Let’s Eat!

We live in a competitive world, don’t we?

We find ourselves competing with other people when we apply for a job. We live in a world where people push others off the corporate ladder to get a rung higher. We can, sometimes, feel the need to put other people down in order to feel better about ourselves. We often find ourselves in places where life is defined by prejudices that separate us into groups of us and them, insiders and outsiders, people who are like me and people who are not like me; and, of course, us, insiders, and people who are just like me are always somehow better, right?

Jesus once hosted a Meal that we continue to share in the Church.

Jesus provides a Table where company presidents kneel beside people who work for them; and where different skin colors, nationalities, and spoken languages can be celebrated as something good. Jesus tears down the barriers that we work so hard to build and to maintain when He calls us to share one Bread and on Cup. People who are homeless and people who live in mansions are called by Jesus to share a meal where everyone is offered the exact same meal in the exact same portion during Holy Communion. People don’t need to put other people down in order to feel better about themselves at the Lord’s Table because, at Meal that Jesus hosts, we are all are precious, valuable and embraced.

We do something very radical every time we share Holy Communion. You might even say that the Eucharistic Feast is a Meal of protest. And right after Jesus calls us to share a meal with each other, He sends us out into the world to live what we have just experienced. What happens at the Lord’s Table doesn’t always make sense in a divided and competitive world. We are not used to living in a world where everyone has value and worth. We are not used to living in a world where people see the face of God when they look into other people’s eyes. We are not used to giving up places of honor that we think we earned. We can draw people toward us when we live what I call a “Kingdom Life,” but we can also drive others away from us. And that’s OK. The stakes are sometimes high!

Living a Kingdom Life that reflects what happens at the Lord’s Table isn’t easy, and that’s why God calls us to come to the Table many times. You might say that, as Christians, we live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal. We are forgiven, renewed, strengthened and fed; and then, we’re sent out into the world to make it a better place. And, after we try our best to do that and when we begin to grow weary and need to be sustained, Jesus calls us back to simple gifts of Bread and Wine where He continues to be found and to the place where we are forgiven, renewed, strengthened and fed once again. And that’s how we grow and how our lives of faith are built by the Holy Spirit. We eat and we are sent. And after we go into the world and try our best to live faithfully in a place that does not always understand God’s plan, Jesus calls us to come back together again and He says to us, “Let’s eat!”

My hope and prayer for you is that you will continue to find times in life when Jesus forgives you, renews you, strengthens you and feeds you. And my hope and prayer is also that, after you’ve been sent out into the world by the Holy Spirit and have tried your best to make it a better place, you will hear Jesus say to you again, “Let’s eat!” We live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal. God bless you!

Grapevines

“I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

I am passionate about grapevines.

I enjoyed swinging from grapevines, like Tarzan, when I was a little boy. My friends and I would cut grapevines off about three feet above the ground; and then, we would jump into the air, grab the severed vines and swing through the trees.

But then, I watched something happen.

The grapevines spread through the woods and engulfed an entire valley. The grapevines climbed their way to the tops of the trees where they could be strengthened by sunlight, and they even killed the trees that were supporting them. I have watched that happen many times as an adult; and I even walk through the woods, once each summer, and cut any grapevines that I find off at the ground to protect the trees behind my home.

I did that, several days ago, and the picture at the top of this post shows the results of my latest efforts. The branches began to wither within hours of being severed from the vine. The grapes shriveled and the leaves turned brown. There won’t be grapes. The branches will be barren and dead in no time. Jesus once said: “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Life ends when branches are severed from the vine.

The Church is going through a tough time, right now. Church attendance is shrinking, and many leaders are both weary and discouraged. Ministries are being scaled back because of financial shortfalls, and rising deficits are eating away at assets that could be invested in new and life-giving ministries. People are both worried and scared. Leaders throughout the Church are brainstorming and are trying to make plans for the future using the best information that they can find and the most up-to-date statistics. But it isn’t working. You can never cut, hack, and saw your church’s way into a new and brighter future.

I believe that, as Christians, we need to trust Jesus.

Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches. Ministry is the fruit. Strong and vibrant ministries hang from the branches of Christian lives that are connected to the Vine. Christians and their churches are sustained and strengthened as people read Scripture, pray together, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and build ministries that are borne in the heart of God. Christians remain strong and ministries remain vibrant when people cling to the Vine which is the Giver of all life and drink from the Well that never runs dry.

Jesus has promised us that the Church, as a whole, will never fail; but Jesus never gave that same promise to individual congregations. Individual congregations are closing their doors for the last time all across America. Christians who are trying to operate their church like nothing more than a business are discovering that the pulse of a thriving Church isn’t going to be found in prayerless business meetings, carefully-engineered strategic plans, and good ideas – as well-intentioned as they might be. The beating heart of our resurrected Lord provides the life-giving cadence. The presence of the Living Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit are the lifelines that God has provided to ensure the Church’s success in ministry. “As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4b)

The shriveled grapevines behind my home reminded me again today that, apart from the Vine, we can to nothing. Churches will thrive again when Christians wake up each day with a burning desire to spend time in the presence of the Lord. New and life-giving types of ministry will be discovered as Christians learn again to listen to the cries of those who need to hear the life-giving message of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Pastors need to live their lives with their source of news in one hand and their Bible in the other. Christians need to be surrounding their pastors and church leaders in prayer every day, and need to prayerfully consider what Isaiah wrote: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’” (Isaiah 6:8)