Am I Blending My Worship of God With Things That Don’t Honor Him?

Does God care how we worship Him? Some Christians today say (or act) as if He does not. Too many people today ignore parts of the Bible, try to over-rule God’s laws, and adopt extra-Biblical practices in worship. And they really don’t think He’ll mind.

The problem is, God actually does care how you worship Him. If you’re not following Him the way He says to, then you’re not really following Him at all. He is “a jealous God” and He does not accept half-hearted or divided affection. You can’t honor Him by worshiping in ways He does not approve or if you’re also trying to worship something else. It’s not good for us to have divided loyalties or identities. We need to find wholeness in seeking our Lord the way He desires us to seek Him.

Really Get To Know God

Paul tells us that all the things which happened to ancient Israel “were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11, WEB). One place where the story of Israel is recorded is the book of Hosea. God used Hosea to warn Israel what would happen to them if they continued to break covenant with Him by blending pagan religions with their worship of the One True God, or “Yahweh” to use His proper name (Ex. 3:14-15). Unfortunately, it’s a message that’s relevant for churches today.

I’m not saying all churches, and certainly not every Christian, is deliberately blending other religions with their faith. But I do think it’s something we should be aware of, and on-guard to avoid. We need to make sure we’re not ignoring parts of His inspired word, rejecting His law, or blending pagan religious practices with our worship. Read more

Hands of Praise

How do you use your hands to praise God? Maybe you lift your hands in worship, or use them to minister to God’s people. Or maybe you haven’t really thought about there being a connection between hands and praise, so this seems like an odd question.

Idioms involving hands abound in the Hebrew language. Being in someone’s hands is to be in their power. Putting one’s hand to something means you’re working on it. Raising your hand against someone is rebellion. Open hands express giving, and closed hands withholding, something.

Hands were lifted when making an oath to God, as Abraham did (Gen. 14:22-23). God lifts His hand when He delivers His people (Ps. 10:12). Priests stretch their hands out when they bless the people and people lift their hands when they bless God (Lev. 9:22; Neh. 8:6). Hands, and specifically lifted hands, can mean different things depending on the context.

Last week, we talked about the Hebrew word yadah (H3034), which means to confess or acknowledge as well as to praise and thank. There’s one other meaning we didn’t touch on, though. Yadah also means to throw or cast (Zodhiates’ dictionary). It’s connected with the Hebrew word for hand, yad (H3027), and as such yadah is considered the Hebrew word which “means to worship with extended hands” (see “8 Hebrew Words for ‘Praise’ Every Christian Needs to Know”).

We can think of yadah as a type of praise we “throw” to God with lifted hands as we declare how wonderful He is and confess that we follow Him. Today, we’re going to look at the ways we petition, pray to, and praise God with our hands. Read more

Lessons From The Dance

Due to wisdom tooth surgery on Thursday I’m not dancing this morning (it all went very well, praise God and thanks to a good dentist, but I’ve been advised not to risk dislodging the blood clot that’s helping it heal by any sort of vigorous exercise so soon after surgery). But I was very tempted to risk it and I’m still wishing I could have danced. (Update: 1 hour after this posted, I showed up at church and they’d changed to slower songs so I did get to dance. Hallelujah!)

For those who that last paragraph left a bit confused, I’m referring to what’s known as Davidic or Messianic dance. It’s easier to show a video than to try to describe it in words. Here’s my dance team (several years before I met them) dancing to one of our very favorite songs:

I joined a Messianic dance team early in 2015. My first introduction to the dance was about a year before that, when a dancer shared some basic lessons at a Feast of Unleavened Bread event in Michigan. I absolutely loved it, and I picked up the dances so quickly my mentors say that God has given me a gift for the dance (there’s really no other way to explain why I’m good at it — normally I’m rather clumsy).

Dancing at church, especially to open the service, seems a bit odd to many Christian denominations. But there is Biblical precedent for dance as part of worship and I’ve found the inclusion of dance (and especially being involved in the dance) is a blessing I hadn’t expected. And it has taught me some valuable lessons about dancing in unity with God on a spiritual level.

Basics First

When you’re first learning to dance, you have to start with the basic steps. We don’t just expect new students to know how to do the Hallelu dance. First, we teach them how to do the mayim, tcherkessia, coupe, and 3-point turn that make up the Hallelu step combination. As they learn the basic steps, we start putting the steps together into patterns to match the different songs. And we keep going over and over those basic steps for the first couple months after new dancers join because they’re the basis for every dance we do.

It’s much the same when we first begin our Christian journey. We start out learning about the foundations of repentance and faith. We learn that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Then we learn how to apply those truths in every day situations.

As we grow, God deepens our understanding and adds more foundational principles like “the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:1-3). Then we learn more about His expectations for those following Him, what grace truly means, how He wants us to view His commandments, and practical ways to follow Jesus with every step we take. But it all starts with the basics.

Listen To The Music

Even if you know the basic dance steps, they’re not worth much until you set them to music. Music is so much a part of the dance that our dance leader often has trouble recollecting the steps of a dance when she’s trying to walk through and teach them slowly without music. As soon as the music plays, though, it all comes back to her.

You can’t dance without listening to the music. A waltz calls for different steps than a tune in 4/4 time. In some songs, you need to wait for pauses in the music. For others, you have to be thinking two steps ahead because the music moves so fast. Often, listening to the lyrics tells you which part of the dance you’re supposed to be doing in multi-part dances.

In the same way, we have to “tune” our Christian walks to the song God plays through His scriptures. While the Bible doesn’t use the dancing analogy much, it does talk about Jesus coming “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78) and of God directing the steps of good men (Psalm 37:23, 31; 119:133). We have to study His words so we know the right steps and we need to listen for the guiding of His spirit for how to apply what we learn.

Dance Together

Davidic dance isn’t a solo endeavor. We dance in circles of unity. Every dancer is responsible for knowing the steps to a given dance and how to follow the music. But there are some songs that just don’t stick in your mind as well and there are times (even when you’re no longer a beginner) that you just can’t remember what comes next.

If you can’t remember a step, you can follow one of the other dancers. You’re already watching them to keep in unity, and you know you can count on them for reminders. In turn, they should know they can count on you to know what you’re doing for when they can’t remember a step. We help keep each other on track.

Walking as Christians is made easier by fellowship with other believers. While God will certainly work with people who are isolated from other Christians, His intention is for the body of believers to come together and grow as we build each other up and learn to use our gifts (1 Cor. 12:1-31). We’re on this walk of faith together and we have the opportunity to help each other find the right steps to stay in unity with God.

Lessons From The Dance | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: “Messianic Dance Troup” by Larry Jacobsen, CC BY via Flickr

 

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The Honor Of His Name

We talk quite often about how we ought to live our lives as Christians — the things we should and should not do, which laws we must keep, the characteristics of Jesus Christ that should show up in our lives. We also talk about what motivates this way of living. If our hearts aren’t right, the outward stuff doesn’t matter. God cares about why we do what we do as much (or more) as He cares about our actions.

The “why” is connected with how we view God. Are we obeying His rules because we see Him as an intimidating authority figure, or because we respect Him as Creator? Do we follow Jesus because of what we hope to get out of being Christian, or because we love Him and trust that He wants what’s best for us?

Those questions are concerned with how God relates to us. Beyond that is the question of how we view God as Himself. God is the self-existent One who inhabits eternity. We often think of Him in terms of how He relates to humanity, but there’s far more to Him than that. How should we view God simply because He is God?

click to read article, "The Honor Of His Name" | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: “Prayer #2” by Connor Tarter, CC BY-SA via Flickr

Inherent Glory

In Hebrew, the word translated glory and honor in the verses we’ll cover literally means “to be heavy.” It’s not an abstract or subjective concept. There’s substance behind the honor and glory discussed in the Bible. Kabod (H3519) and the related word kabad (H3513) are used figuratively of an honorable social position backed-up with a “weightiness of character.” This makes the recipient of glory worthy of that honor (TWOT entry 943). Read more

Why I Cover My Head In Church

It’s been a year since I first started really digging into 1 Corinthians 11 and began wearing a head covering when I attend church services. I’d been wondering about 1 Cor. 11 for years, but hadn’t really looked into it all that deeply. None of the explanations about why we don’t cover today satisfied me, but I didn’t feel I had a good enough argument in favor of covering to go against my church tradition. I’d discussed it with a few women in my congregation, but they seemed confused by the passage and had decided that your hair is your covering and the “we have no such custom” phrase meant veiling/covering in church wasn’t necessary today.

My Covering Testimony | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Then a year ago I stumbled upon The Head Covering Movement through a blogger. Here was a group who took this passage seriously. They were ready to talk about what “because of the angels” might mean. They engaged directly with a variety of arguments against covering in a respectful way solidly rooted in scripture and history. They even had a good explanation for the phrase “we have no such custom.”

How I started covering

My Covering Testimony | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flea market find — head covering for $1!

My first reaction was to talk with my mother, who was suspicious of the whole idea. I then reached out to a friend who’d been sending me “rants” about scriptures that didn’t make sense to him. My own “rant” went something as follows: “should I start wearing a scarf because this makes sense to me? or did I miss something in their interpretation of these verses that I shouldn’t agree with? Maybe my mother’s right that it’s not a big deal and it would be too distracting to people around me in church.” Read more

Thoughts on the Physicality of Christianity

I was in Michigan over the weekend for Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the Sabbath, heard some thought-provoking messages, and had some interesting discussions. One of these messages (and related discussion) touched on the role physical actions play in our Christian walk.

By itself the message I heard  would have prompted many thoughts on the subject, but taken together with a book I’ve been reading it’s quite a chunk of spiritual meat to chew on. I’ll probably write more about this topic when I’m not functioning on ~5 hours sleep and a chocolate hangover, but those are my thoughts right now.

Blocking the Light?

In the message I’m referencing, the speaker talked about Passover symbols (foot washing, bread, and wine) and said “the physical acts are irrelevant” but we keep them because they’re good reminders. That wrinkled my eyebrows a bit, but I thought I’d keep an open mind and hang in there to see where this went.

It went to Colossians 2:16-17: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” He took this and defined shadow as the absence of light, and then called the holy days that we were gathered to keep “blocked light.” The next place he took the analogy was back to the Passover, asking, “Why would Jesus partake of a shadow that’s blocking the light?” The message then jumped to saying that since “He wouldn’t do something like that” the words must function on another level, as in Luke 22:18 referring to our communion with the kingdom of God inside us today rather than an actual event in the future.

“Shadows” by pwjamro, CC BY via Flickr

Obviously I’ve oversimplified his points, but you get the basics of what I want to cover. The crux of his message rested on the idea that “the physical acts are irrelevant.” That led to talking the implication that because holy days, sabbaths, etc. are described as “shadows” they may distract us from living in the Light. But the word for “shadow” in the Greek can mean two different things, much like it can in English. You have the physical absence of light in the sense of “darkness and gloom,” and you have the metaphorical sense. For the Greek word skia (G4639), that means a foreshadowing of a full and perfect image not yet seen clearly. You have to infer the meaning from context. And when the context is discussing Sabbaths that are a key part of God’s covenants and saying that they point to Christ, I have to go with the metaphorical meaning as most likely.

Embodied Liturgy

Then on the other side of the spectrum we have the book I’ve been reading called Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith (between this and Fill These Hearts, I’ve been reading a surprising amount of truly fascinating Catholic theological works lately). I haven’t yet finished this book and it’s a deeply academic text that defies easy summary. One of his main points, however, is that humans are primarily lovers (“I love, therefore I am” rather than “I think/believe, therefore I am) and that we require embodied liturgies to aim our desires in a correct direction.

“MercyMe” by Susan Lloyd, CC BY via Flickr

While my church does have many physical things we do as part of worshiping God (like resting on the Sabbath day, the Passover symbols, and water baptism) this particular view of physicality in worship was new to me. He seems to be prioritizing physical acts of worship over learning theology and understanding doctrines, which makes me uncomfortable, but the idea of doing what God tells us to just because He says so before we understand why does make sense. I also find the argument that we should engage with God on every level — including emotional — very compelling, especially in light of the many scriptures talking about the role of our hearts in our walk with God.

Balance

I’m thinking something between these views is probably closest to right. Yes, the physical isn’t the main point because it’s largely there to teach us more important spiritual lessons. Focusing too much on physical is one of the things that got the pharisees in trouble — you need to have a right relationship with God or it doesn’t matter how good you look on the outside or how closely you keep the letter of the law.

Still, the physical is vitally important. God created us as physical beings full of desires that He tells us to direct toward Him. If the physical didn’t matter, God wouldn’t spend so much time telling us what to do and what not to do. The state of our hearts is of paramount importance and we’re supposed to control our thoughts, but that results in physical actions. And if we’re in a right relationship with God, we’ll be walking in Jesus’s footsteps (including the physical things He did, like Passover) and keeping His commandments.

What about you? any thoughts on the role physical actions should (or shouldn’t) play in our Christian walk?