The Ultimate Feast

Heaven, Lord's Supper, Luke, Unity No Comments »

“People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” ~Luke 13:29

Jesus is talking about heaven when he says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets will be around that table. John’s Revelation tells us that heaven will be the ultimate gathering of “every nation, tribe, people, and language,” the ultimate feast around our Lord’s banquet table.

At communion, we get a small heavenly glimpse of that great eschatological feast. We come together around our Savior’s table. In the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, we connect not only to our Lord, but to every person in history — past, present, and future — who’s been saved by the blood of the Lamb. Past the barriers of time and space, we’re united as one

Different people. Different ages. Different cultures. Different languages. Different backgrounds. Different viewpoints. Different habits. Different genders. Different denominations. Different jobs. Different haircuts. Different beliefs. Different likes and dislikes.

Same sin. Same need. Same Lord. Same baptism. Same forgiveness. Same salvation. Same commitment. Same table. Same loaf. Same cup. Same body. Same Church. Same Spirit. Same hope. Same faith. Same God and Father of us all who is over all and through all and in all.

Our communion meal points us to the heavenly meal. It gives us a peek. The way we eat and drink and share the Lord’s Supper must be shaped by our great anticipation of that day when all God’s children will be home, gathered around our Father’s table.

Peace,

Allan

Seeing the Risen Christ

Fellowship, Jesus, Lord's Supper, Luke, Resurrection, Salvation No Comments »

There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. There’s a lot to see and experience there. The soldiers saw the angel and experienced great fear. The women saw the stone rolled away and experienced great confusion. Peter and the apostles saw the burial cloths and came away with a lot of questions. There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. But nobody saw Jesus there.

Jesus isn’t there.

I want to see Jesus. I want to experience Jesus. I want to touch Jesus and know Jesus and be in his presence and hear his voice.

You know where that happens? At the table. The disciples do not see or experience Jesus in his resurrection fullness and glory until later that Easter Sunday when they are sharing a meal together. Jesus revealed himself during the meal. He appeared to his followers and spoke to them at the table. That’s where we see our risen Lord.

When we are around the table together with the risen Messiah as our host we experience forgiveness and belonging, unity and sharing, acceptance and fellowship. We see Jesus in the changed lives of the people with us around the table. We Jesus in that there are no walls, no barriers between us and God and us and each other; nothing separates us at the table. We Jesus when we remember that we have forgiven those around the table with us and have been forgiven multiple times by those same people. We see Jesus in the joy reflected in the faces around the table. We experience Christ in relationship with others.

Our salvation from God is not a system. It’s not a theory. And it’s certainly not a five-step plan.

It’s a sacrifice and a meal.

Peace be with you,

Allan

Surely Not I

Faith, Fellowship, Jesus, Lord's Supper, Mark No Comments »

I love the Gospel of Mark because Mark shoots straight with us about the disciples of Jesus. He doesn’t try to cover anything up, he doesn’t try to make the followers of Jesus into something they’re not. Mark tells us straight up: The apostles are shallow, selfish, hard-headed, and, at times, very weak in faith. I don’t know about you, but that gives a guy like me great hope.

When you read Mark from start to finish, you’re never really sure about these guys. They’re constantly teetering between belief and un-belief. Jesus is always on them: You don’t see; you don’t understand; you don’t have any faith; what’s wrong with you?

Will the disciples remain faithful? I don’t know, man, they’re all over the map.

The tension in the Gospel reaches a boiling point at the Last Supper. They all sit down to eat for one of the traditional Passover meals and the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth are: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

That’s the first thing he says! They haven’t even started on their salads yet!

“One of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

They’re all eating together around this common table. It’s like a Corino’s where everybody’s dipping bread into a common dish of oil and herbs. Eating together like this is a sign of solidarity and unity. This is about loyalty and fellowship.

So the disciples are shocked. And one-by-one they say to Jesus, “Surely not I?” Eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, they look Jesus in the eye and say, “Surely not I?”

The focus is not on Judas here. Judas is not even mentioned. This is not about Judas. This is about all the disciples. This is about us. “Surely not I?”

Every time we come to the table, that should be our questions. We come to the table to receive the benefits of Christ’s death, to experience and share in his forgiveness and his acceptance and our righteous relationship with God in Christ. At the table, eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, we are expressing our loyalty, our fellowship with Jesus and his followers. At the table, we re-commit to Christ’s way of life.

The question for today and for the rest of the week is: Will we remain faithful? Will we betray Jesus?

Now, we are not perfect. Nobody is but our Lord Jesus. No matter our best intentions, we will occasionally fail. And Jesus knows this. He tells them, “You will all fall away.” But with that word of judgment comes a word of grace. “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you.”

We humbly seek the power to live more faithfully for Christ. We need more strength and resolve to demonstrate Christ-likeness in everything we do and say and think. We recommit this week. We renew our vows to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan

Tradition Informing Scripture

1 Corinthians, Acts, Austin Grad, Baptism, Bible, Carrie-Anne, Christ & Culture, Church, Lord's Supper, Stone-Campbell History No Comments »

DoleHulaBefore we continue our discussion of Dr. Keith Stanglin’s article “Restorationism and Church History: Strange Bedfellows?” I must wish my beautiful wife Carrie-Anne a very happy birthday. Today is Wednesday so, with our church schedule, it’ll be impossible for the family to celebrate together with our traditional birthday dinner. That’ll have to wait until tomorrow evening. It’ll be our typical Sharky’s burrito tonight and the birthday steak dinner tomorrow. But, Carrie-Anne, I love you, darling. I hope you have a fabulous day.

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BonoPetersonAlso, if you’re a Eugene Peterson fan or if you’re a fan of U2 or, especially, if you’re a fan of both the Irish rocker and The Message translator you might spend 21-minutes today checking out this video. Fuller Theological Seminary has produced a very short and very high-quality documentary on how Peterson and Bono engage the Psalms. Apparently, once Peterson finished the Old Testament “Message-style,” Bono began reading the Psalms in a whole different way. He reached out to Peterson and the two have become pretty good friends. The short film documents a visit Bono had with Peterson at the author’s mountain home in Montana in which they discussed together the Psalms, honesty and dishonesty in Christian art and music, and violence. It’s good. Really interesting. It’s funny listening to Peterson butcher the name of “Rolling Stone” magazine and refer to the floor near the stage at a U2 concert as the “mash pit.” It’s also really cool when Peterson, while discussing the imprecatory psalms, tells Bono, “We’ve got to learn how to cuss without cussing.” Bono replies, “Yeah, I like that. That’s going to stick with me.” You can watch the video by clicking here.

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ChurchFathers2

Though we in the American Restoration Movement have been intentional in ignoring and resisting any church history before the early 19th century, we cannot deny that all of us are influenced and shaped by all church history. We don’t acknowledge it, mainly, because we take it for granted. Keith points out that the New Testament table of contents in our Bibles is taken for granted as some kind of unquestionable truth as if it came straight from the apostles at the end of the first century. So, we make an exception to Thomas Campbell’s “nothing not as old as the New Testament” when we accept the New Testament itself (see yesterday’s post).

Keith argues for making these exceptions, which we all make, “with clear eyes and full awareness.”

We could spend several days talking about the things we believe and practice in our churches that are not “as old as the New Testament.” The separation of the Lord’s Supper from an actual meal didn’t begin to happen until late in the second century and into the third. Nobody thought to refer to God as a three-person Trinity until the second century and it wasn’t made an official church position until the fourth. The idea of translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew instead of the Greek came from the fourth century. The use of unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper didn’t happen until the eleventh century. Congregational singing in harmony wasn’t practiced until the twelfth century. These are all beliefs and practices (innovations?) that are not “as old as the New Testament.” Yet, instead of throwing them out, we take them for granted in our faith and worship.

Let’s also acknowledge that there are plenty of practices which are as old as the New Testament, commands and examples written in our holy Scriptures, that we don’t practice, and would never consider practicing, because of church history and tradition. To move the conversation along, allow me to concentrate today on two very obvious ways Keith observes that we adhere to church tradition and actually use church history to interpret Scripture and inform our practice.

The first is with baptism for the dead that the apostle Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:29:

“Whatever this practice was, we do not practice or endorse it. Why don’t we practice it? It is not because Paul expresses disapproval, because he does not. In fact, he raises the issue to show the Corinthians how, though they deny the resurrection, their practices are undergirded by a belief in the resurrection. Far from being negative about baptism for the dead, Paul is neutral or perhaps positive. So why doesn’t the church now baptize for the dead? The reason we do not baptize for the dead is because the historic church has not baptized for the dead.”

Imagine if we had nothing else in Scripture about baptism for the dead other than this one verse in 1 Corinthians which, by the way, is indeed the case. But what if the historical record were different? What if there were written documents from the second and third centuries attesting to and approving a ritual for baptism for the dead? We would probably be practicing it today! But with the exception of Latter-Day Saints, no one in the history of Christianity has practiced baptism for the dead. So we interpret the verse in 1 Corinthians 15 as an aberrant practice. We’re convinced that if Paul had been writing a sacramental theology, he would have clearly condemned the practice in unambiguous terms. Why? Because no one’s ever done it. As Keith points out, Sunday School classes have a lot of questions when they study 1 Corinthians, but they never seriously consider the thought of restoring this practice. So, we’ve got a first-century New Testament practice left completely out of our faith and worship today based solely on church tradition and history.

Let’s do one more: the Lord’s Supper. The way we observe the meal today bears almost zero resemblance to the ritual as it is understood and taught and practiced in the New Testament. The very fact that we eat the cracker and sip the little swallow of juice separate from a full evening meal is enough evidence to acknowledge that we are influenced and shaped by church history and tradition. Our insistence on the use of unleavened bread is a relatively new innovation that helped split the Eastern and Western churches in the eleventh century. The early church didn’t use unleavened bread for the same reasons it didn’t use bitter herbs, lamb, and multiple cups of wine. But we demand unleavened bread today. Why? Because the Roman Church made the change about a thousand years ago.

So, let’s look at Scripture. What does the New Testament say regarding the day to eat the Lord’s Supper? According to Acts 20:7, the church in Troas met on the first day of the week to break bread. This is the only reference we have in Scripture for Sunday. And it’s tricky because they wound up eating it after midnight. The Last Supper took place in the middle of the week. The church in Jerusalem did it daily (Acts 2:46) and Paul doesn’t give us a day in 1 Corinthians (11:26). We don’t have a whole lot on the day itself.

On the other hand, there’s a much more clear and consistent Scriptural testimony regarding location. The Last Supper was eaten in an “upper room.” The early church also celebrated the meal in an “upper room” (Acts 20:8).

So why do we insist on Sunday as the day to observe the Lord’s Supper but we place no guidelines at all on where the Supper can be taken? Based on Scripture alone, it’s not clear that the day is any more or less important than the location. If anything, there’s more testimony about the location than the day. Why do we dismiss any discussion about where we’re supposed to eat the Lord’s Supper as irrelevant while, at the same time, we spend a ton of time and energy searching the Scriptures to make a strong case for the Sunday timing?

“Tradition — a tradition that extends unbroken back to the second century — repeatedly attests to the importance of the day, not the location. The historic tradition supports the theological case for the importance of resurrection day and, therefore, the possibility of celebrating other significant times and seasons. Celebrating the Supper in an upper room has always been, according to this same tradition, an indifferent matter, as it rightly is for us. But despite all the vast changes in the theology and practice of communion, a Lord’s Day never passed in the first fifteen centuries without celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Whether we realize it or not, the church’s history is a decisive factor that influences our faith and practice.”

Rather than attempting to run away from church tradition, which we cannot; instead of ignoring or resisting church history and tradition, which would require we deny most of our formation influences, why not embrace the history and examine it? Why not search for the centuries of wisdom that are available in acknowledging our past: the good and the not so good, the faithful and the not so faithful?

Peace,

Allan

Presence

Exodus, Ezekiel, Genesis, Jeremiah, Leviticus, Lord's Supper, Promise, Story of God No Comments »

Tabernacle

“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” ~Genesis 17:7

We’re going to be together. We’re going to live together, just like in the garden in the very beginning. God says we’re going to occupy the same places together just like in Act One. The covenant is about God being visibly, physically present with his people.

When he delivers them from Egypt, God leads them from a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Scripture tells us neither pillar “left its place in front of the people.”

And then God brings his people to a mountain in the middle of the desert and he tells them the details of the covenant. God is right there, physically and visibly on the mountain. There’s smoke and fire, thunder and lightning. The people are trembling with fear.

“They offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” ~Exodus 24:5-11

God uses the blood of the covenant, the blood of the sacrifice, to cleanse his people so they can sit down together and share a meal. They saw God and they ate and drank. The blood made them righteous. Because of the blood, God considered them holy, so they could be right there in his face-to-face presence. Eating together! With God! It’s remarkable! But that kind of proximity, that kind of physical relationship and presence, is what God and the humans had in the garden in Act One. And that’s what God is working to restore with his covenant.

God longs to physically live with his people. So, next, he tells them to build him a tent.

“Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them.” ~Exodus 29:45-46

“I will put my dwelling place among you… I will walk among you and be your God and you will be my people.” ~Leviticus 26:11-12

This is the promise, this is the language through the rest of the Old Testament. I will live with you; you will be my people and I will be your God. At the tabernacle. At the temple. Five times in Ezekiel. Five times in Jeremiah. Three times in Zechariah. God gives us his covenant so we can live together with him in his presence.

Peace,

Allan

Maundy Thursday

4 Amarillo, Fellowship, Jesus, John, Lord's Supper, Love No Comments »

On this fifth day of Holy Week, the “4 Amarillo” churches are assembling together at Polk Street United Methodist Church this evening for a traditional Maundy Thursday service. “Maundy” comes from an old French word (mande) and a Latin term (mandatum) that mean “command,” and point to Jesus’ words around the table with his disciples on that night he was betrayed: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Tonight we are reminded of the sacrificial and self-giving love demonstrated by our Lord as he washed the feet of his followers. We’re reminded of his faithfulness and obedience as he went willingly to his death that very night. And we’re inspired to imitate our Savior in living lives of service to others, considering their needs more important than our own.

And they’ve asked me to preach it again.

Still not sure why. It probably has something to do with the fact that Howie and Howard and Burt all have Good Friday services and multiple Easter Sunday services they’re preaching this weekend. And I don’t. So I get the Maundy Thursday gig.

Regardless, I’m very, very honored and excited to do it. This is a communion service. And there’s nothing more distinctly Christian we can do than to share the Lord’s Meal with a bunch of different disciples from a bunch of different denominations and backgrounds and interpretations. Christ died to destroy all the things that separate us from God and from one another. He died to tear down the walls, to annihilate the barriers, to rip the veil in two from top to bottom so that we all have equal access to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all his people. So that we can all eat and drink together in his everlasting face-to-face presence. That’s why he died. And the only thing that keeps us from enjoying little slivers of that eternal feast here in this life is our refusal to love one another as Christ loved us.

Our own prejudices. Man-made lines of distinction. Our own arrogance and pride. Our unwillingness to practice the same love and acceptance and forgiveness and grace to other Christians that God in Christ showed and continues to show to us — that’s the only thing that keeps all God’s churches from expressing and practicing the kind of unity that would flat-out change the world.

I am grateful to belong to a faith community that understands this. I praise God that the leadership of our four downtown churches is pushing us to do more together, not less. And I cherish my partnership and friendship with Burt, Howard, and Howie. I pray that our Maundy Thursday gathering tonight encourages our churches, that it testifies boldly to the transforming work of Christ Jesus, and that it results in praise and glory to God.

Peace,

Allan