Worship: A Life Laid Down (part 2)

Okay, so here’s the scenario: You’re Abraham; you’ve been walking with God for a long time now. Years ago, God had promised you a son and he had finally been born. You’ve watched this child grow into a young boy, and then you hear God say, “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” Abraham is a wonderful example of what I mean when I say that worship is a life laid down, the place where sacrifice and obedience meet through our trust in the Lord.

Long before the birth of Isaac, God had called a man, then named Abram, to follow him. Abram was living in what we know as modern day Iraq, and if he was anything like the rest of his people, he was probably involved in pagan worship of the moon-god. The Bible doesn’t say that there was anything special about Abraham; it only says that God called him. The Lord told Abraham, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you…” That’s not a whole lot of information (“the land that I will show you”), but Abraham obeyed. Here we see one of the characteristic that would mark Abraham’s life- obedience.

Abraham then begins his journey with God, the Lord reveals himself to Abraham, continuously proves his faithfulness, and Abraham trusted him. Through all the events in Abraham’s life, his time in Egypt, his dealings with Lot, the War of the Kings, Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar and Ishmael, and his dealings with Abimelech; a relationship was built between God and Abraham, and Abraham trusted him. The Bible says that God and Abraham were friends (James 2:23). Keep in mind, Abraham was not always perfect. If you read his story, you will find times in which he missed the mark, but his heart was one of trust and obedience with the Lord.

Now comes the day that God asks him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. Isaac is the promised child; the one God had told Abraham would be born so many years ago. And now, Abraham is told that he must give him up. What must have gone through Abraham’s mind? I’m glad you asked, because the Bible tells us. In Hebrews 11:19 we find, “Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again.” Do you see it? Abraham didn’t necessarily understand God’s motives, but he figured that God would evidently resurrect Isaac from the dead. No one else had ever come back from the dead. God had never demanded a sacrifice of this kind before. How could Abraham think, “I guess God is just gonna raise him from the dead?” It’s because he knew God and trusted him! Worship is that place where sacrifice and obedience come together through our trust in the Lord. Abraham’s life had been laid down before God long before the sacrifice of Isaac; he knew that he could trust God, so he obeyed him. That’s worship.

You know the rest of the story, how God provided a substitute to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place, and how eventually Jesus was born as one of their descendants. Can you see how this applies to you? You go through all kind of things in your life. Tragedy, sorrow, loss, victory, ups, and downs; God desires to draw you to himself in all of this. Like Abraham, you won’t be perfect, you’ll miss the mark, but God is still working to bring you to that place of intimate trust. Intimacy is the only way in which you will be able to offer up your “Isaac.”  You can’t truly worship someone you don’t trust. Oh, you can be religious, but true worship is a life laid down. Worship is more than just a little compartment in our lives as Christians.  True worship is the whole of one’s life laid down before God, where sacrifice and obedience merge because you trust the Lord.

Worship: A Life Laid Down (part 1)

I guess one thing we all have in common is that we tend to “compartmentalize.” I am not a psychologist (a few of my friends probably thing I need to see one though), but it’s my understanding that each of us separate thoughts and actions into “compartments” in order to cope with reality. Psychologists tell us that compartmentalization can be used as a defense mechanism, one that assists people in dealing with tragic occurrences in their lives. I’m one who would rather folks come to Jesus in situations like that, and let him actually heal and restore instead of simply tucking away the hurt, but that’s another conversation altogether. My point is that I think maybe we all do compartmentalize in one way or another, and I don’t think it’s always good. And, I think we as Christians tend to be among the chief “compartmentalizers.”

So many Christians separate their lives into compartments: this is work, this is family time, this is time with my friends, and this over here is my “God-time.” Our “worship services” are put into different compartments as well: this is worship time, this is offering time, this is prayer time, this is preaching time, and so on. Something that I have come to understand is that true worship is a life laid down. It’s the place where sacrifice and obedience meet through our trust in the Lord. There is no need for compartments-Jesus is my life. If you look into the Bible you’ll find many references of people who wanted to be religious, who kept offering up sacrifices, but whose lives were compartmentalized to the point that they did not understand that their disobedience revealed the fact that they were not true worshippers of God, that they did not truly know him.

          King Saul is a good example of someone who didn’t understand that worship is a life laid down. You may recall that Israel had wanted a king.  Saul, who the Bible describes as tall and handsome, was anointed the first King of Israel. You can see from the beginning that it appears that Saul only had a relationship with God when someone else was around (good observation Mike). The only time you see him interacting with the Lord is when he was the prophets of Gibeah, or with Samuel the prophet. In fact, if you read on in the Old Testament you’ll discover that during the reign of Saul, the Ark of the Covenant (representing God’s presence) was not sought at all. Saul never came to know the Lord.

In I Samuel 15, Saul had been commanded by God to utterly wipe out the Amalekites- I mean utterly. However, Saul decided to spare their king along with the choice livestock to “sacrifice to the Lord.” When the prophet Samuel arrived, Saul rushed out to meet him proclaiming, “I have obeyed the commandment of the Lord!” Samuel asks, “Well, what’s up with all the sheep I’m hearing?” Saul replies, “Oh, we only spared the best of the sheep and the oxen for God, but we destroyed everything else.”

Samuel then proceeds to rebuke Saul, reminding him of how God had made him king, and asking him how he could not then obey the Lord’s commands to utterly wipe out the Amalekites. Saul persists, “But I did obey the Lord. I have brought Agag the king, and destroyed everything else. Only the best part of the spoil was saved to sacrifice to the Lord.” Samuel replies,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.

 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.”

Rebellion is an act of usurping an authority, in this case God. Samuel said that rebellion is similar to witchcraft or divination. How’s that? Well the ultimate goal of witchcraft is to manipulate events. The sorcerer seeks to manipulate spiritual forces so that a desired result will be manifested in the physical. When Saul rebelled against God, he was taking matters into his own hands in an attempt to bring about the outcome he thought was best. He wanted to exercise authority. God had spoken, but he rejected his authority and chose his own way.

Samuel went on to say that stubbornness or insubordination is like idolatry. Say what? Well, when we rebel against God, stubbornly pushing against him, or trying to push him to do what we think is best; we are setting ourselves up as God- idolatry. (Oh, I forgot to mention the fact that just before his meeting with Samuel, Saul had set up a monument to himself in Carmel.) In his stubbornness, Saul had declared, “I am god!” His rebellion and stubbornness blinded him to the reality of his disobedience.

Okay, so how does all of this apply to us? The reason Saul, and we as well, are rebellious and insubordinate towards God is because we don’t trust him. God is working in the events of our lives (even the hard ones) to help us get to know him and thereby trust him. He wants us to listen to his voice, lay down our lives and surrender to him, not just offer up what we think he wants. As we learn to trust the Lord, our sacrifices and obedience come together in a life laid down. Saul never learned that. God used him, he won many battles and was the champion of Israel, but; he never came to trust in the Lord. God had a little compartment in Saul’s life to live in, and he only got to come out when Samuel was around. Saul only sought to manipulate God through offering up the sacrifices he thought would push God towards doing what he wanted Him to do. And in the eyes of God, this was akin to witchcraft and idolatry.

We, here in the West, consider ourselves far too civilized and advanced to worship some kind of idol made of wood or stone, instead; we have proclaimed ourselves as god. Even we who name the name of Jesus are guilty of creating a god after our own likeness and worshipping it instead of the true and living God. We have invented a god who is okay with our witchcraft and idolatry, one who winks at our rebellion and insubordination. We have turned his grace into a license to sin. Like Saul, we offer God our disobedience as a sacrifice, and cry foul when he demands our lives instead. True worship is not simply an act that we perform. True worship is born out of our trust in God. True worship is the place where our sacrifice and obedience come together, expressed in a life laid down.

To be continued… (Next, we look at Abraham.)

(By the way, Christians, we need to repent of reading horoscopes and the little magic emails that guarantees a “blessing” if you just forward it to ten people. That’s straight up witchcraft-just saying)

The Best Kept Secret Regarding Worship: Bible Study

Did you know that the Rabbis view the study of the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) as the highest form of worship? One early Rabbi said, “When two sit together and exchange words of Torah, then the divine presence dwells among them.” That sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it? Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” Yeah, the Rabbis say that when you pray, you are talking to God, but when you study Torah, God is talking to you. Isn’t it strange, so many of us claim that we never hear God speaking to us when He has provided a book with about 774, 746 of His words that will speak to us as often as we will read them?

When it comes to worship, we place so much emphasis on relevance, worship music, worship style, and whatever else you can think of, but it seems we have overlooked the very important fact that Bible study itself is worship. You’ll hear it said in our churches, “Well, we’ve had a wonderful time in worship today; now let’s turn to the Word.” (Insert wrong answer buzzer sound effect.) No, studying the Word is worship!

After God had delivered the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt, they traveled in the desert for a long time. As they made their way, God told them how he was to be worshiped. He had laws for this, ceremonies for that, different sacrifices and feasts, and at the center of it all was the Shema. Check out Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

“Hear, O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Can you see the application in this for us 21st century Gentile Christians?  Can you see the relationship between loving God, and God’s Word? The Israelites were to give prominence to God’s word in their lives, and so are we. In fact, if we are not interacting with the Word, if we are not spending time studying the Word; our worship is incomplete.  Just read Psalms119, and you’ll get a clear picture of how the study of God’s word was looked upon as worship. I know it’s unpopular to tell Christians that they must do something. I know we don’t like to hear that we must study. After all, that sounds so Pharisaical. We have reduced worship to merely being entertained, getting’ my praise on, and all of that kind of thing. The truth is that part of our worship is studying God’s word. The reason that deception and apathy are rampant in the churches of America today is due largely to the fact that we have failed to teach our people that the study of God’s word is every bit a part of worship as prayer and singing songs! So what, Shema, Shema you say. That’s that Old Testament legalistic stuff; we’re under the new covenant brother. It’s all about grace and mercy, and we don’t have to do anything.

Jesus himself said that man lives by every word that God speaks (Matthew 4:4). Jesus even said it is those who hear his words and do them that are truly his family (Luke 8:21). How are we to hear and do today? It is in worship, studying his Word. We are exhorted to study God’s word knowing that the scriptures were breathed out by God as he used men to write them down. It is in our worship time of studying the Word that we are made complete and equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16, 17). In his encounters with the Jews of his day, Jesus didn’t condemn them for the emphasis they placed on the scriptures; he rebuked them for failing to understand that it was the scriptures they claimed to love so much that testified of him. This brings me to my next point. Our worship through studying the Bible is to lead us into a living encounter with Jesus. You know, maybe we need to reexamine our definition of “Bible study.”

For so many Christians, Bible study has been reduced to the time they come to church, get situated in their seats, and listen to someone else tell them what the Bible means. I think somehow we’ve missed something. Glance back up at the scripture we looked at in Deuteronomy 6, notice how it speaks of Bible study in an organic way. It was discussed as they were together, as they moved, as they went about living. It was not a static experience; it was a living thing they experienced together. Yes there were teachers, scribes whose job it was to teach the Torah, and we have been given Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers to teach and equip us as well. However, the normal Christian experience is not to come to church, plug in and get the latest download. We are to spend time in personal worship, personal study of the Word, but we are to interact together, experiencing God’s Word together. As we do this, the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, and we become built up and encouraged in the Lord. Remember the words of Paul found in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” And again, in his words to the Corinthians, “What then, brothers, when you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (I Corinthians 14:26). Our time spent in personal worship, in personal Bible study is to be that which the Holy Spirit later uses to minister to our brothers and sisters when we come together.

In II Timothy, we find Paul at the time immediately preceding his death. He would soon be beheaded; it was only a matter of weeks or perhaps months. He was in a Roman prison and writing what was to be among his final words, he said to Timothy, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (II Timothy 4:13).  We don’t know for sure which books, which parchments he was referring to, but I wonder if maybe he desired to have portions of the scripture with him. Maybe there was an old copy of the Septuagint (Greek translation of Old Testament) he wanted to have with him. Knowing how the Jews (especially a man like Paul) viewed Torah study, I wonder if perhaps being in that prison, that old beat up body of his made it difficult to bow, to kneel, and maybe he figured, “I’ll offer you my worship by studying your word Lord.” Maybe, I don’t know.

Yes, we must worship through prayer, in singing, and in countless other expressions the Spirit may birth in our hearts, but let’s not forget that the study of God’s word is every bit as much a part of worship as those things are. Hear me friends, there is going to be ever increasing deception as this age draws to a close. Be complete in your worship. Spend time in God’s word, and as you do; you will encounter the risen Lord.

Jacob: Worshiping God, Reflecting on the Past

I was reading the story of Jacob as he was approaching death, and it provoked a couple of thoughts about worship I wanted to share with you. At the risk of being perceived as reading too much into a certain passage,  it seems to me that here, in this story, Jacob  reflected on the past, considered the present, and pondered the future,  and he was moved to worship. First, let’s go back.

“By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.” (Hebrews 11:21) We find this story originally told in Genesis 47, and I think it captures Jacob at his finest moment. Here is an old man who truly has lived a full life. He has seen and experienced so much, and now, at the end of it all, he worships.

I’m sure that Jacob, there bowing over his staff, remembered how it had all begun. He must have thought about how he had cheated his older brother out of the blessing that rightfully fell upon the eldest. He had had to flee for his life to his Uncle Laban’s house. And in Laban he had found someone as conniving as himself. Jacob had been cheated and manipulated by Laban, but he remembers now how God had been with him even then.  Jacob had only vowed to serve God if God would do certain things for him, and now, bowing over his staff, here at the end of his life, he recalled that God had been faithful beyond his wildest dreams.

Jacob remembers how he had wrestled all night with that mysterious “man” who dislocated his hip, giving him that limp that he walked with for the rest of his life. That “man” had blessed him and changed his name to Israel. It seemed so long ago now. Jacob recalls the fear he experienced when going back to meet his older brother Esau after so many years had passed. Then, there had been the rape of his daughter Dinah, and the subsequent murder of the rapist (along with the rest of the men of the city) by his sons Simeon and Levi. He remembers the death of his beloved Rachel for whom he had worked so hard.

Jacob had truly seen it all, and now here, at the end of his life, he can see how God had worked in it all, and he worships the Lord. Reflecting on the past, Jacob was moved to worship.

I don’t know what has happened to you in the past. Like Jacob, like all of us, there has probably been a mixture of love and pain. I’m sure there have been things done to you, things you’ve done to yourself,and pain you’ve brought to others. Can I tell you something? If you will let him, Jesus will give you the faith and love that will produce in you the ability to see your past in such a way that will actually cause you to worship the Lord. Jesus can bring you to a place, where you realize that the pain and suffering, all you have experienced in the past, was not meant to destroy you. It sounds crazy, I know, but in Christ; you will come to the place where you don’t deny the past, the pain, the hurt, the lies, etc…instead, you (like Jacob) will see that through it all God was bringing you to a place of intimacy with himself. Not only that, you will be able to glorify God as you encourage someone else who is going through circumstances similar to what you have experienced.  And, you will worship.

Talk About…God Music: The First Duet

We are continuing our look into music/singing & worship, i.e. God Music. We are attempting to honestly set aside our presuppositions, and see what the Bible has to say about this topic. We have observed the following:

1) Worship (including singing, music, and dancing) is a natural response to salvation.

2) Worship (signing) is a natural response to God’s provision.

3) Worship is not a spectator sport.

4) Worship (and the music that accompanies it) is to be 100% God centered.

5) Musical style is not the defining element of authentic worship. The same style of music can be used in both the true, spiritual worship of God, and idolatrous abandon. It is the Object of worship and the disposition of the heart that makes God music.

6) Worship can include singing about the very thing God has provided.

7) Worship (singing) can be an encouragement to God’s people along with being a song to God himself.

8) God himself wrote a song, and commanded Israel to learn it.

I suppose the next place to look is at the song of Deborah and Barak found in Judges 5. The period of the Judges, as you recall, was a time in which the people of God were all doing their own thing- whatever seemed right in their own eyes. However, there were times of great deliverance and revival. Singing/music continued to be a part of the worship experience.

In Judges 4, God had wrought a great deliverance through Deborah and Barak (as well as Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite). Then, in Judges 5:1, the Bible says, “On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song…” Here is an overt mention of what we would call today a “duet.” All of the other passages we have studied have more or less shown that worship was corporate, involving everyone, or at least the majority of the people. Now, we find Deborah and Barak apparently singing while the others listened.

“Listen, you kings!
Pay attention, you mighty rulers!
For I will sing to the Lord.  I will make music (ESV says, “I will make melody…”) to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Judges 5:3 NLT)

We find that Deborah and Barak sang a song of praise to God, employing music that would have obviously been indigenous to their culture. The song they sang was about the way God had saved them, the people through whom he had worked, and even contains what may be taken as rebuke to those who had not participated in the battle. In this song, the people were also encouraged to tell of the things God had done.

Obviously there is much that could be gleaned from this passage of scripture, but what can we learn from this incident that speaks directly to the subject at hand? How about the following:

1) Singing/Music, in the context of God’s people, may sometimes involve instances where some sing and others listen.

2) In such cases, the song is still 100% God centered.

3) God Music can include mention of the people he uses to accomplish his mighty deeds.

4) There can be elements of rebuke in God Music.

To be continued…

Talk About…God Music: God Writes a Song

Our topic is music, worship, and the relationship between the two. Basically, we are going to the Bible, starting with the earliest references on the subject, then working our way forward letting the scriptures speak for themselves. I’ve tried my best to refrain from expository preaching, and simply allow the Bible to do the teaching. (On a side note, I think something we could all benefit from is letting the Word define our experience instead of our experience defining the word; however, that’s a whole other conversation.)

We’ve made some observations, so just to bring you up to speed (in case you haven’t read the other segments); we have found the following:

1) Worship (including singing, music, and dancing) is a natural response to salvation.

2) Worship (signing) is a natural response to God’s provision.

3) Worship is not a spectator sport.

4) Worship (and the music that accompanies it) is to be 100% God centered.

5) Musical style is not the defining element of authentic worship. The same style of music can be used in both the true, spiritual worship of God, and idolatrous abandon. It is the Object of worship and the disposition of the heart that makes God music.

6) Worship can include singing about the very thing God has provided.

7) Worship (singing) can be an encouragement to God’s people along with being a song to God himself.

Obviously, I believe the Bible teaches us that music has been employed in worship since there have been people on the earth (probably before there were people as well); however, there are those who see no place for singing and music in a “worship setting.” Hmm, I wonder how we then deal with the fact that God himself wrote a song, dictated it to Moses, and commanded him to teach it to the people. Let’s look at Deuteronomy 31:19, “So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for me against them.” Most call this song (you can read it in Deuteronomy 32) the “Song of Moses,” but I really don’t think Moses himself would take the credit for it seeing as how God dictated it to him. It is what it is, as they say, a song of which God was the lyricist, and Moses wrote it down.

Much could be expounded on as to the content of this song, but for our purposes it is enough to simply observe that at least in this one instance, God himself wrote a song, and commanded Israel to learn it. He even states the purpose of the song. He told Moses that this song would later testify on God’s behalf against a people who would betray him. God intended that this song remind the people that all the judgment they are to later experience is because they have abandoned him, and he told them they would do this beforehand. The song also gave hope in that God says he will “avenge the blood of his servants; he will take revenge against his enemies. He will repay those who hate him and cleanse the land for his people.”

As we consider Deuteronomy 31& 32, we see that God himself wrote a song which was to be used as a testimony. The song God wrote showed that he knew the future, that he had been a faithful father to his people, and because of their unfaithfulness would bring judgment. He commanded this song to be learned by the people in order that when all the things foretold in the song came to pass, they would be moved to repentance. Apparently, God can/will use songs for his purposes.

To be continued…

Talk About… God Music

There seems to be increasing controversy within the Church about music, and the role it plays in our “worship services” today. What style of music should be played? Are there any limitations as to the types of instruments that may be used? Is it to be the traditional choir & hymns scene, or should we opt for the “praise band,” and contemporary songs.? Is it okay to have music period? There is certainly a lot of talk about God music today, but what does God have to say about music? As always, we need to lay our presuppositions and our personal preferences before the Lord, and take a look into the Bible to see what it has to say (sola scriptura) about the relationship between music and worship.

The first place we encounter music & singing in the Bible is in Exodus 15. The Lord had just parted the Red Sea and the children of Israel had escaped the pursuing Egyptian army. This is how it reads,

“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The Lord is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name!
Pharaoh’s chariots and army
he has hurled into the sea.
The finest of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea
The deep waters gushed over them;
they sank to the bottom like a stone.

“Your right hand, O Lord,
is glorious in power.
Your right hand, O Lord,
smashes the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty,
you overthrow those who rise against you.
You unleash your blazing fury;
it consumes them like straw.
At the blast of your breath,
the waters piled up!
The surging waters stood straight like a wall;
in the heart of the sea the deep waters became hard.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
10 But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.

11 “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
12 You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

13 “With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
14 The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
15 The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
16     terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O Lord,
until the people you purchased pass by.
17 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O Lord, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.
18 The Lord will reign forever and ever!”

19 When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers rushed into the sea, the Lord brought the water crashing down on them. But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground!

20 Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. 21 And Miriam sang this song:

“Sing to the Lord,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.”

It would seem that singing and music were already a part of the people’s lives prior to the Exodus. We are not told how they knew to sing; we are just told that they sang. What can we learn about music and worship from this scenario that would be applicable to us today?  First, I think we should take note that the natural response to salvation is worship. The people had just experienced a mighty deliverance, and they sang in worship to God. Also, EVERYBODY joined in. It wasn’t just Moses and a select few; “the people of Israel” sang to the Lord. As far as we can tell everyone participated. It seems that no one had the “entertain me” mentality. It was truly a corporate experience.

Furthermore, we observe that this song was all about God. The lyrics exalted the Lord as the only true God, sovereign, holy, and glorious. They are singing to the Lord and about him. The song is prophetic in nature in that it foresees that God will “bring them in and plant them on your own mountain— the place, O Lord, reserved for your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.” The first song recorded in the Bible was entirely theocentric. We can also see that at the first “worship service” recorded in the Bible, instruments were used, and dancing took place.

So, although we have only begun our look into the relationship between music and worship, I think we can say the following:

1) Worship (including singing, music, and dancing) is a natural response to salvation.

2) Worship is not a spectator sport.

3) Worship (and the music that accompanies it) is to be 100% God centered.

To be continued…

Snake Handling Not Allowed

No doubt, when you get into the historical books of the Old Testament , and start reading about all the kings of Israel & Judah, trying to keep up with who’s who can be like trying to keep up with the latest champion in the WWE. The names can be confusing, and just when you think you know what’s going on- boom! There’s a new king. Yeah, you really need to take your time wading through the historical books, but it’s definitely worth it! There is so much to learn and apply to our own lives in these portions of scripture. I’d like to focus on one guy in particular for a bit, and see what we can learn from King Hezekiah of Judah.

King Hezekiah (II Kings 18-20; II Chronicles 29-32) is one of the few good kings mentioned during this period. When he came to power the Bible says, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles.” (II Kings 18: 3,4a) You see, the people of God had abandoned the true worship of the Lord, and had begun to incorporate pagan rituals into their worship of the one true God (Ouch, sounds familiar huh?). They actually began to worship the gods of the surrounding nations, forsaking the religious practices God had commanded Moses to teach them. Every now and then you’ll read in I &II Kings about kings, who would come to power and re-institute true worship, but they wouldn’t go all the way and the people still practiced idolatry. Not so with Hezekiah; he brought about serious reform and great revival followed. There’s one thing that he did towards the beginning of his reign, before temple worship was restored, that really spoke to my heart. “He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.” (II Kings18:4b)

Do you remember the snake? Remember back when the children of Israel were traveling in the desert, and God had sent “fiery serpents” among them because of their sin? Moses had a bronze serpent made, lifted it up on a standard, and whoever was bitten by a fiery serpent could look to the bronze serpent and be healed.(Numbers 21) Well, the children of Israel had begun to actually offer sacrifices to the Nehushtan, the first “snake handlers” if you will. The bronze snake had been something God had used to bring healing; it was used in a mighty move of God. Jesus even said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) We know that the bronze serpent was a symbol with messianic significance that God had used, but IT WAS NOT TO BE WORSHIPED!

Don’t we do the same thing the children of Israel did with the Nehushtan? We worship a move of God instead of the God who moves. We take things that God uses or has used, and worship them. The gifts and the “moves” of God become our idols. We take the prophetic, signs & wonders, social-justice, Calvinism, Armenianism, all the other “isms” and we worship them. We have even begun to worship worship. And like Hezekiah, the Spirit of God wants to rid us of the bronze snakes in our lives so that we worship God in spirit and in truth, through our great high priest Jesus.

Hezekiah knew that we are not to cling to things, even things  God uses or has used; but, we are to cling to the Lord, following and obeying him. No more “snake handling.” Worship God.