Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: worship

The presence of God

The funeral was in the church that was the city’s most famous landmark. Inside, there were vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows on each side and tiered rows of seating. The music from the Casavant Frères organ that filled the east wall, its largest pipes stretching from floor to ceiling, completed the atmosphere of reverence.

The minister entered at the lower level, wearing a cassock. He walked up the spiral staircase to the pulpit and said, “Let us pray.” Then he recited a poem. There was no “Our Father” at the beginning, no “In Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end. Just a poem. Later, in his homily, he told us that eternal life was the memories that we retained of our dear departed.

That was it. Behind all the man-made magnificence there was only emptiness.

The tabernacle in the wilderness had great beauty inside. But only the priests were allowed to enter and see that beauty. From the outside, its waterproof covering gave it a gray, drab appearance. The onlooker could see nothing striking or appealing about the tabernacle. Except for that inexplicable column of cloud that was always there, and as the day became dark that column became light. It was the evidence of God’s presence in the midst of His people.

When Christians gather for worship, we should not be in awe of the magnificence of the building, the excitement in the music or the eloquence in the preaching. We should be asking ourselves, “Is this a place where I can meet with God?”

In Colossians 3:11 the apostle Paul speaks of Christians who are of different ethnic and social identities, then says “but Christ is all, and in all.” We may be worshipping among plain and rather drab people. But if we see glimpses of the presence of Jesus Christ in each of those around us, then we are in the place where God can speak to us and bless us.

Where will the puck be?

hockey-puck-584978_640

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Wayne Gretzky

That’s a great quote. One element of Grtzky’s success as a hockey player was his ability to read how the action around him was going to unfold and put himself in position to take control of the puck.

With that in mind, here are my best guesses of how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out in Canada, and where the puck will be a month from now. Remember, I am not a prophet, I claim no divine inspiration for these predictions, and even Gretzky wasn’t always right.

  • This week will see the peak in the number of infections. There will still be some deaths of those already infected in coming weeks, but new infections will hit zero by the end of the month.
  • People will be cautious at first when restrictions are lifted, but the pent-up desire to get out, walk the malls and go to a coffee shop or restaurant with friends will make those places busy again.
  • The rush to reschedule everything that has been postponed: medical appointments, surgeries, meetings and events will keep everybody scrambling to catch up.
  • Farmers will be seeding, construction projects pushing to meet deadlines, factories and distribution centres going full out to keep up with demand. Unemployment will drop to low levels.
  • Globalism has been wounded. We are going to rethink the advisability of having essential goods manufactured so far away, especially medical goods. This will lead to more jobs here in Canada.
  • The tools for teleconferencing already existed but their implementation in the medical and educational fields has expanded at breakneck speed during the pandemic, especially in Quebec and Ontario. These changes will remain and spread. Online medical consultations and online teaching will make specialized services available anywhere.
  • I hope that we will lose our taste for electronic church when this is all over and rejoice in being able to physically gather together to unite in worship.

Electronic church today

bose-2568269_640

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Five weeks ago 2,500 members of an evangelical denomination in France gathered at Mulhouse for five days of prayer and fasting. This was before any alarms had been raised about COVID-19, but it was present. It is estimated that 2,000 of those who gathered caught the virus, then took it back to their home communities all over France.

Around that same time there was a convention of dentists in Vancouver, where 2,500 were gathered and many were infected. Then there was a curling bonspiel in Edmonton for doctors and medical personnel. It was not a big gathering, but half of those who were there went home with the virus and some saw patients before they realized they were infected. More recently there was a snowmobile rally in Northern Saskatchewan where many of the participants were infected with the virus, not while on their snowmobiles but at the dinner that followed.

Someone has estimated that 39,000 people could be infected with the virus, beginning from a single infected person. Young people are not in great danger from the virus, but that is not reason to take it lightly. Their grandparents might not survive a bout with the virus.

For that reason we will be having electronic church again this morning, and every Sunday until we are given the all clear to gather once more in church. Electronic church is definitely second best, yet let’s rejoice that we have the technology available to connect and listen to the preaching of the gospel.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Most congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite are set up to audio stream their services for the benefit of those who are unable to be physically present. This is a wonderful thing for the sick and frail, for anyone who is prevented from attending, for whatever reason.

Yet that is second best. Listening is but one part of worship, There are valid reasons why someone may need to stay at home, but fear is not one of them.  Let us, if at all possible, be physically present in today’s worship services and be active participants, exhorting and encouraging one another. 

The tabernacle of David

When Moses was in the mountain communing with God during the Exodus, God gave him detailed directions for the structure that should be the centre of the people’s worship. He was to build a long tent, or tabernacle. The inside was of gold and beautiful tapestry, the outside was a drab, waterproof covering.

At one end, separated from the rest by a thick woven curtain, was the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat above it. To an onlooker, the only noteworthy feature of the tent would have been the Shekinah, the glory of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, that always stood above the mercy seat.

This tabernacle was of central importance to the people during their time in the wilderness, during the conquest of Canaan and throughout the time of the judges.

But there came a time when the ark was removed from the tabernacle and taken into battle against the Philistines. The Philistines were victorious in the battle, and captured the ark. Eli, the high priest and spiritual leader of the Israelites, died upon hearing this news. At this point the worship of the Israelite people took a turn for which no recorded instruction had ever been given.

Eli’s place as spiritual leader was taken by Samuel, who was not of the priestly lineage. The ark was returned to Israel, but never put back in the tabernacle of Moses. Samuel went from place to place throughout the land to offer sacrifices and teach the people.

Samuel was a true prophet and spiritual leader, but as he grew old and had no obvious successor, the people began to call for a king. God granted their wish and Saul became king. Things soon went bad with Saul and God sent Samuel to anoint David to be king.

When David became king over all Israel he built a new tabernacle on Mount Zion. He brought the ark and placed it in the tabernacle he had built, with no curtain to separate it from the people. The first time David tried to bring the ark to his new tabernacle, God smote Uzzah for trying to steady the ark, revealing the presence of God with the ark. The second time was successful. David put on priestly garments of linen and an ephod and offered sacrifices to sanctify the tabernacle.

There were no more sacrifices offered at the tabernacle of David. Thereafter it was a place of worship, where prayers were made, psalms sung and possibly the Word of God was read. Jehoshaphat is called the recorder, a word whose meaning might also mean one who causes to remember.

Here we see David acting as prophet, priest and king. Many of the Psalms he wrote are prophetic; he is called a prophet in Acts 2:30. 1 Chronicles 16:39-40 shows that the tabernacle of Moses still stood at this time, located at Gibeon, and Zadok the high priest was still offering the sacrifices called for in the law. But they were just going through the motions. The mercy seat was on the ark in the tabernacle of David.

This strange anomaly in the Israelite worship came to an end when Solomon built the temple and installed the ark in the holy of holies in the temple. The tabernacle of David, no longer used, fell into ruin.

In later years prophets reminded the people of the tabernacle of David. Isaiah 16:5 says: “And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.” Chapter 33:20 says: “ Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.” Amos 9:11-12 says: “ In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.”

Many commentators interpret the references to Zion as referring to Jerusalem and the temple mount, and the references to the tabernacle of David as prophesying the restoration of the Davidic kingdom in Christ.

But the parallels are too striking. David as prophet, priest and king sanctified the tabernacle with a one time sacrifice. A new form of worship, completely separate from the tabernacle of Moses. Access to the mercy, seat without a veil to hide it from the worshippers.

Isn’t this what the leaders of the early church recognized at the meeting in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15? James quoted the passage from Amos and recognized it as a prophecy of what was then happening. The tabernacle of David had been restored, a place where all people, including the Gentiles, could freely worship God without having to approach Him by means of the ritual of the tabernacle of Moses or of the Jewish temple. Just as the tabernacle of Moses was empty in the time of David, the worship in the Jerusalem temple was now empty of all meaning after the one time sacrifice made by Jesus, the true son of David and our eternal prophet, priest and king.

Midsummer rambles and rumbles

I spent the past few days visiting the brothers and sisters of the congregation at Roxton Falls, Quebec and worshipped with them last Sunday. The purpose of the trip was to wok on the editorial revision of a church history book recently translated into French.

The other three members of the French editorial committee are members of the Roxton Falls congregation. We have frequent on-line sessions but it boosts our productivity if we can get together once a year and actually sit around the same table. We did that last Friday and Saturday.

Nature produced some impressive sound and light shows while I have been away. My plane landed in Montreal last Thursday evening just as an impressive thunderstorm hit the area. Other planes delayed their takeoff until the storm abated, we sat on the tarmac for 15 minutes until our plane could move up to the loading ramp and we could disembark. A tornado associated with that storm system hit Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, north of Montreal, and caused major damages.

Late Sunday evening my wife informed me that a thunderstorm with strong winds that passed through our area and produced 18 mm of rain. Later, we heard that a plow wind from that storm system had earlier struck the town of Eston, about 150 km southwest of us, destroying the hangar at the local landing strip and one house and damaging many more. Still later, we heard that lightning had struck a shed on the yard of a cousin who lives west of Saskatoon.

Yesterday afternoon, before I arrived home, another thunderstorm went through this area and left as much rain as the one Sunday evening. No reports of damage this time. Despite the destruction caused to buildings by these storms there have been no people injured.

I’m taking a break

WestJet 737.jpg

Plans are that by the time this appears on line I will be sitting in a little church in Québec working on editing a book recently translated into French. Then I will stay to worship with the brethren there on Sunday and do a little visiting around before returning home.

I will return – to my home and to this blog by the middle of next week.

Introduction to the Old Testament – conclusion

The Writings
Psalms – The hymn book of Israel and the source of many hymns of the church. Half of them were written by David and reveal his love for God and for the people of God. Some are raw with emotion, some are prophetic. If you look at the headings you will find that the family of Asaph wrote 12 and the sons of Kore wrote 11. Moses wrote Psalm 90 and Solomon Psalms 72 and 127. In addition, the Septuagint attributes Psalm 137 to Jeremiah, 119 to Ezra, and Psalms 120 to 134 to Hezekiah. These attributions in the Septuagint may not be entirely reliable.

Proverbs – Most of these were written by Solomon, his great wisdom coupled with experience and distilled into short and powerful lessons. Chapter 30 was written by Agur, of whom nothing is known. Chapter 31 is the instruction given to king Lemuel by his mother. No one by that name is known to history. Lemuel means dedicated to God and Jewish commentators considered it to be another name for Solomon, which would make Bathsheba the source of this counsel.

Job – Often called the oldest book in the Bible, in the sense that this story was being told before the Exodus and the time when Moses compiled the Talmud. The names and places given in the book identify it as coming from an area near Edom. The most probable explanation is that Moses heard this story while he was a Midianite shepherd and was divinely inspired to put it into writing for the edification of God’s people. The book reveals the greatness of God, the limits of Satan’ influence and the reward of faithfulness during affliction. It is notable that Job’s affliction was not fully relieved until he prayed for his friends who had falsely accused him.

Daniel – Begins with history, revealing God’s care for His people during their years of captivity in His dealings with King Nebuchadnezzar and in placing Daniel and his three friends in positions of great authority in the heathen kingdom. The prophecies of the latter part of the book reveal the kingdoms that would arise and fall before Messiah would come and gave a precise time for the coming of Messiah.

Chronicles is a recap of the whole history of Israel, revealing God’s guiding hand throughout. The genealogies are important in that they show that this is real history of real people and allow the tracing of God’s promise of a Messiah through the descendants of David. Chronicles does not condemn Solomon and reveals the repentance of Manasseh, the most wicked king Judah ever had. The author is Ezra, and the final verses of 2 Chronicles are the first verses of Ezra.

Ezra was the son of the high priest slain by Nebuchadnezzar and the spiritual leader of those who returned after the exile in Babylon. He oversaw the rebuilding of the temple. He appears also to have been the head of the Great Synagogue which established the canon of the Old Testametn Scriptures.

Nehemiah – this book is believed to have been compiled by Ezra from Nehemiah’s personal records. Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem by Artaxerxes to be governor. He oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

Song of Songs – written by Solomon. On the surface it appears to be an erotic love poem with scarcely a passing reference to God. Yet it was regarded by Jewish rabbis as a most holy book, an allegory of the love relationship between God and His chosen people.

Ruth – portrays the love relationship between the aged Naomi, an Israelite and her Moabite daughter-in-law. This account is an antidote to ideas of ethnic purity. Ruth married Boaz, the son of Salmon and Rahab the Canaanite harlot. The great-great-grandmother of Salmon was Tamar, also a Canaanite. All three of these women are named in the genealogy of Jesus. The book was probably written by Samuel, as it carries the Messianic line only as far as David.

Lamentations – written by Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This book has a unique structure which is not evident in translation. In Hebrew chapters 1, 2 and 4 follow the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet, each verse beginning with a succeeding letter. In chapter 3 there are 22 groups of three verses each, following the same pattern. Chapter 5 has 22 verses, but does not follow the alphabetic pattern.

Ecclesiastes – appears to be the final work of Solomon, towards the end of his life. It speaks of the emptiness of all the things he did to prove his greatness, yet gives clear teaching of our duty to God. Chapter 7 verse 28 says that he did not find one woman in a thousand. The message here is not anti-woman, but appears to be a confession of his own failure. He had taken 1,000 wives, and not found one that was a true help meet for him.

Esther – probably written by Mordecai, the ending may have been supplied by Ezra. Gives a glimpse into the internal workings of the Persian court and supplies the history of the providential deliverance of the Jews in the Persian empire from a plot to destroy them. Haman was an Agagite, possibly a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag slain by Samuel, which explains his hated of Jews. The events depicted here are the basis of the Jewish feast of Purim.

Two tabernacles

When Moses was up in the mountain communing with God during the Exodus, God gave him detailed directions for the structure that should be the centre of the people’s worship. He was to build a long tent, or tabernacle. The inside was of gold and beautiful tapestry, the outside was a drab, waterproof covering.

At one end, separated from the rest by a thick woven curtain, was the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat above it. To an onlooker, the tent would not have been particularly noteworthy, except for the Shekinah, the glory of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night that always stood above the mercy seat.

This tabernacle was of central importance to the people during their time in the wilderness, during the conquest of Canaan and throughout the time of the judges.

Then came the time when the ark was removed from the tabernacle and taken into battle against the Philistines. The Philistines were victorious in the battle, to the point of capturing the ark. Eli, the high priest and spiritual leader of the Israelites, died upon hearing this news. At this point the worship of the Israelite people took a turn for which no recorded instruction had ever been given.

Eli’s place as spiritual leader was taken by Samuel, who was not of the priestly lineage. The ark was returned to Israel, but never put back in place in the tabernacle. Samuel went from place to place throughout the land to offer sacrifices and teach the people.

Samuel was a true prophet and spiritual leader, but as he grew old and had no obvious successor, the people began to call for a king. God granted their wish and Saul became king. Things soon went bad with Saul and God sent Samuel to anoint David to be king.

When David became king over all Israel and had conquered mount Zion, he decided to build a new tabernacle. He brought the ark and placed it in the tabernacle he had built, with no curtain to separate it from the people. The first time David tried to bring the ark to his new tabernacle, God smote Uzzah for trying to steady the ark, showing that the ark still denoted the presence of God. The second time was successful. David put on priestly garments of linen and an ephod and offered sacrifices to sanctify the tabernacle.

This is the only time that sacrifices were offered at the tabernacle of David. Thereafter it was a place of worship, where prayers were made, psalms sung and possibly the Word of God was read. Jehoshaphat is called the recorder, a word whose meaning might also mean one who causes to remember.

Here we see David acting as prophet, priest and king. Many of the Psalms are prophetic, he is called a prophet in Acts 2:30. We read in 1 Chronicles 16:39-40 that the tabernacle of Moses still stood at this time, located at Gibeon, and Zadok the high priest was still offering the sacrifices called for in the law. But since the mercy seat was no longer in the tabernacle of Moses, they were just going through the motions. The mercy seat was in the tabernacle of David.

This strange anomaly in the Israelite worship came to an end when Solomon built the temple and installed the ark in the holy of holies in the temple.

In later years prophets reminded the people of the tabernacle of David. Isaiah 16:5 says: “And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.” Chapter 32:20 says: “ Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.” Amos 9:11-12 says: “ In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.”

We can interpret the references to Zion as referring to Jerusalem and the temple mount, and the references to the tabernacle of David as prophesying the restoration of the Davidic kingdom in Christ. Many people do.

But the parallels are too striking. David as prophet, priest and king sanctified the tabernacle with a one time sacrifice. A new form of worship, completely separate from the tabernacle of Moses. Access to the mercy seat without a veil between it and the worshippers.

Isn’t this what the leaders of the early church recognized at the meeting in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15? James quoted the passage from Amos and recognized it as a prophecy of what was then happening. The tabernacle of David had been restored, a place where all people, including the Gentiles, could freely worship God without having to approach Him by means of the Jewish form. Just as the tabernacle of Moses was empty in the time of David, the worship in the Jerusalem temple was now empty after the one time sacrifice made by Jesus, the true son of David and our eternal prophet, priest and king.

The Sabbath

God instituted a day of rest per week, because, after six days of toil the human body and brain need rest. That’s makes good sense, doesn’t it? Except that the Bible says nothing like that.

What we find in the Bible is that God completed all the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day. There is no hint that on the first day of the following week God picked up his lunch bucket, punched the time clock, and began another week of work. His work was finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3).

The seventh day was the beginning of a never ending rest for God and the promise to us is that we can enter into that rest. The once a week Sabbath was commanded as a memorial and as a foretaste of the spiritual rest that would become available through the Messiah.

Unfortunately, the human mind finds it much easier to grasp the idea of physical rest than of spiritual rest. We have been aided in this by the reasoning of Greek philosophers and their followers in the churches.

The fourth commandment decrees that all labour cease on the Sabbath, but it gives no hint that this was because of the need of our bodies for physical and mental rest. The purpose of the Sabbath was to separate people from earthly cares so they could contemplate eternal realities. The New Testament makes it clear that the labour that must cease is our futile attempts to earn salvation.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites us to cease our labours, lay down our burdens and He will give us rest for our souls. Hebrews 11:1-10 is an invitation to cease from our labours and enter into God’s rest, the Sabbath. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).

We enter into that rest when we are born again. We know God as our Father and we are assured that He knows us as His child. He fills us with love, joy, peace and all the fruit of the spirit. He guides us, comforts us and helps us in all the troubles we face in life.

We are no longer anxious about food, clothing, or the health of our body. Our Father knows what we need and He will provide (Matthew 6:25-34). We should not take that as meaning we are now exempt from physical labour, that is still necessary and good for us. But we need no longer be burdened by worry and care as to how it will all turn out.

We have entered into the Sabbath, not a day on our earthly calendars, but a time that will continue to the end of time and into eternity. Spiritual realities now take priority over material realities. We need not worry about our status in the eyes of other people, what matters is that we are a child of God, surrounded by His love.

Living in the Sabbath also requires us to forgive others, hold no grudges, not to favour one person above another, but to see others as God sees them. Some are God’s children, God wants them all to be His children and so should we.

God gave the prophet Isaiah a beautiful picture of the right way to fast and to observe the Sabbath. Does any of this sound like something that one ought to do on certain occasions only, or one day a week? Doesn’t it rather portray the New Testament kingdom of God when God’s children will live the Sabbath every day?

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:6-14).

The fourth commandment does not give any instruction for gathering for worship one day a week. In the Old Testament era there were only three annual festivals when all adult males should assemble for worship in Jerusalem.

Neither is there instruction in the Old Testament for establishing synagogues and holding one day a week worship services. It was a tradition that appears to have begun during the Babylonian captivity, and it was a good tradition. Christians have adopted that tradition and the weekly worship has become the primary source of sustaining our spiritual life. It is not a law written on tablets of stone, but it should be a law written on our hearts that we would want to gather where and when spiritual nourishment is being served.

%d bloggers like this: