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?

 

 

May 17, 2018

Can Science and Religion Be Anchors for the Soul?

by Clarke Dixon

We threw out the anchor, but nothing changed. At the age of thirteen it was my first year as a sailor in an old wooden sailboat which we bought with everything needed including an anchor. Except that it wasn’t really an anchor. More of a tin of beans filled with concrete and a hook. We threw it out as a last attempt in too strong a breeze for inexperienced sailors. It didn’t help. Yes, we remembered to tie a rope to it, but it didn’t help. It was not a good anchor.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . ” Hebrews 6:19 (NRSV)

The Bible describes hope in Jesus as a good anchor. But is it? Are there other anchors, or even better anchors, for our souls?

Can science be an anchor for the soul? On the one hand science provides good reason for hope. Having a son with Type 1 diabetes, I am very hopeful that a cure will be found someday. I am also hopeful that the technology will get better while scientists work toward that cure. My hope in both these things won’t be realized without scientists doing their thing! On the other hand, hope in science cannot be an anchor for our souls for at least two reasons.

First, nothing kills hope like what we learn from scientific discovery. Centuries of scientific observation tells us that we will not be alive for very long. Even as we attempt to extend our lives through better medical care, scientists tell us that the universe will not always be life permitting. Ultimately there is no hope for humanity if science is all you can base your hope on.

But more importantly, science cannot tell us everything about everything. Science has its limits. For example, scientists cannot teach us the facts of history. As a scientist, if you knew nothing about airplanes, you could, by observation, figure out how they work. However, you will never know about the many people, engineers, designers, and test pilots for example, who were behind the evolution of the airplane. Scientists can tell us a lot about how things work, but we rely on historians to teach us about the who behind things, the creators throughout history.

Science cannot teach us about things beyond the reach of the telescope, microscope, or any other instrument used to “observe” things. It cannot discover spiritual realities. Going to a scientist to learn about spiritual realities is like going to an auto-mechanic for heart surgery. Sure, the mechanic may know something about the heart, but heart surgery is not her or his expertise. Going to science to learn everything about reality is like buying a house off the internet based only on photos of the outside. There is much that can be learned from those photos, but there is so much more to learn. Science provides too narrow a view. There is so much more that cannot be seen or measured. Science cannot be a good anchor for the soul, for it is far too limited in the truths it can discover.

So religion is the anchor for our souls, right? Well, not so fast. Perhaps I might start my own religion. Let me begin with the promise that you will live forever if you give me $1000. Will you buy in? Why not? You know you will die and I will be $1000 richer! Placing your hope in my made-up religion is unreasonable. Placing our hope in any made-up religion is unreasonable. Every man-made religion, even though it may contain elements of truth, is not going to be reliably true in the things that really matter. The religious leader may point to things the scientist could never discover. But the religious leader may be far from the truth in what he thinks and says. Mere religion cannot be a good anchor for our souls, for it can be unglued from reality.

In what can we anchor our souls if neither religion, nor science, provide good anchors? The question turns out to be not “in what” but “in Whom?” Hope in Jesus Christ provides a good anchor for our souls for it is grounded in realities that science cannot discover, and reality religion cannot reasonably point to.

Hope in Christ is grounded in realities that cannot be observed, and which therefore scientists could never discover through science alone. There is no hope of finding just the right camera or instrument to be able to see God. But God has revealed Himself to us throughout history, to the patriarchs, people, and prophets of Israel, then supremely though Jesus. Through scientific discovery we may infer the presence of a creator, but we cannot discover the truth about the fall of humanity and God’s rescue operation. However, God can reveal it.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:18 (NLT)

But how do we know that all this Jesus-talk is not just more made-up religion divorced from reality? Unlike man-made religion, hope in Christ is grounded in realities that have been observed. It is based on real events experienced and observed by real people, many people. For example;

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,  and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

The call to trust in Jesus is not a call to believe what one man claims to be true without providing any evidence for its truthfulness. It is a call to trust what many eyewitnesses were testifying to and willing to die for. It is a call to trust that the New Testament exists for good reason, not because a few people were trying to create a religion that would get them killed, but because so many people were responding to the events around Jesus, including his resurrection. It is a call to trust the reality of God as experienced through His presence as recorded in the Bible. It is a call to study history. There is a long history of God revealing Himself and people experiencing Him.

Our hope in Christ is also a hope that neither science nor religion could provide:

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever . . . Hebrews 6:19-20 (NRSV)

The talk about a curtain, inner shrine, and high priest relates to Old Testament symbolism around the presence of God. The temple, the “Most Holy Place” within the temple, and priesthood all symbolized God’s desire to be with people, but also the impossibility of a sinful people being able to approach, and so be fully with, a holy God. So there was a sacred space and a whole lot of rigmarole to teach people about holiness and the Holy One. Enter Jesus, who being God the Son, is the only One Who could dwell fully in the presence of the Father. He became our “high priest”, meaning that He is the mediator between ourselves and God. Through His death and resurrection Jesus did what religion could never do. He also did for us what we will never be able to do despite the wonderful advancements being made through science. He reconciled sinful people to a holy God. Neither science, nor religion, can do that.

As a church we are called to help people walk with Jesus in hope. We do that best by living as people of hope, anchoring our hope in Jesus while always being ready to say why:

. . . you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)

This is part five in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (31 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 

 

July 27, 2017

Evangelism, Typewriter Sales, & Ezekiel

 

by Clarke Dixon

Christians have an amazing message to share with the world. God is love and desires to be reconciled to each and every person no matter where they came from or what they have been like. He has done the heavy lifting necessary for reconciliation through Jesus and offers His Spirit. We share in God’s amazing ministry of reconciliation. Yet it often feels like this amazing message falls on deaf ears. Churches have tried a great many things in order to get the message out, including revamping the experience of church in an effort to get people in. However, many have felt the frustration of trying change after change, and program after program, with limited results. The message seems stuck within our walls, and even when it gets out, it feels like no one is listening. It feels like we are selling typewriters.

Ezekiel had a similar experience of not being heard. For seven years he faithfully spoke messages from the Lord to God’s people in exile. These were, more often than not, messages of judgement, or stated more precisely, messages of opportunity. In Ezekiel 33 we get a glimpse of how successful he was:

As for you, mortal, your people who talk together about you by the walls, and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to a neighbor, “Come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.”They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, . . .

So far so good!

. . . but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their heart is set on their gain. To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it. Ezekiel 33:30-32 (NRSV)

In other words, Ezekiel was not very successful at all! No one was really “getting” the message. Ezekiel may have had more success selling them Latin-script typewriters.

So is there any encouragement for us from Ezekiel’s experience? Yes, there are four points of encouragement:

First, look to the future.

Having been told that his efforts have failed, Ezekiel is pointed to the future:

When the thing takes place — and it is beginning now — they will know that there has been a prophet among them. (Ezek. 33:33 NJB)

In this chapter word arrives that Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. Now that judgement has come, the truth about Ezekiel is made plain. He is not just a “singer of love songs,” he is a prophet of God, and has been speaking true and truly significant things.

The Church might be thought of as many things to many different people; a curiosity, a museum, a historical footnote, a crutch for the weak, a drug for the masses, a danger to society, a false religion, a source of entertainment, a social opportunity, a collection of nice, but not very bright people, and of course, a bunch of hypocrites. But, when Jesus returns, the truth will come out as to what the Church really is. We are not typewriter salespeople. We have a prophetic role, we speak a message on God’s behalf to the world:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NRSV emphasis mine)

We are ambassadors for Christ, we we fulfill a prophetic role by speaking a message on behalf of God; be reconciled to God. That may seem like hogwash to many today, but the day will come when “they will know that there has been a prophet among them.”

Second, Ezekiel had confidence in his calling. He knew he was a prophet.

When this comes—and come it will!—then they shall know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 33:33 (NRSV)

Before the people knew a prophet was among them, Ezekiel had to know it first! Do we as God’s people today have confidence in God’s call upon us? Many things have been tried, and will be tried in efforts to attract people to the Church and Jesus. However, sometimes we confuse our methods with our calling. Our calling is not to attract people, but to call people to reconciliation with God. We will know we have been faithful in our calling if it said of us “the Church has been a prophet among us, those people have been speaking a message of reconciliation on behalf of God.”

Third, Ezekiel had confidence in his message. He knew his message was the correct one.

Just as the message of Ezekiel was not popular, and certainly not as popular as the “happier” messages from the false prophets, so the Christian message is not popular. I am reminder of the hymn lyric “Oh the old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me.” Despite the unpopularity of the message, we can have confidence that it is the correct message, and the most important message in the world.

In luring John Scully away from Pepsi to work at Apple, Steve Jobs famously asked “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” There is no doubt that Apple products like the iPod and iPhone have been transformative. But if Steve Jobs were still alive we could ask him if he wanted to sell circuit boards the rest of his life, or if he wanted to join Jesus and change the world. Even the smallest, most stuck in the mud church, with the most boring preacher ever heard, has a greater and more significant calling than the extraordinary Apple company. The message we have been entrusted with is the most important message in the world. We do know that, right?

Fourth, Ezekiel was faithful despite being ignored for 7 years. 

We need to be faithful for as many years as it takes. When the world does not listen to God’s message, let us remain faithful as God’s messengers.

December 25, 2016

Rejoice, O World! Rejoice! A Savior Has Been Born!

by Russell Young

Today is Christmas! It is a celebration of the revelation of God’s grace and mercy to humankind. For millennia the human condition had been one that had brought grief to the Creator through the rebellion and intransigent hearts (Gen 6:6) of those whom he had created for his good pleasure and purpose. The mandate of the One born as a baby was to rescue or redeem the world from its depravity so that it might please God once again. It was and is the Creator’s desire to fellowship with those who had been formed in his image. For this purpose, the babe in the manger was born, lived his life and died among us.

John wrote: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it through him.” (Jn 3:16─17 NIV) He did not come to condemn the world to destruction but to rescue it and it not just humankind that was his mandate, it was the world—all that had been created. The Lord came to complete God’s creation so that it would accomplish their (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) purposes. He came to “save” it.

The world had become a place worthy only of destruction; it was not worth preserving given its state of evil. The minds of people had allowed them sovereignty over the world’s affairs. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) which includes recognition of the sovereignty of the One who created all that is.

Part of the Lord’s ministry was to make people “acceptable” to God once again (Rom 15:16) and all creation is waiting expectantly for that to happen. (Rom 8:19–22) When the ministry of Jesus is completed there will be no more wars or hostility and he will reign in peace. It is in the hope of the restoration of God’s kingdom and our place in it that we rejoice.

Isaiah has presented his victory and the hope available to all of those “in him” upon his return as king.

“The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and power,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—
And he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
Or decide by what he hears with his ears;
But with righteousness he will judge the needy,
With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
The leopard will lie down with the goat,
The calf and the lion and the yearling together;
And a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together;
and the lion will eat straw like an ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

(Isaiah 11:2─9 NIV)

Rejoice and celebrate the hope, love, and promises provided through the One whose birth is honoured today, the One who has been provided for the salvation of man and of God’s creation, the One who has been faithful to the Father and to his promises. In the child whose birth is celebrated today rests the hope of humankind and of all creation.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

May 28, 2012

His Own Received Him Not

Back at Easter, C. Baxter Kruger posted two consecutive pieces dealing with the rejection of Jesus.  The first was titled Who Rejected Jesus? (You are encouraged to click the link and read this at source.)

“Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45). 
 
“For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). 
 
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and will deliver him up to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify him…” (Matthew 20:18).
The inherent legalism of the Western Church trains our eyes to see Jesus’ suffering as the judgment of God upon our sin, and virtually blinds us to the more obvious point that Jesus suffered from the wickedness of humanity. It was the human race, not the Father, who rejected his beloved Son and killed him.  The wrath poured out on Calvary’s hill did not originate in the Father’s heart, but in ours.  The humiliation that Jesus bore, the torment that he suffered, was not divine but human. We mocked him; we detested him; we judged him. We ridiculed him, tortured him, and turned our face from him. It was not the Father or the Holy Spirit who abandoned Jesus and banished him to the abyss of shame; it was the human race. We cursed him.
Either the Father, Son, and Spirit were caught off guard by our corporate rejection of Jesus, or there is a redemptive genius at work here that is too beautiful for words. Was the Jewish and Roman rejection of Jesus not foreseen by the triune God? Was the Father surprised when we killed the solution? Was Jesus bewildered and the Holy Spirit shocked when things went south and the crowds turned against him? No, of course not. The animosity of the human race towards the Father’s Son was anticipated, and indeed counted on, and literally incorporated (See Acts 2:23) as the critical part in bringing about our real relationship. Here is amazing grace. In breathtaking love, the Lord’s way of relationship and reconciliation involves the shocking acceptance of our cruelty. The Incarnation involves the inconceivable submission of the Trinity to our bizarre darkness and its bitter judgment.
And the point of such shocking grace is to find us, to meet us, to relate to us and to embrace us as we really are as broken, deceived, wounded, terror-filled, and rebellious creatures.  Here is the heart of the grace of the blessed Trinity.  Jesus bowed to suffer from our loathsome enmity.  He took a dagger to the heart.  He willfully and astonishingly submitted himself to us in our profound darkness—and we damned him—and in submitting himself to us he embraced us at our very worst.
What does this mean?  It means that Jesus took our treachery, our betrayal, our murder and turned them into the way of his Father’s embrace and into the Holy Spirit’s anointing.  We killed him.  Jesus is saying to us on Good Friday: “I can take your murder, and I can let it happen, and in so doing I am accepting you as you are, and I am bringing my relationship with my Father, and my anointing with the Holy Spirit into your murderous darkness.  I use your murder to be the way I bring you into real relationship with my Father and the Holy Spirit.
Our contribution to our adoption was to pour our wrath out upon Jesus.  And on this day we did.  Jesus took it, and drew us in all our anger and brokenness and sin into his Father’s arms.  Shocking, stunning, beautiful grace. It is not ‘dark’ Friday, but ‘good’ Friday.
The second post was titled The House of His Father. (You are encouraged to click the link and read at source.)
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (2COR 8:9).
In the genius of the blessed Trinity, our cruel rejection of Jesus became the way of our adoption; our bitter abuse became the way of the Father’s embrace and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. For how could our unfaithfulness and contempt and treachery, or the enslaving lie of the evil one, or death itself break the love and oneness and life of the blessed Trinity?  In dying at our hands, Jesus brought his life into our death, his relationship with his Father into our gnarled pathology, his anointing by the Holy Spirit into our twisted darkness. Out of his boundless love “he was dishonored that he might glorify us,” (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, I.5.) “he endured our insolence that we might inherit immortality”( Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, §54). Suffering our abuse to give us grace, he met our cruelty with his kindness, our rejection with his merciful acceptance, and our dead and despairing religion with his joy.  By accepting us at our very worst, by submitting himself to us in our great darkness, he entered into our world with his, thus transforming the shack of Adam’s horrid fall into the house of his Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In a variation on St. Paul’s great statement we might say, “For you know the stunning grace of the Father’s Son: that though he was rich in the shared life of the blessed Trinity, yet for our sake he became poor, suffering our wrath to meet us, and that now through his suffering we who were so poor have been included in Jesus’ own rich relationship with his Father in the Spirit.”