Read Exodus Ch34:12-15.

It is usually the case that that which is good tends to be debauched by that which is bad, rather than the other way around. I have been amazed this week by the way God has brought me to this scripture whilst I’ve had an eye and ear open to the things he wants me to understand. Sometimes they are new things, sometimes they are things that answer my unspoken questions about what I see going on around me.

This scripture portion tells of how God is advising the Israelites how not to fraternise, intermarry or befriend the people of the land God has conquered for them. Generally speaking, God knew that the Israelites would be swayed and wooed into idolatrous practices and cultures should they befriend or even remotely associate with the people of the conquered territory (in this case, the Canaanite people).

I’ve been keeping a piano stool warm for getting on for a quarter of a century now. And it never ceases to amaze me how, when given all the technical and marketing assistance – not to mention ability – at the disposal of some people who climb the ladder of public exposure because of their ministry (which remember is not theirs; it has been given to them by God) only to plunge deep into the spirit of secularism to the point where any evidence of their Christianity has been diluted beyond recognition. I’m not going to name anyone here, but I’m sure consciences might speak if this passage is read by some. So I will steer clear of implicating anyone, because this subject applies to us all; but I will speak here from the humble church musician’s point of view.

Many ‘stars’ of the Gospel music world have come unstuck over the years, especially in recent times because of the sheer speed of the elevation to public knowledge as well as the tremendous but unseen pressure upon them to “keep it up” because this unseen pressure – without actually saying as such – concerns money. Not just or only money from the artist’s point of view, but because behind closed doors in the music industry generally (especially outside Church circles) money is a huge influence in decision making. Money drives the machine that pays everyone’s wages. Of course people need to be paid, that’s the environment we find ourselves in…despite the fact we made that environment to start with. This leads to all sorts of other stuff: Compromised relationship ideals with people as well as our Saviour for one thing, the way we treat the Holy Spirit and His influence, the way we sense and receive His presence in the ministry we have been given charge with.

It is quite possible to get so wrapped up in the machinery of it all, that the presence of God can slip out of the room and we won’t even notice. We still have our voice, our knowledge of scripture, our instruments and all the interested parties around us to help us “do our thing”. Worst of all, the people with money in hand for concerts and CDs won’t even notice because it looks and sounds ‘ok’.

Yes, yes, I know it sounds like I’m bashing the Church again! But listen, how many times must a testimony be broken and Christ’s name made a nonsense of publicly before we realise that there just might be a problem? So what has this to do with Exodus Ch34:12-15?

If you haven’t already worked it out, it simply warns that if like me you are musically inclined and love to minister with your instrument or your voice, don’t go looking to “witness” into what can often be an incredibly fickle and spiritually hostile secular music business unless you know God has called you into it for sure.

Here’s the first point: God would not take you to a place to dwell or work in until He has prepared the land and the way in. Look at the scripture; God had “given the land” into the hands of His people. They could not occupy it until He had done this. To try and do so would be disastrous as the Canaanites  would have overrun the Israelites. Many Churches with sincere but misplaced zeal have bought or mortgaged up huge warehouses and commercial structures for their “growing church”, only for it all to cave in and the trustees (if there are any) are saddled with a huge debt. But did God prepare the land before the innocently overzealous church moved in? Did He give the Church leadership the nod to confirm that He had prepared a place for them? (That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Notice that the principle is the same…thank you Lord!)

Secondly: If God has given the land into your hands (thereby conquering and subduing the occupants of that land before you), why would you want to adopt the habits, customs and behaviour of people where you have been given victory over the spirits behind them?  God did not subdue the people of that land (or industry as it may be) so that you can eat from the same plate as the people. The food they eat is not the diet you should have! I am not saying you must be impolite and headstrong about your ‘calling’ to the point where no-one will offer you some opportunity of contractual employment! If you know God has put you there, be meek and of good witness, but be shrewd! Don’t offend anybody. Be polite…even if you are playing in a little pub band from time to time. You are there (at least you ought to be) in their midst because and only because of the authority of God Himself that rests upon you and that He Himself has placed you there by His own hand.

Thirdly: The consequence of the fraternisation with the “people of the land” (that is, people who run the land we call the Music Business) is that you can, and most probably will, pick up some bad habits and attitudes. A minister who in my opinion uttered a remarkable phrase which has stuck with me ever since once said: “You are what you repeatedly do, and you do what you repeatedly think”. Brilliant. Stand in a smoky room long enough and the smell sticks to you; you take it everywhere. More importantly, people can smell it on you wherever you go. Trust me, some Christians have keen noses and can tell when you’ve been hanging around a bad smell! It’s simply because we’re human that we learn by association and example. Spend long enough listening to someone and pretty soon you will think like them. Then what you think becomes what you say and do. This fundamentally reflects upon your ministry work wherever you are.

All the things presented to an aspiring and talented singer and musician are always presented as a) reasonable, and b) “necessary”. To whom, exactly? It’s difficult to splice this up to see it properly, but ultimately what we are talking about is the Christian singer and musician surviving in a secularist music environment. The answer can be summed up by looking at this passage of scripture. The Israelites survived because: a) They did not enter the land until God had made it ready for them, b) The Israelites did not adopt the customs, ideology and behaviour of the occupants of the land,  c) the Israelites did not become ‘family’ with the occupants of the land. Drop any one or all of those factors and you will, as sure as night follows day, become drawn into something God had not intended for you.

You cannot lose your faith in the secular music industry. But you can (be gradually persuaded to) put it down, walk away from it and forget it. You may well be someone who, in either a professional capacity or even a small personal capacity, have regular contact with the secular music industry. But ask yourself: Am I eating from the same plate? Do I share and partake of the ‘food’ of the idolatrous? Is that which I choose to take on board and consume actually good for me? Is it slowly diluting my relationship with Jesus? Is there some kind of gentle persuasion going on, even via people who seem to have my best interests at heart? Is what I am being asked to do slowly weakening my awareness of sin in my life?

Will I notice?