Pass the plate, and celebrate!

In my world, a happy occasion is an excuse for celebrating with food. Heck, where I was raised, even death was accompanied by a parade of foil-covered pies, cake, and potato salad and such. Even in grief, people gathered around food.

So this afternoon, we will sit down to a feast prepared in honor of our risen Savior Jesus Christ, who proclaimed Himself the Bread of Life. There will be root veggies, apple cake, chocolate pie, fresh greens and, of course, roast lamb fresh from the oven.

I happen to believe that Penzeys motto: “Love people. Cook them tasty food.”

At my house, mashed potatoes are real potatoes actually mashed. Meat is fresh, seldom frozen. Veggies are mostly Farmer’s Market fare. I grew up eating fresh from gardens. I learned to cook by watching it done both at home and on TV before there was cable. My version of “The Food Network” was watching “The Galloping Gourmet” on a black-and-white set with Mom’s friend from New Jersey who loved to cook on visits South.

I had to learn to cook. When I married, my husband endured rock-hard biscuits and sometimes three-hour meal prep before I produced something edible. I am full of thanks that he was patient. My cooking improved with good advice. I used to phone Mom across three states to have her translate a pinch and a dash into measurements that would reproduce her macaroni and cheese made with red-rimmed hoop cheese and butter – or her peach cobbler made with Georgia peaches.

I rather think Jesus enjoyed celebrating around food and drink with those He loved. Search the Scriptures and you’ll find him around a table.

His first miracle was at a wedding in Cana. (John 2) His Last Supper found Him gathered around a table to celebrate the Passover meal, of which He Himself would be the fulfillment.(Matt 26:18) He is recorded reclining at the table in the home of Simon the leper. (Matt 14:3) I am pretty sure there were meals served when he dropped by the home of Mary and Martha, who is said to have been busy with preparation.

For me, what gives a meal meaning is not so much the food itself. What makes the difference is who we share it with and why. All the chopping, stirring and hovering over pots is an opportunity to gather in the kitchen for relationship, conversation and laughter.

As my young people have grown and gone, their arrival home is a joy that we celebrate around meals.  My daughter drove in last evening for Resurrection Sunday, and the cooking commenced in earnest.

I couldn’t help thinking about the marriage supper of the Lamb that Jesus will one day celebrate with us in His kingdom, perhaps with a toast of wine. It will mark the culmination of what He accomplished at Calvary and sealed at His resurrection: to save us sinners and to finally deliver us a prepared people to a prepared place.

It will be a meal to remember, as He welcomes us home.

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Are You Dead or Alive?

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Sin doesn’t make me bad.

It doesn’t make me unacceptable.

It doesn’t even make me unfit or unworthy.

Sin makes me dead.

I don’t know one person who is able to make themselves un-dead; which is what makes Jesus and His Resurrection relevant.

Every other person who ever has lived and died is still in a cemetery, crypt or some other final resting place. They cannot help themselves. And they cannot help me. They are dead.

Then there’s Jesus, whose bodily resurrection we’re soon to celebrate as the highest holy day in the Christian calendar: Easter. Jesus died to save sinners, got up from the grave on the third day and ever lives to intercede for us.

“Dead” was the human condition when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to accompanying shouts of “Hosanna!” These people were breathing, talking and walking around, but they were spiritually disconnected from God, dead in trespasses and sins. Know anybody like that?

Jesus provided the cure for this zombie-like existence through His subsequent crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

Christianity teaches that every human being past, present and future is DOA, dead on arrival, because of sin. Think Book of Genesis: Adam and Eve disobey God and everyone thereafter has sin stamped into our DNA. (Romans 5:12) Sin isn’t just about what we do, it’s about who we are: born sinners.

Nobody needs to be told they sin. We know it intuitively even though we may argue the point. Even if we won’t admit our sin, we know when we’ve been sinned against. The Bible clearly says “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Sin pays, but nothing we want to collect. The wages of sin is death, but God’s gift is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, came as a sinless sacrifice to endure the death penalty imposed on sinners. With sin’s price paid, we are offered a free pardon and the opportunity to enjoy life to the full.

Who doesn’t want to cheat death? Jesus offers life to the dead. This Easter, instead of just gathering with other dead men to go through another religious ceremony, why not accept the offer?

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:   (John 11:25)

The Cross: The Ultimate Intervention

 The A&E television series Intervention will start a new season tomorrow. The story line is pretty much the same every episode: a bunch of people come together to stage the rescue of a hapless family member whose substance abuse and/or prostitution to support their addiction has brought them to the edge of a precipice.

In short, it’s a televised last-ditch effort to save somebody from the grave. Invariably, the person at the center of the intervention insists they don’t need help. Sometimes they relent and accept rescue. Other times, they tell their family members to go to hell and walk away.

It would be tempting to judge these people as whacked and to congratulate myself for not being “like them” – were the show not so graphic a depiction of the human condition.

At our core, we all are fatally addicted to sin; we can’t help ourselves.  To quote T.D. Jakes, “There is no human remedy for sin.” Each of us needs Divine Intervention. Yet, like the church in Laodicea, we live in denial.

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Rev 3:17

Search the Bible and you’ll find one helpless sinner after another and a God who stands ready to intervene.

Consider two snapshots:

  •  In Ezekiel 37, the prophet stands in a valley of dry bones. These bones belong to the long dead, bleached by the sun, brittle, disconnected. God asks the question: Can these bones live? From a human perspective, they’re hopeless. But the question is being asked by God with Whom nothing is impossible. So the prophet replies: “Lord, you know.”

The bones can do nothing for themselves. God takes the initiative. He does all the work.

He tells the prophet to speak to the bones these words: I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Then God does what He says right there, right then. The image is of God opening the grave, calling out and reassembling a bunch of raggedy skeletons and speaking life to them so that they stand upright, a living, breathing, mighty army.

  • In Zechariah 3 Joshua the high priest is standing before the Angel of the Lord in filthy robes. Filthy as in: vile, dishonored, morally defiled, unclean. Picture a priest standing in a holy place before a holy God to perform some religious ceremony while wearing clothes covered in excrement. Despicable. Beside him, ready to accuse him, is satan himself.

“Look at this guy,” satan is prepared to say. “He isn’t fit to serve God. He doesn’t deserve to be here. Look at him; he’s nasty, full of sin.” Joshua stands mute. He can say nothing in his own defense. The charge is true. The Lord Himself rebukes satan.  The Lord gets the filthy robes removed from Joshua and gives him new, clean clothes.

This is the human situation before God. Dead, filthy, justly accused, hopeless without the work of Christ on the Cross. That work is The Ultimate Intervention, and that’s worth contemplating during this season of Lent.

Need Debt Forgiveness?

  What you don’t know can hurt you. You don’t know what you don’t know. By the time you learn, the fix-it boat may have sailed.  Want a real life example?

While training for my first half-marathon, I reached mile 12 and my right shin decided it simply was not going to keep up that pace. Off I went to physical therapy.

I didn’t know precisely what it would cost, but this was familiar territory. I’d taken my daughter to PT during her senior season of cross country. I chose a different therapist whose location was more convenient, plunked down my co-pays at each of 8 visits and never gave it a second thought.

Imagine my shock when the final bill arrived one month after the last session: $1200-plus. No itemized list of specific charges. Just a bill with a payment address and a note that failing to pay within 30 days would result in additional charges.

Who knew that a few half-hour therapy sessions could cost so much? You might say it was unwise not to consider the end from the beginning. And you’d be right.

I got my therapy, ran my race and claimed my trophy without once considering the ultimate cost of reaching the finish line. It never occurred to me that the price would exceed what I was prepared to pay.

I’m not alone in my lack of foresight.

Plenty of people go blithely through life completely unconcerned about the day of reckoning. Oh, we know we are mortal, that 100 percent of the living will die. Yet, we don’t prepare for our dying day.

We have our reasons.  We say, “When you’re dead, you’re done; so why worry?” Or we’re confident that when life’s bill comes due, our good deeds will cancel our bad debts. In the end, we assume everything will work out. Of course, the end is not an ideal time to find out.

Christianity favors complete disclosure: Dead is not done. “It is appointed unto men once to die and then the judgment.” Judgment sounds to me like settling accounts. We’re advised to “count the cost” on the front end of things so we know whether we have what it takes to pay the bill.

Lest we abandon all hope, Christianity offers debt forgiveness. You’ll probably see it advertised in the stands at next Sunday’s Super Bowl: a placard painted with John 3:16. This plan goes by several names: Substitutionary atonement. The Great Exchange. The Gospel.

Christ is our Advocate. He speaks in our defense, having satisfied our debt in full at the Cross. We walk away.

Whether you’re dealing with spiritual indebtness or an unbelievable bill for services rendered, learn from my mistake.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to understand your situation. The Bible says in all your getting, get understanding. If you seek counsel with your money, why not get some for your soul?

I recommend an Advocate. Works for me – body and soul. A health advocate resolved my physical therapy bill.  Final accounting: I actually owed about $400. That, my friend, is deliverance!

RSVP

I was cleaning the other day and came across an invitation to a friend’s 60th birthday celebration. The RSVP date was long past, the party over.

Still, the invitation was proof I had been welcome. The decision to come — or not — had been mine to make.

That invitation came to mind during a Bible study discussion of “election” — the Calvinist doctrine that God decided at the beginning of time which of us would be saved or lost. Our fate, it teaches, is “predestined” involving no real human choice.

Some were disturbed by the perceived unfairness. “If God decides who will be saved and who won’t,” they reasoned, “why am I held accountable for my sin?” Others wanted to know why we bother to preach the Gospel if human choice is irrelevant?

Me, I see election as a kind of open invitation to heaven. Scripture is clear that God isn’t willing anyone to perish, but wants everyone to repent. Suppose He plans  salvation for each of us the moment we are born, issues the invitation, then works and waits for our response?

I believe that invitation remains open until our last breath. The elect formally accept by trusting Christ as their Savior. Those who don’t, aren’t elect. An omniscient God obviously knows the choice we’ll make. His knowing makes it no less our decision.

Why preach and teach the Gospel? It’s Christ’s directive. God knows the elect; we don’t. Some may hear the invitation and decide to join the party.