Don’t reject the Voice of truth (Hebrews 3:16)

voice of truth“And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt?”
(Hebrews 3:16)

It has been about 5 months since I’ve written a post in the Three Sixteens series. (For my newer readers, this is my exploration of the strangely significant verses that appear in nearly all New Testament books at the point of Chapter 3, verse 16). This Hebrews 3:16 packs a great punch, bringing a serious warning from Israel’s history, that still challenges us today. Though the Israelites were rescued from slavery in Egypt, saw amazing miracles and plagues, pillars of fire and smoke, a sea that opened, Egyptians destroyed, manna from heaven, the tablets of the law – and though they heard the very voice of God – these people persisted in their desire to rebel. They hardened their hearts to their rescuing God. They turned their back on Him, in unbelief.
How then could we who have heard and understood the immensity of God’s gracious rescue in Jesus Christ – how could we persist in unbelief? How do we avoid falling into unbelief and hardening our hearts?
The preceding verses suggest that God uses the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ to sustain us in the faith:
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Every day, today, we need to pray for and encourage one another. Sin is deceitful – the Deceiver works to destory our faith.
We must help one another from falling to unbelief (though might I add to that statement, that God is Sovereign and faithful to us. He is committed to his transformation project, making us like His Son. Consider Philippians 1:6 – “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”)
The consequences of hardening our hearts against the One mighty, true and living God are not pretty (to say the least). Let’s encourage one another, that we might keep our hearts and minds softened to the pure grace of the gospel.
Let’s heed the warning of this 3:16, the warning of history.

One Casting Crowns song, The Voice of Truth, reminds me of the need to hold to the truth of Christ amongst all the competing voices that call to us in this world.  We must choose to listen and believe the voice of our Shepherd.

“But the voice of truth tells me a different story
And the voice of truth says “Do not be afraid!”
And the voice of truth says “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.”

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All of Creation, sing with me now, the veil is torn!

temple curtain“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings. . . “ (Hebrews 10: 19-22)

For me one of the most striking events of Christ’s crucifixion is that moment when the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. I always wonder who heard or saw that, who were witnesses to that moment?  And what an astounding occurence, coinciding with the death of the one who was Son of God, Son of Man, the promised King of the Jews who would reconcile God and man. But this is no happy coincidence or accident or furnishing fail! It is God’s clear and powerful object lesson. Listen to what Spurgeon says (1888):

“The rending of the veil of the temple is not a miracle to be lightly passed over. It was made of “fine twined linen, with Cherubims of cunning work.” This gives the idea of a substantial fabric, a piece of lasting tapestry, which would have endured the severest strain. No human hands could have torn that sacred covering; and it could not have been divided in the midst by any accidental cause; yet, strange to say, on the instant when the holy person of Jesus was rent by death, the great veil which concealed the holiest of all was “rent in twain from the top to the bottom.”

This supernatural event says that sinful man, who could not look on the glory of God, could now access God by the death of his perfect Son on the cross. Without being zapped or burnt to a crisp we sinful humans can now see the “glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). We can have direct access to a Holy God by trusting in the death of His Son for us, by His Spirit poured into our hearts, making us right with Him!  Until this thick and weighty ‘veil’ was torn we were separated from God and knew only guilt. We had no hope. But from this point on we can have the certainty that we are acceptable to God because of Christ. This is amazing grace!

I love what the band Mercy Me have done in their song “All of Creation” – which takes us from this point where hope was born to singing out in praise to God. It calls for all of creation, both people and the natural world, to join and sing to the glory of their Creator. All creation is groaning, waiting the complete restoration when Christ returns, when the sons of God will be revealed (see Romans 8:19-24) – well I know I am!  What better way to pass the time than to sing out praises to the one we wait for?

Mercy Me

Separated until the veil was torn
The moment that hope was born
and guilt was pardoned once and for all

Captivated but no longer bound by chains
left at an empty grave
the sinner and the sacred resolved

And all of creation sing with me now
Lift up your voice and lay your burden down
And all of creation sing with me now
Fill up the heavens let his glory resound

Time has faded and we see him face to face
every doubt erased forever we will worship the king

The reason we breathe is to sing of his glory
And for all he has done
Praise the father, praise the son and the spirit in one
And every knee will bow oh and every tongue
Praise the father, praise the son, and the spirit in one.

You may also like:

The Great Unveilling
Creation calls – are you listening? 
Science and God – still playing on the same team

Never Alone

“Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NLT Matthew 28:20)

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (ESV Hebrews 13: 5-6)

Never Alone is a gentle song with a simple melody (which makes it great for church singing) but the lyrics bring us much comfort. Christ is with us! We are not alone . . . no matter how alone we may feel. This song closely echos and explains the reasons for our confidence in Christ, revealed in the bible passages above. In four verses it tells the story of the God-man Jesus coming to earth, dying and rising for us; now he walks with us, in all our joy and pain. He is alive!

Above you can watch a friend of mine with a beautiful voice (Sarah), leading a large group in singing ‘Never Alone’. It was written by Philip Percival & Simone Richardson (2006) from EMU Music – and has appeared on two of their albums: Let All Creation Sing and Songs for Little Rooms. You can buy the lead sheet here.
Whether or not you get to sing this with other people I trust it will be a blessing!

NEVER ALONE

1. We’re not alone, for Christ is here
Immanuel our God come near
We’re not alone, for to our world
Jesus has come, eternal Word.
And as he speaks, our souls laid bare
Naked, ashamed, sin is made clear
And yet he clothes us in his love
Never alone, Christ is with us, is with us.

2. The longest walk, earth’s darkest day
The pressing crowd, his mounting pain.
A heavy load of grief and shame
Breathless that we should breathe again.
“Father forgive them,” comes his cry
Silence from God blackens the sky.
A creeping dread in every heart
Lost in the world now God departs, God departs.

3. The dawn will come, the sun will rise
Out of the grave we’ll see hope’s light.
Tomb opened wide, stone rolled away
Morning has come, a brand new day.
“He isn’t here,” the angel said.
“He is alive no longer dead.”
Our hearts are lifted, souls raised high
Christ is with us, Christ is our life, he’s our life.

4. Never alone, is now our cry
In joy, in grief, in lonely sin.
Never alone, for Christ is ours
He lives in us, we live in him.
And ’til we reach that final day
When fears are gone, cast far away
We’ll live secure, trust in his love,
Never alone, Christ is with us, he’s with us.

Lyrics: © 2006 Simone Richardson Music: © 2006 Philip Percival

Sharing the rich, indwelling Word (Colossians 3:16)

Bible-28“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

I have really been looking forward to this verse in the Three Sixteens series, because it identifies a strong connection between music and grace, my two favourite topics! When we make the effort to speak or sing the ‘Word of Christ’ to one another, we are showing grace because it serves to build others up in their faith. This is such an important yet sometimes overlooked aspect of praising God together. The horizontal encouragement that is gained from enthusiastic congregational praise is priceless! Praising God brings us untold blessings, both individually and together as the growing body of Christ.

But what is the ‘word of Christ’, you may ask?

Put simply, Paul most likely means the ‘teachings of Christ’, the doctrine of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which at first was passed on as spoken words. This exhortation comes in the context of a letter which emphasises the person and work of Christ, a message that is centred on the Word of Truth, the good news of the gospel of Jesus.

This WORD is to have its gracious and glorious way in our lives, both individually and in community, as Christ shapes us to be more like himself. When we gather to listen and bow to the authority of Christ’s living Word, His word dwells richly in us. This Word indwells us by the Spirit. Such a glorious but unseen mystery this is!

John Piper speaks about the important role God has given each of us, to be speaking in a way that helps others persevere in the faith. In his message on Hebrews 3, Piper focuses on verse 13, where the writer says we must “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

“God has designed his church so that its members endure to the end in faith by means of giving and receiving faith-sustaining words from each other. You and I are the instruments by which God preserves the faith of his children. Perseverance is a community project. Just like God is not going to evangelize the world without human, faith-awakening voices, neither is he going to preserve his church without human faith-sustaining voices. And clearly from the words, “exhort one another” (verse 13), it means all of us, not just preachers. We depend on each other to endure in faith to the end.”  Read more

We Christians are to be tactfully and thoughtfully challenging one another with the Word of Christ. Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is but one way to do that… But what a great way to do it! And this is why it is so important to choose songs with lyrics that are true to the Living Word of Christ, rather than just songs that create a warm fuzzy feeling amongst us, or have a catchy rhythm.

How good it is that our times of corporate praise and worship give opportunity to speak the words of Christ to one another in song. Such an encouragement God’s people can be to one another!

You may also enjoy:

Sharing the Perspicuity of God’s gracious Word

The Blessed and God-breathed book (2 Timothy 3:16)

From the Gospel Coalition: 7 Arrows for Bible Reading

City of Angels – God’s gracious warriors and guides

The film City of Angels (1998) presents a most intriguing and unusual portrayal of angels, which in some ways lines up neatly with the Bible (though not entirely). They are far-removed from most Hollywood and Christmas card offerings, of cherub-like babes who float about on clouds. And the concept that “every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings” (from It’s a Wonderful Life) is no where to be found (thankfully). These angels are not humans who have graduated to a higher plane. Rather they are God’s unique created beings, strong warriors, men in black (coats), who carefully observe humans and work together for good. Their most important task is to calmly escort recently departed souls to the ‘hereafter’.
Like the angels we discussed last week (Angels long to understand the story of grace) they long to understand why humans think and act the way they do. The main character, Angel Seth (Nicolas Cage) is even willing to make himself human (an irreversible act, an unbiblical concept!) in order to experience the range of human emotions. Now I’m not going to give much away about the plot, or the whole impossible angel-human romance between Cage and Meg Ryan. And while I’m not sure whether angels help all humanity, or just God’s children, I do love many things this film suggests about them. The angels in this film:
* watch over us, standing closeby or keeping a watchful eye on the city from billboards and rooftops.
* move among the living, hearing their conversations.
* hear people’s thoughts – and especially enjoy hanging out in libraries so they can enjoy the literature humans are reading.
* don’t fully understand why humans act and feel the way they do, having never been human.
* calm people’s raging emotions which could cause harm or distress to others, often by a simple hand on the shoulder.
* can choose to allow themselves to be seen by people (though generally they are unseen. I wonder if this why people in real life are able to “entertain angels unaware“? Hebrews 13:2)
* gather together on the beach at dawn and dusk, to listen to heavenly music. (I would love this one to be true, but it is perhaps just creative licence.)
* experience the beauty of creation that humans rarely stop to enjoy or even notice.

Whether these features are completely accurate or not, it is comforting to be reminded that God is concerned for and constantly watching over his creation, protecting and guiding us so that his purposes might be realised. His angels are not wimps, but powerful agents who do his bidding. And they celebrate when God’s purposes are achieved.
From His Word we know that there are five things that make the angels in Heaven rejoice:
The first was when God said, “Let there be light.” (Job 38:7)
The second was on the night of the Lord’s birth. (Luke 2:13-14)
The third is whenever a sinner gives His heart to the Lord. (Luke 15:7,10)
The 4th is when the Church arrives in Heaven. (Rev. 5:11-12)
And the fifth is when the Lord defeats His enemies on Earth and returns to reign. (Rev. 19:6-7)
Comparing it to those other events, you can see how important the salvation of each believer is to our God.

Praise be to God for the provision of His men in black – or white.

You also may like:
Angels long to understand the story of Grace
angel star

 

A shot in the arm for your church music team

Sometimes being part of a church music team/worship band is an inspiring and encouraging thing, something you absolutely enjoy and look forward to. But other times it can become a bit of a drag, unfortunately! And if you are the leader, and you are experiencing the latter emotions, then oh dear! This is not good news for anyone, especially the congregation. Something needs to change and fast.
What to do?
The Cambridge online dictionary defines “a shot in the arm” as something which has a sudden and positive effect on something, providing encouragement and new activity. And that is precisely what I believe this great little set of 6 bible studies can do for you.

The study book “Sing for Joy” written by Nathan Lovell (2010) is produced by the insightful people at Matthias Media, as part of a range of Interactive Bible Studies. It would be a great shot in the arm for a flagging music team (or leader) as they work through it with others, in order to re-energise and refocus. It would allow you to raise and explore all those tricky issues about the behaviour and motives of church musicians/music in an unthreatening manner. Each study is around 8 pages long (in 60 page study booklet).

Here is a sampling of the topics you will discuss while diving into God’s Word together:
#1 What is Church and Why do we sing there? – looks at music as a natural expression of joy, and why singing is the right response for God’s gathered people.
#2 Praise be to God – looks at the nature of biblical praise, the songs of the Bible, and how we praise God in ways other than singing.
#3 True Worship – traces different meanings of the word “worship” and the implications for how God’s people serve in the Old and New Testament eras. The ideas of worship and sacrifice are explored through the texts of Romans 12 and Hebrews 12-13. Connections are drawn between true praise and true worship.
#4 The Function of Church Music – looks at the many different ways music benefits God’s gathered people.
#5 The Gift of Musicians – explores what it means to be gifted musically, and how to be a servant-hearted leader as a musician, rather than a self-focused one.
#6 Music & Lyrics – considers the importance of song lyrics which should “continually refocus our mind on Christ, teach us His Word and remind us of what he has done for us” (p.57)

One of the most useful and simple definitions given in these studies regarding with purpose of church singing was this: “we sing in church because we are rejoicing over who God is and what He has done for us. Our singing is a response to the Gospel – an extravagant, joyous response to our God who has delivered us from our enemies, redeemed us for Himself, and gathered us together as his people” (p.35)

Describing church musicians as both servants and leaders was a really interesting approach, and a really useful one I think.
“Like it or not, musicians are in the role of leadership within our congregations. It has always been this way. In David’s day there was a band consisting of 120 trumpets as well as cymbals, harps, lyres and a whole tribe of singers (2 Chronicles 5:12)! They dressed up in fine linen and stood apart from the rest of the congregation and led them in praise. What a spectacle that must have been!” (p.47)

We will definitely be discussing that at our next team meeting! You can order these studies by following this link to Matthias Media. I am sure they will help get your whole music team back on the same page. . . and singing from the same score!

Saved by a violent grace

“So ruthless, He loves us,
So reckless His embrace

To show relentless kindness,
To a hardened human race

The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face,
And by His blood He bought a violent grace”

Many years ago some great ministry friends introduced me to a writer of very “deep” and challenging Christian songs, Michael Card. And I had almost forgotten him until the other day! Now why did I remember him, you ask? At the moment I am studying for an exam, a “big picture” Bible overview subject and I really need to get some memory verses and concepts stuck in my head, about how Christ fulfills all the OT law and prophets. So then I thought, Hebrews! Great book for explaining that. This was quickly followed by my recollection that Michael Card’s “Soul Anchor” album is the book of Hebrews in song (just about).

“A Violent Grace” (quoted above and below) is Track 1. So passionately does it remind us that God’s grace was no stroll in the park! Jesus was the high priest who sacrificed Himself. His love was (and is) ruthless! He showed the ultimate kindness and grace to the hardened human race that despised Him. Yet the joy set before Him held the Man of Sorrows to the Cross. And what was this joy? (Hebrews 12:2)
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NIV)
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (NLT)

What was this joy? I suppose there was the joy of sitting on the Throne. But moreso, we are His joy! We are His reward. His death saved a people. All those the Father gave Him can never be snatched from His hand by the power of His death and resurrection. (John 10:28-29) We are God’s chosen people, recipients of immense and violent grace.
No wonder the message of the Cross is so offensive to so many.
But for us being saved it is the power of God!

A Violent Grace (Michael Card, 2001)

A mural of memories moves by in a blur
His prayers all seem unanswered and unheard
His pleading petitions, his loud cries and tears
A last reprieve will simply not appear
So ruthless, He loves us, So reckless His embrace
To show relentless kindness, To a hardened human race
The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face
And by His blood He bought a violent grace
Most willing of victims, And with His final breath
Destroyed the one who holds the power of death
The hate heaped upon Him, scorning all the shame
But all for love He died and overcame

In all of time no one had ever heard
And to the world the thought seemed so absurd
Beyond their wildest dreams no one could ever tell
Of a high priest who would sacrifice Himself