Sunday, February 23, 2014

Souvenir Christianity

Last Sunday I shared about our Lord’s Supper service in which we used olive wood cups to serve the juice. I relayed how that after a two and one-half hour time lapse between filling the cups and partaking of the Lord’s Supper that some of the cups had completely absorbed the juice and that the juice having taken on the taste of the olive wood tasted bitter. Each participant took the used cup home with them as a souvenir. When the cups dried however we noticed that the juice had left a crimson stain. No amount of rinsing could wash it away. I noted that these facts reminded me of how we are supposed to absorb Christ and how having absorbed him our lives are changed. If Christ does absorb us we will be stained and that stain is His identifying mark upon us. I noted that the bitter taste of the juice reminded me of the bitter cross Christ had to bear. As followers of Christ we also are sometimes called upon to be involved in bitter work. My friend Pat Pajak told me afterwards that I should have used white grape juice and waited to fill the cups about 30 minutes before the Lord’s Supper service. That way less juice would be absorbed by the cup, it would not take on as much taste from the wood, and the cup would not be stained. That sounds like good logistical thinking. It would be less messy and the people could go home with a less blemished souvenir.  

On the other hand maybe we have just identified a problem of the Christian faith. We engage in to much souvenir Christianity. We have no desire to absorb very much of Christ. We come to worship looking for a small and quick dose of Christ and if we discover we got a little to much we can rinse it off. It does not change us much. Therefore it does not prepare us to taste the bitter cup of suffering nor does it compel us to drink the often bitter cup of service. It is a stainless faith. I guess that kind of faith makes a good souvenir. But it does not identify us and it does not make much difference in the world.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Memorable Lord's Supper

We celebrated the Lord’s Supper last Sunday morning. We served the juice in cups made of olive wood that had been made in Bethlehem. I had bought the cups on my recent trip to Israel with the intent that after using them each partaker could take the cup home with them as a souvenir. It was a different experience with observations worthy of notice. We had filled the cups before the Sunday School hour. By the time we served the cup at the end of the worship time two and one-half hours had lapsed. When I stepped down from the platform to serve the Lord’s Supper I noticed that the olive wood cups had absorbed some of the juice. In fact a few of the cups had completely absorbed all the juice that had been poured into them. It occurred to me that as God’s chosen vessels we are to absorb Christ becoming more and more like Him each day. When we drank from the cup it tasted bitter. The fruit of the vine had taken on the flavor of olive wood. It reminded me of the bitter cup Christ had to drink in bearing our sin on the cross. From a different angle I thought of how the presence of Christ changes the flavor of our lives and how His love and mercy and grace and peace can change the flavor of the world. I thought of how Christ drank a bitter cup in order that the world might taste a sweeter cup. The folks took the now empty and juice saturated cups home with them. I took mine as well and sat it on my desk to dry. When it had dried it was left with a reddish stain. The stain reminds me of Christ’s mark upon our lives. For when we truly absorb Christ we are not the same. We have been changed. We are different. His mark is upon us. That mark is left to remind us of who we are. It is left to cause those whom we encounter to inquire about who we are.

What Should I Do With These Stones?

When I was in Israel I saw a lot of houses made with stone. Timber was scarce in Israel but stones were plentiful. I marveled at the stone structures of antiquity. It required skilled engineering and craftsmanship and an enormous amount of labor to build the theaters and arches and walls and roadways that are still with us today. They managed to turn rocks into an asset and did so without benefit of modern technology. I was amazed at the walls and buildings of Old Jerusalem. How did they get two and a half-ton rocks in place in order to build a high and mighty wall? I saw a rock in the rabbinical tunnel that was part of the retaining wall of the old temple area. It would have been at street level in the day of Jesus. That means I was looking at the same rock Jesus would have seen. It is calculated that it weighs 580 tons. How did they get it there in one piece? I do not know. But the ancients were really good at turning the common materials available into a valuable asset. But when you cut and craft stone there is going to be some waste. That means that somewhere there were piles of sharp, rough, jagged rocks lying around. They were not big enough to be useful but they were big enough to be dangerous. Maybe that is why one of the preferred methods of mob violence was stoning. We read that the Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. It occurs to me that rocks when coupled with intelligence, desire, planning, skill, and hard work can be turned into walls and roads and buildings. But when anger and misunderstanding prevails rocks can be turned into weapons of destruction. We can pick up rocks to build or we can pick up rocks to kill. Makes me wonder what I am doing with the rocks that are strewn along the paths I walk.

Monday, February 10, 2014

At Galilee

I walked one day where Jesus trod
In a village along the shore
I stood upon a sloping hill
Where he preached to five thousand or more

I ventured out onto the sea
Where Peter and John plied their trade
With mine own eyes I saw the place
Where Jesus taught and disciples made

I viewed the hills panoramic
Stoic, stately, still, and compact
From this backdrop He gave meaning
To faith, hope, and love so abstract

I recalled Peter and the others
When a fierce wind they had to face
Then came Jesus on the water
Reaching His hand of saving grace

I thought of how much in common,
Though it has been two thousand years
We have with those who lived in that day
How Jesus still can calm our fears

Jesus did not consider great
Those who held power in their hand
But had respect and compassion
For the weary who worked the land

I was there with many travelers
In their tears I discovered a clue
In each was a burdensome story
They had only told to a few
As I looked upon the marvel
I sensed a word to my hungry soul
Take my yoke upon your shoulders
Together we will reach the goal.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Somewhere Near Here

While traveling in Israel I wrote a poem and shared the poem with our group at our last devotional time in the Jerusalem.

In old Jerusalem near cross and sepulcher
Transgressors and confessors searching for a cure
Weary Pilgrims assembled in this place ornate
Guilty, broken, sad, sickened, from life’s heavy weight

Here we remember how our sin once did molest
How selfish deeds and hateful thoughts God does detest
Yet for us sinners Christ in love performed His grace
His sacrificial work makes this a holy place

Somewhere near here religion organized deceit
They drug him to the pavement to make his end complete
Somewhere near here truth was twisted, justice denied
Somewhere near here, misinformed, crucified they cried

Somewhere near here with cruel whip his back was beat
Somewhere near here Rome drove nails in Christ’ hands and feet
Somewhere near here the savior wore thorns for a crown
Somewhere near here the savior’s blood trickled down

Somewhere near here they punctured a sword in his side
Somewhere near here for our sin our blessed savior died
Somewhere near here, hanging shamefully on a cross
Jesus was sacrificed to restore human loss

Here listening to vile words the crowd did sputter
An announcement of forgiveness he did utter
Here on these grounds the lamb without blemish or flaw
Orchestrated the salvation the Father foresaw

The execution done His body was removed
The task was now completed, the Father approved
In a tomb near here his slaughtered corpse was encased
Still, dead, and buried, His accomplishments erased

For three days in the dark of the earth he did lay
While the Sabbath left His friends to mourn in dismay
But on the third day, somewhere near here, before dawn
There came a rumble and He awoke without yawn
Somewhere near here before the daylights detection
Breath was restored in mighty resurrection
The women and the disciples saw him near here
Then to more than five-hundred he dared to appear
I’m quite impressed with these walls and decorations
But they provoke neither joy nor celebration
For I’m on a journey to see the saviors face
And perhaps that’s the lesson of this wondrous place

For nails, nor cross, rocks, or cave can keep Jesus still
Resurrected our savior moves around at will
He will not be confined to places around here
But where ever we go our living Lord is near.


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