Unclean! Unclean!

My daily reading plan has me in the middle of the book of Leviticus right now, which is always a challenge.  I am constantly amazed at the amount of sacrifice, the blood required to atone for the sins of the people, the sacrifices given in praise, prayer, and petition to God. The ceremonial regulations are abundant and exhaustive.  When our culture seems so casual in its approach to the Holy God, the book of Leviticus seems very foreign and difficult to accept.

Today’s reading was Leviticus chapter 13, the laws regarding leprosy and a variety of skin diseases. “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean” (Lev 13:2-4).

If you read through the rest of the chapter, you’ll find calls for quarantining those who were symptomatic, to determine if it was leprosy or some other condition.  There are regulations about leprosy on the skin, beard, and in the clothes. If the priest determined it was leprosy, you were declared unclean, and thereby unable to come into the presence of the Temple for sacrifice and worship.

I can’t tell you how hard it was a a pimply teenager to read these passages and wonder if God would even hear my prayers in my current condition, or if I was too unclean to come before Him.

These regulations were in place for the sake of the community. In Biblical times, there was no cure for leprosy, but they knew it spread easily and quickly through a community.  If you were showing symptoms, you were required to let others know, and keep distance from the rest of the community.

I think we all know a little about this now. With the state imposed quarantines and calls for social-distancing over the Coronavirus, we see the cases come to our community and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” There is a palpable fear of the spread of this virus, of the infection spreading like wild-fire.  The worst part of this, unlike leprosy, Covid 19 may spread from those who are asymptomatic.  You could be carrying the virus and show now signs, but still pass it along to others.

So we stay home, out of love and concern for those around us.  We are, to some extent, embodying the practices of Leviticus 13.

But only to a certain extent.

It is equally important to remember that these practices were not just regulations for the community, they were regulations for the worshipping community. Leviticus was written primarily as instruction about how a sinful people were to approach a Holy God. If one were to come into the presence of God, still stained and burdened by sin, God, who is holy and just, would pour down unmitigated judgment upon the sinner. This is why there is so much blood sacrifice in Leviticus – the people were making atonement for their sins so that they could stand justified before a holy God.

Psalm 15, another reading of the day, asks and answers the question, “O Lord, who shall dwell on your holy hill?”  The answer given is this, “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks the truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against he innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.” This is the one who may come before the Lord.

Leprosy, a disease of the skin, was symbolic of the disease of the heart – sin. Easily spread, entirely destructive.  Left untreated, it will bring about our destruction, and leave us separated from God.

What a wonder then to know that in Jesus Christ we have been washed and made clean (Hebrews 9:14; 10:13).  We, who were once stained with the sins of this world, are now declared clean, sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11). The punishment for your sins has been placed upon Christ, and has been paid for in full. The veil which separated us from God has been torn open, and we have access to the Father through Jesus Christ our mediator.

What a blessing it is to know that, while we must be separated from one another for this time, nothing can separate us from the love of God the Father through Jesus Chris the Son (Rom 8:38-39).

SDG

Maintaining a Vibrant Worship Lifestyle

I’ve recently finished rereading A.W. Tozer’s book, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship, a short but excellent book on worship, both public and private, as the goal of the Christian’s life.  Though Tozer died in 1963, his writing is still relevant for the church today.  Today, I’d like just to give a “Reader’s Digest” presentation of Tozer’s final chapter, Maintaining a Vibrant Worship Lifestyle. I find this both refreshing and challenging, and pray that his writing may inspire and encourage you in your life of worship before our Lord.


… Worship is not an event but a lifestyle. The more we treat worship as an event, the more it becomes a caricature of God’s intention, and is unacceptable to Him.  To maintain a lifestyle of worship, we must attend to it on a daily basis. If you regulate worship to a once-a-week event, you really do not understand it, and it will take a low priority in your life.

By nature, worship is not some performance we do, but a Presence we experience.  Unless in our worship we have experienced the Presence of God, it cannot rightly be called Christian worship… It is my contention that once we experience the actual presence of God, we will lose all interest in cheap Christianity with all its bells and whistles vainly trying to compete with the world.

For worship to be a vital part of everyday life, it must be systematically and carefully nurtured.  These are a few things that have helped me in my journey along the way with God.

Quiet: I firmly believe it is important to get still and wait on God. Noise is the enemy of the soul… Cultivating quietness is a missing discipline in today’s Christian church. There seems to be a wretched conspiracy in many churches to rob the saints of the quietness necessary to nature their inner life, which is hind in Christ in God.

Scripture:  All worship should begin with the Bible. This divine roadmap leads us to God. Put the Bible in a prominent place in your daily life and allow nothing to interfere with reading it and meditating on it. Our reading here should not be a marathon, but a slow, deliberate soaking in of its message. Bible reading calendars are no help here.  Often we regiment ourselves to a daily Bible reading schedule and hurry on in our reading to keep up. The importance of reading the Bible is not reading but fellowship with the Author.

Prayer: In your prayer life, quickly move beyond the idea of “getting things” from God. Prayer is not a monologue where we tell God what we think or want. Rather, it is a dialogue between two friends; an intimate fellowship that more often than not surpasses words.

Hymns: Let any new Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone, and he will become a fine theologian. It has been a successful ploy of the enemy to separate us from those lofty souls who reveled in the rarified atmosphere of God’s presence. I suggest you find a hymnbook and learn how to use it.

Devotional Reading: The devotional works of bygone saints can help us on our way. I am not thinking of those daily devotionals popular today. They have value for those just beginning their spiritual pilgrimage, but the growing Christian needs strong meat.

Simplify Your Life: The average Christian’s life is cluttered with all sorts of activities.  Too many things in our life just suck the life out of us and are not essential to wholesome living. We find ourselves rushing through the devotional aspects of our life to give predominance to mere activities.

Friendships: It is easy for our friends to distract us from our walk with Christ and from maintaining a vibrant life of worship. Cultivate friendships with this who have made He who is the Friend of sinners their constant companion.

Adapted from: Tozer, A. W. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. (Bethany House; Bloomington, MN. 2009) pages 177-185.

Readings from the Pastor’s Desk – Here are a few of the interesting articles I’ve come upon this week:

3 Things Not to Say at the Start of Worship: This one caught me short – do I say any of these things when we come together for worship?  Sometimes, as a worship leader, it’s difficult to know what to say, and you don’t wan to fall into a routine of saying the same thing every time you come together.  Just some food for thought.

Who is Richard Rohr?  I was recently asked this, and while I had heard the name, and was leery of his teachings, I wasn’t sure why?  Here is an article looking into the teachings of Richard Rohr that may be helpful.

What is the Emerging Church?  This is another question I was asked this week, and I wasn’t really prepared to answer.  While the Emerging/Emergent Church Movement was all the talk more than 10 years ago, you don’t read much of it today, though it still has left lasting effects on the church.

Thoughts on Worship

I’ve been spending a bit more time this week thinking about why we worship the way we do; why do we sing what we sing, and does what we do in worship (singing, praying, reading, preaching, listening) truly bring glory and honor to God?  Who is the audience of our worship, God or man?  I know it ought to be God, but often it seems that I preach or plan worship for the approval of those in the congregation, rather than hearing the affirmation of the Lord saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 I haven’t had a lot of time to write today, so I thought I’d leave you with some excerpts from D.A. Carson’s essay entitled “Worship Under the Word,” which is part of the excellent book, Worship By the Book.  Keep in mind, these are highlights, and I’ve left out a lot of the supporting arguments, but I think you’ll get a sense of the point that Carson is making about how we go about our worship together.


We worship our Creator-God “precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.” What ought to make worship delightful to us is not, in the first instance, its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object: God himself is delightfully wonderful, and we learn to delight in him.

In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the “feeling” of things – whether a film or a church service.  It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is better “worship” there.

Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months’ time. Sheep lie down where they are well fed; they are more likely to be restless when they are hungry. If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.

For worship, properly understood, shapes who we are. We become like whatever is our god.

It is a fundamental truth of Scripture that we become like whatever or whomever we worhsip. When Israel worshipped the gods of the nations, she became like the nations – bloodthirsty, oppressive, full of deciet and violence.

Pray then for a massive display of the glory and character and attributes of God. We do not expect the garage mechanic to expatiate on the wonders of tools; we expect him to fix the car. He must know how to use his tools, but he must not lost sight of the goal. So we dare not focus on the mechanics of corporate worship and lose sight of the goal. We focus on God himself, and thus we become more godly and learn to worship – and collaterally we learn to edify one another, forbear with one another, challenge one another.

Of course, the glories of God may be set forth in sermon, song, prayer, or testimony. What is clear is that if you try to enhance “worship” simply by livening the tempo or updating the beat, you may not be enhancing worship at all. On the other hand, dry-as-dust sermons loaded with clichés and devoid of the presence of the living God mediated by the Word to little to enhance worship either.

What we must strive for is growing knowledge of God and delight in him – not delight in worship per se, but delight in God.

Excerpts from: Carson, D.A. editor Worship by the Book (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 2002) pages 30-34.

 

Portable Worship

I offer to you today another gem from A.W. Tozer which speaks to what, I fear, is a common view of worship today.  “Worship is something we do when we go to Church… worship will start in 15 minutes…” If this is our notion of worship, it is a falsehood, and we are still missing what it means to draw into the presence of the Holy God in worship.

Why is it that when we think of worship, we think of something we do when we go to church? God’s poor stumbling, bumbling people; how confused can we get, and stay confused for a lifetime and die confused. Books are written confusing us further, and we write songs to confirm the books and confuse ourselves and others even further; and we do it all as if the only place one can worship God is in a church building we call the house of God. We enter the house dedicated to God, made out of bricks, linoleum and other stuff, and we say, “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all kneel before Him.”

I personally enjoy starting a service that way occasionally. But it does not stop there. Come 9:00 A.M. Monday morning, if you do not walk into your office and say, “The Lord is in my office and all the world is silent before Him,” then you were not worshiping the Lord on Sunday. If you cannot worship Him on Monday, then you did not worship Him on Sunday. If you do not worship Him on Saturday, your worship Sunday is not authentic. Some people put God in a box we call the church building. God is not present in the church any more than He is present in your home. God is not here any more than He is in your factory or office.

…If God is not in your factory, if God is not in your store, if God is not in your office, then God is not in your church when you go there. When we worship our God, the breath of songs on Earth starts the organs playing the heavens above.

The total life, the whole man and woman, must worship God. Faith, love, obedience, loyalty, conduct and life – all of these are to worship God. If there is anything in you that does not worship God, then there is not anything in you that does worship God very well. If you departmentalize your life and let certain parts worship God, but other parts do not worship God, then you are not worshiping God as you should. It is a great delusion we fall into, the idea that in church or in the presence of death or in the midst of sublimity is the only setting for worship…

Worship pleasing to God saturates our whole being. There is no worship pleasing to God until there is nothing in me displeasing to God. I cannot departmentalize my life, worship God on Sunday and not worship Him on Monday. I cannot worship Him in my songs and displease Him in my business engagements.  I cannot worship God in silence in the church on Sunday, to the sound of hymns, then go out the next day and be displeasing to Him in my activities. No worship is wholly pleasing to God until there is nothing in us that is displeasing to God.

Without Jesus Christ, there is no goodness, and so I do not apologize at all when I say that your worship has to be all-inclusive and take you all in. If you are not worshiping God in all your life, then you are not worshiping Him acceptably in any area of your life.

Tozer, A. W. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. (Bethany House Pub., Bloomington, MN, 2009) Pgs 125-128.

A Definition of Worship

Planning and leading worship services for the church week in and week out can sometimes drain the essence out of worship itself.  Worship becomes something I do, an act of professionalism rather than encounter with my heavenly Father.  As Presbyterians are known for doing things “decently and in order,” our worship often takes on a rehearsed tone, and “passionate worship” is not how visitors would typically describe the service.

So it is that I came upon the following by A.W. Tozer in his book, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship.  May this serve as a corrective understanding for all of us as we prepare to enter into worship again.

A Definition of Worship

First, worship is to feel in the heart. I use that word “feel” boldly and without apology. I do not believe that we are to be a feeling-less people. I came into the kingdom of God the old-fashioned way. I believe that I know something of the emotional life that goes with being converted; so I believe in feeling. I do not think we should follow feeling, but I believe that if there is no feeling in our heart, then we are dead. If you woke up in the morning and suddenly had no feeling in your right arm, you would call a doctor.  You would dial with your left hand because your right hand was dead. Anything that has no feeling in it, you can be quite sure is dead. Real worship, among other things, is a feeling in the heart.

Worship is to feel in the heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe.  Worship will humble a person as nothing else can. The egotistical, self-important man cannot worship God any more than the arrogant devil can worship God. There must be humility in the heart before there can be worship.

When the Holy Spirit comes and opens heaven until people stand astonished at what they see, and in astonished wonderment confess His uncreated loveliness in the presence of that ancient mystery, then you have worship. If it is not mysterious, there can be no worship; if I can understand God, then I cannot worship God.

I will never get on my knees and say, “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I can figure out. That which I can explain will never overawe me, never fill me with astonishment, wonder or admiration. But in the presence of that most ancient mystery, that unspeakable majesty, which the philosophers have called a mysterium tremendum, which we who are God’s children call “our Father which art in heaven,” I will bow in humble worship. This attitude ought to be present in our church today.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was one of the greatest minds that ever lived. When he was only in his teens, he wrote advanced books on mathematics, astonishing people. He became a great philosopher, mathematician and thinker.

One night, he met God, and his whole world was changed. He wrote down his experience on a piece of paper while it was still fresh on his mind. According to his testimony, from 10:30 pm to about 12:30 am, he was overwhelmed by the presence of God. To express what he was experiencing, he wrote one word, “fire.”

Pascal was neither a fanatic nor an ignorant farmer with hayseeds back of his ears. He was a great intellectual. God broke through all that and for two solid hours, he experienced something he could holy characterize as fire.

Following his experience, he prayed; and to keep as a reminder of that experience, he wrote it out: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned.” This was not a prayer for somebody who reads his prayers; this was not formal religious ritual. This was the ecstatic utterance of a man who had two wonderful, awesome hours in the presence of God. “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob not of the philosophers and of the learned. God of Jesus Christ… Thy God shall be my God… He is only found by thy ways taught in the Gospel… Righteous Father, the world has not known Thee, but I have known Thee. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…” And he put an “Amen” after it, folded it up, put it in his shirt pocket and kept it there.

That man could explain many mysteries in the world, but he was awestruck before the wonder of wonders, even Jesus Christ. His worship flowed out of his encounter with that “fire” and not out of his understanding of who and what God is.

Tozer, A. W. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker House Books) pg. 108-110.

The Business of GA

Setting aside my worries about the “Tom-Foolery” at GA (which will be present in any representation of the Church on this side of Christ’s Return), I thought it would be helpful to give you a little taste of what business is expected at this year’s GA.  I’ve broken down the business into three categories: Overtures, Seminars, and Worship.

Overtures
There are currently 63 Overtures presented to the General Assembly, and 43 of those have to do with Racial Reconciliation and Repentance. Many of these overtures are copies of an original overture from the Missouri Presbytery, recognizing and repenting of the PCA’s complicit and historical involvement in racial discrimination, calling the Church to prayer and reconciliation. What debates and dialogue is had on this issue will not be about the nature of racism as sin nor the Church’s need for repentance, but rather what the repentance looks like and how we move forward together.

The remaining overtures include several memorials to Elders who have died, and minor corrections and additions to the Book of Church Order.  All of the amendments, and those that are presented on the floor of the Assembly, will first be considered and refined in the appropriate committees, and those which pass the committees will then be debated and voted upon by the Assembly as a whole.  A complete list of the overtures is available here.

Seminars
Not only is General Assembly a time to prayerfully deliberate on important issues, it is also a time of learning. I’m really looking forward to the Seminars that are offered this year.  One title that really caught my eye was: Making Session Meetings the Best Night of the Month, or How the Session is Supposed to Work!  Um, yes! This seminar does conflict with a GA for Rookies class, but I think I know which one I’ll be attending.

Other Seminar titles that seem interesting are: Sexual Confusion in the Church: Becoming a Welcoming Church While Remaining Biblical; Advancing the Gospel in a Changing North America; The Pulpit and Public Theology in the Public Square, Presbyterian Style; and Hymns for the Life of the Church: Facing a Task Unfinished.  I am encouraged by the fact that our denominations national gathering isn’t just business and politicking, but is a time for study, fellowship, and growth.

Worship
When the Church comes together, it’s primary duty is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the practice of holy worship.  I am looking forward to a time of refreshment and praise as we come together to worship God as the General Assembly of the PCA.  The messages during worship will be given by Jim Wert, Tim Keller, and Thurman Williams, and the music for worship on Wednesday night will be led by Keith and Kristyn Getty.  I found out also that there is a choir rehearsal on Tuesday night before worship, so I might be able to join the choir one evening as well.

As I promised before, I will be trying to give daily updates from GA, providing I have a reliable internet access, and the time to process my thoughts and reflections.  I encourage you to be praying for the gathering of the General Assembly, and stay informed by reading the updates, or following along at www.pcanet.org, or by reading the news updates from By Faith magazine at www.byfaithonline.com.

Grace and peace!

SDG

Presence more than Program

Still thinking about worship this week, and I came across this gem from A.W. Tozer that I thought I would pass along.

The fast-paced, highly spiced, entertaining service of today may be a beautiful example of masterful programing – but it is not a Christian service. The two are leagues apart in almost every essential. About the only thing they have in common is the presence of a number of persons in one room. There the similarity ends and the glaring dissimilarities begin.

Whether it be a communion service, morning worship, evangelistic meeting, prayer meeting, or any other kind of true Christian gathering the center of attention will always be Christ. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mat. 18:20)… Never do the disciples use gimmicks to attract crowds. They count on the power of the Spirit to see them through all the way. They gear their activities to Christ and are content to win or lose along with Him. The notion that they should set up a “programed” affair and use Jesus as a kind of sponsor never so much as entered their heads. To them Christ was everything. To them He was the object around which all revolved; He was, as He still is, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end… Christ was everything in the minds of those first believers and that mighty fact dictated not only their conduct but their inner attitudes as well. Their mood, their demeanor, their expectations sprang out of their childlike conviction that Jesus was in the midst of them as Lord of creation, Head of the Church and High Priest of their profession.

The point we make here is that in our times the program has been substituted for the Presence. The program rather than the Lord of glory is the center of attraction. So the most popular gospel church in any city is likely to be the one that offers the most interesting program; that is, the church that can present the most and best features for the enjoyment of the public. These features are programed so as to keep everything moving and everybody expectant.

We’ll do our churches a lot of good if we each one seek to cultivate the blessed Presence in our services. If we make Christ the supreme and constant object of devotion the program will take its place as a gentle aid to order in the public worship of God. If we fail to do this the program will finally obscure the Light entirely. And no church can afford that.

Tozer, A.W. The Root of the Righteous (Harrisburg, PA; Christian Pub, Inc., 1995) Pg. 92-96.