Search This Blog

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Not to Do in Worship

David was a man after God’s own heart, a shepherd, a warrior, and a great king, but he was also a composer, a musician and a worship leader. His attempt to bring the symbol of God presence among His people in II Samuel 6:1-15 displays two basic lessons of what “not” to do if we are to worship God as He desires:

1 David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. 2 He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.
9 David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, "How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?" 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the LORD to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed him and his entire household.
12 Now King David was told, "The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God." So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

The moving of the ark of God to Jerusalem was to be one of the high points of King David’s early accomplishments. For years the ark had been at the house of Abinadab, and perhaps the most natural question is, “How in the world did it get there and who is Abinadab?” Great questions, so let’s briefly review some history found in I Samuel 4-7. As a young boy, Samuel grew up under the High Priest, Eli, after his mother and father had dedicated him to the Lord. Eli’s sons were corrupt and did not follow God’s commands, nor had little respect for the ark of God. When the Philistines attacked the Israelites, Hophni and Phineas, Eli’s sons brought the ark of God into battle, not because they trusted in God, but more likely like a good luck charm. They placed their trust in the ark and not the God of the ark. The battle ended with the ark being captured and Eli’s sons being killed. Eli, himself, died when he heard that the Philistines had taken the ark.

The rejoicing of the Philistines soon turned into panic as the ark was passed among their five major cities and tumors began to break out on the people. Fearing that this might be from the hand of the Israelite God, the leaders of the cities got together and decided to a test. They would place the ark on a new cart with oxen that had never been yoked, place an offering of gold with it and let them go. If they wandered about with no real direction, the tumors and trouble would just be coincidence. But, if they took to the road that led to Israel, then they would know that it had been from the hand of God. They did what they planned and the oxen went straight down the road to Israel, to Beth Shemesh and eventually to Kiriath Jearim to the house of Abinadab on the hill. It remained there at least twenty years until Israel requested a king, [I Samuel 7:2] as well as the forty years that Saul was king, and until the first 7 years of David’s reign in Hebron, most likely 67 years in all.

When David had unified the kingdom under his rule, he wanted to bring the ark of God to his own city, the City of David. As we have previously seen, David gathered thousands of his best soldiers, composed special psalms, and filled the air with praise and adoration to bring the ark to where he lived. David’s heart was longing to be in the presence of the symbol of the presence of Jehovah, the ark. David did exactly as the Philistines and placed the ark on a new cart, led by the sons of Abinadad, Uzzah and Ahio with great celebration and worship. Unfortunately, when the ark reached the threshing floor of Nacon, a rocky place that would have been used to beat the stalks of grain to separate it from the chaff, the oxen stumbled. Immediately Uzzah stretched out his hand to steady the ark so it would not fall off the cart and God struck him dead on the spot. Needless to say that put a damper on the celebration and they stopped the procession leaving the ark at the nearby home of Obed Edom. Three months later, David attempts the move again, but this time following the biblical mandates of using only Levites carrying the ark with poles. Again there was celebration, but this time with obedience and sacrifice.

We have already mentioned that David’s failure to follow God’s instructions put those around the ark in peril. All the adoration, praise, singing, rejoicing we can possibly make cannot replace being obedient. Remember Samuel’s warning to King Saul, when he failed to be obedient to what God had called him to do: “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” [I Samuel 15:22] Though David was a man “after God’s own heart,” even though he was the “sweet singer of Israel,” even though he was doing everything with worship and praise, and even though it was done with the best intentions, it was not blessed at first because he failed to be obedient. He failed to search the commandments of God and seek His direction and instruction. How many times do we ask God to bless our plans, rather than seek God’s heart and direction about a specific direction?

Not only is it important to seek to be obedient and follow the instructions God gives, but there is another aspect of the story that is worth pondering: Uzzah and Ahio’s own attitudes. The ark had been in the possession of their household since its recovery from the Philistines [1 Samuel 6] and remained their for at least 20 years of the life of Samuel the prophet, the 40 years of Saul’s reign and the first 7 years of David’s kingship. There was probably never a time in their life that the are had not been in their home. They had grown up with the ark around them all the time and most likely, it had become commonplace to them. They began to take it for granted. It lost its specialness. So much so that Uzzah felt no hesitation in reaching out to steady it. How important for those of us who virtually live in the things of God, not to begin to take them for granted, lest we be guilty of the same sin.

What does this mean for us today? All the good intentions we might have and all emotional furor we might muster cannot replace the simple act of being obedient to what God has called us to do. Worship is not a substitute for obedience. The truth is that worship completes and expresses itself in obedience. We must never confuse the fruit of worship with worship itself. Regardless how deep our feelings of awe and wonder, or even rejoicing may be, if they do not result in obedience, we have not understood what worship is and what God is doing as we worship. The goal of worship is not that “I feel better,” but that we recognize more of who God is, what He has done and that the nature and character of Christ be formed in us so that God is glorified and the world is drawn into a relationship with Him.

Secondly, the more we invest our lives in the things of God, the greater the danger of beginning to take those things most dear to us for granted. When we were first appointed as missionaries, we were given the advice to take as many pictures of what we see early in our months of service, because the longer that we were there, we would begin to overlook the things around us. I realized how true that was each time someone from the States would come to visit and begin to make remarks about this thing and that and I scarcely was aware of it, since I passed by it every day.

As we become busy with the details of planning and rehearsing the music, sermon preparation, microphones, projections, and pulling countless of other things that command our attention on as we ready for worship, it is easy to “get the details right” but “miss the boat” because we lose that sense of “specialness” as we deal with the holy things of God. None are exempt from the temptation of taking the things of God for granted, but for those who are called to a specific public ministry, the danger is especially great. Even if you are “just an ordinary member” of a church, it is possible become so accustomed to what is happening in worship that one can forget the privilege of being in corporate worship, or even indifferent to the moving of God’s Spirit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Trip to Heaven

Henry & Helen, friends and long time members of the church die and go heaven. They comment to one another as they walk toward the pearly gates, “Well, it was about time! Things were getting so bad, I just don’t know if I could have held out much longer. It sure is nice to be able to walk without pain.” “You can say that again!” replied the other. They get to the gate and sure enough Peter is waiting to welcome them in.


“Thank you, Peter, we’re so excited to be here! We’ve heard so much about the place. I can hardly wait to have David sing one of my favorite psalms. Especially to that tune of…”

“That’s right,” broke in the other. “I’ve always been kind of a history buff and would love to talk to Abraham, Moses, Joshua and get the real story, you know, the story behind the story.”

Peter’s puzzled face doesn’t seem to register.

“When can we check into our Mansions? I think I want the downstairs sky blue, and a green room that open up to a backyard garden. There are gardens here are there? I mean, didn’t God create the Garden of Eden? Surely He’s got something up here like that!”

Before Peter can answer, the other begins his part.

“That sounds great! I would like something like that myself! Maybe we could get ours close by, seems like there’s plenty of space around here. And what about clouds and personal angels? I always thought I had one when I was living on the earth, now I’d like to see mine for myself, just in case I need something. Do we get to choose our angels or are they assigned?.......

Just then, John and Mary, another couple approaches, and the first voices of the first fade away. The scene is different somehow, for now it seems that they are in the city of God itself. A voice from the throne is heard like a mighty waterfall, but yet as gentle as a summer breeze: “Well done, my good and faithful servants…”

The couple seem totally overwhelmed and speechless. As they turned toward the light and the voice that was coming from the throne they were completely struck with awe. They gasp, “Oh the majesty, oh the glory of it all!” Without hesitation they fall to their knees, hands lifted in worship. Filled with inexpressible joy, they cry out loud: “Oh Lord God! You are worthy, You were before all time, You created the heavens and the earth, You provided the way that we might know You, Kings of kings and Lord of lords! By Your love and mercy and grace You saved us, redeemed us; we aren’t worthy, Oh Lord!"

Yes, there are mansions, yes there is the city with its gates of pearl and streets of gold, and yes, there are the saints from ages past, but their focus in heaven was the worship of the Lamb that was slain.


Obviously, no ones knows what everything is like in heaven, but we do know a few things. The description of heaven in the first scene perhaps describes how some people understand worship and heaven is the culmination of all the things they had desired for themselves. It is all about what they like, what makes them feel good, warm and fuzzy. Most likely these would think that heaven should be just an extension of the worship they had on earth, fully centered around themselves.

As we read the book of Revelation, the picture seems to fit closer to the second scene. John gets to peek into what’s going on, and it isn’t shopping for the mansion with the best location. The city is there in all its splendor, but the center and focus of everything is He that is on the throne. The is an overwhelming speechless awesomeness that overtakes all that enter, for God is there.

Is it possible that as we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father, hallowed by Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” we might need to apply that to our worship as well? Allow this paraphrase to help capture the idea and application: “O holy Father, our Lord and God, You, Your very name is Holy. Rule over us here and may what is done in heaven be done here on earth as well!” Have we been praying for something all this time and not really understanding that for which we were asking?

Perhaps how we think about worship would change if we were to begin with the end and then work backwards. What if our worship on Sundays were modeled after the worship in heaven? Somehow, I can’t imagine getting to heaven and walking up to Jesus and saying, “Could I go over there? I think the angels sing better.” The worship in heaven is not about me, my likes and dislikes, the worship of heaven and but one center. The focus of worship in heaven is clear; God and God alone. Yes, there are streets of gold, and gates of pearl, but what makes heaven the place it is, is God. We dare not be like the little child who looks forward to his father’s return from a trip because of the gift he will be given more than seeing his father, himself.

Heaven will not be a place where we finally get what we always wanted, but the place where our wants will finally be as God desired. The central focus of heaven is the Lamb of God on His throne, not my wishes fulfilled.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

“Dear God: Life is not fair.”

Have you ever thought that God has abandoned you? That life was just not fair? You are not alone. Psalm 73 presents an honest cry of the heart. The psalmist is confused, hurt, and at least at first even mad at God:

1Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, "How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?"
12 This is what the wicked are like always carefree, they increase in wealth.
13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.
15 If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me [17] till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
20 As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.
21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, [22] I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

When we are going through difficult circumstances it is easy to fall into the trap of looking at everyone else that seems to have it so easy, or at least much easier than us. These feelings become even more grievous when those who do not follow God’s law are living a “life of ease” and we are struggling, being treated unfairly, or suffering greatly. That describes the plight Asaph, the author of this psalm.

Asaph knows that God is good, but there sure seemed like there was a lot of evidence that He seemed unfair as he looked around and saw so many godless people who were prospering, yet he was suffering. God not only seemed unfair, but worse, God was indifferent to the psalmist needs. [verses 3-14] When we make the comparison with others the standard measure of our happiness, we will become “embittered” and we cannot process our thoughts as we should. [v. 21-22]

How did Asaph get victory over these tremendous feelings? Scripture says that he “entered the sanctuary of God,” which changed his perspective. The miracle wasn’t a result of meditating on the building, but one of worship on the nature and character of God. As a result, he was able to understand the ultimate consequences of a life whose decisions were made outside of God’s direction. He then begins to change the focus of his thinking. It is as if were asking himself, “What is the truth that I know?” That mediation leads him on a journey that leads to healing the bitterness of his heart and mind:

— Comparison only left him with jealousy and bitterness [v. 21]
— God has the last word, they will be judged [v. 18-20, 27]
— God’s presence never leaves me, even when I might not be aware or “feel” it. [v.23]
— God will guide me here to and through eternity [v. 24]
— God is the focus on my life, everything else is secondary [v. 25-26]
— Since God Almighty is the one who is my refuge, I will tell of His greatness [v. 28]

These are the truths on which the psalmist began to focus and they transformed his heart and mind. They can do the same today. One side word, one side comment that needs to be said. Some of our suffering is the result of poor choices on our part, that is, we deliberately chose not to follow God’s instruction and are suffering as a result. An unfortunate reality is that bad choices generally lead to more bad choices. How can we break the cycle? How can we break free of this vicious downturn and black hole of desperation? I think the first step is still the same: we must turn to God in worship. True worship begins with seeing God as He is and seeing ourselves as He does and seeking repentance and reconciliation. Only with that purified heart are we able to hear God’s voice. We must feed ourselves on God’s Word, asking the Spirit of God to grant illumination to understand and apply truth to our hearts and lives. Even when we are suffering as a result of our own poor choices, God is merciful and gracious and is ever willing to receive us back under His care. That, too, is a choice we must make, but that is a wise one filled with the wonder and majesty that only a Redeeming God can give.

If you have found yourself in that “where is God” and “life is unfair” attitude, spend some time meditating on Psalm 73, turn your heart to worship and let God turn your heart inside out.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Four Bases Authority


For the past several years my wife and I have lived in the New Orleans area, and besides the yearly hurricane watches, etc., I have learned something interesting about any building, house, even backyard patios constructed in the area: unless there are columns underneath, the foundation will crack or sink because the ground is unstable. This fact underscores an important fact for all of life: we must always build on secure foundations. So, before any discussion on worship and worship practices, it is imperative that we lay down some “support columns” on which we intend to build.

For the basis of this discussion, I would like to borrow from Ralph Neighbour’s Survival Kit for New Believers, [Convention Press, 1981]. I have found it to be a great resource not only for followup for new believers, but foundational for this discussion. There are four foundations from which we base our decisions: the Word of God, History and Tradition, Human Intellect, or Reason, and Personal Experience. I have found that many of the arguments and debates over the subject could have been put in perspective if only the parties involved had realized the truths found in understanding from what foundation we base our opinion.

The Word of God
Scripture, God’s love letter and guide for living is the supreme authority for the believer. All that we think, do and feel is subject to the question: “Is this consistent with the teachings of the Word of God?

It would seem on the surface that if “it's in the Book, that settles it.” However, as many have found there are those who take the Bible and say things that are almost bizarre. For this reason, as we look in God’s Word it is important that we remember some basics of interpretation. First there is the Principle of Context. We must first understand what the passage meant to the people to whom it was written, what the historical context was. A need to understand the passage in its original language as best is possible is a must. For example, there were several words that are interpreted in English as “love” in the Bible. Only by studying these can one determine which was being used. There are many helpful tools for this, so I won’t dwell here. We also need to look at the passage in light of the context of the book in which it was written as well as other related passages in Scripture. This leads us to the next principle, the Principle of Consistency. The teachings of Scripture do not contradict each other. A helpful note is to remember that just because Scripture mentions something, it does not mean that it is teaching that as a principle. For example, the Bible mentions that Judas hung himself, but that does not mean that we need to go out and do the same. We need to look at the whole of Scripture to see what is being said and see if what we are understanding is consistent with the other related passages. There are untold dangers of just looking at verses without looking at the context or consistency.

That being said, the supreme authority, or basis of belief must be God’s Word, His gift to us to teach us His ways and to lead us to an intimate relationship with Himself through His Son. In the case of a tie, with feelings or experience, our logic and reasoning or our traditions and history, Scripture is the final and ultimate authority.

History and Tradition
History and tradition are good; they can keep us from having to “re-invent the wheel” every time we do something. It has been said that those who forget their history tend to repeat it, and that can be readily proven throughout history. History is a great teacher and traditions can link us with the past and give us an appreciation for things that are much bigger than our short span of years. Recently on a Mission trip to Cuba, I was able to visit the old Morro fortress and the firing of the cannon at 9:00 pm. For over the past 400 years, every evening at 9:00 pm a cannon was fired to announce the closing of the harbor. Even though now it is a re-enactment and tourist attraction, none the less as you see the soldiers dressed in the old Spanish costumes with their muskets and hear the sound of the steps across the stone pavement, you can close your eyes and imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago. My understanding has grown as well as my identity with the past is strengthened because of my participation in it.

However, when done without proper understanding of the purpose of the activity, problems can occur. I remember the story of the newlyweds and their first week of cooking supper. The husband noticed that his new bride dutifully cut off a considerable section of a ham they had purchased and set it aside, rather than cook the entire piece. When he asked her why she did it, she only replied, “that’s the way Mama always cooked ham.” So the next time they were at the mother in law’s house the young husband asked his wife’s mother about the ham. “Why do you always cut off one section of the ham before you cook it?” “Oh, that’s simple,” she replied, “I just don’t have any pans big enough to cook it in.” If we are not careful, we can be repeating things that at one time had significance, but the reasons for doing them can be lost over time and we follow practices that may or may not have justification.

Another illustration, perhaps a little closer to the subject. During the semester I ask each new class if they know why we generally have our worship services at about 11:00 am on Sundays. Each semester there are those who had never even considered the question and knew nothing of the rural roots of faith and the fact that in the early days of our country the farmers still had to get some chores done before they left for church. So, by the time they got things together, it was close to noon. By the way, because of this they generally brought a meal and shared it together for a “dinner on the ground.” No where in Scripture is an exact hour given that we must meet for worship. The disciples met on the “first day of the week,” but no specific hour was given. Since that is so, there is nothing sacred about that specific hour and churches should have the liberty to set the hour of worship at a time when it is most convenient for that congregation. When we were serving as missionaries in Panama, I remember a specific church that had their Sunday morning worship service at 7:30 am due the fact they had a tin roof, no air conditioning or fans, and many of the members had to work on Sunday afternoon. The cooler morning hour helped with the brutal tropical heat and it set the course for the day in service to the Lord.

History and tradition can be advisors, they can provide direction when we are not sure of the way, but only when they do not take precedence over Scripture. If Scripture doesn’t prohibit, there can be flexibility.

Human Intellect
The gift of reason and the ability to draw conclusions is one of the most powerful tools given to men by God. God expects us to use wisely what He has provided for us. Great men of old developed the gift of reason given by God to help us understand the universe around us. Mathematics, physics, philosophy, science itself are means by which men and women have expressed their understanding of God’s creation and laws, even when they failed to realize it was His doing. Christians should not be ashamed, or embarrassed in studying these subjects for fear that they will discover something that will destroy their faith. New discoveries simply scratch the surface of the limitless knowledge of God and His creation. The field of Christian apologetics can greatly enhance our ability to deal with these issues.

All truth is God’s truth. We do not discover anything that He did not know beforehand, and our “discovery” is just a way of describing what we see. However, as great as reason and logic are, we must never forget that our logic does have tainted roots; we have clay feet, we all belong to Adam’s race. The story is told of the researcher who was studying fleas. He had his “control” flea and his group of “experimental” fleas. He told both groups to jump and recorded the results. Then, he took tweezers and removed two legs from one of the experimental flea and repeated the command to jump. The flea jumped as before, only not quite as far. He then repeated the experiment after taking two more legs from the flea. After the command to jump the flea obliged by the jumping, but it was even less than the previous one. After recording his findings, he removed the final two legs from the flea and instructed it to jump. The flea did not move, only laid there motionless. As the researcher was drawing his conclusions he wrote the following: “When you remove all the legs from a flea, he cannot hear one thing!” We may laugh at the twisted logic, but it does illustrate that our conclusions are not always without error. Only God can see the whole picture and how it works for His purpose, so we must depend on God’s Word as the ultimate authority and not just our own reasoning ability.

Personal Experience
God grants us life and choices from which we have a myriad of experiences. Many of these become the basis for protective action, like the young man who picked up a hot dish without a pot holder. I can guarantee that he probably didn’t do that again. Verbal instructions are one thing; burned fingers are another, and pot holders can become an instant friend. Life’s experiences aren’t always negative. My salvation experience, getting married, the birth of our children, seeing those you work with grown in the Lord and lead others to Christ are all amazing personal experiences and experiences that I cherish and refer to often.

We link our feelings to our faith through personal experiences. As a youth in Oklahoma, there was no place like Falls Creek in the summer for youth camp. The late ‘60's were filled with protests and demonstrations, but at Falls Creek thousands of students gathered week after week to study the Bible, worship together, and fellowship with one another. The first time I heard the 300 voice choir, a 50 piece band and 5000 other students singing praise to God, I was completely overwhelmed. Surely heaven was opened up and the angel’s themselves were joining the crowds. It was an experience that was life changing for me. I know I am not alone, for many sense deep emotions as we worship, whether inspired by the music, the architecture, the sermon or other things.

As worship becomes more central to our experience, a myriad of experiences in response to worship will follow. Feelings are a part of our human makeup, and God created us that way. A person should not think himself or herself more spiritual if brought to tears during worship as compared to someone else who was not, or the other way around. Comparison with others is not the basis of judgment and we are not the judges.

But we must remember that our sincerity and feelings may be wrong. We do not base our faith on feelings, but on God’s Word; it is by “grace we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God.”[Ephesians 2:8] Bob Kauflin tells the story of a visitor to some missionaries in Africa who were moved by the music they heard. When asked what they were singing the missionary said the words to the song are “dogs are brown.” Our emotions and feelings are a tricky slope and we must be very careful not to use them as a measure of our spiritual depth or maturity. As Scripture says, “ the heart is deceitful above all things...” [Jeremiah 17:9] Only God’s Word can link us with the true reality of God’s wisdom and truth, regardless of how we might “feel.” We must live by faith, not be feelings.

On occasions, I have heard some say that they didn’t “feel” like worshiping, or that they didn’t “feel” as though they had worshiped that day: the music was bad, the sermon boring, etc. Without getting into deep of a discussion, it is important that we first have a biblical understanding of what worship is and is not. There exists a plethora of excellent works on that subject. But, statements like “I didn’t feel...” reveal that the basis of their understanding of worship is rooted more in feeling that in obedience and God’s Word.

In worship, we must place our faith in Christ and His Word, regardless of “how we might feel.” Limiting our worship experience to our feelings, places us at the center of worship as the final judge. But worship is not “about us, but about Christ.” We surrender our will, our lives, our actions, even our feelings to Him, regardless how we feel. It is an act of will. Many times our emotions will “catch up” with our will, but it is not necessary for us to worship. We must live in obedience. Consider yourself driving down the highway, the speed limit is 70 mph. and you are traveling between 69-70 mph. You are being “obedient” whether you “feel” that way or not. I also am painfully aware of times that I was listening to some worship songs and so caught up in them that when I looked down at the speedometer, I realized that I wasn’t paying attention to my driving. Was what I doing “worshiping,” when I was really in direct disobedience to the natural laws of the road? There may be a varied set of opinions on that subject, but personally, I think not. I was definitely having an emotional response to the music, but worship cannot happen if we are not in obedience to what God demands. If this causes some doubts on your part, that is fine. Hang in there, keep reading and we’ll keep on asking the Lord for discernment to help us along.

Personal experiences can also be misused as the basis of faith. Let’s say that during a worship service one day that we jumped up came down and did the splits. Immediately afterwords we felt this tremendous “feeling” that we interpret as “worship.” The first thing we do is share that experience with the whole church and tell them, “If you want a deeper experience with God, you must jump up and do the splits! I have done it and it was so wonderful!” I have no doubt that before long there would be a host of others following that example. The only problem is Scripture does not teach us that jumping up and doing the splits is the basis for growth in Christ. If Satan cannot keep us from worshiping Christ, he will push us past the biblical norms so that our basis is not in God’s Word, but in our personal experience. I realize that the example is silly at best, but the truth there remains: Once our worship is based in personal experience rather than His Word, Satan has rendered our worship as ineffective.

So let’s review: history and tradition are wonderful parts of our lives that help us avoid remaking the same mistakes and help up identify with His works and saints of the past. God has given us logic and reason as a gift to help us draw conclusions and live with understanding of that which is around us. Personal experiences and feelings are important, they help us link our faith to our daily lives, but nothing, not history, tradition, logic, human intellect, or personal experience can supersede the ultimate authority over our lives, which is the Word of God! It is always good to go back and see what the basis of our belief or authority is as we study about worship. When a question arises, ask yourself, “On what am I basing this belief, Scripture, History and Tradition, Human Reason or logic, or personal experience?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Preparing for Worship: Psalm 24:3-6

Going to Worship

Psalm 24 is a well known psalm and has been used for years in worship. Handel even included part of it in Messiah [Lift up your heads]. Sometimes familiarity with something allows us to miss the obvious. I would encourage everyone to complete a thorough study of the entire psalm, but for our purposes I would like to focus on at least the middle section, verses 3-6.

Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Selah.

Some scholars believe that this psalm might have been used as part of the celebration when David brought the ark of God to Jerusalem [2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 15:16-23]. [D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, The New Bible Commentary, Revised. W.B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 1970, p.466] As you will remember, David first tried to bring the ark back by placing it on an oxcart with Uzzah and Ahio assisting. When they had reached the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled and Uzzah attempted to steady the ark from falling. It was at that point God struck him dead. [I Chronicles 13] The ark remains at the house of Obed Edom for three months when David makes another attempt, however, this time following the biblical mandates of carrying the ark on poles carried by Levites.

Key to the understanding of the passage is knowing the background of the first attempt. The first time, David had gathered 30,000 of the finest soldiers, there was a festive air of praise to God everywhere, for the ark that had been ignored by Saul was now central to the new king. But worship and praise that does not follow what God commands will not be blessed, and David’s failure to follow God’s instructions were partly responsible for the death of Uzzah. [See note at the end.] Preparation for worship, for meeting God took on a deeper, more serious tone for David. So, as David begins this new journey to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem part of the praise song touches on preparation: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” The assumption is to ascend Mount Zion to worship Jehovah; the question is “who,” or “what preparations must be made?”

The first thing David mentions are “clean hands,” that is, not just someone who uses soap and water to wash his or her hands, but here, “clean hands” can refer to right actions. He continues with “pure heart,” that is, one after God’s nature and character, one with pure and right motives. Thirdly, “one that does not lift his soul to an idol” would refer to precisely that, bowing down to idols, whether ones made with human hands or ones we have created in our hearts and minds. Anything that would come between our total surrender to His Lordship can be considered an idol, and such things as positions, powers, acclaim, even in the “religious” world can easily become an idol as we take our focus from God and place something else in its place. Idols can also be things of our own creation or things to which we assign an attribute of God. Worshiping our own creation is a type of self worship. We fail to see ourselves as God sees us, and fail to see Him as He truly is. David concludes by mentioning “not swearing by what is false.” Lying is one of the things God hates. [Proverbs 6:16-19] Most of us would shutter to think that we would boldly lie to God, but, every time we sing or say things we really don't mean or practice, like a song of full surrender, yet fail to fully surrender, we are lying.

David closes the passage with a promise of blessing: “He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior and a postscript of sorts describing what sort of person is one who is able to ascend to worship, that is one who seeks God’s face. Those that seek God are those who are willing to prepare to do so. Worship is not a divine accident, but God’s gracious initiative from which we respond. “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” [2 Chronicles 16:9] God is continually seeking those who with clean hands and pure hearts, free from any other focus in truth and transparency seek Him. Part of preparation for worship is this self check-up: Right actions, right motives, no other thing or person between ourselves and God in complete honesty and transparency, seeking Him.

It is possible that this psalm was used as a preparation by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for worship. What better way to remind themselves of what God is seeking than to rehearse them in your heart through song? Are we coming to Him with actions that do not glorify God? Are our motives pure, or are we approaching God just so we can get what we want? Do we want Him more than any other thing or person? Are we honest and transparent before Him? Are we prepared to worship?

An Additional note about the I Chronicles 13 passage:
Another note here might include Uzzah and Ahio’s own attitudes. The ark had been in the possession of their household since its recovery from the Philistines [1 Samuel 6] and remained their for at least 20 years of the life of Samuel the prophet, the 40 years of Saul’s reign and the first 7 years of David’s kingship. They had grown up with the ark around them all the time and most likely, it had become commonplace. They began to take it for granted. It lost its specialness. So much so that Uzzah felt no hesitation in reaching out to steady it. How important for those of us who virtually live in the things of God, not to begin to take them for granted, lest we be guilty of the same sin.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Psalm 100: A Mini-Bible Study

Below is a mini-Bible study of sorts that you can do in the next few minutes.

Psalm 100
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Commands: [1] Shout, [2] Worship, [3] Come, [4] Know, [5] Enter, [6] give thanks, and [7] praise His name

How to do it: [1] with joy, [2] with gladness, [3] with singing [4] giving thanks, [5] praising His name

Why do it: [1] The Lord is God, [2] He is Creator, [3] He is Shepherd, [4] The Lord is Good, [5] His love endures, [6] His faithfulness forever

When: as we enter into His gates and courts

Who God is: [1] The Lord is God, [2] The Lord is good

How do we give thanks? For what do we give thanks? How do we praise Him?

1. We thank God for what He has done.
Assignment: Share at least two things for which you are thankful to God.
2. We praise God for who He is: His nature and character.
Assignment: Look through the list of names and character traits of God and pick two and in silent prayer praise God for those.

1. Loving
2. Tree of Life
3. Kind
4. Rewarder
5. Prince of Peace
6. Merciful
7. Our Rest
8. Author of Life
9. Gracious
10. Eternal / Everlasting
11. Source of Joy
12. Patient
13. Substitute
14. Savior
15. Forgiving
16. Lawyer [Jer. 51:36/Lam. 4:58]
17. Lord of lords
18. Faithful
19. Good / Shepherd
20. King of kings
21. True
22. Alpha and Omega
23. Helper
24. Just
25. Holy / Holy One [Is. 43:14]
26. Judge [Lam. 4:58]
27. Righteous
28. Defender [Is. 43:14]
29. Redeemer
30. Unchanging
31. Bread of Heaven
32. Friend
33. Creator [Is.43:15]
34. Lord of hosts, Lord Almighty
35. Ever Present
36. Sustainer
37. Door / Gate for the Sheep
38. Supplier / Provider
39. Refuge
40. Branch [Zech. 3:8]
41. Commander
42. Strength
43. Priest & King [Zech 6:13]
44. Son of Man/Son of God
45. Rock
46. Sun of Righteousness with Healing in His wings [Mal.4:2]
47. The Upright One
48. Teacher
49. I AM
50. Guide
51. Rock / Fortress [Ps. 18:1/43:2]
52. Anointed One
53. Corrector/Discipliner
54. Shield & Stronghold [Ps. 94:22]
56. Light/Lamp [Ps. 18:28]
57. Compassionate [Ps 103:8]
58. Great High Priest
59. Way
60. Infinite
61. Liberator
62. Truth
63. Ruler
64. Ransom
65. Life
66. Impartial
67. Wisdom
68. Wonderful Counselor
69. Trustworthy
70. Protector [Ps. 121]
71. Mighty God/Almighty
72. Everlasting Father
73. Lawgiver [Is. 33:22]

Friday, August 6, 2010

When the Latest and Greatest Isn’t

I overheard a conversation with a youth leader not long ago who was deriding a popular praise song, not because of its lyrics or melody, but simply because it was from “last year.” It reminded me of what C. S. Lewis called, “chronological snobbery,” that is, regarding only those things that were considered “new,” or the “latest” as having value and anything else as “passe,” or no longer of any value. [If you want to read more on this, it’s found in chapter 13 of Surprised by Joy.] There exists a danger of this very attitude among those that lead worship for congregations, though it sometimes comes under other guises. The boast is that they only use the “latest and the greatest,” and only songs off the latest recordings and only from the “best groups.” This attempt at relevance maybe sincere or may even be a point of pride, but regardless, such attitudes reflect a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. This is precisely where Lewis’ comment is so appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with a desire to be relevant, however blind obligation to view only the new as valuable has some serious weaknesses which I would like to mention. I would not say that the list is exhaustive, but is at least a start, and I welcome others to add as they see fit.
It ignores the fact that truth is eternal. Truth is part of the very nature of an unchanging God, and those the expressions of that truth may change, the veracity of its nature does not.
It ignores historical perspective. God had commanded Moses to teach the history of the great acts of God from generation to generation, “so that when your son asks you, ‘why do we hold the Passover?'" they would have the opportunity of sharing what God had done and provide the basis for believing in the future. In the same way, the Lord’s Supper is that reminder of the saving work of Christ, a celebration so that we not forget: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” To emphasize only the new seems to minimize truths that might be handed down generation after generation.
It lacks the tests of time to validate its worth and usefulness. There are songs that are from generations past that continue to minister to countless across generational lines. By granting value to a song based on its publication relegates the theological filter to a calendar more than on the teaching of Scripture.
It reinforces an attitude that worship is “all about me,” when driven by personal preference for only the newest. This is ever present when the basis for what we use in worship is driven by personal preference more than on the message.
It sets itself for designed obsolescence, for built into the very nature of the attitude is that good is measured more by a clock that is ticking.
Is there proof that what was done before is no longer true? This was one of Lewis' own arguments to the issue.

When the psalmist wrote “sing to the Lord a new song,” he was not saying, “sing to the Lord, only a new song.” That “new song” was a encouragement to seek new ways to declare the infinite nature and character of God. We need to be like that the scribe that Jesus described as one who heard Christ’s words and accepted them, and so was getting treasures, both “new and old.” An active appreciation of the past is not an attempt to forget relevance, but better understand who we are. If we cannot see where we have been, we will not be able to see where we are going. It is not a matter of “either / or,” but “both / and.” Let’s move past any boasting, any of this “chronological snobbery,” and continue to seek the best new declarations of God’s nature and character and at the same time retain the insights and understanding of the past.