At the table

I attended a worship gathering years ago in a church where the Holy Spirit got moving.

Well, at least that’s what the preacher said. Have you ever noticed some preachers like to blame the Spirit when their sermons seem to drag on a bit? That’s what happened that day.

I recall deciding I didn’t need to be a 45-minute-sermon preacher. At first, I thought I was chickening out. Then on a Tuesday, someone asked me about something I said on Sunday. I could’ve asked them why they weren’t taking better notes or paying attention. But I didn’t even remember what I said.

So, I cut my sermons in half. Which is actually hard to do. You can’t say everything you want to say about a passage when you slice it down like that. There’s little room for tangents because if you steer toward one, you’re going to lose your listener’s attention.

From time to time, I even preach 6-minute sermons. I kind of think the Holy Spirit moves better when I learn to keep quiet.

But the preacher that day in church blamed the Holy Spirit for stretching the sermon. And here’s what hit me. The preacher then said, “Sorry, church, we ran out of time for Communion. We’ll do that another week.”

Now, this was years ago. So, I’ve already confessed my initial thoughts to God and a few other people. It wasn’t pretty, I’ll just tell you that. I understand there are faith traditions that don’t practice communion as I do. They don’t share my understanding of it either. Our convictions about what it means are different.

But I would never blame my long-windedness on the Spirit, especially if it meant the church would miss out on Holy Communion. In fact, if we are set to have Communion, we are going to have it no matter what.

When I told one of my mentors about this experience, he asked me, “So what does that teach you about what Holy Communion means to you?” That’s just like a good mentor. He took my focus off the church I’ll probably never attend again and onto my understanding of the Lord’s table. I so wanted him to let me have a moment of Lord’s-table-superiority.

He didn’t. He taught me that more than anything I had different expressions of the sacraments. And here I was thinking I had better expressions.

That’s part of what the apostle Paul wanted the Corinthian church to understand. For them, the Lord’s table had become an exclusive party occasion. Their observation of the sacrament didn’t unite the body. It tore it apart. Rich Christians gathered with rich Christians to feast and drink wine. They left nothing for poor Christians. That was not the new covenant Christ proclaimed.

As Jesus reclined with his disciples at the table, he desired their unity. That’s what he prayed for. That’s what he wants for us, too. At the table, God unites us. Our differences of opinion and practice may be important to us. But they are not important enough to God to break our fellowship.

Stay blessed…john

A ride in a luxury car

I remember sitting in a luxury car when I was twenty-something. It was nice. Like you-know-you’ve-made-it nice.

And it wasn’t mine.

My ride was courtesy of one of our church members whose wife was having surgery that day. He hadn’t eaten and she made me promise to make him go get something to eat.

I didn’t say anything about the car. No compliments or squealed observations. I do remember it smelt newer than new. As I navigated, he did a lot of talking. He was nervous. I’m glad he did the talking that day.

That should be my car, I once thought. Of course, with the car should come the house, the other house and all the other corporeal odes to comfort. Those were my goals, my ambition.

“John,” my driver told me, “I’ve worked really hard to get all the things we have. And now I know none of it matters at all. This car is not worth all the trouble I went through to get it. What matters is my relationship with my God and my wife.”

Was he reflecting on his life while driving to lunch? Or was he telling me to get my head out of the clouds?

When that day comes to mind, I remember what St. Augustine said: Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.

In his own way, that’s what my lunch companion was saying.

So many times we try to fill our lives with what we assume will make us happy. The device of restlessness is intermittent happiness. That stuff makes us happy for a while. Soon enough, we need more of it or something else altogether. It’s a perpetual chase.

It’s wearisome.

And it’s nothing new.

The prophet Isaiah’s word to the people of God in Isaiah 30 shows us this. God’s people would pick sides with their enemies. One day they align with them against another enemy. The next they form another alliance. Their trust and security would be in the latest partnership they made. Not in their identity as God’s people.

Isaiah warned them their rejection of God would lead them into trouble. If only they would learn that “in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

If only God’s church today could learn the same lesson.

When will we confess our weariness at seeking more than Christ alone? We seem to get more excited about the shiny toys of worship and ministry than we do the grace of God. And what do we have to do and keep doing to get all those lustrous toys? Better, what are we not doing because we’re too busy doing that?

Riding to lunch in that luxury car made an impact on what I want (or don’t want) for my life. And God has shown me the impact it could have on our walk with God, too.

Can you see it?

Stay blessed…john

Tell me about it

Let’s practice talking about how good God has been.

To be sure, it’s less a skill than it is an outpouring of our soul. It doesn’t take a whole lot to do. But it does seem to take a lot to get started. Once you’re in the habit of talking about God’s goodness, you find it easier to do.

Worship lessens the effort needed.

When you’re focusing your heart on God through prayer and praise, thinking of how you’ve experienced God’s grace is painless. It almost feels natural.

I try to get worshipers talking in worship. Talking to each other about God. I’d love to be singing one Sunday morning and glimpse two believers sharing testimony and praying with each other. Several of you, at some point, have known me as your pastor. Did you notice how much I tried to get you to testify?

To voice your testimony? To stand up and tell the rest of the church how God has blessed you? That’s the kind of talking in church we need more of. If God is so good, tell us about it.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

We need to hear how God is moving in your life. We need to know what faith lessons you have journeyed through. What the Lord has taught you, we need to learn, too.

Many of the redeemed are hesitant to testify.

I’m not sure there’s a single reason. It may have to do with shyness or fear of ridicule. Maybe people will judge what I say the way I judge what other people say–that’s something else we’ll need to address later.

Aversion to testimony may be engrained in our tradition. I can’t tell you how many people pride themselves on this. Parents expected children to sit still and in silence during worship. Maybe that helped us feel like we had order. But now no one wants to say anything.

Learning to testify to the church prepares you to testify to the world.

When you can freely speak of God’s goodness to your church family you’ll get more comfortable finding ways to do so with people you meet who are not a part of God’s church. All of this is part of what Paul had in mind when he talked about living for the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:12).

Not only that, learning to talk about God’s goodness helps put everything else in life in its proper place. You can see better through difficult seasons and valleys. Your priorities transform. The life of redeemed people is fulfilled because they are filled with praise of God.

Stay blessed…john