Monday, July 27, 2015

Reclaiming the Dinner Table

The typical lazy feel of Saturday mornings was shattered as I rushed to prepare everything for the weekly international meal we would be eating that evening.  The food processor quickly shredded eight cups of sweet potatoes that joined a fluffy mound of brown sugar and toasted pecans in one crock pot while the pound of black eyed peas I had been soaking overnight combined with bacon and onions to fill a second crock pot. 

Meanwhile, the rice cooker counted down to its distinctive ding as the chicken marinated in freshly squeezed lime juice.  Around me, the air filled with competing sweet and savory aromas of the Bahamas until the scent of a golden brown pineapple pie overpowered them all as it emerged from the oven. 

An hour later, I escaped the kitchen to spend the afternoon off the farm with my children while adopted daughter went to a wedding shower and husband set off to mow the lawn. 

At day's end, however, all six of us came back together as we do most every evening--gathered round the table to share a meal with each other.  It's a time for catching up with one another, sharing the highs (or lows) of our days, a time to breathe out the frustrations of the day and simply give thanks for the togetherness.

Several times in Scripture, God emphasizes the shared meal as a time of togetherness intended to foster relationship not simply with each other but with Him.

When speaking of the Promised Land, Moses tells the Israelites, "But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.  There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you" (Deut. 12:5-7).

There, in the midst of rules about worship, sacrifices and burnt offerings, Moses emphasizes that "you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God."  Notice this eating is done in community, not alone.  It is also done in conjunction with rejoicing--giving thanks!

This "eat before the Lord" is a concept repeated multiple times in Scripture.  It's not, however, about the meal, itself, or the need to replenish our bodies with food.  Instead, coming to a communal table to share in the meal is about relationship--about needing each other--as much as it is about thanksgiving, being mindfully thankful for what God has given us.  

Earlier at Mt. Sinai, Scripture demonstrates the meal as relationship.  In Exodus 24 after the people of Israel entered into a covenant with God, the entire congregation agreeing to obey the Law of the Lord, Scripture says "Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Ex. 24:9-11).

This eating was done, quite literally, before the Lord.  Obviously, it had nothing to do with consuming calories for one's health.  Instead, the meal was a way to commemorate the sealed covenant relationship between God and Israel.   And though Scripture doesn't record it, I imagine there was a good bit of rejoicing over the blessings of God.

The New Testament as well speaks of the shared meal in terms of relationship.  While the Lord's Supper is probably the meal that springs most easily to mind, there are numerous other instances of the communal table as a symbol for relationship.

In John's inaugural vision, Jesus calls the Church at Laodicea to the table of fellowship, saying, "'Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends'"(Rev. 3:20).

Later, John tells us that history is moving towards one great table of fellowship, thanksgiving, and rejoicing: "'Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.' It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he *said to me, 'Write, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb''" (Rev. 19:7-9).

The focus of the meal is on rejoicing in the Lord our God.  It is on being thankful for His many blessings.  It is on our relationship with Him.

Though our culture seems to have less and less time for such a luxury as a shared meal round a table (except for on holidays), Christians should strive to reclaim the family dinner table as much as is possible.  No matter whether it's frozen fish sticks and fries or a four-course meal--it is in this seated position around the table where we can teach our children about the Lord, can strengthen our relationships with each other, and can strengthen our relationship with God as we seek to make the meal a time to mindfully rejoice in unity and give communal thanks for His blessings.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Even if Creation is Uncreated

With three children somersaulting through my every second this summer, it has been difficult to get anything done, including my Bible study.  I almost always manage to get the "reading" part complete.  It's the "studying" part, the "basking in the silence" part that's jarringly interrupted by mommy's name being taken in vain for the thousandth time.

When my household is an off-key symphony of constant noise, that's when I crave the silence necessary to hear His still, small voice...when I understand best the words of Psalm 46 that command me to "Be still, and know that I am God" (v. 11).

In truth, I have needed to be still.  This space has sat untouched for the past two weeks with me unsure of what to say in a world both completely changed by a Supreme Court ruling yet not changed either.  For the past year, the news media and the entertainment industry have continued to loudly promote the extreme as the new normal while Christians around me have spoken more softly in tones of increasing hopelessness and fear.

On our weekly prayer walks the past two weeks, I've felt a country's anger pointed to me as a Christian.  Overnight, it seems, I have become the enemy of too many because of my faith.  When I feel the anger in their words, see the fire of disgust light their eyes, it would be so easy to give in to the fear, to let  hopelessness wash over me.

Only in His Word do I find a message of hope and security.  Psalm 46 speaks of God's creation in destructive turmoil against the backdrop of the unchanging, protective nature of God:

"God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts." (v. 1-6)

At the sound of God's voice, "the earth melts." Think of the power in that statement.

The God who spoke in Genesis 1 and the earth was created. The God who spoke in a burning bush to Moses, yet it was not consumed. That same God speaks here--and the earth melts. I looked it up, and the word means just what it sounds like--"to dissolve, to melt away."*

One commentary described it this way: "the creation itself may seem to be uncreated."

Creation's destruction is already underway.  The Center for Biological Diversity states, "Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals...We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural 'background' rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day."  At this rate, the Center predicts "as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century."

The scholarly journal Nature published a recent report that confirms this data while saying if we simply assume the future's "rate of extinction will be constant; it is currently estimated to range from 0.01% to 0.7% of all existing species a year."

Look around you; read the news and weather reports--do you sometimes feel as I do, that God is "un-creating" his very creation? Does your mind ever spin out of control in wonder and concern?

There. Is. Hope.

Verses 7 and 11 repeat the same words (and repetition is what this woman needed to finally hear it): "The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress."

Though the world around us tumbles, though it looks like creation is unraveling at the seams, though it looks like wars and turmoil will overtake the world....

Through it all, God wants to be our "fortress." God wants to be our "stronghold." God wants to be our "ever-present help."

But God isn't going to force Himself on anyone. We must choose to rest in Him if we want to experience that protection.  And to do that, we first must stop living like we've lost the war.  We must stop living each moment in a state of "what if" fear about what is to come.

Instead, we must prayerfully cast all our cares upon Him, knowing that He is not surprised in the least by what is happening around us and believing that He holds us--His children--in the loving, well-guarded palm of His hand.

* Baker and Carpenter. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament. p. 579.