Look At Him

Jesus the Bread of LifeSometimes random thoughts occur to me, and I’m never quite sure where they come from.

This morning when I awakened, the thought was:

“Jesus didn’t say what I’d say if I were hanging on a cross.”

In particular, I realized that probably what I’d be saying over and over again, to those few friends and kinfolk clustered at the foot of my cross would be: “Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me. Don’t, please, don’t look. Don’t remember me this way.”

I wouldn’t want them — especially my mother — to see me naked and shamed and beaten and tortured and condemned.

But I’m not Jesus. As we traditionally order His seven short sayings from the cross, the third one is quite the opposite: “Woman, look at your Son.” And then to John: “Look after your mother.”

He was naked, to be sure, but though He carried all sin to the cross, none of it was His. There was nothing about being naked before all that was shaming to Him. He’d lived His whole life as transparently as humanly possible before everyone around Him.

He was beaten and tortured and condemned, but had done nothing to deserve it:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
~ Isaiah 53:5

In so few words, He revealed so much:

  1. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). He was the sinless sacrifice for sin.
  2. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). He was the embodiment of the righteous Judge.
  3. Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27). He wanted to be looked upon. He loved and cared for family and friends. His last thoughts were for others.
  4. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). He fulfilled prophecy, and called His purpose to our attention by asking.
  5. I thirst (John 19:28). He was fully human. His pain and suffering and dehydration were all real.
  6. It is finished (John 19:30). He had accomplished His mission.
  7. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46). His Spirit was His own to keep or surrender or take back or give away as He pleased.

I believe He wants us to look upon Him as He hangs on the cross. I don’t necessarily believe that is the only way He wants us to remember Him, whether or not we’re gathered at His table, but I do believe He does not want us to forget this pivotal moment in His life, our lives, and all of creation.

Look upon Him there, and see what sin does. Your sin. My sin. All sin.

Avert your eyes if you must, but look upon Him again. This time when you open them, see what else He meant for you to see:

This is what grace means.

Who Are Your Twelve?

Our preparation to move to North Carolina is progressing well — we sold our house here in Little Rock Tuesday to a buyer who requested a closing date that is the same day that we had requested on our new house.

We went to see it on a little vacation trip, and enjoyed a day-and-a-half in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.

I applied and interviewed for a part-time position at the university.

We got acquainted with our new hometowns (Dillsboro, Sylva and Cullowhee) a little bit.

We met people new to us, and made friends over dinner and in prayer afterward last Sunday evening with  another family whom I feel sure will continue to grow closer and more treasured in our hearts.

Now the hard parts: Packing. Leaving. Realizing that it was probably our last family-of-four vacation for at least a long, long time. Helping our son move out of the house and into his apartment today. Saying goodbye to eight treasured friends in our LIFE Group at dinner last night.

As we dined together, I remembered a movie called Joshua where a farewell dinner was given by his friends for a person who has been called to an audience with the pope in Rome … a person who might be a lot more than just a visitor to their small town. Extraordinary things have happened among this group of friends and in their community as a result of the powerful love of this stranger. One of his friends, after the dinner, realizes aloud: “There were twelve of us.”

Last night I was made aware again of how our lives connect with so many others, changing them and being changed by them — but also of how profound those changes can be within a circle of close friends, no matter how different from each other we might be.

It made me wonder again what might happen if — like Christ — believers prayed fervently all night and then formed familial relationships with as few as twelve people … dedicated themselves to exploring His nature and personality together … lived it among themselves and others … prayed for one another from the heart … gave of self, sacrificially … loved deeply.

The movie I remembered starts thoughtfully and well, but I think it ends on a weak note. If I’d written its script, I would have had the character Joshua tell the pope:

“With all due respect, I didn’t come to see you or to satisfy your curiosity. I came to make a difference in the failing faith of twelve people I came to love … to help them experience what it means to believe even when confronted by things you can’t understand.”

My family will have that opportunity to help and be helped in that way when we move in three weeks.

We don’t know whom our twelve might be.

There might be more, or less, than twelve. Some might draw us closer with them to God through His Son than we could have imagined. Some might disappoint or wound us. They might choose us, initially. We might choose them.

But we will choose each other, and we will choose.

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. ~ Luke 6:12-16

Who are your twelve?

What We Know and What We Don’t

You can get yourself into a mess of trouble when you can no longer discern what you know from what you don’t.

For example, we know from Acts 20:7 that the intention of the mission party was to break bread on the first day of the week.

What we don’t know is a lot.

  • Was the term “breaking bread” used exclusively of the Lord’s Supper? Or was it simply indicative of a common meal? Or both?
  • Was the first day of the week the only day that this was done?
  • Was it done every week? (They did stay there seven days, v. 6. Did they also do this on the day they arrived? Does that exclude every other day of the week but the first?)
  • Had the practice become less frequent since the early, daily practice of church gathering in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42ff)?
  • If this was a weekly observance, was this practice unique to Troas?
  • Did they actually break bread on the first day of the week, or was it delayed until after Paul spoke and Eutychus fell from the window (vs. 8-12)? Or was it done both before and after?
  • Was this an example that was intended to be binding as law on the gathered church everywhere forever afterward? Or just a mention of an intention?

When we start saying that this passage of scripture says more than what we know, we’ve drawn a conclusion (or two. Or more). A conclusion may be a possibility, but it is not a certainty. And it is of human origin.

When we start saying that our conclusion is doctrine, God’s doctrine, and therefore law, we’ve gone beyond what the scripture says and have made our worship vain. (Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7, where Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13)

That means we’ve gotten ourselves into a mess of trouble.

It really doesn’t matter how skillfully and scholarly we defend our conclusion; it remains a conclusion we’ve drawn. A theory. An idea.

No matter how conscientiously we observe our conclusion, nor how long — even to the point of it becoming a tradition — it remains a conclusion.

And if we start judging each other based on our conclusions, we’ve gotten ourselves into a bigger mess of trouble.

There are so many passages of scripture which make this principle so clear, I hardly know where to begin. Let’s settle for now with this one, from Paul who was given quite a bit more than just the ability to draw conclusions:

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? ~ 1 Corinthians 4:1-7

As conclusions (or, if you wish to call them something else: interpretations, traditions, issues, disputable matters, whatever) we are free to observe them ourselves in good conscience — to the Lord — by the advice in Romans 14. But the same chapter forbids us from judging another believer, treating him or her with contempt, and putting an obstacle before them over this conclusion we’ve drawn regarding one day being holier than another.

I really don’t think that’s a conclusion I’ve drawn.

I think that’s literally what it says.

Personally — and this IS a conclusion — I don’t believe there is such a thing as celebrating the Lord’s Supper too frequently. If that is indeed what’s described in Acts 2 and Acts 20, then in the former chapter it seems to be done daily and devotedly; in public and in private; in generosity and hospitality; in the good pleasure of both God and man.

This early gathering of saints was heady with the joy of salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the blessing of fellowship together. If our goal as believers is to be like a first-century church, why not Jerusalem at the beginning? If our goal is to be like Christ, how much more like Him could we be in this? What benefits and blessings yet unknown to us might accrue from remembering Him in this unique way at the table?

Every single day.

Reality Bites

I don’t mean to be flippant with this title, but there are moments in life when reality hits you between the eyes — sometimes between the lips — and those moments often impact me during communion.

When that morsel of bread contacts the tongue, yields to being pierced and broken and crushed, the reality of what it represents can be almost too much to bear.

Then it goes inside and becomes a part of us, giving energy and life … it’s bread, the staff of life, you know … and it gives us life to remind us that Jesus wants to live within us and give us life. Not just stingy morsels of life, but abundant life; eternal life. Life to be fully lived, by turning it over to Him.

He serves us this bread, which is Himself. He reminds us that to live life fully, abundantly, you serve others and you serve them yourself.

Then He pours out His blood for us, and we remember it in small measure through the cup. It courses through us and becomes a part of us. It gives us that life, just as it gave Him life when it coursed through His veins, in a way we’ll perhaps never fully understand in this life. But the measure is enough for us to understand that in serving others and serving them ourselves, a small measure may be all we can give but it is never enough; to be like Him, it must be all or nothing at all.

All the body must be given over to service to others; all the blood in the heart; all the will of the mind; all the devotion of the soul. And when we have fed even the least of these, we have fed Him.

It is a reality that bites and gnaws and yearns for us wholly in the tiny morsels of bread and sips from the cup.

But it is His reality.

And it outlasts, outloves and outlives any other.

Eat this Scroll

Twice in scripture – Ezekiel 3 and Revelation 10 – a spokesperson of God is told to eat a scroll containing a prophecy to be proclaimed, God’s Word for His people. God wanted His Word to be taken internally … digested and comprehended and made a part of His spokesperson.

The apostle John tells us in the opening chapter of his gospel that the Word of God for His people is Jesus.

Jesus came to this world, not by whirlwind or meteor, but as a baby laid to rest in a manger. We get our English word “manger” from the French verb manger, “to eat.” Jesus’ mother cradled Him in a food trough. He came to be consumed – consumed by His passion for His Father’s house; for the people He came to populate it with … you and me.

John recounts this zeal for God’s house early in his gospel – chapter two, right after the changing of water to wine – where Jesus drives the selfishness and convenience and animal nature from the temple; where He predicts that God’s temple destroyed He will raise up in three days.

By the sixth chapter, John records Jesus speaking of Himself as the “bread of heaven;” that we should eat His flesh and drink His blood. Whether Jesus is foreshadowing His last supper with his closest disciples, perhaps we can’t know for certain. But all three of the other gospel writers (Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22) agree that Jesus said the bread was His body, and the cup was His blood.

And His servant Paul would later add in his instruction to Corinth (1 Corinthians 11): “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Jesus’ birth, His life, His teaching, His miracles of helping, His death, and His resurrection – these are the gospel; what all scripture points toward. This is Jesus, the Word of God, not in a nutshell … but in a morsel of bread and a sip of the blood of the grape.

Let’s proclaim it together.

Missing Pepperdine; Anticipating the Table

Reading others’ blogs this week has been more of a trial than usual. So many of my favorite bloggers were able to go to the Pepperdine Lectures, and I couldn’t. I went last year, for the first time, and would gladly make it an annual event if it weren’t for the timing.

This weekend was my daughter’s eleventh birthday party.

My involvement minister was in Tennessee to close on his old house there.

My preaching minister, singles minister and our Family Life Center manager all went to Pepperdine.

I look forward to hearing their reactions to it.

I am also looking forward this morning to a worship hour at my home church which focuses solely on meeting Christ at His table.

As far as I know, it will be a traditional celebration with small portions and forward-facing pews. It won’t and can’t be all that you or I or anyone else might yearn for.

At the same time, I believe – as I commented on Mike Cope’s blog recently – if we give our hearts to the table in whatever setting we find it, Jesus will change us there and draw us closer to His own heart.

Thoughts at the Table

(An interim post, so you’ll know I’m okay – and refocusing.)

I shared most of these with my church family Sunday, April 15. I haven’t led thoughts at the Table for more than a year, so I may have said too much. But it never seems like enough when I try to encapsulate the Story in a few words for the centerpiece of our worship together ….

I know a Story that will break your heart.

You know it, too.

About an upright and loving man, torn from His friends in a garden where He had gone to pray for His life … tried, stripped, tortured and finally publicly executed – all because He claimed to be the Son of God.

It happened so long ago, and our world is so full of tragedy, that this would be just another sad tale that wouldn’t break our hearts if it weren’t for the fact that He was, indeed, God’s Son.

And of all the divine teachings He shared, and all the supernatural things He did to confirm it, maybe the most miraculous of all was what He did before those awful things were done to Him.

He stripped to the waist, wrapped a towel around Himself and washed the dirty feet of His closest friends.

He prayed for their unity.

He prayed that His Spirit might fall upon them.

He took the bread of the Passover meal, and when He had blessed and broken and shared it, said: “Take and eat it; this is my body broken for you. As often as you do this, remember me.”

After the meal, He took the cup and blessed it and shared it, saying: “This is my blood of the new agreement between God and man, poured out for you. As often as you do this, remember me.”

Then He surrendered Himself freely to His enemies and the cross.

As we consume the bread and the wine and it becomes part of us, His body becomes ours; His blood flows in our veins; His Spirit vivifies us with life and unity and mission.

We are broken to be kneaded, re-shaped and warmed to usefulness. We are crushed to be distilled for purpose.

And as we are increasingly transformed into His likeness, our hearts are broken again. – Not just by His Story, but by the stories of those around us.

So we share the Story that broke our hearts with others, to break theirs.

We share the life He shares with us.

We share the unity of His body, His church, His kingdom.

And the Story continues.

One and Two at the Table

With earnest economy of words, my older brother in Christ Don Capps led our hearts at the table this morning.

In his inimitable way, he put to scripture something that I’ve long felt in my heart but couldn’t express why: that our time at the table is meant for remembering Jesus’ death, yes; but also His resurrection. Don put it this way:

“Paul’s instruction in I Corinthians 11 was – (1) to proclaim His death … (2) until He comes – in other words, like we just sang, ‘He Lives.’”

Thank you, God, for bringing me closer to Your Son through your servant Don today.

The Moment That Passed

I didn’t know David Wright very well. From the way his close friends prayed for him and cared for him over the long months leading up to his death last night from a brain tumor, I can surmise that he was a good man, good friend, good father. And that he will be deeply missed, as deeply as he was loved in this life.

But I will always treasure a gift that he gave me one Sunday morning during our time at the table.

He had shared a testimony that morning about the support of his brothers and sisters in Christ a few minutes before, and it had been deeply moving. A quiet and somewhat private man, David had undergone something of a personality change at that time; had become more gregarious and outgoing. Perhaps it was the tumor. Perhaps it was the insight that there were more days behind than there could be ahead for him.

So our church sat, as we always sit, while the symbols of Christ’s body and blood were served: uncomfortably upright, heads bowed or gaze straight ahead, eyes averted from each other. And for the thousandth time, I wished for that moment of communion – not only with God, who is always present and welcome in my meditations – but with someone else.

With someone else who understood with me that communion is a gift to share with brothers and sisters, as well as their God.

I yearned for that moment a little like the one at the close of the movie The Right Stuff, when the Mercury astronauts were being honored for challenging outer space at a cheesy dinner, and across the smoky room they shared among themselves a look; an expression of knowing and comprehending it all for having been the only seven to actually go and be there. I wasn’t hungering for the exclusivity or any arrogance attached to it; just the recognition of a kindred soul who understands.

Just about that time – while the cup was being distributed – David’s head turned toward mine and our eyes met. And he half-smiled. And half-nodded.

I returned his acknowledgment, and thanked God for him.

The moment passed. Now David has, too.

But his gift to me remains precious, and always will.

The Carpenter’s Table

There’s a place for the weak and the strong
There’s a place for disabled and able
There’s a place for old and the young
There’s a place at the Carpenter’s Table.

There the rich are seen feeding the poor
And the blind set a place for the sighted
Not a soul is too full or needs more
Not a one feels rejected or slighted.

For the Carpenter’s Table runs long
From the east to the west it embraces
Everyone who is drawn to its Song
Of redemption for all of man’s races.

It’s a Song about working the wood
About smoothing and shaping the rough
About giving as much as one could
And a Carpenter giving enough.

Just before He was nailed to the planks
He would wash the feet of each good friend
Then would serve them a meal and give thanks
For a body and blood without end.

He would give them His Song and His Spirit
He would build them together like timber
Each new friend would be drawn when they hear it
To a table where they could remember.

For each soul who’s had right hewn from wrong
For each one who gives all he is able
For each friend who will sing out the Song
There’s a place at the Carpenter’s Table.

©2006 W. Keith Brenton