Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

It’s about the Heart

I was reading my Bible yesterday and was taken aback when I read these verses from the prophet Isaiah:

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; 4 I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.” – Isaiah 66:3-4

God is describing various acts of worship and how he views these acts of worship. Slaughtering an ox is an act of worship in the Tawrat (the law), but to God when these people slaughtered oxen it was like they were killing men. Pigs are just as unclean in Judaism as they are in Islam. Imagine someone coming to the temple to worship God and then offering pig’s blood as a sacrificial gift. Blasphemous! And yet their grain offerings were equivalent to this.

What was the problem here? The problem was not that they were failing to offer acts of worship. The problem was their hearts. Even though they “obeyed” God by “worshiping” him, they had actually chosen their own sinful ways and delighted in their sinful abominations. Theirs hearts were far from God. As the Messiah said in the Injil (he was quoting Isaiah!), “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me'” (Gospel according to Mark 7:6).

I think this is true today more often than we realize. Look at these pictures:

How many of the people here are only performing acts of worship while their hearts are elsewhere? How many are simply going through the motions?

Perhaps we should come closer to home and examine our own hearts. How often is your worship mingled with unholy thoughts? How often are you going through the motions while your heart is full of anger? or full of lust? or full of greed? or full of discontent? or . . .?

When we come before the Holy Creator of the universe, we ought not be so presumptuous to think that he won’t mind when our actions say he is great, but our hearts and minds reveal the opposite.

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Coldplay and God

I had the pleasure of seeing Coldplay in St Paul last Saturday. It was a great show. Not only did Coldplay do a phenomenal job, but God really met me in this concert and helped me worship him. Here are a few things God was teaching me at the concert.

1. Excellence. Watching and listening to Coldplay inspired me to excellence (the Olympics also did this for me). If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I was inspired to work harder and pursue greater excellence in what I do.

2. Gratitude. God gave me ears to hear great music. He gave me eyes to watch a spectacular show. He gave us creativity to create great music and stunning light shows. I felt really grateful for how God had made us to enjoy things with our senses.

3. Community. I enjoyed the show much more because I was part of a large community of people. It would have been a very different experience if I had listened to all the same songs by myself in my home. The music would still have been great, but the experience would have been much less enjoyable. Even if I had been able to watch the whole concert in the stadium, if I was alone it wouldn’t have been as good. The joy of those around me increased my enjoyment.

4. Heaven. God is better than Coldplay. It was a great concert, but heaven will be better. Much better. I really enjoyed this show and I kept thinking about how much greater it will be we are all centered around the throne of God rather than a stage of musicians.

5. Social media. All over the stadium people were recording videos and snapping pictures. This was good. But some of these people were also posting to Facebook and Twitter and instant messaging others. I think that in our society of social media we can become so eager to share our experiences with others that we actually don’t truly enjoy and enter into the experience at hand. It is as if we are outside of ourselves describing the experience to another rather than simply enjoying the experience.

6. Humility. I don’t know if the members of Coldplay are humble are not, but during the concert they seemed genuinely grateful for their fans. It was as if they knew they were dependent on the fans. Many celebrities have become so consumed with themselves they don’t recognize that pretending to be someone else (actors), singing a song, shooting a basket, or kicking a goal really aren’t that big a deal. Many people we’ve never heard of are doing much more important and lasting things. Coldplay, though, seemed genuinely humble. This encouraged me to be humble as well.

Here is a Coldplay video that my kids really liked:

Here is a video my friend took during the concert:


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God’s demand for purity among his people was crucial to their survival. One of the main tasks of the priest was to make the life preserving distinction between clean and unclean. God made this clear to Aaron (the prophet Haroon, Sayid Musa’s brother) in the Tawrat, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10). It is no small matter that this command comes in the same chapter as the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who offered strange fire before the Lord.1 The fatal flaw of Haroon’s sons’ offering was that they failed to make this distinction. They brought a strange fire that was not holy and perhaps not even clean. When they brought this fire into the presence of the Holy One, God’s holiness devoured them.

What Does It Mean to Be Unclean?

Before looking at what makes one unclean, it is essential that we understand what it means to be unclean. It is easy to understand unclean as sinful, so that when we read one is unclean we believe it means he is sinful or morally defective. This, however, is not necessarily the case. Certainly sin defiles and makes one unclean. However, we all come in contact with the unclean in our lives through no fault of our own. Uncleanness is a fact of this fallen world.

Being unclean most fundamentally means being ritually unfit to enter God’s presence. Certainly one can become unfit to enter God’s presence through sin. One can also be unfit through disease or through contact with death or bodily emissions. All of these make one unfit to enter the presence of a holy God. Something is ritually unfit to enter God’s presence when there is some abnormality that contradicts God’s created order.

English translations most often use “clean” in translating טָּהוֹר (ṭāhȏr, this word is closely related to the Arabic طاهر), and then give “unclean” as the translation for טָמֵא (ṭāmē’). Unfortunately for modern English speakers, we primarily associate unclean with dirty. Within the Old Testament something could be quite dirty and yet still be clean (the ground, for example). Something else could be quite clean (in modern English usage) and yet still be unclean (i.e. someone who wakes up with a seminal emission, takes a bath, but still remains unclean until evening [see Leviticus 15:16]).

Allen Ross, in his book Holiness to the Lord, gives a helpful chart in understanding the difference between these two words by showing a wider range of meaning:2

טָּהוֹר ṭāhȏr טָמֵא ṭāmē’
clean unclean
normal abnormal
pure impure
natural unnatural
hale and hardy  space weak
healthy ill
pristine contaminated
sinless sinful

To be unclean is to be in some way unfit to enter God’s presence, whether through sin, impurity, disease, or abnormality. Certainly it is negative because we were created to be in God’s presence and that is the longing of our hearts, but not all uncleanness has the negative connotation of immoral. This does not mean, however, that uncleanness is not morally significant. God required the Israelites to perform the necessary purification so that their uncleanness did not defile the camp or the tabernacle.“In the routine of daily living, every Israelite became periodically unclean. No shame or harm attended becoming unclean for a brief period of time. The major danger in becoming unclean lay in coming into contact with the holy, for holiness is powerful, consuming all that is unclean.”3


1. See Leviticus 10:1-3. Nadab and Abihu were struck down before God because they failed to sanctify him.

2. Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 245.

3. J. F. Hartley, “Holy and Holiness, Clean and Unclean” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 424 .

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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Defilement is dangerous; the story of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6 from the Bible makes this plain. He was helping move the ark of God to Jerusalem (the ark was a box that contained the 10 commandments from the Tawrat written by God on tablets and given to Moses). The ark was put in an ox cart and they were merrily making their way. “And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled” (2 Samuel 6:6).

His desire was noble. The ark was holy, for it contained the very word of God. He did not want it to fall onto the ground. The problem was that he did not take into account the holiness of God and his commands regarding who could come near to him and in what way.

Touching the ark was off limits, especially for a non-Levite.1 The ark was the symbol of God’s presence and therefore the holiest thing on earth. Uzzah was not only disobeying the clear commands of scripture regarding who could carry the ark, but he was also wrong to presume he was properly purified and consecrated to even touch the ark. God’s holy judgment was swift and severe, “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7).

Approaching the holy while unclean or unconsecrated is deadly. One cannot simply presume to enter the Holy One’s presence. To enter God’s presence we must be made ready and we must enter through the way he has provided, that is, through the cleansing and forgiveness that God provides in the sacrifices. Worship is truly weighty, for it is a matter of life and death. If the priests failed to be purified from their defilements before worshipping the Lord, they would be cut off from his people, that is, they would be cut off from God himself.2


1. The Levites were the tribe of Israel that had been commanded by God to be the ones who were responsible for leading worship and caring for all the elements involved in worship. Among the Levites, only the Kohathites could actually carry the ark. However, even they were not allowed to touch it. God makes this clear in the Tawrat in Numbers 4:15, “the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.”

2. Speaking of the priests, the Tawrat says, “The person who eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings while an uncleanness is on him, that person shall be cut off from his people” (Leviticus 7:20).

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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Christians in the West rejoice that they are forgiven of sins and declared righteous before God. For many, this is the gospel. There is no thought about being unclean or impure. There is no felt need to have defilement removed. Other cultures, however, live daily with the truth that we are defiled and in need of cleansing, especially if we hope to approach God. Muslims are required to pray five times a day, but before each prayer they must perform ablution (wudu [الوضوء‎]) to cleanse themselves and be ready to enter the presence of God. This is also necessary before one even touches the Qur’an let alone reads it. Purification is a necessary and real everyday issue for 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.1

Muslims are right to believe they must be cleansed before coming to God in worship. Many Christians, though, don’t see the need for such cleansing. My Muslim friends have helped me see this need. Being in their culture has helped me read the Bible with new eyes. Now I see what was plainly there.

God is pure and holy. We are in mortal and eternal danger if we seek to approach him while undefiled. My first goal in this series of posts is to help us all see the need for cleansing before approaching God in worship. My second goal is to help us see how God makes us clean through Jesus the Messiah. Through Jesus we are able to receive a once and for all cleansing that changes our lives and the way we approach God. Simply put, we are made forever fit for worship.


1. The Qur’an says in Surat Al Baqara [2]:222, “Truly, Allah loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.” In one of the hadiths (the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), Muhammad said, “Purification is one half of faith” (Quoted in Hajjah Durriah Al-Aytah, Jurisprudence of Worship: According to the Shafi’i School of Thought, Translated by Dr. Lama Al-Jabban [No publisher. 1999], 14).

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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I mentioned before that our son Noah is named after the prophet Noah. One of the reason’s we gave him this name is that it means “rest” and that is what we are praying he (and we) will receive from God.

Rest is a rich biblical theme throughout the Bible. In this post we will see what the Tawrat says about this rest. In another post we will look at what the Injil says.

In Exodus 20 the prophet Moses wrote the 10 commandments. One of them was to keep the Sabbath holy, that is, to not work on the Sabbath. The reason for this command is given in verse 11, Moses wrote, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” The story of creation is told in Genesis 1-2. It is clear that God created and ordered the world in six days and then rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath.

Obviously God’s rest on the seventh day is not owing to any deficiency in him. He has all strength and he never grows tired or weary (“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is  the everlasting God,the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” [Isaiah 40:28].) God did not rest on the seventh day because he was tired. God rested because he was finished. He did not rest in order to recuperate. He rested because his work of creation was complete.

Several times the Bible speaks of God giving his people rest from their enemies. God made this promise to the prophet David who was king over his people, “I will give you rest from all your enemies” (2 Samuel 7:11). This is exactly what we see. By the end of David’s life he had rest from all his enemies so that there was peace in the land.

Shortly before David died he encouraged his son Solomon and the people by saying, “Is not the Lord your God with you? And has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand, and the land is subdued before the Lord and his people. Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God, so that the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 22:18-19).

The rest he describes is a rest of peace. It is a rest that includes safety from those who would destroy them. God had given the people peaceful rest so that they would seek him. He had given them rest so that they could focus all of their attention on worshipping him.

This is the rest he offers us. A freedom from fear. A freedom from working to secure our own safety. A freedom to worship. A freedom to enjoy God. A freedom to be at peace.


Related Posts:
The Prophet Noah
Rest: The Meaning of Noah – Part 2
Rest: The Meaning of Noah – Part 3

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Happy Birthday Bach

I love music (in college I initially was a music major and dreamed of playing jazz for a living). Having studying music theory I understand well the significance of Johann Sebastian Bach. No one person is more important in the history of western music than him. One of things I really appreciate about Bach is his perspective on the purpose of music.

Sam Crabtree writes:

Today is the 325th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, who said, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

If one’s soul pursues delight in music without regard to glorifying God, music becomes an idol that eventually disappoints and robs.

But if one’s soul finds delight in glorifying God with music, then the two things (the glorifying of God and the refreshment of the soul) are not two things, but one.

Full disclosure said in a low voice with face looking down: I don’t actually enjoy listening to his music.

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From Doug Wolter:

As I look at the Psalms, I’m amazed at how little we do and how much He does.  For example:

Psalm 23:1-3

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me besides still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 40:1-3

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and [he] heard my cry
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,
and [he] set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

Psalm 55:22

Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 91:14-16

Because he holds fast to me in loveI will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to meI will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and [I will] honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and [I will] show him my salvation.

In summary, all I need to do is come poor and needy because He comes to me rich in mercy. Hallelujah!

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This is a great video of an Arabic Christmas Carol. It brings together things that don’t seem to fit and yet are true of our Savior. Certainly some of you will watch this and think that this could never happen, that God could never do this – you may even think it is blasphemy. I simply ask each of you to remember that God is God and he is in the heavens and does as he pleases. Who are we to tell him what he can and cannot do? Then consider how utterly unique Jesus Christ is in his birth (who else can claim to be born of a virgin?!).

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24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:22-27

In the first post we pointed out that it was Aaron and his sons who gave this blessing to the people and they were the ones selected because they were the priests. Unfortunately, many of us today and have learned that pastors have taken the place of priests, meaning that the role of the priests before Christ is now carried out by pastors after Christ. That is dead wrong. First of all Jesus is the great high priest. The whole priesthood did not foreshadow pastors; it foreshadowed Jesus. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). But he was a high priest who truly atoned for our sin and brought us to God. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11-12).

But not only does the idea of pastors taking the place of priests fall short because Jesus is our high priest; it also falls short because there is something radically new about the people of God after Christ. All followers of Jesus Christ are priests. Peter says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5) and “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

And John tells us in Revelation that by Christ’s blood he has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6). My point is this: It is the priests who give the blessing to the people so that the name of God will be set on them. All believers in Jesus Christ are priests. Therefore each one of us is to bless others.

So here is the simple summary. 1) God wants to bless you. He wants to do good to you. He wants to encourage you. He wants to give you grace and peace. He wants to show his glory and declare his pleasure to you. 2) This blessing that God wants to give you only happens because of Jesus Christ – who he is and what he did. And 3) as believers in Jesus Christ we are priests who ought to be blessing one another.

Here are some blessings you can share with others:

1. 1 Kings 8:57-58
The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.

2. Psalm 20:1-4
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion! May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!

3. Romans 15:5-6
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

4. Romans 15:13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

5. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

6. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

7. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

8. 2 Thessalonians 3:5
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

9. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

See Also:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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