Thursday, October 28, 2010

Witchy Woman

I’m revisiting a favorite passage of mine from the Old Testament this Sunday evening at church. Our senior adults will be acting out the story of the Witch of Endor from 1 Samuel 28. I'm kind of thinking out loud here about this passage. If you haven’t read this story you need to. It leaves you scratching your head and questioning why it’s in the Bible. Kind of an odd-ball story. I’ve posted some thoughts on this before.

Part 1
Part 2

Today, I’m looking at what lessons can be learned from this story. What can we, who are Christ-followers, learn from such a story? Is there anything to learn?

As I have been thinking of this story I have come up with some application. A brief background to the story is that king Saul is about to fight against the Philistines. Saul is terrified (v.5). Samuel the prophet, his long time advisor and friend has died. Samuel also knew God personally and communed with Him. Because of this he could discern God’s voice in certain situations. Because Saul relied on Samuel’s encounters with God and did not have the personal relationship with God that Samuel had, he could not hear God’s voice speaking as to what the Israelites should do about the coming battle with the Philistines. So, Saul tries the usual and appropriate ways of communicating with God. He hoped to hear from God via dreams, casting lots, and/or prophets. However, none of these methods worked. God’s voice was not heard and Saul became desperate.

Ever find yourself in a desperate situation? If you have you know how strong the temptation is to go out and do something drastic and irrational. This is the situation Saul is in. He desperately wants to hear from God, yet he doesn’t have the kind of relationship that would allow a person to hear from God. He hasn’t kept in step with God. He hasn’t obeyed God (look at Saul’s actions in 1 Samuel 15). So, in this dark hour Saul turns to a practice that is forbidden in Israel; communication with the dead. Saul is trying to force the voice of God in his situation. Have you ever tried to do that? You just want so bad to hear God’s voice in a situation that you do something crazy to try and get Him to speak. Saul found out through the ghost of Samuel that his disobedience to God and His commands had fractured their relationship. This disobedience had caused the voice of God to disappear from Saul’s life. This is just further evidence of the fact that there was no relationship between God and Saul.

The most important lesson to learn from this story is the connection between obedience and relationship. Can you have one without the other? Good relationships require obedience even if you don’t feel like it. But maybe there is a deeper truth here. Let me illustrate it this way. As a parent, I have rules and laws that I expect my children to obey. Could I expect obedience from them if I wasn’t available to be in a relationship with them? Should I expect obedience from them if I’m not a presence in their lives? Good and healthy relationships are dependant upon obedience. However, you can switch this around and say that obedience is dependant upon a good and healthy relationship. With my kids I’m expecting them to obey me because of the relationship I have with them. God the Father does the same with us. He expects us to obey Him because of the relationship He has with us through His Son Jesus (John 15:10, 14). Obedience is to flow from the relationship.

So, more important than, “How are you doing at obeying God?” is the question, “How are you doing in your relationship with God?”

It looks as if King Saul needed someone to ask him such a question.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A great book on communion!

I thoroughly enjoyed Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper by Ben Witherington III. This was one of about four books I read this summer.

The book, which is somewhat small in page numbers, is a pretty heavy read. In it, Ben explores the history of what many of us call communion. He begins with a study on the Passover. Why? Well, it seems it was on the night of Passover (very early, maybe even pre-mature to when Jews celebrated Passover) that Jesus introduced the Lord’s Supper.

Bonus Thoughts
Each of the sections in this book could be crafted into sermons. You could do a whole series of sermons based off of this book. Great sermon fodder here!

He sets off exploring what Passover meant to the Israelites in Egypt. Why did God give them this meal? What was its purpose? Some might suggest Passover dealt with Israel’s sins and their need for forgiveness. Ben challenges that thinking by asking us to look at the texts on Passover and the context. When this meal was given the priesthood was not established. Atonement for sins came through the sacrifices and shedding of blood made by priests. How can you have that if you do not have the priests? As for context, the different texts on Passover (e.g., Ex 12, Lev 23:4-8, Nu 28:16-25, Deut 16:1-8) do not mention anything about forgiveness or sin. So, if Passover is not about forgiveness or sin, what is it about?

Passover was a reminder meal with a bit more. It was the meal that reminded Israel of how God stepped into their world and rescued them. It was the meal that reminded them of how quickly they exited Egypt as free men and women. It was the meal that reminded Jews several hundred years later that this was their story too. Jews continued this meal up to, and maybe even after, the time of Christ to pass this great story on to the next generation. This meal helped the Jewish people grow closer together. This meal stood as a bit more than just a reminder meal in that it took Jews back, in a figurative way, to that first Passover in Egypt and allowed them to see that it was their story and that they were a part of the exodus of Egypt. This meal celebrated freedom from oppression and deliverance from God. A whole new way of life (the Jewish calendar) emerges in the context of the first Passover.

Well, I’m going to keep it short and cut things off here. I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg here, so much more to this book. However, this was probably more than most of you cared to read. This is a really good book. You will walk away feeling like you have a greater understanding of communion and its purposes if you commit to reading this.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Questions about church (Part 4)

Today we wrap up the series Questions about church. A big thanks to Angela for the idea for this (hope this helps answer some of your questions too). There is, of course, a lot more to say on this subject, but this should at least help us get started and moving in the right direction for answers.

Next question:

Did he (Jesus) tell us that we should be connected locally somewhere?

I wish there was a verse in the Gospels that said, “You must commit yourself to a local fellowship,” but there isn’t. What we do have though is probably just as good. Context. First context shows us that Jesus was connected locally to the Jewish people and practices. He went to the synagogue regularly. He participated in the Jewish festival and feasts. His life reveals that He was connected locally. Furthermore, context tells us that the Gospels were written to local churches. For example, the Gospel of Mark was a written to a local church in Rome. If it were not for people committed to meeting locally then our New Testament would not be what it is today. The audience of the entire New Testament is the local church.

The Gospels helped people know how to live. It helped them see what they could become by looking at Jesus. It gave them the vision for the type of life they could have as Christians. They were helpful personally and corporately. They revealed how true brothers and sisters in Christ should live with one another. If these early Christians were connected to a local fellowship they would haven’t heard the Gospels because they were usually read when the church gathered. People didn’t have the luxury of taking a Bible home with them. They had to be connected locally to hear the Gospel. Again, context helps us understand this.

When Paul wrote to a church the letter he was writing was first and foremost to that church. Just look at the beginning of his letters. Usually he was addressing problems or answering questions. When he used the word ekklesia (church) he had a specific and local church in mind. Usually it would be the one he was writing to. Church wasn’t an abstract group of people all over the world who believed in Jesus. Church was a group of Christians assembled together in a particular place (usually a house because there was nowhere else to meet) to worship God through Jesus.

Think about this, how do you really minister to someone if you don’t show them commitment on your part to be connected to a local church? If you are not committed you won’t be able to build quality relationships with others. If you don’t build quality relationships with others then you won’t really get to discover their needs and how to really pray for them. You lose your ability to help in a helpful way. Maybe such thoughts are what led the author of Hebrews to write, “Let us not neglect our meeting together”.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Questions about church (Part 3)

Did he (Jesus) have any roots?
This was another question asked and I'm taking it to mean: Was Jesus connected to a local church?

One of the things we must always think of when reading scripture is context. So, how does that help us here? Well, Jesus wasn’t attending church, as we know and think of it, each week, but He was involved in the Jewish practices of Israel. He was committed to daily times of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. These were Jewish practices. Jesus was a Jew. He lived like a Jew and practiced Jewish things. He was connected to a local synagogue and a local gathering of people. People knew Jesus because He lived among them. He was a faithful Jew.

Jesus’ disciples probably met him and heard about Him long before He called them to follow Him. Jesus did not just appear out of nowhere and start teaching something contrary to scripture. As a matter of fact, in His own sermon on the mount, He says He has come to fulfill the law. Because of that and His Jewish roots Jesus lived according to the law.

Now something similar to a revolution begins to occur when Jesus calls 12 men to follow Him and then later appoints them as apostles. I guess you could say the church as we know it starts with Jesus. Some might be tempted to think Jesus is breaking away from Judaism and Israel. He is not. He is attempting to bring reform to Israel. Martin Luther and John Wesley weren’t attempting to start new denominations. They were attempting to bring reform to the church they grew up in and loved.

Jesus was rejected by so many Jews because of the message He brought. The incarnation (God coming to live among us) is simply amazing! It is also hard for some to believe. However, isn’t it interesting, that despite the heavy conflict among the Jews over Jesus and His message, that He didn’t leave Judaism and go off and start a new religion? Now, that has happened (i.e. Christianity), but that was not what Jesus was intially trying to do. He stayed. He lived as a Jew and He died as a Jew.

When conflict in our church arises we get upset and leave. Some of us never to return again. Some of us to start a new church. Jesus did not do that. He had strong roots to Israel and an even stronger commitment to God the Father. So yes, Jesus had roots and was connected to a particular people (the Jews) in a particular place (Israel).

Your thought?