Always in His presence

music_is_nature__silhouette_by_sammy3773-1And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. . . (Ephesians 2:6)

“…the gathering is unique not as an encounter with God (it is that, though God’s presence is a constantly available comfort and help to the Christian); rather it’s unique because it is an encounter with the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, spurring one another along in the mission of God. Christ in me meets Christ in you.”  (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace)

Lately I’ve been chatting with fellow musical Christians on “LinkedIn” – particularly on the question of worship, the difference between the titles ‘song leader’ and ‘worship leader’ (click here to read that discussion) and if there is any way to reconcile our different opinions. In some ways I feel I’ve been told that my preference for calling those who lead the singing in church ‘song leaders’ is way too blinkered, because singer do so much more than just lead the singing. In the view of many, it seems, song leaders are actually leading people into God’s presence through the experience of corporate worship. Now this may just be semantics, and perhaps all they mean is that we feel closer to God as we draw near to Him together in praise. But if not then such ‘Worship leaders’ have the responsibility of making a way of access between sinful man and God. To me, that is a huge claim, a responsibility we could never have. In fact, it sounds like something that JESUS has already accomplished.

Now should I sit quietly and take this as being a denominational difference, or difference in opinion, which doesn’t really matter? Or is this view actually misleading, with no grounding in the New Testament texts or the practice of the early church? Does this view of corporate worship actually detract from what Christ has already done? Does it hark back to the Old Testament ‘temple worship’ model which is now fulfilled in Christ?

From what I understand in God’s word, the idea that our corporate worship is a worship experience – where we tentatively approach God and hope that he will inject his spirit and power into us through this experience – has very much been surpassed in Christ! This is how the Old Testament people (who did not experience the Holy Spirit in an ongoing, everyday, ‘I will never leave you’ kind of way) approached God in the temple. They came with some measure of uncertainty and a great measure of unworthiness.

But for us as Christ followers, living this side of the cross, the power that raised Jesus from the dead is living in us! He is living in us! We are always in Him, always in His presence. (Check this review of One Forever: The transforming power of being in Christ.) We are in the very throne room of heaven right now, even while our daily lives here continue. You could even say that we Christians are always in church, because we are always ‘in Christ’. There is such great certainty and confidence here. Our unworthiness has been dealt with and wrapped up in Christ.

“We do not go to church to worship, but, already at worship, we join our brothers and sisters in continuing those actions that should have been going on – privately, [as families], or even corporately – all week long.” (Harold Best, Music through the eyes of Faith, p.147)

Jesus is our great High Priest, the way to the Father which the Father provided. He is our one true worship leader, who leads us into a life of worshipping our loving Heavenly Father at the very moment we are saved.
Of course it is great to gather together as God’s people, to remind one another of the reality that we serve a great and wonderful God. As we sing we fulfill the way God designed for us to be building each other up in the Lord, speaking the ‘Word of Christ’ into each other’s lives. But we don’t need to see corporate worship as a tenuous time, when hopefully the music is good and powerful enough to lead people into His presence. My friends, we are already there! We are always in His presence!

“Paul says to the church at Corinth, ‘Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?’ He later tells them that their bodies are the temple of God. This is the astounding reality of New Testament religion: we as Christians are the house of worship.”
(David Platt, Radical Together, 2011)

Here are a few other verses from God’s Word to consider – to remind us that our worship of the Almighty God is an ongoing and daily activity, which is also expressed corporately when we gather together.

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22)

“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)

Thanks for reading my rant – an important one! If you want to think more on these things check out the following:

https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2014/04/17/why-i-prefer-song-leader-to-worship-leader/
https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/09/13/two-books-ive-got-to-get-hold-of/
https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/09/25/all-of-creation-sing-with-me-now-the-veil-is-torn/
https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/10/26/corporate-worship-is-a-serious-gift/
https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2014/04/30/how-worship-murders-our-self-righteousness/
https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2014/04/26/drawing-back-the-curtains-on-christ-the-role-of-song-leaders/

The violent grace that saves and transforms

Welcome to all my new followers who have joined up in the last few weeks. (Thanks!) Great to have you along! Today I’m reposting something I wrote a year or two ago which explores the unexpected nature of God’s grace to us in Christ . . . and a great song:

“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