Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On music and worship – part 2

How does our theology impact what we do during our church service?

Tenney writes this about typical church services, "God has this incredible idea that church is about Him. Our view tends to be terribly different. We often fashion and orchestrate everything in our meetings to please ourselves, so by our actions we show that we believe church is really about us." A typical church service ought to focus on God, who he is and what he has done. It should provide opportunity for people to express their adoration, as well as their reverence for God. Stott sees worship as the church's preeminent duty" and he defines worship as glorying or reveling in God’s holy name (Psalm 105:3).

A typical church worship service should also reflect that believers today are under a covenant of grace. The worship times of the early Christians were Spirit-led. There was a sense of newness and freshness compared to the repetitive rituals of the old covenant. Modern day Christians need to capture something of the gratitude and freshness of the new covenant. Many times in Psalms believers are exhort to sing a “new song” and learning new songs is one way of maintaining freshness. Contemplating Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is also vital to remain true to the church’s purpose.

Congregations are to be encouraged to be expressive in times of cooperate singing and taught the meanings of the words ‘worship’ and ‘praise’ but they must be free to express themselves in the way they choose. As part of our worship we are to also encourage one another to submit our whole lives to God in response to his mercy towards us. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). As this is outworked in our lives there will also be a desire to serve others.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

On music and worship - part 1

Lately I have been studying music and worship and this week I thought I would share some thoughts here.

The book of Hebrews teaches that the Old Testament instructions for worship were a shadow of things to come. These rituals pointed to Christ. The writer of Hebrews explains that it was very important that Moses built the Tabernacle according to the exact pattern that God gave him. Since adding or subtracting would distract from people’s understanding when Christ came.

The Day of Atonement was the high point of worship in the tabernacle (Leviticus 16). Once a year on this day the high priest entered the Holy of Hollies and made the necessary blood sacrifices for his own sins and the sins of the people. This foreshadowed Christ’s sacrificial death and the taking of his own blood into the presence of God as a priest on behalf of the people. The blood of animals was never enough to take away sins or remove guilt and in fact became a reminder of sin (10:3) whereas Christ’s blood is completely sufficient.

Christ’s sacrifice was so complete and sufficient that it only needed to be made once and it would cover all the sin that had ever been committed and all the sin that ever would be committed. He so thoroughly dealt with sin that the sacrificial system became redundant as forgiveness was achieved (10:18). Five times the writer of Hebrews reinforces that Christ died ‘once for all’ (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 9:26; 10:2; 10:10).

The writer of Hebrews went to great lengths to make it clear that Christ’s perfect sinless sacrifice was enough. Therefore it was no longer necessary to continue with the sacrificial temple worship. In 70 AD God allowed the temple to be destroyed so that it was no longer possible for sacrifices to be made. Previously the Ark of the Covenant had disappeared around the time of the Babylonian exile and was not found. So while the main focus points of temple worship were lost, this was not important because they were no longer necessary. They had fulfilled their function of pointing people to Christ.

Today people can enter into worship times boldly knowing their sin has been dealt with and they are acceptable to God in Christ. They can be open to the presence of God without guilt or fear. There is no longer any ritual or religious work to perform to please God or get his attention. However God still wants worship, not with man made rituals but with a reverent attitude and a serving heart.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

On short term missions

I was excited to learn last night that one of my children is going on an overseas short term mission trip next year.

When my children were teenagers, about ten or so years ago, they were all involved in children’s outreach missions over the Christmas holidays at the coast. It is encouraging to see them still involved in this type of ministry. One of my other children was involved in a trip to central Australia earlier this year and two years ago my husband went on a similar trip to the outback.

I think short term missions are very valuable. They expanded our comfort zones, force us to trust God in unknown situations and help us to understand how God works in different contexts. They also provided the opportunity for us to share our faith. Sometimes in practical ways by running a program for children or by building, painting, renovating property that is used for mission. And sometimes by speaking up, maybe explaining why we spend our time and money doing such things.

When we see other Christians living out their faith in a different context, it grows our own faith. We start separating our culture from our faith and realize that some of the things we thought were Christian are actually cultural.

I suspect that one day God may want me to go on a short term mission, which will be a challenge given that I don’t like tents or camping. I like hot and cold running water, flushing toilets, soft beds, and having a roof over my head!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Devotional Thought : 2 Peter 3:5

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 2 Peter 3:5

They deliberately forget. It was a choice they made. Equally they could have made the choice to remember.

We are responsible for the choices we make. We can choose what we remember and what we forget. It amazes me that some choose to abdicate their responsibilities and rely on others to make choices for them. They take their pastor’s word regarding the Bible without reading it for themselves. They accept the media’s rendering of political events without deciding for themselves. They believe parents, relatives, church members, friends, celebrities, millionaires, without examining the issues.

God has given us free will and expects us to take our responsibility for making choices seriously. The Bereans are described as being noble, not arrogant or lacking in faith, because they checked what Paul was saying: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Why is it that some refuse to take this responsibility seriously? Is it apathy? It is easy to go along with what everyone else believes rather take the trouble to discover the truth for ourselves. Or is it fear? We may need to take a stand if we disagree with another’s point of view. Or perhaps it is confusion because of the multiplicity of views. Whose opinion can I trust? Like the Bereans we would do well to check what we are told. Since in the end we are responsible for the choices we make.

What will you choose to remember, or forget?

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review : The Greenfield Legacy

The Greenfield Legacy has been featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance. Information about the authors and more details about the book can be found here.

The Greenfield Legacy (Even Before Publishing, 2012) is the fictional account of four women who were all impacted by the decision, made by one of them, to give up a baby for adoption. This decision haunts each of them in different ways, sometimes unknowingly.

Each woman's point of view is written by a different author: Meredith Resce, Paula Vince, Amanda Deed and Rose Dee. I thought this might make the story disjoined but it doesn’t. The story flows so well, I would never have guessed it had four authors.

The story explores some powerful issues: how unforgiveness poisons relationships, how easy it is to assume the worse of people, why trying to please others is doomed, how a problem in one generation can repeat itself in the next, and how little we sometimes understand those we live with. These issues were handled skilfully and resolved well.

It was unusual to have four main characters so fully developed in a relatively short novel and I suspect that this is the bonus of having four authors. There were also a large number of other characters in the story, perhaps another consequence of four authors? However I was pleased to find a character list at the back of the book which helped me keep track of them.

Overall I enjoyed the story very much and loved the Australian context. A good read.

I was fortunate to read a pre-release copy of the book as it is not due for release until 1st November. Check out: the book trailer.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Devotional Thought : 2 Peter 2:7-9

If he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials… 2 Peter 2:7-9

This is an interesting description of Lot as it is not apparent from Genesis that Lot was “distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless” or that he was a “righteous man”; but God knows a person’s heart.

In Genesis 13:12-13 we read: “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” Then in Genesis 14: 12: “They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom…” and later in Genesis 19:19-29 he was still living in Sodom: “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city… So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.”

It seems Lot deliberately chose to live amongst these people. It was a dangerous place to live and in the end he only just managed to escape.

This verse teaches us that committed Christians will be distressed by the lawless deeds that they see and hear. (I know I often am.) It may be in the work place, in the community, or if we live with non-Christians, in the home.

However more importantly it teaches us to trust God. We may find ourselves in dangerous places, either by choice or ignorance. Nevertheless God’s desire is always to rescue, redeem, and restore. He won’t abandon us.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Word Writers Getaway 2012

I spent last weekend at the Word Writers Getaway which was held at Alexandra Headland, Queensland. I had an amazing time.

In 2006 I travelled to America to attend a similar conference for Christian writers and I wrote about it here. I made the comment: "there just aren't these types of conferences in Australia." I am happy to report, this is no longer the case!

Over the last few years there has been a change and writers, publishers and editors are working hard to make Australian Christian writing viable. It was great to meet many of these people over the weekend who are passionate about Australian books. Australian publishers may not have the marketing budget that others have but Australians can write just as well as others. As Australians we need books set in our culture and in our context.

I came home inspired to continue writing and with a renewed commitment to work on my book. Over the next few weeks I will also be reviewing some of the books I brought home.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

On Christian Leadership - part 3

In order to become leading servants, followers of Jesus must know who they are in Christ. Christians will not be able to lead or serve well if they are not secure in their relationship with God. They must know regardless of how they are treated, whether they are put on a pedestal and applauded or whether they are passed over, asked to leave or considered a failure that their value as a person is not in doubt. Their identity as children of God is not dependant on their area of ministry, their performance, their gifts and abilities or the recognition they may obtain.

Once a Christian is fully assured of their position in Christ they are free to be leading servants. Happy to serve others and encourage them to also fully embrace their identity in Christ. Leading servants can freely serve others with their gifts and abilities in whatever setting God places them, in the community, in a work place and in the local church.

An unpaid leading servant will still use their gifts and abilities to serve their local church within the restrictions of their other obligations. Wayne Corderio is the pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship where there is a strong emphasises on servanthood. The church holds their Sunday services in an assembly hall at Farrington High School. The number of volunteers required to set up and pack up at this site is huge. However these volunteers do not see this as a burden but rather as an opportunity to serve. On the morning I attended Wayne Cordeiro spoke on Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” Wayne made the observation that to be a servant requires lots of grace and love because when you serve people the potential to be overlooked, slighted, and not appreciated is great so you also need to be good at forgiving.

It requires spiritual maturity to be a leading servant.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On Christian Leadership - part 2

The most important value, in being a “leading servant” like Jesus, is selflessness. In Constable’s commentary on Philippians there is a comparison between a helper and a servant which highlights this value:

Contrasts between a helper and a servant:
A helper helps others when it is convenient.
A servant serves others even when it is inconvenient.

A helper helps people that he or she likes.
A servant serves even people that he or she dislikes.

A helper helps when he or she enjoys the work.
A servant serves even when he or she dislikes the work.

A helper helps when the circumstances are convenient.
A servant serves even when the circumstances are inconvenient.

A helper helps with a view to obtaining personal satisfaction.
A servant serves even when they receive no personal satisfaction.

A helper helps with an attitude of assisting another.
A servant serves with an attitude of enabling another.
(Constable 2012)

A leading servant is one who is not serving for personal gain, whether that gain is the approval of others or personal fulfilment but rather their highest concern is the welfare of others. It has been said that humans are incapable of doing anything for truly altruistic reasons. That sin, in the form of selfishness, has so deeply ingrain humanity every action has some self gratification attached to it, even if it is only the personal satisfaction of having helped someone. This is, of course, not true in the life of Jesus who was sinless and leading servants will also develop high levels of selflessness.

The second most important value we see in the life of Jesus is humility. The leading servant will focus on achieving the best outcomes for those in their care and they are not concern who gets the credit. Their security is not linked to their service so they do not need to draw attention to themselves.

There are other values essential for leading servants as modelled by Jesus: Grace, Jesus always showed grace to others, though he did not allow it to become an excuse for laziness (Matthew 25:26). Generosity, Jesus was willing to share his time, talents and resources. Gratitude, Jesus had an attitude of thankfulness towards God and others. Empowering, leading servants do not need to hold onto power but empower others even if it weakens their position within the group. Empowering also means creating opportunities for others to grow. Inclusion, Jesus freely shared his life with others and though there were times when he withdrew to be alone, he did not isolate himself or hide his needs. He allowed his friends access to his personal life. Non-discriminatory, Jesus served others regardlessly of their status, gender, ethnic background or occupation. Non-demanding, Jesus allowed people to choose to follow him; he did not demand it.

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Monday, October 08, 2012

On Christian Leadership - part 1

Lately I have been studying Christian leadership and I thought I would share some thoughts here.

The term “leading servant” has arisen to emphasis the style of leadership that was modelled by Jesus. In this style of leadership David Augsburger describes, “service as the soul of leadership”. Jesus compares the leadership style he had in mind with leadership in the world:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
From this passage in Mark it is clear that Christians are not to exercise leadership in the same way as worldly leaders. Christians need a Biblical picture of leadership and not one merely adapted from worldly sources.

In his Gospel, John introduced the incident of Jesus washing of the disciples’ feet by stating that, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal…”(John 13:4-5) and served the disciples. Jesus was able to serve because he was secure in the knowledge of who he was. He knew he was the Messiah, God’s Son thus inherently God. His status was not threatened when he served since his leadership was not dependant on the response of his followers. Many times he even gave his followers the opportunity to walk away (John 6:66-67; Mark 10:22; John 4:16). John concluded this section with Jesus’ instruction, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). We are to serve in the same way Jesus did, that is from a position of being secure in our status as God’s children. When we know who we are, we can serve free of the need for people to become dependant on us and free from needing recognition or repayment

Again from Augsburger on leadership: “Those who love it, one suspects, should rarely be granted it; those who usurp it not allowed it; those who feel entitled to it not be entrusted with it; only those who accept it as trust – a service delegated by community and for community - deserve to serve in it”.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 6:4

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened…and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. Hebrews 6:4-6

Sometimes we are surprised, even shocked, when we hear of Christians walking away from their faith but as this passage shows it does happen. We wonder about their salvation. Is faithfulness a requirement of salvation? Are we adding to what Jesus has done for us by requiring a person’s ongoing faithfulness?

The description of these people is quite detailed: they were ”enlightened”; they “have tasted the heavenly gift”; “have shared in the Holy Spirit”; “have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age”. These were not casual believers but rather those who knew the truth well, over a period of time. Yet they have chosen to walk away.

If these people persist in their unbelief their heart will become hard towards God and in the end they will be unable to repent (v.6). It will become too difficult for them to change their mind and serve God again.

In v.8 there is a comparison between these people and land: “But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” In that day, land was sometimes burned in order for in to be more productive in the future. So burning could be taken to mean disciplined, rather than eternally cut off from God.

There is an incident in Numbers 14:40-45 where the Israelites confessed their sin of unbelief yet they were denied access to the Promised Land, however they did not die at this point.

So whether or not these once “enlightened” people lose their eternal salvation is unclear but there is certainly a severe loss of blessings and rewards.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Book Review : Wycliffe and the Winsor Blue

I read this book during my time in Sydney. (It was actually my Mum's library book!)

Burley in his book, Wycliffe and the Winsor Blue, has developed an interesting plot around the idea of a joke going too far and what happens if you have no one to share the joke with. After all a joke is only funny when it is shared with another.

The story is set in Cornwell and begins with the death of an elderly painter from an apparent heart attack. On the evening of the funeral his son is murdered. It is not immediately obvious whether these two events are connected. As the investigation proceeds more suspects emerge but none with an obvious motive. The painter’s will supplies some clues but it seems to only point towards some harmless fun. However it is in the final pages, as per all good mysteries, the pieces fall into place and the murderer is revealed.

I don't read many books in the crime genre and this is the first I have read by Burley. I found it a pleasant change from the weighty non-fiction that I have been reading of late. Several of the clues I was able to figure out and I even guessed the murderer before they were revealed! However this only added to my enjoyment of this entertaining and well written story.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Devotional Thought : 2 Peter 1:12

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory. 2 Peter 1:12-13

Peter was not addressing baby Christians, yet he thought it necessary to remind his readers. They were firmly established in the truth yet Peter took time to put pen to paper to reinforce what they already knew.

Being reminded helps us focus on the important things and helps us keep things in perspective. These are many ways we do this. Often the songs we sing remind us of God’s attributes, remind us of Jesus’ death and the price he paid for our sins. Likewise times of communion remind us of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Sermons, books, teaching tapes may teach us more about God but often they start by reminding us of what we already know.

Furthermore God tells us to remember. Many times throughout the Bible we find God reminding people what he had told them, like Luke 24:6 “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee.” When we look at Jesus’ disciples we realize how much they needed reminding and we are no different.

Sometimes we think in order to be significant teaching has to be new, yet Peter didn’t think so. Later in 2 Peter 3:1 we find Peter reminding them again, “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.” Presenting truth that people already know, perhaps from a different perspective, can help people think about it more deeply and apply it more meaningfully to their lives.

So don’t be afraid to repeat truth.

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