for anyone in this world. I simply would not. In fact, I would give myself up before giving him. So the truth that "God so loved us, the world, that he gave his Son" blows my mind. It's an even greater love than I know personally through being a wife and a mom. It's a sacrificial love. And it's a love that Scripture tells us that Jesus agreed to as well. Philippians 2 says that Jesus humbled himself by leaving the throne room of heaven to become man so that "for our sake" he would be made "to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).

Christians have used this time of Lent historically as a time of preparation for Easter. We remember our sins that cost Jesus Christ his life; we repent and reconcile with our brothers and sisters; we spend time in reflection and meditation on Scripture; and we fast. God has given me a gift in Philip for many reasons too numerous to list here. But one of the best gifts is that Philip serves as a daily reminder to me of God's sacrificial love in sending his Son for me as a propitiation for my sins.

I have been given the gifts of two sons: One who died for my sins and who is the Son of God and one who I get to hold and comfort in my arms at night. During Lent I want to encourage parents and non-parents alike to reflect with me on God's Son, on our sins which he came to take away, and on the great, sacrificial love of God.

I want to mention that I was honored to write a blog post for Mommybites.com, which will eventually also be featured on Happy Family's website, that went live today. I don't write much on the topic of motherhood, so it was a joy and a challenge to reflect on something deeply personal and to share it with the world. It was in writing the blog post for Mommybites and reading a post by my very good friend, Leslie Ann, called 5 Things Parenting Taught Me About God, that encouraged me to reflect on my own experience as a mom and what God is teaching me about Himself through this experience.