Sunday, September 26, 2010

When brothers live together in unity

Psalm 133

A song of ascents. Of David.

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

David introduces a couple similes to describe the glory of unity. He says that it is like precious oil poured on the head. David also says that it is like the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion. Understanding these similes unlocks the meaning of the Psalm. Understanding the similes requires little bit of Bible history and geography.

Mount Zion, or the temple mount, is part of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Hermon is a mountain on the historical northern border of Israel (part of Lebanon and Syria today). Hermon is a snowy mountain, the Mount of Olives is not parched, but it is warmer and more arid than Hermon. Psalm 133 is a Psalm of ascent, which Israel sang as they climbed up toward Jerusalem on their way to a feast. These three required feasts occur in the more arid and warmer months of the year. As the people climbed the mountain towards Jerusalem, they sang of the refreshing dew of Hermon. We can stretch the metaphor a bit by acknowledging that Zion and Hermon were very different mountains. Brothers living together in unity does not necessarily mean homogeneity. Rather the image in the Psalm demonstrates one supplying what the other lacks. If only the cooling dew of Hermon would fall on Zion as worshippers trekked their way to the temple! Brothers living together in unity is refreshing.

Exodus 30 speaks of the special anointing oil in the Tabernacle. The anointing oil was a blend of myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, and olive oil. Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests using this oil. The cinnamon and cassia poured over Aaron's head would have induced a warming sensation. The aroma would have been overpowering for anyone in the vicinity. Brothers living together in unity is warming and stimulating.

Within the images of the Psalm you have the cooling dew of Hermon and the warming fragrant oil of anointing both used metaphorically for brothers living together in unity.

Nevertheless, for the Christian there is a prophetic dimension to these metaphors. The word, Christ, means "anointed one." So naturally, we should pay close attention to the anointing of the Christ. In the Gospels, there are three accounts of Jesus' anointing by women. In Luke 7, Jesus' feet are anointed by a sinful woman in the city of Nain in Galilee. In John 12, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, also anoints Jesus' feet at a dinner in Jesus honor prior to the Triumphal Entry. In Matthew 26, an unnamed woman anoints Jesus' head on the night before the Last Supper and Jesus' subsequent arrest. Some very bad Bible scholars categorize these three anointing as one event with differing recollections. Anyone, taking the time to read the Gospels can see that they are three distinct events. Twice Jesus' feet are anointed and once his head is anointed.

The sinful woman in Nain anointed Jesus' feet early in Jesus' ministry. The feet of the prophet were anointed to spread the Gospel. Mary, Lazarus' sister, anointed Jesus' feet prior to the Triumphal Entry near the end of his earthly ministry. The feet of the king were anointed prior to his entry into the city. Finally, the unnamed woman anointed the head of Jesus the high priest. When we see Aaron's anointing as the prototype for Christ's anointing, then the dimension of the Psalm takes us to Calvary where Jesus, our high priest, offered his own blood as the atonement for our sins. The unity we have we have in him.

When we see the oil of anointing in Psalm 133 from the New Testament perspective, then we can look again at the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion and perhaps recall Peter's words, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." Acts 3:19 (NIV) Peter's reference to "times of refreshing" came at Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, during which the Jews would have sung Psalm 133 on their ascent to the temple. While we might not draw a direct correlation between Psalm 133 and Acts 3:19, there was a general anticipation of God's blessing on the nation of Israel.

Perhaps the refreshing dew of Hermon reminds us of Christian baptism. As Peter also said at Pentecost, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." Acts 2:38-39 (NIV)

Baptism declares our unity, as Paul writes, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV) Likewise, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, saying, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Ephesians 4:3-6 (NIV)

We are called to unity. In our collective unity with Christ, God directs his blessing. When we experience the unity we have in Jesus Christ, as Psalm 133 says, we experience what is "life forevermore."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

So, how did it go?

So some questions have arisen about the Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration, so here's my brief attempt at an explanation:

We believe that the church of Jesus Christ is an organism rather than an organization. Consequently, we are not starting a church. Jesus establishes his own assembly. (Matthew 16:18)

We are trying to act faithfully as members of the body of Christ. When Christians assemble together, we believe that it is a manifestation of the living church regardless of the meeting place. (Matthew 18:19).

While location is theoretically irrelevant, in Paul's letters, the only mention of a church meeting together is in someone's home (Rom 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 1:2) Conversely, Paul told the Athenians, "[God] does not live in temples built by hands, and he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything." Acts 17:24-25 (NIV) Within Biblical Christianity there is no such thing as a sacred building, but rather we are individually and collectively the temple of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 3:16 and Ephesians 2:19-22) As Paul says in Ephesians 2:19, we are "members of the family of God."

In practical terms, we believe that a home is a natural place for family to gather together. We deliberately chose the time of 1:00 PM so as not to compete with organized church meetings. Obviously, we would rather compete against the NFL. We've committed our home for this purpose for seven weeks. We would love for people to come join with us as often as they can.

Wherever believers assemble, we believe Paul's teaching regarding our gathering together is prescriptive not merely descriptive. Paul, writes, "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command." 1 Corinthians 14:37 (NIV)

Last week, the Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration began with people arriving, visiting, and becoming acquainted. We then ate dinner together. After dinner (Luke 22:20), we celebrated the Lord's Supper.

The celebration of the Lord's Supper is central to our common faith. The Apostle Paul writes, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ? For as one loaf of bread, we the many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread loaf." 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 What fellowship do we have apart from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? If this is our bond, then we can and should remember it together.

After sharing the elements of the Lord's Supper, we had a time of sharing patterned according to 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, "What then shall we say, brothers? Whenever you come together . . ."

After sharing, we ate dessert and continued visiting until people left.

The group that came last week included Christians from very different church backgrounds. Nevertheless, this gathering seemed to be natural. And so it should because we are all members of the same body.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

As I watch the moon rise

"'So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'"
Leviticus 23:39-43 (NIV)

Last night as Lisa and I finished working in the courtyard outside our bedroom, we paused to sit on our new deck and absorb the night. Lightning was flashing to our north and the moon and Jupiter rising in the east. The trees framed our view of the sky, and drifting clouds teased us at times revealing then obscuring the night sky.

I reminded Lisa that today would be the beginning of Sukkot, sometimes called the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. The Feast of Tabernacles is central to the Gospel of John. John alludes to the feast when he tells us, "the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us." John 1:14 (YLT) That is to say that Christ made his temporary dwelling among men. The Feast of Tabernacles is also the background of John chapters 7-9. The footnotes in my NIV Bible state the following, "The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Jn 7:53-8:11." There are two things we need to understand about this.

  1. These 12 verses are Scripture. The translators' remarks are simplistic. These verses appear in several different manuscripts in various places, if I recall my prior research correctly.
  2. They were probably not written by the Apostle John, and certainly interrupt the continuity of what John is trying to communicate.

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus made two assertions about himself in front of the crowd that was assembled for the feast. In John 7:37-38 Jesus shouted out to the crowd, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." John 8:12 tells us, "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"

Alfred Edersheim, a 19th century theologian, tells us that the Feast of Booths featured two specific rituals, the "Pouring out of Water" in the morning and the "Temple-Illumination" in the evening. Jesus' assertions most likely occurred in concert with the rituals of the feast. While the priest is pouring water into a basin by the altar at the morning sacrifice, Jesus stands and shouts, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink!" Likewise, in the evening, as the caldrons are lit illuminating not only the temple mount but the entire city of Jerusalem, Jesus again addresses the people saying, "I am the light of the world!"

The illumination of the temple recalls the Solomon's dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles 7 when the glory of the Lord descended and filled the temple. The fires glowing in the outer courts of the temple were merely a re-enactment of God's descending upon the temple.

When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,
"He is good;
his love endures forever."

2 Chronicles 7:3 (NIV)

At this re-enactment, Jesus tells the people that he is the Messiah. This event also recalls Simeon, in Luke 2, when upon seeing the newborn Jesus, cried out prophetically saying,

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

Luke 2:29-32 (NIV)

The Pharisees argue with Jesus, until Jesus indisputedly clarifies his identity by saying, "Before Abraham was born, I AM." Not only did Jesus claim that his preexistence, he used for himself the most sacred name for God, "I AM." At this point the Pharisees pick up stones to kill Jesus, but he slips away from the temple.

Jesus did not merely make claims regarding himself, he demonstrated his identity. Upon leaving the temple and walking into the shadows of the city, Jesus illustrates his claim, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life," by granting sight to the man born blind. Jesus did this by creating new eyes for the blind man from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7 and John 9:6).

As I reflect on the Feast of Tabernacles, I am struck by the lack of Christian holidays in Scripture. The Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy) dictated the holidays that Israel celebrates. While there are a few additional holidays, such as Purim and Chanukah, most of the Jewish holidays were determined before Israel was even a nation. Christians, depending on the flavor, have no lack of holidays from Christmas to Easter. Neither Christmas nor Easter was sanctioned by New Testament Scripture. The Apostle Paul even depreciates the importance of the Sabbath in Romans 14:5-8. Aside from the Lord's Supper, which we are supposed to celebrate often, holidays in Christianity are take-it-or-leave-it. We can marvel at the meanings encapsulated by the Old Testament holidays, but we aren't obligated to observe them.

Hebrews 3 and 4 allude to the reason: The only day that matters is, "Today."

It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts."
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Hebrews 4:6-11 (NIV)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

So what’s it about?

Starting September 19, Lisa and I plan on hosting in our home, for seven consecutive Sundays, a Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration. Over the years many people have accepted invitations to eat at Lisa's table. She has a well-deserved reputation as a great cook. After these dinners we have enjoyed fellowship with our Christian friends. Our plans for the Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration are much the same. Come together, have a meal, celebrate the common bond we have in Jesus Christ.

There will be a couple differences from dinners we've hosted in the past.

First, we will also serve the elements of the Lord's Supper, bread and wine, for those who want to participate. We have not done this at previous dinners because invitations were specific to certain families. According to Paul (1 Corinthians 10:17) one purpose of the Lord's Supper is recognizing our unity. Having an exclusive guest list is not an ideal way to build unity. In fact, Paul rebuked the Corinthian believers because each ate his own dinner leaving some to go hungry while others over indulged. Paul's complaint with the Corinthians was that some were "approved" while others were not (1 Corinthians 11:17-19). Ignore the awful translation from the NIV here. They were not approved by God – the word "God" appears nowhere near here in the Greek. The so-called "approved" were causing division; consequently, Paul would not praise them for their observance of the tradition he had otherwise taught them.

Paul's instructions to the Corinthians can be confusing, and if you understand them differently than I do, you're still invited for dinner. Some people assume that Paul restricted the Lord's Supper to a tiny cracker and a sip of wine. Nevertheless, he did not specify exact portion control. Paul told the Corinthians that when they came together to eat, to "wait for one another." The words translated "wait for one another" can also mean "look out for one another." He then says, that if anyone is hungry let him eat at home. Paul wasn't putting the kibosh on a full meal. The meal was an Apostolic tradition (Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7-12). In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul was telling the Corinthians not to be divisive, to look out for one another, and also to discern the body of the Lord. In light of 1 Corinthians 10:17, the body of the Lord which we are supposed to discern, is actually the assembly of believers! In the context, the phrases "look out for one another" and "discern the body of the Lord" have parallel meanings. Someone who eats his own dinner while a hungry brother eats nothing cannot be discerning the body of the Lord, can he?

The instructions regarding the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 dealt with unity in fellowship. The fellowship in the New Testament church wasn't ethereal. The fellowship they shared was tangible. In Acts 20, the Ephesians' fellowship went past midnight to daybreak. They even had a post-midnight meal after witnessing Eutychus' resurrection from the dead. I don't expect anything that exciting, but we're not planning a fixed end time just in case.

Some might wonder if the Lord's Supper isn't something that is supposed to be done in a church building. Well, no. Nothing in the New Testament says anything about partaking of the Lord's Supper only in a church building. Nor does Scripture tell us that the Lord's Supper must be administered by someone who is "approved." In fact, Christian sects have undermined the purpose of the Lord's Supper by creating such things as the Anglican Communion or the Roman Catholic Communion. The communion celebrated in church buildings often celebrates disunity or sectarianism. It isn't the Lord's Supper if it divides us along sectarian boundaries. If Communion is administered by those who are "approved," it further establishes division even within the sect.

Paul doesn't say where or when to celebrate the Lord's Supper, but he does say, "As often as you should eat this bread, and should drink this cup, you announce the Lord's death until he comes." "As often" sounds like implicit permission to me. Together we can fellowship in the memory of Jesus' death and celebrate His promised coming again "as often" as we like.

The second difference between the Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration and other dinners Lisa and I have hosted is already alluded to. The invitation list is pretty wide open. If somehow you don't feel invited, talk to me. If you come, I'm hoping, but can't guarantee, that you meet a brother or sister you didn't previously know. If you think we're off the wall crazy, come anyway. The purpose is to establish unity in Jesus Christ, not to divide according to insignificant church traditions.

We've asked participants to read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 because Paul gives instructions about how to meet together. He begins saying, "What is it then brethren? Whenever you should come together . . ." Paul isn't offering suggestions, he is emphatic. He says, "If any thinks to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize what I write to you that they are commandments of the Lord." If you want to know the Lord's commands for whenever Christians assemble together, you can read and interpret 1 Corinthians yourself.

In the mean time, if you're wondering if we Ramsey's are getting in over our heads, the answer is, "Always. Come and join us."

By the way, the Bible quotations in this post are taken from the Apostolic Bible. If you don't know what that is, come to dinner on the 19th, and you can look at my copy.

As always, RSVP's are greatly appreciated by the cook.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

You’re invited

For seven Sundays, September 19 thru October 31, we are hosting a Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebrationi in our home. Come to one or come to all. The purpose is Christian unity through fellowshipii.

Arrive any time. Dinner will be served at 1:00 PM.

What to bring? Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 and bring something on Paul's list, if you like.

RSVP's are much appreciated by the cook.

i Not affilicated with any organization or sect.

ii “The cup of the blessing which we bless, is it not fellowship of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not fellowship of the body of the Christ? For as one bread loaf, we the many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread loaf.”

1 Corinthians 10:10-16-17 (Apostolic Bible)