Tagged: Worship

Where Does My Help Come From?

Psalm 8 and Psalm 121 both open by recognizing God as Creator. In Psalm 8 the author considers the majesty of the night sky, the moon and stars. In Psalm 121 the psalmist gazes at the mountain tops and praises God as the Maker of heaven and earth.

The psalms then diverge as they consider a human response to the power, majesty and beauty of God.

PSALMS

The author of Psalm 8 focuses upon humility. “God, since you you created the great heavenly bodies, why do you even think about us? We’re so small and insignificant.” The author describes the relationship between God and humanity in terms of power and authority. The remainder of the psalm continues in this vein as the writer compares humans to angels and animals before closing by praising God once more.

This perspective of our relationship with God contains merit. It promotes the virtues of humility and reverence before God. It can remind us that God has given humanity the responsibility of overseeing and caring for creation. God is the Creator and we are its stewards.

Yet there are risks if we depend upon Psalm 8 as our primary prism for relating to God. God’s great power and authority can overwhelm us. Our humility and reverence for God contains the potential that we come to see God as distant and unapproachable. God is maintaining the universe and He’s entrusted us to maintain our piece of earth. He’ll do His thing and He expects us to do ours. Who are we to bother God?

stargazing 02

The author of Psalm 121 takes a different tack. When he looks at the mountaintops and the sky beyond them he too praises God as Creator. However, the next words out of his mouth don’t dwell upon the distance between God and humanity. This psalmist regards creation as emphasising how qualified the Creator is to help his creation.

The Creator will help, not just in big ways, but in smaller troubles we face also. As he lists God’s care for humanity be begins with the line, “He will not let your foot slip“. Of course he can protect you from lions, he can smooth over that workplace conflict, and he can strengthen your marriage, but he’ll also not let your foot slip. In the face of grandeur, God cares about us scraping a knee, spraining an ankle, breaking a hip, or falling off a cliff.  “He will not let your foot slip

Of course, the very premise that we need to call out for help assumes that we will encounter troubles in our lives. This psalm doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free life. It teaches us that God is always with us. He who watches over you will not slumber.

This psalm reminds us that none of our problems and worries are too small for a great God.

Snake River - OClair

Psalm 8 contains an important lesson about God. Humility and reverence before God need to be part of our faith. But we shouldn’t camp out in Psalm 8 as though it’s the end of the story. Our faith needs to grow to a place where we look at the majesty of God and praise Him because he cares about us. In all our relative weakness, He loves us, individually.

sound-waves 01a

After preaching on this topic, I heard this song on the radio as I drove home immediately afterwards. I think it’s a great summary and I’m sure the artists had psalms like these in mind when they wrote it.

 

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A Recipe for Good Sleep

Psalm 4 is not a simple song to read and follow the train of thought.

Two commentaries I read interpreted the psalm in completely different ways. The first focused on v7 and concluded that a severe drought, possibly connected to idol worship from v2, was the context of the psalm. As a result he primarily applied the psalm to our lives by warning against using contemporary idols to distract us from trusting God.

I followed the second interpretation views the psalm as an evening benediction that I’ll describe below. I don’t really have the expertise to decide between the interpretations of these two scholars, but I found this second reading plausible and more applicable to my life, and hopefully yours.

The psalmist breaks the song into 4 sections, each bookended by a similar thought/topic.

1. The Lord answers prayer v1 Answer me v3 …the Lord hears.
2. Trust in the Lord v4 Tremble v5 …trust in the Lord
3. Prayer of confidence v6 Prosperity…? v7 …abound!
4. Sleep well

 

sleep psalm

The psalmist begins (v1-3) by laying his situation out before God. We don’t get a lot of details but we understand that there’s conflict. I think many of us will resonate with the psalmist’s situation. He gets to the end of a day. It’s been a rough day. There’s been some conflict and he feels disrespected and even like his reputation has been muddied. Lies have been told. He comes home frazzled.

A key phrase occurs at the end of v2. The Hebrew words can be translated as either “seek false gods” or “seek lies”. In one sense false gods are lies, so they can both be correct. However, if we read this verse as the psalmist defending himself, it seems to fit better that he’s offended by lies being told against him.

Each section concludes with a statement of confidence, and verse three closes with the psalmist reminding himself, and his oppressors, “The Lord hears when I call to him.” we all need that reminder at times, don’t we?  This is why many people use prayer journals in their devotional lives. They allow the opportunity to go back and look at past prayers and remind themselves that God still hears when we call to him.

Verse 4 begins the second section with a in dramatic fashion with a single word directed at his tormentors, “Tremble”. The psalmist doesn’t provide a reason to tremble. He may have fear in mind, but I suspect that his motive is anger. This meaning was adopted by the Septuagint (an important translation of the Old Testament into Greek) and quoted in Ephesians 4:2, “In your anger do not sin.

The psalmist advises his opponents to contain their anger and malice. They should examine their hearts and be silent. But stopping their bad behaviour isn’t enough. They need to get right with God, so the author advises them to offer sacrifices, to worship, and to trust God. Again this last line has relevance not only for the troublemakers, but also for the psalmist. To gain a healthy perspective on this situation and life as a whole, worship and trust God.

The third section opens in v6 with a question, a doubt, maybe even an accusation against Yahweh. “Where will good things in life come from?” Having expressed that doubt the psalmist immediately answers his own question by quoting from Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-27. This blessing that he’d no doubt heard many times before points him to God as the provider of all good things. “May the light of your face shine on us.” The greatest joy for which he prays is not that of a harvest, of food or drink, but an awareness of the light of God’s face shining upon him.

Having completed this process of moving his thoughts from dwelling on the turmoil of the day to dwelling on the blessings of God, the psalm concludes,

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.”

Regardless of what life throws at us, may we each sleep in peace, confident of God’s protection and that the light of His face shines upon us.

 

Eating Jesus

We can all sing in the car, alone.

We can all pray in a dark room, by ourselves.

We can all give online, individually.

Taking the Lord’s Supper requires community.

When it comes to the Lord’s Table, we come together to remind ourselves of the blessings of His body and blood offered for us.

communion 01Regardless of our personal resumes, we all celebrate exactly the same thing at the Lord’s Table. We’re equally separated from God and equally reconciled.

  • Our sins are forgiven;
  • Our guilt is removed;
  • Death is defeated; and
  • Intimacy with God is restored.

Every person receives every blessing.

Three times in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus acts as the host of a meal. Luke 9 (Feeding 5000), Luke 22 (Last Supper), & Luke 24 (Emmaus). Each time we’re told, “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” The message of the Lord’s Supper, the significance of this table isn’t limited to a solemn Sunday morning. The Lord’s Supper is a continuation of eating with Christ on the hillside, and in the home.

In Luke 24:31, right after Jesus hands these disciples their bread, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him”. When we come to the table each week, it’s good that we don’t see hatred responsible for hanging Jesus upon the cross. It’s good that we don’t see division or classes or races. We see Jesus. Because Jesus is still our host. He still serves us. Our eyes can still be opened to recognize Jesus among us. And as our eyes are opened we acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper is not something we do alone. Our eyes are opened to those around us and we see people forgiven by God, just as we are.

The original corruption of the Lord’s Supper that Scripture reveals to us, was the introduction of division into the experience. Class warfare took over the Supper and removed the values of unity and equality before God. 1 Corinthians 11:20 describes the situation as so severe that “when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.

And just as Jesus took his meal on the road, we cannot keep our worship to Sunday morning. I love that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol that we ingest, because it means we take it with. Our challenge is whether we take any more with us than a cracker and a sip of juice.

I wonder when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” as he shared the Last Supper with his disciples, did he just refer to eating crackers and sipping juice? Or did he mean something more? Did he mean to eat with sinners, in remembrance of me? Did he mean break down political, racial and whatever barriers and eat together, in remembrance of me?  Did he mean to forgive and serve our enemies as he washed Judas’ feet, in remembrance of me?

This is a lot more challenging than making sure we have the right type of juice and cracker in the trays each Sunday.

I wonder if he didn’t have in mind this description of the family members of the victims of the Charleston shooting this week. They appeared at the bail hearing for the shooter and while communicating their hurt and loss also managed to speak mercy and grace to him. A journalist at the New York Times described the scene this way

It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.

What a wonderful description: It was as if the Bible study had never ended….

Jesus inspires us to go into the world as ambassadors of reconciliation, taking a message of hope and healing. Having ingested Him on Sunday, we are to live, as if the Lord’s Supper never ends… until the kingdom of God comes.

The Greatest Command

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.‘  This is the first and greatest commandment.  Matthew 22:37-38

  • You can listen to this sermon here.

I believe that the call to follow Christ is a radical one. He calls us to separate ourselves from all else and follow him.  We’re to reprioritise our lives, with Him at the top of the list.  To those with no allegiance to Jesus this is an extreme lifestyle.  Surely a command to “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind”, really means something like, “Love God a lot”.  Yet there is no indication throughout Scripture that this command requires anything less than a literal application.

Although Jesus challenges us with a radical call from the world’s perspective, his demands differ little from the expectations of God’s covenant with Israel.  Loving God means keeping His commands, but we shouldn’t confuse obedience and love.  There can be all sorts of motivations for obedience.  God’s has never been interested in having a relationship with His people based on obedience while devoid of love.  Even when that obedience relates to us worshiping him, he rejects our songs, prayers, sacrifices if they’re not motivated by love toward Him. In the remainder of this post I want to show how this has always been the case, and what we can learn from God’s relationship with Israel.

To start this conversation we need to recognise that in describing the Greatest Command Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-9,

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

This sentiment is repeated a few chapters later in Deuteronomy 10:12-13,

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

In this second passage God links obedience and service to love and respect.  God expected Israel to express love for him through their obedience.  However, this doesn’t mean obedience = love.  Rather, the obedience God seeks must be motivated by love.  Similarly, God desires that our worship (even our obedient worship) reflect the love that we have toward Him.

We see this demonstrated by the prophet Samuel’s words to Saul, the first king of Israel, in 1 Samuel 15:22. Saul had just blatantly disobeyed God and then tried to transform his disobedience into a holy action by offering sacrifices to God.

Samuel replied ‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’”

Again God, through the prophet Isaiah warned the nation of Israel, in Isaiah 1:15-17,

When you spread out your hands in prayer,  I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers,  I am not listening.  Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight;  stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

God seeks sincere righteous living, not displays of worship.  Meaningful worship requires both the form God seeks, and the heart God desires.  Other prophets continued this message:

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
   and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.   Hosea 6:6

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
   your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
   I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
   I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
   I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
   righteousness like a never-failing stream!    Amos 5:21-24

With what shall I come before the LORD
   and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
   with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
   with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.   Micah 6:6-8

So when Jesus says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” he’s simply repeating a message very familiar to his Jewish audience.  Love God completely.  Love God, not just in worship, but through obeying and serving Him in all areas of your life.  Worship and sacrifices alone cannot make up for a heart and life rebelling against God.

It’s a radical command, but not a new one.

  • Does this seem like an impossible command to you? Is it realistic to think that we can love God with our entire heart, soul and mind?
  • Do you know someone who you believe embodies this command?  What is it about their life that makes you think so?
  • Given all these verses about our worship reflecting our heart and life, why do you think churches place so much emphasis on our worship services compared to spiritual growth and discipleship?

Colossians 3 – Singing to God

  • Read Colossians 3:12-17 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (21 November) you can listen to it here.

As a minister within the Acapella Churches of Christ, I still find it mind-boggling that such a large movement can take so much of their identity from what is NOT written in Colossians 3:16!  There are several reasons this amazes me, but that’s not really what I want to discuss today.  One of the frustrating side effects that comes with making Col. 3:16 the centre of the argument for a capella corporate worship, is that Paul’s reason for writing the verse and paragraph is often overlooked.  It’s this message I want to explore in this post.

As always, we need to begin with the context.  according to vs 5-9 God has rescued us from a life that can best be described as a soap opera.  We no longer participate in a Days of Our Lives world.  Instead, God has chosen us to be holy and loved by Him (v12).  We now clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”  We forgive each other and our lives are characterised by love, which results in unity and peace.  (That’s my simple paraphrase of vs 5-15a.)

In the NIV v15 begins a new three verse paragraph.  It seems to me that the theme of this paragraph is thankfulness.  At the end of v15 is the simple sentence, “And be thankful.”  In v16 we’re told to “sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”  Verse 17 tells us that “Whatever you do… [do it while] giving thanks to God the Father…”.

When we compare the before and after descriptions in v5-15 we immediately see why we should thank God.  Life with God is vastly superior than living without Him.  Christians’ lives and worship should be characterised by a spirit of thankfulness for all he has done for us.

As we turn to v16 specifically, Paul tells the church to use their musical worship to remind one another of the Gospel, the message of Christ.  Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in worship contains a horizontal element as we remind each other of God’s goodness toward us.  We’re also singing to God to express our gratitude to Him.

Sadly, in our eagerness to use this verse to debate the method of worship, we often overlook Paul’s teaching on the content and motivation for our worship!

  • I don’t believe that all of our worship services should be one-dimensional or that it’s wrong to sing songs with a message other than gratitude.  But I wonder, in your experience of worship services, what percentage of the service would you say typically involves thankfulness?
  • Have you experience a church characterised by thankfulness?  What gave it that character?
  • How would a church (or individual) with an emphasis on thankfulness differ from other congregations?

Luke 21: The Widow’s Mites

  • Read Luke 20:45-21:4 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (April 18) you can listen to it here soon.

Let me begin by saying I hate preaching about money, particularly during a capital campaign for a building project!!  It just makes everyone uncomfortable and seems to lay the groundwork for people comparing themselves about who could, and who does, give how much to the church.

The natural flow of Luke’s writing contrasts the pride and self-centredness of the teachers of the law Jesus describes in 20:45-47.  While they greedily devour widow’s houses, this widow gives all she has to God.

This harks back to an earlier comparison between the Rich Young Ruler (I think his mates called him Jim) in Luke 18, and Zacchaeus in Luke 19.  Again, the “righteous” ruler wouldn’t give up his wealth, while Zacchaeus, the “sinner”, responded to Jesus’ teaching by giving half his possessions to the poor.

I have always struggled to reconcile Jesus’ praise of her generosity and her apparent irresponsibility.

Is she being a good steward by giving all she has in worship to God?  or should we also use her as a negative example of financial irresponsibility?  Is Zacchaeus a better example because he only gave away half of his wealth?

The main question I want to pose for discussion is this, Why do so many churches and Christian institutions seem to ignore the lesson of this passage?  I understand the natural urge to honour large contributions, but Jesus makes that basic point that the percentage of wealth one gives, not the total dollar amount, provides the best indication of an individual’s generosity.

Yet many churches and university campuses honour individuals who give $1 million, or some such figure.  I’ve never seen a building named after someone who gave 95% of their wealth to this project, or ministry.  Am I off base?  Have you ever seen a plaque like this? I’m also not sure how all this ties in with Jesus’ teachings on private giving, since he’s observing other people’s giving anyway.

In his book Falling In Love With Jesus, Rubel Shelly (p192) makes this statement, “We can best measure our offerings not by what we give but by how much we keep.”  I think it’s an excellent summary statement of Jesus teaching in this episode.  What’s your impression?

Prayer & Fasting

  • Read Philippians 2:1-11 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (March 7) you can listen to it here.

It’s my impression that for most Christians the practice of fasting poses many questions.  Some might even argue based on Lk 5:33-39 that Christians should avoid fasting. (I understand that passage as placing a moratorium on fasting while Jesus was living, but that the practice recommenced after his death, which is why we have examples of fasting in the early church, eg. Acts 13:2-3; 14:21-25.)  If you’re from a Church of Christ background you know that it’s not one of the “Five Acts of Worship”, yet I don’t know how else to think about it than as an act of worship.

We have a difficult time understanding fasting because the Bible doesn’t give a lot of teaching on the topic.  It would be helpful to have spelled out for us how to fast in a manner that God finds meaningful.  Cain missed out on God’s blessing because he sacrificed fruit rather than meat.  Does it make a difference to God if I fast from facebook instead of food?  Or is only food acceptable?

It would also be helpful if the Bible clearly explained the purpose of fasting, and the appropriate occasions to fast.  Instead we’re left to draw conclusions from examples and indirect teaching on the subject, and to learn from the experiences of ourselves and others.

Instead, Jesus’ teachings on fasting focus on attitude.  Fasting is a private practice between an individual and God (except on occasions when the whole church participates) and should not be used as a means of gaining additional street cred in religious society. (Matt 16:16-18; Lk 18:9-14; cf Zech 7:5)

I’d like to suggest several purposes for fasting:

  1. Fasting makes a statement to God, and ourselves, that He is our #1 priority.  When we fast we say that we would rather spend time with God, than eat.
  2. When we fast because of a particular need or crisis in our life, or the church, we add emphasis to the prayer.
  3. The hunger pangs during a fast can serve as a reminder to again pray for the particular concerns prompting the fast.
  4. When we fast we take a small step toward imitating the example of Christ in Phil. 2:1-11.  Christ humbled himself leaving behind the glories of heaven to take on the form of a man and becoming obedient, even unto death.  Although all Christians leave stuff behind at baptism, fasting allows us to recreate this experience, remind ourselves of the sacrifices of Christ, and actively work on developing a character of humility.
  5. Prayer should always accompany fasting.  But the benefit of combining the two is NOT that God listens to us extra closely when we fast.  Rather, through fasting we create space in our lives that better allows us to listen to God.  We create space to have conversations with God that the busy-ness of our lives often prohibits.

Richard Foster, in his classic work Celebration of Discipline, states that, “Fasting must forever center on God.  Every other purpose must be subservient to God.” (3rd ed, 1998, p54)  I also found it interesting to learn that,

John Wesley sought to revive the teaching of the ‘Didache’ and urged early Methodists to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.  He felt so strongly about this matter, in fact, that he refused to ordain anyone to the Methodist ministry who did not fast on those two days.” (Foster, 51)

  • Have you made fasting a regular part of your relationship with God?  When your answer’s “no”, what has stopped you?
  • Have you experienced additional benefits, beyond those I’ve listed, from fasting?
  • Since fasting isn’t commanded in the New Testament, how important do you think it is for Christians?  Should it be a regular discipline, or reserved for special needs?

7 Minutes to Make an Impression

So I’m reading a book which wants to tell me why people don’t come back to church after the first visit, and how churches can make it more likely that people return.  And I come across this little snippet,

Seven minutes is all you get to make a positive first impression.  In the first seven minutes of contact with your church, your first-time guests will know whether or not they are coming back.  That’s before a single worship song is sung and before a single word of the message is uttered.

Obviously your guests aren’t making a logical decision based on the integrity of the preaching, the character of the church staff or the clarity of your doctrine.  They are not weighing pros and cons of worship styles and theological viewpoints…. Instead, they are taking clues about your church’s atmosphere and the peopl’es friendliness on a much more rudimentary level.  Their subconscious minds are working overtime to evaluate their compatibility with this new environment.

Fusion by Nelson Searcy (2007), p49-50

As the quote says, this isn’t a biblical observation, it’s a lesson drawn from studies of human behaviour and decision making.  So what’s your experience?

  • When you visit a church how long does it take you to form an opinion?
  • How does the experience of getting from the street to your seat colour your expectations of the worship experience and teaching?
  • Have you ever decided within 7 minutes not to return to a church?
  • Have you experienced a church make a strong first impression on you within 7 minutes?

I certainly relate to this “7 Minute Principle”.  I enjoy visiting other churches, but when I do I’m on pins and needles constantly scanning my environment trying to make intelligent judgments.  What publications do they have in their foyer?  Do they have a powerpoint projector?  What songbook do they use?  What Bible version do they have in their pews?  Do they have pews or chairs?  How are the worship leaders dressed?  How many members carry Bibles?  Does anyone talk to me or notice I’m a visitor?  What are the demographics of the congregation?  Does it look like it’s involved in the community, or is it still living in the 50’s?

A couple of other good books that cover this topic are:

Sing a New Song

Read Isaiah 42:1-13 here.

Last night I was privileged to speak at Rochester’s Church of Christ Area Wide Worship Service (RCoCAWW).  The theme for the night was “Sing a New Song” which we took to heart with song leaders from half a dozen congregations leading our singing.  I always find these events encouraging as churches with different worship styles, theological emphases, and racial mix, come together to praise God.

Given the diverse audience, many of whom had never heard of me before, I worked to keep my presentation upbeat and entertaining.  This meant I didn’t get bogged down in a lot of exegesis and included plenty of “fluff” to keep people engaged.  But I believe my topic still had an important message that I hope people will relate to.

The phrase “sing a new song” occurs several times in the Psalms (33, 40, 96, 98, 144, & 149), Isaiah 42, and Revelation (5:9 & 14:3).  The Isaiah passage seems to give the most context to this phrase, so that’s where my talk was concentrated.

The first 9 verses of the chapter describe the changes God is going to bring upon the world through His servant.  He’s going to restore justice (v1, 3-4), open blind eyes, free captives, release those who sit in darkness (v7).  Verse 9 provides a succinct summary of the preceding verses, “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare.”  God continues to redeem His people and His creation.

In the context of God’s creative and redemptive activity the appropriate response of His people is to “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth.”  It seems to me that the new actions of God require new songs of praise from His people.  Our worship should respond and react to the presence and activity of God in our lives.  This may seem like a fairly simple conclusion but I think it has some practical application.

Just as I’m a fan of Bible translations that use contemporary English, I believe that if our songs are to be meaningful to us they should reflect God’s working among us today.  While we might comprehend the imagery of lighthouses, anchors, and lifelines, are they natural ways for us to express our relationship with God?  For me to worship genuinely from the heart, I need to use words and experiences that reflect my thoughts, not just the range of my vocabulary.

This is not just a rant against traditionalism.  I have observed that songs from different generations have different emphases.  While hymns from the the late 1800’s and early 1900’s often praise God for his actions, very few of them actually thank Him.  Many hymns written during WWI and the Great Depression look forward to eternity and heavenly reunion with loved ones.

Contemporary praise and worship songs also have gaps in their repertoire.  While many songs express our love to God, there is shortage of recent songs appropriate for communion.  I also have a hard time recalling many songs that encourage the church to reach out to a lost world in the way that the old “Throw Out the Lifeline” does.

So the application of this exhortation to “sing a new song” involves a thoughtful selection of songs that prompt the worshiper to consider God’s involvement in his or her life.  Sometimes this older songs will best accomplish this purpose, but sometimes God’s new activity requires new songs.  The church needs to embrace our modern songwriters who speak of and for God…even if the styles or repetition of lyrics don’t always seem natural to us at first.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to be written on this topic, eg. How does the above discussion apply to music styles?  Can music styles prevent us from singing from the heart?  It is also distinctly possible to apply this “new song” instruction to simply transitioning from a lament to praise as we witness God at work.  It does not necessarily mean each of us should compose a new song each week.

At the end of the day I believe the principle of “singing a new song” means that our worship is to interact with and respond to God’s movement in our lives. I have previously written an article discussing how our regular monetary offering to God can be similarly interactive.  So I guess I’m 2 down with 3 to go.

Discuss how song selection impacts your worship experience.  Do some songs make your worship less heartfelt than others?  Do you find that the effort of learning new songs is worthwhile?  Can you recall an occasion that a new song has spoken to you?  I’d love to read your comments?

The Passover & the Church in 2009

  • Read Exodus 12 1-11 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (October 18) you can listen to it here.

New Testament Christians, that I know, tend to avoid spending too much time in the Old Testament.  I think this is a shame.  We can learn so much about God from the Old Testament.  We also gain understanding into how the New Testament relies upon and builds upon the Old Testament.  From understanding the Old Testament better, we better understand Jesus, who observed the Old Testament law.

Things we might learn from the Passover meal and the events it celebrated:

Lamb Roast

Lamb Roast

  • The blood of the Passover lamb provided salvation for the Hebrews – 1 Cor. 5:7 refers to Christ as the church’s Passover Lamb.  (see also Jn 1:29, & Rev 21:27)
  • Faith & Works: The Israelites needed faith, but they also needed to act.  They had to paint their doorframe with blood.  Just staying indoors and trusting God would have ended in death.
  • Is Baptism a work? For Church of Christ members (and others) who believe that baptism plays a role in one’s salvation the Passover provides a good example.  The blood around the door didn’t save anyone.  The Hebrews actions in putting the blood there didn’t give them any merit.  They were saved by God’s grace when they followed God’s instructions.  Did God need to see blood to know who His people were?  No.  But would He save them without this action on their part? Again, No.
  • The importance of putting God first: In Exodus 12:2 God gives His people a new calendar that begins in the month that He delivered them from Egypt.  This was radically different from the calendar they kept in Egypt.
  • The importance of community: According to Exodus 12:4, small households were to share the Passover meal with other families.  This was not a time to be alone.
  • Give God your Best: I believe Exodus 12:5 gives some of the earliest instructions concerning acceptable sacrifices, and immediately we see that the lamb is to be “without blemish”.  God demands more than our leftovers.
  • God’s Grudge with Yeast: In Exodus 12:14-20 God institutes the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  During the seven days of the feast, if anyone has yeast in their house, they’re to be “cut off from Israel”.  That seems pretty extreme.  There’s not a lot of explanation given in Exodus as to why God doesn’t like yeast, except in 12:39, where their flight from Egypt was so urgent that they didn’t have time for dough to rise.  The New Testament sometimes equates yeast with sin & false teaching (Matt 16:6-12, 1 Cor. 5:6-9).  But it’s not always a bad thing.  In Lk 12:1 Jesus calls hypocrisy “yeast”, but in 13:18-21 the kingdom of God is compared to yeast.
  • Deliverance from Slavery: The whole concept of God delivering His people from slavery to a Promised Land resonates with Christians who view themselves as having been rescued from the slavery of sin and delivered to an eternal Promised Land. (Rom 6:15-23)
  • The Lord’s Supper: Since Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples when he instituted the Lord’s Supper we should be able to apply something from that original setting to our celebration today.  Most evangelical churches seem to prefer “Lord’s Supper”, or “communion” rather than “Eucharist” (which comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving”) to describe our commemoration today.  However, since the Passover was a celebration of thankfulness and all the Last Supper accounts have Jesus offering prayers of thanks, maybe we need to emphasise thankfulness more as we come around the Lord’s table.

That wasn’t actually what I intended to write about today, but I think it’s a good topic.  Can you add anything to this list?  Do you think some of my suggestions and connections are reaches?  Please join the conversation by leaving a comment.