I just commissioned this Christmas card design, featuring a line from Matt Redman’s ‘O Little Town/Glory of Christmas’. Thanks to my daughter Emily, you can buy yours here:
I just commissioned this Christmas card design, featuring a line from Matt Redman’s ‘O Little Town/Glory of Christmas’. Thanks to my daughter Emily, you can buy yours here:
Today a good friend asked me what songs were on our music roster for next weekend. It then struck me that it might be a useful list to share more widely. Here it is. I’d love to hear what your church is singing . . . and where in the world you are. Please comment!
Glories of Calvary (Sovereign Grace)
Man of Sorrows (Hillsong)
Behold the Lamb (Getty)
The Power of the Cross (Getty)
The Father’s Love (Sovereign Grace)
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed (Getty)
Grace has now appeared (EMU)
How deep the Father’s Love (Townend)
Here is the Spotify playlist
What can worship leaders, pastors and creative leaders do to help Christians experience the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas? http://worshipsessions.com.au/site/teaching
Christmas can be a stressful time of year, and Christians are not immune to the pressures and demands of this season. Many Christians find it difficult to significantly engage with Christmas on a spiritual level. Have you ever heard a Christian say “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas?”
The Christian experience of Christmas should be much richer, more distinct and more meaningful than the Christmas experience promoted across our culture. But for this to happen, Christmas must become more than just a birthday party for Jesus and a time for family reunions.
For Christians to gain a deeper and richer appreciation for the Christmas season as a Christian event (rather than just a cultural one) we must take a step back and look at Christmas in the broader context of the historical Christian calendar.
For centuries believers have followed the Christian Year as part of their spiritual formation and discipleship. According to this ancient tradition, Christmas was celebrated as a twelve-day feast, not just a one-day event. This celebration was the culmination of four weeks of spiritual preparation and anticipation known as Advent.
The well-known Internet Monk blogger Michael Spencer illustrates the difference between Advent and Christmas. He says, “Christmas is joyous, but the joy comes after weeks of waiting, watching, lamenting and calling upon God. Advent is that season of waiting; of looking for the signs and promises of the Saviour in the Scriptures and in the world.”1
I believe that rediscovering the spiritual rhythm and preparation of Advent will help Christians experience the true meaning of Christmas.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas – when our culture is shouting at us to “spend!” “buy!” and “consume!” – the season of Advent teaches us to slow down and reflect on God’s story and our place in it, it teaches us patience, and cultivates within us a child-like sense of anticipation and longing. Advent does this by helping us to remember the historical silence of the Scriptures between the Old and New Testaments and the expectation of a soon-coming Messiah. Advent also helps us to anticipate Jesus’ future return and the eventual completion of His work in redeeming and renewing all of Creation.
Advent spirituality is about recognising that we are living in the “now, but not yet…” between the inauguration and fulfilment, between promise and completion. During Advent, the words of John the Baptist ring in our ears “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him,”2 as we eagerly await the Messiah’s return. For Christians, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation, reflection and repentance, which directly opposes our culture’s penchant for busy-ness, over-spending and over-indulgence in the lead up to Christmas.
Christmas is more than just a celebration of Christ’s arrival. In the light of Advent, Christmas becomes the fulfilment of the expectation that builds throughout the Advent season. At Christmas, we remember that God broke through into our earthly dimension. Through His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ worked to restore the earth and all creation from within, according to God’s good plan and purpose. Our response as His followers is to join with Him, today and every day, in His ongoing work of restoring the world unto Himself, until the day that He returns.3
In this way, Christmas calls us to a tangible response as followers of Jesus: to live out ‘incarnational spirituality’4 – an expression of Christian faith that embodies the life of Christ into the world in which we live. The prayer of the Christmas season is “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”5 It is a reminder that “the work of restoring creation has begun,”6 and that we are called to join in that work, empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit.
By understanding and integrating these historically important Christian ideas into worship gatherings leading up to Christmas, worship leaders and pastors can help those they lead to discover a deeper and more significant Christmas spirituality. That is, where faith overflows into tangible and intentional expressions of incarnational Christianity – a faith that is in the world but not of it.
Worship leaders and songwriters can help their communities experience Advent by choosing and writing songs, prayers and using language that focuses on the expectation of Christ’s coming; and saving the celebration of his arrival until Christmas Day.
Worship leaders can research, read and learn more about the seasons of Advent and Christmas in order to help their congregations wrap their Christmas experience around God’s story, not the story of commerce, culture and consumption.7
As worship leaders and creative influencers, we have the opportunity to shape the ways in which our worshipping communities experience Christmas, and ultimately influence the kind of Christianity the live out between Sundays. As we learn and immerse ourselves in the rich meaning of the “Christian Year” and prayerfully contextualise the themes and ideas of these seasons into our worship gatherings, I believe that Christmas can once again become a primarily Christian event in our churches – one that encourages us in our faith and empowers us in our witness as we remember, experience and live out the Truth of Christmas.
1. Spencer, Michael; http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-michael-spencer-helps-us-prepare-for-advent (Accessed on 1 December 2011)
2. Matthew 3:3b (See also John 1:23 and Isaiah 40:3) (NIV)
3. For a balanced and insightful look at the role of Christians as restorers, see “The Next Christians” (DoubleDay Publishing, 2010) by Gabe Lyons.
4. Webber, Robert “Ancient-Future Time”, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI), 2004, page 61-71.
5. Matthew 6:10 (NIV)
6. Webber, page 61
7. Robert Webber’s book “Ancient-Future Time” would be a great introduction to understanding Advent, Christmas and the entire Christian calendar.
THIS ARTICLE CAME FROM http://worshipsessions.com.au/site/teaching
Sharing today my two favourite songs from Emu Music‘s most recent album Songs of the Saved.
(You can listen to the album on Spotify). Both these songs would probably be good for a congregation to sing. I’m particularly keen on introducing Risen asap. It has such a triumphant chorus and bridge – and much encouragement! Blessings to you in your ministry.
1. When I am weak you are strong
When I am poor you are rich
When I am on my knees you are with me
2. When I lay down calm my fears
Death has no power you are near
Jesus my Lord will save
Jesus, you conquered the grave
Jesus, you are our Saviour
Mighty, death has no hold
Risen, reigning forever
Jesus, you conquered the grave
3. Trumpets will sound, we will rise
Ashes and dust glorified
Never to die again
Never stop singing his praise
You are wonderful, you are powerful
You are glorious, Jesus
You are wonderful, you are powerful
You are glorious, Jesus
© 2014 Michael Morrow, Philip Percival & Simone Richardson
1. Have you heard the day is coming?
When the things our hearts have loved –
Dust and ashes ever-failing –
Will be seen for what they are
2. Can you hear a voice now calling?
Saying, “This is not the end
Come and walk new ways of blessing
And sing a new song to our Lord”
He’s the rock of our salvation
We will trust and be not afraid
He’s the sure and firm foundation
When every other ground gives way
3. Have you heard the condemnation?
Who could pay the dreadful price?
But, look, the silent suffering servant
Took on death to give us life!
4. Can you hear the voice of splendour?
Calling out “whom shall I send
To be a light to every nation?”
“Send me Lord God, here I am!”
The former things will be forgotten
A new creation descends at last
All fear and loss will be no more
All grief and sorrow and tears will pass
Mountains and trees will clap their hands
We’ll enter Zion with songs of joy
And every eye will see his glory
Our king exalted forevermore
He’s the Rock of our Salvation
Soon our hearts will be renewed
Crowned in everlasting gladness
And Jesus’ splendour fills our view
© 2013 Liv Chapman & Gavin Perkins
Here is an excellent description of three possible ways to celebrate Christmas – and the consequences of each. Praying your Christmas celebrations are both merry and meaningful. God is with us – Emmanuel! Blessings to you this Christmas!
“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the significance of the Incarnation.
Writers, philosophers, poets, and composers through the centuries have searched in vain for words that adequately capture the wonder, mystery, beauty, and power of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.
The miracle and meaning of the Incarnation can be so difficult to grasp that we can give up and start to view Christmas in ways that leave us impoverished and unimpressed with the real story. Even in the church our songs and reflections about about Christmas can fail to leave people gasping in amazement or humbled in awe that God would come to dwell among us.
Sometimes we sentimentalize Christmas.
Sentimentalism is focusing on the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas that give us good feelings. Dazzling decorations, fresh baked sugar cookies, poinsettias, family get-togethers, gift shopping, twinkling lights, Christmas carols, cards from friends, tree-cutting expeditions, wrapping presents. Of course, all these Christmas traditions are an expression of common grace, for which we can joyfully thank God. My family has developed a few of our own over 30+ years and I look forward to them every year. But man-made traditions aren’t the whole story, or even the main story of Christmas, and they fail to solve our deepest problems or fulfill our deepest needs.
Sometimes we sanitize Christmas.
We sanitize Christmas when we only present a picture-perfect, storybook rendition of what took place in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Kind of like the picture above. The straw in the manger is fresh and clean. There’s no umbilical cord to cut and no blood. It’s a “silent night.” The surroundings are strangely free from the pungent odor of manure. Joseph and Mary are calm, cool, and collected. Everyone gets a good night’s sleep. There’s no controversy or gossip surrounding the birth. It’s a pleasant, appealing way to think about Christmas, but obscures the foulness, uncertainty, and sin that Jesus was born into. We forget that rather than coming for the put-together, well-to-do, and self-sufficient, Jesus identified with the rejected, the slandered, the helpless, and the poor.
Sometimes we spiritualize Christmas.
Spiritualizing Christmas is ignoring Christmas as earth-shattering history and using it simply to promote general virtues like brotherhood, peace, joy, generosity, and love. And tolerance, of course. Again, it’s evidence of God’s common grace and a reason to give thanks that our culture sets aside a time of year, however commercialized it might be, to celebrate and commend loving your neighbor. But the fruit of Christmas is impossible to achieve or sustain apart from the root. We understand what love is by looking not to ourselves and our good deeds, but by considering Jesus, who came into the world to lay down his life for us (1 John 3:16). Preaching or singing about peace without recognizing our need for the Prince of Peace is a shallow peace indeed.
By this time, most of us have already made our choices about what Christmas means to us and how we’re going to present it to others. But Christmas comes every year. And it’s not too early to start thinking about next year.
More importantly, the glory of God becoming man was never meant to be marginalized to a few weeks. It means something cataclysmic every day.
If we have the privilege of leading others in corporate worship at Christmas, let’s be sure to help them understand why nothing is more wonderful about Christmas than Christ himself.
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
Begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. (Nicene Creed)
The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word)
He deigns in flesh t’appear, widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near, and make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know, for God is manifest below. (Charles Wesley)
The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, to live on the earth, and hang upon the cross, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II, xiii, 4)
See the eternal Son of God, immortal Son of Man,
Now dwelling in an earthly clod whom Heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, look at this! See the Lord of earth and skies
Low humbled to the dust He is, and in a manger lies! (Charles Wesley)
Herein is wisdom; when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery, he came,
God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me. (The Valley of Vision)
As He sleeps upon the hay, He holds the moon and stars in place
Though born an infant He remains the sovereign God of endless days (God Made Low)
And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen that we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night, revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world (Who Would Have Dreamed)
Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. (Charles Wesley)
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14)
O come, let us adore him.”
by Bob Kauflin
1. A Big God for a Little People—Luke 2:1–5
Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?
Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of four billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige? If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people—the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless his children. Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Now you would think that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn. Yes, he could have. And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do. God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor.” God rules all things—even motel capacities—for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing and the cross in Jerusalem.
And we must not forget that he said: “He who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross.” We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). To the one who calls out enthusiastically: “I will follow you wherever you go!” Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.
The angel said to Zechariah: “Fear not!” He said it to Mary: “Fear not!” And now he says it to the shepherds: “Fear not!” It’s a natural thing for a sinner to fear. The more guilt we have, the more things we fear: fear of being found out for some little deceit, fear that some ache we have is God’s judgment, fear of dying and meeting the holy God face to face.
But even though it’s natural, God sends Jesus with the word: Fear not! Hebrews 2:14 says: Jesus became man “that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death have been held in lifelong bondage.” Doesn’t this last phrase imply something tremendously liberating for our daily life? If the worst fear—fear of death—has been taken away through the death of Christ, then surely God does not want us to fear the lesser things in life: job insecurity, not having enough time to finish a sermon, having over for lunch someone who can’t speak English, failing a test in school, being rejected by your friends, etc. The message of Christmas is fear not! God is ruling the world for the great good of his children. Believe his promises: “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will help you; I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness . . . Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall wear . . . Cast all your anxieties on God because he cares for you . . . The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”
And in the place of fear Jesus puts joy. Joyless faith in Jesus is a contradiction in terms. Paul summed up the goal of his whole ministry like this: “for the advancement and joy of your faith.” And he told the Philippians and Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, and again I will say rejoice.” Always? Yes. Not without tears of grief and pain. But still joyful. When my mother was killed, I cried for about half an hour before I could stop. But as I knelt there by my bed, I was not only grieving. I was hoping. And while it is very hard to describe, there was a kind of joy in God and his sovereign goodness that later on at her funeral I tried to express.
So don’t oversimplify: it is not wrong to cry (weep with those who weep), but there is a joy rooted in God’s rule of love that is never overcome in God’s children.
Peace for whom? There is a somber note sounded in the angels’ praise. Peace among men on whom his favor rests. Peace among men with whom he is pleased. Without faith it is impossible to please God. So Christmas does not bring peace to all.
“This is the judgment,” Jesus said, “that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.” Or as the aged Simeon said when he saw the child Jesus: “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against . . . that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” O, how many there are who look out on a bleak and chilly Christmas day and see no more than that.
He came to his own and his own received him not, but to as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to as many as believed on his name. It was only to his disciples that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The people who enjoy the peace of God that surpasses all understanding are those who in everything by prayer and supplication let their requests be made known to God. The key that unlocks the treasure chest of God’s peace is faith in the promises of God. So Paul prays: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing“. And when we do trust the promises of God and have joy and peace and love, then God is glorified. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men with whom he is pleased: men who would believe.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light that all might believe through him.
If you are ever granted to see that light for what it really is, you will believe it. Everybody who knows the light is like John the Baptist: we have seen the light and testify to it. We have been lifted out of the dark caverns of our sin and guilt and fear into the bright daylight of his grace. How can we help but spread the light?
To symbolize the coming of the light into our dark world and the spreading of the light through the world we will spread the flame of the Christ candle through the room.
I somehow missed a great Christmas album two years ago. You may have done the same. The album is ‘This Christmas’ by the Idea of North. You can read the review below, or simply go and listen online. I’m sure you will enjoy it.
“If you want your Christmas to groove along with some stunning arrangements, then The Idea of North’s latest recording is an absolutely must.
This ensemble, known for its contemporary flavour and mellow vocal blend, has captured the joy of the season with a selection of traditional carols. American Christmas-themed songs (Have Yourself a Merry Christmas, The Christmas Song / Chestnuts Roasting, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas), also features along with some more modern numbers (Angel, Candlelight Carol), and are all mixed together with sophisticated jazz harmonies and some wonderfully rich orchestrations.
James Morrison’s inclusion (playing trombone) in Mary’s Boy Child lends an improvisatory edge to the setting, whilst the reprise of this song as a band mix has a more Latin feel. The title track, This Christmas, has an all-encompassing Christmas appeal (and some additional fine solo guitar work).
The inspirational song Angel (In the Arms of the Angel) has seen performances from all over the world, including from the song-writer Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Westlife, Angelis, The King’s Singers, and Katherine Jenkins, not to mention this Australian version, which is as powerful as those famous renderings before it.
Australia’s most recognised contribution to the Australian carol tradition is not forgotten either, with William James’s The Silver Stars are in the Sky, which shows the group’s ability to find new harmonic gestures throughout the lullaby-like verses.
The Christmas Medley seamlessly merges rhythmic responses of Once in Royal David’s City and Hark The Herald Angels Sing, with a more straight forward God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Poverty is hymn-like in its four-part traditional harmonies, giving a respite to the rhythmically energised arrangements that occupy the bulk of this recording.
Poignancy and simplicity is found in the Thad Jones signature tune, A Child is Born (complete with trumpet doubling the melody).
This CD should get a real workout this Christmas season, and become a favourite for many. Beautifully sung and meticulously recorded, The Idea of North has produced another gem in this recording, where every track has real musical magic.”
Sharing an exciting announcement from Sovereign Grace: A new Christmas album, Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus in Song, will be released on September 1. Here are the details from Bob Kauflin:
“We released our first Christmas album, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man, in 2006. A few years ago I started thinking we should do another one. After all, we can never have too many songs that help us reflect on and celebrate the wonder of Jesus becoming Emmanuel, God with us.
So I was intrigued last fall when my good friend, Marty Machowski, asked if Sovereign Grace Music would be interested in producing a Christmas album to accompany an Advent curriculum he had written. After a few conversations with Marty and his publisher, New Growth Press, we decided it would be a great opportunity. The result was our next album, Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus in Song, due out Sept. 1. While the album will stand on its own, thirteen of the fourteen songs on it correspond with lessons from Marty’s devotional.
Writing songs to specific passages of Scripture in each lesson caused us to explore some new territory for Christmas songs. While not all of the songs ended up being congregational, I’m pretty excited about what we ended up with.
Below is a preview version of a song I co-wrote with Jason Hansen, a pastor in the Sovereign Grace Church in Gilbert, AZ. We started it at a songwriter retreat in January and finished it over many long distance sessions using FaceTime and Google Docs.
The song is called “Who Would Have Dreamed” and is based on Micah 5:1-2.
Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
We tried to capture the wonder that God would choose unlikely Bethlehem as the birthplace for the Messiah, and the greater wonder that the Son of God himself would be born as an infant. Here are the lyrics:
On a starlit hillside, shepherds watched their sheep
Slowly, David’s city drifted off to sleep
But to this little town of no great renown
The Lord had a promise to keep
Prophets had foretold it, a mighty King would come
Long-awaited Ruler, God’s anointed one
But the Sovereign of all looked helpless and small
As God gave the world His own Son
And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world
Wondrous gift of heaven: the Father sends the Son
Planned from time eternal, moved by holy love
He will carry our curse and death He’ll reverse
So we can be daughters and sons
And here’s the preview (above). I’m delighted that it’s being sung by my youngest daughter, McKenzie.”
(By Bob Kauflin)
In the first week of January this year I spent 6 days leading music at a missions conference on top of a mountain in southeast Queensland. The conference was the CMS (Church Missionary Society) Summer School, an annual event for the mission organisation with various guest speakers and missionaries, and about 600 supporters, many of whom are advancing in years (though the younger age brackets are also well represented). The conference theme was ‘Keep Calm for Christ has Won’ with keynote bible talks from Revelation. In fact we covered the whole book in this time! Peter Rodgers, head of CMS Australia, taught us well, showing how Revelation really is a book for us, not written to confuse us but to encourage us, to comfort, strengthen and make us bold for the risen Christ who stands as Victor in the spiritual realm…now! This is the realm revealed in Revelation, the realm of things that must remain unseen until our current heaven and earth are ‘rolled back like a scroll’. Revelation looks behind that heavy backdrop curtain which is the present physical world. It reveals a giant canvas of spiritual realities, of the victory Christ has already won. Far from being a timetable for world history yet to come, the book of Revelation is largely a picture of what has taken place already. (Well, through the teaching we received it made much sense to understand that this is what John has revealed). His letter describes the giant canvas of Christ’s victory. As John takes in this visual revelation his focus zooms in on one area at a time, explaining each different aspect of the battle and the victory. Though people will no doubt continue to discuss and debate the sequence of events, and how many have already occured, we should take comfort in this revelation of the big picture spiritual reality, and not be frightened off by the endless debate which surrounds the book. Christ has won the victory, at the Cross. No matter what the spiritual reality behind the scenes looked like at this point in world history, the outcome remains the same.
Probably the most striking vision of the Risen Christ we were confronted with comes in the very first chapter, at which John falls down as though dead!
“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Revelation 1:12-18 NIV
This is no defeated carpenter who suffered and died and was forgotten. This is no meek and mild moral teacher. This is the blazing Lion-Lamb who lives and reigns now! He suffered as a sacrifice and conquered over the power of sin and death, once and for all. Now he lives forever. His voice and feet and mouth are more brilliant than the sun, and full of power. This is the risen Lord Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man who would receive the Kingdom and restore people to God.
Why then should we fear if we belong to him and are united with Him by faith, united in His death and resurrection? This is the vision of Christ we must hold on to in our present struggles – struggles much like those the early Christians suffered as they held onto their faith amidst persecution and ridicule. This letter was written (this vision was revealed) as much for their encouragement as ours. Let’s explore it without fear!
There’s so much more I could write about all that I learned from Revelation at the conference, but this vision of the Mighty Risen Saviour stands out most clearly. Here are some of the songs we used at the conference which have strong references to the concepts and words of John’s Revelation. (You might find them useful if you are preaching or singing through a series on the book.)
Come Hear the Angels Sing (Michael Morrow)
We belong to the Day (Michael Morrow)
See Him Coming (Mark Peterson)
Crown Him with Many Crowns (hymn)
See the Man (Trevor Hodge)
It is well (Todd Fields version of this hymn with new chorus: “God has won! Christ prevailed!”)
Let Your Kingdom Come (Sovereign Grace)
Majesty of Heaven (Chris Tomlin)
No other name (Trevor Hodge)
The Power of the Cross (Keith Getty)
Here we are at CMS Conference 2014. Music brings such encouragement!
Ps. If you have been praying for my dad Martin, thanks! Please continue to pray that he will be able to keep absorbing the food he is now eating and gain in strength. We praise God for his recovery so far! Blessings,
When you think of yourself being “in Christ” what do you think of? How would you explain this gospel truth? It is much easier to understand Christianity in terms of believing in Christ, or following Christ or knowing Christ. Yet this “in Christ” terminology is favoured by the New Testament writers, Paul especially. It is also packed with the wondrous grace of God shown in the gift of His Son.
If you want to understand better what it means to be IN Christ then this book is for you.
Published in 2012 and written by Australian pastor Rory Shiner “One Forever: The Transforming Power of Being in Christ“ explores so many facets of what this phrase means, in just seven chapters. His writing is conversational and friendly, accessible to most adults and probably many youth. His illustrations are easy to understand, yet the concepts are deep and his pastoral heart is clear. Rory wants us to have the confidence and certainty of being IN Christ, even if our faith is small.
Here are some of the main ideas he explores:
1. To be a Christian is to be in Christ.
“To be a Christian is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to believe into him. It is to clothe yourself with him.” p40
2. The size of your faith does not matter. The power of the one you have faith in does.
3. Justification is not up to us or our efforts.
Justification is objective. “Justification was not achieved in my heart but on a cross outside Jerusalem”.
“Justification is one of the great joy factories of the Christian life”. P46
4. We are united with Christ in his death and his righteousness and his resurrection.
If we only think of ourselves as following Christ or knowing Christ or being near Christ then we don’t capture what union captures. p58. “Union with Christ is our defence against the playground bullies of sins and temptation.” p56
5. We are right before God because we are in Christ and HE is right before God.
“To stand in Christ is to stand in a place where the wrath of God will never be felt because wrath of God has already been there.” p36
6. Christians aren’t just ‘not perfect but forgiven’, they ‘forgiven and they are united to christ . . . indwelt by the Spirit of God, and they are empowered by God to live a new life. p 62
7. Christ identifies so closely with the Church, His church is His body, He is the Church. When his church is persecuted Christ is persecuted p.70, 68, “Church is the most concrete expression of your union with Christ.” p.73.
“The distinction we make between how we treat Christ and how we treat his gathered people is not a distinction that Jesus makes” (p74).
8. In the case of the weakest and most broken members of our churches, their very brokenness is their gift to the church. They gift to the church their brokenness, and as we are drawn out of ourselves to serve them, we learn how to be the body of Christ. p.72
Now if that has not whet your appetite to better understand the treasure of what it means to be “in Christ”, check out the video below which is designed to explain a little more. And you can find the book at Matthias, Koorong, and Amazon. I hope it will be a blessing to you!
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