The mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)

mystery_of_godlinessAs we arrive at 1 Timothy 3:16 (in the Three Sixteen series) Paul tells Timothy about the importance of godliness in the church, the church being the pillar and foundation of the faith. The church has been entrusted with the Gospel, with proclaiming Christ to the world. Paul lays down guidelines for selecting overseers and deacons in the church, for teaching, for prayer. Then he includes this apparently random summary statement about the great mystery of Christ:

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs* is great:
He appeared in the flesh,

    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.”

This is a great summary about Jesus, his life and purpose, and makes a great 3:16 verse! But Paul is actually quoting lines from a well known hymn of the early church. This commentary has some good insights about the relevance of Paul’s words:

Now Paul’s citing of part of what was surely a well-known hymn in the course of writing instructions for behavior in the church is to bring his readers to the point of corporate response. The hymn itself, like many in the New Testament, celebrates Christ’s appearance and ministry on earth. The introductory phrase is a call to consider the implications of this grand event, to evaluate our conduct on the basis of what we confess. . . . Consequently, this phrase ‘the mystery of godliness’ forms a connection between the appearance of Christ, which the hymn celebrates, and Christian living: the mystery is the essence of godliness. It was critical for Paul to remind the readers of this principle, for the false teachers were successfully driving a wedge between belief and behavior with damaging results. In our day of institutionalized atheism and the popular heresy of humanism, the church faces the same danger. Even if dangers of this sort seem remote, we easily forget the practical implications of what we believe and profess to be true.” 

So this is a great verse not just because it celebrates Christ’s work, but because it connects his glorious saving work with our behaviour. We are to walk worthy of Christ’s saving work for us.  His work is finished, we don’t have to earn it! But we are called to live godly lives that point to Him as we, the Church, safeguard and pass on the Truth of His Saving work.

(*Note: if you look at other versions of this verse you may find that it simply says “the mystery of godliness” or the “mystery of our faith” – but the newest NIV translation seems to have hit the proverbial nail by phrasing it “the mystery from which true godliness springs”. True godliness will grow in us when we have build our life on Christ!)

The unexpected timing of God’s grace

From Tim Keller:

God’s sense of timing will confound ours, no matter what culture we’re from. His grace rarely operates according to our schedule. When Jesus looks at Jairus and says, “Trust me, be patient,” in effect he is looking over Jairus’ head at all of us and saying, “Remember how when I calmed the storm I showed you that my grace and love are compatible with going through storms, though you may not think so? Well, now I’m telling you that my grace and love are compatible with what seem to you unconscionable delays.
It’s not “I will not be hurried even though I love you”; it’s “I will not be hurried because I love you. I know what I’m doing. And if you try to impose your understanding of schedule and timing on me, you will struggle to feel loved by me.”

(Kings Cross, pg. 63)

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Praying through the songs 500+ women will sing tomorrow

grow2013_bannerI’m spending some time reflecting on the 9 songs (titles in bold) I’ll be leading tomorrow at the GROW Women’s Conference at Brisbane’s Convention and Exhibition Centre. The cool thing is that as these women sing, they are also declaring God’s greatness to each other, and praying publicly to Him! I’ve just woven the nine titles into a prayer. May it also be your prayer today:

Dear Loving Heavenly Father
Blessed be Your Name! There is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved. We have more than 10 000 Reasons to praise you for the blessings you have given us in Christ, the blessings that reveal your faithfulness to us, your trustworthy character, and the fact that you keep your promises. We See the Man, Jesus, the man you sent to reverse the curse we brought on ourselves by our disobedience to you. He is the man who destroys death and now reigns, the righteous one who died for the unrighteous, that we might know You. Jesus is all we need in this changing and uncertain world, because he is the unchanging promised Saviour. Help us to realise that all we need is Christ. Indeed, All I have is Christ! We cannot keep any of the glory this world offers. neither do we need it! Thankyou for this confidence! Whatever our circumstances you have taught us to say It is Well, It is well with my soul. We have this peace like a river, peace that we have come to know if we are in Christ. He is an anchor for our souls and we can say “it is well”, the victory is won. I will rise on eagle’s wings because Jesus has overcome the sin that kept us dead to you. Oh the Deep Deep love of Jesus which is vast, unmeasured, boundless and free! It is an ocean full of blessing in the midst of every test. You will bring us home to glory. Great is Thy Faithfulness – in fact, nothing can reach the end of your faithfulness. If all the plans I make go wrong your love stays the same. You light will guide me through every shadow, every storm. I will hold on to you because you are My Hope, a hope built on your great love and righteousness. Keep me walking in your way, keep me trusting your heart and trusting your name.


95,000 Liverpool Fans Sing You’ll Never Walk Alone

If you have ever doubted the power of song, check out this enormous ‘choir’ singing in the stands at the MCG overnight. Men’s choirs are great!

Never once did we ever walk alone

Most of you would agree that any form of exercise is more enjoyable when someone else is with you. Even just walking with a friend they help you go further and longer than you ever thought possible. You forget about the difficulties, your sore foot, or back, the cold weather, or how much you hate exercise. Walking alone you can think of a million reasons to stop. A companion helps you keep going. (Dog companions are especially good at this.)

When it comes to us and God, we have a wonderful promise – that He is with us, always. There is not once that we were alone. He is in us, walking with us through every difficulty. Yet he is more than just a faithful or encouraging companion. He is a Spirit who lives in us, a Spirit not of timidity and fear, but of love, power and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Matt Redman’s song “Never Once” (Album: 10 000 Reasons) captures well this confidence we have in Christ, that we are in Christ and He is most certainly with us, in us. We are never alone!

“Never Once”

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come Knowing that for every step You were with us
Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done Knowing every victory was Your power in us
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Evolution of music – in song

This is a clever medley of songs across the last few centuries. Styles may change, but the desire remains constant, the desire to sing and harmonise, to express joy and emotions that otherwise would be difficult to say. Praise God for this unique gift he has given us.

Bags and Bags and Bags of Grace

Sharing today an encouraging post from The Blazing Center, which describes the overflowing mercy God shows us. . .


“Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” Psalm 31:19

A local coffee roaster has bags and bags and bags of coffee beans stacked up in his warehouse, waiting to be roasted. God has bags and bags of grace and mercy stored up in his heavenly warehouses for his children (John Bunyan). Not just a little bit of goodness – abundant goodness. God doesn’t just give us enough grace to barely get by. He blesses us lavishly. He opens the storehouses of heaven and pours out blessings we can’t contain.

After feeding the multitude there were 12 baskets of bread left over. There was more bread afterwards than he had to start with. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:6)

Is this how you think about God and your life? Do you have a goodness and mercy mindset? Can you see God’s goodness and mercy on your tail when you look back? I feel like I can’t keep up with all God’s mercies to me. I can’t keep track of them all. God’s thoughts toward us are too many to number. His steadfast love for us is higher than the heavens are above the earth. He removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. God gives us these poetic pictures that we might grasp that his goodness toward us is infinite beyond measure.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

God’s riches of grace in Christ to us are so “immeasurable” they will take “the coming ages” for him to lay them out for us. Did you hear that? He didn’t say he’d be showing us his riches of grace for the next 1000 years – it’s going to take him the next 1000 ages. For all eternity God will give us one long pleasure cruise tour of the storehouse of his kindnesses to us.

Ok, my brain just shut down. I can’t comprehend ages and ages of God showering me with his kindness. I can’t even take that in. Given all the goodness God has stored up for us, we should never have a mentality that we won’t have enough. That God somehow won’t meet our needs or supply all we need. He’s a generous, lavish God who anxiously waits to pour out his kindness on us.The God who dresses the lilies of the field more stylishly than Solomon will surely meet all the needs of those who take refuge in him.

C.S. Lewis on musical taste and grace

music tasteA few days ago I wrote about the way we can show grace to others by not demanding that they pander to our prideful ‘good taste’ (in a variety of areas).
Here C.S. Lewis talks about a related topic, musical taste. Disagreements over the ‘right’ or most godly church music have produced many hard-fought and rarely-won battles. While Lewis’ comments below are a bit of a challenge in terms of the language, it is worth the slog if you can get to his main point. Grace is the key! We must bear with one another in love, bear with things we dislike for the sake of others whom we are called to love, in Christ. If we are in music ministry and find ourselves filled with pride at our skill, or contempt and hostility to the congregation we serve, it’s probably time for a break! It’s probably time to re-examine our motives – and pray for God to work in us for His glory. Blessings!

Musical Taste

“There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense. But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste – there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.”

This was taken from an essay entitled “On Church Music” by C. S. Lewis. It can be found in a current publication called Christian Reflections published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; ISBN: 0802808697.

Ps. Today I celebrate my 150th Blog Post! Thanks for reading.
Read more about C.S.Lewis on this post: Our Glorious Capital C Church

Grace has come – new Sovereign Grace album

grace has comeIf you are the person who chooses new songs for your church, (like me) you may be very excited by the announcement of a new album from Sovereign Grace (August 1). “Grace has come: Songs from the Book of Romans”looks sure to be a treat! Sovereign Grace certainly has figured out a good recipe for singable Gospel songs garnished with much grace! The sample track is based on Romans 8:31-39 – Nothing can tear us from the everlasting love of Christ.


(click title to listen)

VERSE 1   
What shall separate us from Your love?
Can years of sorrow break eternal bonds?
Can condemnation ever raise its voice?
Against the pardon of the blood of Christ?
Though our journey here is long
This will be our triumph song

Nothing in all the earth

Not any height above
Could ever tear us from Your everlasting love
Nothing in all the earth
Not any height above
Could ever tear us from Your everlasting love

What shall separate us from Your love?
For now the sting of death is overcome
And all the powers of this world must fall
Before Your feet because You rule them all
And though our journey here is long
This shall be our triumph song

Nothing in all the earth
Could ever tear us from
Your everlasting love

© 2013 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

Why music makes our brain sing

Those of us who love music know how important it is to us, to be listening, creating and making music. But do we know why? Here are some interesting (though perhaps complex) answers from some neuroscientists, via the New York Times.

Why Music Makes Our Brain Sing


MUSIC is not tangible. You can’t eat it, drink it or mate with it. It doesn’t protect against the rain, wind or cold. It doesn’t vanquish predators or mend broken bones. And yet humans have always prized music — or well beyond prized, loved it.

In the modern age we spend great sums of money to attend concerts, download music files, play instruments and listen to our favorite artists whether we’re in a subway or salon. . . . So why does this thingless “thing” — at its core, a mere sequence of sounds — hold such potentially enormous intrinsic value?

The quick and easy explanation is that music brings a unique pleasure to humans. Of course, that still leaves the question of why. But for that, neuroscience is starting to provide some answers.

More than a decade ago, our research team used brain imaging to show that music that people described as highly emotional engaged the reward system deep in their brains — activating subcortical nuclei known to be important in reward, motivation and emotion. Subsequently we found that listening to what might be called “peak emotional moments” in music — that moment when you feel a “chill” of pleasure to a musical passage — causes the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, an essential signaling molecule in the brain.

When pleasurable music is heard, dopamine is released in the striatum which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex and which is artificially targeted by drugs like cocaine and amphetamine. But what may be most interesting here is when this neurotransmitter is released: not only when the music rises to a peak emotional moment, but also several seconds before, during what we might call the anticipation phase.

The idea that reward is partly related to anticipation (or the prediction of a desired outcome) has a long history in neuroscience. Making good predictions about the outcome of one’s actions would seem to be essential in the context of survival, after all. And dopamine neurons, both in humans and other animals, play a role in recording which of our predictions turn out to be correct.

To dig deeper into how music engages the brain’s reward system, we designed a study to mimic online music purchasing. Our goal was to determine what goes on in the brain when someone hears a new piece of music and decides he likes it enough to buy it.

We used music-recommendation programs to customize the selections to our listeners’ preferences, which turned out to be indie and electronic music, matching Montreal’s hip music scene. And we found that neural activity within the striatum — the reward-related structure — was directly proportional to the amount of money people were willing to spend.

But more interesting still was the cross talk between this structure and the auditory cortex, which also increased for songs that were ultimately purchased compared with those that were not.

Why the auditory cortex? Some 50 years ago, Wilder Penfield, the famed neurosurgeon and the founder of the Montreal Neurological Institute, reported that when neurosurgical patients received electrical stimulation to the auditory cortex while they were awake, they would sometimes report hearing music. Dr. Penfield’s observations, along with those of many others, suggest that musical information is likely to be represented in these brain regions.

The auditory cortex is also active when we imagine a tune: think of the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — your cortex is abuzz! This ability allows us not only to experience music even when it’s physically absent, but also to invent new compositions and to reimagine how a piece might sound with a different tempo or instrumentation.

We also know that these areas of the brain encode the abstract relationships between sounds — for instance, the particular sound pattern that makes a major chord major, regardless of the key or instrument. Other studies show distinctive neural responses from similar regions when there is an unexpected break in a repetitive pattern of sounds, or in a chord progression. This is akin to what happens if you hear someone play a wrong note — easily noticeable even in an unfamiliar piece of music.

These cortical circuits allow us to make predictions about coming events on the basis of past events. They are thought to accumulate musical information over our lifetime, creating templates of the statistical regularities that are present in the music of our culture and enabling us to understand the music we hear in relation to our stored mental representations of the music we’ve heard.

So each act of listening to music may be thought of as both recapitulating the past and predicting the future. When we listen to music, these brain networks actively create expectations based on our stored knowledge.

Composers and performers intuitively understand this: they manipulate these prediction mechanisms to give us what we want — or to surprise us, perhaps even with something better.

In the cross talk between our cortical systems, which analyze patterns and yield expectations, and our ancient reward and motivational systems, may lie the answer to the question: does a particular piece of music move us?  When that answer is yes, there is little — in those moments of listening, at least — that we value more.

Robert J. Zatorre is a professor of neuroscience at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University. Valorie N. Salimpoor is a postdoctoral neuroscientist at the Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute in Toronto.

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