Archive for the ‘Posture’ Category

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Traditions Are A Funny Thing

June 16, 2011

Traditions are funny things. I don’t know how many baptisms I have witnessed in my life. But in all of them I remember seeing the person doing the baptizing raise his hand as he spoke before baptizing the candidate in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In artist renderings of the baptism of Jesus, John the baptizer is often shown with his hand raised as he prepares to baptize Jesus. I was just looking at a picture of a recent baptisms that took place in Africa and there it was again, hand raised before the
baptism.

I know of no verse in scripture where we are told that we should raise our hand, nor do I find an example where this practice is described, yet this tradition has crossed oceans and cultures as it has traveled around the world, especially among our tribe.

As I reflected on this tradition we practice at baptism I thought how it has not been a tradition among us to raise our hands when we
pray or sing. In fact in some circles people are thought to be strange or weird if they do. I have even heard folks say, “It makes us look like the Pentecostals”, as if that were a bad thing. I see a contradiction here. And what makes this contradiction more odd is that the people who often pride themselves in being a people of the book, who “speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent”, don’t practice something that the Bible says a lot about.

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Ps. 63:4) “I call to you, O Lord, everyday; I spread out my hands to you.” (Ps. 88:9) “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” (Ps. 134:2) “Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ’Amen! Amen!’” (Neh. 8:6) “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” (Lam. 3:41 KJV) “I fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed.” (Ezra 9:5-6) “Solomon knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.” (2 Chron. 6:13) “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword … Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, ’For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.’” (Ex. 17:11-16) “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” (1Tim. 2:8) “Every day,” David says in Psalm 88:9, “I call to you and spread out myhands to you.”

Buddy Owen in an article adapted from his book, “The Way of the Worshiper” said, “Look at your hands. They aren’t going to hurt you; just look at them for a moment. Magnificent aren’t they? Who gave us our hands? God gave them to us. What do we do with our hands? Well, we work with our hands. We feed ourselves with our hands. We play with our hands. We give gifts and receive gifts with our hands. We show affection with our hands. We also fight with our hands. We sin with our hands. Why are we so hesitant to worship God with our hands Lifting our hands to God is a biblical posture of prayer. It is another physical demonstration of a spiritual truth. Just as we bow our hearts when we bow our knees, so we lift our hearts when we lift our hands (Lam. 3:41). By kneeling before God and lifting our hands to him, we are presenting our bodies to God as a spiritual act of worship. “

When we lift our hands with palms open it is a physical display of openness. As with kneeling in prayer, another Biblical practice lost by us over the years, lifting our hands is simply a posture of devotion that expresses humility and worship. David said, “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?  4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” We understand that David was not speaking of physically clean hands. When hands are open it is a gesture of openness and expresses we have nothing to hide. It is also an appeal for help. It reminds me of the child that comes to his or her parent with arms out stretched open wide and hands lifted up.

Regardless of what we do with our hands before a baptism or in a time of prayer and worship it is the condition of the heart that is most important. I am not arguing for or against any tradition.  But for me personally there is something freeing about physically and outwardly expressing what is going on in my heart. At first it was awkward and uncomfortable, because it was different and I wondered what others would think. It became freeing when I kept my focus on the ONE I was worshiping and it became a very natural expression of praise and worship.

I began this article by saying, traditions are funny things. Today when someone lifts their hands in worship some may feel uncomfortable, but if we could be transported back to the early church or even further back to the Old Testament period, I think we would be very uncomfortable if we did not raise our hands.

Traditions are funny things.

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The Posture of the Church

July 24, 2007

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My tribe, as a whole, has maintained a defensive posture for as long as I can remember. Our mottos reflect that. We are “defenders of the faith”, we stand against the onslaughts of error taught and practiced in the religious world. The often quoted phrase, “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”, found in Jude 1:3, is most often interpreted as a directive to maintain a defensive posture against this perceived error. But this was not the posture of the early church. The words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”, are often interpreted to imply a defensive stand against the attack of Hell and Satan. But as Elton Trueblood said in “The Yoke of Christ”, (this phrase), “is a metaphor of offense, not defense.” We are not defending against the gates of Hell, we are marching in an assault against the gates of hell…and they can not stand against us! Boy, that is a powerful picture of the church on the march caring out it’s mission. Our marching orders in the Great commission are to “Go”, not dig in your heals and defend. While we defend, contend and debate the truth, the truth is not being preached to those who have never heard it.

The posture of a church can also determine its attitude and the image it has of it’s self. Much like a battered wife, who ducks at perceived blows, and cowers when verbally beaten down, we can have a tendency to become reactionary to any comment that is perceived as a challenge to what we believe. As a result we think more of how to respond to what is being said rather than understanding what is being said. When we think we are being pushed, the response is to push back, and then you are soon in a fight. I believe that the reason the first century church thrived, during acceptance and persecution alike, was its posture. It had a message of “Good News”. It not only had a message of salvation from punishment, it’s message was the answer to life’s struggles. It gave hope, not only for the future, but for the present.

I watched a special on the History Channel last night that explored hundreds of underground cities in Cappadocia (Modern Day Turkey) where Christians lived and worshiped in the first and second centuries. I learned that Christians not only met in the Catacombs of Rome, but also through out the areas where the Gospel was preached. When persecution started, they went underground by the thousands and continued to grow. It was amazing to see how that with hammer and chisel they carved out these large areas that could hold hundreds of people along with their animals. Some were even two and three stories deep. It was simply amazing.

There focus was to spread the Good News, not just defend it. The urgency and importance of the message determined the means to which they were willing go to tell it. Persecution actually fueled the spread of Christianity. Today, not only my tribe, but most churches today have taken this same defensive posture against the world. It is US against THEM. We fight to be accepted and tolerated. We lash out at the media and other groups that put Christian down. All of this results in turning out focus from our mission offensive, to tell the Good News, and causes us to develop a defensive posture from which we make a stand.

What if we, like those first Christians, we just focused on sharing the Good News of Jesus. What if when persecuted, we smiled and continued to share the Good News. What if we would not allow ourselves to become side tracked with hurts feelings and negative thoughts about THEM, and we just continued to preach the message about HIM.

Can I get an AMEN?