The Best Meal of All

Monday, April 25, 2011

Many people leave church on Easter Sunday and head for a family gathering over food. Roland and I usually do, too. But this year our children weren't able to come home, and Roland's sisters went to Missouri to spend the weekend with his parents. Since the choir sang once on Friday and twice on Sunday, I couldn't go, and Roland chose to stay home with me. So we spent Easter alone together.

Well, not really.

We spent Easter morning with God's family and shared a banquet with them. A banquet prepared by God himself.

God invites us to the best meal of our lives. The appetizer was God's promise to send a Messiah, the soup is internal peace, the salad is faithfulness, the main course is Lamb seasoned with love and forgiveness, the dessert is heaven, and the wine that flows freely throughout the meal is grace.

Yes, Roland and I like to spend Easter Sunday with our biological family, but that isn't what Easter is about. It's about being with God's family and sharing the best meal of all. A meal we are still eating.

Won't you join us?

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

A Mountain-Top Experience

Monday, April 18, 2011

As Christians, we use the phrase "mountain-top experience" to refer to an emotional high: often one where we feel especially close to God.

The Bible is full of mountain-top experiences, literally as well as figuratively.

Imagine how Noah and his family felt when the flood waters began receding and the ark came to rest on a mountain. Think of the awe Moses experienced in his mountain-top encounters with God: on Mount Horeb as a voice came from a burning bush, on Mount Sinai as Moses received the Ten Commandments, and on Mount Pisgah as God showed him the lands the Israelites would possess. Or the adrenaline rushing through Elijah when God defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.*

The mountain-top experiences continued in the New Testament. Again, imagine the emotional high the disciples must have felt when they looked out at the crowd that filled nature's auditorium during the Sermon on the Mount. Picture the awe on Peter's face as he saw Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration.**

But there are two mountain-top experiences that don't fit the pattern.***

After celebrating the Passover with his disciples on Thursday, Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives and pled with God to take away the agony Jesus knew was coming. He was still there when he was betrayed and arrested.

Then came Friday. We often picture Jesus dying on top of a rolling green hill, the central figure with a cross on each side. While the Bible says he was crucified at the place of the skull, called "Golgotha," we don't know exactly where that was. It probably wasn't the pastoral setting of the old hymn and children's drawings. Still, Jesus was crucified just outside the walls of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem itself was (and is) perched on a mountain. There Jesus cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" And there Jesus died.

Not my idea of a mountain-top experience.

But that doesn't change the fact that it was one.

If a mountain-top experience occurs when we are closest to Christ, how much closer can we get than these times when his humanity was at its height? On the Mount of Olives, his humanity made him want to escape the horror that lay ahead. As he hung on the cross, his humanity felt the separation from God that, to me, is the essence of hell.

So why did he do it? For me. And for you.

Or, as I recently heard in a radio sermon, he did it because God's divine nature demanded it. Because God is just, he must have justice. I'm grateful that he executed it on himself rather than on me.

And that's a true mountain-top experience.

* See Genesis 8:1-5, Exodus 3:1-6, Exodus 19:1-20:21, Deuteronomy 34:1-6, 1 Kings 18:20-39.

** See Matthew 5:1-8:1, Matthew 17:1-8.

*** See Matthew 26:36-56 (the Garden of Gethsemane is on the Mount of Olives), Matthew 27:45-50.

So Near, Yet So Far

Monday, April 11, 2011

Crystal City, Missouri and Maeystown, Illinois are on opposite sides of the Mississippi River. Although they are only ten miles apart, you have to drive a horseshoe to get from one to the other. That's because there are no bridges in the approximately 60-mile stretch between St. Louis, Missouri, to the north and Chester, Illinois, to the south. So near, yet so far.

My 91-year-old mother was living alone in her own home, driving herself to church and the senior center and the grocery store. Then she had a minor stroke. Minor, but enough to change her unassisted walk into a wheelchair ride and her independence into dependence. It also moved her to an assisted living facility five miles away. Only five miles, but she can't even visit the house on her own. So near, yet so far.

One of my writing friends spent many years in Africa as a missionary. After a recent stint in the U.S., she looked for another opportunity to return to the mission field, and she thought she found it in an African country where she hadn't served before. She spent her own money to travel there, stay in temporary housing, and take lessons to learn the language and the culture. But the sponsorship she had been promised didn't materialize. And since her visa is almost up, she may have to return to the U.S. So near, yet so far.

These days even near isn't close enough. We want here. Now. We've lost the gift of patience. Or at least I have.

And I want it back.

So here's another way to view things.
  • If there were a bridge between Maeystown and Crystal City, travelers would miss the beauty they find along the current route.
  • Without the loss of her independence, Mama wouldn't have met new people and enriched their lives.
  • Some day my friend will look back on this experience and say, "Oh, THAT's why."
So near, yet so far? Maybe.

Or maybe the distance is just right.

God Looks at the Heart

Monday, April 4, 2011

This is the second of the two devotions I mentioned last week.

* * *

The first meeting between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy breeds instant contempt. When Elizabeth sits on the sidelines for want of a partner, their host suggests that Darcy dance with her. Apparently not caring whether Elizabeth overhears him, Darcy replies, "'She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me, and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.'"

In Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, both main characters display each of the traits that make up the title. Darcy thinks himself above Elizabeth in station and breeding, and he judges her by her often foolish family. When he finds he cannot ignore his feelings for her, he proposes, but he tells her that he is doing it against his better judgment. His words and actions show that he still believes himself superior to her.

Elizabeth, in turn, prides herself on her discernment of other people's characters, yet she judges Darcy by his unflattering comments and haughty demeanor. The prejudice that begins with first impressions grows when she meets Lieutenant Wickham, who tells her that Darcy refused to give him the living promised by Darcy's father before the older man died.

As the novel progresses, the reader realizes that Elizabeth and Darcy have misjudged each other. Elizabeth has reversed the roles of hero and villain, and she discovers Darcy's generous and kind heart only after Wickham elopes with her younger sister.

In the meantime, Darcy meets Elizabeth touring his estate. Her foolish mother and younger sisters are not with her, which gives him a chance to get to know her for herself. As he does, he realizes that her breeding and intelligence are as good as or better than those of his own friends and relatives.

The two main characters learn a valuable lesson: don't judge people by outward appearances. This is the same lesson that Samuel learned when God told him to anoint one of Jesse's sons as Israel's second king. The oldest son, Eliab, looked the part, so Samuel thought he was the one. But God rejected each of Jesse's sons until he came to the youngest, David.

You may think you are too young or too ordinary or too sinful to serve God, but you are wrong. What the world thinks of you doesn't matter to Him. He looks straight into your heart.

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. I Samuel 16:7 (NIV)