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.


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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
here.

Being AFTER

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 perfect 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, husband, youth leader, and dad. He’s a proud 90s kid with an increasingly 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, husband, youth leader, and dad. He’s a proud 90s kid with an increasingly 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!

The Importance of Theologically Informed Music

by Tony Wray (of Hazakim)

One can argue that in recent decades the reach, audience, platform, and marketing power of faith-based music has grown significantly. Our studios, production teams, larger budgets, and increased media exposure rival that of the “mainstream” secular industry. Marketing campaigns replete with pretty faces, attractive graphics, special effects, clever hashtags, television appearances, and packed out stadiums have replaced poorly funded tours at small congregations. A variety of sounds and genres, including family-friendly alternatives of your favorite secular artists, abound. According to recent statistics, the Christian music industry boasts an impressive 1,400 radio stations and 80 million listeners nationally; bringing in half a billion dollars annually. While none of these facts are a moral problem in and of themselves, I would submit that amidst all of the glitz and glam, we run the risk of forgetting the “main thing”: namely, a Yeshua-centered, theologically informed approach to our music.

Among the myriad of Christian and Messianic artists that are signed to record labels and making music, the methods vary as greatly as do the musical styles. This article is, in no way, an attempt to generalize or paint with broad brushes the entire Christian and Messianic music world. Neither is it an indictment against the more popular artists in the Body of Messiah as a whole. Furthermore, I would never contend that there is only one way to do music ministry and that you must pack complex theology and apologetics into every song “Hazakim style”. I do believe, however, that some of the trends in more recent popular Christian music (and by extension Messianic music, to a lesser degree) should concern us.

Before I begin I feel it is important to define what I mean by the phrase, “theologically informed music.” Theology is the study of God and His attributes. If we, as believing musicians and artists, purport to communicate or share the truths of this God, namely the God of Israel, it should follow that a proper understanding of Him and His Word would inform our approach. Indeed, our music should rely and rest on good theology. So what is good theology? I’m glad you asked…

From the very beginning of the Torah, we learn that God created all things in the cosmos, including man and woman, for His glory. We were given dominion in the earth as custodians over creation and were gifted with life so that we might know God’s love and reciprocate that love back to Him and each other. When sin entered the world through humanity, death, decay, hatred, and deception came with it. The whole story of Scripture is the story of God’s unfolding plan to restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden. This plan was ultimately realized in the coming of Yeshua the Messiah through His death and resurrection, and will finally culminate with His glorious return when all things are placed under His feet.

Then the peace, fellowship, communion, and love that once existed between heaven and earth will be restored. This is the Good News, also known as “the Gospel.” So what or who is the focus of the Gospel? As Rav Sha’ul (the Apostle Paul) so eloquently stated in His letter to the Romans: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen” (11:36).

The Gospel is undoubtedly the grace and love of God for us, on full display – but the focus is Him. In this Gospel story, He is the main character. He invites us to be supporting actors who participate in this glorious story with Him. Ultimately, even those who reject Him are playing a role in the story of His glory. Some will glorify Him through their own judgment, but through faith, we are able to glorify Him through salvation and eternal life. What an amazing Gospel!

Yeshua is the embodiment of the Divine Word through whom and for whom and to whom all things came into being – including sound, rhythm, rhyme, melody, harmony, and the very laws of music. The role of everything in creation, the very reason we were created, is to glorify God, which is why music was created.

Understanding this narrative – the narrative of Scripture – is theology. Making music for and about God with a poor understanding of this narrative leads to a skewed presentation of the Gospel. It has been said that theology without doxology (liturgical praise or worship) leads to cold, dead religion. When our approach to God is merely cerebral knowledge without a heart of praise, we are living outside of our intended purpose – to worship the Lord with all of our being. Doxology without theology, however, leads to something far more dangerous: idolatry. Without a clear understanding of God, His Gospel, His attributes, His story; we run the risk of creating gods in our own image. Often, when we as humans imagine God outside of an informed Biblical theology, the “god” we end up worshipping is ourselves.

I would argue that sometimes our worship music has more to do with us, than it does with God. At times the focus of our “praise and worship” is born out of a poor theology, focused on our own crown, and not an occasion for us to cast our crowns at His feet. In addition to this, we can sometimes produce theologically shallow music that seeks to connect with the listener solely through its introspective and emotional appeal. It is much easier for human beings to get excited about listening to another mundane creature’s struggles and feelings than it is for human beings to get excited about a complex and lofty God. But perhaps our lack of excitement about God-centered music as opposed to man-centered music is a symptom of the fall. Perhaps God doesn’t excite us because His glory steals the show… Either way, the lofty God is who we were created to know and adore!

Am I saying that emotional and introspective music is wrong or that every song has to be a sermon? Of course not! There are Books of the Bible, such as Esther and Ecclesiastes, that are less overtly theological and to some degree a personal, introspective kind of worship of God that is spiritually healthy. Even the Psalms of David are full of the king’s praises to God for the mighty deeds God performed on his behalf. It is good for us to worship God in a personal way saying, “thank you Lord for saving me and keeping me.” But David never ended his psalms with himself as the focus. The focus of David’s attention was the God of Israel: his rock, his fortress, his salvation, his Lord, and his deliverance.

David saw God’s deliverance as an occasion to magnify God’s attributes and even, at times, make very profound theological statements. Some of David’s music even prophesied the coming of the Messiah. Portions of his psalms, such as Psalm 22, would even be cited in the Messianic apologetics of Yeshua and His disciples and are used as “proof texts” for Yeshua’s Messiahship to this very day. The psalms of David were anything but theologically shallow. David possessed a sound theology. He understood, by Scripture, the attributes, story, and centrality of God and His Messiah. David understood that it was all about God. Praise God for His Word, which is sufficient to provide us with sound theology and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).

In addition to the Psalms of David, the Bible contains many other illustrations of what theologically informed music should look like. In Exodus 15 we find the song of Moses, Miriam, and the newly delivered children of Israel. This song, while highlighting the wonderful deeds of the Lord on their behalf, gives all glory to God and magnifies His attributes of holiness, omnipotence, justice, mercy, and sovereignty. This song even makes boasts of the Lord that our modern day worship would be afraid to proclaim; praising God for the physical destruction of His foes! Indeed…this song is not shy about the power of God and is rich in theological content. They didn’t simply sing “We love the Lord because He makes us happy and gives us freedom…” Neither did they simply sing, “Nothing can stop us now…” No, they used God’s deliverance as an occasion to highlight and glorify His divine attributes and cast their crowns at his feet.

The Book of Revelation also contains several song passages. One such passage, which contains the song of four heavenly creatures, is Revelation 5:9 which reads, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Again we see the four living creatures putting the Lamb’s glory on display – using His redemptive deeds as an occasion to glorify Him.

In this age of relativism, self-importance, and image based marketing, may the Lord enable us, by His Spirit, to worship Him in spirit and in truth. The truth is found in Scripture, and Scripture is the basis of our theology. Our theology informs our music and our art, and our art informs a dying world. In previous eras the battle to balance relevance and ministry, for the believing artist, was not as intense as it is now.

The temptation to make “me” the focus is much greater in a “me” centered world. Despite our given genre of music, we would all do well to take a page from the songs of Scripture as well as the hymns of old which glorified the Lord through theologically informed music. Lyrics containing such glorious truths that the hearer and participant can do nothing but extol the Living God and glorify Him, as they were created to do. In a world of moral insanity, where God’s glory is rarely put on display by human beings, we need lyrics like these now more than ever before. Even if we were to boast of Him in a million songs, it cannot make up for the degree to which He is dissed in our culture. In the words of a theologically rich hymn of old, let us boldly proclaim His Greatness!

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,

Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When Messiah shall come, with shout of acclamation,

And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.

Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,

And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Getting Your Heart Right

by Mykie Collins

The most powerful, unprecedented and just absolute best worship experience I have ever had in my entire life was at the 2015 YMJA southeast retreat last year. I mean, I was singing notes I have never hit before, I was creating melodic runs I in my own right mind can never again create, singing new songs that have never been heard and worshipping more freely then I could have ever imagined possible. I… actually that is the weirdest part, I wasn’t even singing. Yes, this worshipful sound was coming out of my mouth but I had actually lost complete control of what I was doing. God fully took over. There I was sitting in a cabin with Shanna Mattson, Jabin Thomas, and Matt Adams (some of the most amazing worshipers I have ever met) two guitars, one hand drum, and me the one singer. Honestly I can’t explain what happened that night and give it justice, but I will say this; you know how every worship leader’s prayer is to be lead by the Holy Spirit when leading a service? I’m just like “DUDE that WAS the Holy Spirit.” I wasn’t leading a service, I wasn’t leading anything. I had no clue what was going to come out of my mouth next. I wasn’t trying to surrender, I WAS surrendered. My body was a mere vessel.  My heart was His. In that moment I had a taste of what God could make me capable of. I was singing the way I had always longed to. It was as if He was saying “Give me all of your heart, and I will give you this moment every time you worship. Give me every fear and every desire of your heart, and you will be able to worship me uninhibited by the boundaries of your own capabilities. Give me all of you and I will give you all of Me.”

I told you that story because it is crucial to what I want to write about; preparing your heart for worship. Simply put, to prepare your heart for worship all you have to do is completely surrender to God. Give him every aspect or your heart, every deepest desire, every secret, and every ambition. IT’S LIKE SUPER SIMPLE AND EASY. Oh wait, actually that goes against everything our flesh wants. Our human nature says “Don’t worry God, I can handle this. I am not ready to give it to You right now.” We want to shove everything that God wants to fix into the same drawer we shove old receipts in and pretend we are all “together” and ready to worship Adonai freely. We can get excited to lead or participate in a powerful worship service only to find ourselves walking away unchanged when Yeshua was standing RIGHT THERE next to us ready to take anything we wanted to give Him. But most of the time we don’t give it to Him. We hold on to so much hurt, we hold on too tightly to our dreams, and we don’t truly believe that God can heal our wounds or exceed our wildest expectations.  What if when we worshipped, we actually, I mean REALLY, wholeheartedly trusted God enough to open our hearts wholly to HIM? Deuteronomy 9:23 says, “And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, ‘Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.’ But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust or obey him.”

Adonai wants to give us so much more than we trust He can actually do.

I learned this the hard way myself, as many others who read this will relate. I, as many others who are called to worship, dream of a day when God gives me more. I dream big because I have a big God who placed big dreams in my heart. However, I am impatient, which naturally leads me to doubting the dreams Adonai placed in my heart and being frustrated with HIM. I held on too tightly to my own idea of my future specifically in regards to worship, and when things were not unfolding at the pace I thought fit for my life, worshipping became harder. My heart was not prepared to lead worship anymore.  During this difficult time I remember thinking, “Lord take me back to the place I was when I was at the Southeast Retreat worshiping you freely! That’s how I want to worship you every time! That’s how I want to lead worship.” I know now what He answered me back with. “Give Me your heart. Let Me take control. Trust Me.”

We must first prepare our heart by acknowledging that Adonai needs to be in control. If we are leading worship, we must know that He has equipped us with all we need and that freedom in the Ruach is obtainable when we are in complete surrender. If we are worshipping and not just “leading”, having a breakthrough is possible, hearing His voice is possible, anything and everything the Lord has is obtainable. But He will only give it to us when we are ready. We will only ever be ready when we are in completely surrendered to the Lord’s authority over our life. As difficult as it can be to accomplish, the idea is simple to prepare your heart to receive the blessings in store from worshiping Our Creator is worshipping in complete surrender. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

 

Don’t Lose the Liturgy: Reviving Our Future Hope through Ancient Prayer

by Jamie Eaton

If you’ve spent any time at all in the Messianic Community, you know as well as anybody that the variance of expression truly runs the gamut from very charismatic to orthodox. But no matter where you go, one thing remains the same. In every congregation, in every country, in every corner of the world we are all united by the prayer that stands as the centrality of our faith: The Shema.  There is something so comforting about knowing that no matter where I am; I carry that prayer with me and it echoes in the hearts and minds of the people around me as well. The burden set deep in my kishkes to see Jewish people return to their Mashiach cries out “Listen up! Our G-d is one and the same! It says so right here in the Shema! Could it be any more obvious?” It is from here that my deep love of liturgical prayer stems and my desire to call my unbelieving Jewish brothers and sisters into the full knowledge of who their Messiah is, using the customs and prayers of our people, begins.

Merriam Webster defines liturgy as ‘a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship or customary repertoire of ideas, phrases or observances’. When you put it in those terms it all seems very boring. Some years ago, I found myself at a crossroads in my walk with the L-rd. I primarily identified as Jewish but I felt stagnant in my worship. I could recite the prayers by heart, so in my mind, there wasn’t a “need” to fully engage and I often found myself checked out during service. I could not relate to my community and there was no resonance within me to maintain a Jewish lifestyle. “I love the Lord”, I thought,” All these extra prayers seem unnecessary to express that love”.  I was bored. It was this very boredom that shook me to my core and frightened me.  Was I walking away from my faith? Was I turning my back on my foundation? If I could not find worship and relationship with my G-d through the prayers of my people, if I couldn’t find engagement in the energy and traditions of my family, how could I expect anyone else to find those things? I was at a loss. I am forever grateful to The L-rd, who in His mercy ,knew that I needed to be pushed out of my comfort zone , and called me to move south, to North Carolina and to Congregation Sha’arei  Shalom and to sit under the leadership of Rabbi Seth Klayman. G-d used this move to snap me out of my boredom. He brought me to a place of complete dependence on Him, taught me about obedience to spiritual authority and He used this time to stir my heart to a renewed love of traditional prayer, through a change in attitude about how I view worship, an attitude that is taught and cultivated at Sha’arei Shalom.

At Sha’arei Shalom, we call our worship  Avodah, a word that translates to “work” in Modern Hebrew. In a more traditional sense, it means to serve G-d. Historically, this word was used to describe sacrificial offerings made in the Temple and with a particular focus on the epitome of sacrificial rites, the complex and emotional main service of the high priests on Yom Kippur. Our attitude towards musical and liturgical worship stems from a mixture of the emotions stirred up by these definitions. They blend and move together to create a deep need to engage people in the beautiful and meaningful traditions of our ancient faith. Our liturgy, our practice of Jewish tradition, is what separates us from the larger body of believers in the Church and should be what attracts Jewish people to our synagogues.  How we practically apply this attitude is the practice of placing the same importance on liturgy as musical, song based worship and pouring just as much energy and creativity into our planning and practice sessions regarding its use.  This comes to life in researching or creating new melodies, not separating the liturgy and the music in our order of service or set list, reciting the prayers with musical accompaniment and changing things up every often. In fact, we try not to do the same melody in secession, pulling from several versions of each liturgical piece that we have in our song book. We also seek to fully understand the origination and theme of the prayers and to see our Yeshua in them. 

I believe liturgy is essential in showing non-believing Jewish people who Yeshua is. As I mentioned, it’s comforting to walk into any synagogue in the world, sing the familiar words and tune of the Shema.  This comfort is what allows people to relax within our congregational doors and makes them receptive to new thinking. This comfort and familiarity creates a peace that flows into the soul, one that longs of a home not forgotten and of a Father calling out to His children in Truth and Love. Our mission as believers in Messiah is to walk out that Truth and Love in excellence and to point the non-believing people Jewish people in our midst to the reality of our Jewish Messiah, that He was a Jewish man, who engaged in Jewish traditions and that belief in Him does not make you less of a Jew.  He was not just a nice Jewish carpenter who came to do good things to hasten Tikkun Olam. He is foremost the Son of G-d and our great Salvation, He came once already to redeem the world and He is coming back for His bride, to buy us back  once more and to take us home with Him! Spreading this news is our great Commission and in order to accomplish this goal we have to meet people where they are.  We must speak to them in a language they understand and I truly believe traditional liturgy is a language we all have in our arsenal to use. To use it effectively, we must love it and put energy and effort into it. With this energy and effort we can revive our traditional worship and remain relevant and attractive to our non-believing Jewish people so that they will have the opportunity to know what we know; that Yeshua is our King and He Lives!