Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wise Men - How It Really Went Down

The only place in the Bible that tells us about the wise men's journey to find Jesus is found in Matthew chapter 2. There are tons of misinformation about this story - about the star - about the wise men. But if you look closely at the scriptures, you will find the real facts. And you will be able to discern between fact and fable. For example, the wise men never visited the manger. And I submit that the star was not a natural, astronomical event but 2 separate supernatural episodes. I'll explain later. Below is a true chronological account of the wise men's role in the Christmas story based on scripture.


THE TIMELINE:


Scene 1 (The Shepherds) Luke Chapter 2: Near Bethlehem, during the night that Jesus was born, shepherds tending to their sheep in the fields were startled when "suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified!" (Luke 2:9). It's important to note the term "the radiance of the Lord's glory". This should not be down-played or overlooked. It was an extreme, miraculous illumination and must have been very powerful. If it was 'of the Lord's glory', it must have been incredibly bright. The angel announced to the shepherds that a Savior was born that same day in a manger in Bethlehem. Look what happens next....."Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God.." (Luke 2:13). I doubt that this great company of the heavenly host appeared in the dark. On the contrary, they must have appeared in this spotlight called the 'radiance of the Lord's glory'. Some translations call the great company of the heavenly host a multitude, or a vast, heavenly army. To totally illuminate this vast, heavenly army, the radiance of brilliant light must have extended up into the heavens, with an enormous diameter - sort of a pillar of light. And you thought lasers were powerful! Such an array of brilliance in the night time sky would have been visible for miles - possibly hundreds of miles. No one knows how long it lasted, but at some point, the angels vanished, went back to heaven, and the darkness quickly returned. The scene in the field reverted back to what it was before: the shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem on a quiet, still, dark night. After such an amazing experience, the shepherds did what they never do - they left their sheep in the fields and quickly ran off - to find Jesus.


Scene 2 (The Wise Men) Matthew Chapter 2: The Wise Men (also referred to as Magi), located in far away Persia or Babylon, were star-watchers. They saw this very same miraculous illumination off in the distance on that particular night. Perhaps hundreds of people from many different countries saw it in the night time sky before it went out. However, the Wise Men reacted to it. They knew it was supernatural - that this was a sign of something of huge importance. It's possible that they were familiar with ancient prophecies, such as recorded in Isaiah and Numbers, that dealt with a coming star or bright light. Regardless, the Wise Men, who were experts regarding the stars, concluded that this supernatural beam of light was in the direction of distant holy city of Jerusalem, and that it must have signified the birth of a powerful and important new King of the Jews. They were convinced that it was a once in a lifetime event, and that they must make a journey to make homage to this newly born King. Based on the location and direction of this strange light they had seen in the sky, which was no longer visible, they prepared to head to Jerusalem, where they assumed had been the focal point of the light - where this new King must be. It would take a lot of preparation. They would need to get a caravan together, which included supplies, food, animals, and people. Their journey could take weeks or even months. Tradition says there were 3 wise men. The Bible never numbers them.


Scene 3 (Baby Jesus Brought To Jerusalem) Luke Chapter 2: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living in a house in Bethlehem. After all, remember that the shepherds ran off to tell everyone about the birth of Jesus, so possibly even that very night of his birth, someone could have taken them in once they found out the news. After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary wanted to bring Jesus in the Temple there to consecrate him to the Lord. After Mary's days of purification were over, forty days as defined by the Law (Leviticus 12:1-8), they brought Jesus into the Temple, right under Herod's nose. She was ceremonially unclean from delivering a baby boy, was to go in front of a priest to offer a sacrifice. Because she offered a sacrifice that was representative of those who were poor (Luke 2:24), it confirms that Wise Men had not arrived yet with their valuable riches which included gold.


Scene 4 (Jesus Back To Bethlehem) Matthew Chapter 2: The Wise Men are well into their long journey to Jerusalem. By this time, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were back in the house in Bethlehem. Finally, the Wise Men arrive in Jerusalem. Not knowing where this new-born King was, since there was still no guiding beacon at this point, they did the most logical thing - ask the current king, Herod, for details. Of course, Herod pretended to go along with the Wise Men, but inwardly, he was furious. After all, he was the king and no one was going to take his throne. He summoned the chief priests and the scribes for answers regarding the location of Jesus. The chief priests and scribes were Jews who knew the Old Testament scriptures well, and based on Micah 5:2, they knew the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. So Herod sent the Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem, but not before asking them the exact date that they had seen this "star" they had told him about. It was so he could calculate how old Jesus was, assuming the Wise Men saw the 'star' on the night Jesus was born.


Scene 5 (Wise Men Arrive In Jerusalem) Matthew Chapter 2: As the Wise Men headed toward Bethlehem, something fantastic happened: another miraculous event. A supernatural light in the sky, appeared to the Wise Men. They were overjoyed. It had been a long time since they saw that brilliant sign in the sky back on the night Jesus was born. This time, they knew that this light was a guiding beacon for them. It turns out that it would lead them not just to Bethlehem, but it would stop right over the exact house where Jesus was staying (Matthew 2:11).


Scene 6 (Wise Men Arrive in Bethlehem) Matthew Chapter 2: The Wise Men entered the house, bowed down before Jesus, and worshiped Him. Then they presented Him with gifts - gifts that were fitting for a King. Their mission was accomplished. Their quest to find the newly born King was over.


Scene 7: (Wise Men, and Joseph, Mary & Jesus Scatter) Matthew Chapter 2: Divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, the Wise Men departed for their own country another way. Likewise, during that very night, Joseph was also warned in a dream to take Jesus and His mother, flee to Egypt for safety, and stay there until further notice. So Joseph, Mary and Jesus quickly took off during the night before Herod could decide on a plan, and before his thugs could take action, because they probably followed behind and saw the house where the Wise Men entered.


Because Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, and that by now he was unsure where Jesus was, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi, hoping to have a wide enough safety margin to include Jesus in the process (by now Jesus could have been several months, possibly even a year old). A terrible slaughter occurred, but Joseph, Mary and Jesus safely made it to Egypt, where they lived until Herod died. Through God's providence, the valuable gifts from the Magi were God's provision to provide travel and living expenses for Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Is Worship Becoming Watered Down? - Part 4

As shown in the last post, it’s plain to see that some translators have been much more broad minded than others in equating original root words (Hebrew or Greek) with the English word ‘worship’. It's dangerous because when the word worship is used too liberally, it clouds any distinction between worship and service, and leads to a philosophy of watered down worship. It takes away from worship.

I believe one of the characteristics of real worship is that it is intentional. Real worship must be deliberate. When you worship God, you are aware of it. It's a moment when you are spiritually engaged. If worship is simply living for God, that means that you could be worshiping God and not even realize it! Common sense tells us that can't be right. Yet it's a common philosophy today.

Worship and Service Are Different
Worship leads to service but is not service in itself. If we truly are worshipers, then we will be motivated to serve God. Service is a byproduct of worship. In this sense, they go together but they are not the same. Sure, it is possible to worship and serve at the same time, but it is also possible to serve God without being in the spirit of worship.  Our act of worship must be much more focused and intentional than simply living a Christian lifestyle.
 
Actually, there are many scriptures that clearly distinguish between worship and service. One is found in the book of Matthew where Satan tried to get Jesus to worship him. Matthew 4:10 (NIV),  “Jesus said to him, 'Away from me, Satan! For it is written: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only."'"

The word ‘worship’ in this verse is derived from the original Greek word ‘proskuneo’ which means to bow down. The word ‘serve’ in this verse is derived from the original Greek word ‘latreuo’ which means to serve or to do God’s work. It is to be in God’s service. In this verse, there is a clear distinction that we should worship God and that we should serve God. We should devote time to bow to him, and we should devote time to serve him.

I personally feel the word 'proskuneo' is the most accurate portrayal of worship. This word essentially means to bow down. The physical orientation of one bowing down signifies that nothing is more important, more cherished, and more honored than the one being worshiped. Bowing is a personal admission of personal submission. It is a physical demonstration that the one falling down is inferior and the one being worshiped is superior. It is in a sense an official recognition of who is King and who is the obedient, loyal and loving servant. 

This is the reason Satan wanted Jesus to fall down at his feet. "All this I will give you," Satan said, "if you will bow down and worship me." (Matthew 4:9). If Jesus would have done that, he would have exalted Satan and put himself in an inferior position. It would have been a proclamation of who was the superior one. It would have showed that Satan was above all things, including Jesus.
 
 Regardless of whether our worship is planned or is spontaneous, it is done with a conscious effort. There is an awareness in worship; an awareness first of all that we are worshiping God, an awareness of God’s presence, and awareness of our expression to God. It is a spiritual experience, just as prayer is a spiritual experience (I will talk about this more in an upcoming post on John 4:24). Worship occurs in a specific, focused, purposeful moment.  It happens for a reason, and for a particular time period.


A Major Source Of Confusion - Romans 12:1
The fact that the different translations of the Bible apply the word 'worship' with varying frequency (see the table in the previous post), leads us to confusion when trying to define worship. Perhaps some versions of the Bible simply do not make the best use of English words when translating from the original Hebrew or Greek languages. One such example is found in Romans 12:1. I suspect that this one verse has contributed the most to today's erroneous philosophy that worship is simply our life style, instead of an intentional, spiritual encounter. Several bible translations of this particular verse, including the NIV, imply that worship is our whole life.

Romans 12:1 NIV:  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.


If you are reading the NIV and take this verse at its face value, then you would conclude that this verse defines worship, that worship is living a righteous life is worship, that living for God = worship. It says it in the "Bible", right? However, is this really what Paul, the writer, intended this verse to mean?

The problem with the NIV version in this verse is that it implies that our service is a ‘spiritual act’. (I'm not against the NIV version - I use it all the time - it's just that I believe the translators did a poor job on this particular verse). This implication that service = spiritual act of worship is not based on the original language. In this verse the Greek words for the phrase 'spiritual act of worship' are ‘logikos’ (reason or logic) and ‘latreia’ (service or ministry that involves God’s work). Literally, this verse is talking about 'reasonable service' not 'spiritual worship'. It's interesting that the Greek word, pneuma, which means spirit, is not used at all in Romans 12:1. The phrase used by several Bible translations, “spiritual act”, is not founded on the original language. Remember the verse above "Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only" from Matthew 4:10? In that verse, it distinguishes between worshiping and serving (‘latreuo’).

Based on the Greek, the phrase "reasonable service" is a more accurate translation of Romans 12:1 than “spiritual act of worship”. It more clearly conveys the idea that it is reasonable for worshipers to serve or minister to others because of what he has done for us. It is reasonable to simply be available for whatever God needs us to do to advance his Kingdom. In other words, it is logical for worshipers who profess to live Godly lives to be the ones who do good deeds for him – who are devoted workers for him.

There are several Bible translations this give a more accurate wording of Romans 12:1. In this case, the New King James Version:

Romans 12:1 NKJV:  "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.



In conclusion, Romans 12:1 is about service or how we should give our lives to God, and is not a definition of spiritual worship. Worship and service are different. Let me repeat what I said in an earlier post:

True worshipers will be compelled to serve the Lord and be driven to live their lives for God. One who worships God will naturally serve Him. We need to serve, but it is not the same as true, intimate worship. We need to worship, but it is not the same as serving. We can’t simply be worshipers alone, and likewise, we can’t simply be servants alone. We must be worshipers. We must be servants. There is a time for worship and there is a time for service.


In the next post, I will start to focus more specifically on defining worship, and begin looking at the three conditions which must be in place for worship to be 'worship'. I'll reveal those three conditions next time.








Sunday, November 18, 2012

Is Worship Becoming Watered Down? - Part 3

In the last post, I talked about how the common philosophy of worship today is to define worship as a lifestyle - that we worship God by living for Him. Many authors and teachers today muddle worship and service (serving God), and mix them together. This dilutes true worship. Although living for Him is absolutely crucial, is that really what true worship is? In a quest to try to be better at worshiping God, I've come to a different conclusion over the years. In the next several posts, I will lay the foundation for my own philosophy and definition of real worship.

First, I think we need to understand some probable reasons why today's common philosophy of worship is so prevalent. I'm going to list one reason below.

In my desire to be a better worshiper, I found myself asking questions like, “What does the bible really say about worship?”, “Where can I find specific examples of people worshiping God in the scriptures?”, “Where is the word ‘worship’ used in the bible?” Questions like these made me put aside all the books on worship and go back to the bible for answers. I had read plenty of scriptures concerning the topic of worship but this time I wanted to go back and look at scriptures with the intention of coming up with my own definition of worship.

Unfortunately the bible doesn’t give a clear one sentence definition of worship. It doesn’t say, “Worship is .................... .” We can, however, find all the places in the bible where the word is used and then get an overall concept of what worship is through all the teachings and examples we find. So my first step was to do a word study on ‘worship‘.  I looked up everywhere in the bible where the word ‘worship’ was found.

I used the New International Version (1984) and discovered that there are 250 places in the bible where ‘worship’ is used (175 times in the Old Testament and 75 times in the New Testament). I began to look up each one. When combined, all the talk about worship would surely give a well rounded concept of worship. Then one day, I picked up another translation - the old King James. What I found was an eye-opener - instead of listing 250 places in the bible where ‘worship’ was used, like the NIV, the King James used the word worship only 188 times. So I checked the New Living Translation. Worship is found 495 times! The Message: 544 times!

Then something really hit me - I realized that anyone's concept and understanding of worship is directly dependent on which translation of the Bible they use! Yes, someone’s theology of worship can be contingent upon the translators of a particular Bible version. After all, the translators decide when and where to use the particular English word ‘worship’ to express a particular original language Hebrew or Greek word.

What this means is that someone who uses the Message or the New Living Translation will have a much more generalized view of worship compared to someone using the King James or New King James versions. These translations using the word 'worship' liberally have contributed to today's diluted philosophy of worship.

Below is a listing of how many times the word ‘worship’ is used (including any derivative such as worshiping, worshiped, worshiper, worships) in a sampling of different translations (reference: www.biblegateway.com);



The question becomes: who is right? Which translation more accurately defines what worship is? Is the Message translation too liberal in its use of the word 'worship'? Is the King James too restrictive? I wanted to be sure of one thing - my philosophy of worship was not based on a particular group of men who decided when and where to use the word worship. I needed to look at the original Greek and Hebrew words. Not only that, I needed to look at Biblical examples of worship as well, combined with the principles of worship, found in the Old and New Testaments.

A lesson to be learned here:  When doing a Bible word search - for any word, not just worship - be aware that the number of search results depends on what translation you use. For example, you can't simply say that the word worship is found 250 times in the Bible. You can only say, "The word worship is found 250 times in the NIV."

Next post: a look at some Greek and Hebrew words for worship. Then, in a later post, I will share what I believe is the one major contributing verse that has, in my opinion, erroneously led to today's common philosophy of watered-down worship: Romans 12:1.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Worship Becoming Watered Down? - Part 2

  I'm working on a book project tentatively called "Worshiping In The Zone." A lot of what I'm writing in this blog is coming from that project. This post is part 2 of what will be a several part series. That's because I want to lay a foundation explaining how I came to establish my personal one-sentence definition of worship - which I will reveal in time.
  In the last entry I talked about how the philosophy of worship today seems to be watered down in the sense that most books on the subject are of the opinion that worship is a life style. I don't agree. Such a broad generalization of worship reduces worship to simply living righteously and serving God. Nothing wrong with that, but that's not worship.
The danger develops when the word worship is used so liberally that it clouds any distinction between worship and service - and there is a difference. When the concepts of worshiping God and serving God become the same then there is a problem. Worship and service are linked but not the same.
  Worship leads to service but is not service in itself. Of course, if we truly are worshipers, then we will be motivated to serve God. Service is a byproduct of worship. In this sense, they go together but they are not the same. Sure, it is possible to worship and serve at the same time, but it is also possible to serve God without worshiping Him.  Our act of worship must be more focused and intentional.
  If there is a distinction between worship and service, then what is service? Let’s define it by looking at who a servant is. One who serves is one who is living as a servant, always humbly and willfully available at the master’s every call. A servant is an obedient slave living under the master’s care. As a bond servant, one who serves God is ever obligated to live righteously and always ready and willing to do God’s work. That doesn’t mean they are constantly worshiping the master.
  In the last post, I talked about a seminar I went to where the instructor offered a definition of worship that was incredibly diluted. He said, “Worship is everything we do in life that is pleasing to God”. He even used the illustration of a husband serving his wife by doing the dishes, and called that an act of worshiping God. I couldn't believe my ears. 
  Certainly, a husband doing the dishes for his wife illustrates service. However, if the husband’s only devotion to his wife was to do the dishes and never give her focused attention, such as saying, “I love you” or show affection, the marriage wouldn’t last long would it? On the other hand, if the husband never did anything to serve or help his wife, the marriage would likewise be in trouble. Both are important but different.In the same way, we need to worship God and serve him also. They are both important, but both different.
  A true worshiper has a submissive attitude, and wants to live for Christ and love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. True Christians will surely become living sacrifices for Him, being available for whatever work advances the Kingdom, ministering to others and glorifying Him. Worshipers are servants!
  True worshipers will be compelled to serve the Lord and be driven to live their lives for God. The force that compels is love. God’s love drives worshipers to serve and minister – to take action. One who worships God will naturally serve Him.
  We need to serve, but it is not the same as true, intimate worship. We need to worship, but it is not the same as serving. We can’t simply be worshipers alone, and likewise, we can’t simply be servants alone. We must be worshipers. We must be servants. There is a time for worship and there is a time for service. Thus the very important verse: Matthew 4:10 (NIV),  “…….Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. "
  In the next post I will talk about how my Bible word search for "worship" gave me a revealing result that I wasn't expecting!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Is Worship Becoming Watered Down?

  My concept of worship has changed over the past ten years. As I look back on when I first became a full time worship leader, I admit, I didn’t have a very good concept of worship. I understood song leading, since I am a musician, but I didn’t grasp the concept of worship leading. I have come to realize that almost anyone who can sing can be a song leader in front of a congregation, but there is a big difference between a song leader and a worship leader. The key to being an effective worship leader is this - you need to be a worshiper first! And to be a worshiper you must understand what worship is. This is true for everyone - you must understand what worship is before you can worship God.
    You know what I found out? Most of the worship books of today seem to emphasize one thing in common - that worship is defined by how you live your life. The more I began to read, the more I realized how many authors equate worship to Christian lifestyle. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that there must be something more specific about the practice of worship than just living your life for God. Of course it is important to live your life for God, but is that truly worship? I began to question the common definition of worship found in today’s religious world.

I’ve read all kinds of definitions of worship from many different authors. Some say simply listening to a sermon is worship. Others say that any action we do that glorifies God is worship. I’ve read that teaching someone about Jesus is worship and serving other is worship. Here are more examples of what’s being taught today: preaching is worship, obedience is worship, giving money in the Sunday offering is worship, and giving our life for God’s use is worship. Obviously, all these are good and honor God, but are they really worship? I think not.

I'm convinced that there is a difference between serving God and worshiping God, but today people seem to mix them together. Likewise, there is a difference between giving God glory and worshiping Him, but many would question that. Serving God, living for Him, evangelizing, singing, witnessing, and being a Christian example to others are edifying to God, but should they be grouped into one broad definition of worship? Is it possible that we have watered down our worship, taking what should be a concentrated, focused effort and turning it into a thinned out and diluted concept?

I attended a Worship Leader seminar a few years ago in Austin, Texas. The event offered several workshops on all kinds of subjects pertaining to leading worship. There was one that caught my eye. The topic was worship theology. Sure enough, the instructor offered a definition of worship that was incredibly diluted. He said, “Worship is everything we do in life that is pleasing to God”. I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Everything we do in life that is pleasing to God is worship? He even used the illustration of a husband serving his wife by doing the dishes, and called that an act of worshiping God. What?! Doing the dishes for your wife is an admirable thing to do, but is that really worshiping God?

Here's what I believe: worship and service are different. More to come on why that philosophy is popular today, and what the bible says about worship verses service.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Election Above All Elections

     Election season is crazy! To be honest, I’m tired of it all. I can’t wait for it to be over. And finally, tomorrow night it will be done - yay. I’m tired of all the commercials. I’m tired of all the yelling. I’m tired of how Republicans and Democrats seem to hate each other. Will this country ever be united again instead of divided? I’m tired of the news channels taking sides. Are you for Romney? Then the Fox News channel is for you. Are you for Obama? Then MSNBC is for you. Are there any news channels anymore? I don’t think so. I can’t find real news anywhere, only politics. Today’s news channels have been reduced to political commentary channels.
    Regardless of who wins, on Wednesday, the day after the election, we can be sure that life will still go on. And through the aftermath, I’m reminded of what my dad used to say, “It won’t make any difference, a hundred years from now.”
    There is, however, an election that will make a difference. It is the election that is above all elections. It’s an election that really matters. It is your election!
    That’s right - we, as Christians, have been elected by God to be his chosen people (1 Peter 2:9). Think of it this way - God voted for you!  He chose us (Ephesians 1:4). He is for us. And if He is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?
    Christians are God’s chosen people, and if we are his elect, then we need to work at living a life worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1).
     The Bible says in 2 Peter 1:10a, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.”
    So, yes, this presidential election is important, but not nearly important as yours.