Christianity 201

May 8, 2021

God is the Object of our Worship, Jesus is the Worship Leader

In one of the churches where I led worship, the service was 70 minutes long, and it was made clear that I was responsible for the first 35 minutes, and the pastor would take the next 35 minutes. Of course, part of my time included a scripture reading which someone else would do, but otherwise it was a beautiful time of spoken things and musical worship. (There’s also that ‘if only I knew then what I know now’ aspect, but I think you get that in church ministry.

Today we’re highlighting the writing of someone new to us, Zak Kratzer who writes at Rediscovering Worship (tag line: Telling the story of God with the community of God.) There’s application here both for people in leadership and the rest of us, also. Click the header which follows to read at source.

Who’s Really Leading Worship in Your Church?

Maybe you are like me, and you’ve come home from church completely worn out before. There is nothing wrong with working hard to serve with excellence. But I’ve recently been asking myself if exhaustion can be a sign that we are trying to lead worship in our own power. When I looked at the book of Hebrews, I realized that Most churches don’t realize who the actual worship leader is.

It seems like it’s all too easy for our churches to fall into the trap of leading worship from our perspective. In this human-centered approach church leaders strive (keyword there) to build up attendance and plan and perform services to the desired outcome. However, in the book of Hebrews biblical worship is depicted quite differently.

Click here to take a look at Hebrews 10:11-18

Here we see that, while the work of human beings cannot satisfy the desires of God, Jesus as high priest has done so once and for all by one sacrifice. This is an approach for God-centered worship where…

  1. God gathers
  2. Jesus acts in the role of priest
  3. The Holy Spirit testifies the truth and fosters our relationship with God (more on this below)

Here’s what should stand out to church leaders. Notice how, in Hebrews, the high priest (or worship leader for our purposes) is Jesus… NOT US!

We stand but he sits (Heb. 10:11-12)

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

Between Jesus and human worship-leaders, the difference in posture is significant. The priests in Jerusalem would have to stand while performing their duties. This is a posture showing the continual nature of their work. It’s also something that we can’t do forever. You might be proud of your work ethic, but you have to sleep some time. Apply this to the job of a pastor or worship leader on Sunday morning. The text says “day after day…” implying the ongoing and repetitive nature of human effort and how the work alone does never yields transformation. We simply don’t have enough gas in the tank to keep offering these worship services over and over. This is why we always see human-centered worship peter out eventually.

And we’re not just inefficient, but at times we’re not even pointed the right direction. For years, we have had inner struggles in the church, that many Christians have called the worship wars. This is humans fighting over preference and has certainly led to hurt feelings, burn out and even people leaving churches.

Humans will wear out. But notice that Jesus rather than stands, actually sits at the right hand of the father. This signals that the work of leading worship, a work of bringing humans and God together, is actually already finished. Only one sacrifice, Jesus’ sacrifice, forever covers sins.

What work? (Heb. 8:6)

But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

Hebrews describes the work that Jesus does as ministry. Which is from the greek, leitourgia. Interestingly enough this is where we get the word “liturgy” and it can refer to any public work or service. The repeated liturgies of human priests are not sufficient but Jesus, as worship leader, has a different effect. Hebrews 8:6 compares the two, calling the work obtained by Christ as more perfect, thus completing what humans cannot. Work and worship are inter-connected. But it’s not about the forms of worship, or how talented us humans might or might not be. Instead it’s about who has completed the work. We, as worship leaders are not the power driving worship. We get to be something better… we get to be participants.

In The Spirit (Heb. 10:15-18)

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Now let’s bring all this back to what the Holy Spirit does. In Hebrews, the Spirit testifies that the community of God is forgiven of sin, which is the issue making our work insufficient in the first place. It reminds us of what Paul says in Romans 8. The Holy Spirit declares our adoption into God’s family (Rom. 8:15-16), and even communicates between us and God beyond what our words can say (Rom. 8:26-27). This is a relational kind of work and once, again things that human worship leaders could never do. Jesus does public liturgy, covering sins and bringing us into the love of God through the Spirit.

We as worship leaders, need to always remind ourselves that Jesus is the real worship leader. Let us take note of how the Bible puts Jesus in the place of priest and let him guide the roles of worship leader, liturgist, speaker or anyone else up front. And let us rediscover God-centered worship as Christ himself has revealed to us, for the building up of God’s community.


Bonus Devotional – by the same author – Have We Forgotten How To Wait?

 

 

July 14, 2020

The Warnings in the Book of Hebrews

 

Hebrews 2:1-4 New Living Translation (NLT)

So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.


Hebrews 4:12-13 Common English Bible (CEB)

12 because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. 13 No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.


Hebrews 6:4-8 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away. This is because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding him up to contempt. For the ground that drinks the rain that often falls on it and that produces vegetation useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and about to be cursed, and at the end will be burned.


Hebrews 10:26-31 New International Version (NIV)

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Hebrews 12:25-29 New Living Translation (NLT)

25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! 26 When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” 27 This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.

28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a devouring fire.


Space didn’t permit much further discussion of these passages, but after using a different base source, we discovered Michael Battle has an excellent collection of the texts with some short commentary at his site Rooted and Grounded in Christ. To read that in full, click this link. After the fifth warning he notes:

…The fifth warning…sums up all the other warnings – beware of sin and rejection of Jesus.

Many of you recognize the words “our God is a consuming fire” but do you know the context of these words? Many quote this in connection with God’s love, but the scriptures do not use it that way. These words, in both the Old and New Testament, are used in connection with God’s holiness and righteous judgment against sin (i.e. His jealously expressed in anger which results in the punishment of our sins).

Here is how Moses used the words:

But the LORD was angry with me because of you. He vowed that I would not cross the Jordan River into the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your special possession. You will cross the Jordan to occupy the land, but I will not. Instead, I will die here on the east side of the river. So be careful not to break the covenant the LORD your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the LORD your God has forbidden this. The LORD your God is a DEVORING FIRE; he is a jealous God. “In the future, when you have children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time, do not corrupt yourselves by making idols of any kind. This is evil in the sight of the LORD your God and will arouse his anger. (Deuteronomy 4:21-25 TNLT)


As I searched online many websites offered teaching on the five warnings in Hebrews, but one stood out offering what the writer called The Seven Alarms of Hebrews. What were the two extra passages, I wondered. Here they are:

Hebrews 3:7-4:2 New Living Translation (NLT)

12 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14 For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15 Remember what it says:

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

16 And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? 18 And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? 19 So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest.

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God.

and

Hebrews 5:11-14 Common English Bible (CEB)

11 We have a lot to say about this topic, and it’s difficult to explain, because you have been lazy and you haven’t been listening. 12 Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. 13 Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil.

October 11, 2016

The Five Warnings of Hebrews

I noticed these in the NIV Study Bible on the weekend. I figured I was not the first, and found this article at the website JesusWalk.com.  The passages are given a general introduction and then there are links to five additional articles.

The Five Warning Passages of Hebrews

Some of the more difficult and troubling aspects of Hebrews are the sometimes sharply worded warnings to the readers in five separate passages.

On a plain reading they seem to imply the possibility that Christian believers can commit apostasy, that is, fall away from Christ and faith. This, however, hits squarely at one of the noisiest and sometimes bitter debates between Christian factions:

  • Calvinists deny that true Christians can commit apostasy and lose their salvation, stressing the final perseverance of the saints.
  • Arminians agree that true Christians can indeed commit apostasy and lose their salvation, stressing the free will of man.

As I. Howard Marshall suggests, advocates of one position or the other tend to base their doctrine “on philosophical and dogmatic grounds.”* The way forward for us is not to carry on the debate, but to sincerely and humbly consider the warnings in Hebrews — in the context they are given — and then try to form tentative conclusions.

We won’t all agree in our conclusions. Fair-minded, Christ-loving, Spirit-filled believers differ on these matters. Instead of trying to bash the other side, we will pursue humility towards one another, humility as we approach the Letter of Hebrews, and humility before God. In that humility and love, we will grow in our faith and exemplify the love we profess in Christ.

For your benefit, I’ll include each of the shorter passages in the NIV translation here so you can compare them. For discussion, see the appropriate lessons in which they are discussed.

1. Hebrews 2:1-4

1We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

2. Hebrews 4:12-13*

12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

3. Hebrews 6:4-8

4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.”

4. Hebrews 10:26-31

26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

5. Hebrews 12:25-29

25See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.”

* I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away (Second Edition; Bethany Fellowship, 1969, 1974), p. 26.

Passage Discussed in
1. Hebrews 2:1-4 Lesson 1
2. Hebrews 4:12-13 Lesson 3
3. Hebrews 6:4-8 Lesson 5
4. Hebrews 10:26-31 Lesson 9
5. Hebrews 12:25-29 Lesson 12

The best book I’ve seen that fairly lays out the main views of these warnings and points out the strengths and weaknesses of each position is Herbert W. Bateman IV (ed.), Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Kregel, 2007)


In the NIV Study Bible, the second warning is a broader passage encompassing 3:7 – 4:13 of which I’ve included a few verses below:

Hebrews 3:7-8

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness, …”

September 8, 2014

Knowing Our Place; Knowing God’s Place

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
..” Isaiah 55:8-9

For our devotional thoughts today we return to the blog of First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux City, Iowa, which we visited last year. Pastor Kevin Miller’s reminder here is vital at a time when God is sometimes treated casually in both a church and secular environment. Click the title to read this at source.

Jesus: Like Us and Yet Greater Than Us

This fall, we will be working through the New Testament book of Hebrews. As part of my preparations, I like to take the time to read through an entire book repeatedly both before and in the midst of preaching it. To this end, I was recently reading through Hebrews once more and something caught my eye:

The primary point and purpose of the first several chapters of Hebrews is to establish that Christ is supreme over all. Chapter 1, for example, tells us that He is supreme over the angels. Chapter 3 tells us that Christ is superior to Moses. Later, we see that Christ is superior to Melchizedek (chapters 7-8). In short, it’s as if the bulk of Hebrews spends time exalting Christ over everyone and everything. He is the better High Priest. He is the coming King. We can’t help but be in awe of Him because He is so different than even the best of us.

And then, the turn comes: it’s not just that Christ is different and better than anyone else, it’s that He is different and better and then He dies FOR everyone else.

“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)”

The Priest literally atones for all who trust Him – for those who are, if nothing else, are very unworthy of atonement.

Jesus Christ is not like us in so many ways – we dare not simply think of Him as a good teacher or as simply a buddy. And yet, Jesus IS also like us in so many ways – He gets tired, needs to eat, rests, laughs, bleeds, and dies.

Hebrews proclaims the Gospel loud and clear: salvation comes from God Himself, through His Son, who is higher and better and more absolutely perfect than anyone else. And yet this very same Savior walks and talks and lives amongst us, both back then and someday coming soon. What a Savior! What a Lord! The exalted King walks amongst and dies on behalf of His people! He rises to new life and promises that for all who trust in Him, they too shall inherit new life in His coming kingdom.

May 27, 2011

River Crossings

I was looking at Milt Rodriguez’ blog today and knew his writing would be a perfect fit here, but it was hard to choose a single post. Milt is the author of four books, and is active in the house church, or simple church, or what he calls organic church movement.  (See Thinking out Loud’s post yesterday on this topic.)  This first appeared at his blog, Christ and His Church under the title, River Crossers.

What is a True Hebrew?

The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Roman empire.  We are not sure who wrote the letter but we do know that God authored it!  It is kind of strange that the letter was written to Hebrews instead of Israelites.  But as we discover what a true “Hebrew” is, it makes perfect sense.  The word hebrew literally means one who crosses or passes over something.

Abraham

Abraham is the first person referred to as a “hebrew” in the bible.

Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram.”    Gen. 14:13

We can see from Abraham’s life that he was one who crossed over.  What did he cross over?  He crossed over the Euphrates river to enter the Canaan land (Gen 15:18).  He left his homeland, Ur of the Chaldeans (ancient Babylonia) to enter into the land God would give his descendants.    Why did God have Abraham enter this Canaan land full of evil tribes and peoples?  It’s because this is the place where He would build His temple, the dwelling place of God on the earth.

Abraham did what God wanted but he was only one man at that time.  God wanted a nation.  He wanted a corporate Man.

The Children of Israel

The nation of Israel crossed two rivers.  First they crossed the Red Sea leaving Egypt.  Then, a generation latter, they crossed the Jordan river to enter the Canaan land.  Here again, God’s goal was to have his people in the Canaan land.  Why? Because He wanted to build His house, His temple in that land.  He wanted a City (Jerusalem) in the land of Canaan in which He would build His very own house that He would dwell in.

Now, even though these things really did happen, they were only shadows and types of the reality that would be fulfilled in the New Testament.  The Reality that is Jesus Christ Himself!

Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ is the ultimate river crosser!  He is the true Hebrew.  He crossed over four rivers.

The River of Human Flesh

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”    John 1:14

Jesus crossed over by becoming a man.  He emptied Himself of His godhood and took on the form of a lowly man, a servant (Phil. 2:5-11).  The Greatest became the least.  The Highest became the lowest.  He left all of his “stuff” on the other side so that he could accomplish God’s eternal purpose.

The River of Baptism

Then your Lord crossed over the river Jordan and left behind his divinity so that he could totally be the Son of Man and live a life as a man who had the Father living inside of him.  He learned by the things he suffered and learned how to live by the life of his Father who was indwelling him (Jn. 6:57).

He immediately went into the wilderness after his baptism.  Like Israel of old, he passed over the Red Sea into the wilderness to trust God alone for his provision, direction, and life.

The River of Death

Then, he crossed over another river, the river of death on a cross.  This, as all other rivers, was for the purpose of obtaining God’s purpose.  God wanted a house.  He wanted a dwelling place.  And that dwelling place would be in a particular land which would be in a particular city.  He would tear down all of the shadows so that he could obtain the reality.  He tore down the external, temporary, and visible temple so that the REAL temple would be built out of his own BODY!

God wanted his corporate expression so the Son became a Seed that went into the ground and died so the God would get his corporate expression – the multiplication or increase of his Son into a many-membered Body.  He crossed the river and went behind the veil so God would have his full corporate expression.

The River of Our Flesh

Then, after he was resurrected, ascended, and glorified he crossed another river and entered into the veil of our flesh.  This glorious One came and entered inside of You!  (Col. 1:27).

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”   Col. 1:27

Now the glory of his expression lives inside of each believer.  But how will he get his corporate expression?

By each one of us being willing to cross over rivers, leaving the religious baggage behind, and entering into the Canaan land (who is Christ), learning to enjoy the riches of that land (which are Christ),  so he can build his house there (which is Christ!).

May we all become such river crossers!

~Milt Rodriguez

To learn more about organic church, explore Milt’s blog starting with this article.