Psalm 121

            This is likely my favorite psalm.  I have read it so many times and mulled it over that it is almost second nature for me to draw from its rich theological statement of God when times are difficult.  This is a psalm meant for worship.  In other words, it is designed to be used by God’s people – to be sung, quoted together, and prayed.  A church without Psalm 121 always near to it is a church in danger.  But with it, there is a continual sense of security, confidence, and hope.  Well, enough of my comment.  Let this Contemporary English Version of Psalm 121 wash over you and grace you with God’s abundant mercy:
 
I look to the hills!
Where will I find help?
It will come from the Lord,
who created the heavens
and the earth.
The Lord is your protector,
and he won’t go to sleep
or let you stumble.
The protector of Israel
doesn’t doze
or ever get drowsy.
The Lord is your protector,
there at your right side
to shade you from the sun.
You won’t be harmed
by the sun during the day
or by the moon at night.

 

The Lord will protect you
and keep you safe
from all dangers.
The Lord will protect you
now and always
wherever you go.
 
Amen!

Psalm 98

Sing a new song to the Lord!
He has worked miracles,
and with his own powerful arm,
he has won the victory.
The Lord has shown the nations
that he has the power to save
and to bring justice.
God has been faithful
in his love for Israel,
and his saving power is seen
everywhere on earth.
Tell everyone on this earth
to sing happy songs
in praise of the Lord.
Make music for him on harps.
Play beautiful melodies!
Sound the trumpets and horns
and celebrate with joyful songs
for our Lord and King!
Command the ocean to roar
with all of its creatures,
and the earth to shout
with all of its people.
Order the rivers
to clap their hands,
and all of the hills
to sing together.
Let them worship the Lord!
He is coming to judge
everyone on the earth,
and he will be honest
and fair. (Contemporary English Version)
 
            I hope you don’t miss the point of the psalm:  sing to the Lord a new song.  Yes a “new” song.  Other than the fact we ought to bring fresh music to our worship of God, this is a summons to get an original voice.  Instead of going down the same ruts in our speaking and living, being attentive to God’s mighty deeds helps us break out into new vistas of living.  This attention to God’s works through a new song becomes so invigorating that everyone and everything on earth is encouraged to join into the imaginative expression of praise.
 
            We are to praise God in this present time because of what he has done in the past, always looking to the future when he will come again.  If we don’t make the effort to offer praise that is fresh, creative, and thoughtful for our present time, then we ought not to be surprised when a watching world gives a shoulder-shrugging “meh” to our tepid singing.  And if such vibrant praise seems foreign, then the time is past due for a renewed focus on the works of God in history because he really has done miraculous things for us.
 

 

            Mighty God, your holy arm of power has done incredible works in history.  What is more, you have done influential works in my life, especially through deliverance from evil and transformation of heart.  For this, and much more, I praise the gracious and wonderful name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Exodus 35:1-29

            At first glance this Old Testament passage might seem a bit tedious, perhaps even boring.  After all, getting the details on the furnishings for building the tabernacle (the Ark of the Covenant, the utensils for worship and sacrifice, and the tent that houses it all) can be laborious.  But that is the point.  It took a great deal of planning, effort, and commitment to realize it all.  Although Moses received the instructions and revelation from God on the mountain, he still had to communicate it to the people and solicit their help.
 
            What we see here is a wonderful synergy between God and the people, a kind of divine/human cooperative and a spiritual rhythm of revelation and response.  The contributions and the work were done by people “whose heart stirred” them to give and labor.  The people freely gave of their things and of themselves to realize the accomplishment of the tabernacle’s construction. 
 
            True worship of God has as its epicenter a dialogue between the divine and the human.  God speaks, and the people respond.  God reveals, and the people’s hearts are stirred.  Worship is cheapened when it is mere duty and drudgery, an obligation and nothing more.  What is more, one-way communication is not worship; it is a monologue.  Worship is not designed to be a passive activity of sitting and soaking.  Moses and God’s people seem genuinely enthused to participate and to be a part of what God was calling them to do.  Worship that comes from willing hearts is a beautiful thing, because encountering God and being stirred within by him is a unique and purposeful relationship – and it isn’t boring.
 

 

            Gracious God, just as you laid it upon the hearts of people long ago to participate in the work of worship, so impress my heart with your mission in this world.  I give you my life along with my possessions so that my entire self will be dedicated to the worship of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Isaiah 6:1-5

            Isaiah saw a vision of God in his throne room.  It was a grand, majestic, and transcendent vision of a God who dominates the entire setting.  The train of God’s robe filled the temple.  This is Isaiah’s way of saying that the vision he saw was a really big one.  God is immense and huge.  It is vital that we see the bigness of our God.  Gaining a vision of the hugeness of God is what causes our human problems to be seen as small.
 
            We are to take our cues from the seraphs that were worshiping God.  They were in the presence of God’s immensity and the seraphs gave unceasing praise.  A seraph is an angel with the job description to glorify God with continual adoration.  The seraphs physical description symbolizes their function:  covering their face symbolizes humility in God’s presence; covering their feet identifies that they are on holy ground; and, flying symbolizes their work to do God’s bidding. 
 
            So, then, the seraphs have two-thirds wing power for worship, and one-third wing power for work.  If this is any kind of indication how God’s creatures are to conduct their lives, we as humans have a great deal of life-adjustment to make in order to accommodate the worship of God into our lives. 
 
            Perhaps we see our problems as so large because we have a small view of God.  This must be inverted so that we see a big God who can take care of our puny situations.  The only way this is going to happen is if we have a vision of God, and the only way having a vision of God is going to occur is if we put ourselves in a position to see God. 
 

 

            Holy God, you are very large and very in charge over all your creation.  When I contemplate your bigness, I realize how small I am and how much I really need you.  My life is yours.  Here I am.  I belong to you. Amen.

God Cares About Worship

 
 
            The presence of God is both comforting and dangerous.  His holiness is like a fire, giving us light and warmth; but get too close to the flame and you will get burned, even destroyed.  The following statement should perhaps be obvious, but nevertheless needs to be said explicitly:  We as the church of Jesus Christ do not get to tell God what we are to be doing and how to go about it.  We have collective promises and blessings given to us as God’s people; but at the same time we have individual responsibilities to know the will of God and do it in the way he prescribes to do it (see 2 Samuel 6).
 
            God cares about his worship.  If we worship any old way we want without consideration of how God wants it done, or if we just critically watch worship without engaging in it, then the only thing we have to anticipate is the displeasure, even the judgment of God.  But if we will pay attention to God and his Word and are careful to do what God wants in the way he wants it done, then we will enjoy his divine stamp of approval.
 
            The church is first and foremost a worshiping community of redeemed persons through the blood of Christ, which are given to the world in order to glorify God before them.  1 Chronicles 16 gives an account of David’s worship service in bringing the ark to Jerusalem, which included 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; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.  Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.  Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.  Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness (1 Chronicles 16:23-29).
 
After the worship service, after the psalm had been sung by Asaph and the singers, the text says that all the people said ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the LORD. But this was not the end.
 
            It goes on to say: David left Asaph and his associates before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister there regularly, according to each day’s requirements.  He also left Obed-Edom and his sixty-eight associates to minister with them….  David left Zakok the priest and his fellow priests before the tabernacle of the LORD to present burnt offerings to the LORD regularly, morning and evening.  And the text goes on to name the people who would be in charge of the musical instruments.
 
            Here’s the deal:  David instituted that in Israel 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.  Most American Christians today do not even worship every Sunday, let alone every day.  While almost 40% attend church, on any given Sunday, only 17% of Americans are actually in church on Sunday.  That means that not only are fewer people worshiping together, the ones that do are doing it more infrequently.  American Christians might bemoan the morality and lack of spirituality in our nation, but when we as God’s people have no intention of being a worshiping community, then, we have nowhere else to look but our own individual lives and our own local church.  What is more, every conceivable instrument and voice was used to praise God in worship.  New songs were written continually by David, and arranged by Asaph, the lead worship person. 
 

 

While we have our plans and conceive of our ideas for our lives, God is waiting for us to worship him each and every day.  We might think of spending some time each morning when we arise, and each evening at bedtime, in worship doing the following spiritual practices, even if in brief:  remembering God, and who we are; singing to him; confessing sin; claiming forgiveness; reading the Word of God; and, prayer.  If we all devoted ourselves to worship in such a way, then we might begin to imagine God opening to us blessing upon blessing.

Repentance as Worship

 
 
Repentance is one of those big biblical words sometimes lost in the worship of God.  Yet, without repentance we would not be Christians and we would not be able to live fruitful lives following Jesus.  To repent of something simply means to change our minds and stop doing one thing, and start doing another.  In Holy Scripture, repentance means to stop sinning and start worshiping God.  Since true worship is a conversation with God in which we hear his revelation to us and we respond to him, repentance is a vital part of the Christian worship experience.  The nitty-gritty of repentance is to change our minds about trusting in things and people other than God, and start placing our complete faith in Christ alone.  The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God in the temple, a self-revealing of the One true God that caused him to be completely unraveled with repentance (Isaiah 6:1-7).
 
Isaiah was reduced to nothing after seeing a vision of a holy God.  Humans cannot see God in his glory without seeing their sinful selves.  Isaiah’s response to God was not praise, but confession.  Show me a proud, self-centered, and arrogant person and I will show you a person who has not seen God (and will not see God unless recognition of personal sin is realized).
 
            Isaiah could not cleanse himself from his sin; he needed God to purge and purify him from his uncleanness.  In the same way, we need God to cleanse us.  The New Testament says that “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9).
 
            In the Bible, when people saw God they were completely undone and saw their own sin and depravity for what it is.  When the Apostle Peter saw the Lord Jesus in his immensity and power through a miraculous catch of fish “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8).  When the Apostle John had a vision of Jesus Christ in all his glory, and heard his voice, he fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead (Revelation 1:12-17).  When the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God and saw the appearance of God’s glory, he fell facedown (Ezekiel 1:25-28).  Even Daniel, perhaps the most righteous prophet of all time, saw a vision of God in all his glory and fell prostrate with his face to the ground, totally overwhelmed with God’s holiness and human sinfulness (Daniel 8:15-18).
 
            There is so much sinfulness in the world and so much indifference in Christ’s Church today because people are not seeing God in his glory and his holiness.  If they did, they would be completely beside themselves and see sin’s foulness and degradation and repent from all the ways in which they have been apathetic and complacent in living their lives.  The world and the church need a fresh view of a holy God that only comes from meeting with God.
 
            We need to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God so that we can turn from all the obstacles that prevents us from experiencing Father, Son, and Spirit.  What hinders us from seeing God’s glory and hearing God’s voice is legion:  inattention to God’s Word and God’s creation that would cause a mindfulness to the Holy Spirit; intense, constant, and prolonged preoccupations and daydreams that prevents availability to the words and ways of Jesus; lack of sleep and good health habits that dulls the spiritual senses and prevents awareness of God; lack of spiritual practices and disciplines that would put us in a position to experience a vision of God.
 
            To put it bluntly:  we must repent of all the ways we do not pay attention to God.  God is calling but we do not hear him.  God is revealing himself but we do not see him. 
 
Ø  What, then, are we doing in our personal lives to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God?
Ø  In what ways are we corporately fostering a sense of the holy God? 
Ø  How does repentance fit into to our personal and corporate worship? 
Ø  Have we identified the things that grieve the heart of God so that we can repent of those things? 
Ø  What one action step will you take in response to this blog post?
 

 

            We serve a blessed holy triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit.  God has gone far out of his way to reach us so that we can participate in the dance of the Trinity.  May we all see a vision of God is his glory this Sunday and allow that scene to slay us so that we will have renewed fellowship with God in Christ through the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

Real Worship Changes Us

 
 
            I am old enough to remember when there were no seat belt laws.  Back in the day, wearing a car seat belt was optional.  When mandatory belt laws came along, some folks did not like their freedom interrupted.  They felt “restrained” in more ways than one.  I had a few friends who felt like this, that is, until they were in car accidents that nearly did them in.  The experience of near death changed them in profound ways, not the least of which that they embraced wearing a seat belt every time behind the wheel of a car.
 
            The prophet Isaiah had the kind of experience that absolutely changed him to the core of his being.  He had a vision of God.  I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs each with six wings:  With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another:  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:1-4).
 
            Real worship changes us so that we are never the same again.  The essence of worship is the recognition and celebration of the triune God.  Worship is a relational rhythm between God and humans where God reveals himself and people respond.  Worship is an experience of seeing and hearing God in his self-revelation.
 
            Worshiping the triune God is to occur every day.  It is a lifestyle and not the result of one cleverly planned hour on Sunday.  The Jews of Isaiah’s day had drifted into going through the ritual motions of worship without having their hearts in it.  They had come to see worship more as a kind of rabbit’s foot in which, as long as they had regular temple attendance, they could do whatever they wanted with their lives outside the temple.  As a result, the people as a whole really never saw or heard God in their worship.  Indeed, it was not genuine worship at all.  Authentic worship of God does not have to do with the environment, the fellowship, or the music; true worship of the triune God comes down to a heart desire to see and hear God. 
 
If worship does not happen in the sanctuary in the way we think it should happen, it is because worship fails to occur in the daily routine of living.  Real worship is a life-changing encounter with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Real worship experiences God’s revelation and changes our view of him. 
 
            Isaiah saw a vision of God in his throne room.  It was a grand, majestic, and transcendent vision of a God who dominates the entire setting.  The train of God’s robe filled the temple.  This is Isaiah’s way of saying that the vision was really big.  If the train of his robe fills up the temple, then God himself is immense.  It is vital that we see the bigness of our God.  Gaining a vision of the hugeness of God is what causes our human problems to be seen as small. 
 
            Isaiah’s vision also included seeing seraphs.  Seraphs are angels with a job description to glorify God with ceaseless praise.  Their physical description symbolizes their function:  covering their face represents humility in God’s presence; covering their feet identifies it as holy ground; and flying signifies their work to do God’s will.  So, then, we have the seraphs having two-thirds wing power for worship, and one-third wing power for work.  If this is any kind of indication how God’s creatures are to conduct their lives, we as humans have a great deal of adjusting to do in order to accommodate the worship of God.
 
            The sound of worship that came from the seraphs was to proclaim God’s holiness.  Isaiah’s view of God changed as a result.  As he saw God’s glory, he saw God as much bigger than he had before.  Oftentimes European visitors who come to the United States really have no frame of reference to how spacious and large the geography of our country is.  They seem to have a notion that they can make day trips from the Mid-West to places like San Francisco, Houston, or New York City because where they live is much more geographically compact.  But once they get here they experience the land in all its glory and they gain an appreciation for the bigness of America. 
 

 

            Experiencing God in worship will and ought to transform our lives so that we are never the same again.  The church’s worship ministry must have as its ultimate purpose a life-changing encounter with Father, Son, and Spirit.  A proper liturgical movement will encourage seeing God in his immensity and foster a divine conversation with the people.  The measurement of knowing whether this takes place is whether people are renewed in the very depths of their souls.  After all, no one can see a vision of God and walk away unchanged.  Maybe we ought to have mandatory seat belt laws for church pews.