This past weekend, something fun and unique happened in our culture. Much of the country was focused on two movies which happened to debut on the same weekend. In this day of have-it-your-way right away, and an overload of personalized choices wherever you go, it is actually unusual for so many of us to be aware of the same thing at the same time. So even just in this sense, the two-movie weekend was a good thing for our often divided country.
These two movies could not have been more different, at least on the surface. Barbie wins the day for promotional prowess, with bright pink, sunny cheerfulness everywhere in the year leading up to the debut. Oppenheimer, in contrast, is gloomy and dark and somber, both in media and in storyline. One deals with fantasyland, and the other with something more real-life-and-death than any of us ever wanted. But upon closer inspection and introspection, it turns out that they are about exactly the same thing - the fact that the world is broken and needs fixing.
Most of us spend much of our lives dealing with the harsh reality that life is just not easy. There are moments, even seasons of relative peace and plenty in most of our lives, but no matter where you live or what your family history entails, life is most often filled with a maze of difficult relationships and situations to navigate. None of us can escape conflict, whether it be world-war scale ideology versus ideology, nation against nation, tribe against tribe, us against them, all the way down to a very personal me versus you…”this is my dream house, not yours.”
Making matters worse is the deeply embedded idea that life should be easy, and could be easy, if only everyone else would cooperate. But it is so interesting to consider how differently we all think! We do not have the same opinions or tastes. We do not have the same experiences or perspectives. Even people who were born to the same parents and grew up in the exact same home can be as different as night and day. Some people think we should all hop out of bed, and not waste a single second of the day until we get back in bed at the end of day, while others are dizzied by such behavior and think things should be significantly slower paced. Some want everyone to be dressed formally, while others rejoice at the comfort of athleisure wear. Some love classical music, while others love rap. NASCAR versus a polo match, chocolate or vanilla, Coke or Pepsi - this could go on for days. Some of us love pineapple on pizza, mayonnaise on sandwiches, and nothing spicy on anything, while others think all of those things are fighting words.
Our tastes and perspectives are so different! We all know this, we see this every day in almost every conversation we have. Yet, every one of us are continually shocked that not everyone around thinks exactly the same way as me. Still we somehow forge ahead, believing that peace will be achieved when everyone finally thinks and acts exactly like we do. Everyone is limited by this same self-centered perspective. We can only see what we can see, and from where we’re standing, our way looks better than everyone else’s. Each of us is afflicted with a common malady - selfishness.
So, everyone can agree that the world is broken and needs fixing, but what is the solution? Here come the disagreements again. Some would say more money can fix things, but then we argue endlessly whether the capitalists or communists have got the right idea. Some would say that better education might help, but then we can’t agree on what the curricula or faculties should be like. Many hope that politics and good governance might help, but the divisions in thinking here are so vast as to be nearly laughable. Then there is religion - but that especially gets so complicated and messy so fast, and there are as many opinions around the world to which way is the right way as there are flavors of ice cream. No matter what solution is offered, someone will always think it was a poor choice, or that everyone is doing it incorrectly.
As different as both of the aforementioned movies seem, they actually agree that the world is broken. But who can fix it? Again, a question that leads to so much disagreement. One of the movies last week decided that the people who had a turn had really messed things up, so let the other group have a shot, no matter the cost or resultant dissonance. In the second movie, the solution was scientists developing ethically complex and terrifying weaponry to attempt to keep everyone in the world from going any further down the road to destruction, and everyone is still arguing whether it should have been done or not. It seems we will never agree on who ought to make an attempt to make things better. Should it be the Boomers or the Millennials, the left or the right, the poor or the rich, the east or the west, and on and on? No matter who tries to help, someone will always think the attempt was severely lacking and missed the mark.
Eight billion people alive today, all saddled with a self-centered perspective and point of view. A broken planet full of strife and suffering, with no agreement on the horizon of what should be done to make things better or by whom. We keep on looking to the same things to fix our problems - money, education, governance, strict adherence to the rules of religion, science and technology, military might, yet our problems remain. Now we have added 24/7 access to the internet and algorithms working overtime to keep us feeling that everyone else is doing everything wrong.
Are we doomed? Should we all just give up trying to fix our broken world?
If only there was someone who could help us - someone who could bring a solution that could eradicate our universal problem of selfishness and self-interest…
Of course, there is Someone who can do that.
Jesus Christ has come to take away the sin and selfishness of the world. Emmanuel, God with us, imparts His own righteousness to us, replacing our hard hearts of stone with new, soft hearts. By the Holy Spirit, our selfish perspective is changed to an others-focused perspective. By God’s grace, when I come to Him and surrender my selfish will, He fills my heart and life with beautiful, fruitful things - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus gives us the very thing we need, but can never give ourselves - a spiritual change of heart. He helps us to be able to truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even if they think or look or act really differently than we do.
Now, imagine how wonderful it might be if there was a whole group of people in every land and village who were set free from the tyranny of selfishness, and could see that every one of their neighbors, near and far, were just as valuable as themselves. Think what it could be like if a group of people like this stopped expecting everyone, everywhere to think exactly like themselves, and just introduced others to Jesus. He could give so many others new hearts, too, and by His Spirit could bring out the very best in each person. Soon, it would be a world made better by people with hearts filled with love and forgiveness, hope and joy, care and concern; with people who can and will help one another, and who can appreciate and respect the image of God stamped on every life.
This is God’s great plan to fix the broken world. God loves every one of the wildly different people on the planet - He is the One who made us with such different preferences and ways of thinking! He sent His Son who willingly gave His life so that anyone who will accept Him can be set free. Now He fills us with His Holy Spirit and sends us out to share the great news with everyone in our lives. We are a big part of His plan.
So please don’t give up! No matter how dark things get, no matter how rampant sin and selfishness run, keep letting the love and light of Jesus shine through your life. Everyone around you needs to know of God’s great love…
How amazing that the Lord of All gives us the dignity to be a part of His plan! I’m so pleased to offer a new book to you over this very subject. Of course, I hope you will read it and be blessed as an individual, but even better would be to read it with a group of friends. There has never been a better time for followers of Jesus to have a healthy understanding of God’s purpose and plan, and how each of our lives fits into His story. This is the perfect time for people who want to help this broken world to enter into discussion about what that could look like in our own homes and communities.
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Some of the best times in life take place with our feet underneath a table. Just last week, celebrating the 4th of July and the independence of our nation, we gathered with much of our family and shared a wonderful meal. The food was delicious, but the company was even better. We told old stories, and shared new ones. We laughed together, and sympathized with one another. We are all especially enjoying the addition of a whole new generation to the family - the littlest ones among us bring a new delight and wonder to everything we might consider commonplace. Seeing their eyes light up as they enjoy strawberry ice cream for the first time, or as they watch simple glowing sparklers, provides something nourishing to our souls.
Another time last fall, we were able to have dinner with a good friend of mine from high school and her husband. At a reunion like that, the years roll back and fellowship is so joyful and encouraging. And just a month ago, we gathered on the other side of the country with longtime friends for an annual visit. We feasted, but it was more than celebrating the wonderful food: it was a celebration of life and friendship and hope for the future. Nobody wants to get up and leave a table like that. The very presence of God is with us as we dine together.
Think of all of the best meals you have ever had - I can think of so many lovely gatherings, can’t you? And they don’t always happen around holidays and special celebrations. I am thinking of one dinner in particular, with some good friends who had been going through a frightening rough patch in their marriage. They braved the storm to come sit at our table with us, and the Lord helped us all have such a delightful evening together. Rather than focus on the difficult time we were all well aware of, as we ate we remembered good things from the past, and dreamed of hopeful things for the future. It felt so good to laugh and to share happiness and hope together that night, and I am so grateful to God to say that their marriage has weathered that hard time. I can think of other meals shared when tragedy had struck someone’s life. Life is certainly not always easy, but even the most difficult burdens can be eased when we share them with one another. Even when there is no “happy ending”, or at least not the one we might have wished for at the time, something about being together and vocalizing the truths and realities of Jesus and His Kingdom fills our hearts with courage and fortitude.
This is not just a coincidence. I am convinced that God wants us to share meals together, and often. In our fast paced, fast food, and single serving meal kind of world, it is a good idea to slow down and consider this. God created us with the need to refuel every few hours. He also made us to have taste buds, while He made possible all the delicious things out there to eat and drink - bread, cheese, smoked salmon, berries, chocolate, lattes, lemonade… the list goes on and on! Built in to humanity are both the need to eat and the ability to enjoy the fulfillment of that need. Also built in is the wonder, mystery, and delight of interdependence. We need God and we need one another. How lovely when those needs can all converge on such a regular basis as we break bread together!
Notice how frequently the Word of God mentions tables and meals…
-In Egypt, Joseph’s table is laden high with food and drink for his brothers, and five times as much given to his mother’s youngest son, Benjamin. The graciousness and generosity of God is displayed through this meal; recall the brothers didn’t yet know it was Joseph, or that God had turned what they meant for evil in his life to everyone’s good.
-The Tabernacle in the wilderness had a special table, covered in gold and laden with golden dishes and implements, that was to have the bread of the Presence on it at all times. God's table is always open and available, and is always beautiful and nourishing.
-The cycle of the year as prescribed in the law was to revolve around seven special multi-day feasts, ordained by God. In striking contrast, the law called for far fewer times of national fasting. God has made the world and us for His pleasure, and invites us frequently to join Him in His pleasure and celebration.
-David’s royal table always had a seat for Mephibosheth, the crippled grandson of Saul, the complicated king who tried to kill David many times. According to the world’s code, every one of your enemy’s relations should be wiped out to ensure your own security, but according to God, forgiveness and friendship make a reserved seat at the royal table. David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote more about the Lord’s table in one of the most familiar and beloved psalms, Psalm 23. It is thought that he wrote that song as an old man looking back on a life lived with the fellowship and presence of God - the Lord who is both the Good Shepherd and Gracious King, Who prepares a place at His table, even in the presence of enemies.
-The beautiful bride in the Song of Solomon, a book understood to be both an individual love story as well as a picture of God’s love for His people, sings of the banqueting table her beloved has prepared for her. It is laden with choice delicacies, and the banner hanging over it spells out LOVE. Think of every wedding feast you have ever been to, and of the special table reserved for the wedding party - God is preparing a setting like that for us!
Then came Jesus, Emmanuel and God the Son, who shows us just what the Father is like. He spent a lot of time eating and drinking with others, so much so that His enemies and detractors thought it was suspicious. They didn’t think anyone holy should be spending so much time in fellowshipping with others around a table. Evidently Jesus didn’t agree. He ate with His friends, He ate with sinners and tax collectors, and He ate with self-righteous religious people. He had an impromptu picnic with thousands of people, barbecued on the beach, and even invited Himself and His disciples to a man’s house for lunch one day. It seems there was rarely an opportunity missed to spend time with others around a meal.
Even on the night that He was betrayed, Jesus took the bread and the cup from the table they were gathered around, and blessed them. The God who wants us to be careful to purposely and regularly remember the vital and important things in life, blessed the bread and said, “‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Now, certainly when we gather for worship and to celebrate communion, but also every time we break bread together, we can remember what the Lord has done and what He has promised to do.
His table is open to all who will come; there is a seat reserved just for you. God’s table is laden with good, beautiful, nourishing things - with fresh daily bread and new mercies each morning. You are wanted, eagerly expected, and there is no hurried rush at God's table. Enjoy His presence, enjoy His company and delight, enjoy His goodness. Our own tables can reflect this wondrous truth. We can put courage and hope into one another’s hearts as we eat and talk and fellowship, with the Lord Himself always at the head of every table we put our feet under.
Our faith can be strengthened as we remember how His body was broken so that our bodies could be made whole, and as we remember that His blood was shed as a sacrifice once and for all of our sins. The table is the place we can encourage and uplift one another; where we can laugh and cry and hope and dream with one another until the Lord returns. Then, on that beautiful day, we will gather at the last table the Bible mentions for the marriage supper of the Lamb, where His shining banner of love will be over and around us forever.
Until then, when we set the table for a meal, let’s recognize the presence of Jesus with us as we gather, and let’s set a couple of extra places to invite some friends and neighbors! May the Lord bless and keep you this week and always -
I am so grateful and pleased to announce that my new book, Living Stones, is now available for pre-order! What a wonderful time for followers of Jesus to engage together in a Biblically-based conversation about healthy Christian community. This book is designed for personal and group study, and is available for purchase here:
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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