Wednesday, April 16, 2014

MAUNDY THURSDAY



Today is MauThursday, and many Christians around the world will be coming together this evening, to celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  They will be given a piece of bread, and a small glass of grape juice or wine – food and drink of the most elementary kind.  And yet if they come hungry, or parched with thirst, they won’t go away with their hunger satisfied, or their thirst quenched.  Therefore, there must be something more to it than food and drink.  There is.

The people who come are prepared for this extra meaning, because they see it all the time.  Thousands of young people every year go forward to the platform at Convocation and receive a diploma.  It is a sheet of paper, but certainly no student thinks, that there’s nothing more to it than a piece of paper.  And hundreds of brides process up the aisles of churches to receive a ring.  Surely none of them think that they are given nothing more than a band of metal to wear on their finger.

So in order to appreciate what this meal means, people have to know something about what happened a long time ago.  They don’t have to be an intellectual to know it, but they do have to know the essential facts, and have a picture in their mind of what took place.

It happened in the city of Jerusalem, in an upper room, borrowed by a small group of men who were in the city for a holiday.  They were all Jews, and all meals were sacred to Jews, at least in the sense that before any food was eaten, God was blessed for the food.

Some scholars are convinced that it was a fellowship meal – a Kiddush, a group of people very closely knit together, having a meal in which the closeness of their fellowship was made even closer.  The leader of this group was a man named Jesus – young, about their own age. 

He knew that he was going to die.  He had come to the point where he no longer resisted the fact.  He wanted to live, not only for his own pleasure and satisfaction, but for the things he wanted to do for God and the world.  He could have escaped if he wanted to, but he came to see, that the only thing that could do for the people what he wanted done, was the offering of his life.  He knew that it would break through the alienation that had come to exist between individuals and God, and this alienation was communicated through all their relationships with one another.

So the night before he died, he met his closest friends for supper.  As they met around the table it must have brought back to their minds, and to his, other suppers, which they shared together when days were brighter; when they believed that he would be the One to redeem Israel, and bring back to their people the glory that had long since departed, and give them the freedom, both political and spiritual that they had longed for and never had, not for centuries.

It must also have made Jesus think of the time yet to come, when they would once more be gathered together in God’s kingdom.  Sometimes this is overlooked when Christians remember what happened that night in the upper room.  In all the accounts of it Jesus makes it clear, that this is their Last Supper together until they are once more united in the kingdom of God.

So that in addition to thinking back to the days that had been bright, he was looking forward in anticipation to a yet brighter day.  But he was thinking primarily of tomorrow and what would happen then; he was thinking of his death and of them.  He took the loaf of bread and blessed it – that is, he thanked God for it.  He broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is my body.” He poured out the wine, “This”, he said,“ is my blood”.  The blood to the Jew is the very essence of life.  “This is my life” he said, “given for you”.
We do not know whether he intended this meal to be repeated.  In his account of what happened at the Last Supper, Paul says that Jesus commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the Gospel accounts this commandment is not included (cf. Luke 22:19b-20 is lacking in many manuscripts). The point is, whether or not he intended it to be repeated, it has been repeated ever since, accompanied by ceremonies and ritual elaborate and bare and simple, in every language under heaven; interpreted in a variety of theological ways, week after week, day after day, for two thousand years.  Why do you think?

Well, for one thing the early Christians did it, because it was a continual reminder of what happened when Jesus died on the cross.  It was acting out in drama, music, art, words, and deeds of what happened on Calvary.  Memories they knew were short and easily blunted and dulled by the flowing streams of events.  They were men and women whose souls had been pierced by the cross, but they were also men and women whose wounds, like ours, were often easily healed, and who were likely to forget the cross and what it meant.  Here in this meal, was a reminder that one perfect life was broken that other lives might become whole. 

Whenever today’s Christians receive the bread and wine, they remember.  They let their memories be stabbed by this event.  They remember that Someone’s life has been given for them, and that life was the life of Christ, and that this goes on everlastingly, and that as they make their mistakes, he continues to give himself for them.  That is one reason the early Christians repeated it, and why today’s Christians repeat it.  Another is that it is infinitely more than a reminder; it is a revelation of his presence among them.  They know in their minds that he is always present, but in this meal which is closely associated with him, it opens their eyes to his presence.

One can be in the room with a person, and not be aware of the person’s presence, until the person does something that arouses their interest – in this case, arouses their faith. That’s what happened on that Easter Day when Jesus broke bread with the two disciples, and then they “recognized” him.

In Seminary we were told, that Jesus is more present in the Lord’s Supper than in the preaching of the Word. Coming from The Salvation Army, where we didn’t celebrate the sacraments, I wondered how could Jesus be more present than present, but we weren’t given an explanation, it was just stated as a fact.  Then one day, I came across a sentence which mentioned that the bread and wine were the only symbols known to humanity which involved all of the five sentences.  Then it dawned on me that it is not that Christ is more present in the Lord’s Supper than in the preaching of the Word, but that with all of the senses being involved, one’s awareness may be heightened to the point that one is more conscious of his presence.

Each time believers come to this meal and are given the bread and wine, their consciousness is awakened so that they become more aware that Christ is present among them, even when they are not thinking about him.  Each time they take the bread in their hands and take the cup to their lips the Presence may be revealed to them, as it had not been before.

What is it then that they receive?  What they receive reminds them how much Christ cared.  It feeds their hungry spirits in some way, which they can never describe to anyone.  And it binds them together with him in a new and stronger compact of agreement, which in turn binds them more closely with others.  And it gives them the promise that they will sometime be joined together with him and their loved ones at a table in the greater world, to which “people will come from the east and west, from the north and south, and eat in the kingdom of God”.  In that kingdom there will be no more traitors, or deniers, and no more tears.

Dr. John Sullivan    <))><

Former Officer
Canada & Bermuda

THE BEGGAR FROM DOBRI BAIL


Received in Russian from my good friend Igor Rybin in Yalta, whom I enrolled as a soldier along with 17 other recruits when the Salvation Army ‘opened fire’ in the Ukrainian area known as the Crimea.

A photo of the 98-year-old beggar and grandfather of the Bulgarian village of Dobri Bail, wearing homespun clothes and old leather shoes, often stands at the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia. Every day he gets up early and makes his way quickly the 10 kilometers (6 miles) from his village to the capital of Bail. 



In 2010, during the filming of a documentary about the cathedral, the Bulgarian TV journalist when searching through the archives of the Church had a shocking discovery - the most generous private donation ever received by the Cathedral - 40,000 Euros was from an old beggar - the Dobri grandfather!

The 98-year-old saint turns over every single coin of the money that he is given by passers-by. He lives on his pension of 100 euros per month, as well as non-cash handouts in the form of fruits and bread.

Grandpa Dobri helps many others, for example, he paid the utility bills for the town's orphanage and their heat and light bill as winter approached. He also helps the homeless. But, for all the good deeds performed by grandfather Dobri we'll never know of most, because he never speaks about them.









(Translated from Russian; Sven Ljungholm)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Communing with Christ in the present



As a Protestant pastor, I have a confession to make. In fact, I've already confessed it to a Catholic priest.

For more than 15 years, I snuck into the Catholic mass, taking the elements while knowing full well that Catholic doctrine allows only Catholics to share in the family meal. A guest in someone's home should abide by the family rules, and I did not. For that, I repent.

My deeper sorrow, however, is not for what I did among Catholics, but rather, for what I did not do among my fellow Protestants—namely, experience power and joy in the sacrament. In fact, if God hadn't intervened dramatically, I might still be searching elsewhere.

At my first pastorate, I was surprised to discover that Communion was celebrated only quarterly. Our denomination was in merger talks with another denomination whose tradition includes weekly Communion. How often to offer the sacrament threatened to become a major stumbling block to uniting. The discussions, however, never seemed to reach beyond simply affirming that each congregation was free to do as it pleased. A rich opportunity for education and renewal was thereby miscast as an issue of tolerance and individual rights—and lost.

Those who defended our own congregation's quarterly Communion generally believed, as one woman put it, "If you do it more often, it's just not special anymore." To that, a fellow pastor remarked to me, "Quarterly? Would they say the same about making love?"

I encouraged the church to reconsider our policy, and devoted a month to preaching and teaching on the subject. Afterward, I was pleased when the congregation voted to increase Communion celebrations to monthly.
Dry spell

Then, beset by a crisis in my life, I felt the need for Communion more often.
I decided to attend 7 a.m. mass daily at the Catholic parish nearest to my house, and found myself substantially strengthened for each day. During that time, one of our church leaders mentioned at a Church Council meeting that he would like an opportunity to take Communion during the week. I said I'd be happy to oblige, and we began a trial 45-minute Communion worship service on Wednesday nights, which drew only five or six people.

As I entered the local Catholic church one morning for my usual mass, I discovered a funeral mass in progress. This hadn't happened in all the years before, so I decided to skip it. The next day I had an early church meeting, so I decided to attend a noon mass at another parish which I had visited before.

As I walked up the front steps, I noticed someone trying unsuccessfully to open the door. "It's locked," he said, puzzled. As several others arrived, we checked the side doors, but to no avail. One man said he'd heard they were remodeling the sanctuary. Confused, I turned and left with the others.

When I returned to my "home" mass a few days later, however, another funeral mass was in progress. As I walked back to my car, I puzzled over this recent turn of events. Being closed out of mass three times in a row struck me as more than coincidence. I wondered: Could God be trying to tell me something? I decided to forego mass for the next two weeks and see.

Two weeks later, my personal crisis had become more stressful, and I missed the uplift from mass. Then one morning as I rolled over to hit the snooze button, it occurred to me that I should try at least once more. Lord, I prayed, if for some reason you don't want me going to mass, show me today. Give me some sign. Waiting, but sensing nothing, I shrugged, dressed and drove to the Catholic church.

The usual mass was being celebrated, and with a sigh of relief I stepped into a pew and knelt down. At the appropriate time, I joined perhaps a hundred others in the line to the altar, and when I reached the priest, held out my hands for the host. Turning as usual with the wafer in my hands, I took several steps back towards the pew.

"Excuse me!" a voice rang out from behind me.
Thinking nothing of it, I continued walking.
"Excuse me!" the voice said again, aimed clearly in my direction.
I turned to look, and to my shock, the priest was walking toward me.

Silence fell over the huge, cathedral sanctuary as the dozens of others in line stopped and turned to look at me.

"Excuse me," the priest repeated matter-of-factly, "but you have to take that up front."
"Uh … pardon me?" I blurted out, confused.

"Are you a visitor?" the priest asked.

I nodded, embarrassed.

"Are you a Catholic?"

"Actually, well … no, I'm not."

The priest reached out his hand.

"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to return the host to me," he said courteously. "But I'd like very much to meet with you after the mass. Would you please wait for me so we can talk then?"
"Uh … well, sure," I stammered, handing him the host. The priest smiled, then turned and went back to his position.

A surprising sign

Quickly, I retreated to a rear pew. Heart pounding, I leaned back hard, hoping to blend into the pew's wood.

I couldn't believe it. What in the world was going on? At least we'd already done the "Passing of the Peace," so I wouldn't have to look anyone else in the eye.

At the last phrase of the benediction, I turned and fled the sanctuary, beelining for my car. When I rounded the corner, I checked my rearview mirror and glimpsed the priest out front, turning as if looking for someone.

A familiar breakfast cafe was not far away, and I went there to settle myself. As I reached for a menu, it struck me: My prayer before getting out of bed!

Sure, I'd asked God for a sign. But I just figured maybe a Scripture would come to mind during the mass, or maybe a responsive reading might sort of "jump out at me" with a message.
Lord, did the sign have to be so embarrassing?

It seemed clear that I'd received a sign, though certainly not one I had expected. What could all this possibly mean? I had to go back to the priest and apologize for disturbing the mass.

Gobbling down my eggs and toast, I left and drove back to the church. There, I went directly to the rectory office, and after a moment, the priest came out, smiling graciously.
  
"I'm so sorry for the confusion this morning," he said, drawing me into his office.

"Actually, I'm the one who owes you an apology," I confessed as we sat down. Then, with a deep breath, I poured it all out. "I'm a Protestant minister in town, and I've been taking mass here for some time. I knew I was acting against your doctrine, and I must ask you to forgive me. I won't do it again."

Taken aback, the priest smiled. "I certainly didn't know all that; all I know is I prayed that you'd come back so we could talk."

"I'm sure that's partly why I'm sitting here right now," I said. "I can only tell you that something happens to me at a Catholic mass that doesn't happen when I take Communion at my church. I don't know what it is, but there's power here, and I've been drawn to it."

We talked further, and before I left, we prayed together that I would see more clearly what God was trying to teach me in this strange experience.

Over the next few weeks, I began to see my attraction to the Communion/Eucharist as an essential part of my Christian journey.

Communing with Christ in the present

When Jesus breaks the bread and commands his followers, "Do this in memory of me," he is not telling them—or us—merely to think about what he did in the past. He means what my mother meant when she told me, "Remember your grandmother on her birthday." It's not simply to stir up a mental image of Grandma, but to write her a letter, buy her a gift, give her a phone call—to interact with her in the present.

The difference between remembering a person in the past and actually being with that person in the present—especially someone you love—is quite dramatic.

Similarly, the biblical stories of Jesus are a genuine comfort to Christians. But to look forward to communion with excitement, you must believe that Jesus will actually be there at the table with you, to meet you where you are now.

The Risen Lord spoke to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, teaching them many things. But it was not until "he broke the bread" that "their eyes were opened and they recognized him."

The breaking of the bread led them to see that Jesus was indeed in their midst, which motivated them to get up "at once" to run and share the Good News with the others that "He is risen, indeed!" The sacrament of Communion is a preface to evangelism.

One Maundy Thursday we invited people to come forth and kneel for the sacrament, and the entire congregation responded. After, many came to me to say "how meaningful" the evening had been, but I was deflated. I know when I have preached well, but that night I was utterly flat.

Later I sat alone in the empty sanctuary reflecting on the service.

As I leaned back and took a deep breath, a stillness settled over me. Suddenly I knew the Risen Christ had been present and active during Communion that night, as always. My job was not to preach mightily, but simply to be the faithful doorman who announces the entrance of the Master, then steps back to open the door. At worship, my task is to lead the congregation into the presence of God. Sometimes that happened by preaching, but not necessarily at the sacrament.

I went to the kneeler and asked God to forgive me my pride and presumption. I released all my compulsion to "be in charge" of worship, all my responsibility to "make things happen," my desire to perform as a preacher.

A deep sense of relief washed over me.

Protestant pastors and congregations alike could receive more from God during worship by stepping back and allowing the Risen Christ to come and do his transforming work among us. I'm learning that nowhere is this reality more alive than in the sacrament of Communion.

Monday, April 14, 2014

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

A Biblical Response to "Fifty Shades of Grey" Moody Radio host and Moody Publishers author, Dr. Juli Slattery. Clinical psychologist, was a guest on Fox News' "Spirited Debate” on the Fox News Network.
The interview focused on Dr. Slattery’s Moody Publishers’ book Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's Heart,which she co-authored with Dannah Gresh.

Click HERE to watch Dr. Slattery’s interview with Fox News.


While giving a biblical response to the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey with Fox News’ Lauren Green, Dr. Slattery discussed how women have legitimate longings that can be fulfilled in God-honoring ways, but that the Church has been afraid to talk about them. Unfortunately, as Dr. Slattery points out, books like Fifty Shades of Grey have stepped in and exploited these longings. 

For more information about Pulling Back the Shades, visit Moody Publishers’ website.  Dr. Juli Slattery is a widely-known clinical psychologist, author, speaker and broadcast media professional. She is the co-founder and president of Authentic Intimacy, a ministry to women on topics of intimacy in marriage and intimacy with God. In addition to serving on Moody Global Ministries’ Board of Trustees, Dr. Slattery is also the host of Moody Radio's weekly podcast Java with Juli with Bible teacher and author Linda Dillow, along with the daily short feature Authentic Intimacy. Her commitment to biblical principles, relatable style and quick wit have made her a highly sought after speaker to women's groups. She and her husband, Mike, have been married since 1994 and have three children. 

- See more at: https://www.moodyglobal.org/news/juli-slattery-biblical-response-to-Fifty-Shades-of-Grey/#sthash.mHsAG8B3.dpuf

Saturday, April 12, 2014

10 DOWNING STREET - Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the worl


Prime Minister David Cameron, whose day began with the resignation of Culture Secretary Maria Miller, finished it with his eyes shut, leaning against a pillar in his London residence as a soprano sang for his Easter reception. He had no comment on her choice of hymn: “Ave Maria.”

“The Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens,” Cameron told his audience of Christian leaders and politicians at 10 Downing Street when she’d finished. “After the day I’ve had, I’m definitely looking for volunteers.”
….
In his remarks at the reception, the prime minister made no reference to the issue that’s hurt his relationship with the Church of England over the past two years, the introduction of gay marriage -- a policy overseen by Miller.

Instead, he thanked churches for their work in society, including the growth of food banks to help the poor, and urged them to speak up for persecuted Christians around the world.

Referring at one point to Jesus Christ as “our savior,” he also went further than any recent prime minister in talking about his Christian faith publicly.

Thursday Morning

Cameron said his “moments of greatest peace” come “perhaps every other Thursday morning” when he slips into the sung Eucharist at St. Mary Abbots, the church in Kensington, west London, linked to the school his children attend. “I find a little bit of peace and hopefully a bit of guidance.”

U.K. prime ministers are usually reluctant to speak publicly about faith, which is treated as a private matter in British politics. Tony Blair, who after leaving office was received into the Roman Catholic church and set up a Faith Foundation, was told not to talk about his beliefs by advisers. When Vanity Fair magazine asked him about it in a 2003 interview, Blair’s press chief Alastair Campbell interrupted. “We don’t do God,” he was reported to have said.

Easter Reception
Cameron has held an annual Easter reception in Downing Street since taking office. He has also been comfortable with Biblical allusions. In a 2009 set-piece speech in opposition he borrowed the structure of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

While his predecessor Gordon Brown often referred to lessons he’d learned from his father, a Church of Scotland minister, he steered clear of speaking about personal faith. When he did make a Biblical reference, in a speech to a church in 2010, he cited the wrong book of the Bible.

Cameron yesterday paid tribute to the pastoral work of churches, referring to the 2009 death of his oldest child, Ivan, who would have been 12 two days ago.

He named as “the person who looked after me” Mark Abrey, the vicar of the local church in his electoral district. “I can’t think of anyone who was more loving or thoughtful or kind,” Cameron said.

The prime minister praised the social work of churches, referring to his “Big Society” policy of encouraging volunteering.

“Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago; I just want to see more of it,” he said. “If there are things that are stopping you from doing more, think of me as a giant Dyno-Rod” to clear the drains.

Persecuted Religion
He committed his government to fighting persecution of Christians abroad.
“It is the case that Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the world,” Cameron said. “We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”