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Posts Tagged ‘worship’

Pentecost[1]We acknowledge—sometimes celebrate—Christmas and Easter, of course!  We recognize Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and Super Bowl Sunday! But Pentecost comes and goes and many of our churches leave us in our perhaps benign, but unfortunate ignorance!

Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Festival of Weeks (Shavuot).  The word pentecost means “fifty days,” referring to its time seven weeks (from Saturday to Sunday that is fifty days) after Passover.  According to Exodus 34:22, it was given to the Jews to celebrate while Moses was on Mt. Sinai and was one of the three feasts that all male Jews were required to celebrate (Deuteronomy 16:16).

Besides the events of Acts 2, Pentecost is only mentioned in the New Testament by Paul who tries his best to be in Jerusalem for the feast after his third missionary journey (Acts 20:16); he also uses the feast day to mark time in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians (16:8).  Paul may be keeping his Jewish traditions, but it could have taken on a new significance as well.

Within a century after the apostles, the early church fathers mention Pentecost as if it were a well-established feast day for early Christians.  Tertullian says in On Baptism:

            After that, Pentecost is a most joyous space for conferring baptisms; wherein, too, the resurrection of the Lord was repeatedly proved among the disciples, and the hope of the advent of the Lord indirectly pointed to, in that, at that time, when He had been received back into the heavens, the angels told the apostles that He would so come, as He had withal ascended into the heavens; at Pentecost, of course. But, moreover, when Jeremiah says, “And I will gather them together from the extremities of the land in the feast-day”, he signifies the day of the Passover and of Pentecost, which is properly a feast-day.  (Chapter 19)

One of my professors at Harding Dr. James D. Bales used to call Acts 2 “the hub of the Bible.”  He was not the first nor the last to recognize the immense importance of the events which Luke records in that chapter:

  • Coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles 2:1-4 – On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
  • Apostles First Preach the Gospel to the Jews 2:14 – Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! 
  • The Fulfillment of the Great Prophecy 2:16 – No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
  • The First Proclamation of the Risen Messiah as Lord 2:36 – Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
  • The Promise of Salvation from Sin and the Gift of the Holy Spirit 2:37-39 – Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 
  • The First Baptisms of New Believers 2:41 – Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

 

The Eastern Church considers Pentecost the second holiest day after Easter. Liturgical Christians in most western countries celebrate Pentecost, some as a continuance of the Easter celebration, for many as a time for baptisms, and for all a day of joy and new birth.

 

So where is Pentecost in our churches?  I have scratched my head trying to figure out why there is virtually no acknowledgement of Pentecost—even from our churches that have cornerstones marking their beginning in 33 A.D?

 

Here are a few brief thoughts:

 

  • We have never been very comfortable with the Holy Spirit, not in song, not in prayer, not in practice.  So we probably can’t figure out a way to celebrate this Holy Spirit event.
  • Our roots are anti-liturgical, so we react to their celebration by ignoring Pentecost and missing a great opportunity to celebrate!
  • We have long opposed any “holy days”—but we seem to be OK with Easter and Christmas—finally. Maybe we can work on Pentecost.
  • This one I hate, but I think it is true:  Our culture has not secularized Pentecost as it has Easter and Christmas.If we had an Easter Bunny or a Santa Claus type for Pentecost along with appropriate children’s traditions, then we’d figure out a way to do it at church as well.

OK, I’m making a note to myself right now to do a “Preparing Children for Pentecost” series of blogs next year as I have done for other celebrations in the past.

What would you like to do?

 

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Brother Slater was a kind of celebrity at our church when I was a boy. He and his wife Sister Slater would sit toward the front on the left side of the auditorium. As a young boy, all I knew was that he had written Walking Alone At Eve, which was one of my favorite songs.

William Washington Slater was more than a celebrity; he was a great saint and servant of God. Born in 1885 in Arkansas, Will’s family moved to Indian Territory in 1890 to farm. Like many boys of his time, his formal schooling ended in the fourth or fifth grade, but not his desire for learning.

By the time he was 18, his special interest in music was apparent.  The story is told of his saddling and riding a mule fifteen miles every Saturday to attend singing schools, so he could become a better song leader.  He later decided he wanted to preach as well, so he soon became a preacher-song leader, preaching gospel meetings and leading singing for other great preachers.

He married Nettie Washington in 1910, and they had five children. Three of his daughters went to church at Eastridge Church of Christ, where I grew up, so I knew them and several of their children. Thelma Slater married Wade Banowsky and one of their sons William Slater Banowsky became president of University of Oklahoma and Pepperdine University.

I remember the quiet announcement at church that Brother Slater had died while preaching a meeting in Arkansas in 1959. According to accounts of his last day, he had preached his sermon and, as was his custom, offered to stay after church and sing with any who wanted to join him.  Someone asked him to lead a song entitled “This Is Someone’s Last Day.” Before leading it, he reminded the church to pay attention to the truth of the message, not knowing that it was his very own last day.

Walking Alone At Eve (1917) was one of Will Slater’s earliest songs.  As in many older hymns, it is God’s creation that inspires worship. I imagine country folks walking or riding in their wagons home from an evening of preaching and singing. As it grows dark and the stars start popping out, this might be one of the songs that they would sing.

Walking alone at eve and viewing the skies afar,
Bidding the darkness come to welcome each silver star;
I have a great delight in the wonderful scenes above,
God in His power and might is showing His truth and love.

Sitting alone at eve and dreaming the hours away,
Watching the shadows falling now at the close of day;
God in His mercy comes with His Word He is drawing near,
Spreading His love and truth around me and everywhere.

Closing my eyes at eve and thinking of Heaven’s grace,
Longing to see my Lord, yes meeting Him face to face;
Trusting Him as my all where-so-ever my footsteps roam,
Pleading with Him to guide me on to the spirits’ home!

The chorus is that simple, ubiquitous longing for rest with God.  Resting is the reward for working hard. I wonder why we don’t sing many songs about rest anymore?  The melody of the chorus is simple, not a passionate cry, but a quiet, simple longing.

O for a home with God, a place in His courts to rest,
Sure in a safe abode with Jesus and the blest;
Rest for a weary soul once redeemed by the Savior’s love,
Where I’ll be pure and whole and live with my God above!

I don’t really know why, but I have sung this song to all of our kids as I rocked them to sleep.  Perhaps it was singing at the end of the day, usually in a darkened room, and the simplicity of the melody—I’m not quite sure why it became one of those songs I sang to them, but it did.

I do know that it cleanses your soul to hold your little God-gifts on your shoulder and to sing about being pure and whole and living with God. The congruity of those precious moments with this melody has always been redemptive for me.

Great hymns do improve our walk with God. 

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I have a feeling that many, if not most Christians do not plan to go to church on Sundays when they are traveling. Sometimes we haven’t, but most of the time we try to and I’d like to tell you why.

First, why don’t Christians go to church when they travel? Here are my top ten reasons:

  1. Don’t want to take the time away from travel, sightseeing, or relaxing.
  2. Don’t want to take the time to find a church.
  3. May not like the church you find, so then you will have wasted two hours.
  4. Don’t want to take Sunday clothes.
  5. Don’t like going to church with people you don’t know.
  6. You might bump into teaching, worship, or something that makes you uncomfortable!
  7. You might get invited to lunch or something else that would just take up more time.
  8. They might expect you to come to Sunday night or Wednesday night services and that would just be more time out of your schedule.
  9. They might not have anything for the children and we’d just have the kids on our laps for the whole time!
  10. It is not a salvation issue, so why should we?

As I said, we have used some of these excuses ourselves over the years, but we have also been blessed many, many times by finding a church and breaking bread with Christians on Sundays. Maybe I can give you some hints that will encourage you to look for these blessings as well!

  1. If it is part of your travel plan, then you are more likely to follow through. If you don’t plan to find an assembly of saints on Sunday, then you will not. Write it in to your travel itinerary from the beginning—just like tithing from the first fruits.
  2. Do a little research about the available churches. On a recent trip, I spent no more than thirty minutes on the internet, looking for churches of Christ in an unfamiliar city. I looked for things like location and time of services.  If churches are too far away or they start too early or late, then I look for alternatives. These are not deciding factors, but not unimportant.
  3. Try to learn the intangibles from the website.  Is this an open church or pretty closed? Is this a church involved outside of itself? Does this church have only traditional worship?  Almost all of these questions can be answered by looking at a church’s website.  If the church doesn’t have a website—well, that says a lot right there.
  4. Arrive at least 5-10 minutes before services begin, so you can meet a few people. Not only will you meet some nice people, but you will likely find a connection with some church or some person that you both know.  We recently went to church in Savannah, GA that was completely new to us. We didn’t find any relatives, but we did find out that the preacher was a cousin of a missionary that we had worked with in Kiev, Ukraine!
  5. Expect to give, not just to receive.  I find more and more truth in Jesus’ saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive. When we give concern, friendship, our fellowship in communion, our common worship, prayer, then we are blessed! If we attend only to receive, we can still be blessed, but maybe not as much!
  6. Communion is too important to miss! If Jesus thought that breaking bread was important, then….it doesn’t really make any difference what I think.  I must need that fellowship and koinonia often!  We always look for an opportunity to break bread with Christians!
  7. Worshipping with other Christians teaches us the breadth of God’s kingdom. Not every church building, not every worship style, not every sermon has to be the all-time best or even as good as the ones at home.  Being gracious is being Godly!

And your children will only complain about it if you do!  Spending that time with Christians on Sunday is a great discipline for teaching children to put God first—before vacations, before sleeping late, really FIRST!  And that is worth a lot!

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out—we used to call this being “providentially hindered!”  Sometimes we have to miss meals, and  sometimes we have to miss sleep, but we are healthier and feel better if we don’t.

Don’t miss the spiritual feast awaiting you when you travel!

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Sherrylee and I are on a 40th Anniversary vacation road trip!  And I want you to come along with us, so I think I will include regular updates on our road trip, starting with Friday, April 9.

Saturday, we flew in from Omaha on an earlier flight, so we decided to just hit the road and go until about 10pm—got as far as Wichita Falls!

Sunday, we had a 12-hour trip in front of us, so it was very tempting not to stop for church. We drove away from Wichita Falls, thinking that we would do a Rick Atchley podcast in the car and break bread together (seriously) at Crackerbarrel along the way—BUT, about 10:15, we were driving through these very dry, little West Texas towns when Sherry said, “Let’s stop at the next church we see!”  I agreed and within 60 seconds we saw a sign for the Church of Christ in Chillicothe, Texas, so we decided to stop there.

I asked for directions at a convenience store and a woman offered to guide us to the church, for which we were grateful. (Interestingly enough, she later appeared at church—I don’t think she had been planning to go—at least she didn’t say she was going at the store—so maybe we helped encourage her to go!)

We walked into the Bible study—and there were six people there! The preacher was leading the study of the Lord’s Prayer. I noticed on their Attendance sign—you know the one that says “This Sunday”, Last Sunday, and Offering in black letters that slide on and off—that the attendance last week was 41.

I don’t believe there are even six degrees of separation in our church tribe! Here we were 200 miles away from home, having Bible study with six complete strangers, and would you believe that as we were visiting after the class—you don’t slip in without being seen in  churches like this!—one of the women there had attended church for many years with Sherrylee’s sister and brother-in-law in Arlington, Texas, and knew them well.

The auditorium was built for 200, so nobody sat on the first 7 or 8 rows except the two men who would later serve communion.  You could tell they were the communion servers because they were dressed in gray suits and ties and their best boots.

An elder (not an Elder anymore because the other Elder had died) made announcements that two sisters 91 and 94 years old had been visited and were doing well. By the way, there would be a potluck next Sunday to celebrate Sister ____’s 90th birthday.  Are you getting the picture?  But to be fair, at least two families with children showed up for worship—at least one set were great-grandchildren, if I observed correctly—and a lot of the people were kin!

We sang from songbooks—nothing more electronic than the microphone in sight. All the men present served communion, including the preacher!  The prayers were of the “guide, guard, and direct us” variety.  Psalm 100 was the text for the sermon which was an excellent exhortation to worship the Lord meaningfully, to “shout to the Lord”!  I couldn’t imagine anyone shouting in this crowd—but we did do a responsive reading as a trial run.

I was glad we were there! It reminded me that perseverance takes many forms, but they lead to godliness. Most of these saints had been faithful for a long lifetime! Sure their “liturgy” was often in the same language of their grandparents—but so are the liturgies of high churches that are in such vogue now! I don’t doubt their prayers of concern for the “sick and afflicted” were as heartfelt as those in more post-modern words.

They sang, they broke the bread and drank the cup and remembered Christ!  They were VERY friendly and concerned about their congregation.  Their preacher is moving in two weeks, so they are looking for someone retired because they can’t offer full support. They do have a parsonage.

But they also would really like to have a bi-lingual retiree to preach for them! They want to reach out to the growing Hispanic population.  This is a mission-minded church!!

I’m grateful for every little struggling group of Christians, whether they are in houses or 1950’s church buildings, whether they use praise songs written in this millennium or the last, whether they create their own liturgy each week or use more comfortable words of saints before them. I’m thankful for their faithful witness, for their benevolence—whether they have a program or just call it being a neighbor!

I’m so glad we went to church in Chillicothe, Texas!

 

 

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