A Strange Communion Indeed

“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1).

Yesterday I told you about an encounter with the Lord I experienced during a time of Communion. A few months after this experience I was in England for a meeting with church leaders, hosted at Holy Trinity Brompton in London. 

During one of the session breaks, I strolled downstairs to the “catacombs” for a refreshment.  I noticed something off in the corner of a storage area and took a closer look.  It was an elaborate wood carving of the Last Supper, dating from the 18th century.  However, parts of it were broken, which accounted for its being in storage.  Holding it gave me mixed feelings — a sense of reverence over how old it was, a sense of regret over how damaged it had become, and a sense of intrigue over the strange appearance caused by the missing pieces.

First, and most obvious, the Lord was not there!  A haunting gap existed in the center of the table where one expected to see Jesus.  This created an interesting image — two groupings of disciples, huddled together and talking apart from the other group. 

Finally, the two figures on opposite ends of the table completed the strange sight:  Both were missing their heads!  I was very fascinated with this broken work of art, but even more so after I sensed the Holy Spirit say to me, “When the Lord is not present, the disciples become divided and lose their heads.  They end up in storage, covered with dust.” 

last supper divided

There was a time when I would have looked at this broken sculpture and not even have given it a second thought, or maybe I would have at most expressed dismay at someone’s negligence for breaking it. But the Holy Spirit used it to catch my eye, and when I looked I heard the Lord speak to me. 

Do you see how a simple occasion of life can become an opportunity to have a conversation with God?  I was merely wandering about in a church basement when I came upon a “conversation piece” that the Holy Spirit wanted to talk about!

Even though God speaks this way to all of us, some people never hear the message.  Preoccupied with the cares of life, pierced through with the deceitfulness of fleeting riches and carnal pleasures, they have eyes but they do not see; ears have they but they do not hear nor understand. 

They “cannot see the forest for the trees.” 

Therefore Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’ In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: `You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them’” (Matthew 13:13-15). 

Jesus expressed His bewilderment with Nicodemus over this very matter, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (John 3:12). 

Perhaps we are like Nicodemus, looking unto the heavens for the secrets of life while dismissing the ordinary things of earth which speak those secrets to us everyday. What “parables” might the Lord use to speak to you today? What earthly things might He use to show you something heavenly?

“Which Disciple Are You Most Like?”

“When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.” (Matthew 26:20)

During a time of worship I stood at the communion table looking at a copy of DiVinci’s  famous painting of the Lord’s supper. In my quiet thoughts I found myself asking, “James, which disciple are you most like?”

I reflected for a moment and realized, “There are times when I am like each one of them.”  It is the truth.  Looking at that painting, my eyes were opened by the Lord to see things in myself I could not deny. 

The Last Supper DiVinci

Sometimes I am like John, reposing with my head at Jesus’ heart. Other times I am like Peter, impetuous and outspoken. I have been dramatically converted as Matthew, the former tax-collector.  Yet, there are times when the doubts of Thomas take a distant second to my own, making him appear as a great man of faith. Like Andrew, I have brought others to Jesus, and on the other hand like James and John, the sons of thunder, I’ve wanted to call down fire from heaven upon those who reject the Lord. 

I, like Nathaniel, have often questioned those who have spoken the word of the Lord to me, and many times I’ve completely missed the point of what the Lord was saying to me, just like Philip.  I have known the obscurity of Simon, James the lesser, Thaddeus and Bartholomew.  And, yes, I have been a Judas on more than one occasion — denying the Lord and betraying Him before His enemies.  

Humility swept over my soul as I stood before the communion table.  The one I wanted most to be like was Jesus, and yet I was so much like all the others.  The Lord said, “That is why I have invited you to drink of My cup.”

Tomorrow I will pick up on this and tell you what happened next.

The First Five

“Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1:35-37).

John preached and two men followed Jesus. Over the next several days, three more would add to their company. When we look at those five men who first came to be followers of Jesus, we discover a most interesting thing. We see the diverse way in which the Lord brings us to Himself. And in this quintet of early disciples, we discover at least five ways that God’s Spirit works to influence us today as followers of Jesus.

The First Five DisciplesThe first two disciples, Andrew and John, represent the first two ways the Holy Spirit works in our hearts today – the Scripture, and the Preaching of the Word. They heard John preach, and followed Jesus. It still happens this way today. Some respond because they read a passage of Scripture that ignites their hearts with faith. Others hear a sermon that moves them to repentance.

Peter, the third to follow, represents those who come to Christ through the influence in the home; it was Andrew, Peter’s brother, who brought him to Jesus. Perhaps someone in your family has helped you find your way into the Savior’s arms.

Philip follows as the fourth. We are told that Jesus found him, and said “Follow Me.” Philip represents those who mysteriously, and unmistakably hear the voice of the Lord calling to them in the depths of their own soul – and they respond.

Finally, we come to Nathaniel, a devout man of faith who was brought to Jesus when Philip went and found him, saying, “Come and see.” Nathaniel represents those who come to Jesus through the influence of friends who care about them.

As you reflect upon your own story – how did Jesus bring you to Himself? To be sure, once we fully follow the Lord we will have rich experience in all these many ways that He speaks to our hearts; but which one was the first for you?

For me, it was the mysterious, unmistakable hearing of God’s voice speaking personally to my heart. Yes, I had read many Bible stories and heard multiple sermons – but yet I was not moved by these things to become a follower of Jesus. There was no family influence for me either, for my family was broken and scattered. Nor was there any friend who sought me out with the glad news of a Savior’s love. Still, I am a follower of Jesus today – because He sought me out and called me to Himself.

And you know, He is doing the same for you – one way, or another!

“Why One Mouth, and Two Ears?”

“Let every man be swift to hear, and slow to speak” (James 1:19).

On more than one occasion Jesus reprimanded His disciples for their dullness of hearing and slowness of heart. “Can’t you understand?” He asked them. “Is your heart too hard to take it in? Your eyes are to see with – why don’t you look? Why don’t you open your ears and listen? Don’t you remember anything at all?” (Mark 8:17-18, Living Bible).

food court chatterThe apostle James was moved of God to write in his epistle to the early Christians this familiar charge, “Let every man be swift to hear, and slow to speak” (James 1:19).

And it is still the same today as it was with the first disciples in Galilee. A stupor lingers in the hearts of many believers, blocking their discernment and appreciation of spiritual things. As a result more than a few are slow to listen to the word of the Lord.

The hectic pace of our modern world seems to have made listening a lost art and replaced it with “much ado about nothing.”

Take note of the next conversation you have and see how much of it consists of you actually listening to what the other has to say. Go a step further and watch individuals as they are absorbed in conversation. It should not surprise you to find that the majority of people would rather hear themselves than to contemplate what another has to say.

Indeed, as some wise guy said, “to entertain some people all one needs to do is listen!”

Permit me to slightly alter a familiar nursery rhyme: “Old Mac Donald loved to hear the sound of his own words, and if he ever caught your ear that’s all you ever heard! With a yak-yak here, and a yak-yak there. Here a yak, there, yak, everywhere a yak yak…..!” Now, repeat the verse over and over and over again, and multiply it by 1000. The sound you will come up with is the noise that fills the air each day as we engage in the cacophony of food-court conversations.

The real problem is that not only do we seldom listen to one another, but even less do we listen to God. Someone cleverly observed that God gave man two ears and one mouth that he might listen twice as much as he speaks. What a great idea.

May Samuel’s childlike prayer become my own, even unto my aging years, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant is listening.”

Shift Happens

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

A car cannot stay in first gear – unless it really isn’t going anywhere anyway. And neither can we. You’ve got to make a shift in order to move upward and onward into the high calling of your life’s noble purpose. God has placed eternity in your heart, and earthbound dreams simply cannot satisfy you any longer. It’s time you learn how to handle life’s surprising turns without stripping your gears.

gear shiftSometimes to shift us, God has to sift us.

His purpose is to remove the chaff, and to reveal the gold. Webster’s defines shift as “changing the place, position, or direction of something.”

Have you experienced any shift lately? A shift in place, in position, or in direction? If so, how are you handling it? Are you blowing a gasket, or going with the flow?

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” In other words, shift happens. The issue is how we respond when it comes. The un-shifted life is untested, and therefore unproven. As such it is unreliable. And for that reason it is often unnoticed and unused.

Did you catch that? Unshifted…..untested…..unproven…..unreliable…..unnoticed…..unused. You do not want that the true of you.

Life is change, and to refuse to change is to refuse to grow. Sometimes the change is welcomed, other times it is not – but either way, it comes at us without discrimination and requires that we respond in positive, proactive, and purposeful ways. Those who do so grow stronger, better, wiser, and richer. Those who refuse to embrace change not only fail in life, ultimately they perish.

If we will not shift when God is moving us to do so, if we will not change our ways, then our only alternative is to become shiftless – people who are lacking in resourcefulness, ambition, or incentive.

“Moab has always taken it easy,” the Lord said to Jeremiah, “lazy as a dog in the sun; never had to work for a living, never faced any trouble, never had to grow up, never once worked up a sweat. But those days are a thing of the past, I’ll put him to work at hard labor. That will wake him up to the world of hard knocks. That will smash his illusions” (Jeremiah 48:11-12, The Message).

This seems to describe so many in our society today, especially those who have grown up pampered in the freedom that was purchased and provided by the hardship and heartbreak of others. We must take heed that we do not take for granted the liberty and abundance of life we as a nation have so richly enjoyed, lest we unexpectedly lose what we so carelessly hold. There have been numerous nations throughout history who regarded themselves as invincible until they fell from grace.

We would be great fools to think it could not happen to us.

“Do You Brush Your Teeth?”

And He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3, NIV)

Pastor Jack Hayford was traveling across country and, due to the time schedule and route, used an airline different from his preferred carrier. As a result, there were no perks available, no upgrade certificates, no preferred seating. In fact, the only seat the flight had available was the very back row, middle seat.

Pastor Jack HayfordWonderful.

The aisle seat was occupied by a businessman, and in the window seat there sat a young lady who was somewhat mentally diminished. Jack tells how he purposed to bury himself in his notes and get the two-and-a-half hour flight behind him. About ten minutes after take-off, he felt the young lady nudging him with her elbow; three or four little jabs to get his attention.

“Yes?” Jack asked as he turned toward her.

“Do you brush your teeth?” she asked with childlike innocence and a sheepish grin.

“Yes,” Jack answered, “yes, I do brush my teeth.”

“That’s nice, ’cause if you didn’t brush your teeth,” the lady said, “they would fall out; and that would not be good.” She then turned and stared out the window. Jack turn and stared at his notes.

About ten minutes later, another nudge of the elbow followed by a second question, “Do you smoke cigarettes?”

“No, dear,” Jack replied, “I do not smoke cigarettes.”

“That’s good,” the young lady answered, “because then you won’t die of cancer.”

Once again, after another ten minutes, the elbow and a third question, “Do you love Jesus?”

“Yes,” said Jack, “I do love Jesus very much.”

“That’s good, ’cause then you will go to heaven when you die. And that’s a good thing.”

“Yes it is,” Jack answered, and then turned back to his notes.

About ten more minutes passed, and the lady elbowed him yet once more, and this time said, “Ask that man sitting next to you if he brushes his teeth.”

Suddenly Jack realized that the Lord had set him up with a divine appointment, but it would require real humility to follow through with it. And he did so. Elbowing the business man in the aisle seat, Jack asked, “Do you brush your teeth?”

The result was that for the remainder of the flight Jack was able to share Christ with a total stranger, whose world would never be the same from that day forward.

Here’s a thought…..find someone today, walk up to them and ask, “Do you brush your teeth?”

You never know where it may lead!

Church; You Gotta Love It!

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat 28:18-20)

It is referred to as The Great Commission. Spoken by Jesus prior to His ascension into Heaven, these words penned by Matthew have constituted our standing orders for these past 2000 years. Followers of Christ throughout the ages have each taken this charge personally and given their utmost for His highest.

Our orders are clear and our mission is both sacred and joyful; we carry life to those who are dying, and light to those who are in darkness. We bringing healing to the broken, aid to the needy, help to the helpless, and strength to the weak.

We speak truth to those in power, even at the risk of our lives. We expose the works of darkness and openly defy the powers of hell. We set captives free, and loose those who have been in bondage.

We share our faith openely and watch with delight and wonder when another soul is saved by the grace and truth that are found in Jesus Christ. And, as instructed, we baptize them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

What a life!baptism robes

Recently I was ministering at a church in Symrna TN and was backstage, about to be introduced to the congregation. That’s when I saw this sign posted by the steps that led up to the Baptismal.

I couldn’t help but laugh – for it was obvious to me, by the big read letters used to draw specific attention to this sign, that there must’ve been a “mishap” in the past. I can only imagine what that Sunday morning must’ve been like, when the excited church used the new baptismal robes for the first time!

And I can just imagine the Deacon meeting the following Monday morning when great minds came together to figure out a way to resolve the situation.

“Scrubs!” one fellows says, “We will insure that each candidate for baptism wear scrubs under the robes!”

“I know somebody who can get us a discount on scrubs,” says another.

“And we will need a sign posted so nobody will ever again go into the waters of baptism without wearing the scrubs under the robes!” says yet another, and is met with a hearty “Amen!” by the whole deacon board.

And thus it was done.

Church. You gotta love it!

The Ultimate Reboot

“It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22)

It is a rare soul indeed who can make it through just one day without blowing it some how. Some thoughtless word, some heartless action, some selfish deed, some dark and wicked thought – you know what I mean. Just look back over yesterday and you see the trail of debris.God-reset-button

But that was yesterday. You weren’t struck dead by lightning, and you weren’t visited by the Angel of Death as you slept last night. You woke up once again to yet another day.

A new day.

A new day filled with a fresh supply of new mercies and compassions from the Lord. A new day filled with the steadfast, unfailing love of God for YOU.

The prophet Micah asked, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Mic 7:18-19)

Jeremiah himself tells us later on in his lamentation, “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. (Lam 3:31-32)

Think of it this way, my traveling friend – each morning when you awake the Lord has already pushed the ultimate reboot button in heaven. Why not even now bow your head in humble reverence and deep gratefulness, thanking Him for His mercies and compassions. Then you can step into a new day, walking in the unfailing love of God.

There is true revival in this word for you today if you will only trust Him.

When the Rolls are Done Up Yonder

“Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1Thess 4:18)

As a young boy, wide-eyed and highly impressionable, I watched and listened with rapt attention when the robed choir belted out their offering of song each Sunday morning just before the pastor’s sermon. I didn’t always understand what they were singing, but it never ceased to fascinate me that they always sang with such gusto and delight.

On one particular Sunday the pastor was to preach a message on The Second Coming of Christ, with a special emphasis on the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

dinner rolls“A Lamb is getting married?” I thought to myself; “This sermon oughta be really good!”

The choir rose to the occasion and delivered their best rendition of the old Gospel classic, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder!”

My mind was fixed on the Wedding Feast, so when I heard them sing that morning I couldn’t help but think, “When the rolls are done up yonder I’ll be there.” (That’s just how my brain works.)

As I have grown over the years I’ve discovered that there are many views regarding the Second Coming; some are sensible, while others are senseless. But whatever view a person holds, one thing is agreed upon by all — Jesus is coming back.

“We have the Master’s word on it,” Paul writes. “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven,” he says, “and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (vs.16,17).

The Message translation puts it this way, “Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master.” (1Th 4:18)

A Day is coming when the over-bloated pomp and circumstance of this unraveling world will fade away like a vapor in the wind. A trumpet will sound and a shout from heaven will shake the earth. And the Lord, even Jesus Himself, with descend and gather us with Him – and we shall celebrate His triumph and glory at a Feast set in the Presence of His Father!

I’m getting really hungry these days. How about you? And may I ask, if it’s not too impertinent of me,  “When the rolls are done up yonder…will you be there?”

The Yoke is On Me

“Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

take my yokeBalance is the key to every good thing in life. And imbalance is the root cause of many, many ills.

When there is imbalance in your body, some form or another of illness will occur — physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. When there is imbalance in your home, there will be marital problems, and family difficulties.

Imbalance in your diet, or other appetites, will always results in physical challenges. An imbalance in your checkbook is definitely not a good thing. When you are imbalanced in your work, or in your recreations — somewhere along the line of your life you will have to “pay the piper.”

Balance in all things is the key to every good and lasting thing in life.

Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you.” The Greek word He used was zugos, which means “a coupling.” Specifically, it is the word used to describe the beam of balance that joins two scales together. Webster’s defines balance as “an instrument for weighing; a means of judging, or deciding.”

In other words, the Lord is saying here, “Take My balance upon you; learn to judge things in life, and make decisions as I do.” Paul wrote to us, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ” (Philippians 2:5)

The many benefits of this balance are profound. Any man or woman, boy or girl, upon whom this yoke is placed will experience mental, emotional, physical and spiritual steadiness. They will not stumble, or fall; yet, even if they do, it will be but for a moment. For they possess a innate capacity to right themselves and regain their footing. Their lives will be graced with unflappable confidence, even in the midst of upheaval and chaos. Just like Jesus, our Unflappable Champion. Yoked to Him we cannot stumble or fail.

So, as you prepare yourself to go out into today’s world make sure that His yoke is on you; it’s the one thing that makes the difference in every other thing you think or do.