2 Samuel 6:12-19 – Acceptable Worship

David Dancing by Richard McBee, 1998

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 to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes. (NIV)

After the worship debacle earlier in which two of the Levites attending the ark of the Lord were struck down by God, King David took time to refocus and go about bringing the ark back to Jerusalem in a proper way. A true celebration was underway that enjoyed the blessing of God upon it.  The sacrifices before God were sweet smelling because they were done in a spirit of obedience and humility. 

However, David’s wife, Michal, the daughter of Saul, did not worship. She critically observed David and the others and evaluated the worship service by how it appeared to her. Michal was not with everyone else giving herself to the true worship of God. She did not like how David went about worship. The acceptable worship of God was unacceptable to her and she let David know it. Yet, David was undaunted and had his focus where it needed to be. We get a cryptic last note on Michal, describing that she was barren to the day of her death – a note meant to convey both a physical reality of her body, and a spiritual reality of her soul.

So, how are we to worship God?  Jesus commented about worship: 

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, NRSV)

Neither good intentions alone (in spirit) nor appropriate actions alone (in truth) constitute acceptable worship.  Both are necessary.  The worship Jesus mentioned is literally “to prostrate oneself before God.”  In other words, it is to have a disposition and attitude of submission and humility toward God, seeking to obey him as king rather than superimpose our desires on him. 

Furthermore, God is near to us and far away from us, at the same time.  God is close to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and now in the person of the Holy Spirit. God is also sovereign and far above us, orchestrating the universe. In worship, we appreciate both God’s transcendence and immanence.

The presence of God is both comforting and dangerous. Divine holiness is like a fire, giving us light and warmth; but get too close to the flame and you will get burned, even destroyed. We have collective promises and blessings given to us as God’s people; and at the same time, we have individual responsibilities to know the will of God and do it in the way prescribed for us.

David Dancing by Richard McBee, 1986

The book of 1 Chronicles gives an additional account of David’s worship service in bringing the ark to Jerusalem, which includes a psalm of thanksgiving to God that he wrote himself to be sung by Asaph and his associates, the worship leaders.  Here is part of that psalm:

Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
    Share the news of his saving work every single day!
Declare God’s glory among the nations;
    declare his wondrous works among all people
        because the Lord is great and so worthy of praise.
He is awesome beyond all other gods
    because all the gods of the nations are just idols,
        but it is the Lord who created heaven!
Greatness and grandeur are in front of him;
    strength and joy are in his place.
Give to the Lord, all families of the nations—
    give to the Lord glory and power!
    Give to the Lord the glory due his name!
        Bring gifts! Enter his presence!
        Bow down to the Lord
        in his holy splendor! (1 Chronicles 16:23-29, CEB)

After the worship service, after the psalm had been sung by Asaph and the singers, the text goes on to say:

Then David placed Asaph and his relatives, together with Obed-edom and sixty-eight of his relatives, to minister there continually before the chest containing the Lord’s covenant, following the routines required on each day…. With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen by name to give thanks to the Lord, because his faithful love lasts forever. With them were also the trumpets and the cymbals for the musicians and the instruments for God’s songs. (1 Chronicles 16:37, 41-42, CEB)

In Israel, King David instituted that the worship of God was to take place every day – not just one day a week.  What is more, David hired hundreds of musicians, singers, and worship leaders to minister before the Lord every single day, twice a day. Every conceivable instrument and voice were used to praise God in worship.  New songs were written continually by David, and arranged by Asaph, the lead worship person. 

God longs for our worship each day: to remember who we are and who God is; to sing; to confess sin; to claim forgiveness; to read the Holy Scriptures; and to pray. If we all devoted ourselves to worship in such a way, then we can begin to imagine God opening to us blessing upon blessing.

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning: Grant that we may hear it, read it, mark it, learn it, and inwardly digest it, so that we may embrace worship in body, mind, and spirit through our Savior Jesus Christ in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Joshua 8:30-35 – Recall the Ancient Ways

One day, Joshua led the people of Israel to Mount Ebal, where he told some of his men, “Build an altar for offering sacrifices to the Lord. And use stones that have never been cut with iron tools, because that is what Moses taught in The Book of the Law.”

Joshua offered sacrifices to please the Lord and to ask his blessing. Then with the Israelites still watching, he copied parts of The Book of the Law of Moses onto stones.

Moses had said that everyone in Israel was to go to the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, where they were to be blessed. So, everyone went there, including the foreigners, the leaders, officials, and judges. Half of the people stood on one side of the valley, and half on the other side, with the priests from the Levi tribe standing in the middle with the sacred chest. Then in a loud voice, Joshua read the blessings and curses from The Book of the Law of Moses. (CEV)

The ancient Israelites were in the Promised Land. Finally! It was quite the circuitous journey to get to this point. It might have been easy to kick back and celebrate. However, Joshua, their leader, knew there was a prerequisite to jubilation. First, the tone had to be set for how they were going to live and be as the inhabitants of this land.

So, Joshua gathered the entire nation and copied God’s Law in front of them, as given to Moses from God. Then, in the hearing of all the people, Joshua read the attitudes, activities, and attributes which would bring them ongoing blessing, as well as the behaviors which would bring a curse.

Joshua’s work is paradigmatic for us. Just as Moses received the Law from God and read it to the people; and, then, did it again just before the people started their campaign to enter the land, so Joshua followed his mentor’s lead and did the same. Reminders of God’s work and faithfulness, recollecting God’s gracious commands, and renewing our vows to God are all significant and ongoing works for every generation to emulate.

Why, pray tell, must we engage in such a ritual repeatedly? For two reasons: we tend to forget the things we are supposed to remember; and performing a practice again and again helps press it into our minds and hearts. This is precisely why I am a believer in liturgical worship and following the Christian Year. The redemptive events of Jesus become more than doctrines to believe; they are grafted into the soul by the sheer repetition of practice.

Part of the reason why so many Christian evangelicals have fled the Church is that they received no catechetical instruction again and again through time honored methods of worship and instruction. So, when they left, it was as if there was nothing to leave – it was easy. With little awareness of the great inheritance they possess in the faith, many persons have scant knowledge that what they are leaving is a rich historical tradition with the very things they are searching for but never received.

Oh, my goodness, people of God, it behooves us to pass on the faith in ways which both make sense and are true to the ancient way of the commandments, our apostolic tradition, and of Christ. It will do no good to disparage history, as if it began with Billy Graham. If folks are going to walk away, let them do it with the full cognizance of what they are walking away from. I cannot say I could blame anyone for leaving an eviscerated faith that is no faith, at all.

This very blog is partly dedicated to following the Revised Common Lectionary because it is the continual cycle of following Christ daily and yearly which patiently and profoundly constructs the soul over time.

Psychology as a discipline was established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries largely because of a grand collective loss of memory amongst so many people. Psychological studies vigorously investigated the reason why this phenomenon was so ubiquitous.

It is also noteworthy that the great rise in secularism over the past few centuries before the 1800’s, found an apex at this same time with the introduction of psychology as a bona fide academic discipline. If humanity was meant for living in consistent rhythms of life and faith, then it makes sense that, when taken away, what remains is a massive societal memory loss with large implications for the individual.

We must reverse the curse of sacred memory loss and confusion of mind (Deuteronomy 28:28). We ought to recapture the mind, heart, and spirit for their intended purpose and design. We need metaphysicians who will do the important work of soul craft and bring blessings yet again to the world. There is some urgency to mentoring others in the faith, as the Apostle Paul did with his young protégé Timothy:

“You have heard my message, and it’s been confirmed by many witnesses. Entrust this message to faithful individuals who will be competent to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, GW)

Spiritual care and connection are not optional – they are a necessity we cannot live without. A spiritual cultivation and tending of the soul have positive effects on our stress and overall well-being. Spirituality brings health and vitality to our psychosocial selves and reinforces integrity and excellence in relating to others.

So, let us not jettison the important work of tending the soul through ancient practices of breathing, reading, reflecting, contemplating, praying, worshiping, and applying the work of Christ to our world’s greatest issues and needs.

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm 19 – God Revealed

Yangshuo, China

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat.

The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
    reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
    bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
    giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
    lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true;
    each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold,
    even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
    even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant,
    a great reward for those who obey them.

How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
    Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
Keep your servant from deliberate sins!
    Don’t let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt
    and innocent of great sin.

May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (NLT)

I believe, along with the psalmist, that the bedrock reality of the world is God created the heavens and the earth.  Furthermore, God has given us very great and precious promises through a gracious law. All creation reflects the Lord’s wondrous character. The sun is a constant presence bringing light, warmth, and life to the earth – just like God. 

Everything in creation bears the mark of its Creator to such a degree that it is almost as if the creation itself speaks. Even at night, it’s as if our God keeps constant vigil over us, gently enveloping us in divine presence and protection.

If this were not enough, God has given people a perfect law with all its right precepts, clarity of commands, and truthful statutes. God’s law, like the Lord’s creation, reflects a gracious divine character. We were not left alone to fend for ourselves – to try and figure out everything about how-to live-in God’s big world. Like a caring and conscientious mother, the Lord has provided the Law, to provide us with sure footing and solid direction. The law of the Lord is so good that it is more valuable than gold, and more desirable than any food.

Since all this creation and law is freely available to us, it is a good thing to memorize and meditate on this very psalm. Perhaps take a few verses with you out for a leisurely walk in God’s good creation. Carefully reflect on them as you notice the grand scope of God’s vast sky, and the intricacies of God’s small details.  Let it all rise to a paean of praise and appreciation to the God who notices, has acted, and will intervene.

The laws of the Lord are true.

Different cultures have multiple words for things which are important to them. For example, in most Asian countries there are various words for “rice” depending upon which strain it is and in what manner it is cooked.  Rice is important to them. In America, we only have one word for “rice” no matter where it comes from or how it is prepared. Whereas the country of Indonesia might only have one generic word for “money,” we in the West have a plethora of terms for it: coins; bills; dollars; checks; debit accounts; stock; bonds; annuities, etc.  Americans have dozens of words for “money” because it is weaved into the fabric of our capitalistic way of life.

In today’s wonderful psalm, we encounter several words for “law:” testimony; precept; commandment; instruction; decree; and rule. So, a healthy way to approach God’s Holy Word is to pay careful attention to the various instructions and commands because they are important.

The law of God is to be as familiar to the Christian as Jesus and the Spirit. We need God’s guidance and direction to live rightly and with pleasure. When we look at the law with gratitude and seek to obey God through it, we will learn to avoid sin and lead a blameless life. Thus, to commit God’s Word to heart and to memory would be sage for every believer.

Most of life, as you well know, is lived in the mundane.  We drive and walk the same well-worn roads and paths; spend much time each day doing routine ordinary things; repeatedly say the same things to our kids, day after day; engage in ordinary chores; and, worship in predictable ways.  Excitement is certainly to be had, but it is more the exception than the rule, even in these days of pandemic and change. Patience, perseverance, and plodding comes with living wisely. It is the norm for realizing a thriving and flourishing spiritual life.

Psalm 19 is a celebration of God’s self-revelation.  Through both nature and law, God is made known to humanity. What is more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life for all persons everywhere.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice. It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life.  We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law. It is not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned.  Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s natural and written revelation to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud, slowly, and contemplatively, more than once, is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform us.

Psalm 19