Category: Ezra

Returning to the Lord

The first Sunday in January is a good time for a congregation of God’s people to renew our dedication to the Lord. It’s the perfect day to start over, to renew vows, to make fresh commitments. And in Scripture, a lot of the time, when God’s people seek renewed relationship with the Lord, they begin with corporate confession and repentance.

Using biblical texts from 1 Samuel 7, Ezra 9, and Daniel 9, we spent this past Sunday together at Central confessing our corporate sins as a 107-year-old body of believers. We talked about the sins of pride and racism, legalism and sexism, self-reliance and apathy, consumerism, materialism, sectarianism. We haven’t committed all these sins ourselves. Our leadership and our church today are not guilty of all those sins. But in the history of our congregation and in the history of Churches of Christ, we have all been guilty of all of it. Some of these sins we still commit. All of them still impact us to some degree. So, in the manner of God’s people as described in Scripture, we confessed.

One of our shepherds, Tim McMenamy, worded a heart-felt, gut-wrenching prayer of confession from his knees on behalf of the church, recalling the sins of our past and the sins of our present. Another of our elders, Steve Rogers, led a prayer of corporate repentance from his knees, making vows to God on behalf of the congregation that we would renounce the sins of our past and present and seek only the Lord and his ways. And then we offered the church some time to confess their own sins, sins in their families, sins from their distant past, or sins that have them ensnared in the present. Our elders and ministers and our spouses were positioned all around the worship center to graciously receive and pray for our people. We lifted them up to God and begged him to provide his promised forgiveness and righteousness and peace.

It was different. It was very quiet in there. And powerful. Only a few, it appeared, actually took advantage of the opportunity. But those who did experienced those blessings of forgiveness and righteousness and peace.

Immediately after the service concluded, several people came to me to thank me for the special focus of the morning and for the way the assembly had been planned. And I think I must have expressed — non-verbally — some disappointment in the visible response from our congregation during the time of confession and repentance. One of my many, many faults — one I should probably confess regularly before the church — is my sin of impatience. I’m terrible with that. I don’t very much of the time practice what I preach there. And I do a lousy job of hiding it. But, good grief, of all people the preacher should know that God is at work in powerful ways that we don’t always get to see.

And Clay Harper reminded me of that Monday.

Clay called me on the carpet for my disappointment. That’s what good and faithful Christian brothers do; that’s what happens in genuine Christian community. And then he reminded me of the truth I had preached the day before, that God answered the prayers and provided the promised blessings regardless of how engaged the people were in what was happening.

In Samuel, the people approached the prophet looking for ways to fix their relationship with God. They begged him to intercede for them and participated fully as a congregation in the prayers of confession and repentance. In Ezra, the leaders of the people came to the prophet and the people (a lot of them, but maybe not all of them) eventually followed and participated in the confession and repentance, some of them under the threat of loss of their property. In Daniel, it doesn’t look like anybody else is there. The prophet prays confession and repentance to God on behalf of the people, but there’s no indication anybody has any idea he’s doing it.

More than likely, we have people in our church family located at every point on that continuum. From begging to make things right with God and willingly putting away their idols and sins, to almost being forced to confess and repent and reluctantly participating, to not taking part in the exercises at all, we’ve got folks all over the map there. All those different reactions and responses were present in our assembly Sunday.

The good news is that in all three scenarios in Scripture, God answered the prayers immediately, while the prayers were still being prayed, and provided the forgiveness and peace.

In Samuel, while the people are in the middle of confessing and repenting, God answered. God showered his people with victory. He destroyed their enemies right there on the spot and blessed them with peace. Same thing in Daniel. While he was in the middle of his prayer of corporate confession and repentance, God spoke to Daniel about forgiveness of sin, about everlasting righteousness, and peace. In Ezra, God provided his grace immediately and withdrew his anger.

I don’t know where you are with confession and repentance before God. I think if you’ve made some New Year’s resolutions to our Lord, they have to begin with confession and repentance. I don’t know where your church is with that. I don’t know how your elders might feel about corporate confession in a church assembly. I don’t know how many in your family or your congregation would enter in to that kind of exercise willingly, how many would have to be dragged into it kicking and screaming, and how many just wouldn’t participate. I don’t know.

But I do know this: the common thread in all three stories of corporate confession and repentance in Scripture is that God answered. He responded immediately, as soon as the prayers began. He did it consistently then and he’s doing it faithfully right now. Why don’t you and/or your church give it a try?


Congratulations to Central’s own Joe Bain who will be inducted tomorrow into the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame here in Amarillo. Coach Bain was the boys track coach at Amarillo High School for 30 years, winning 15 district championships, including one in his last season in 2006. He also served as a long time assistant coach for the Golden Sandstorm football team under Larry Dippel, coaching the defensive backs in 1992 when the Sandies advanced to the state semi-finals.

Coach Bain poured his heart into hundreds of young men in this region, constantly encouraging them, consistently challenging them to be better, always leading to greatness by the example of his own deep character and integrity. Lots and lots of young men are thanking Coach Bain this week for the tremendous influence of godliness he had on their lives. And at least one older guy who only just met Coach Bain three years ago is thanking him for that same leadership and influence he has on my life right now.



Around the Table: Part 5

“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'” ~Exodus 12:24-27

The final dinner Jesus shared with his disciples on the night of his betrayal was a Passover meal. The synoptic gospels all make the explicit claim that this was the Passover. Jesus made preparations and gathered his disciples to “eat the Passover.” Since this last supper has become for the majority of Christians the be-all, end-all paradigm for our own beliefs and practices regarding the Lord’s Supper (for right or wrong), it makes sense to study carefully the Passover context of that last night. I’ve had church leaders on more than one occasion point to the gospel accounts of this last meal to justify their order that we not sing any songs during the Lord’s Supper. After all, the logic goes, the Bible says they sang a song after the meal, not during. Of course, if we’re to follow that logic to its conclusion, we’d be sharing the Lord’s Supper only on Thursdays. Upstairs.

So, yes, let’s look at the Passover context of what was happening around the table on that last night.

As we’ve already noticed in this series, the Jewish Passover meal — all covenant and/or community and/or sacrificial meals for that matter — is a communal celebratory event. As an expression of salvation, it was yet another community meal celebrated following a sacrifice. The Passover, in particular, was a joyous celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt.

“Celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance!” ~Exodus 12:14

“Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” ~Exodus 12:17

“I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples.” ~ Matthew 26:18

The Passover Supper also was a remembrance of that deliverance. By remembrance, we don’t mean a merely intellectual act or emotional recollection. This is a faithful action, a rehearsal, a participation in that deliverance. The Passover liturgies from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Jewish writings from the first century all contain actions and language that help the people around the table to identify with the historic salvation event as if they were present in Egypt and at the Red Sea.

“Celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt.” ~Deuteronomy 16:1

“…so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” ~Deuteronomy 16:3

“…because you left Egypt in haste.” ~Deuteronomy 16:3

“We cried out to the Lord… the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” ~ Deuteronomy 26:7-8

“Each should celebrate as one who has gone out of Egypt.” ~ Mishna

We also know that as Jesus and his disciples gathered on that last night, their supper together was marked by great joy, praise, and thanksgiving. This was not a dirge or a funeral meal; expressions of joy at this supper were the command of God.

“…with great rejoicing… singing… praise.” ~ 2 Chronicles 30:21-27

“…celebrated with joy… Lord had filled them with joy.” ~ Ezra 6:22

“…your times of rejoicing, your appointed feasts.” ~ Numbers 10:10

The Passover was also established as an anticipation event. Children of God ate the meal together looking forward to that day when they would be eating it in a much better place, in wonderfully better circumstances. They eat and drink with an eye to the future, focused on an upcoming meal that will surpass the one they share today.

“When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.” ~ Exodus 12:25

If we’re really out to imitate every detail of that Last Supper at our communion times together on Sunday mornings — again, for right or wrong — then why don’t we? As good law-keeping Jews, Jesus and his disciples would have been in a festive spirit that night and engaged all the elements of the evening with great joy. The meal was marked by group identity and interaction. It was a present participation in the past events of God’s salvation. They were singing the psalms, specifically Psalms 113-118, before, during, and after the supper.

I would recommend singing songs of salvation, songs of praise for God’s mighty acts, before, during, and after our communion meals together. I would suggest swapping salvation stories around the table. I once was ______, but now I’m ________. Ask each other the questions: from what have we been delivered? From what to what have we passed? Who took our place that day? Do it together in the aisles or along the walls in your worship center. Huddle up around your pews. Allow the children to ask the questions: Why do we do this? And then share the story: because the Lord our God delivered us by the Passover Lamb. And then hug each other and sing another song.



Around the Table: Part 2

We’re seeing right now with the Rangers the exact same thing we saw at this point last season. They’ve smashed into the wall. They can’t hit, they can’t field, they can’t pitch. They’re flat. They’re done. And Oakland’s on a tear. The same thing happened last year at this exact same time. And we’re running out of options for turning things around. You can’t hold a players-only meeting every week. You can only call a special team meeting with the manager a couple of times a year. Now what? I wore my 1996 AL West Championship T-shirt to bed last night, trying to channel some of that magic from the first ever playoff year for the Rangers. We could use some of that Johnny Oates mojo, some of that Pudge Rodriguez intensity, some of that Will Clark leadership. We need something. This is the do-or-die weekend for Texas. If they don’t take at least two out of three from the A’s, beginning tomorrow, we’ll play Taps for the team here on Monday. Yuk.


“They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord.” ~1 Chronicles 29:22

If put on the spot, most of us would not be able to quote anything out of Leviticus. Most of us have never participated in or even seen an animal sacrifice. And a decreasingly fewer number of us have ever slaughtered an animal to eat. Anything having to do with the sacrifices prescribed by God and practiced by his people in the Hebrew Scriptures is mostly ignored by us. That was Old Testament, we like to say. That was the Law of Moses. Those are complicated rules and regulations, outdated and ineffective means of obtaining forgiveness from which New Testament Christians have been freed. We don’t know much about these sacrifices because we don’t study them. Those sacrifices are not important for us today. They’re certainly not binding.

Not so fast.

When Paul is writing to the Corinthians about what is actually happening around the Lord’s Supper, he asks them to first understand what’s happening at the Israelites’ sacrifices.

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?” ~1 Corinthians 10:18

Eat the sacrifices??? Most Christians today don’t realize that God’s people always ate the sacrifices. They made a community meal out of the meat. And Paul says this is significant for understanding the function of the Lord’s Supper. Paul doesn’t just talk about the Passover sacrifice and meal as informative, he mentions the entire sacrificial system. Paul reflects on the meaning of eating the sacrifice to help Christians better comprehend what’s happening at Christ’s table.

The fellowship offering was ordered to go alongside all sin offerings and burnt offerings. You can’t find a place in Scripture where God’s people didn’t offer the fellowship sacrifice in the course of observing the others. The word translated “fellowship,” or “peace” in some English versions, is actually shelem, from the shalom root that means “peace.” Shalom means peace, while shelem communicates a relationship of peace, a communion or fellowship between two parties. And fellowship sacrifices were always eaten together by the people.

You find God’s people offering fellowship sacrifices at the ratification of the Mosaic covenant, at the inauguration of the priesthood, and as a part of every major festival, including Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Fellowship offerings and meals were required at the end of a Nazarite vow. Fellowship offerings were the climactic moments at the inaugurations of Israel’s kings, at covenant renewal ceremonies at Shechem and Jerusalem, at the dedication of the temple, and as part of the regular corporate worship of God. You have to read most of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to get it, but sacrifice and fellowship and communion meals were a normal part of life with God and with one another in this community of faith.

The way it worked was that the fat of the animals was left on the fire to burn, while the people ate the meat together as a community. It happened at the same time. God was consuming the fat on the fire, the people were consuming the meat on their plates. God and his people were sharing a meal together, eating at the same time, around the same table. Fellowship, shelem, with God and with one another. These fellowship meals always followed the sacrifice. And they were consistently characterized by two things: the presence of God and great joy.

Exodus 18:12 – Moses, Jethro, and Aaron eat the sacrifice “in the presence of God” to celebrate their salvation from Egypt.

Exodus 24:8-11 – “they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

Deuteronomy 12:4-7 – “Eat and rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 12:17-18 – “Eat them before the presence of the Lord… rejoice before the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 14:23 – eat the grain and livestock offerings “in the presence of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 14:26 – “Eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”

Deuteronomy 15:20 – regarding the first born animals of the flocks: “eat them in the presence of the Lord.”

1 Chronicles 29:21-22 – the people ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord

Deuteronomy 27:7 – at the covenant renewal in Shechem; the people ate the fellowship offerings “rejoicing in the presence of the Lord.”

2 Chronicles 7:10 – at the building of the temple; people eating the fellowship offerings were “joyful and glad in heart.”

Ezra 6:13-22 – at the re-building of the temple; the people “celebrated with joy” because the Lord had “filled them with joy.”

Nehemiah 8:1-18 – at the re-building of the city walls; “do not mourn or weep… enjoy choice food and sweet drinks… the joy of the Lord… celebrate with great joy.”

Numbers 10:10 – “at your times of rejoicing, your appointed feasts.”

I could fill up your screen with many more references. The point is that the covenant meals were always, without exception, eaten by and with the entire community, always in the presence of God, and always with great joy. The fellowship meal is a joy-filled celebration of the righteous relationship — the peace, the communion — with God that resulted from the sacrifice at the altar. You can’t find a community meal anywhere in the Old Testament in which joy was not the mood and celebration not the command. In fact, in the one place in which Israel was weeping during the meal, God rebuked them and corrected them, commanding them to “celebrate with great joy.”

Fellowship meals in the Old Testament were never intended to be moments of solemn silence or private introspection. Communion meals were not in any way individualistic. They were interactive, participatory meals in which the entire community actively engaged with one another and with God. The meals were joyful and grateful celebrations of the blessings of God. This is the understanding and the practice of Jesus himself, his disciples, and all the New Testament writers. Not just them, but their grandfathers and great-great-great-great grandfathers before them.

Paul says if you understand this, you can better understand the Lord’s Supper. As an expression of peace and communion between God and his people. As a communal act shared among the people of God. As a salvation celebration characterized by great joy and thanksgiving. Do our Lord’s Supper practices and experiences today reflect this understanding?

Someone in our class last night asked, “Why don’t we do the Lord’s Supper this way? Why do we look at the floor and get so quiet during the Lord’s Supper?”

Good question.



The Presence of God and the Joy of His People

I don’t believe you can find a single communal meal in the Hebrew Scriptures that is eaten in sadness. When God’s people eat together, two things are true, without exception: 1) they eat in the presence of God and 2) they eat with great joy.

Sacrificial meals and covenant meals were a regular part of daily life for God’s people. At the ratification of the Mosaic covenant, to inaugurate the priesthood, at the conclusion of vows, at the renewal of commitments, at the inauguration of kings, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to Jerusalem, to celebrate the end of plagues, to give thanks to God, at the dedication of the temple. The list could go on for pages.

Eat and rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God (Deut. 12:4-7), eat in the presence of the Lord…rejoice before the Lord (Deut. 17-18), eat the offerings in the presence of the Lord (Deut. 14:23), eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice (Deut. 14:26), eat in the presence of the Lord (Deut. 15:20).

At the table, God’s people were “joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done” (2 Chron. 7:10). They celebrated “with joy…because the Lord had filled them with joy” (Ezra 6:22). Nehemiah told them “Do not mourn or weep…enjoy choice food and sweet drinks…celebrate with great joy” (Neh. 8:10-12).

Sacrifices cleansed the people. The blood spilled on the altar was sprinkled on the stones, on the ground, on the people themselves, to clean them, to sanctify them, to take away their sins. Sacrifices were intended to make a place or a people holy so God could dwell there. God’s eternal covenant with his people is that he will live with them and they will be his people and he will be their God. Sacrifice made that dwelling possible. Without sacrifice, there could be no righteous relationship with God. Following the sacrifice, intimacy with God is not only possible, it’s realized and experienced.

And it’s always celebrated at the meal. At the table.

Peace. Fellowship. Communion. Koinonia with God and with one another because of the sacrifice. Now, that’s something worth celebrating with great joy. Right?


Why do our Lord’s Supper observances on Sunday mornings tend to be quiet, solemn ceremonies marked by individual introspection and feelings of sadness and guilt? Why aren’t our communal meals with our God and one another characterized by interactive expressions of uncontained celebration and overflowing joy?

Have you tried singing upbeat, uptempo songs of praise and thanksgiving as you gather around the table? Instead of burying your nose in your Bible, have you ever tried sharing that special passage with the person seated next to you? A neighborly “clink” of your cups with the people on your pew and a shared “Thank you, Lord!” can express that much-needed communal joy in a simple, yet powerful, way. Try something. Try anything. I just urge you to stop “doing” the Lord’s Supper by yourself in that room full of Christian brothers and sisters and stop being so sad about it.

The Lord’s meal is shared on Sunday, not Friday! He’s not on the cross anymore, praise God! The tomb is empty, hallelujah! The Lord Jesus Christ has paid for your sins and mine! We stand today — right now and forever more! — in a righteous relationship with the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth! He has removed our sins. He doesn’t remember them or hold them against us! It’s as if we’ve been perfect from day one! Because of what Christ already did at the cross and what the Holy Spirit already did at the garden tomb, we belong to God! It is finished! We are his people and he is our God!

Seriously. How in the world are we able to eat the bread and drink the cup without breaking out into huge grins?


I’ve updated the “Around the Table” page with tonight’s lesson outline and handouts. As you’ve already gathered, the focus tonight is on the presence of God and the joy of his people at the meal. Click on the green “Around the Table” tab in the upper right hand corner of this page to access these class materials and to find the assignment for next week’s session.