IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIM – Maundy Thursday

When the time came, Jesus sat down at table, and the apostles with him. ‘I have been so much looking forward to eating this Passover with you before I have to suffer,’ he said to them. [Luke 22:14-15 (NTE)]

butterflyChristians call it the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Table, the Sacrament, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist; some denominations consider it a “sacrament” while others call it an “ordinance.”  While they may not agree on what to call it, they do agree that, during that last supper with His disciples, Jesus instituted or ordained its practice when He shared bread and wine, said the elements were His body and blood, and instructed the disciples to repeat the ceremony in remembrance of Him.

That was a Passover dinner and, on any other Passover, Jesus may have held up the matzo symbolizing Israel’s suffering, slavery, and privation in Egypt and said, “This is the bread of affliction our fathers ate in Egypt.” The night he was betrayed, however, Jesus held up the bread and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” On any other Passover, Jesus might have raised the Passover cup and said, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” That night, however, He lifted the cup and said, “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.”

What Jesus didn’t do that night was give step-by-step instructions regarding this rite of remembrance and there is disagreement across the denominations about the exact meaning of the elements and the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and hows of doing communion. Whether we agree or disagree over the theological details, we all probably agree that we miss coming together at the Lord’s Table during this time of social distancing. Sheltering in place, however, shouldn’t keep us from partaking in the Eucharist; it just means that we have to do it differently.

As we struggle to worship in a world where we can’t gather as a church, let us remember that the church is not a building. Altars, altar rails, chalices, patens, and specific wafers weren’t mentioned by Jesus the night he was betrayed. He didn’t say that priests or ministers were required nor did he specify songs, prayers, or method of receiving the elements. Read the gospel accounts. Jesus was at a table eating the Passover meal dinner with His friends when, with just a few well-chosen words, He instituted the Eucharist as a way of remembering Him!

Palm Sunday, while watching the on-line service, our church had Holy Communion. Using whatever we had in our kitchens, people gathered in front of their computers, tablets, and smartphones, prayed over the elements, and partook of this holy and blessed sacrament in remembrance of Him. The bread we used ranged from Triscuits, Ritz crackers, and saltines to pita, sour dough rolls, or Wonder Bread. For wine, we used whatever we had; for some, that was wine or grape juice and, for others, it could have been lemonade or water. Our purpose was to remember Jesus and we remembered Him with what we had!

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, the day Christians throughout the world commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of Communion. Even without an official service, my husband and I will partake of this sacrament in much the same way the early church did: in the context of a meal with a little bread and wine. We will remember Jesus, not just for what He did on the cross, but for who He was and is: our friend, Savior, Lord, and King! Won’t you join us? No matter how far apart we may be from each another, the body of Christ is one in Spirit!

We offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him. [The Book of Common Prayer (1979)]

On the night when the Lord Jesus was betrayed, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body; it’s for you! Do this as a memorial of me.’  He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes. [1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” [Esther 4:14b (NLT)]

balloon over serengettiAlthough the book of Esther never mentions God by name, His fingerprints are found throughout the story as it illustrates God’s providence in human affairs. The Jews were in captivity in Persia and the Persian King had banished the queen. Along with all the other beautiful virgins in the land, the young Jewess Esther is taken to the King’s harem. She finds favor with the king and is declared queen while the evil Haman plots the massacre of every Jew. When Esther’s cousin Mordecai requests her help in begging for the king’s mercy, she hesitates out of fear. Reminding Esther that she isn’t exempt from Haman’s evil plot, Mordecai asks, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

I thought of Haman’s question as churches around the world struggle to provide worship and study opportunities during this crisis. By the time our church, Coastal Fellowship Church, was a year old, we’d developed a free App providing more than calendar, prayer requests, devotions and online giving. Through strategic partnerships, it provided preschool video Bible adventures and material from the Bible Project that now includes videos on reading Scripture, the Bible’s books from Genesis through Revelation, wisdom topics, and a word study. More recent offerings include a number of short videos showing where sports and faith connect and two series from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

At the time, I’m sure people wondered why a church like ours – brand new, without a building, with minimal financial support, and a small congregation of mostly senior citizens (some of whom still use flip phones) – became so committed to 21st century technology and developing an App. Our pastor felt God’s call to do an App and, as he led, the congregation, without clearly understanding its importance, followed in obedience to God’s urging. If anyone wondered why we did it, the last few weeks gave us the answer. Rephrasing Mordecai’s words, “Who knows if the App was developed for just such a time as this!”

We didn’t know over a year ago that online resources and platforms would be essential to serving the Church during this global pandemic. Distanced geographically, we remain connected by faith. We are a global church serving a global God and the App allows us to do just that!

The technical expertise acquired while creating the App enabled us to stream services within a few days’ time and develop a permanent platform for services and Bible study by the second week. Because the App received 30 awards for everything from logo to video and animation, it’s had international exposure; available on several platforms, there have been 40,000 downloads from all over the world. The strategic partnerships that started with the App led to more partnerships, including one with N. T. Wright, and expanded our offerings to better serve the global community. Our first Sunday service was viewed by people throughout the world with 2,182 viewings in the first week! What’s really important is that 88% of those viewers watched the entire service! (I’m not sure 88% of a congregation stays awake during a live sermon!)

As mortals, we don’t know God’s long range plans; even if we did, we wouldn’t understand them. Joseph didn’t understand why he ended up a slave in Egypt until he saved his entire family from famine. Moses didn’t know why he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter until God spoke to him from a burning bush. David didn’t know why he kept doing target practice with his sling until he came face to face with Goliath. Esther didn’t understand why she became queen until she saved an entire nation and I never knew that sending a daily Bible verse to a few women would morph into a daily devotional. Even though we don’t see God’s vision, like Abraham, we follow His lead. Once we get wherever God has taken us, we’ll know why we’re there. God will tell us, “For just such a time as this!”

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. [Hebrews 11:18 (NLT)]

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NO QUID PRO QUO

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

persicaria maculosa - redshankWe recently heard a great deal about quid pro quo, a Latin phrase which means “something given or received for something else.” Although every bribe is a quid pro quo, not every quid pro quo is a bribe and there’s nothing inherently wrong with giving something to get something in return. After all, a quid pro quo occurs every time we exchange money for goods at a store! When Jesus gave us what we know as the Golden Rule, however, He didn’t mean quid pro quo. He expects us to give while expecting nothing in return or pro bono, meaning “for the sake of the greater good.”

After quoting Matthew 7:12, another abundance exercise told me to “Let someone ahead of you in traffic.” When I received the task, it was high season here and the roads were clogged with snowbirds and spring breakers—all of whom seemed to have left their driving manners at home! Nevertheless, I willingly yielded the right of way in a roundabout to a driver who should have yielded to me.

Unfortunately, as people cope with the new normal of this pandemic, rather than the “Golden Rule,” a sort of “Me first!” mentality has set in, not just on the roads, but everywhere. Ignoring the government’s specific request to do their part in protecting the most vulnerable, spring breakers have packed restaurants, bars, and beaches while partying shoulder to shoulder en masse. Granted, the young are less likely to die from COVID-19, but they can pass it on to those at greater risk, including our first responders and health workers who selflessly put themselves at jeopardy for the greater good! It’s not just the young; in spite of requests not to hoard, store shelves are picked clean as people grab case after case of paper goods and soap. Sadly, along with every story of spirit and generosity, we find another one of people selfishly putting their wants above the good of their community with things like price gouging and excessive shipping fees. Some casinos, exempt from state orders, have irresponsibly chosen to remain open while equally irresponsible people are gathering there!

Even when it just entails yielding the right of way to another driver, doing unto others as we would have done to us is easier said than done. While extending grace to family or friend is relatively easy, extending it to strangers often depends on convenience, mood, or the possibility of quid pro quo. Jesus, however, tells us to love others as he loved us, which is sacrificially—expecting nothing in return—pro bono.

Sacrificial love entails far more than letting someone into traffic. While we need a generosity of spirit in all places and at all times, if ever there was a time we desperately need the Golden Rule, it is now! Our response to God’s grace must be to extend His grace to others, not because we benefit from it, but because we should. Rather than our good, let us consider the greater good! May His Spirit enable us to treat others as we want to be treated: with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

Nobody should seek their own advantage, but the other person’s instead. [1 Corinthians 10:24 (NTE)]

Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:3-4 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SPEAK

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. [Mark 16:15 (ESV)]

zebra longwing butterflyMy latest exercise in learning how to live the abundant life promised by Jesus was both easy and difficult: I was to speak to one person about God, even if all I said was, “God is good” or “God loves you.” Since I write about God five days a week, said “God bless you!” to a friend, and talked about God with my pastor, I figured I was done, except I knew I wasn’t.

As with every abundance exercise I’ve been given, I wondered how this task led to an abundant life. When I took notice of God’s incredible creation in the first exercise, I joined the Psalmist in praise, thanksgiving, and worship. The second exercise entailed both acknowledgement of my sin and forgiveness, the third and fourth required me to encourage others and to be kind while expecting nothing in return. With last week’s assignment of sacrifice and this one of speaking about God, a common thread began to emerge: abiding in the Lord. Since we can’t abide in Him without being obedient to Him, each exercise involved obedience to His word. Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that obedience brings blessings—both to us and to others. The abundant life Jesus gives us is only realized when we truly are obedient to Him: when we abide in Him and He is us.

Obedience often means stepping out of our comfort zone and this exercise took me out of mine. Although talking about God with other believers and writing about Him in my blog fulfilled the letter of the assignment, it didn’t fulfill its spirit. Blessing someone when they sneeze or adding, ”God’s peace and joy,” to an email may be a start but they’re not the end of our Christian witness. Even though we’re called to proclaim the gospel to the world, many of us are hesitant to do that and our reticence is what prevents us from enjoying the richness of our faith. “To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in this world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth,” are the words of evangelist Charles Spurgeon. His words tell us that he knew what it was to experience the abundant life in Christ; it’s “heaven here upon earth!”

It is our commitment to Jesus that brings His blessings and true commitment requires obedience, even when that means stepping forward in witness. We are blessed by God when we bless the lives of others and I can’t think of a better way to bless someone than to share the gospel message of God’s love and forgiveness. Obedience—abiding in Jesus and He in us—is the key to an abundant life of blessings.

It is the greatest pleasure of living to win souls to Christ. [Dwight L. Moody]

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. [Deuteronomy 28:1-2 (ESV)]

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” [Luke 11:28 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NEVER A STRANGER

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! [Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT)]

butterfly weedThe story has been told of a shoemaker who dreamt that Jesus would come to his shop the following day. His dream was so realistic that he washed his shop windows and dusted every shelf in preparation for his holy guest. The man patiently waited at his bench for the Lord to arrive but the only person to come through his door that morning was an old man seeking shelter from the icy winter rain. When the cobbler looked down at the man’s wet feet, he saw toes poking out of his beat-up shoes. Selecting a new pair of shoes, the shoemaker sat the old man down, dried off his feet, gave him a fresh pair of socks, and fitted him with the new shoes. When the rain stopped, the old man went on his way.

Just about lunchtime, a shabbily dressed woman came into the store and asked if she could stay just long enough to get warm. When the cobbler opened up his lunch box, he saw the woman hungrily eyeing his sandwiches. “I’m not really hungry,” he said as he offered her his lunch. After the woman had eaten, warmed up, and departed, the shoemaker continued to wait for Jesus but no one else came through the door. As the disheartened man closed up shop that evening, he heard a child crying. Looking down, he saw a small boy huddled in the doorway. The tearful child explained that he’d gotten hopelessly lost while running errands. He knew his address but he didn’t know how to get there. Although the cobbler wanted to get home for dinner, he wiped the youngster’s eyes and nose, took his hand, and escorted him home.

After returning the boy to his family, the disappointed man turned back toward his shop and said a silent prayer of despair. “Lord, I was so sure you’d come—so sure that I’d see your face at my door! Where were you?” It was then that He heard a gentle voice tell him, “Shoemaker, lift up your heart. I was right there at your door three times today. You clothed me, fed me, and comforted me! Don’t you know that when you did those things to my children, you did them to me?”

The Rule of St. Benedict, written in 516 by Benedict of Nursia, is a set of instructions for monastic living that has served as a guidebook to Christian discipleship for 1,500 years. Benedict opened chapter 53 with this statement, “All guests to the monastery should be welcomed as Christ, because He will say, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in.’” Just as Benedict directed the monks to see Christ in their guests, so we must see Christ in the people we encounter. Like the cobbler’s visitors, that person may look like an expense, interruption, or inconvenience; nevertheless, he is Christ. Our fictional cobbler welcomed three strangers at his door and received Christ as his guest. While becoming Jesus to others and seeing Jesus in others isn’t always easy, that’s what we’re called to do. Let us serve the Lord with gladness!

I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus. [Mother Teresa]

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me! [Matthew 25:35-36,40 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SECRET KINDNESS

deptford pink flowersDo nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [Philippians 2:3-4 (RSV)]

While we usually think of charity as giving to the poor, Biblical charity means love or agape: absolute love of God and universal good will to men. Not limited to gifts of money or goods, charity is any act of kindness or generosity to others. Perhaps Paul gave us the best definition of charity in his words to the Philippians—charity starts with caring for others more than we care for ourselves!

My next exercise in learning how to live an abundant life was one of charity, with the additional element of anonymity; I was to secretly do something kind and not get caught! This seemed better suited for another century when people left May baskets on doorstep. Nowadays, with surveillance cameras at every doorway and corner, it’s difficult to do anything without getting caught (and possibly shot)!

While I’d like to think we all regularly do kind things, we usually don’t keep our actions secret. “Kindness is the law of Christ’s kingdom,” said preacher Matthew Henry and our motivation for any kindness should be our desire for God’s approval rather than man’s. Nevertheless, we rarely make anonymous donations to charities and we often point out favors we’ve done so they don’t go unacknowledged! When Jesus said to keep the left hand from knowing what the right has done, he was telling us to keep our giving a secret. [Matthew 6:1-4] This exercise of doing a secret kindness, albeit a small one, was a way to understand what He meant. As Matthew Henry explained, “Do it because it is a good work, not because it will give thee a good name.” Giving, whether of money, goods, or good turns, is not a spectator sport.

I wondered how this exercise in anonymous kindness would lead to better experiencing the abundant life promised by Jesus until I remembered Jesus’ words found in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” The blessings given to us from God are far greater than any we could possibly give and yet it appears from His words that our blessings depend on the generosity of our spirit. Jesus, however, never promises those blessings will come back in kind. Leaving someone a May basket doesn’t mean we’ll get a basket on our doorstep and writing a check to a charity doesn’t mean we’ll get a larger check in tomorrow’s mail. Nevertheless, Jesus promises that we’ll get back more than we give. When we freely give of our love, joy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and grace while expecting neither recognition nor acknowledgement, God will refill our stockpile until it overflows. That is abundance!

If you want love and abundance in your life, give it away. [Mark Twain]

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:8 (RSV)]

 One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. [Proverbs 11:24-25 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.