Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Sacred Meal” by Nora Gallagher

It has been a long time – too long a time, really – since I posted a book review.  But I completed a little book this evening, which had been recommended to me by a friend, so I will give it a little plug.

As the title suggests, The Sacred Meal is about the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion.  (It is part of “The Ancient Practices Series” of books edited by Phyllis Tickle, and published by Thomas Nelson.)  The author is a writer and novelist who is also a lay altar server in her local Episcopal Church in California; she writes from those perspectives, and her writing suggests that she might find herself a bit left-of-centre in the Episcopal theological spectrum.

If we look at the Lord’s Supper as having two primary players – Jesus and us – Gallagher writes as an incarnationalist and a communalist, if I may employ those two terms as a matter of my own interpretation of the book.  She strings together a variety of stories, mostly from her own experience, which highlight the importance of the Eucharist as a gathering of people from all walks of life and all manner of baggage attached.  She also writes with a very human understanding of Jesus.

While I would assess that her good intentions also reveal a somewhat flawed hermeneutic – from my rather more conservative, Reformed perspective – Gallagher also gives us some very helpful thoughts to consider in our celebration of Communion, irrespective of the tradition in which we celebrate it.  For example, as part of her recounting of one serving experience, she says, “Holy Communion was a web, a web of people who were being stitched together.  And tomorrow, we would need to be stitched together again.  Over and over.  One person to the next” (p. 6).

And the Lord is part of that stitching.  She writes, “Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone who came after him to remember what they had together.  What they made together.  What it meant to be together.  How the things he wanted them to do could not be done alone.  How the things he did could not have been done without them” (p. 24, emphasis hers).  Too often, many in the church see a communion-less Communion:  It’s “Jesus ‘n’ me,” instead of “Jesus and us.”  We are all in this together at the Lord’s Table.  Our individualistic approach causes us to lose perspective on the communal nature of our celebration.

Gallagher emphasizes the importance of frequent celebration when she writes, “The regular practice of Communion is meant to help us move from being the citizens of an empire to the citizens of heaven” (p. 34).

Many of her stories are heartwarming; some are heart-wrenching; all make the reader think about what the sacred meal can be for participants.  While I don’t agree with everything in this book, I think it is well worth the 137-page read.

Nora Gallagher, The Sacred Meal.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2009.  ISBN 978-0-8499-0092-1.

Biblical Messages

TAKE A VOW: Sex – Gross, God, or Gift?

Sex is a topic not often addressed in church.  Our culture still sees it as somehow inappropriate for discussion among God’s people gathered.  And that’s too bad, because the church, by its silence, condones society’s approach – which is decidedly not what Scripture teaches.  The world says we should be free to “hook up, shack up, and break up”, while God calls us to get married, move in together, and then enjoy sex.

This was a difficult message to preach, and perhaps a difficult message to hear, but one that needed to be heard in the context of a series on marriage.

Based on Genesis 2.18-25, 1 Timothy 4.1-5, and Romans 1.18-25, you can listen to “Gross, God, or Gift?” by clicking here.

Feel free to comment.  How have you sought to communicate God’s plan for sex to your kids?  Or what do you wish you had done differently?

Encouragement From The Word

Happy birthday, Church!

This Sunday, on the Christian calendar, the church marks Pentecost Sunday.  Celebrated fifty days after Easter, Pentecost commemorates the gift of the Holy Spirit to the earliest believers, really marking the birthday of the church.

Whenever your local church celebrates its anniversary, the universal church celebrates its birthday on Pentecost Sunday.

What happened when the Holy Spirit was sent upon those first Christ-followers?  Miraculous things occurred!  The Spirit came, with tongues of fire, and the believers began speaking in other languages, talking about the wonderful things God had done among the Jewish people who had gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world.  The purpose of these tongues in which people were speaking was evangelism:  they were sharing their faith with people whose languages they did not ordinarily speak.

Imagine if you were sitting on a park bench, and someone sat down at the other end of the bench – someone you didn’t know.  All of a sudden, you spoke aloud, in a language you didn’t understand.  Once you were finished speaking, and had caught your breath realizing what you had done, you asked the person at the other end of the bench, “Did you understand what I just said?”

Imagine, then, if the person at the other end of the bench responded by saying, “Yes.  You told me how much God loves me, and that Jesus died for me.  And you said it in the language of my heart, which I grew up speaking.”

Remarkable, isn’t it?  And yet that very thing has happened.  God has equipped people with a gift of speaking in tongues, just like at Pentecost, for his glory.

A lot of people wonder why the gift of tongues doesn’t show up in every church.  I suspect this has something to do with the fact that people tend to congregate with others who think and act the way they do.  We’ve institutionalized this and called it “denominationalism”.  Yet how often, I wonder, are spiritual gifts like tongues lost in the church because of fear?

Is what happened at that first Christian Pentecost supposed to be normative?  Some say yes, others say no.  Either way, we can’t deny that when the Lord sent his Holy Spirit, amazing things happened, and people came to faith in Jesus Christ.

Even if tongues aren’t normative in your church or mine, one thing that should be normative is people coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  For, as Luke records at the end of the Pentecost story in Acts 2, “each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47b, NLT).

Why not celebrate Pentecost this weekend by inviting a friend to church with you?  (If you’re part of St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, you can invite your friends by telling them the preacher is going to talk about sex in marriage!  You, and they, won’t want to miss it!)

Biblical Messages

TAKE A VOW: Taking out the trash

If you’re going to get rid of the stink, you’ve got to take out the trash.  This applies in home economics and in marriage!  We need to practise repentance and forgiveness to have good, godly marriages.  This message is based on Ephesians 4.25-5.2, and can be listened to by clicking here.

It was noted to me after the worship gathering at which I preached this message that if, in fact, I could find an 80-inch television for $1500, I should probably buy it.  (Guess I didn’t do my homework on that one!)

Encouragement From The Word

The Long Weekend After Ascension Day

Most of us are looking forward to the long weekend that starts later today.  (In Nobleton, the Victoria Day weekend marks a special time as a community, when we celebrate on Monday with a parade through the streets of town, followed by a ‘fun fair’ at the community centre, and an amazing fireworks display in the evening.)  Everybody knows that it’s a long weekend.  But if I asked you what yesterday marked, would you know?

Many of you would know that yesterday was Ascension Day, the day marked by Christians to celebrate the time, forty days after the resurrection, when Jesus ascended into heaven.

Ascension Day is not the most popular feast on the church calendar, but it is an important day.  It underscores the importance of Jesus’ birth, teaching ministry, death, and resurrection.  Without the ascension of Jesus, who “sits at the right hand of the Father” according to the Apostles’ Creed, his role as our one true Intercessor would be missing.  Without the ascension of Jesus, the promised Holy Spirit would not have come to dwell within us as happened at Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended.

The disciples were baffled, of course, since they thought the resurrection was the end of the story, and that their ministry with the Lord would carry on as before the crucifixion.  But that was not God’s plan.  No, Jesus assured the disciples that God had another plan for kingdom ministry.  It would be done through them:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8, NIV).

At this, Jesus was taken up into heaven, and his friends stood there, agape, staring up at the sky.  It took a couple of heavenly messengers to remind them of what Jesus had said, and to assure them that he would return, one day, as he had ascended.

With that, the book of Acts continues to retell the unfolding story of the life of the early church, beginning with the appointment of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the gathered believers.

That same commission, given to the first disciples, is given to disciples today, as well:   “you will be my witnesses.”  Ascension day reminds us that we are called to carry on the work of Christ in the world, sharing his truth and compassion with people locally (Jerusalem), in the region (Judea and Samaria), and all around the world (to the ends of the earth).

Ascension day reminds us that the mission of God in the world is ours to carry out, under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit.  That’s why I love the Nobleton tradition of celebrating Victoria Day as a community, because it allows me to be a witness for Jesus in our town.  And that’s a start.

What will you do this weekend, or next week, to be a witness of Jesus where you are?

Biblical Messages

TAKE A VOW: Love and Respect

As Emerson Eggerichs says in his book, what wives most want from their husbands is love, and what husbands most want from their wives is respect.  Doesn’t seem all that challenging, does it?  Marriage is not easy – it’s not a 50/50 proposition, but a 100/100 proposition!  In this message, we tackle a difficult Bible passage, and do all we can to remove our ‘cultural goggles’ as we read it.  It begins with a little lesson on the biases of Bible translation.

The message is based on Ephesians 5.21-33, and can be listened to by clicking this link.

You can watch the video that’s shown at the end of the message by clicking here.

Feel free to comment!  How has your marriage lived out the truth of love and respect?  Of Ephesians 5?

Encouragement From The Word

Get out of your rut!

Last week, my wife and I went camping around the west side of Lake Michigan, an area we’d never visited before.   I fear we missed most of Wisconsin due to rain!  It rained very heavily in that area before and during our time there.

We stopped in one campground for the evening, and in my attempts to get the van levelled, managed to get it stuck!  The ground was very soft from all the rain, and we were driving on grass alone.  The more we tried to get out, the deeper our ruts got.  We knew we needed to do something different.

Along came one of the campground’s workers, and she suggested taking my levelling blocks – picture big, square LEGO™ blocks – and lay them flat in the base of the ruts so we would have some traction to back over them, and out of the ruts.

It was a good idea.  It worked.  We got out, stayed the night, and made it home!

This got me thinking, though, about how we get into ruts in our lives.  Whether it’s in the routines of marriage and family life, or the way we ‘do’ church, or even the way we drive to work each day, we tend to create comfortable ruts for ourselves.  Yet someone has defined a rut as a grave that’s open on both ends – not such a good thing!

We do well to be challenged to get out of the ruts we make for ourselves.  God longs to give us new opportunities to serve him, yet we often find it easier to stay in the places where we’ve “always been”.

I knew someone once who lived in a very small community, and only left that very small community to go to a nearby slightly larger community about once a year.  Change, for that person, was not welcome.  Yet there are so many possibilities God can help us explore if we will find some creative way to get us out of our life’s ruts and onto solid ground that will let us travel – emotionally, if not physically – to new places.

Change can be overwhelming for some, so start with baby steps.  Try having something different from “the usual” when you go out for dinner.  Try watching a different newscast on TV.  Try reading a different translation of the Bible.  Try a new brand of coffee.  These are all little things, but they can lead to bigger things that can really make a difference in life.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10.10, NIV).  When we came to faith in Jesus, that was a big change – and look at the difference it made in our lives!  Consider how other changes could make a positive difference for you.  Find something to give you traction, and get out of your ruts today!

Encouragement From The Word

Why I chose to lease a hybrid vehicle

The lease on my vehicle was to come to a conclusion later this year, and as so often happens, the company made an overture to attempt to get me to lease another vehicle from it.  So I began doing the math, and the research, to figure out what I was going to do.

I loved the vehicle, and under other circumstances, might have taken the option to purchase at the end of the lease.  However, I’ve been watching the price of gas move ever-upward, and decided that smaller would be better.  Even though I like sitting up high, I’d be prepared to sit down low if it meant driving past the gas station instead of to it.  So the company made an offer, and I bit.

I now drive a hybrid.

Why a hybrid? you might ask.  The reason is twofold:  to save money on fuel, and to cut down on emissions (thus lowering my “carbon footprint”, at least a little).

Why does this matter?  Well, other than the cost saving, I’d like to think that this is one small thing I can do to help preserve the earth, and I believe that it’s my responsibility, as a follower of Jesus, to help preserve the earth.

Most people think it’s the responsibility of government, or environmental advocacy groups, to do the whole ‘ecology’ thing.  In reality, though, it’s the church’s job first.  Why?  Because, as the Psalmist put it, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24.1, NIV).

That’s right.  The witness of the Bible calls us to take care of the earth, because God made it, and it belongs to him.  In Genesis, God gave humanity “dominion” over the earth.  It’s ours to take care of on God’s behalf.  That’s why churches should be at the forefront of recycling, composting, using reusable dishes for coffee hours and pot lucks, using public transportation, and being intentional about how we use our motor vehicles.

We may not think that what we contribute to the dirtying of the air or the heightening of a landfill site amounts to much, but when you put together the contributions of all Christ-followers, if we heed the Psalmist’s implied call to action, we can make a real difference in this world for its preservation.

We don’t just preserve the earth for the sake of the next generation, as important as that is (until Jesus returns!).  More importantly, we take care of the world because it is the creation of the God we worship.  What more reason do we need than that?

Think about that, the next time you buy or lease a vehicle, or idle at a drive-thru to get a cup of coffee in a throwaway container!  Whatever choices we make in our desire to take care of God’s world, let’s be intentional about our decisions.