Can you keep it down over there?
Nehemiah 12: Jerusalem’s jubilation was heard far and wide.
It’s a lavish celebration of praise and worship. The erection of the wall of Jerusalem symbolizes the dawning of a new day for the people of Israel. No longer are they a scattered, defeated people. Now, they’re once again the assembled people of God. Their holy city is now a city again and their Temple is a prepared place of worship. Getting to this place hasn’t been easy. God’s grace has worked in their lives and called them out of distant lands to return to this Promised Land. The rebuilding of the Temple was a years-long effort. The rebuilding of the wall brought unexpected challenges in addition to great labor. Now it’s finished and it’s time for celebration. No doubt, there’s danger in celebrating when there’s still work to be done. However, there’s also danger in never taking time out for celebration. God is good to us. While it’s true that he calls us to work in his fields, he also invites us to rejoice with him when significant victories are won. As his people we’re a people of hope and joy. Even those who live in the settlements distant from Jerusalem hear the sound of jubilation. In the same way, those on the “outside” of our fellowship ought to know that we rejoice in the Lord who has done great things for us.
Take Away: We’re blessed and we ought to act like it.
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word
Nehemiah 8: He read it…from early dawn until noon…and all the people listened.
With the Temple rebuilt and the walls providing security to the city a special gathering is scheduled. Ezra the priest stands on a specially constructed platform to read the Word of God. For three hours he reads as the people stand in honor of the Sacred Word. As Ezra reads, something powerful is happening in the lives of his listeners. In some church traditions time is set aside every service for the reading of and hearing of the Word. This isn’t the same as listening to a sermon, even if it’s well preached and faithful to the meaning of the passage being considered. This is hearing the Word simply as the Word and letting God minister his grace through it. There is, I believe, a place for the reading and hearing of Scripture in every church. We might have to shorten the singing a bit (or just lengthen the service) to make more room for Scripture. Most of us church folks claim to be “people of the Word.” Perhaps we should practice what we preach and give the reading of and listening to God’s Word a more prominent place in our services.
Take Away: The Word of the Lord is powerful – life changing – and we need to spend a significant amount of time letting it be drawn deeply into our lives.
Those trumpets would have blown me away!
2 Chronicles 7: The priests were all on duty; the choir and orchestra of Levites…were all there…the priests blew trumpets.
Now this is a worship event! As the new Temple is dedicated it’s an all-out, no expenses spared, all hands on deck worship mega-event. All the priests, wearing their rich garments, are on duty. The Levite choir sings to the top of its lungs while the orchestra provides the music. Over here, we see the trumpet players all enthusiastically sounding the call to worship. The worshipers are on their feet, glorifying God. Our finest worship events today can only hope to match this exciting, awe-filled event that is the dedication of the Temple. I’ve been to some “biggies” in my life like Nazarene General Assembly, Promise Keepers, and some wonderful camp meetings. While I know these aren’t every Sunday events, I think they have a place in the worship life of God’s people. There’s something about combining excellent music, Spirit-filled preaching, and an awesome venue that stirs something deep inside of us. On one hand, there’s much to be said for worshiping in the simplicity of a small church that just loves Jesus. I’m all for it. Still, on the other hand, there’s something to be gained by being part of an all-out, no-holds-barred, let’s-go-for-it worship experience. There’s room in my heart for both!
Take Away: God is worth it!
I love it when God moves in
2 Chronicles 5: Then a billowing cloud filled The Temple of God.
Solomon’s building project is complete and it’s a great success. An impressive Temple is now the official place of worship for the people of Israel and all others who will come. The building is complete with the fixtures in place, the offerings ready, and the personnel standing ready to serve. Then God moves in. In a display of glory that hasn’t been seen since Moses climbed the mountain to meet the Almighty, the Glory of the Lord fills the Temple. The Presence of the Lord is so great, so real, that the priests can’t even carry out their assigned duties. Outside the Temple Solomon does the only reasonable thing: he begins to call on God in prayer. Today, I long for God’s glory to fall on his Church, for Him to come in such majesty that the order of worship is set aside and people begin to simply call on the Name of the Lord. Oh God, we seek, not so much the “billowing cloud” as we seek you. Pour yourself out upon your Church as you did upon the Temple so long ago.
Take Away: The people of the Lord need to seek and, yes, expect, the Lord to fill our worship services with himself.
1 Chronicles 16: God is great — well worth praising!
It’s a world class worship service. A tent has been pitched for the purpose of housing the Ark of the Covenant and that Ark is being brought into Jerusalem for the first time. King David, himself, leads the procession, joyfully dancing before the Lord. The great worship leader, Asaph, leads the choir in singing praises to God. They sing a wonderful song of praise and worship in which they recount the wonders the Lord has performed and declaring “God is great — well worth praising!” They sing of God’s goodness and love and holiness. When the song has ended, the congregation responds with shouts of “Amen” and “Praise God.” What a holy event! Know what, I’m glad that such worship services aren’t just for the pages of the Old Testament. I’m glad that there are times when the people of God go all out in praising him and that at such times the Lord comes close, filling such holy moments with himself. This passage reminds me of awesome worship services I’ve been in. Even more, it creates in me a desire to occupy such holy ground again, real soon!
Take Away: The great worship events of the Bible, along with worship events we’ve experienced personally, provide the inspiration and desire to once again enter into the presence of the Lord.
Anointed worship leaders
1 Chronicles 16: That was the day that David inaugurated regular worship of praise to God, led by Asaph and his company.
Having secured his hold on Israel and having brought the Ark to Jerusalem David moves to establish regular worship services. It’s quite instructive to see the lists of, not only the mighty warriors who fought with David, but of “mighty worship leaders” as well. We thank God for those who have the bravery and skill to protect us from those who would harm us. Such people are worthy of our admiration and thanks. Here, I’m reminded that those who are gifted and trained to lead me into the Presence of the Almighty are also people worth my deepest appreciation. Also, I see here that David feels worship services are important enough to merit the appointing and organizing of specific worship leaders. That doesn’t mean that those who aren’t “official” can’t lead in worship, in fact, they often do. Some of the finest worship services I’ve ever seen were led by ordinary people with little formal training but who knew something about getting into the presence of the Lord. Whether a person’s “on salary” or not is a poor reflection of whether or not they’re gifted in leading genuine worship. I thank God for worship leaders who usher us into the presence of the Lord. Thank God for anointed people.
Take Away: Some people are gifted to lead in worship, thank God for them.
God bless the singers
1 Chronicles 6: These are the persons David appointed to lead the singing in the house of God.
As I read page after page of “Chronicles” I meet lots of people. There are fighters who cried out to God and received his help, farmers, potters, and linen workers. Now, I’m introduced to some professional singers. These are the song leaders who served during David’s reign. Here’s choirmaster Herman and his associate Asaph, the writer of some of the Psalms in our Bibles. These singers were faithful to their assignment and, now we see them included in the list of people in the opening pages of 1 Chronicles. Music has always been important to the people of God. David, a song writer and musician himself, didn’t want to take any chances with the worship music of his day so he appointed people to give their full attention to it. I don’t want to carry things too far here, but it’s good to remember that the music of worship is worth our best effort. That doesn’t mean that any one style is the right one, but it does mean that our music is an offering to the Lord and we want to give him our best. Personally, I’m thankful for the talented musicians and singers and song writers who have blessed me and helped me focus on the Lord. This Sunday it might be a good idea to let these folks know they’re appreciated.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for those who lift our hearts to God through their music.
What to do when you face a giant
2Kings 19: Maybe God, your God, won’t let him get by with such talk.
Even though Hezekiah has tried to mend relations with Sennacherib king of Assyria it’s too late. Having whipped into shape several other countries that attempted to break away, Sennacherib returns his attention to Judah. A representative is sent, not to broker a deal, but to call for complete surrender. That representative is named Rabshaketh and, in an attempt to frighten the people of Jerusalem into rebellion against Hezekiah he not only insults Hezekiah and his small army, but he insults the God Hezekiah serves. This situation is filled with military, political, and historical elements but we read the story from a spiritual viewpoint. Earlier Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, yielded to Assyria and even installed a new altar at the Temple modeled on one used for idol worship in Damascus. When Hezekiah comes to power he not only refuses to pay tribute, but he gets rid of that altar and all the shrines and altars to the pagan gods. Even when he agrees to resume paying tribute to Sennacherib, his removal of the pagan altar is seen as a refusal to be the lap dog to Sennacherib. Because of that, the insults by Rabshaketh focus on God Jehovah. Now, Hezekiah faces absolute destruction from the giant Assyrian army. He turns to the man of God, Isaiah, asking for prayer and direction. He thinks that perhaps God will take up his cause, especially in light of the way Rabshaketh has insulted the Almighty. Facing the impossible, he turns to the One who specializes in doing the impossible. And, he isn’t disappointed.
Take Away: We don’t want to make enemies but to, instead, live in peace with all people. However, if we have to make enemies, let’s make them for the right reasons.
When the church isn’t at church
2Kings 17: They don’t really worship God.
After defeating and exiling Israel the king of Assyria relocates other people from under his rule to the now empty land. At first, these settlers ignore Jehovah God, but it becomes apparent that the Almighty is not going to allow that. A priest is brought back to teach them how to worship God. However, they only add worshiping the God of the exiled people to their list of gods to worship. In fact, we’re told, they don’t really worship God at all. How do we know that? The writer proves his point by saying that they don’t take seriously what God says about how to live and what to believe. Apparently, just doing the right things in a worship service isn’t sufficient so far as God is concerned. He’s just as interested in how people live, how they relate to one another, and what they really believe as he is with whether or not they can put on a proper worship service. What I do outside of church is just as important to God as what I do inside the church.
Take Away: Worship is defined as much by what I do outside the church as what I do inside it.
Trading bronze for gold
1Kings 14: King Rehoboam replaced them with bronze shields.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam sits on the throne of Judah, sovereign of what’s left of his father’s great kingdom. While it’s true that rival Israel is worse off than Judah, both of these kingdoms are unraveling. Up in Jerusalem, idol worship is taking root and a mixture of Jehovah and idol worship is common. When Egyptian forces raid Jerusalem and carry off the gold shields that Solomon made, Rehoboam simply replaces them with bronze shields. They’re not as beautiful as the gold ones, but they’ll have to do. Rehoboam orders that these substitute shields are to only be used for special occasions and kept in storage the rest of the time. I think this substitution of bronze shields for gold ones reflects what’s happening in the life of the people of Judah. Under David and Solomon they had the “gold” as they worshiped the God who had brought them to this land in the first place. Now, though, they settle for a cheap substitute. Those shields aren’t the real deal but they look a lot like the gold ones. How often do we substitute bronze for gold in our own lives? We could have the real deal, but we settle for a mere replica instead. Many years in the future Jesus will tell us that God is looking for people who want to worship “in truth.” I’ve already decided that I have no time or patience for just going through the motions. I want to know God, to live in him, and to experience him. I won’t settle for “bronze” when “gold” is available.
Take Away: The Lord’s best is simply “the best” – nothing else even comes close.