AT HIS TABLE

“This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” … Anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. [1 Corinthians 11:25b, 27-28 (NLT)]

oregon grapeIn 2009, the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America became full Communion partners. This agreement, while showing respect for each other’s differences, created a relationship based on a common confession of faith and a mutual recognition of Baptism and the sharing of Holy Communion. That the partnership included a mutual recognition of ordained ministers of both denominations meant that a local Methodist church could hire a soon-to-be ordained Lutheran minister. Her ordination, done by the Lutheran bishop, was held in the Methodist church she would be serving. The only sticking point for the rite was the Lutheran Bishop’s insistence that actual wine be used for Communion. Methodists have a strong temperance tradition and this church uses only grape juice. The senior Methodist pastor managed to find an excellent compromise when he obtained a non-alcoholic wine that satisfied both Methodist and Lutheran sensibilities; the ordination went off without a hitch.

A week later, Lutheran and Methodist clergy from around the state attended an ecumenical service to celebrate their new partnership. After numerous speeches and prayers about Christian unity, the service culminated in Communion. There were, however, two cups of purple liquid on opposite sides of the sanctuary. The Methodists were instructed to go left to dip their wafers in grape juice while the Lutherans were directed to the right for the wine! Surely, with all of the great minds who’d put together the celebratory service of unanimity, a better solution (such as non-alcoholic wine) could have been found. Sadly, it wasn’t! The pastor who shared this story still shakes his head at the absurdity of it.

How silly are we? When we come to the Lord’s Table, we don’t come as individuals—as Bob, Mary, Marty, or Deb—nor do we come as Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, or Baptists. We come as brothers and sisters—members of Jesus’s family—members of the body of Christ. Communion is a sign of Christian unity and, in the early church, it was part of a communal dinner—a 1st century version of a potluck supper.

Potlucks, shared meals, covered dish dinners—whatever your church calls them—they’re pretty much the same across the denominations: at least one macaroni casserole, something made with gelatin, deviled eggs, and more desserts than vegetables. Meeting as friends and putting aside our differences, the commonality at a potluck is our love of food! That same sort of unity should happen whenever we eat at the Lord’s Table where the commonality is our love of Jesus.

Transubstantiation, divine mystery, consubstantiation, receptionism, or memorialism; wine or juice; wafers, crackers, or Wonder Bread; intinction, common cup, individual cups, or sealed cups with juice and wafer; taken separately or together, in the pews or at the altar rail—the Bible is rather silent on the “correct” way to take Communion. There really are only two commands: do this in remembrance of Him and examine ourselves before we partake of His meal. He is the Bread of Life; let us always welcome others to His table and celebrate our unity in Christ.

They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. [Acts 2:46-47 (NLT)]

When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. [Corinthians 10:16-17 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

DIFFERENT LISTS

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. [Matthew 1:16 (NLT)]

Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry. Jesus was known as the son of Joseph. Joseph was the son of Heli. [Luke 3:23 (NLT)]

nativity

Writing about the genealogy of Jesus, as I did yesterday, posed a bit of a conundrum. While both Luke and Matthew establish that Jesus is of the house of David, meaning He fulfills the Messianic prophecies, their lists don’t match. It’s not just that Matthew begins with Abraham, goes forward, mentions women, and skips a few generations while Luke starts with Jesus and goes all the way back to Adam. Matthew’s genealogy traces Jesus’s ancestry to David’s son Solomon but Luke’s traces it to David’s son Nathan. They are, however, in agreement in acknowledging the virgin birth; neither genealogy states that Joseph was Jesus’s blood father. Matthew simply calls him Mary’s husband and Luke says that people thought Joseph to be the father of Jesus.

Nevertheless, when genealogy and all those “begats” seem so important in Scripture, what explanation is there for such discrepancies? Most biblical scholars theorize that we are given two different but accurate lines of ancestors. Some say Matthew gives Jesus’s official (paternal) one through his legal father Joseph and Luke gives us His actual (maternal) one through his mother Mary. After all, Joseph was Jesus’s father in name only. While giving a mother’s lineage was unusual, so was a virgin birth! Since there was no Greek word for “son-in-law,” they suggest Joseph was the “son” of Heli through his marriage to Mary who was Heli’s daughter. That both Joseph and Mary could trace their lineage to David is not so unusual; apparently, it was customary (but not required) to marry within your tribe. Since there is no mention of Mary having brothers, she could inherit from her father if she married within her tribe. Some scholars propose this was the case and that Joseph became Heli’s heir by virtue of his marriage to Mary and, therefore, he actually had two genealogies.

On the other hand, I read several articles positing that Luke’s genealogy actually is that of Joseph and Matthew’s is Mary’s! Some scholars believe “the husband of Mary” is a mistranslation of the word aner and should read that a man named Joseph was “the father of Mary.” Giving support to this argument is that, along with mentioning Mary, Matthew also mentions four other women while, in his genealogy, Luke never even mentions her.

Over 2,000 years ago, they didn’t have Ancestry.com or 23andMe kits and we have neither Matthew nor Luke to explain. As a result, even the most knowledgeable biblical scholars merely can speculate about these two lists. As a layperson, I simply ask myself whether small inconsistencies or unanswered questions in the gospels make a difference to me. Whether one or both lists are accurate does not weigh heavily on my belief. Remembering the phrase that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” I don’t base my faith equally on the exactness of every word in the Bible but rather on the truth of the sum of its words and the importance of their message. I firmly believe that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies and was from David’s line; whether he did that through Nathan or Solomon really doesn’t matter. What matters is that “the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” [Luke 19:10]

“For the time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. [Jeremiah 23:5 (NLT)]

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. [Luke 1:31-32 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. [Luke 2:6-7 (NLT)]

red roseIn honor of that first Christmas, the one without decorations, piles of gaily wrapped presents or a feast, let’s try to keep it simple today and tomorrow. It’s not too late to change our plans and readjust our expectations. I’m sure Joseph and Mary didn’t plan on birthing in a stable, but their Christmas was a blessed one even though life didn’t go as they’d intended. Accept in advance that some things are certain to go wrong: guests won’t arrive on time, a gift will disappoint, food will burn, a drink will spill, toys will break, tears will be shed, directions will get thrown away, someone’s feelings will be hurt, and we’ll miss those who are absent. That’s as much a part of this holiday as church, carols, family, prayers, candy canes, laughter, a Christmas tree, and pine-scented candles.

We’re all anxious about Christmas. No one, however, was more anxious than Mary on that first Christmas. She had plenty of reasons to be apprehensive and nervous. She’d conceived miraculously, endured an eighty-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and was in labor in a strange place with no women nearby to reassure or help her. There were no prenatal classes, birthing coaches, monitors, epidurals, fancy birthing rooms, comfy pillows, soft music in the background, warmed blankets, or medical care. Without a doubt, with the sheep and cows as her midwives, she was a frightened young girl. Yet, somehow, through God’s grace, she managed quite well. She had the simplest and most meaningful Christmas celebration ever! Things may not have gone right but they went perfectly—just as God planned!

Thank you, Lord, for the salvation brought to us by a baby in a manger. Tonight, as we celebrate Christ’s birth, please replace our apprehension with anticipation, our anxiety with hope, our chaos with peace, and our stress with serenity. Let there be joy, not sorrow; generosity, not selfishness; and love, not rancor.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God, From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load. [“Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” (Friedrich Layritz)]

All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. [2 Luke 2:18 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NICODEMUS

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. [Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NLT)]

impatiens flowerWhen we think of the Pharisees, we usually think of their hypocrisy and self-righteousness but they started out with good motives. Like us, they simply wanted to avoid sin. I have no doubt that some were well meaning, with high standards and pure motives. Since Jesus was teaching in the Temple, it was only right that these interpreters of the law would want to examine His teachings.

The Pharisee Nicodemus came to visit Jesus one night. Since Jesus seemed to spend his days surrounded by a crowd, the dark of night may have been the only time the Pharisee could meet one-on-one with the rabbi. On the other hand, perhaps he was afraid that others might see him talking to this teacher who challenged the behavior and beliefs of his sect. Nicodemus may have come as a seeker of truth or, possibly, as a spy who was hoping to catch Jesus in some sort of blasphemy. We don’t know his motives, only his questions, the most famous of which was, “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

When Jesus speaks of being born of water and the Spirit, this concept should not have been new to a scholar like Nicodemus. Jesus probably was referencing the above words found in Ezekiel 36 and the Pharisee should have been familiar with them. Yet, the man did not seem to understand that the Messiah would bring spiritual cleansing and a new heart—a new nature—to the people. I can imagine Jesus’s frustration as He rebuked the scholar for not recognizing that Scripture taught the necessity of a new birth by the Spirit. Their conversation ends with Jesus speaking of God’s light and people preferring darkness to light. Still not understanding, Nicodemus leaves in the darkness both of night and of spirit.

The next time we hear of Nicodemus, he’s in a meeting with the Sanhedrin. The Temple guards had been sent to arrest Jesus but, amazed at His teachings and unable to find any cause, they come back empty-handed. As the Pharisees condemn and curse the crowd following Jesus, Nicodemus speaks up: “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” [John 7:51] Could it be that Nicodemus reread the Messianic prophecies and was beginning to understand the meaning of Jesus’s words?

The last time we meet Nicodemus, he is with Joseph of Arimathea. A member of the Sanhedrin and Nicodemus’s friend, Joseph was probably a Pharisee; yet we read that he also was a secret disciple of Jesus. It was Joseph, not the disciples, who asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’s body and it was his tomb that became the brief resting place for Christ’s body. Nicodemus brought seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloe with which he and Joseph prepared the Lord’s body for burial. No longer secret believers, it would seem that both Nicodemus and Joseph moved from the darkness into the light.

The Apostle John tells us that other Jewish leaders believed in Jesus but, fearing they’d be expelled from the synagogue, they kept silent. [12:42] Are we secret believers, keeping silent in the shadows or, like Nicodemus and Joseph, Peter and John, will we boldly proclaim our faith?

So they [the high council] called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” … Then they preached the word of God with boldness. [Acts 4:18-19,31b (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NEITHER ADD NOR SUBTRACT 

Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” [Mark 7:6-8 (NLT)]

Moses - Meiringen - MichaelskircheThroughout Scripture, we find Jesus at odds with the Pharisees, one of the most important Jewish sects of the day. Not priests, the Pharisees were laymen (mostly merchants and tradesmen) who zealously followed Mosaic Law, often by adding non-Biblical traditions to it. Considered interpreters of the law, they were known for their austere life style and vast knowledge. The Pharisees accepted the oral explanations and additions of earlier generations to be equally inspired and authoritative as the written words of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

These oral traditions consisted of highly specific rules and regulations that were based on the belief that, when God gave Moses the written law on Mt. Sinai, He also elaborated on how those laws were to be kept. Unwritten, those explanations became oral tradition. This devotion to oral law developed during Judah’s Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem’s destruction and their exile was God’s punishment for the neglect of His law so it’s understandable that no one wanted to endure God’s wrath again. Restrictions evolved that were designed to “build a hedge” around the Torah and guard against any possible breach of the law, whether by ignorance or accident.

With their detailed laws regarding nearly every aspect of life, the Pharisees were legalists. Jesus didn’t approve of the way they’d replaced God’s simple law with complex man-made laws that placed a heavy burden on the people—a burden that God hadn’t given them. Although work on the Sabbath clearly was prohibited, the Pharisees determined that meant a tailor could not carry a needle stuck in his coat, someone couldn’t carry ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, and no one could spit on the ground because that might make a hole, which would be digging, which would be work! It was the Pharisees who said the disciples had sinned by reaping and preparing food on the Sabbath when they picked heads of grain off their stalks!

Jesus criticized the Pharisees’ devotion to the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law: love of God and love of neighbor. Some of the Pharisees’ man-made rules, such as a loophole allowing people to renege on promises, actually helped them get around God’s law. If someone swore by the Temple or the altar, the oath wasn’t binding but, if someone swore by the gold of the temple or the offerings on the altar, it was! Because of their inability to be consistent in their interpretation of oral and written laws, Jesus compared the Pharisees to the blind leading the blind.

For many Pharisees, there was a disparity between what they professed (righteousness) and what they put into practice (self-righteousness). Jesus certainly didn’t like the gap between what they proclaimed and what they actually practiced and frequently called them out for their pretense and hypocrisy.

There’s much we can learn from the Pharisees: not to be pompous, hypocritical, judgmental prigs is perhaps the most obvious. That we shouldn’t think we can earn heaven by following a false gospel of salvation through works is another. The hardest lesson is probably the most subtle: never to confuse human dogma for Godly doctrine. When we give our personal preferences or denominational rules and traditions equal billing to God’s law, as did the Pharisees, it’s easy to become pompous, hypocritical, judgmental prigs.

Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you. [Deuteronomy 4:2 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ON SANTA’S TEAM

Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns. Don’t hoard your goods; spread them around. Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night. [Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 (MSG)]

santa ornamentThe following is a holiday pass-along story that has made the rounds on the Internet. Years ago, little Jimmy was shocked when his big sister told him there was no Santa. He tearfully went to his grandmother and asked her. Assuring Jimmy that Santa existed and she’d prove it to him, Grandma took him to the local department store. Instead of seeing the store Santa, as Jimmy expected they would, his grandmother gave him $10 and told him to use it to purchase a present for someone who needed one. Alone in the store, the boy pondered who should get a gift and finally decided on Robby, a boy in his classroom. Robby never went out at recess; although he said it was because he wanted to study, everyone knew it was because he didn’t have a warm coat. Jimmy found a brown wool coat, took it to the clerk and asked the price. After telling her he hoped he could afford it since it was a gift for a boy at school who didn’t have a coat, the clerk questioned how much he had. Proudly showing her his ten dollar bill, she told him that was the exactly what the coat cost and bagged it up for him.

Once home, Jimmy’s Grandma removed the price tag, tucked it into her Bible, and helped him box and wrap the coat. That evening the two of them went to Robby’s house. After placing the festively wrapped gift at his front door, they rang the bell and hid behind the bushes. The joy they felt when Robby answered the door and picked up the box convinced Jimmy that Santa did, indeed, exist and that he and his grandmother were on Santa’s team. That little boy is now a grown man and Grandma is gone. When she passed, Jimmy was given her Bible. It was when he found the coat’s $19.95 price tag between its pages that Jimmy realized there had been three on Santa’s team that day.

I remembered that holiday story last month when our church provided fifty-four Christmas shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse. Packed with toys, school supplies, books, clothing, hygiene items, and games, these boxes will bless children in over 100 countries around the world. My husband and I were on Santa’s team while roaming through stores picking out things that a nine-year-old boy and a fourteen-year-old girl would like to find in their boxes, when trying to fit everything into the shoe-box size green plastic boxes, when writing short notes to include with the gifts, and when hearing one woman share her experience of being on a mission trip and meeting Christmas box recipients who told her of the great impact those boxes had on their lives and faith.

As you do your Christmas shopping for family and friends in the coming weeks, why not think about getting on Santa’s team and purchasing some items for those less fortunate. In His parable, Jesus told us that He identifies with those in need—the hungry, thirsty, homeless, impoverished, sick and imprisoned—and when we do something for them, we are doing it for Him. On someone’s birthday, it’s traditional to give him a gift so, when we purchase Christmas gifts for the poor and needy, we’re really buying birthday gifts for Jesus!

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:35-40 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.