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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Lessons on Worship from Jacob

The life of Jacob and his transformation for deceived to the one who “wrestles with God” [Israel] is fascinating. Though I’m many books could have been written or have been written about him and much can be learned from commentaries, I have been blessed over the past few weeks studying Jacob’s life during my private devotional time. [I also enjoyed the fact that the Sunday School material that we are using from LifeWay was also covering the material.] I believe that there are some key lessons we can learn from Jacob about worship found in Genesis 35:

1Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.  5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. 6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. 8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.

Context: After Jacob’s daughter is assaulted, her brothers deceive the people of Shechem into believing that they would be willing to intermarry, but only if all the men were circumcised. Later they go into the town and slaughtered all the men and seized all they own and taking those who are left as slaves.  Jacob seemed convinced that the peoples around him will attack and take revenge. God now appears to Jacob. God had appeared to Jacob before: [1] as he fled from Easu and saw the ladder to heaven and asks for God’s protection; [2] again when Laban was displeased, God instructed Jacob to return home. [3] Before encountering Easu, Jacob wrestled with the angel all night, who changed his name to Israel. Jacob’s life was punctuated with God speaking to him in the midst of crises. This time God instructed him to go to Bethel and build an altar, the place where he first met God. God had consistently taken the initiative in Jacob’s life, especially during difficult times.

1. God took the initiative in speaking to Jacob.
Notice that verse 1 of the chapter begins with “Then;” after the context, we had just described. Jacob was probably fearing for his life, and “then” God took the initiative and instructed him to go to Bethel, that place where God first revealed Himself to Jacob when he was fleeing from his brother.  This is one of the few times in Old Testament when God commands that an altar be built; that He be worshiped in a specific place.

Why would God tell him to return to Bethel? You will remember that some 20 years before, fleeing to his uncle’s land to get away from Easu, God had revealed Himself in a dream. During that time God made this promise to Jacob:
13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” [Gen. 28:13-15]
God was taking Jacob back to the first time He had revealed Himself to the young deceiver.

2. God desired that Jacob remember the nature and character of God.
God could have just repeated the promise to Jacob where he was, but in returning to Bethel, God wanted Jacob to learn something about the nature of God, that He was faithful to what He says He will do. God had promised to not leave Jacob; He wanted Jacob to return to the place of the promise. In doing so He was reminding Jacob of His nature and character: The Faithful One, Provider, and Protector.   God wanted Jacob to worship Him at that place, remembering what He has promised. Part of worship is acknowledging who God is and what He has done.

3. They made preparation for meeting and worshiping God.
In preparation for the return, Jacob instructed his family [which would have also included all those working for him] to put away their idols. His four wives and their servants had come from a culture that worshiped many gods. Rachel had even stolen her father’s idols when she left to return with Jacob to the land of Canaan. Jacob’s understanding of who God is had grown to realize that God was not going to be “one among many gods,” but the only true God. If they were to meet with God in worship then they needed to prepare.  As someone has said, “Christ must be Lord of all or not Lord at all.”

4. Jacob responded in obedience to what God had commanded centers his worship on God alone.
Upon arriving Jacob built the altar and named the place “El-bethel” Bethel means “house of God;” El-bethel means the “God of the house of God.”  What difference does this make? Jacob’s focus in the first meeting was centered around the place: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God” [28:17]. Before he placed conditions on God: “if you will do this, then You will be my God..” [28:20] Now, his focus was the God who had kept every promise. God had protected Jacob and his family and even had put the fear of them in the people in that area.  Jacob’s attention was now on the presence of God in this place and not just the place. God had kept His promise, revealing His nature and character.

5. God repeated the promise to Jacob, but Jacob’s life had been transformed; now he could live out the promise as God intended. 
After going the Bethel and building the altar, God spoke to Jacob again, repeating the promise:
9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.  14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

God’s speaking this time could have been in response to Jacob’s obedience to His command in 35:1. He and his entire family had put away all other gods, they had purified themselves to prepare to meet with God, Jacob had built the altar. God chose to speak again and He repeated the promise previously given some 20 years before.  Why? One possible answer might be that even though many things, good and bad had happened, God was revealing Himself true to His promise, even though Jacob had not been perfect. God’s ultimate plan to bring a Savior to the world through this family line was to be fulfilled.

Another reason might be that this was not the same Jacob from 20 years before. He was Israel; he was a changed man, one who would listen to God and obey.  In response to God’s repeating of the promise, Jacob set up a stone marker and anointing it with oil as an act of worship and renaming the place, Bethel. God had spoken, God had promised in the past and Jacob was now confident that God would keep His promise, the very promise He had first given in the beginning. He need only live in obedience to the God of promise.

Truth to take home...
1. God takes the initiative in worship.
2. God is faithful, even when we are not.
3. God is present, even when we are not aware of His presence.
4. God will provide.
5. God is in control; He knows the future, we can trust Him.
6. We must prepare to meet Him in worship
7. We must respond in obedience and thanksgiving.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Few Words to Aging Worship Leaders...

A few words to aging worship leaders...

Isaiah 46:4
Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Psalm 92:14-15
They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

As the years pass, the passages above in Isaiah and Psalms have become more and more meaningful. The same God that called you years ago is the same whose Holy Spirit lives and works inside you now. Here are a few reminders.

1. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you more; there is nothing you can do to make Him love you less. God is love.

2. Our worth doesn’t come from your ability to perform; our worth comes from what Christ has done on the cross and His love for us.  You may feel that you know more now and understand things so much better now than ever in your life, but that fewer people pay attention or even care about your opinion. Remember your worth is not based on how many “likes” you get, but our worth comes from God. He is enough; “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

3. Acceptance of the new does not mean rejection of the old. Some will remember how meaningful “Pass it on” was and how it spoke to thousands of youth in its day. Some songs have a season; some become part of a canon of songs for multiple generations, like “How Great Thou Art,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” God is raising up men and women to speak to their generation. As in every generation, we need to evaluate theology and embrace what is good and leave what is not.

4. Be an active mentor; bear fruit by cultivating relationships of younger worship leaders. Learn from them: they have a wealth of knowledge about technology.  As you open yourself to learn from them God will open opportunities to pour into their lives from the overflow of experience He has given you.

5. You may not be on the platform every week anymore, but that’s ok. I’ve found that not having all the “other things” to do on Sunday helps me focus more on worshiping. Sometimes stepping out of the limelight helps us realize that our focus might have been misaligned at times, and motivates me to pray for those leading worship even more.

Change can be painful. Even though I teach voice regularly, I have noticed the signs of age affecting breath, tone, vibrato, etc. My energy level and even desire to attack certain things are not as great. That’s when I remember God’s promise in Isaiah 46:4: "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." 

Blessings.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Secret Poison in the Ministry...


At times our expectations tend toward believing that we shouldn’t have to go through hardships or major difficulties. Perhaps we were sincerely trying to follow His will and our circumstances actually become worse: we lose a job, a ministry, a loved one dies, or some other tragedy, and it seems like God left the picture, failed to help, or just didn’t care. It just doesn’t seem fair. These difficulties are frequently connected to the people around us. 

Often those new in the ministry soon find that situations and people are not exactly what they thought they were. People, once respected, say and do things that cause hurt, sometimes with a seemingly reckless abandon. Sometimes this hurt comes from those closest to us, and the deepest pain comes from those who are closest to us.

How the Poison Begins...
If we are not careful, we will begin to harbor a resentful attitude born out of our hurt. Since we “know God is good,” we may give an outward acceptance of the hurt, but inwardly resentment settles in our heart.  The resentful attitude is often reflected in a suppressed anger that masquerades as sarcasm. Sarcasm can be a light-hearted poke at one’s own weaknesses: “I would never go past the speed limit...I’m too busy on the phone to pay attention to the signs.” However, there is another level of sarcasm that is intended to be humorous or witty on the surface, but underneath the surface is suppressed anger and resentment. The focus of this kind of sarcasm generally is veiled humor making light of or cutting down another person, group of people, church, institution, or business. It is this kind of sarcasm that can poison the spirit of an individual and spread to an entire worship team, church, or group.  For example, I once read a review of a concert pianist in which the critic stated: “The artist displayed the full range of emotions from ‘A’ to ‘B’.”  Obviously, the critic wasn’t too impressed with the performance and couched his comments in sarcasm.

What We Can Do
How do we deal with these issues? Without trying too sound simplistic, we need to start at the beginning: We need to identify the past hurts, offenses, disappointments, etc., and admit the deep feelings we have of resentment, anger, or bitterness and confess those to the Lord. We must be honest with God of our doubt of His doing the right thing, our confusion of the outcomes, and lack of faith and trust in His love.  We then need to recall how He has provided, helped, moved in the past, and how He saved and redeemed us. We need to confess renewed faith in His love and His plan for our lives and thank Him for all He as done; praise Him for who He is. This may be a repeated task each time that feeling of irritation or anger rises up inside of us. We will either reinforce a godly response or allow the sarcastic remarks to continue, refusing to deal with the cause and allow the situation to worsen.

Learning to Forgive
We need to forgive those who have offended us. What does it mean to forgive? First, let’s look at what forgiveness is not:
– Forgetting [We are not commanded to forget; in the case of abuse, it may not be safe to forget, but we are commanded to forgive.]
– Pretending that unacceptable behavior is acceptable [It is not ignoring the offense.]
– No longer feeling the pain or grieving
– Automatically trusting [Just because we forgive does not mean that we automatically place ourselves in a dangerous situation.]
– Lack of consequences
– Reconciliation [In reconciliation, the offender admits to the wrong and repents, that is, turns away from committing the offense again. A person can forgive the offender, but if the offender fails to confess and repent, reconciliation cannot occur.]
What IS forgiveness then?  Forgiveness is: Giving up the perceived right to get even; giving up the attitude “You owe me;” a canceled debt.

Forgiveness is a releasing of the consequences of what should happen into the hands of the only One who knows all there is to know about the situation and circumstances. We forgive by an act of the will, not whether we feel like doing so; it is an act of obedience, not a feeling. It is very doubtful that you will “feel” like forgiving. We do not wait until we “feel” right; we respond right and our feelings will catch up.

Forgiveness is first something between you and God; you forgive without telling the person who offended you that you have forgiven them. Of course, if they have asked you to forgive them, you respond with a “yes,” or a clarification -if necessary- of what the true offense was. But, unless they ask you to forgive them, telling someone that you forgive them only complicates the issue, and puts you into the role of the convictor, which belongs to the Holy Spirit.  We are commanded to “speak the truth in love,” which does mean that we go to the person that offended us and say, “I was offended when you... naming the offense.” But no matter what their response is, we are still commanded to forgive.

We also need to seek forgiveness from those we have offended. We should not say, “I know I offended you, but you offended me as well...” We ask confessing the attitude that caused the offense: not, “forgive me for gossiping about you...” [the first thing they will want to know is what you said], but “forgive me for a lack of love” [the attitude which was behind the action].

Forgiving [Matthew 18] and seeking forgiveness [Matthew 5:24] are an important part of worship and maintaining the right relationships within the Body of Christ. Sarcasm is a “red flag” that we may need to do some forgiveness work. Learning how to have victory over sarcasm helps us become leaders that reflect God’s nature and character.

Making sarcastic comments just didn’t happen overnight, nor will it stop overnight. We must first recognize the behavior as a problem, deal with the causes, then commit ourselves to thank God for His love and work in our lives and realize that He is concerned about the development of Christ’s nature in our lives.  Suffering and difficulty become the training ground in which we grow in our understanding of Who He is. It is in sickness we grow to know Him as Healer; loneliness, as Friend; insecurity, as Rock and Refuge, etc. 

God grants us grace to respond correctly when we are offended. We are commanded to forgive, that is, to release to God the vengeance we want to give the offender. As the Scripture says, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” — we are not in a position to know all the circumstances, nor God’s future plans.   Responding rightly will help us avoid falling into the sarcasm trap.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Five Blind Spots in Worship Ministry

A blind spot is an area “in which a person is unable to see or hear satisfactorily.” [Dictionary.com] Here are fine in which we need to call to our attention. In the case of driving a car, ignoring to check the blind spots can lead to tragic consequences. Failure to become aware of blind spots in our worship ministry can also become tragic.

1. Sensitivity and Balance: I’m grateful for recent numerous articles recognizing that Worship leadership needs to be sensitive to the “singability” of a song for the congregation; that just because it might be popular, doesn’t mean it is congregational. Secondly, balance. If worship leadership is using only the “latest and greatest,” then the congregation never develops a canon of worship songs they can sing from their hearts by memory that the Spirit uses in times of crisis or great need.  I’m glad that these are being addressed publicly, but am still concerned that the problem remains an issue.

2. Integrity and skill: We all desire that those leading have the necessary musical skills to play, lead, and run the technology for the worship service, We also desire the sincerity of heart in those leading, rather than sensing that what is happening on the platform is professional entertainment for our enjoyment. Though we desire this, we seem to be at a loss as to how to reach it. While musical training is a must, I believe in large part our lack of spiritual maturity is a result of a lack of emotional as well as spiritual health. I would refer to Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and his Emotionally Healthy Leader books as excellent resources.

3. Training and Mentoring: Of course we desire that the Worship Leadership have adequate training, but of equal concern is our blindness to developing a pool of worship leaders in our youth and children. We have forgotten that many of those leading worship now were children or youth in someone’s choir years ago.  With the declining condition of music education in many of our schools, the church may be one of the last opportunities some children have to discover musical ability as well as what biblical worship and worship leadership is all about, rather than the “American Idol” model for musicians so prevalent in our culture. Some churches have rediscovered the power of training children and youth in worship, but very few.

4. Family and Ministry: Of all the illustrations that Jesus could have used to describe His relationship with the Church, He called her His Bride. As Scazzero says, our marriages are a testimony and witness to the world; unfortunately, in many cases, they are not. When almost half of those actively in ministry are addicted to pornography [an estimated 3-4 out of every 10] and the divorce rate of almost 50% among believers, the failure of Christ’s desired testimony is a living tragedy.  Too often we have equated success in ministry as the ultimate goal, rather than a biblical model of the marriages as a base from which we can help heal those in our church body and community. [This is not to downplay the importance of those called to singleness; the focus here is on marriages.  Single ministers, as well as married ones, can be consumed by activity and miss what God is trying to do in their lives.] 

5. Worshiping Worship: Though it may seem odd, our focus on worship can morph into worshiping worship, not too unlike the adolescent who “is in love with the idea of being in love.” We can slip into worshiping the worship experience more than the God of praise and adoration. Biblical worship is the obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God and while our emotions are often a product of that obedient response, they are not the measure of our worship experience.

While some of these are being addressed, I am concerned that too many of them remain “blind spots” in our worship ministry and will weaken our effectiveness.

Friday, July 27, 2018

13 Reminders

Before school begins soon and I generally like to post some goals that I desire for the students which God allows me to teach, but this year I am changing things just a bit and am listing 13 reminders for me as a teacher:

1. Content and application are two sides of the same coin; teaching is incomplete attempting only one.
2. Skills needed for our ministries must be honed by proper application and practice. "Practice does not make perfect; Correct practice makes perfect." Until we move from understanding the skill to rightly doing the skill we cannot be effective.
3. We teach people, not textbooks; the materials are only a means by which we can share, love and disciple.
4. Respect is earned, not forced. Respect gained by fear leads to avoidance; respect gained by love and trust deepens both. Respect is a two-way street.
5. Anger and impatience are like fire; they can burn and hurt all those around, whether intended or not.
6. The Holy Spirit is the source of creativity; my sensitivity to His working either leads me to join or makes me a hindrance.
7. My response to the students around me must be centered on seeing what God is doing in their lives, not how they respond to me.
8. Fresh study will bring more fruit than simply recycling old notes.
9. The calling and privilege to teach came from God and He has the authority to remove it anytime He pleases.
10. My joy and self-worth come from what God has done through Christ, not from my own efforts. “He who began the good work in me will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ.” [Phil 1:6]
11. We speak the truth in love so that the nature and character of Christ are foremost in all we do and say.
12. My emotional responses are the red flags of warning and caution that can reveal areas in my life which are not consistent with the nature and character of Christ.
13. Becoming wisely transparent about personal weakness and struggles can be a help and encouragement to others as we grow in our sensitivity to our great need and dependence on Christ.
Extra:
I'm not responsible for trying to convince students how smart I am or how much I know, but to join in what God is doing in their lives through the skills and knowledge He has given me.