Friday, May 18, 2018

Pentecost

Many followers of Jesus will observe May 20th this year as Pentecost. Jewish worshipers will observe Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) from sundown on May 19th through sundown on May 21st. The Feast of Weeks was one of three major festivals for Jewish worshipers under the Mosaic law. This past week, Jews continued its observance. It originally had agricultural significance (Worshipers brought a grain offering as well as animals to be sacrificed.), but came to be associated also with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, an association that remains today. In the New Testament, it is called by a Greek name – Pentecost. Pentecost has great meaning for Christians who have studied the book of Acts. As the giving of the Law ushered in a new era in God’s covenants with humanity, so the falling of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and the preaching of the Gospel by Peter marked the beginning of the church. Instructions regarding the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus 23 included a command to leave grain in the fields for the poor and the sojourner. The book of Acts notes continued care for the poor in the aftermath of Pentecost. The beginning of Christ’s church also marked the teaching of God’s word to ever-widening circles of people – now all ethnicities could celebrate together the abundant gifts from our Creator and God. Peter’s message on Pentecost also noted individual responsibility to God to obey his will. After preaching about how God had made Jesus, whom they had crucified, both Lord and Christ, Peter instructed his hearers to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ of the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Today individuals begin their identification as Christians with obedience to those same words, and like those early Christians, we still devote ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

His Only Master Was Jesus

Fifty years ago, Marshall Keeble died at the age of 89. Leroy Garrett, in a book about the history of churches of Christ, called brother Keeble one of the princes of the church (Stone Campbell Movement, 680). Earl West, in his history Search for the Ancient Order identified Keeble as one of the three best preachers among churches of Christ in the first half of the twentieth century (Volume 4, 140). Marshall Keeble had no political power. He was not wealthy. His father had been born a slave. Yet he wielded, and continues to exert, great influence in the Lord’s church. He preached in small churches and clearings. He preached in large public auditoriums to a packed house. He preached in Europe and in Africa as well as in the United States; he baptized more than ten thousand people. Among his greatest achievements was his mentoring of young men who wanted to preach. In 1939, he became the President of Nashville Christian Institute, a school for training African-American preachers. Some of the students travelled with him on evangelistic campaigns and learned even more as they listened and as they watched. Although Keeble was a powerful preacher, he emphasized that he was not the focal point of the assembly. He pointed people to focus on Jesus, saying things like, “Don’t follow your Momma. Follow Jesus. He knows how to get to Heaven. He’s made the round trip. Your Momma don’t know the way to Heaven – she’s never been there” (Willie Cato, His Hand and Heart, 37). He exhorted his hearers to “prove all things, then hold fast to that which is good.” My parents took me to hear Marshall Keeble preach in 1964 when he was about 85 years old and I was 7 years old. He impressed me greatly with his fervent preaching that could capture the interest even of a small boy. As my family left the auditorium that night, I reached up to shake his hand and asked him if he would come to preach where I went to church. After asking me where I lived and worshiped, he was silent for a few seconds, then he smiled as he answered, “Maybe someday.” He loved to pray. He loved to preach. He loved his family and he enjoyed baseball. But more than anything else, he loved the Lord. The Lord Jesus was his master. His biographer observed that what made Marshall Keeble great was “…NO BODY and NO THING mastered him, except the Master himself.” (His Hand and Heart, 134). Let’s pray that they will say the same of us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Worship That Pleases God

What is worship? What does it mean to offer acceptable worship to God? In the church of Christ, we often associate correct worship with the reverent performance of certain acts. When we meet, we expect to pray, to sing, to give, to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and to hear the preaching of the Word of God. We may hope that the songs will be familiar (or new ones that capture our imagination), that the prayers, and sermon, will be short, and that we will not drop a communion tray, but we assemble with these expectations for corporate worship. Repetition of these acts, however, is not all there is to worship as individuals or as the church of Christ. Psalm 119 is all about prayer and knowing the word of God. However, the Psalmist also speaks of meditating on the word and doing what it says. He speaks of serving God with all one’s heart; he praises the God whose love still is apparent in the world around us. Worship is offered with intention. We hear frequent warnings to avoid texting while driving. Texting while operating a vehicle is dangerous. Worship too requires focus on where we are, what we are doing, and who we are worshiping. We can perform all the right acts while worshiping and still offer worship that God will not accept. In Isaiah 1:12-20, God castigates Israel for their unacceptable worship. Yes, they gather in the courts of the temple. Yes, they offer sacrifices and burn incense. They observe the required religious feasts at the proper times. They even observe the Sabbath and raise their hands in prayer. God tells them, ”Stop!” He “cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” He tells them,
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16-17 ESV).
Worshiping God acceptably requires us to take God and his will seriously. God is a God of steadfast love. He also is “a father to the fatherless and the widow.” If we worship him, we also will seek justice for the oppressed, and assistance for the needy. Worship translates into practice in our lives. Our lifestyle must cohere with our worship. And so we pray to our God with the Psalmist, “
In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth (Psalm 119:88 ESV).

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Meaning of Worship

Psalm 105:1-2 says: "Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name; sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!" As I read those verses, I hear a call to worship God. Both Webster's New Dictionary of the English Language and Harper's Bible Dictionary supply an underlying meaning of worship as an "act of reverence toward a deity." Harper's includes in the Old Testament context illustrations of sacrifice, prayer, and song as means of expressing that reverence, and observes that New Testament worship was characterized by joy. Ephesians 5:19-21 helps to define worship for me, especially the phrases "singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The Ephesian passage has parallels to Psalm 105 of singing to the Lord and giving thanks to God. Notice the mention of reverence in Ephesians 5:21. Reverence, in the Bible, combines aspects of respect and fear. One of the words for worship in the Bible means “to bend the knee.” It brings to mind the apostle John’s falling at the feet of Jesus in Revelation chapter 1. Worship is not always somber, however. James exhorts those who are happy to sing praises (James 5:13). People will sometimes excuse their absence from assemblies of the church by saying that all of life is worship. Indeed, the apostle Paul wrote, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). We should act each day, wherever we are and whatever we are doing, as if we were in the presence of God. However, sometimes we forget that we are in the presence of God, and on those occasions, we may find ourselves acting as if there were no God, saying or doing things that later we will regret. The Bible teaches that the people of God gather together to worship him by means of certain actions. In the Old Testament, regular gatherings for religious feasts included singing, sacrifices, and communal meals. In the New Testament, Christians pray, give, eat a memorial meal, and sing praises to God, although the assembly also has an important purpose of encouraging other believers in Jesus through teaching and song. We worship when we are aware of being in the presence of the God who created our universe. We worship together to reinforce the bonds of faith that unite us and give us strength.

Monday, April 02, 2018

The Personal Impact of the Resurrection

When I was about six years old, my father would take me with him when he would study the Bible with people who wanted to know more about becoming a Christian. He frequently used Jule Miller’s Bible filmstrips for those studies. That series uses paintings of biblical events to describe what happened. One of the paintings that impressed me most as a child was one in which a triumphant Christ emerges from the tomb. The stone has been rolled aside and the guards are shielding their eyes from brilliant light that is coming from Jesus’ body. The painting vividly communicates Christ’s victory over death. While the painting is an artist’s concept of the impact of the resurrection event, John 20:15-17 describes how the resurrection affected one woman. A distressed Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty and is convinced that the body of Jesus has been stolen. Then she turns and meets a very much alive Jesus, whose voice confirms his identity to her. Jesus says to her, Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. '" Verse 17 indicates one of the privileges that disciples of Jesus would gain through the resurrection. They could be adopted into the family of God and could call God “my Father.” They could now be sons or daughters of God. As their fellow disciples, Christians today share that privilege. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is more than a dusty historical fact that we must believe as Christians. It definitely is not an April Fool’s Day joke. Because of his resurrection, Christians may address the Creator of the universe as our Father. We have been adopted into what the Bible calls the family of God, the Body of Christ, the Church of Christ. Because of the resurrection, we have reason to hope, to believe, and love. We too can win the victory over death.

Friday, March 23, 2018

How Will You Respond to Jesus?

Large crowds surged to hear Jesus in villages and in Jerusalem. They even swarmed into wilderness areas to find the one who spoke like no one else spoke, who healed disease, and who loved the outcast. Even as they praised him, voices from among them challenged the credentials of the teacher, the content of his teaching, and his faithfulness to God’s law (How dare he heal on the Sabbath, a day of rest, was among their complaints.). When Jesus spoke of sacrifice, commitment, and death, crowds diminished. After his arrest, the voices of his supporters were drowned out by the clamor of those demanding his execution. Two of his closest associates betrayed him, one by taking money to hand him over to authorities, and the other by denying that he knew him. Paradox surrounds the ministry of Jesus. Crowds wanted to make him king (John 6); others denied him, saying they had no other king than Caesar. He healed disease, but his priority was healing the soul. He was criticized because he socialized too much, and with the wrong people; he withdrew often to quiet places by himself. He marveled at the faith of a Roman Soldier, talked with women (which just wasn’t done), touched a leper, and prayed for the unity of his disciples, but demanded an allegiance that would create friction in other relationships (Matthew 10:34-39). Large crowds still gather to hear the message of Jesus. Voices from among the crowds still challenge his claims and denounce the content of his preaching. Others still follow him when it is convenient, but drift away when his call to take up their cross and sacrifice for him interferes with their goals or their schedule. His prayer for unity remains, but his followers bicker among themselves, demean one another, and still, like the earliest disciples, seek to be the greatest rather than the servant. The question for us is, “What will we do with Jesus?” Will we praise him when it is convenient, but renounce him by our silence or absence when it is not? Will we follow him, or live life our way? Jesus’s words remind us why our answers to those questions are critical: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Friday, December 08, 2017

What Bible Translation Do People Read Most?

During the Men’s Wednesday Night Bible class at Leavenworth Church of Christ last week, we considered what Bible translations have had the most influence since the beginning of the church. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew with a few verses in Aramaic; The New Testament was written in Greek, mostly the conversational dialect used in the marketplace. As Jewish communities spread around the Mediterranean Sea and to the east of Palestine, fluency in Hebrew decreased. So a couple of centuries before Jesus was born, approximately seventy translators produced a Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. This Greek translation often is quoted in the New Testament; the Septuagint would have a powerful influence through both its being used it self and those New Testament quotations. In the late 300’s, a scholar named Jerome was commissioned to translate the Bible into Latin, which had become the dominant language of the western Roman Empire. His translation, called the Vulgate because he tried to make it readable for the common reader, would become the most used (by far) translation of the Bible through the mid-1500’s, and perhaps even longer, for it would be used in churches that conducted their services in Latin through the 1960’s. In 1536, Martin Luther published a translation of the Bible in German that would profoundly influence German language, literature, and culture. In 1611, the Church of England published a translation that would exert that same kind of influence on English language, literature, and culture for 350 years – the King James Version. In recent years, translations like the New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, and English Standard Version have become widely used. However, although the four translations first cited have exerted enormous influence on civilization, they were not and are not the most widely read Bible translations. You and I are. That’s right. Many more people learn about Jesus and his teachings by watching Christians shop, work, and play than learn by reading the Bible. That raises an important, and perhaps troubling question. How accurately do our lives translate the message of Christ? What do our choices say about what it means to be a Christian? Bible translators must know three languages well to translate the Bible. We must understand the Bible and our culture if we are to communicate Christ well to our neighbors. How good a translation of the Bible are you?