What Leadership Isn't

by Toby Manolis

Would you ever build a statue of yourself or a monument in your own honor?

The thought of that is silly, right?  I mean it’s one thing when someone else does something that honors you.  However, can you imagine taking the initiative to build your own monument?  When I read the part in 1 Samuel 15, where King Saul sets up a monument in his own honor, I laugh at how ridiculous that is.  However, should I laugh? Maybe not, because it’s tragic and Saul’s pride had devastating effects.  The fact is, I’m capable of that. I’m moved by humility, I want to be humble, but I also must recognize that I can be like Saul.  It took time and a lot of bad decisions for Saul to get to that degree of pride, but boy, did he level up.

King Saul’s example should be sobering for any current or aspiring leader.  Leadership is a big deal and it can be scary. I’m not trying to frighten anyone off because being a leader in God’s Kingdom is something worthy to desire. However, having a healthy fear of God, and a healthy fear of any measure of authority over God’s people, is necessary.  Authority is a powerful thing. When properly used, it brings to fruition the will of God and all the blessings that come with it. When used improperly, it destroys and rends.

We likely all have our own definition of what leadership is, but this blog post addresses what I believe leadership is notLeadership is not when the leader gets to do things their way or “pulls rank” to have things the way they want.  Have you ever been in a situation, and thought to yourself, “When I get to do this / have my own __________, I’m gonna do it this way.”? I think we’ve all thought that at some point.  It’s normal, but it is right to actually do that as a leader?  Not always.  We have to be careful.  Depending on the situation, how and why a leader uses their authority can define them as either an immature leader (Saul), or a mature leader (David).

Let’s look at Saul and David.  I don’t think for a second that God chose David over Saul because David was a poor shepherd boy who was never given his chance to shine.  God, with all His mystery, doesn’t mince words. He’s very direct when He informs Saul, through Samuel, of why David was chosen over him. “But now your (Saul) kingship will not last. Adonai has sought for Himself a man after His own heart. So Adonai will appoint him as ruler over His people—because you (Saul) have not guarded what Adonai commanded you.” (1 Sam. 13:14; TLV) 

God said this in direct response to Saul’s open disobedience.  Saul had a bad habit of doing what Saul wanted. It was leadership alright, but it wasn’t the leadership that God wanted. God had found a man in David that would do His will, and guard His vision.  If God wanted a leader to make decisions based on what they wanted, then He already had the right man for the job in Saul.  The fact is, it’s not like Saul had NO success. He won every Biblically recorded military engagement he commanded until his last one, Mt. Gilboa, the one where he fell on his own sword.  Saul had visible success, but his heart was in terrible spiritual condition, which leads us to David. Why David? It’s not that David didn’t sin, nor was it that God loved David more than Saul. God doesn’t choose leaders because he loves them more than their followers.  In fact, those who are appointed to lead should (still) be the best followers.  Leadership isn’t a promotion from being a follower. Servanthood is key to being an effective and able leader in God’s Kingdom.  At some point, Saul stopped serving as a leader.  At some point, Saul no longer regarded his personal relationship with God.  It’s safe to say that David loved God more than Saul loved God. When we look at David, we see a flawed man whose personal relationship with God was both persistent and consistent in nature.  That is what made David the better man. David’s will was doing God’s will.

One example of David’s model leadership was during the processional of the Ark of God into Jerusalem (1 Chron. 15).  During the celebration, he puts on a linen robe like the priests were wearing. David was the King of Israel, yet, he was now in the presence of the Ark, which encased the manifest presence of God on earth.  In the presence of God, the Great King, there are no other kings. David put on a linen robe, moving from a royal position to a ministerial servant position. David didn’t hesitate to set aside royalty to be a servant.

Just because a leader can, doesn’t mean a leader should. David’s desire to build The Temple was a good thing. David had the authority to do this, but it wasn’t God’s will for him.  In 1 Chronicles 17, David shared his desire to build God a house with the prophet Nathan.  Nathan responded, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” (v.2), which is basically saying, “David, you have God’s favor, and the authority.  Go for it!” Yet, it was Nathan who said that, not the Lord. How do we know? The very next verse.  “But that same night the word of God came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell David My servant, thus says Adonai, ‘You are not to build Me a house in which to dwell….’” (v. 3-5) David wanted to do it, a legitimate prophet approved, but then God came in later than night to run interference. The visions, the plans, are God’s.

Again, just because a leader can, doesn’t mean a leader should.

This is such a powerful lesson for us.  Authority is not a blank check from God to a leader.  Rather, it’s an opportunity for a leader to further a magnificent Plan already designed.  It was done before the foundations of the earth.  It’s by God’s grace and His mercy and love for us that He uses us to do His will, and make no mistake, it’s all about Him.  As Paul says, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, so that the surpassing greatness of the power may be from God and not from ourselves.” (2 Cor. 4:7; TLV) 

David knew where his position came from and to Whom it belonged and because of that, he never lost that position even though he made mistakes and committed grave sins along the way (which he repented for and dealt with the fallout from).  The Ark would become an issue again later in David’s life when his own son, Absalom, ran him out of Jerusalem in an attempted overthrow. During his escape, David, rightfully the king, defended the Ark remaining in Jerusalem even with a false king.  Why? It was a matter of honor, God’s honor. “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in Adonai’s eyes, He will bring me back, and let me see it and His dwelling.” (2 Sam. 15: 25-26; TLV)  Simply put, David loved God, and was more concerned with the Ark remaining where God commanded it, rather than taking the Ark to save face or make a political statement about his legitimacy as king.

This is a leader that God wants.  A servant. Not a perfect leader, but a leader that serves the interests of God’s honor, desires, and reputation before their own, even when it hurts.  I exhort you worship leaders, ministry heads, anyone whom God uses as a channel of authority in the Kingdom, know that the good work you do is pre-designed.  God has a plan laid out for you and those you lead. Seek His way first, always, especially when those decisions are weighty, or have to do with others you serve with or who are in your charge.  I’m not telling you to hyper-spiritualize everything. There are certainly matters of personal preference that leaders make decisions on. However, ultimately, God chooses leaders who will do things His way.  He doesn’t leave the room after He grants authority. He is with you, in order to see to it that you do His will, for your sake, for the Kingdom’s sake, and above all, for the sake of His glory.

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Toby Manolis is the Media Director at Meuchad. He has worn a variety of hats since being called to the Messianic Movement in 2005 including bass player, videographer, school teacher, worship leader, cantor, husband, youth leader, and dad. He’s a proud 90s kid with a growing collection of desk toys in his office.

Live Like Leia

by Brooke Manolis

Luke, Leia or Han Solo?

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James 1:2-4 TLV

We are definitely a Star Wars family. We own all the movies, have seen the newer additions and own *several* ship replicas and various related collector’s items. You get the picture. However, it’s not just because there are cool ships and lightsabers that we like these movies. There is depth, a beautiful and painful recognition of the human experience in them. You can see yourself in the characters...your good traits and your flaws, your triumphs and your battles, good and evil.

After going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my husband and I were discussing the film. He brought something up that really stuck with me that I’d like to share. I won’t get to engrossed in relaying the story to you (non-Star Wars fans, breathe your sigh of relief), but suffice it to say that things aren’t good and some really tough stuff has happened to each of these characters. It’s not that bad things happened, it’s how they handled those things that speaks volumes. When confronted with hardships, Luke, Leia and Han Solo react completely different from each other, which made me think...which one am I?

Luke was a powerful, skilled leader. He had such enthusiasm and passion for what he believed and he was quick to make things happen. However, he experienced some devastating events later in life. His zeal and commitment was severely tested. So, how did he respond? He ran for the hills and was never heard from again. He was so devastated by the guilt and weight of life’s hardships. Likewise, Han Solo and Leia had incredibly painful things happen to them. Unlike Luke, Han didn’t run, but he went back to his old ways...smuggling and making back-handed deals with some not-so-great people. That leaves my personal favorite, Leia. She, among all of these characters, remained steadfast and even worked HARDER to restore Good to the universe. From the first movie onward, Leia never gave up hope and did not let the evils of life tear out the good inside of her.

We all have and, sadly, will continue to face hardships in life. Yeshua says in John 16:33 that “in the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

There is no escaping the hard parts of life, however, it is our response to the hardships that define us. We can run from it all and hope that time and distance will make us forget. The issue with running, is that it doesn’t just get smaller in the distance, it becomes the monster in your blind spot. You’ll never know when you will have to face it again, but you will face it. Just like Luke did, when Rey came to find him and confronted him with the truth.

We can also return to old habits that once numbed or busied our minds as a distraction. Han Solo was BETTER than the smuggling he did. He had a good heart and made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs (Just let me have the ONE reference)! However, trials overwhelmed him, and old habits die hard.

The third option, and the one that God would have us choose, is to keep the faith and keep fighting. We meet Leia in the midst of the rebellion and we visit her again in the throes of battle. She is so fierce, so steady, and never gives up hope. That of course, leaves little room for error, you may think, but it’s just the opposite. Being steadfast and persevering is available to us all, flaws and all. We may be afraid, stressed out, angry, sad, and making mistakes along the way, but we should still strive to keep going. In the end, that is all Leia did. She knew that her work was important, and she never laid it down, even in the face of what she thought was defeat.

That is us, friends. We do important work. We herald the Kingdom of God. We love our friends, families, and neighbors as Yeshua would. We take a stand for righteousness. We take care of the orphan and the widow. We are part of the greatest Resistance to ever grace the universe. Things get dark and they will get darker still, but take heart, His light will match that darkness. We are fighting a war unseen, and we needn’t run from it or fall into the idle habits that distract us. KEEP FIGHTING. You are not alone. There is always a remnant of the faithful and always time to begin fighting again. Live like Leia, and keep fighting the good fight.

Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you see it you'll never make it through the night.
- General Leia Organa


Brooke Manolis is the Marketing Director of Meuchad. She has been involved in the Messianic Jewish Worship Community since she was 15 years old. She can be found reading all the books she can find, watching all the movies, and fostering her love for 80s and 90s vibes. She is married to Toby Manolis and they have two sweet kiddos.

On Writing "Here To Heaven (Yeshua Reigns)"

by Elsie Bennett

Hello, my name is Elsie Bennett and I am a member of Consecrated Worship from Nashville, TN. The song “Here to Heaven (Yeshua Reigns)” was written during a season when the authority of Yeshua became a major reality for many on our team. Several of us came face to face with questions regarding who God is within our personal journeys and what it means to live a lifestyle magnifying Yeshua as LORD of all creation.

From a place of surrender, the lyrics were birthed, and the song’s melody quickly followed. The sovereignty of Yeshua was consistently being confirmed by the Ruach Hakodesh for all on our team. During times of doubt and questioning, the goodness of Adonai reminded us of the purpose behind this song… to exalt the name of Yeshua the Messiah throughout the earth. From our own experience, we have seen that some of the most powerful moments within worship are when Yeshua’s name is being exalted and there is a total reverence towards His power and authority. Miracles truly happen when the Son of God is glorified. The supernatural becomes natural when we recognize who Yeshua is and the power of worshiping Him in total surrender. We also recognize WHO WE ARE IN HIM as sons and daughters of the living God!

We pray this song blesses you, your congregations and communities!

Please feel free to email us at consecratedworshipband@gmail.com if you have any questions regarding production and recording of the track. Baruch HaShem!

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Elsie Bennett grew up in a Messianic Jewish home and has served in ministry since the age of 13. She graduated ministry school with a focus on Worship Music Leadership and then attended Belmont University, graduating with a degree in Songwriting and Music Business. She currently is the Worship Director at Kol Dodi in Nashville, TN and is a member of Consecrated Worship (formerly ZIK Worship).

Worship is the Reward: Why It's OK to Lose Yourself

by Adam Rosenfeld

Worship is the Reward: Why It’s OK to Lose Yourself

I have this memory of once receiving a birthday gift from my brother circa when I was 8 years old. By the time I was born, he was all grown up and out of the house. He would come to visit every once in a while, and one day he came by to give me a present for my birthday. He handed me a rectangular, heavy object. I took it from him and tore away the wrapping paper. What could it be? A box of Transformers? A new video game? To my utter dismay, I found that I was holding a dictionary. A dictionary… for my birthday. I was so disappointed that I actually cried, right there, in front of my brother. I made no attempt to look happy or say thank you to him. It was awful. My brother just left the house and was gone. I’ve felt bad about that moment ever since.

And as bad as I feel about that moment, we tend to do the same thing to God all the time.

Doing it Wrong

I have been blessed with a gift from God. He gave me the ability to worship Him through music. In my early teenage years, I learned to play guitar, sing, and write songs. Later on in life, He gave me opportunities to play on worship teams, lead worship, and to be on staff with a worship ministry. But I didn’t always appreciate those opportunities as I should have. At times, I saw them as a means to an end. I thought that if I chose to use my gifts in worship, God would “be nice to me” and one day let me do the other stuff I wanted to do in life. This shows that I didn’t understand the gift I’ve been given.

The truth is that God isn’t just “nice” to me, He loves me. He loves me so much He gave me all these opportunities to worship Him. And yeah, maybe my brother gave me a dictionary to express his love. But God knows me on a deeper level, and gave me gifts accordingly. But in my heart, I treated both my brother and God the same.

Lose Yourself…

King David understood this concept of God’s gift of worship. He was “a man after God’s own heart,” as the Bible says (1 Sam. 13:14). When the ark was being brought into Jerusalem, his response was to remove his royal garments and dance before God with all of his might (2 Sam. 6:14). The source text for this historical account implies “whirling and twirling.” Can you imagine some of today’s world leaders taking off their suit jackets, and whirling and twirling in public? That’s not the kind of PR these guys are usually looking for.

But here’s the point - we all need something to whirl and twirl about. A long time ago, the Israelites in the desert tragically decided it was in their best interest to worship a golden calf. It says that after they made sacrifices, and after they sat down to eat, they “got up and played” (Exodus 32:6). The source text here implies “laughing in a playful manner.” Although this is not exactly the same thing as “whirling and twirling,” I believe that both have something in common. They both allude to the desire to cast off inhibition.

The account of David dancing before the Lord also hints that he took off his clothes to do so (2 Sam. 6:20). My understanding of this is that David removed the garments that identified him with royalty in order to worship God. He cast off his royal status before Him - he lost himself.

We all need something like this in life. We need something that warrants a total casting off of our social order - of our inhibitions. We need to somehow get to that place where we totally lose ourselves. This is a big theme in our culture. “Lose yourself to the music.” “Go wild to the beat.” Sure, I get it. I’ve been there, many of us have. Be it the beat, the music, the pop star, the rock band, the hippie bonfire festival - whatever. Those things don’t have the ability to properly receive our deepest adorations. They are not worthy of the casting off of all our inhibitions. All we do is lose ourselves, and we end up, well, lost. And then we have to go find ourselves again. This just sucks the energy out of us. Often it keeps us in an endless cycle of working to find ourselves just so we can lose ourselves again. And in the end, we never accomplish what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives.

…To Find Yourself

But when we lose ourselves in worship to God, we indeed find ourselves. He is the only one worthy to receive our loss of inhibition. And that’s how we’re supposed to worship Him. Not as a means to an end. Not as something that will make us more righteous. Not as something that will open more doors for work/ministry/recognition in life - no. Worship itself is the reward.

So, when God gives you the gift to worship Him, don’t think that it’s going to lead you anywhere in life other than closer to Him. And if you can’t appreciate that, you’re like an 8-year-old boy crying on his birthday. You’ve just been given a gift, and you don’t even realize it.


Adam Lee Rosenfeld grew up in the Messianic movement in the US, and today lives in Jerusalem, Israel, with his wife and 8 children. He has an indie rock music project called Har Adonai, and a podcast titled “Beauty. Truth.” Learn more


by Toby Manolis

Anyone who knows me personally and has ever heard me talk about God or the Scriptures probably knows that I have a very deep fondness for David.  After the Lord / Yeshua, he is by far my favorite person featured in the Bible. My son’s middle name is David. Brooke and I gave him that name because we wanted him to have the namesake of David, the man after God’s own heart.  David is the only man in Scripture who is individually referred to in this manner.

Oftentimes when I read these parts of Scripture I wonder, “Okay, if David was the man after God’s own heart, does that mean I CAN’T be a man after God’s own heart?  Was David the “after God’s heart” guy? What can I attain to? I mean I love God, so why wouldn’t I want to be special in God’s sight, in a way no one else is?” As a father with just two children, my love for them is the same, yet I see them and relate to them in unique ways. I am deliberate about creating things with one that I don’t have with the other. I do that because I want them to know that I see them for who they are, different from others, different from each other. We all love God, and don’t we ever wonder how God sees us the midst of his throngs of children? I believe that’s a mark of desiring intimacy with God, and that’s a good thing. If anyone in Scripture enjoyed an intimate relationship with God, David was one of those people.

I want to be a man after God’s own heart.  I love David. I love his example. Yes, David had moments where he sinned greatly.  I have had moments where I have sinned greatly. I still want David’s heart. I want to respond to God the way David did.  I want to respond to my own sin the way David responded to his.

Please don’t mistake what I’m saying.  David isn’t my savior. Messiah Yeshua is the Author and Perfecter of my faith, and yours.  Yeshua is my righteousness. I’ve heard it once said that Yeshua delivered us from the POWER of sin, but not its presence.  That unlocked a whole new level of understanding for me. Our status before God is righteous because of Yeshua, but we still struggle with our fallen nature.  Honestly, that’s for another blog post. I will openly admit, however, that I find it easier to relate to David, because he sinned, than the Messiah, who didn’t.  Am I wrong for that? I don’t know, but I’m being honest about where I’m at right now.

Have you ever met a Believer in Yeshua, whose decision to put their faith in Him suddenly activated a switch that caused them to never sin again; to never want to sin again; to never doubt God again or never feel forgotten by Him?  I’m still a sinner. I still struggle with my flesh. I still get discouraged. I still get frustrated with God and His inexplicable ways. I still wrestle with doubt and fear and the power of my own way, and there are times where I lose that struggle and my way has its way with me.  I NEED YESHUA, but I’m also glad that David’s example is there too. I’m not saved by David. I’m encouraged by David. I don’t use David’s fall from grace and beautiful restoration as an excuse to indulge in sin, because I’m well aware that God’s people, beloved as they are, aren’t above facing consequences for their sins. David taught us that.

While Yeshua is always central in my walk with God, I’m glad I have David’s testimony to refer to.  I can be a total mess and still have God’s attention and be in His affections. I can know the way, get lost, but find the way again. We have in our possession, as Believers in Messiah Yeshua, all the promises that God has made to man, but our souls still need to be compelled to praise God for His goodness, thank Him for His grace, or beg Him for His mercy.  David’s life of both thriving and surviving and His dogged determination to maintain a loyal heart toward his God in the midst of both is something God wanted us to see in graphic detail.

Merriam-Webster has a definition for being “after one’s own heart”.  It is an idiom used to describe someone that has similar likes and dislikes as you.  When I look at the psalms David wrote, I certainly see a man with intense love for God, and intense scorn for wickedness.  David was far from a perfect man, but he strove for perfection nonetheless. David lived a life of being after the very essence of who God was; what He loved, what He hated, His thoughts, His opinions, His inclinations.  It’s all so very personal, which is the first step in being a man or woman after God’s heart. It’s having the knowledge that God doesn’t just want to use us. He wants to know us. It’s personal to God. He’s deadly serious about it, and He gave everything to have a relationship with us.

When we think of being after God’s own heart, the action word here is “after”.  It’s a key word for those who are seeking to have a heart like David’s because if that’s what you want, the action of being “after” is always a present progressive one.  In the New Covenant, David is referred as the man after God’s own heart by Paul in Acts 13:  He also testified about him and said, ‘I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do My will.’”  When looking at the Greek here, the word for after is kata, which is a preposition that has multiple uses such as about, according to, like, exactly, along, together, within.

So it can be said that:  

David had a heart about God’s heart.  
David had a heart according to God’s heart.  
David had a heart like God’s heart.  
David had a heart exactly [like] God’s heart.  
David had a heart along God’s heart.  
David had a heart together [with] God’s heart.  
David had a heart within God’s heart.

To answer the question that I posed at the beginning of this post, can I, and you, be men and women after God’s own heart?  The answer is a resounding YES. However, I think the key here is understanding that having a heart like God, on this side of Messiah’s return, is always something to be pursued.  It’s present progressive. Being a person after God’s own heart isn’t a status to be reached, it’s a journey you take. It’s a road you walk. Being after something means leaving one place to pursue something somewhere else.  Being after something means moving.  In this case, we leave a life of pursuing our own interests, to pursue God’s.  We are flawed individuals. We are a mess oftentimes. Though we have attained salvation and justification before God through the work of Yeshua, the rest is a journey, a journey after God’s heart. I exhort myself, and anyone reading this post right now, to run the race all the more despite the fact that we are broken, and far from perfect. David wasn’t a perfect man, but he strove for perfection nonetheless. There’s a beauty in that.  Now let’s be careful. You can, and will, drive yourself nuts if you think you can reach a moral perfection this side of things. We must accept God’s grace over our brokenness, our sinfulness. Yet, there’s nothing wrong with giving your all for God and His heart despite that. What else is there to do with the love you have for God? You pursue Him no matter what.

Maybe right now you feel like, “There’s no way I have a heart like God’s”.  Maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to be AFTER it.

There was always something about David.  Don’t get me wrong, there has never been, and there never will be a time when anyone has God wrapped around their finger.  However, there was something about David that pulled the fatherly love out of God. It was his heart. It was his scrappy persistence and his refusal to leave God alone about anything.  He never, ever failed to take God at His word. He never, ever failed to stop reminding God that he needed Him. In the end, isn’t that what God wants from us?

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Toby Manolis is the Media Director at Meuchad. He has worn a variety of hats since being called to the Messianic Movement in 2005 including bass player, videographer, school teacher, worship leader, cantor, husband, youth leader, and dad. He’s a proud 90s kid with a growing collection of desk toys in his office.

Palace or Pasture

by Toby Manolis

Ask yourself right now, worship leader, worshipper, musician, dancer:  Why am I doing this? Why do I lead worship? Why do I write songs? Why do I want to raise money to record an album or film a music video?  Why do we have corporate dance? Ask these questions to yourself. Don’t be afraid of your response, even if you know in your heart that the response might not be the best response.  Be brutally honest with God. I’ve found that the more brutally honest you are with God about yourself, the more He’ll show you His mercy, love, and all-sufficient grace. Don’t worry, God’s not waiting for you to be perfect in order to use you, but I think Scripture and experience have proved to us time and time again, that God wants a heart that’s His; that is aimed at His desires and not its own.  He wants to use a heart that seeks to live out the dream He intended for it.

If I’m going to ask you to be brutally honest, then I’m going to be myself.   I’ve been involved in worship in the Messianic community since 2006. It’s been amazing and it’s been difficult.  I’ve been encouraged and discouraged. I’ve loved it and I’ve hated it. I’ve had mountaintop experiences, been a part of anointed worship sets, and have helped write songs that were complimented by others and even played by fellow worshippers in the movement.  I’ve also had people tell me I wasn’t good at leading worship, have had worship sets fall flat, and have written songs that I’m sure weren’t winners. My wife and I have recorded an album and we’ve sold some CDs. Yet, at times I find myself discouraged. Like sometimes, I get focused on how many CDs we’ve sold; or how little we’ve sold, and why.  One moment I’ll love the music we have created, then the next moment I’ll criticize it mercilessly. When I’m off the rollercoaster ride of loving and hating my ability to use my gifting, I hear a familiar voice ask: “Why are you doing this?” It’s in those moments where I realize that the motives of my heart need to be redirected.

A problem is how we as people tend to measure success:  numbers/sales, awards, being booked up and busy. Come on.  That’s how we tend to measure it. Now, sometimes success is measured by numbers, awards, and being booked up and busy.  Sometimes. There’s everything right with God blessing certain musicians and worship leaders with musical careers and albums that sell.  Yet, there’s everything wrong with thinking that because that’s not you, that you aren’t doing it right or not making a difference in the Kingdom.  

Let’s look at two physical Biblical settings where important things happen:  palaces and pastures. When I think of a palace, I think of high rank, honor, visible success.  Palaces were at the center of attention. Kings lived in the palaces. Special guests and people who are honored are at the palaces.  Special people sit at the table of the king at the palaces. When I think of a pasture, I think of a wide open field. Wilderness. The fringes.  No important people gathered around. No important crowds. No important tables to sit at. There’s work to be done. There’s sheep to guide and protect.  It’s not glamorous. It’s not luxurious. In my mind, it’s most worship leaders, serving congregations, on the front lines. BUT...the pasture was where Moses was trained and had his fateful encounter with God.  It was where David was doing his job when Samuel showed up to his house looking for Israel’s next king.

Psalm 23, one of our most lauded songs, was written against the backdrop of the pasture, with God as the ultimate Shepherd.  YES, God Himself is in the pasture. He is the Shepherd, we His sheep (Psalm 100). Yeshua, is the Good Shepherd (John 10). The pasture is just as important as the palace.  I’m in no way saying that the idea of “the palace” always symbolizes success, and the pasture always symbolizes failure or the struggle to “make it”. Quite the contrary. Both can be places of great success and great failure.  Both can be places to “make it”. Neither one is more important than the other, but the success to be had in both looks very different.

I think if you told David that Psalm 23 would be covered by so many Christian and Messianic artists, he’d be surprised.  I don’t think David cared one bit about how successful or popular the song would be. I think he wrote it simply to proclaim who God was to him.  God’s ear was the only ear David cared to reach. Earthly success was a far second, if it ever was a thought at all. Ironically, this is what made David the best man to be in the palace.  David sought hard after God’s mind, heart, and opinion whether it was among throngs of followers or cluttered herds of sheep. David was a man after God’s own heart, not David’s own success.  David relentlessly strived for God, NOT for places of honor and influence.  It is for this reason that David was a man who found success in the pasture AND eventually, the palace too.

King Saul, who began his life strong and could have had a great story of his own, instead becomes the infamous antagonist in David’s greater story as well as the textbook example of how success can ruin a man of God.  We see Saul begin with a “new heart” and over years, tragically decay into self-glorification, as seen with the monuments he built unto himself, his excuses for his disobedience to God, and his burning jealousy of the unassuming servant-hearted David.  Sadly, Saul simply could NOT stomach someone else being successful in his presence, even at the benefit of all Israel. Saul ONLY focused on the numbers to measure success. He couldn’t get over David’s “ten thousands” over his “thousands”. That’s not good, guys.  Many of our forefathers in Scripture have allowed their success to rule them to their and others’ detriment. Fortunately, we also have good examples of men such as David and Hezekiah, both visibly successful men of God who struggled under the weight of their success at times but ultimately mastered their vices and ended their time in the palace honorably.

Wow!  Sounds like I’m really ragging on visible success.  Not at all. I’m simply highlighting the human condition.  We like acceptance and affirmation. We like when others like what we do, but sometimes, in our insecurity, it becomes our main focus.  Before we know it, what we do lives by the affirmation or dies by the criticism of ourselves or other people. In the realm of music and worship-leading, it’s a snare we need to be aware of.  

Desire for visible success in worship ministry is still a good thing.  There is no “nay-saying” here. I want to encourage you. Keep your dreams in your heart, just hold on to those dreams loosely.  Are you willing to surrender and accept the possibility of God’s dream being different from yours?  I promise His is better.  He promises His is better. A truth we need to accept is that success isn’t always visible and noticed.  

My advice to you is to play to the audience of One.  Like David in the pasture, play unto God. If hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, or more show up along the way, so much the better. Is it not enough to have God’s ear? I hope we, myself included, can grasp this revelation.  I pray it for the good of the Kingdom. The glory is His. From Him. Through Him. For Him.

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Toby Manolis is the Media Director at Meuchad. He has worn a variety of hats since being called to the Messianic Movement in 2005 including bass player, videographer, school teacher, worship leader, cantor, husband, youth leader, and dad. He’s a proud 90s kid with a growing collection of desk toys in his office.

Israeli Folk Music: Part II - Should Messianic Congregations Embrace Israeli Folk Music?

by “Joyful Joe” Miterko

We learned in my last post that Israeli Folk Music has a vibrant history with  vast sources influencing its making and development. Today we are looking at why Messianic Congregations and Synagogues should incorporate Israeli Folk Music into their flow of worship, and how it fits within the context of congregational life. Incorporating Israeli folk music into our worship celebrates Messianic Jewish revival and is a way of celebrating the God of Israel and His faithfulness to His people. Incorporating the traditions and songs of Israel is a way of honoring our heritage and shows a clear connection to our roots.

First of all, much of Israeli folk music has its basis in Scripture. There is a substantial repertoire that draws from the Ketuvim (Writings), particularly from the Tehilim  (Psalms) and Mishlei  (Proverbs). This should be embraced; the more Scripture the better!  I’m not saying you have to sing HaTikvah (The Hope – Israel’s National Anthem) at every single Shabbat service. There are too many options and approaches for that! One option is to incorporate modern versions of the early piyutim (liturgical poems), such as Dr. Greg Silverman’s Be Turned. He  incorporates modern elements with a sense of an old melody, the Eits Chayim, hovering over it.

Another way to utilize Israeli folk music is by using medleys. Israeli folk music medleys are very practical because the simpler songs are often in the same modalities. Jonathan Settel’s Super Medley is a great example of how we can take classic Israeli melodies and add English lyrics or treat them as niggunim (wordless songs). Settel’s Od Yishama/Sisu Et Yerushalayim is another strong example of a two song medley  without the niggun. Niggunim can be powerful on their own as well because people are connecting to the music, the community, and to God without having to focus on lyrics.  

The Israeli folk music genre has gone through many phases and evolutions and is now really breaking into the Messianic community! Check out Joshua Aaron’s version of the classic Hinei Ma Tov. This song is a staple in Jewish and Messianic cultures, but it does not have to be the same version Shabbat service after Shabbat service. Adapt it to the needs and style of your congregation. This crossover, Hebrew-Arabic version of Heveinu Shalom Aleichem is an amazing version of a classic. These artists and many others don’t treat the older traditions as outdated. Instead, they learn from and appreciate these treasures which keeps the heritage of this music alive.

Putting the Class in Classical – Israeli Folk Music: Part I: A Brief Survey

by “Joyful Joe” Miterko

I love classic music; music that has been composed decades, if not centuries, beforehand and still remains with us today. We can learn so much from these compositions; what the time was like politically when they were written, who the composer was and what his or her life was like, and more. Were pieces composed based on a reaction to surrounding events? Or did they spark controversy themselves (like Stravinsky’s Write of Spring)?

 Within the framework of classical, you have the genius works of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Chopin and more.   In addition, Broadway standards and showtunes never seem to date; they are timeless pieces we still sing today.  I love the sound of the big band and jazz orchestras that often perform them.

Israeli folk music, then and now, fits this paradigm perfectly with no exceptions. There is a wide array of flavors that make up the genre. From the Chasidic (Eastern European) tradition to the work of the Chalutsim (pioneers), the genre is filled with goodness that can still be applied to music for today.

It is important to note that in the galut (Diaspora), before the State of Israel was birthed and established, the Jewish people were composing music in addition to creating other forms of art. One of the most popular innovations is the piyut (pl. piyutim) or liturgy that takes on the form of poetry. These prayers would be set to a musical backdrop; often chanted in the synagogue.  One of the most famous of the piyutim was composed by Solomon ibn Gabriol entitled “Adon Olam” (Master of the World).  This poem has multiple Scripture references, including Psalm 118:6a and Isaiah 44:6b. Another classic piyut was written by Rabbi Daniyel ben Yehudah (“the judge of Rome”) entitled “Yigdal Elohim Chai” (Exalted is the Living God) is based on Moses Maimonides’  (also known as the Rambam) Thirteen Principles of Faith; the essential doctrine and creed of Rabbinic Judaism. In addition, the classic song "Ani Maamin" (I Believe) follows the Twelth principle. These poems and prayers share in a huge part of Israeli folk music as it is today.

Fast-forward to the 1860s European Jewry was experiencing the haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment). There were many Jewish writers and philosophers who started pushing the bouJndaries in thought and what Judaism is and should look like. This paved the way to Zionism and the resettling of the Land of Israel (then called Palestine). Waves of excitement were emerging with this new Zionist spirit. Many songs started to emerge that were nationalistic in nature. One of the most classic examples of this time period is “Artsa Alinu” (We Ascended to the Land).The lyrics translate to “We Ascended to the Land. We’ve already plowed and sown too. But we have not yet reaped.”  There is a sense of longing to fully take the Land back with a sense of joy with the progress they have made.

While Israeli folk music tends to be upbeat and joyful, there are somber moments that demonstrate the struggles and realities that the Jewish people have faced for centuries  “Eli Eli” (My God, My God) was  composedby Hannah Senesh (1921-1944), a Hungarian born Jewess who decided to immigrate to Palestine under the British Mandate,  Yet she undertook a dangerous mission. She joined the British Army in an attempt to rescue her own people from the ashes of the Holocaust. However, when she parachuted into Hungary in 1944, she was almost caught immediately. She tragically died at the age of 23. “Eli Eli” translates to, “My God, My God, may these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rustle of the water, the lightning of the sky, and Man’s Prayer”.

Yet another classic we cannot forget about is Yerushalayim Shel Zehav (Jerusalem of Gold). This song came much later, but still has that fire that that initial chalutsim carried. Israeli composer Naomi Shemer wrote this famous piece in 1967, as an entry to the “Voice of Israel” music festival competition. And it took off from there. Here is famous Israeli singer Shuli Natan singing this beautiful piece. Many, including the popular jamband group Phish have covered this song. Shemer originally wrote the lyrics as a notion for longing to return to Jerusalem. However, before the song was completed, Jerusalem was in Jewish hands again by the miraculous Israeli victory of the Six Day War. After that, Shemer changed the lyrics around.

Another famous piece that is an “elephant in the room” is Israel’s national anthem – HaTikvah (The Hope). Somber as well, the lyrics are based from the poem by Naphtali Imber entitled Tikvateinu (Our Hope). However, the melody is unknown. Some attribute it to the Sephardi Hallel or the Tefilat Tal (Prayer for Dew).  Others say that composer Samuel Cohen wrote it. It had been sung in momentous occasions, happy and sad. After the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the survivors sang it. On the other hand, Czech Jews also sang it while they were entering Auschwitz-Birkenau. This song, as we can see, has a range of emotion, as does other Israeli folk music.  

There is so much rich history behind Israeli folk music and what the chalutsim did. They are responsible for some of the most cherished melodies that we sing today. We should be incredibly thankful for the modern State of Israel and what God has done; therefore singing these melodies should be a mandate on our hearts. We should sing them as an expression of thanks to God for what He has done and His Hand that continually saves our Jewish people.

Re(Jew)vinating Jazz Part II: Klezmer and Messianic Worship

by “Joyful Joe” Miterko

As we saw in Part I, Klezmer music combines a vast range of emotions, from sadness to simcha (joy). The question then becomes: what do we do with it? As a Messianic worship community, should we embrace and incorporate Klezmer music into our worship? If so, how?

First off, when considering this question, it is important to remember that Klezmer started out as Yiddish theatrical music. It would be awkward to walk into a synagogue and hearing the worship team rehearse “Yidn Mitn Fiddl” . However, the Messianic community has experimented and pioneered a distinctive sound based on Ashkenazi roots. Over the years, this style has evolved and continues to do so until today. As Klezmer was a product of Yiddish revival, so too, Messianic Jewish Worship incorporating Klezmer is a product of Jewish revival amidst our people Israel.  

Enter names like Stuart Dauermann, Steffi Rubin, Jhan Markowitz, Sam Nadler, and Mitch Glaser, . They were all members of the musical group The Liberated Wailing Wall. Birthed by Jews for Jesus in 1971 in San Francisco, their goal was to create a new style called “Jewish Gospel” that combined music from the Old Country with Messiah-centered lyrics.  They toured around the world and played in various venues; from college campuses to churches, to major folk music festivals. The group comprised of various teams and stood until the year 2000. Many Messianic congregations still use much of their material as do even church hymnals.  You can find them all over YouTube. Here are a couple of classic albums from the early days.

 A second group that also broke ground with Messianic music and Klezmer was the singing group Kol Simcha “voice of gladness”. This group was pioneered within Congregation Beth Yeshua in Philadelphia, PA in the 1980s. Beth Yeshua has always had a rich musical lineage, and this is a capstone part of its rich history. Such greats like Mark Dayan, Bruce Cohen,, Steve and Linda Brown plus many others were involved in this group. Like the Liberated Wailing Wall, they would have concerts and performances in many venues. Take a listen to one of their more recent songs that feature a lot of Ashkenazi flair.   In addition, Rebbitzen Debbie Chernoff composed a very famous piece that has zounds of Klezmer influence in it entitled “Psalm 30”.  Their music is still widely known and popular.

Joel Chernoff of LAMB did something revolutionary as well. Not only is he an accomplished songwriter, he took the harmonies and rhythms of classic Klezmer and incorporated them into a worship setting without the “bells and whistles”. In other words, The Liberated Wailing Wall and Kol Simcha were rather larger ensembles. LAMB, however, was much smaller, only comprising of a duo.. Joel and his band--mate Rick Coghill did the best they could to incorporate Eastern European feeling within just a duo context. Many congregations still sing Joel’s music today, including some very Ashkenazi-sounding tunes like “Clap Your Hands” and “Shuvee”  

There are countless other examples that could be mentioned about Klezmer’s influence on Messianic Jewish Worship. Now, you might be thinking, “Ok, well, that was then in the 70s and 80s, but this is now. What does Klezmer have to do with me?” It has a lot of relevance to you! First of all, we are commanded to rejoice always (1 Thes. 5:16). Klezmer has the elements of rejoicing. I’m not saying that every song in your worship set must be an “oom-pa”, but taking ideas and experimenting with a hybrid is great too. Klezmer is continuing to evolve, and so too can Messianic Worship continue to do the same.

Second, using Klezmer pieces does not mean that you must use the exact arrangement the original artist used. Make it adoptable for your congregation. I once heard of a group that took the song “The Day of the Lord” by Paul Wilbur and transform it into a reggae Police-type of feel.  There is so much creativity that can be employed. There are no restrictions to Messianic Jewish Worship. What suits your congregation is best. But Klezmer can enhance the color palette of your worship set.

Remembering where we came from and knowing where we are going are two important parts of a whole. Our past can be conveyed through Klezmer’s deep, rich history. And we can preserve it and carry it on to future generation. Let’s re(Jew)venate some Jewish Jazz!

Re(Jew)vinating Jazz Part I: A Survey of Klezmer Music

by “Joyful Joe” Miterko

To some of us, “Klezmer” sounds like the name of a faraway planet. To others of us, it sounds like a gourmet pasta dish served at a five-star Italian restaurant. Both of these are incorrect. It is a rich musical genre that gets greatly underappreciated in many circles.

Usually, when my musician friends ask what Klezmer is, I answer, “Have you ever seen the musical Fiddler On the Roof? Or have you ever danced the hora at a Jewish wedding? That’s Klezmer. L’chaim!” There is so much more to it than those simple answers. These experiences are just a glimpse at the vast world of the genre; an appetizer before the meal, if you will. For a long time, Klezmer was the heart and soul of Eastern European Jewry. Today, we can learn how it can spark a creative engine for us.  

The name “Klezmer” comes from two words combined in Hebrew: כלי klei (instrument, vessel) and מרז zemer (song). Its origins can trace back to the late 1800s in Eastern European shtetls (small Jewish villages), and it is a product of Yiddish cultural revival. For example, Avrom Goldfadn, a Ukrainian playwright, started writing and staging Yiddish theatre.  Alongside of him, Zelig Mogulescu composed, arranged, and produced the scores for these plays. One of the most important of Mogulescu’s pieces is “Rozhinkes mit mandlen” (Raisins and Almonds) , which is still widely regarded as an important work in Jewish culture today.

Sadly, the Ashkenazim (Eastern European Jews) faced a large amount of antisemitism through boycotts and pogroms. As a result, life was hard. Many lived in poverty. Engagement with the outside was brutal. One consequence included that Jews were not allowed to perform in public places.  So, Klezmer groups and ensembles started out very small with very few members. Despite the small size, it also became known as wedding music, because most Jewish weddings would integrate a festive nature with their tragic surroundings. One of the most common tunes in weddings was “Firm di Mekhutonim” (Escorting the Bride and Groom). Even though these were intense situations, the simcha (joy, gladness) still went on!

In the early days, common instruments included the clarinet, violin and cymbalon (an Eastern European version of a hammered dulcimer). These were considered “quieter” instruments, because they would not resonate like a brass or woodwind instrument would.  Unfortunately, with the dawning of the Shoah (Holocaust), the fame of the music dwindled and declined. Many people forgot the message of joy they had heard. Within ensembles, the mood became more saddened and composers would write darker pieces. After the Shoah, though, Klezmer made a revival and people began to experiment with it. More instruments were added to ensembles including the upright bass, accordion, percussion, other woodwinds (flutes, saxophones), and brass (trumpets, trombones, and tuba). American musician Abe Schwartz started combining sounds of jazz and blues (that were so prevalent in the outside world) within the genre. One of his famous contributions is “Sher Medley”.  

There is a tremendous amount of music to listen to; whether it be the older or more contemporary version of Klezmer. Currently, I am blessed to live in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Very often, I get to hear Klezmer blaring outside my window; it is pure bliss. For many Ashkenazim, the older tunes from Eastern Europe still are important in family gatherings, lifecycles, and all year round. It reminds them of the joy of simchas (special occasions) and the bitter history of the past.  They still listen to such greats like Naftule Brandwein (“King of Klezmer Clarinet”) and Giora Feidman

Then, as time progressed, more experimentation and creativity went on. Musicians wanted to make Klezmer more hip and accessible to younger generations; it was no longer their grandfather’s music. These included ensembles like The Klezmatics, mandolin player Andy Statman, and trumpeter  Frank London. All of them have tried a lot of blending and succeeded. While instrumentation is updated to include electric instruments (guitar, bass, Fender Rhodes, etc.), the listener can distinctively recognize that it is the classic sound and feel. Some is very heavily orchestrated, while often times it is not. The tradition and lineage still matters to these modern artists.

Not only does the Jewish world hold on to Klezmer, but even the outside world is beginning to love and embrace it, which is exciting! A group called Golem seeks to combine the classic sound with a punk/rock feel. In addition, the popular band Snarky Puppy has a song that features quite a lot of influence from Ashkenazi flair. There is also a favorite of mine called, “Oy to the World: A Klezmer Christmas” by a one-album-wonder group named The Klezmonauts that recreates popular Christmas carols into something completely different. In fact, my extended family that is not involved with the Messianic movement absolutely loves this album!

As we see, Klezmer can convey a lot of feelings: both joy and sadness, dancing and sighing, happiness and mourning. It is an expressive art that is important in the world around us. And I think you can be a cool cat by listening to the Jewish Jazz - Klezmer!