Category: Numbers

Prophesy: A Gift to the Church

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.”  ~1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

What is the Bible calling a prophesy? And why does the Church need this kind of warning about it? Whatever is happening in this passage, the Bible says it needs to be tested. But it doesn’t need to be disregarded. It needs to be respected.

If we’re going to talk about prophesy and use the word, we should probably define it first. So let me take an honest stab at it here. Paul’s not talking about new and/or authoritative revelation. And he’s not talking about predicting the future. A New Testament definition is something like this: a divine confirmation of God’s will and God’s Word to encourage the Church. This is the way prophesy is described in every single list of spiritual gifts in the New Testament – by the way, prophesy is the only gift that’s mentioned in every list. Prophesy is a message of encouragement that comes from God, delivered through one of his people. That’s what the Bible is talking about in 1 Corinthians 14:

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy.” ~1 Corinthians 14:1

Why does Scripture want us to eagerly desire the gift of prophesy? What’s so great about prophesy?

“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but the one who prophesies edifies the Church.” ~1 Corinthians 14:2-4

The Holy Spirit gift of prophesy is one of the great blessings of living in these last days. Before Christ, not every man and woman had the gift of the Holy Spirit, not every child of God had the capacity to hear God’s voice and speak truth from God to others. Moses said, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29) Well, now we can. All of us. All Christians have the blessed gift of the indwelling Spirit, so all Christians have the capacity to hear God and share with others what we hear.

The key to understanding the gift is knowing that prophesy is intended by God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the disciples of Christ. It’s not a divine revelation that is equal in authority to Scripture. It is divine exhortation/encouragement that comes from God to build up the Church. Do we still need that today? As old Joe Malone used to say, “Shades of reason, neighbor! To ask the question is to answer it!” (I think he would say it every Sunday.)

Yes! For a Church of Jesus Christ, prophesy is not optional; it is essential.

What are you hearing right now from God? What are you hearing through his Word or during prayer or in worship? What is God saying to you through an article you’ve read or a conversation you’ve had with a friend or a good book you’ve just finished? Now, how are you going to share that with another follower of Jesus to encourage her or to comfort him or give him strength?

That’s prophesy. You might call it something else. Maybe you’re nervous about the word “prophesy” because of how it’s used in other places. But this is how the Bible uses the word and instructs about the gift. Whatever you call it, the Church can’t live without it.


Oh, yeah, the Stars are playing tonight. Sigh.


Jesus is God’s “Yes” to You

“God is not a man, that he should lie
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?”
~Numbers 23:19

amenscrabbleWhat God says, he will do. What God promises, he will fulfill. God is faithful to his Word. What God has said about your life, what he has said regarding your past, what he has promised related to your right now, what he has promised concerning your home, your family, your job, your well-being — he is faithful. He can be trusted to keep his Word.

There are a lot of promises in the Bible. God promises to do a lot of really great and eternal things. But I think we struggle sometimes to believe his promises are for “me.” Church people, Christians, — us! — believe God in the abstract, but we struggle to believe him personally. We believe in theory. But it doesn’t always translate to “me” very well.

I totally believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross and that he was raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, I believe God promised to forgive sin and I believe God worked through Jesus to accomplish it. Amen, yes, I believe in the forgiveness of sins…

…unless we’re talking about your sins, maybe.

Well… I’ve got some really bad sins. I don’t know. I mean, I still sin. I’m not a good person. I can’t believe my sins are totally taken care of. Not all of them.

Look, I’ll be honest here. I can have a hard time with this, too. It doesn’t always take much. Bad things can start happening and I can question and doubt the faithfulness of our God.

“No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ!” ~2 Corinthians 1:20

Everybody loves to hear “Yes.” You’ve never heard anybody say, “If I could get a few more ‘NOs’ in my life, I’d be a happier person.” Two children talking together in a bedroom have never said, “Let’s don’t ask dad, let’s ask mom; she always says ‘No!'” We all want to hear “Yes.” We love to hear “Yes.”

Scripture reminds us that all of God’s promises find their “Yes” in Jesus. Not half of God’s promises, not some of God’s promises, not a conditional percentage of God’s promises — the answer to every single promise God has ever made is “Yes” in Jesus!

How do you really know God’s promises are true for you? Can you really trust that all your sins are truly forgiven? How do you know?

Scripture says if we look to ourselves for the answers to these profound and valid questions, we’ll struggle and doubt for our entire lives. The solution is to look to Jesus. Find the answers in Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus and your confidence and faith in God will grow.

How do you know God is fully in charge and he really is going to fix everything that’s wrong with the world and me? Look at Jesus. Look how he heals the lame, how he gives sight to the blind, how he feeds the hungry, how he drives out the tormenting demons, how he raises the dead. God will fix you. It’s a promise.

amenblocksHow do you know God can really forgive my worst sins? Look at Jesus. Look how he loves the prostitute at Simon’s house and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Look how he saves the woman caught in adultery and tells her, “I don’t consider you guilty.” Look how he forgives the tax collector in the tree, the best friend who betrayed him, the paralyzed man. Look how Jesus prays from the cross for his accusers and executioners; how with his dying breath he prays for his killers: “Father, forgive them.” God will forgive you. It’s a promise.

How do you know that God is really for you, that he’s not indifferent toward you, that he really loves you and he’s in tune with you and paying attention to you and he wants the very best for you? Look at Jesus on that cross. He died for you. He suffered and died for you.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” ~Romans 8:31-32

There is no event in salvation history, there is no promise made by God to his people, that is not coming true in Jesus. God is faithful to keep his Word to you. It’s a promise.



Doing Things We’ve Never Done

We’re in a battle. God’s Church is locked in a war right now with the prevailing culture and the shifting world view. Today in the West, right now in this country where God has placed us, the prevailing culture and the world view is aligned against our Lord and his Kingdom. And it can be intimidating. We don’t live in the same world we lived in twenty or thirty years ago:

Post Modernism – We can no longer ignore or deny that the dominant world view in the United States today is post modern. The culture argues that there is no absolute truth. Nothing is inherently right or wrong, nothing is fixed as eternally correct or false. Men and women my age and younger  see almost everything today as a personal choice, a matter of individual freedom. You find peace and happiness your way and I’ll find peace and happiness my way and nobody has to get upset. Nobody has to preach to anybody. I’m doing what’s right for me; you do what’s right for you. “Yeah, but the Bible says…” Don’t quote the Bible to me! “Well, history would show…” Don’t talk about the past! Anti-institutional. Anti-authority. Anti-oppressive-religion. Don’t judge me. Don’t tell me. Don’t make me. In today’s society, the religion is individualism, the prized virtue is tolerance, and the controlling creed is “Whatever!”

And you feel it. You sense it. If you’re paying attention at all, you experience it every day.

Post Christendom – The culture in the U. S. no longer supports the Church. Today’s society doesn’t prop us up anymore. Remember prohibition? Blue laws? Prime time family hour on TV? No homework on Wednesday nights? No youth sports events on Sundays? Those helps for the church are a thing of the past. The media has an agenda, and it’s not neutral. The culture is on an around-the-clock mission to shape us, not into the image of Christ. You can’t turn on your computer, you can’t buy a loaf of bread at Walmart, you can’t go to a high school basketball game, without it being shoved in your face. Realize the only network television show on the air today that portrays drinking and gambling and materialism as bad, illicit and extra-marital sex as evil, and going to church and being honest and living right as good is The Simpsons!

Guess what? We’re on our own nowadays.

Post Denominationalism – Brand loyalty to a particular kind of church is gone today. Just because your grandparents and your parents and your spouse were all born and raised in the Churches of Christ doesn’t mean that your son won’t go to a Baptist university and meet a Presbyterian girl at a Christian concert at a community church, get married in a Lutheran chapel and raise their kids as Methodists. That kind of thing is happening all the time. You know it. Something like it has already happened in your own family.

We live in a world today we’ve never lived in before. None of us. It’s different. It looks like and it can feel like the odds are stacked against us. It’s threatening. Disorienting. We’re not sure how to tackle it. It’s all so new and it’s changing so stinking fast.

“Make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” ~Ephesians 5:16

We have to do things we’ve never done for the sake of a world in which we’ve never lived. We can view the things in our society and culture that stand against God’s Kingdom today as frightening enemies or as exciting opportunities. We can shrink in the threatening presence of so much rapid change or we can rise to meet the exciting challenges head on. If we’re living in a brand new world, we must adapt and be flexible with doing brand new things.

Post Modern? Yeah, nobody’s interested in absolute truth anymore. Here at Central, we said “phooey!” to that last October and the Lord rained down over $353,000 in foreign missions money! Post Christendom? Yeah, nobody wants to go to church anymore. Last summer, we said “fine!” and we canceled church. For eight Wednesday nights in a row we canceled all our worship and classes and took church to the people, blessing our neighbors and our community with the love and grace of God. Post Denominationalism? Yeah, the lines are blurry. So, this past year we’ve partnered with the other churches in downtown Amarillo. We’re working and worshiping with them, serving and helping with them, combining our prayers and resources, consolidating our Kingdom energies, for the sake of our city.

We’re doing things we’ve never done for the sake of a world in which we’ve never lived.

We can’t compete anymore with the giant influence of the culture. We can’t win against the enormous scope of entertainment options. We can’t defeat the monster of technology and the almost militant individualism it nurtures. But that’s OK. That’s actually good news if we’ll just admit it. The truth is that not one single thing for the Kingdom of God is going to be won in your city with bigger programs, bigger buildings, bigger budgets, more manpower, or better technology. Instead, we should be laser-focused on raising up and encouraging the leaders in our congregations who see the tremendous potential in this new world and are excited about the Kingdom possibilities. When they propose doing something different in an effort to reach the community for Christ, don’t say, “Well, we’ve never done that before!” Remember, we’ve never lived here before.



You Are Not a Grasshopper

The worst thing the ten spies said to God’s people upon their return from scouting out the Promised Land isn’t that the Canaanites are bigger and stronger. It isn’t that the cities are too big and too well fortified. It isn’t that we seem like grasshoppers in their eyes.

The worst thing they said was, “We seem like grasshoppers in our own eyes.” (Numbers 13:33)

It’s OK to seem like grasshoppers in the world’s eyes. There’s nothing wrong with being seen as grasshoppers in the eyes of the community. But God’s people who have the promises of God and have experienced the past history of God’s deliverance and salvation are not grasshoppers!

God already said, “I’m giving it to you.” Joshua and Caleb can’t believe their ears. Caleb says, “Wait, we can do this. We should do this. We have to do this.”

But the people say, “No, the obstacles are too big and we are too small.”

But Caleb, who understands the promises of God, says, “It’s not about how small we are, it’s about how big our God is.”

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Joshua and Caleb; the God of David and Jonathan; the God of our risen Lord Jesus is a God who slays giants and destroys enemies and conquers lands. And that God of Israel is the God of you and the God of me. And he gives us that same great power in his eternal promises.

You are not a grasshopper. Neither am I. The size of the obstacles and cliffs, hurdles and gaps, is nothing compared to the greatness of our God. May we take courage in the salvation past of our God and bold steps in his faithful promises.



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.