Monday, April 20, 2009

Brave New Worship Part 2

Part 2 about brave new worship is here at last! In my last blog, I left us with Abraham and how he "amaned" God. Looking at David's life, we learn more about brave new worship. From the stories of his youth, we know that he was man fully convinced that God was on his side. He fought lions and bears and defeated Goliath with his slingshot. It's evident that David never believed he accomplished these things by his own ability, but by the power and faithfulness of God. Later in his life, when he became king, he wanted to bring the ark in the center of Jerusalem. David knew that God's presence was important and he wanted the ark - the house of God's presence--to be situated right in the middle of the city, right at the heart of the nation.

Where had the ark been up until this time? In 1 Samuel 4, we read that 20 years beforehand, the Philistines won a battle with the Israelites and captured the ark. When they took it home with their spoils, God began wreaking havoc among them. Plagues and infestations broke out in their towns. Eventually, the Philistines returned the ark to Israel on a driverless cart (1 Sam 6) where it parked in Beth Shemesh, a town designated for the Levites. Unfortunately, the Levites were unfamiliar with the law about how to handle the ark and some of men looked into the ark and died. Like the Philistines, the residents of Beth Shemesh sent the ark away and said,"Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?" The ark was sent to Kireath Jearim (nine miles west of Jerusalem) and taken to Abinadab's house where it remained for 20 years.

When David became king he went after the ark. He had a passion for the presence of God that was extraordinary. In Psalm 132 we see that David had a call from his youth - a call to worship. So with his new authority as king, he responded to that call by bringing the ark into the center of Jerusalem. The scriptures tell us that there were two attempts at bringing the ark to Jerusalem. The first time (1 Chron. 13) was a failure. The attempt failed because David and his men handled the ark like the Philistines did--by placing it on a cart. They approached the ark, the presence of God, the focal point of worship, as it seemed reasonable and never thought to consult God about how his presence should be handled. In a way, David took his counsel from the very enemies of God. Also, David's leadership was weak. He approached his leaders and the people of Israel in a wishy-washy manner: "If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the Lord our God...." David was looking for public approval and his authority was not firmly in place. So with human planning and weak leadership, he and the Israelites set out to transport the ark on the cart. The oxen stumbled, and one of the helpers, Uzzah, reached out touching the ark to steady it. Tragically, God's anger broke out (exploded!) against him and he died.

David was angry. How had this happened? All his planning was utterly ruined. He was afraid because God who had always been on his side, now acted as his enemy. David even named the place Perez Uzzah, meaning "outbreak against Uzzah." Echoing the Levites of Beth Shemesh, David declared, "How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?" David was confused and left the ark at the house of Obed-Edom where it remained for several months.

The second attempt (1 Chron. 15) to bring the ark to Jerusalem was a success. Between 1 Chron. 13 and 1 Chron. 15, something changed in David. In 1 Chron. 14 we get a glimpse into his shift. We see David's leadership strengthened and his authority established as he engaged in two different battles with the Philistines. Verse 17 says, "So David's fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him." We also see that David learned to consult God. Prior to each battle, David asked God how to defeat the enemy. In each instance God gave a different strategy; he didn't repeat himself. Each battle was truly led and won by the Lord, not by human planning or familiar strategy. God wants to be the leader. I find it fascinating and sobering what David says after his first battle: "As waters break out, God has broken out against my enemies by my hand." Does this sound familiar? This God explosion/breaking out also happened at the first attempt to move the ark. Since God was not leading that event, he treated Uzzah and David's plans as though they were his enemies and resisted them. This is a sobering truth. If we don't consult God and let him lead, he will resist us. We will actually become his enemy.

Having understood God's sovereignty, David set about to collect the ark the 2nd time. First, he functioned clearly in his own God-given authority. He consulted God's law and learned how the ark was to be moved. Then he gathered the Levites and reminded them of their place, their calling, and their authority to move the ark. In 1 Chron. 15, the first 24 verses are a detailed description of people being set in their right places and established in their spheres of authority. In verse 25, after everyone was properly positioned, it says, "S0..." In the Message, it says, "Now they were ready." Once a right flow of authority was set in place an amazing thing took place: brave new worship happened.

David, a man after God's own heart, stepped out into a new place. Not only did he worship God wholeheartedly, but he actually stepped into a priestly role. 1 Chron. 15:27 tells us he wore a linen ephod which, under the law, was to be worn only by priests. Amazing! He wasn't a Levite! How could he do this without God breaking out against him? Through revelation! I am convinced that somewhere between 1 Chron 13 and 1 Chron 15, as David humbly consulted the Lord, he had a revelation of the cross (see Psalm 22) and through this revelation received strategy and authority and freedom to come out of the religious law and function in a new place - as a priest. Under the law this would have been absolute violation. But because of his revelation of Christ, David risked everything - his very life - and believed ("amaned")God will all his being. As Psalm 132 tells us, he heard the call and he couldn't do anything else but respond.

I am convinced that by revelation, David saw the freshly slain way and that's why after six paces oxen and fatted sheep were sacrificed. God's presence was coming to Jerusalem via a fresh, bloody way. We know this is the way of the cross. Blood must flow.

David worshipped ecstatically. He was not concerned about his reputation or how he appeared to others. He no longer referenced himself, but fixed his heart completely on the Lord. Michal, his wife, who watched from a window (a mere spectator,not a participant) despised his worship. Isn't this just like the religious spirit? Religion hates ecstatic, body and soul worship. But the way of the cross makes religion irrelevant and David would not even consider her judgment.

1 Chronicles 15 also tells us that the nation together worshipped God and joy filled the land. With this brave new worship, religion was relegated to a distant place. While Moses' tent was set up in Gibeon and the Mosiac pattern of worship continued there without the ark of God's presence, David set up a tent in the middle of Jerusalem and placed the ark there for all to behold. For forty years, the presence of God was accessible to all. The law didn't allow for this, but God's way - the way of the cross--made it so.

So what is this brave new worship? It's a worship that happens from and in a place of revelation, a revelation that flows from the power of the cross. It means setting aside what seems reasonable in our minds and following a way that only God can dictate. He has set a boundary for us - the narrow way of the cross. Yet in that limited, narrow way, it's so spacious, so vast and so roomy for God to move into new things. To follow his fresh new way, a way never seen before, requires tremendous courage. The literal French meaning of courage is "full heart." We bravely respond to our encounter with Christ not out of fear, but with full hearts worshipping him body and soul, holding nothing back. In that place, religion is stale, dead and irrelevant. There's no place for it to have a voice and set up camp.

In Acts 15:15-18, after Paul shares with the apostles about the conversion of the Gentiles to the gospel, James quotes Amos 9:11-12 recognizing that God was restoring David's Tent. He saw that the dictates of religion and the law had been set aside and no longer had a voice about who could have access to God's presence. Through the bloody way of our great high priest - the Son of David - all nations were now free to enter in.

Because worship belongs to our God, then he leads it. Our response is to follow bravely into the new thing that he's doing. He's not limited to our reason, our past experiences, or the law, but is constantly releasing a newly created encounter with him. Are we going to believe it? Are we going to plunge in body and soul and embrace all the promises that have been won for us?

I'm personally challenged by this word. My heart and my mind are being expanded and as a daughter of God, I find I can't hold on to anything I've known. I also can't limit myself by my own natural limitations. I have to trust God with my whole being. I'm hearing a call to step into a brave new place and I know I must respond. I'm not sure where I'm going, but I choose to keep my eyes on Jesus and believe him with everything I've got. What else is there to live for?