Focusing On Communion

Posted by on January 27, 2002 under Sermons

[The order of worship was different from the typical Sunday. After an elder made introductory remarks and led a prayer, David focused the assembly and began discussing the simplicity of early Christianity praise.]

In the early years of Christianity, praising God was simple. I doubt that any of us grasp just how simple it was.

  1. For hundreds of years, when Israel worshipped Jehovah God or idolatrous people worshipped one of their gods, praising Jehovah God or praising one of the gods was a complex task.
    1. All praise in what we consider the ancient world had some things in common.
      1. All praise of a deity commonly involved these things:
        1. A designated place
        2. A priesthood
        3. An altar
        4. A sacrifice
      2. The worshippers went to a designated place with their sacrifice to offer praise.
        1. If it was in Israel, Jewish priests took the sacrifices and offered them to Jehovah God.
        2. Or, if it was in other nations, priests serving idols took the sacrifices and offered them to an idol.

    2. But when Christians assembled to praise God, it was simple.
      1. All that was necessary to praise God were human bodies, human minds and hearts, and human voices.
      2. God supplied the sacrifice, and God’s sacrifice was effective anywhere on earth.
      3. There was no designated place and no priesthood.
      4. We Christians have a high priest: the book of Hebrews declares he is Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:1,2).
      5. We have a sacrifice: Jesus, the lamb of God (Hebrews 9:23-28).
      6. We have an altar, God’s eternal altar on which Jesus’ atoning blood is ever present.
        Hebrews 10:10-14 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
      7. Because of Jesus Christ, Christians can assemble anywhere on earth and praise God.

    [Opening prayer]

    [Songs of praise]

  2. Jewish Christians praised God through communion from an awareness and a perspective that we, today, have difficulty “connecting” with.
    1. At the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Israel had observed the Passover feast for hundreds of years.
      1. Exodus 12 records the institution of the first Jewish Passover feast while those Israelites were actually slaves to the ancient Egyptians.
        1. Not long before that first Passover feast, God made this statement to Moses.
          Exodus 10:1,2 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.”
      2. After God gave Moses instructions for the first Passover, He made this statement:
        Exodus 12:14 Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
      3. The Passover feast was a reminder to the Jewish people.
        1. It reminded them that at one time they were slaves.
        2. It reminded them that God did the impossible for them: God ended their slavery when they were powerless to deliver themselves.
          Deuteronomy 6:12 then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

    2. Jesus was observing the Passover feast, Israel’s most important memorial, when he took the first communion with his disciples, our most important memorial.
      1. Near the conclusion of a Passover meal Jesus gave these instructions to his disciples:
        Matthew 26:26-29 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

    [Songs focused on Jesus’ death]

  3. You may have noticed that eating and drinking was commonly a part of being in God’s presence.
    1. The Passover was called a feast.
      1. That sacred feast focused on three things:
        1. The bitterness of slavery.
        2. Their quick departure.
        3. The joy of God’s deliverance.
      2. Eating and drinking was very much a part of this memorial.

    2. It was common for Israel to eat and drink when they were in God’s presence.
      1. Their assemblies at the ark of the covenant and the alter were commonly called feasts.
      2. In the acts of eating and drinking, they declared, “We are God’s creatures.”
        1. “He made us; His acts brought us into existence.”
        2. “He provides for us; we are totally dependent on Him.”
        3. “We are his chosen people; His promises guide and sustain us.”
      3. Through eating and drinking, they declared their joyful awareness that God sustained them with His great gifts.

    3. In the early formation of Israel as a nation, Exodus 24:9-11 makes this statement:
      Exodus 24:9-11 Then 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.
    4. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he and his disciples were eating and drinking.
    5. This morning as we remember God’s great act of destroying the power of sin through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, we will eat and drink.

    [Songs focused on Jesus’ resurrection]

  4. In the New Testament, people who were not Jews but who were converted to Jesus Christ did not have the memories and history of the Jewish people.
    1. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, they could not be God’s chosen people.
      1. Their ancestors did not spent 430 years in slavery in Egypt.
      2. They had not kept the Jewish Passover for hundreds of years.
      3. The feasts they kept in praising idols were not like the feasts that Israel kept as they praised Jehovah God.

    2. Egyptian slavery did not give these people a common experience with Israel, but God’s act in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection did.
      1. They were to remember the sacrificial gift of Jesus’ body and blood.
      2. And they were to remember what that death meant to all of them as God’s community, God’s chosen people
      3. Through Christ:
        1. They were created anew by God.
        2. They were delivered from the slavery of evil.
        3. They were made a part of God’s chosen people.
      4. As God’s new creation in Jesus Christ, they, and we, take communion remembering what God does for us in the death and resurrection of His son.
        Ephesians 4:17-24 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles (godless people) also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

    [Song of thanksgiving]



[Song of dedication]

[Dismissal prayer]

Commitment Based On Memory

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

People who understand God’s accomplishments in Jesus’ death and resurrection express their understanding. They express their understanding in two acts of commitment.

The first act is an individual act. He or she is baptized into Christ. This person understands who Jesus is. He or she trusts what God did in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. He or she trusts two things:

  1. God’s power to forgive through Jesus’ blood [Ephesians 1:7] and
  2. God’s power to give life through Jesus’ resurrection [Philippians 3:10,11].

In this trust, evil’s lordship is rejected, and Jesus is enthroned as the Lord of his or her life. This believing, penitent person is baptized into Christ.

Having been baptized, this person chooses to be an active, contributing part of the community of Christians [the church]. The Lord made him or her a part of those people [Acts 2:47]. He or she wishes to be a responsible part of God’s people. Every week he or she declares commitment to Jesus Christ and God’s community of Christians.

The second act of commitment is both individual and collective. He or she assembles with a community of Christians to worship God. At the core of this worship is communion. We often refer to communion as the Lord’s Supper. This commitment basically serves three purposes.

  1. It remembers. It remembers God’s gift of His son, and His son’s gift of himself [1 Corinthians 11:24-25].

  2. It declares. It declares full faith in the return of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 11:26].

  3. It affirms. It affirms the Christian individual’s commitment to be a part of God’s people [1 Corinthians 11:29-33]. In that affirmation, it should be understood that God through Christ made all of us one in Christ [Galatians 3:26-29].

All distinctions are erased. In God’s community individual worth is determined solely by being in Christ. A Christians’ worth is not determined by social, economic, cultural, ethic, or political distinctions. Those in Jesus Christ are one–because of God’s gifts to us in Jesus Christ. Each Christian accepting God’s responsibility to be community with those in Christ affirms his or her commitment to be “one” with all who are in Christ.

Sunday our entire assembly will be devoted to communion. Communion itself will be served near the end of the assembly. We will prepare our minds and hearts for that moment.

Listening to God or Assuming His Answer?

Posted by on January 20, 2002 under Sermons

The probability is very high that at least once in your life (and likely many times more than that!) you were obviously upset by another person. Those who were close to you, who truly knew you, saw that you were upset.

You were not upset for a few hours or a couple of days. You were visibly upset every day. Your struggle was obvious to those who knew you. It was obvious to those who knew you someone was deeply distressing you. To those that knew you it was obvious that the distress was a continuing reality in your life.

Finally someone who truly cared about you and knew you approached you. This was their suggestion: “Just go talk to the person. Share with him (or her) how you feel.”

In those circumstances, often this is our response: “It would not accomplish anything. He (or she) hears only what he (or she) thinks I say. That is all he (or she) hears. He (or she) will not listen to hear what I actually say.”

You have been in that situation, have you not?

I wonder how God thinks when we put Him in that situation. We know what God would say before we listen to God. We only hear what we expect because we have already decided what God would say. So instead of listening to God, we substitute our own conclusions. Then we are convinced we have heard God say exactly what He meant to say. We claim to listen to God when we actually listen to ourselves.

Listening to God involves just that–listening. This evening I want to illustrate how important it is to listen to God to understand what He says.

  1. In Genesis 22, God made His most unusual request of Abraham.
    1. God said, “I want you to take your only son, the son that you love, and offer him in sacrifice as a burnt offering in the land of Moriah on a mountain I will show you.”
      1. This request was extremely unusual, totally unlike anything God ever said to Abraham.
      2. This request opposed everything else God said to Abraham.
        1. It requested a human sacrifice–the killing of a family member to worship God.
        2. God had never before requested Abraham to offer a human sacrifice.
      3. God gave no explanation for His request.
        1. He gave no promises or assurances.
        2. He gave no explanation–how would God keep His promises if Isaac died?
      4. Abraham could have easily reacted to God’s clearly understood instruction by focusing on the illogical nature of the request.
        1. How would God keep His promises if Isaac the child of promise was dead?
        2. How could Isaac fulfill the role that God declared for him if Isaac was dead?
        3. God clearly declared before Isaac’s conception (Genesis 17:19) that God would keep His everlasting covenant through Isaac.

    2. Abraham not only listened to God; he also responded immediately.
      1. Genesis 22 records Abraham’s prompt action.
        1. He got up early the next morning (verse 3).
        2. He saddled a donkey to ride (verse 3).
        3. He split the firewood for the burnt offering (verse 3).
        4. He took young men servants to assist on the trip (verse 3).
        5. On the third day he left the young men behind guaranteeing that they did not hinder him (verse 5).
        6. He took the fire with him (verse 6).
      2. Abraham did what he could do to promptly comply with God’s instructions; in no way did he delay his son’s death.
      3. Abraham fully expected to kill Isaac as a burnt offering to God.

    3. Genesis 22 explains that God intervened as Abraham was in the act of killing Isaac and prevented the boy’s death.
      1. Abraham’s actions proved that he reverenced God above anything else.
      2. Genesis 22:12 records this statement from God:
        “… for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
      3. God then renewed His promises to Abraham.

  2. In Isaiah 20, we read about a very unusual three year period in the life of the prophet Isaiah.
    1. God instructed Isaiah to do something that you simply would not expect God to request.
      1. God instructed Isaiah to go about his public life naked and barefoot for three years.
        1. There are differences in conclusions about what nakedness means in this instruction.
        2. Whatever its meaning, it was God’s instruction for Isaiah to display his body inappropriately in public for a period of three years.
      2. He was to appear in public as a person taken captive in a city fallen as the result of siege.
        1. Whatever the manner was that he presented his body, it was considered inappropriate and shameful.
        2. By daily standards in Israel, he displayed his body in a totally inappropriate manner.

    2. Isaiah was to do this as a sign and token that Judah should not place their confidence in weak Egypt and Cush.
      1. Not all of God’s signs were miraculous acts.
      2. Some were symbolic human acts.
      3. Isaiah’s nakedness was to be a symbolic act.

    3. Listening to God produced an unusual behavior that was not viewed by Israel’s public as godly behavior.

  3. Matthew 26:36-44 states the ordeal Jesus endured in the garden of Gethsemane.
    1. Jesus clearly understood what God wanted, but Jesus preferred to avoid both the experiences and the responsibilities.
      1. Though he clearly understood what was to happen was God’s plan, he prayed earnestly that he not endure it.
        1. Not once, but three times he earnestly prayed that he not have to endure the ordeal ahead of him.
        2. Each time he requested that God’s will, not his will, be done.
      2. Jesus could have approached God on this occasion in many different ways.
        1. “God, have I not lived on earth just exactly as You wanted doing exactly what You wanted?”
        2. “God, have I not made enough sacrifices?”
        3. “God, am I not Your son?”
        4. “God, if you love me so much how could you expect this of me?”

    2. Listening to God mean trials, rejection, and crucifixion.
      1. The immediate result of listening to God was awful.
      2. The long term result of listening to God was unbelievably good.

  4. Some of the Jewish Christians refused to listen to God because it meant a complete change of thinking and understanding.
    1. Technically, these Christians are referred to as the Judaizing teachers.
      1. You see these Christians clearly in Acts 15:5 and in the letter of Galatians.
      2. They were Jewish Christians who may have been few in number, but very dedicated in their convictions.
      3. They were Christians who were absolutely convinced that non-Jewish people had to learn and accept Jewish religious practices before they could be baptized into Christ.
      4. There was one way to approach God: the Jewish way.
        1. As Acts 15:5 states, these Christians believed that men who were not Jews had to be circumcised and observe the law of Moses to be spiritually acceptable to God.
        2. Being baptized into Christ was not enough.

    2. These Jewish Christians were so convinced that God functioned through Israel exclusively that they were absolutely convinced that a person had to accept Jewish practices before he could be a Christian.
      1. If anyone suggested that God planned to save the non-Jewish nations in any other way, that suggestion was unthinkable.
      2. To accept a different conclusion meant changing the way they thought, and that was impossible and unacceptable.
        1. Their families had belonged to the God of Israel for centuries.
        2. They served God all their lives.
        3. Their understanding of scripture and conclusions simply could not be wrong.

    3. Yet, if they were going to understand what God did in Jesus Christ, they had to listen to God instead of themselves or their past.
      1. Listening to God would redirect their faith and alter their conclusions.
      2. Listening to God would change their thinking about God’s will and work and the way they looked at God’s will and work.

Listening to God is a demanding, difficult thing to do. Two things make it difficult. First, you have to study. Studying the Bible must include an openness and willingness to learn things that change your understanding. It is very hard to be that open to God. Second, you have to be honest in identifying your baggage. When every single person becomes a Christian, he or she brings his or her baggage along. It takes a special kind of honesty with self to identify the baggage we brought with us into our belief system.

When I was about 40 years old, I learned some things from my study of scripture that created a huge struggle and crisis in my faith system. I realized I faced a very definite choice. I could close my ears to God and continue to think only those thoughts I was taught to think in the past. Or, I could listen to God and let His word teach me anything God wanted me to understand. That was a very difficult choice, a very pain filled struggle.

What do you decide? Will you only listen to what you were taught in the past? Or, will you listen to God and let Him teach you old truths that are new to you?

Pursuing God’s Praise

Posted by on under Sermons

As a child I grew up in the Cumberland mountains at the edge of east Tennessee. The congregation of my youth was a small, rural, and had less than 100 members. Much of the time it was too small with too little money to have a preacher. The few occasions we had preachers, preaching was a “second job.”

I genuinely appreciate the faith filled men and women who contributed to my spiritual development. Most of them are dead, but they surrounded me with love and encouragement. I do not intend the things I share to deny their faith.

My world as a child and my world as an older adult are totally different. In my childhood, I remember an elder who refused to allow his oldest son to engage in what he classified as “foolish talking.” His son was one of my close friends. He had the ability to talk like Donald Duck, an ability I thought was cool and wanted to imitate, but never could. His father decided that talking in Donald’s voice violated scripture. It was foolish jesting which was clearly forbidden in Ephesians 4:29. He instructed his son never to use that voice again.

I remember the first time a man wanted to pass out candy Easter eggs to the children in the congregation. He bought the candy himself. His request generated a serious discussion among the men. Several women had an opinion, but were not allowed to express it. The men finally decided he could give the candy to the children if he did it outside in the parking lot, not in the building.

In the fall of 1995 Joyce and I received a three month sabbatical. I spent that time at Harding University in a carrel at their library completing a book manuscript and writing another manuscript. For the first time in thirty-five years of marriage, Joyce and I could make decisions other Christians commonly make. We could visit our children on weekends and worship with them, and we could choose where we worshipped when we stayed in Searcy. In that three months we visited with several congregations. We did two things often on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings. On Sunday evenings we often were part of peak of the week, and on Wednesday evenings we at times attended a small group meeting.

I, by experience, have been a part of both sides of the same coin.

  1. When Jesus was crucified and three days later raised from the tomb, God restored what Satan destroyed in the garden of Eden.
    1. The two major results of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God in the garden of Eden were these:
      1. The first major result: evil became a part of human life on earth.
        1. The ultimate expression of pride is for any person to think that he or she is sinless.
        2. We are all evil, and the more spiritually mature we become, the more aware of our evil we become.
      2. The second major result: all people in every age became slaves of death.
        1. Unless God directly intervened, which happened rarely (Enoch–Genesis 5:24; and Elijah–2 Kings 2:11), people died.
        2. Just like us, there was nothing people could do to prevent death permanently.
      3. We have Satan, the master of deceit to thank for evil and for death.

    2. What God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection defies our comprehension.
      1. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God created a perfect forgiveness, so complete that God made it possible for sinful people to live as though their sins never occur.
        1. A lot of Christians in the New Testament were just like us: they simply did not “get it”–they simply did not comprehend what God did in Jesus Christ.
          1. The Galatian congregations are an excellent example.
          2. Some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came to these non-Jewish congregations and said their conversion to Christ was invalid.
          3. They told these non-Jewish, baptized Christians that their baptism was meaningless; first they must accept the Jewish way of approaching God.
          4. The result was that a lot of the Galatian Christians were totally confused and began to believe things God never emphasized to non-Jewish people.
          5. Paul wrote them a letter and bluntly told them in certain terms that they simply did not understand what God did for them in Jesus Christ.
          6. Paul said,
            Galatians 3:26-29 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
        2. I have a deep appreciation for the way that John emphasized God’s perfect forgiveness.
          1 John 1:5-10 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
      2. The second thing God did in Jesus’ crucifixion and death was to destroy the slavery of death.
        1. The writer of the Hebrews discussed what God did in Jesus Christ.
        2. He stated God’s accomplishment very plainly.
          Hebrews 2:14,15 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

    3. Those who understand what God does for them in Jesus Christ want to tell God, “Thanks!”
      1. And that is what praise is about: saying, “Thank you!” to God for destroying my evil and allowing me to live in perfect forgiveness.
      2. The basic intention of Christian worship is to say “Thank you!” to God.
      3. A Christian who understands what God has done for him or her worships God in two basic ways.
        1. He or she voluntarily, by personal choice, chooses to be part of an assembly that remembers who they are because of Jesus Christ.
        2. He or she chooses to live life every day honoring God as a man or woman who has their evil destroyed and is free from the slavery of death.

  2. I look with amazement at what is happening too commonly among Christians.
    1. We began as an American religious movement 200 years ago calling all people to let the meanings and purposes of the Bible be our guide.
      1. We began having no religious system and defending no religious system.
      2. We began with the simply desire just to be Christians.

    2. Now we often assume a scripture’s meaning and too often feel threatened by an accurate search for the genuine meaning of a scripture.
      1. There are numerous examples.
        1. Most of us are students of the Bible; we clearly understand things were quite different 2000 years ago in the church.
          1. We understand clearly that 2000 years ago the Holy Spirit in miraculous ways was very active in the church among people converted to Jesus Christ.
          2. We understand clearly those Christians spoke in tongues, experienced miracles, and received revelations.
          3. We understand they had no church buildings and commonly met in homes.
          4. They had elders, but these elders’ oversight was not restricted by a street address of a church building.
          5. Since they did not have church buildings, their concept of congregation was quite different to our concept of congregation.
        2. We present ourselves to people who know little or nothing about the Bible as Christians dedicated to being simply Christians as were those Christians 2000 years ago.
          1. If someone who knows little or much about the Bible asks about obvious differences, we explain a person must understand the meaning of scripture and God’s purposes.
          2. If we are not careful, we defend our assumptions and our systems.

    3. As a Christian, I am amazed at how much energy we often spend defending systems by shifting the New Testament’s emphasis.
      1. The emphasis in the New Testament is on how those people converted to Jesus Christ were to live their lives.
        1. That emphasis is clearly emphasized repeatedly in the New Testament.
        2. It is seen in:
          1. Acts 2:43-47 with the very first people converted to Christ.
          2. Romans 12-14 with Christians in Rome.
          3. 1 Corinthians 5-10 with Christians in Corinth.
          4. Galatians 5 and 6 with Christians in the Roman province of Galatia.
          5. Ephesians 4-6 with Christians in the city of Ephesus.
          6. Philippians 3 and 4 with Christians in the city of Philippi.
          7. Colossians 3 with Christians in the city of Colossae.
          8. 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 with Christians in Thessalonica.
          9. The letters to Timothy frequently.
          10. Titus 2 and 3.
          11. The letter of James.
          12. The letter of 1 Peter.
          13. The letter of 1 John.
          14. The letter of Jude.
          15. And Revelation 2 and 3.
        3. There is a powerful, continuing emphasis from the conversion of the first Christians in Acts 2 throughout the New Testament on the fact that belonging to Jesus Christ changed the way people lived.
      2. We have very little information in the entire New Testament on how Christians worshipped.
        1. “Do you conclude that as Christians we should be devoted to the authority of scripture as God’s own word?” Absolutely!
        2. But devotion to scripture’s authority does not excuse us from two things.
          1. We must never appeal to authority to ignore the meaning of scripture.
          2. We must never appeal to authority to ignore God’s purposes in Jesus Christ.
      3. We struggle with the problem the first Christians struggled with: the problem of substituting our long held assumptions for scripture’s meaning.

  3. May I share some things that fill me with fear about our fellowship?
    1. It fills me with fear when I hear Christians deciding if another baptized, penitent believer devoted to godly living is faithful or unfaithful on the basis of a worship style.
    2. It fills me with fear when I hear Christians declare conclusions as scripture.
    3. It fills me with fear when I hear Christians declare that what a Christian does in worship more powerfully affects eternal salvation than how he or she devotes life to Jesus Christ.
    4. It fills me with fear when I hear Christians express attitudes of spiritual superiority over other Christians because of the way they praise God.
      1. “Our worship practices are more biblical than your worship practices.”
      2. “Our worship practices proved we are more spiritual than you are.”
      3. “Our worship practices prove we are more godly than you are.”
      4. “Our worship practices prove that we appreciate God more than you do.”
      5. When I hear those attitudes and read Romans 14, I feel sheer terror.
      6. Thank God that a Christian’s hope for salvation is based on the grace of a merciful God!

The purpose of Christian worship is to transport us as God’s community into God’s presence through Jesus Christ so we can praise our God. How often do you leave our assembly with this awareness: “I have been in the presence of God.”

The older I become and the more I understand from the Bible, the more aware I am that I must explain to God Himself how I communicated His will to Christians. My admonition is simple: reverence God by understanding the meaning of His will and giving Him your life.

The Joy and Fear of Commitment

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

In the joy of commitment is found the enduring results of stability. I commend to your attention a stable marriage relationship. The greater majority realize the benefits of growing up in a stable home where father and mother share a love-based commitment.

The fear of commitment generates relationship instability. Building enduring commitments requires time, sacrifice, and unending effort. A person can realize the joys of commitment but allow fear to block any attempt to build an enduring relationship.

Arkansas has this nation’s second highest divorce rate. Marital instability is of such great concern that legislators passed a covenant marriage law. Arkansas is only the third state to pass a covenant marriage law.

For a couple to form a covenant marriage, he and she must fill out documents declaring this is their choice. They first engage in premarital counseling. They agree prior to marriage they will seek counseling if serious problems or struggles occur in their marriage.

In covenant marriages, legal separation (not divorce) may occur if a spouse commits adultery; a spouse commits a felony that results in sentencing; a spouse physically or sexually abuses his or her spouse or child; the couple lives apart continuously for two years; or habitual drunkenness and accompanying cruel treatment occurs for a year.

Divorce can occur only after counseling. Divorce can be granted only for the above abuses and only after a specified time period. Spouses from covenant marriages who divorce are limited in the kinds of suits they can bring against each other.

“Sounds serious!” Marriage is serious! “What possible value can a covenant marriage provide?” Time. When the greater majority of marriages are deeply troubled, negative emotions rule. Too often, divorce suits are filed when negative emotions are in control. Rarely are couples mutually committed to receiving help. The pain of negative emotions is so great that all one or both spouses consider is escaping the relationship. Opportunity for any form of relationship healing cannot occur because there is no time.

Can divorced people receive forgiveness and be a productive part of God’s family? Yes. Jesus himself offered “living water” to a woman who was five times divorced (John 4). Will the instability created by divorce produce consequences? Yes.

An essential ingredient in stable marriages that endure: people who are willing to commit must marry people who are willing to commit.

Openness To God

Posted by on January 13, 2002 under Sermons

[Note to those who read this lesson in text form: I selected a man to be my reader from his seat. I asked everyone to follow the readings from a Bible. After each reading I walked among the audience with a microphone asking volunteers to share a lesson that “caught their attention” from the reading. I shared my comments from the pulpit area after volunteers in the audience shared their thoughts.]

I am genuinely happy for your presence. Thank you for choosing to be part of this assembly. I am delighted to have the opportunity and the privilege of sharing some thoughts with you tonight. Before this lesson, I want you to know beyond doubt that I am delighted that we are together.

  1. I want to ask you a serious question: why are we here this evening?
    1. Many different answers can be given to that question.
      1. Answer one: “we are supposed to be here.”
        1. That perspective likely has three different roots.
          1. One root may be tradition.
            1. Whatever our spiritual origins, those origins strongly tied spiritual faithfulness to church attendance.
            2. If this is one of our reasons for church attendance, we are extremely distressed in our consciences if we do not attend.
          2. One root may be guilt.
            1. In our childhood and young adult life, we heard preachers demand church attendance by quoting Hebrews 10:25,
              not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
            2. We were told by sincere, well meaning people that Hebrews 10:25 was a command that mandated physical presence at all assemblies. Rarely was Hebrews 10:25 understood in its context.
            3. This passage often was used as a means of demanding and controlling attendance.
          3. One root may arise from common concepts of the role of elders in the church.
            1. The church is seen primarily as a religious institution.
            2. The elders are seen primarily as the executives of the institution who hold power and authority over those in the institution.
            3. A common emphasis: “if that is what the elders say we must do as a congregation, we must do whatever they say!”
      2. Answer two: “It provides the preacher the opportunity to do what he is supposed to do–preach.”
        1. Do we assemble on Sunday evening just so I can say something?
        2. If the “proper order” is followed, is it mandatory that I present two sermons on Sundays?
        3. What is the purpose of my preaching?
          1. Does my preaching even need to serve a purpose?
          2. As long as you are present and I have something to say from the Bible, is that enough to fulfill this obligation we have?
      3. Answer three: “To worship.”
        1. I am in total agreement.
        2. In our assembly God must be honored and praised for what He has done and does for us in Jesus Christ.
        3. How does that honor and praise occur? If there are three songs, a prayer, a song, a lesson, an invitation song, and a dismissal prayer, does that automatically mean God is honored and praised?

    2. From my perspective as the one often preaching, may I share a few thoughts?
      1. For years, in fact for longer than I have preached, the primary purpose of Sunday evenings is to take advantage of an opportunity to educate, to expand Bible knowledge.
        1. A few generations ago there were no Sunday evening assemblies.
        2. If your parents or grandparents lived as Christians in the late 1800s, it is likely they lived at a time when congregations did not assemble on a regular basis on Sunday evening (on special occasions, but not regularly).
        3. I have read (but do not have document) that many years ago church buildings were the first buildings to install gas lighting.
          1. Such lights were new and unusual; they attracted curious people.
          2. Congregations decided to use this lighting to attract crowds and teach.
      2. I suggest to you that a significant reason for our being here this evening is to learn and grow spiritually.
        1. We are not here for me to perform as a speaker or for me to fulfill some type of unspoken obligation.
        2. We are here to stimulate us to think, to understand, and to grow in faith.
        3. If that occurs, God is honored and praised.

  2. Since my understood objective of our assembly this evening is to increase our understanding and faith, I want to do something a little different to focus your thinking and understanding on scripture.
    1. I have asked Bill Walker to be my reader.
      1. He will stay where he is seated and read a scripture using a mike.
      2. I want you to read with him silently.
      3. After he reads a scripture, I will walk among you and let you state what stands out to you in that reading.
        1. First, I am not looking for specific answers; you can share anything from the passage you wish.
        2. Second, keep your answers brief.
        3. Third, I will share some thoughts at the end of the readings.

    2. The first reading is Genesis 11:27 through Genesis 12:7. Bill would you please read?
      Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran. Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.
      1. There are many, many excellent lessons in this reading.
      2. If you choose to, state just one thought that “jumps out at you” in these verses.

    3. The second reading is Joshua 24:1,2 and then verses 14,15.
      Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God. Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. … Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
      1. Again, there are a number of lessons in this reading.
      2. What lesson “jumps out at you”?

    4. The third reading is Acts 7:2-4.
      And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living.”
      1. Obviously, all these scriptures have to do with what happened in Genesis 12.
      2. What lesson “jumps out at you”?

  3. Allow me to call your attention to a fact and a lesson that jumps out at me in these three passages collectively.
    1. The fact: before God appeared to Abraham and gave him a command and promises, Abraham’s father (and perhaps Abraham himself) worshipped idols.
      1. The “land beyond the river” is a reference to Ur of Chaldeans.
      2. “The River” was often a reference to the Euphrates River.
      3. Abraham grew up in a home that worshipped idols, a home whose concept of deity was idolatrous.
      4. Joshua’s challenge to Israel offered them three options. Israel needed to make a conscious, deliberate choice.
        1. Option one: follow the God who delivered you from Egypt and has given you this land.
        2. Option two: follow the gods of your ancestors, the gods beyond the river which are the gods of the past.
        3. Option three: follow the gods of your present neighbors, the gods of the Amorites.
        4. Because God was the God of deliverance, Israel had reasons for choosing to follow God.

    2. The question: why did Abraham choose to follow God?
      1. His family followed idolatrous gods.
      2. He did not have children; he did not have a son to be his heir.
      3. Israel did not exist.
      4. He did not own any of Canaan.
      5. The slavery, the exodus, the conquest of Canaan had not occurred.
      6. So why did this man who knew nothing about the living God, this man whose whole life was surrounded by idolatrous worship, this man who lived in perhaps the most advanced civilization he knew, why did he choose to do what this “new,” previously unknown God instructed him to do?
      7. Abraham listened! He was open to God’s voice and direction!
        1. He trusted what no one else trusted.
        2. He saw what no one else saw.
        3. He understood realities that others likely refused to even consider.
        4. God could speak to Abraham because Abraham would hear Him.
        5. Because Abraham listened, he is also our spiritual forefather, our great example of what it means to trust God.

    3. Question: in spite of all the world around you, can you hear God? Do you listen to God when so many people around you do not even hear him?

Worship Concepts

Posted by on under Sermons

Before one Israelite settled in Canaan, God through Moses made two things abundantly clear about their sacrificial worship assemblies. Their sacrificial worship would be distinctly different from the idolatrous worship of the Canaanites. Their worship would be distinctly different because their God was distinctly different.

First, Israelites in Canaan would offer sacrificial worship at only one location, and God Himself would pick the location (Deuteronomy 12:5,11,13-14). They could not assembly just anywhere and offer sacrificial worship. They could not individually do their “own thing” and offer sacrificial worship at a place they individually preferred. Assemblies for sacrificial worship occurred at the place God selected, and only there.

Second, all the men of the nation were to assemble for sacrificial worship at this place three times a year (Deuteronomy 16:16). Those three times were the feast of unleaven bread or Passover; the feast of weeks also known as the feast of harvest or the feast of first fruits and much later Pentecost; and the feast of booths also known as the feast of tabernacles or feast of ingathering.

That says to me Israel was a very small country. Women and families were not excluded, just not commanded to make the pilgrimage. If every man had to make this pilgrimage to a single place on foot or donkey, it had to be a small area.

After Israel became established as a people in Canaan, the pilgrimages began. Thousands upon thousands of people walked to this place for a huge worship assembly. As Israel grew in numbers, the numbers of people who made the pilgrimage grew–tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and maybe even a few million by the time of the Jesus’ life. Evidence strongly suggests that after Jerusalem became that designated place, singing became a part of the pilgrimage. As people neared Mount Zion and the Jerusalem temple, the hills and the valleys would echo the sound of thousands of people joyfully singing. One of their songs we know as Psalm 122.

Psalm 122:1-9 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Our feet are standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is built As a city that is compact together; To which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord–An ordinance for Israel–To give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there thrones were set for judgment, The thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. “May peace be within your walls, And prosperity within your palaces.” For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, “May peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

I wish I could hear the sound of thousands upon thousands of joyful voices singing as they approached Mount Zion. I know my reaction to that sound. The hairs on my head would strain to stand on end. Chills would run over my whole body. Tears would fill my eyes and flow down my cheeks. I know that would happen because that is what happens today when I hear Christians full of joy sing praise to God.

  1. When Jesus was crucified as God’s sacrificial Lamb and resurrected to life again by God, an amazing transition occurred.
    1. The complex worship of God that involved a specific place with specific rituals and procedures conducted by specific people in the tiny nation of Israel became the worship of God among the nations with no emphasis on place or rituals or people in charge.
      1. In Israel worship involved joyful hearts filled with gratitude and thanksgiving.
        1. But it also involved a place,
        2. And, when the temple was built, a building,
        3. And, when animals were sacrificed, ritual procedures,
        4. And priests to conduct the rituals and supervise the procedures.
      2. When Jesus Christ was received as Lord by believers who were Jews and who were not Jews, worship still involved joyful hearts filled with gratitude.
        1. But a specific place was no longer essential.
        2. A specific building was no longer essential.
        3. Animal sacrifices were no longer essential.
        4. Rituals no longer played a key role.
        5. Priests no longer had to supervise.
        6. Worshipping God was simple and could occur anywhere among those who belong to Jesus Christ.

    2. The basic objective in worshipping God remained unchanged: worship declares we are God’s people who exist to praise God and encourage each other.
      1. The complete concept of worship is not limited to set acts and procedures, or an assembly, or a group activity.
        1. If I had time, I could explain why the complete concept of worship was never limited.
        2. Even in Israel hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified and resurrected, both Moses and the prophets explained worship was an existence based on a heart and behavioral response to God.
        3. We collectively gather here this morning to honor and thank God for what He did and does for us in Jesus Christ.
          1. Our gathering also affirms our desire and will to be God’s people.
          2. Not only do we seek to honor God, but we seek to encourage each other as we dedicate ourselves to being a community of God’s people.
      2. But worship does not begin and end with an assembly in this building.
        1. We collectively gather to praise our God and honor our Savior.
        2. We collectively gather to reaffirm our commitment to each other as a community of God’s people.
        3. But worship is equally about who we are everyday and how we live.
        4. When Paul made this statement in Romans 12:1,2,
          Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
          he was stating in terms they readily understood that every aspect of every day of life is a worshipful offering of self to God.
        5. It is impossible to worship God at an assembly on Sunday and willingly use your life and body for evil the rest of the week.
        6. While a definite expression of worship occurs in our assemblies, for the Christian all of life is involved in worship.

  2. I want to share two things that distress me spiritually about common concepts of worship styles.
    1. Concern #1: the tendency of some Christians to compartmentalize life.
      1. In this view, worship is strongly associated with a set procedure in an assembly of Christians on Sunday.
        1. Spiritual life is viewed primarily by what occurs in that assembly.
        2. That religious compartment is regarded as so unique that people are declared to be faithful or unfaithful on the basis of attendance and activities in that assembly.
      2. That religious compartment of life is absolutely essential, non-negotiable.
        1. No matter what else you do in your life, you must be in that assembly.
        2. You can do some horribly evil things with your life Monday through Saturday, but do not dare even consider missing that assembly.
      3. Thus worship is viewed primarily as the activity of an assembly on Sunday, and worship occurs in set procedures at a set time.
      4. BUT, family is a different compartment, work is a different compartment, real life is a different compartment, and fun is a different compartment.
      5. And there is a natural, significant separation between the church activity of worship and those other four compartments.
      6. Christianity is never viewed as a whole life existence [which is the common view of the New Testament].

    2. Concern # 2: the tension that exists between two basic worship concepts.
      1. Concept one: worship is a serious occasion to be approached with reverence [and there are specific definitions assigned to “serious” and “reverence”].
        1. Reverence demands that you be solemn, quiet, and reserved.
        2. Reverence is expressed by reserved actions and silence.
        3. The Bible statements that speak to these Christians are:
          1. Habakkuk 2:20 “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.”
          2. Revelation 8:1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
        4. Christians who prefer this worship style think the nature of worship should be more like the solemness of a funeral.
        5. I personally have no doubt that if we actually saw God this very moment, there would be silence unlike anything you have ever heard.
      2. Concept two: worship is a joyful occasion to be approached with celebration.
        1. You feel God’s grace, and you rejoice.
        2. You feel God’s forgiveness, and you give thanks.
        3. You feel God’s mercy, and you show your gratitude.
        4. You feel blessed, and you declare it.
        5. This conviction focuses praise on the wonder of God’s glorious work in Jesus’ cross and crucifixion, and Christians declare their gratitude.
        6. The Bible statements that speak to these Christians include:
          1. Psalm 5:11,12 But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You. For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord, You surround him with favor as with a shield.
          2. Acts 2:46,47 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
          3. Christians who worship in this manner think of worship as being a celebration of God’s glorious works.
          4. I personally have no doubt that if we in this audience heard God tell us, “Well done, faithful servants. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:23), there would be rejoicing in this room unlike anything you have ever heard in your life.
      3. “And which worship style is right?”
        1. Neither and both.
        2. No matter which style a person uses, if his or her heart is not honoring God, it is not worship. And it does not matter if it is quiet as a tomb or a gigantic celebration.
        3. But, when hearts honor God, both styles are worship.

    3. Something is happening among Christians that makes Satan laugh and God grieve.
      1. “I believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord and Christ. Do you?” “Yes, but I reject your worship!”
      2. “I have redirected my life and seek to belong only to Jesus. Do you?” “Yes, but your worship makes me sick!”
      3. “I have been baptized into Christ to let God destroy my sins and to place Jesus on the throne of my heart as my Lord. Have you?” “Yes, but your worship is ridiculous!”
      4. “I am trying to live a godly life and be a godly person. Are you?” “Yes, but your worship is disgusting!”
      5. And every time Christians hold those attitudes toward Christians, Satan laughs and God grieves.

In this room, we are different people who live in very different worlds. Some of you ladies never have been sexually propositioned. Some of you ladies are commonly sexual targets. Some of you men do not work with men who relish a sexual conquest. Some of you men hear men talk about sexual conquests frequently. Some of you would not know marijuana smoke if you smelled it. Some of you are tempted to smoke marijuana every week. Some of you never drank a beer. Some of you commonly must do business on occasions when everyone is drinking. Some of you have never been abused, or rejected, or neglected, or ridiculed. Some of you endure abuse, rejection, neglect, or ridicule every day of your life.

Right here right now there are teens, and men, and women whose lives are a war zone every single day. They struggle to place their trust in a merciful God full of grace. What they need and yearn for is to worship with fellow believers in a way that soothes their bruised hearts, encourages their wounded spirits, and energizes them for another week of war and temptation. They do not need harassment. They need the joy of salvation rekindled every week. They need the encouragement of worship.

A Meaningful Promise To Yourself

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Two considerations are essential if you are to understand my spirit in the following statements. First, I truly appreciate this truth: no one’s life is ideal. Everyone, you included, can list factually a number of legitimate frustrations that frequently are a part of your life. You can do that with no intent of being negative. You can do that merely by sharing facts truthfully. The matter I ask you to consider is not in the spirit of griping or complaining. I am merely sharing a fact that too often is hurtful to us all as a congregation.

Second, I have no desire to be self-serving. This is not a call to “please humor me.” I want us as the body of Christ, as a community of believers to encourage our congregation’s growth toward Christ’s dream for us.

The concern: it is extremely difficult to keep Christians in this body informed. That challenge certainly is not unique to this congregation. Most active groups (business, social, non-profit, or religious) struggle with the challenge of keeping its employees, supporters, members, or volunteers informed.

Within congregations, this challenge increases for many reasons. (1) Congregations are primarily volunteer associations. (2) Some within congregations make artificial separations between the “secular” and “spiritual.” Some function on this motivation: “I go to church to be religious, not to be informed or to be involved.” (3) Some have this primary attitude: “When something fails to meet my approval, I will go somewhere else.” (4) The concept of “church” is too often associated with an institution, not a whole life existence. (5) Some stay so busy with “life” they do not have time to “keep up with what is going on at church.” For those reasons (and others) some choose to be uninformed.

We make a lot of effort to inform members. Among those efforts are written announcements on the screen, family meetings, a web site, e-mailings, newsletters, mailouts, and group meetings dedicated to particular works and events. Yet, many remain poorly informed.

In some ways, we have trained and encouraged many to be uninformed. Unless we hear a verbal announcement on Sunday morning, too many do not “hear.” A congregation that is constantly growing closer to God’s ideal and Jesus’ dream is composed of members who want to be informed. They understand that God’s family of believers, from the beginning, functioned as a community who cared about each other.

Make a promise to yourself, and keep your promise to you. Do the things only you can do to be informed, not as a gossip, but a living, caring member of God’s community. The better informed each of us is, the more blessed our congregation is. We are committed to improving the sharing of information. Commit yourself to staying informed. And when you know things we need to know, please, please call us.

Praying: Acts of Dependence

Posted by on January 6, 2002 under Sermons

How many times have you shaken someone’s hand this morning? I seriously doubt many of us adults could count the number of times you without thought, habitually reached out, clasped someone’s hand, and appropriately “shook their hand.” I hope every adult in this room had several people shake your hand. If no one greeted you with a sincere handshake, I apologize.

The probability is high that most of us have shaken hands several times. The probability is high that you will shake hands many times this week. Hand shaking is a meaningful, appropriate gesture in Western cultures. Hand shaking is so accepted, such an appropriate act of greeting, that refusing to accept a handshake is an act of rudeness.

Why do we shake hands? Did someone in a European kingdom several hundred years ago decide that instituting handshakes as a greeting would be a good practice? Was there a conference in Europe several hundred years ago to determine the “correct way” to shake hands and “the true meaning of hand shakes”?

Not that I am aware of. Then how did handshaking become a universal form of appropriate greeting in Western cultures? Hundreds of years ago weapons were commonly carried and used. The handshake began as a practical act. When a person extended his empty hand to shake another person’s empty hand, extending empty hands declared, “You have no reason to fear me. See, I have no weapon in my hand.”

When you shook hands this morning, it was an act of greeting. It had nothing to do with weapons or with danger. It was merely a gesture of friendly greeting.

How do you decide if a handshake is merely a social obligation or a sincere expression of kindness? Look into the person’s eyes as his or her face reflects the heart. A handshake can never say something a face and heart deny.

  1. How did prayer begin? And for what reason did it begin?
    1. If you regularly, deliberately pray as a conscious, chosen practice, prayer is likely the most ancient practice you choose to be a part of your life.
      1. From the earliest known ages, prayer has been an interaction between a person and his or her God (gods).
      2. Very early in human history, prayer was associated with offering animal sacrifices.
      3. Prayer is one of the earliest forms of worship.
      4. From its origin, the person who prayed had two basic objectives in this ancient act of worship.
        1. One objective was his or her deliberate attempt to honor God.
        2. The other objective was to voluntarily declare dependence on God. (That expression of dependence was expressed through humility and surrender.)

    2. In my awareness, this is extremely important: we must realize all teachings and examples of prayer in the Bible were given to people who lived in worlds ruled by kings or emperors.
      1. That is the historical context, the “actual life” context in the Bible regarding everything said or taught about prayer.
      2. When anyone who lived in any Bible period heard God’s spokesman teach something about prayer, that person had the perspective of someone who lived in a society controlled by kings.
      3. Because these people lived in worlds ruled by kings, they heard and understood things you and I do not hear or understand.
        1. Showing respect to a king or his representative by humbling yourself was a common fact of life.
        2. They understood truths about respect, dependence, humility, and surrender that are foreign to us.
        3. The arrogance born from democracy’s ideals too often blinds our hearts.

    3. In the Bible there is no emphasis on prayer posture.
      1. To assume from that fact that there is no relationship between physical posture and prayer may be an incorrect assumption.
        1. It may mean no more than the fact that everyone knew how properly to respect a king, and people did not need that instruction.
        2. They knew what was respectful and what was disrespectful before a king.
        3. Since God is the King of all kings, they understood respectful postures.
      2. The prayer postures mentioned in the Bible as people showed respect for the King of all kings included these:
        1. Sometimes prayer assumed a posture of lying face down on the ground.
        2. Sometimes prayer assumed a posture of kneeling.
          1. Many times the kneeling also included a bowing of the person’s face toward the ground.
          2. But kneeling also included the face looking upward with the hands being extended toward heaven.
        3. Sometimes prayer assumed a posture of standing with uplifted hands and the face turned upward toward heaven.

    4. To assure you that this is not mere speculation by me, consider these statements from the Bible.
      1. In regard to the position of lying face down on the ground:
        1. When David’s first child by Bathsheba was struggling between life and death, David lay before God as he pled for the child’s life.
        2. 2 Samuel 12:16 David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground.
      2. In regard to kneeling, there are many references.
        1. Daniel knelt when he prayed daily three times.
          1. [Background of the incident.]
          2. Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.
        2. In Jesus’ Gethsamane prayers, he knelt.
          1. When Jesus prayed in Gethsamane, Luke 22:41 said he knelt down; Matthew 26:39 said he fell upon his face; and Mark 14:35 said he fell on the ground.
          2. From those three statements, I conclude that Jesus fell to the ground on his knees and, with his face toward the ground, lowered his head to the earth.
        3. On occasions Israel bowed before God with their faces to the ground.
          1. Nehemiah 8:6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
        4. But there were also times when the face was lifted to God.
          1. Ezra 9:5,6 But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.”
        5. And there were also times when people stood and raised their hands to God in prayer.
          1. That is what Solomon did when he dedicated the temple to God.
          2. 1 Kings 8:22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.
          3. That is also what Moses did in Exodus 9:33 when he ended the plague of hail on Egypt.
        6. It was a common expression of humble dependence to lift one’s hands when the person prayed.
          1. Psalm 141:2 May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.
          2. 1 Timothy 2:8 Therefore I want men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

  2. When Jesus, in his ministry, taught his disciples and people in Israel about prayer, he emphasized attitudes, not postures.
    1. The attitude of prayer and the posture of prayer must be consistent.
      1. If the posture says humility but the attitude says pride, the prayer fails to honor God.
      2. If the attitude says humility but the posture says pride, the prayer fails to honor God.
      3. If God is honored, what must the posture and the attitude declare?
        1. Both declare humble vulnerability before God.
        2. Both declare total dependence on God.
        3. Both reflect respect and honor.

    2. In my understanding of Jesus’ teachings concerning prayer, I recommend you consider these basic concepts.
      1. First, the only reason that you and I can approach God in the complete confidence God both hears and understands us is the fact that Jesus is our intercessor and mediator.
        1. Just before Jesus died, he made this statement to his twelve disciples:
          John 14:13,14 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
        2. In my understanding, that was a promise Jesus made to the apostles.
        3. Years later Paul wrote this to Timothy:
          1 Timothy 2:5,6 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
      2. Second, our basic objective in prayer is the same basic objective Jesus had.
        1. That objective: harmony with God’s will.
        2. Prayer is always the humble declaration, “God, I trust you. I trust the truth that You know what is in my eternal best interest.”
        3. We tend to be consumed with the “right now” view of life; God is concerned about “the long view” of life.
      3. Third, because God know hearts, God knows when we are trying to manipulate Him and when we are humbly surrendering before Him.
      4. Fourth, if you are in Christ, whatever your posture, if your heart is humble before God, God hears and understands you.
        1. No matter what your posture, if your heart is not humble before God, He will not hear you.
        2. Every sincere prayer touches God.
        3. Sincere prayer always respects and honors God.

Six times the book of Revelation states that the twenty-four elders fell down before God or the Lamb (Revelation 4:10,11; 5:8; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). Twice it specifically states they fell on their faces.

Of Jesus, Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi:
Philippians 2:9-11 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Of Christians, Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:
Romans 14:10-12 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,”As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

We who are Christians need to be very careful about judging the hearts and motives of other Christians. We who are Christians need to give great attention to our own hearts and motives. We who are Christians must learn to humble ourselves before God now in the full understanding that whatever we do now, we will without exception bow before God and Christ in judgment. And as we are on our knees, we will personally give God an account of our hearts and our behavior.

Our Challenge Before God In Christ

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I personally do not know any believer in the churches of Christ (1) who does not accept the Bible as God’s word; (2) who does not accept the Bible as God’s inspired revelation; and (3) who does not accept the Bible as authority in seeking to do God’s will. I certainly trust the Bible, God’s word, as existing because God through His Spirit revealed His will for all people in the death, resurrection, and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Do believers in churches of Christ answer some basic questions differently? Yes. Is their basis for their different answers found in a rejection of the Bible as the reliable guide to God’s will? No. Even regarding divisive questions, those disagreeing accept the Bible as an inspired revelation of God’s will. Such disagreements are primarily based on determining and understanding God’s meaning in His message.

Our assumptions create common problems as we struggle to understand God’s meaning and God’s priorities. Our assumptions complicate our surrender to God’s will. Our assumptions make it difficult to distinguish between an old tradition and a biblical principle. Our assumptions make it difficult to base convictions on faith in God instead of emotional attachments. Our assumptions justify judging other believers. Our assumptions encourage confrontation with disagreeing believers rather than understanding, encouragement, and compassion.

Because of assumptions, reactionary consciences assume a divine mandate to control and intimidate. Of course, no believer looks upon his or her assumptions as assumptions. “My” assumptions are always truth. Amazingly, believers frequently allow devotion to the “one on the cross” to produce reactions against disagreeing believers devoted to the same “one on the cross” which oppose the attitudes and behavior of the man who was “the one on the cross.” Does this remind you of the twelve’s arguments about who was the best disciple? Do you remember Jesus rejected both their question and conclusions?

Our assumptions (1) concluded unity was produced through division; (2) made the church a place instead of a people; (3) measured faithfulness by worship practices at that place for a couple of hours a week rather than the believer’s behavior 24 hours a day; and (4) concluded God was more concerned about human devotion to details than He was about believers’ expressing faith in Jesus through devotion to God’s morality.

What is our challenge before God in Christ? To learn to be God’s people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week instead of programmed members of a religious institution. Read Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:20 and 14:2; 1 Peter 2:9,10; and Titus 2:14 and ask yourself this question: “What has God always wanted?”