Public Prayer

August 11, 2017

Public prayer is a vital part of our worship together. It is a great responsibility to speak to God on behalf of the assembly. We want this part of the service to be meaningful and pleasing to God. Let me make a few suggestions.

Preparation to pray is an important ingredient. Be considerate of others. If you are not able to serve in the worship as scheduled, let someone know ahead of time. Your replacement will appreciate the advanced warning. Obviously, some public prayers do not come with advanced planning, like being called to pray in a Bible class. The greatest preparation for public prayer is our private prayer life. Public prayer is simply the overflow of private prayer.

The purpose of the prayer is a necessary consideration. An opening prayer is a call to worship. It expresses our praise to God and our desire to worship Him in spirit and truth. The main prayer of the service is usually of greater length and will include not only praise but the petitions important to the assembly. Remember the difference between public and personal. Don’t share other people’s burdens or petitions if they haven’t given you permission. Everyone on our printed prayer list has asked to be in our prayers.

It is great to be specific, but I would encourage variety as we approach the bulletin prayer list in public. There may be times to pray individually for everyone on the list. At times, we may want to emphasize certain parts of the list or summarize the list.

A prayer at the Lord’s Supper focuses on the death, resurrection, and return of Christ (“you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” 1 Cor. 11:26). Jesus is our model for this. He is said to have “blessed” or “given thanks” for the bread and the cup (Matt. 26:26-28, 1 Cor. 11:23-25). The prayer for the bread should focus on what the bread means to us; the prayer for the fruit of the vine should focus on what it means to us. It can include reflections our attitude and purpose in communing. It shouldn’t be a general prayer including things like prayer for the sick.

The closing prayer prepares us to go out into the world and live the faith. Although I think it is appropriate to allude to the lesson and our hope to apply it to life, avoid the temptation to preach the lesson all over again. Remember that a prayer that doesn’t match its purpose seems out of place.

Praise of God invigorates prayer. It is all too easy for us to begin and end with our petitions. Remember to praise God. Read the Psalms or the prayers in the New Testament for examples of such praise.

People need to be able to hear the public prayer. How can they say “amen” (which means “so be it”), if they have not heard (see 1 Cor. 14:16)? Speak clearly, and speak into the microphone. You really can’t get too close to the pulpit or communion microphones. If the system squeals, please don’t back away. Allow the person on the sound board to adjust. Backing away only compounds this task.

The Lord’s Prayer is a model of simplicity, yet it is filled with great meaning. It encourages us to pray. God is not seeking great eloquence from us, but open hearts. May our public prayers be meaningful and pleasing to God.


Slapping the Bible Around

August 4, 2017 is a web site that deals with evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, intelligent design and other science-related issues. It is a work of the Discovery Institute which promotes a Judeo-Christian worldview. Recently, they posted an article that is actually about archaeology and DNA studies, but the point of the article was not the science, but how the science was reported in the popular press.

The science of the story seems reliable. DNA was taken from ancient Canaanite remains dating some 3700 years ago. The study found a startling overlap with modern-day DNA among the Lebanese. So far, so good.

But how was this story reported in the popular press. Here is a sample of headlines as given by

  • “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph)
  • “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon” (The Independent)
  • “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people” (Daily Mail)
  • “Scientists Find Evidence That Ancient Canaanites Survive Today: Was The Bible Wrong?” (Tech Times)
  • “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)
  • “The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking” (Express)
  • “Genetic evidence suggests the Canaanites weren’t destroyed after all” (Ars Technica)

What’s wrong with the headlines? The headlines fail basic Bible knowledge. First, although Israel was supposed to completely destroy the Canaanite people in the cities they captured (Deut. 7:2), this is also pictured as driving these people out of the land (Exo. 23:28-31). In other words, flight was an option open to the Canaanites. People who flee can pass on DNA to their descendants. Second, Judges makes clear that Israel failed in removing the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-36). So, the Bible does not claim that the Canaanites were completely annihilated.

Some retractions have occurred, but I wonder how many people see the original headline versus those who see the retraction. The Bible has been under extreme scrutiny since the beginning of the Enlightenment. In my opinion, the Bible has stood up under the testing. But knowing our Bibles well will help us defend against those who are slapping the Bible around.

Character and Reputation

July 28, 2017

Character is moral and ethical strength, or as someone has defined it — it is who we really are when no one is looking. Reputation is other people’s evaluation of our character. Although the words, character and reputation, do not occur in Proverbs 3:1-12, they are certainly concepts that underlie this speech to a young man.

The concern for reputation is found elsewhere in scripture. Proverbs 22:1 reads, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (ESV). In this speech, the young person who follows this teaching will gain a good reputation: “So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:4, NASB). Notice that the teacher’s concerns go deeper than what people think of me. He desires a good reputation before God, who knows who we really are when no one is looking.

The path of character is the means to this good reputation before God and man. The law is not to be forgotten, but to be obeyed from the heart (3:1). Mercy and truth are also to be written on the heart (3:3). The person of good character is directed by inner principles and not by the outside influences of circumstances and pressures from other people.

The person of character is also directed by his or her relationship to God. God is to be trusted (3:5). Direction for life is to be learned from God. We are not trust our own moral sense or as Proverbs puts it — “not lean on our own understanding” or “be wise in our own eyes” (3:5, 7). We need our consciences trained by God. God is to be feared or reverenced (3:7), and we must depart from evil. This requires humility on our part so that we will be guided and corrected by God.

Character also has its rewards. Proverbs 3:1-12 pictures length of days, peace, health, strength, and blessings coming upon the person who follows these instructions. Yet even though there will be blessings for the life of character, this section also closes with a reminder that there can also be chastening: “for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12, ESV). Whatever the circumstances, the person of character must follow the law written on the heart and trust God from the heart.

Here in Proverbs 3:1-12 is the path to good character and reputation.

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

July 21, 2017

Speaking in public is not an easy thing to do. In fact, you may always get “butterflies” even if you do it well. The Book of Lists gives the fear of public speaking as the number one fear for most people. It comes in higher than the fear of death and disease. No wonder that most of us need a lot of encouragement to do it the first time.

Part of the fear of public speaking is the fear of making a mistake, but the truth is anyone who speaks in public will make mistakes. That’s not an excuse for poor preparation or failing to improve, but it is part of the reality of being human. Only God is perfect. One author notes that expecting perfection from ourselves will probably make us more anxious and likely to make a mistake. He goes on to write:

The essence of public speaking is this: give your audience something of value. … Even if you pass out, get tongue-tied, or say something stupid during your talk . . . they won’t care! As long as they get something of value, they will be thankful.1

I can vividly remember one such mistake. When I was a teenager, I was encouraged to lead singing. It was one of my early song leading experiences. I started the song, and we sang about two measures and came to a crashing halt. We were singing the same words, but the tune was very different. I tried again with the same disastrous results. I wanted to hide behind the pulpit. Fortunately, the preacher sitting on the first row figured it out.

My songbook was dog-eared. The page number I was announcing was actually for the page beneath the page I was on. Unfortunately, both hymns were based on the same Psalm so they had the same words. Once we were all on the same page, the third time trying the song worked. I was embarrassed by it, but that is a part of learning humility—another one of those lessons we don’t like, but that God wants us to learn. The people in the congregation were actually very kind and encouraging.

Almost anyone who appears in public can tell such a story. I remember in a gathering of preachers, one of them told the story of the first time he baptized someone. He was very uncertain of himself. He had the person being baptized put on the waders by mistake. You can imagine what happens when someone wearing hip high waders is lowered beneath the water. The waders filled. He really had to struggle to get the person back up. After all it wouldn’t be good for the first time baptizing someone to turn into a drowning! Most of these experiences can seem humorous…afterwards.

Overcoming the fear of public speaking is aided by doing it, and realizing the goal is not perfection but edification.

1Morton C. Orman, M.D., “How To Conquer Public Speaking Fear”

They Had Believed

July 14, 2017

Jesus addressed a group described as “the Jews who had believed in him” (John 8:31). Yet the speech which follows may seem odd given this description of the audience. C.H. Dodd captures the tension with these words, “A group of Jews described as believers are accused of attempted murder and roundly denounced as children of the devil.”*

Yet, the description of the audience needs to be noted: “they had believed.” There was a point in their past in which they had come to believe in Jesus as the Christ. But observe this commitment in their past was not enough. Jesus’ instructions make a great deal of sense given this audience.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  (John 8:31–32, ESV)

What does it mean to abide? The standard Greek lexicon states it is used “of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere: remain, continue, abide” (BDAG, p. 631). This is the person who continues to believe in and practice the teachings of Jesus. Only such persons can be described as “truly my disciples.”

What is the benefit of this continued relationship with Jesus? “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what kind of freedom is envisioned? Jesus makes this clear in 8:34-36. It is freedom from sin. It is to no longer be enslaved to sin. Earlier in this section of speeches Jesus had said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV).

But what was true of this audience as Jesus addressed them:

  • They were seeking to kill Jesus, 8:37, 40.
  • They were not able to hear Jesus’ words, 8:43.
  • They are acting like the Devil’s offspring, 8:44.
  • They do not believe Jesus, 8:45.

Believing is not something I check off my list. It is not enough for it to be true of my past. Believing in Jesus must be something that continues, abides, and remains. These “Jews who had believed” are a warning example of starting off right and finishing wrong.

If continuing and present evidence for belief is missing, it would be a sad epitaph to have said, “they had believed.”

*As cited by George R. Beasley-Murray, John, p. 132.

Baptism Is Not Just a Symbol

July 7, 2017

The teaching of the New Testament is that baptism when done in faith is the point at which one becomes a Christian and receives the blessings that are available in Christ. In other words, baptism is not just a symbol that can be dispensed with. It has symbolism of burial and resurrection, but scripture teaches that something really happens in it. It is not just a symbol. Although this view of baptism is not popular in the religious world, ironically it is found among New Testament scholars outside churches of Christ. Frederick Dale Bruner in his A Theology of the Holy Spirit cites works by G.R. Beasley-Murray, R.E.O. White, and Johannes Schneider as examples (p. 264, footnote 52).

The late Beasley-Murray, a British Baptist, in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (I:144) writes, “Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizo, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant ‘immerse’, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains.” In his book, Baptism in the New Testament (p. 263), Beasley-Murray after citing a quotation from Adolf Schlatter comments, “He meant, of course, that there is no gift or power available to man in consequence of the redemption of Christ that is not available to him in baptism. On the basis of the exposition offered above, and without any attempt to give exhaustive references, the ‘grace’ available to man in baptism is said by the New Testament writers to include the following elements…” (the following is simply Beasley-Murray’s paragraph given in a list form).

  • Forgiveness of sin, Acts 2:38 and cleansing from sins, Acts 22:16, I Cor. 6:11.
  • Union with Christ. Gal. 3:27, and particularly union with Him in his death and resurrection. Rom. 6:3ff, Col. 2:11f, with all that implies of release from sin’s power, as well as guilt, and the sharing of the risen life of the Redeemer, Rom. 6:1-11.
  • Participation in Christ’s sonship, Gal. 3:26f.
  • Consecration to God, I Cor. 6:11, hence membership in the church, the Body of Christ, I Cor. 12:13, Gal. 3:27-29.
  • Possession of the Spirit, Acts 2:38, I Cor. 6:11, 12, 13, and therefore the new life in the Spirit, i.e. regeneration, Tit. 3:5, Jn. 3:5.
  • Grace to live according to the will of God, Rom. 6:1ff, Col. 3:1ff.
  • Deliverance from the evil powers that rule this world, Col. 1:13.
  • The inheritance of the Kingdom of God, Jn. 3:5, and the pledge of the resurrection of the body, Eph. 1:13f, 4:30.

We can only hope that the scholarship of Beasley-Murray and others on the subject of baptism will help convince the religious world to reexamine scripture. What is needed is for people everywhere to return to the teaching of the New Testament on baptism. Baptism is not just a symbol.

The Best of Fatherhood

June 16, 2017

We often ask a little boy or girl, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My childhood answers included cowboy and fireman. As you get older, it is easy to entertain many job and career paths. I thought about teaching, psychology, and computer science in my teen years to name a few. We gain a lot of our identity from what we do. Meet someone new for the first time and likely the question after “What is your name?” and “Where are you from?” will be “What do you do?”

When I was making career choices, my thoughts were not on fatherhood. In the back of mind, of course, there was the idea that someday I would marry, and we would have children. I even took a college course, “Marriage and the Christian Home,” just in case. We spend a lot of time at work, it could easily reach half of our waking hours. Work that is honorable is good. I’ve found satisfaction in work, but over time I’ve concluded, fatherhood is the best job in the world!

Work is rewarding. At the bare minimum, there is a paycheck. We may feel satisfaction in creating, producing, growing, or problem solving. (And yes, every job has its drudgery. It is part of the curse on the ground, Genesis 3: 17-19). Employers may reward years of service or ideas to a suggestion box. Although I have personally found work satisfying, how do the rewards compare to fatherhood?

As a father, I’ve witnessed two births. I’ve experienced the thrill of first steps and first words. I’ve felt the joy of hearing for the first time, “I love you.” (Yes, your child will probably say, “I hate you,” at some point in the growing up. It is the risk of free will after all, but the moments of bluster pass away when your relationship is healthy.) There are proud moments of sporting events, graduations, and first jobs. Grown children whom you love and enjoy are a great blessing which includes the joy of adult and even spiritual conversation with them. I have found fatherhood is the most rewarding job in the world!

Most of the things we work at won’t last. Goods produced wear out. Buildings constructed may someday be torn down. Ecclesiastes reminds us that life is temporary, “all is vapor” and “a time to break down, and a time to build up.”* Yet, when we were expecting our children, one thought struck me: we were bringing a life into the world who has an eternal destiny. It is an awesome responsibility. Fathers if they are spiritually aware recognize that we are raising for eternity. I cannot but help admire Joshua as a father:

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15, ESV)

Joshua drew a line in the sand and made a spiritual commitment to his family. He recognized fatherhood is a job with an eternal impact!

I know that I’m prejudiced because I’m a father, but it is the best, most rewarding job in the world. Happy Father’s Day!

*“Vapor” is a literal translation of the Hebrew hebel in “All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 1:14, 2:17, 3:19, 12:8) and the other line is from Ecclesiastes 3:3.