Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Closed Communion – Go Away!

(Note: I wrote this piece below as a FB post back in 2014. During that year I took a break from being a pastor and visited a number of churches looking for a 'home.' I was on a spiritual journey - still am! - and am still thinking about this topic, communion. In 2015 I returned to pastoral ministry and last year I wrote this piece on the Eucharist. Now I'm thinking about writing another reflection on how this issue divides believers; the following thoughts can serve as my jumping off point. So that's the context. Hope this is of interest.) 

March 23, 2014.

Visited another church today. As you might guess, I’m sort of on a journey to find a spiritual home, post-pastorate. Have recently experienced a few contemporary churches – which, although supposedly visitor friendly, left me dissatisfied. I’ve already ranted about the shallowness of band-centered worship and won’t go into that here.

So I went for the opposite end of the spectrum and worshiped at a liturgical church this morning. Lutheran – WELS. And, as is often the complaint of many who are unfamiliar with the liturgy, it wasn’t very visitor friendly. But not because I had to juggle the hymnal and lectionary.

It was because of communion.

Though we didn’t ‘commune’ (partake of communion) this morning, I doubt I would have been allowed to had the church celebrated it. Most conservative Lutheran churches practice ‘close communion’ – which I’d always thought was spelled closed. There’s a slight difference, and you can google it like I did.

But my take away is this: Want to turn away visitors? Card them.

That’s right. There was a card in the pew that I had to sign and give to the pastor before the service if I wanted to commune. I had to affirm that I belonged to a church that was in fellowship with theirs before I could share in the Lord’s Supper. (Oh, whose supper? Ah, just checking.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. Communion’s not a free-for-all. But verbalizing that the meal is for serious disciples of Christ is one thing. Telling Christians they can’t participate in the Lord’s Supper unless certain hoops are hopped is another. I’ll tip my hand right now, I’m an advocate of open communion.

Here’s why.

First, communion is a picture of grace. It’s the body and blood of Christ offered freely to sinners. The meal is not for perfect people, it’s for repentant people. All Christians are sinners, therefore all Christians should be invited to eat at the table, regardless of church or denominational affiliation.

Second, communion is for the universal community of believers (called the communion of saints). Who determines membership in this communion? God’s Holy Spirit. Upon one’s confession of faith (Rom 10.9) one is saved and therefore an invited participant at the table.

To place non-biblical hurdles before the table isn’t just visitor unfriendly, it’s a misrepresentation to the seeker what God’s free offer of salvation is all about, imo. The Lord’s Supper is for Christians who want to be right with God and right with others – regardless of church/denominational standing.

Now, I get it. Those who advocate for close communion are seeking to protect the sacrament. But, you know, I just don’t hear God calling us to protect something he’s offering us free of charge.

Not that communion is for everyone - it makes no sense for a non-believer to participate in this spiritual activity. So really, if someone’s not a Christian, why would they want to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ?

But even then, that’s between them and God. I’m not a bouncer.

And I’m not going to card someone at the door.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What Jesus Actually Taught


What did Jesus actually teach?

If you were to distill the teaching and preaching of Jesus into a few words or a short phrase, what would come up with? Love? Forgive others? Care for the poor?

Let me put the question like this: What theme in Jesus’s teaching and preaching is so crucial to understanding him that if you removed it from his lips, you wouldn’t have the biblical Jesus anymore?

You still like the answer of love?

Did you know Jesus only mentions love two times in the synoptic Gospels? He tells his disciples to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (referred to together as the greatest commandment; parallel accounts in Matthew 22.37-39 / Mark 12:30-31 / Luke 10:2) and love your enemies (also in two accounts, Matthew 5.44 / Luke 6.27). [BTW, you can use BibleGateway or Bible Hub to look up verses.]

Out of all the recorded words of Jesus, he devotes two lines to the topic of love.

Evidently, Jesus didn’t make love the hallmark of his preaching. Similar points can be made with other big themes we think are at the core of Jesus’ teaching: forgiveness, serving others, trusting God, helping the poor, defending the oppressed, etc.

Not that these themes are absent from the teaching of Jesus. Not at all. But they aren’t the core, they don’t summarize what is at the heart of the proclamation of Jesus. They actually flow out of his primary message.

Which is? For the biblical answer, we need to simply read what the Gospel writers wrote as their summaries of what Jesus was all about.

Let’s start with the Gospel of Matthew.
  • Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (Matthew 4.23)
  • Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. (Matthew 9.35)
  • He then tells his disciples: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 10.7)
Very clearly, at the heart of the teaching of Jesus – and the core message he wants his followers to proclaim – is the kingdom of God. In fact, in Matthew 6.10, we are to pray to God, “Thy kingdom come.” And in Matthew 6.33, we are to seek first the kingdom of God.

What is the Kingdom of God?

The kingdom of God (or, often in Matthew, the kingdom of Heaven, same thing) is simply God’s reign. It’s not a realm (a place, like a physical dominion with borders), nor is the kingdom a particular people. The kingdom of God is God’s ruling power or authority present in this world.

Now this kingdom creates a people (those who submit to God’s rule) and impacts a place (where a particular location demonstrates the attributes of the God’s rule). But again, simply put, God’s kingdom equals God’s reign.

Let’s Continue with Luke’s Summary

From Luke 4.16-21, 43.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 
… He said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”
  • See also Luke 8.1 – Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.
  • And in Luke 10.8-9 Jesus authorizes his disciples to do what he has been doing: Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Finally, the Gospel of Mark

The most succinct summary of Jesus’s teaching is in the Gospel of Mark. He tells us right at the outset what the ministry of Jesus is all about.
Mark 1.14-15 – Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Three point message, the first and last highlight the core: The kingdom of God has come near.

Yes, love, forgiveness, care for the poor, serving others, etc. are part of Jesus’s message, but they flow from the heart of his teaching and preaching, which is the kingdom of God.

It’s still the core message of the church today: repent and believe the good news that the time is fulfilled and God’s reign is at hand.

For a better understanding of what Jesus was all about, watch the first 12 to 15 minutes of Gordon Fee’s lecture on the Kingdom of God. He explains it better than I just did. In fact, I basically summarized Fee’s points in this blog post. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Good Reads #2 - Review of Write it Forward

Write it Forward by Bob Mayer is a very extensive "how-to" book structured much like a self-improvement book, providing strategies (Mayer calls them tools) that take writers to their next level.

Whether it's writing, marketing, networking, etc., the writer can employ these tools to plan, do, then evaluate one's progress.

Mayer is a former Green Beret and so draws on that experience for illustrations, which are surprisingly relevant. I especially liked the use of SOPs - standard operating procedures - for each stage of the writing process.

The nine tools are what, why, where, character, change, courage, communication, command, complete. These form a 'circle of success' for when you complete the strategies in one area or at one level of your life (or writing), you cycle through them again to continue to improve and advance in your career.

The book is a bit repetitive at times, but I think that's intentional as the material covers so much ground it's good to cycle back and read something you learned earlier but then again in light of a greater context. Very practical. Recommended and not just for writers.

Mayer has a website (bobmayer.com) where he blogs and gives away some free ebooks (I've read a number of his military thrillers and have enjoyed them). But he also provides some excellent slide-shows with great information on dozens of topics relevant to writers and life in general. Good stuff.

Peruse more of my #GoodReads.
Get yourself a free ebook.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Write Stuff #2 - Progress

Week of January 7 to 12, 2018
Write Stuff - Current Projects, Goals, and Celebrations.

My weekly writing goal for January is to compose a short story each week of around 5,000 words. So 1000 words a day is my target. If I miss a day, no biggy, the goal is 5k/week this month.

UPDATE for last week: I wrote a short story of about 5,500 words. So mission accomplished!

Long range, though, this translates to 60,000 words over the next three months. And since I'm about 20,000 words into book two of my "Mack the Magical Cat" cozy mystery series, my plan for February and March is to complete that short novel and publish it in April. You can read snippets of it at #WIPSnippet.

Last week I said I was going to focus on craft this month so I can submit January's short stories for publication. And I joked I would not write any silly space monkey pirate stories. ;) But I take that back. If I can sneak one more space monkey story in, I'll have a collection and will publish that later this month.

Why? Because of another challenge I think I'll take up. May not hit it exactly, but another writer posted an idea that I liked - publishing some project every two weeks for a total of 25 books or collections or short stories in 2018. That would be way cool. Two projects a month.

I already have an Amish romance novel nearly completed, so that could go up by the end of January. And if I finish my space monkey pirate collection, that will go online in a week or so. Boom, baby! Two projects for sale in Janaruay. Imagine 25 new books in my online bookstore by the end of the year!

I'm imagining it and going to work at making it a reality!
Thanks for reading. By the way, want a free ebook? :)


Saturday, January 06, 2018

WIP Snippet #4

Welcome to Jan 6 & 7 "WeWriWa" blog hop.

Weekend Writing Warriors is where participants post 8 to 10 sentences of their latest release or work-in-progress. All genres represented; commenting is encouraged. Spread the word: #8sunday #wewriwa

My WIP - Ma Tutt's Secret Spice (coming April, 2018)

This is book two of a curious cozy featuring a magical cat named Mack and the owner of a donut hut named Ma Tutt. Each week I'll simply post the next 8 to 10 sentences of my novel, so obviously not all of these will be complete scenes. Still, should be fun. To catch up, click #WIPSnippet.

~*~
Snippet #4

Ma Tutt looked at the cute little kitty door next to the back entrance and considered herself fortunate that Mack hadn’t brought back any of his 'prizes' into the kitchen. Oh, the local food and health inspector would have a fit if he were to visit on the day Mack left such an offering!

She peeled her eyes off her feline friend and grabbed a favorite apron, one with a colorful splay of California poppies. She donned a hairnet and tucked away a few graying strands of hair. Ready at last, she began her opening routine with a spry step that belied her sixty-year old legs.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be a busy morning, Martía, so if you’ll man the oven and deep fat fryer, I’ll make sure the display case out front is fully stocked.” The Gypsy woman nodded and, with another yawn, got to work.

This being a Friday and the start to a busy Fourth of July holiday weekend in the middle of tourist season, Dolly expected quite a crowd. But then, so far this summer, most weekends had boasted a whirlwind of activity.

After just two months of business, the Hut was already the community’s hotspot and a favorite stop for vacationers on their way to a mountain lake getaway; it was not unusual to see a line forming at the front door by the time Dolly hit the lights and turned the Closed sign to Open.

~*~

Thanks for reading! If you want to get in on the mystery and like gentle bakery stories - and with a magical cat! - then book one, Ma Tutt's Donut Hut, might be of interest. Available at Amazon. Here's the back copy:

Dolly Tutt has just opened her own bakery in the small mountain community of Sugar Pine Station. But the Creamy Pie franchise across the street is giving her fits. Her business is dying. She needs a miracle or she'll be forced to close. 

Fortunately, Mack, a mysterious tabby that came with the doughnut shop, lends a paw by pointing Dolly to a magical ingredient that definitely puts the spice back in her life and rejuvenates the Donut Hut. Unfortunately, it also unleashes a series of catastrophes that may end up destroying her business once and for all. 

~*~

To find out what else I write, visit my publishing site, Tule Fog Press. And if you subscribe to my monthly newsletter, I'll send you a free ebook as a thank you gift. Appreciate you dropping by!