New songs say ‘God is doing something now’!

music_is_nature__silhouette_by_sammy3773-1Sometimes change can make us very uncomfortable. It can make us feel totally out of control, it can rob us of things to which we feel entitled. Let’s explore this for a moment in terms of church music.
We Christians develop a real attachment to the songs of our faith. They become associated with the ups and downs we have been through, or the exciting time of our youth, or the time we first came to faith. When we sing them the songs instantly conjure the emotions of those times. This is why some people just can’t sing songs from the funerals of dearly departed friends and family, without being overwhelmed by sadness.

So should we learn new hymns and spiritual songs, especially when such change can cause great angst?  I had a conversation with a lovely friend over the weekend who was frustrated with a lack of interest for changing and updating the songs they sing in their church. Many of her congregation are still attached to the ‘Scripture in Song’ repertoire which became popular in the 70s and 80s. The musical style of these choruses hark back to this era . . . and make some people really cringe!

I have found a great rationale for new songs from Rick Warren, author of the “Purpose Driven Church” (1995). If you study church history you’ll discover that every genuine revival has always been accompanied by new music. New songs say ‘God is doing something here and now, not just a hundred years ago’. Every generation needs new songs to express its faith“.

Another great insight comes from a Presbyterian minister Rowland Lowther (2002). He says that his favourite Christian song is “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”, to the old hymn tune, . . . but for the sake of the Gospel I would be willing to change the musical style so that those wonderful lyrics could impact on the next generation. . . What matters to me more is not that I be moved, but those in the next generation has those wonderful old lyrics to a music format that can lift their spirits to worship the same living God that the writer of this hymn worshipped hundreds of years ago”.

Great point. I think it also comes down to the concept of “renewing our minds”. By hearing the gospel explained by new people, in new and fresh ways, our understanding of God and the gospel of His grace is strengthed and deepened. That has got to be a good thing.

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Why I love ‘grace’ in the NLT

Since 1997 I have been a great enthusiast of the NLT (New Living Translation). While I still love my faithful black leather NIV study bible with the cracked edges and torn spine, the NLT has helped refresh and deepen my understanding of God’s loving Word to us. The NLT avoids terms that could be considered Christian jargon, and replaces them with more ordinary words that clearly explain the concept. The translation is not simpler, but it is often clearer.

Let’s take for example ‘grace‘ – God’s grace. For some people ‘grace’ means a prayer before a meal, the way you move, forgiveness, or even a girl’s name. I love the way NLT translators have expressed it: as God’s ‘special favour‘. Check out how fully God’s grace is described by the turn of phrase in these verses:

God saved you by His special favour when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

“But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

“Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.(Romans 5:2)

When using the NLT in Bible study over the years, it has caused many moments of “a ha!” It helps clarify the way other translations have expressed the glorious gospel of grace! I find it really good to use alongside the NIV or ESV, and is helpful when trying to develop song lyrics! If you have never tried it, have a go.
You can go to the official newlivingtranslation.com site here.
Or look it up in biblegateway. Enjoy!

(Note: My verses are taken from the 1996 version of NLT, which has been revised since the first printing. There may be some differences from the most recent printing.)

The Grace that breaks in and saves

“The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness that otherwise you would never be able to overcome….Religion is ‘if you obey then you will be accepted.’ But the Gospel is ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure that you are accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.”
Tim Keller.

Music – a fountain of joy

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Faith in Jesus’ powerful name (Acts 3:16)

Here in Acts we continue our journey through the “Three Sixteens” – Peter and John have just gone up to the temple to pray. Peter commands a beggar, lame from birth, to get up and “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Literally Peter means a continuous action ‘be walking‘. He grabs him by the right hand to raise him up. “The power was Christ’s but the hand was Peter’s” (John Stott 1990). This healed beggar then famously goes “walking and leaping and praising God!” He becomes the living embodiment of the Messianic age, predicted in Isaiah 35:6, Then will the lame leap like a deer.

The result of all this is another hugely important 3:16 verse:
“By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.(Acts 3:16)

Peter explains to those in the temple courts that this healing reveals Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. He is the promised suffering Servant who brings healing to all the nations. Peter’s own “power or godliness” did not heal the man. It was the power of the risen Lord Jesus. Peter tells the Jews that though they acted in ignorance and killed the “author of life“, this is howGod fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer (verse 18).

This miracle, performed “in the name of Jesus”, brings physical healing and a great testimony. Peter wants them to repent and receive the promised Messiah who can bring them healing, promised healing that is so much more than physical.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

Peter has received the Spirit of the risen Christ, and in Jesus’ name alone can Peter heal.  In Jesus’ name we can be healed from our sinful separation from God. He has offered to give us a new heart, a heart transplant. Our sick, dead, un-beating, stony hearts can be replaced. This is the healing we all need to receive – in Jesus’ powerful name.

Finally, here is the link to Chris Tomlin ‘s take on “The Name of Jesus” which he describes as “a saving place to run, a hope unshakeable . . . there is power in Your name, in the name of Jesus there is life and healing, chains are broken in Your name”.

2010 worshiptogether.com Songs / sixsteps Music 

“My Hope” in God’s grace

same loveFor many years I have been a church music junkie (still am). I spend lots of time seeking out great new songs to inspire the local church. Paul Baloche is one writer who usually delivers great songs about great bible truths and the great love of our Saviour.

This one is a fairly recently release, the song “My Hope”. We have taught it at our church; actually it became a sort of theme song to a sermon series on Deuteronomy. The song speaks of the guidance and the faithfulness of God, how through every test His GRACE is with us. Amen to that. Our God is not fickle or changing. That’s why we can hold on to Him. I’m really looking forward to teaching about 600 women this new song at a Women’s conference (called GROW) in Brisbane early next month. I hope you enjoy the song too.

“My Hope” from the album The Same Love, Paul Baloche 2012
Nothing will change if all the plans I make go wrong
Your love stays the same
Your light will guide me through it all
I’m hanging on, I’m leaning in to You

Nothing can reach the end of all Your faithfulness
Your grace is with me through every shadow every test
I’m hanging on, I’m leaning in to You

I don’t know where You’ll take me
But I know You’re always good

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Your great love, Your righteousness
I will not walk another way
I trust Your heart, I trust Your Name
I’m holding on, I’m holding on to You

You are my Rock when storms are raging all around
You shelter me God
I’m safe with You on solid ground
I’m hanging on, I’m leaning in to You

I don’t know where You’ll take me
But I know You’re always good

My hope is built on nothing less than Your great love, Your righteousness,
I will not walk another way, I trust Your heart, I trust Your Name
I’m holding on, I’m holding on to You

CCLI Song # 5882177  Alyssa Mellinger | Ed Kerr | Paul Baloche | Sheila Rabe
© 2010 kerrtunes Integrity Worship Music (Admin. by Crossroad Distributors Pty. Ltd.)

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Image created by Sarah Danaher with a Canon EOS 5D MkIIadvent

 

Pick up your instrument: food for the soul and brain

If you are someone who hasn’t recently picked up your guitar, saxophone, flute, recorder or piano (well you can’t really pick that one “up”) then might I point out something . . . you should!
Recently, while trying to enthuse my girls to pursue more consistent practice on their instruments, I was encouraged to read new research which supports what I always thought was true. While music is good for you, making music is even better!
According to a recent study* these are some of the benefits of playing a musical instrument regularly:
1.  People over the age of 65 experienced positive changes in brain function after 4 or 5 months of playing an instrument an hour a week.
2.  Playing the piano (particularly) teaches children to be more self-disciplined, attentive and better at planning.
3.  Playing an instrument makes you more perceptive in interpreting the emotions of others. Musicians are able to pick out exactly what others are feeling just by the tone of their voices.
4.  IQ can increase by seven points in both children and adults.
5.  It becomes easier to learn foreign languages, as your memory and language skills improve.
Hopefully the current trend in the use of musicians as a model for brain plasticity will continue . . . and extend to the field of neuropsychological rehabilitation“*.

Wow. If you played an instrument as a child then know that part of the reason you have intelligence, memory, language and empathy is down to that instrument, even if you hated it. Your parents certainly did something right!

And if you want to develop your brain in any of these areas, then it certainly is time to dust of your violin, blow the cobwebs from your trumpet, and get playing!  Music is such an amazing and at times under-rated gift from our gracious God. He made us with desire to praise Him in song, to “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals” (Psalm 150).
God wired our brains with the ability to learn to play, to sing, to write and read music, to create instruments, to create emotion through music, to lift the souls of ourselves and others, and grow our brain function by employing those “seven notes of grace”. Don’t miss out on the joy of this gracious gift!

(*The research is published online, Faculty of 1000 Biology Reports, by Lutz Jancke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich.)

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This is How we Know (John 3:16)

John 3 16If you have only recently joined me for the Three Sixteens, you should know that this series explores my observation that nearly all New Testament books have some “lightbulb” moment, a standout verse, event or promise, landing at the point of chapter 3 verse 16. (And no one knows why!) The 3:16 of John’s Gospel is no doubt the most famous of all. It has been printed on shirts, cards, keyrings and stickers and taught in Sunday School songs til it has become the most famous bible verse of all time (even with non-Christians). And fair enough. This verse reveals God’s great love to us in Christ, his great sacrifice of sending his perfect son to be scorned, suffer and die, to satisfy the law and save us as his own. This eternal life cannot be earned, it is free and available to all who will believe.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Since I really don’t need to convince you that this is a significant summary of God’s love and His redemptive purposes in Christ, I won’t. Instead I will share a song where another clever person (yes, being cheeky here) noticed the 3:16 connection. Matt Redman has connected John 3:16 with 1 John 3:16, and put them together in a song called “This is How we Know” (from the album We Shall not be Shaken, 2009).

1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

Redman takes us from God’s great love, demonstrated in Christ, to our response: love God and love others! We recently taught this song to our evening congregation, to match with the sermon series in 1 John. It’s not the easiest song for a congregation to learn, but it is worth the few weeks of revision for the benefit of singing these glorious truths together. You can find the lyrics below.

THIS IS HOW WE KNOW

This is how we know, this is how we know what love is
Just one look at Your cross
And this is where we see, this is where we see how love works
For You surrendered Your all
And this is how we know that You have loved us first
And this is where we chose to love You in return

For You so loved the world that You gave Your only Son
Love amazing so divine, we will love You in return
For this life that You give, for this death that You have died
Love amazing so divine, We will love You in reply, Lord

And our love will be loud, Our love will be strong
Our love should be hands and feet that serve You in this world
So let it stay true and let it endure
That You will be glorified worshipped and adored

Authors Beth Redman  Matt Redman Copyright 2009 Thankyou Music

You are our Song from Age to Age

“. . . Though tears now veil our eyes
Your steadfast love, our perfect hope
Our eyes are fixed on grace
We have no doubt You’ll lead us home
To finally see Your face”

These words are found in verse 3 of a new song by Sovereign Grace music, “Our Song from Age to Age”. I first heard it last Thursday night in Brisbane at an event hosted by Qld Theological College, where Don Carson shared an amazing vision of the “Future of Christianity” (from Revelation 21-22) with around 1500 people.

For me this song highlights GRACE, the thing we fix our eyes on as Christians, the GRACE by which we are saved. (See Ephesians 2:8-10). This is the only thing worth singing about and has been since . . . forever!

The first grace-filled song recorded in the Bible (though most probably not the first song uttered on this topic!) comes from Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15. Here are a few choice lines:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. . .
Who is like you among the gods, O Lord—  glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand, and the earth swallowed our enemies.
With your unfailing love you lead the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them to your sacred home.”

This great rescue is pure grace. Yet so is music! So is praising God! It is a healing balm for the soul.
God has created us with the desire to praise Him and strangely, we feel most satisfied in ourselves when we are doing just that. Though sin deceives us into thinking we will feel our best when proudly singing our own praises, that will make us feel worse. Really, how long could we praise ourselves before we ran into something we would rather not sing about?
We must praise Him, not just with our mouths but with all our heart, our attitudes, our actions, our thoughts. Even if we could praise Him fully or perfectly, there would still be more to praise Him for, with the grace of each new day and into eternity! As creative image bearers of our Father, we should never run out of fresh ways to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
If you have found great grace in praising God, whether by yourself, or when gathered with his people, I would love to hear your comments.

Here is the link to listen to the song “Our Song from Age to Age” written by Joel Sczebel 2012.

And if you are someone who enjoys discovering great praise and worship songs for today’s church, then spend a bit of time exploring the Sovereign Grace site:  www.sovereigngracemusic.org . They graciously allow you to download their lyrics and sheet music for free! (Click on the STORE tab). These are inspiring and singable songs, full of bible/gospel truth. Enjoy!

Oh and if you want to know more about Don Carson, I’m sure you can figure out how to google him. Also check out a great website of his resources: thegospelcoalition.org

How to suffer well

BOOK REVIEW: Suffering Well: The predictable surprise of Christian Suffering by Paul Grimmond (2011), Matthias Media.

It was John Wesley who famously said of Christians in his era “our people die well”.  Presumably they died strong in the faith, with an understanding that this life is not all there is, or all that matters, and with hope in the glorious future that awaits in Christ beyond the grave.

Could the same be said of Christians in the 21st century? How do we cope with suffering in general, let alone death? Do we suffer and die ‘well’?

In the first chapter of his challenging book ‘Suffering Well’ author Paul Grimmond states his case: when it comes to suffering we are prisoners of our age who have “lost touch with biblical truth because of the constant hum of worldly thinking that swirls around in our heads” (p.18). As a result we don’t know how to view suffering, to suffer well, or how to encourage one another in suffering for Christ.

I read this book during a month of suffering; it was not the sufferings of physical attack or public persecution, simply that the flu had descended, making an ordeal of every simple daily task. As I suffered and coughed, Grimmond’s book helped resolve some of the dilemmas about suffering which I had wrestled with before. Here are just two main points (of many great ones which the book raises) which will stay with me:

1. Don’t come to the Bible with the world’s view of suffering – start with Bible’s view and look at suffering in our world through those eyes. In the world’s view suffering, or at least the avoidance of suffering, is the new moral standard. According to Grimmond it is the only determinant of what is right: a disabled child will suffer, and so will the parents, so it is apparently “right” to terminate their existence before birth; the same goes for an injured dog and an old person with terminal cancer. Suffering is seen as the only evil, which must be avoided at all costs. “Suffering is a major part of the argument against God’s existence. The very presence of suffering . . . is a key piece of evidence. If we really have an all-good and all-powerful God then how can there possibly be suffering?” (p.25) More than that our world believes religion is one great cause of human suffering. “In our brave new world, suffering means that God is immoral and Christians are immoral” (p.28) since we believe in a God who would allow suffering to exist!

If we come to the Bible with this worldly view in our heads, no wonder we don’t know what to do with suffering, or how to speak up for the God who allows it. Grimmond takes us back to the Bible to see that God is in control, that God is God and I am not! He is the potter, we are His clay. God is in complete control over creation, which means that “the suffering of God’s creation occurs by his hands . . .Scripture never suggests suffering and difficulty come because God is out of control; rather . . . they come because he is IN control.” (p.46-7). This may seem a big and bitter pill to swallow, but it is the teaching of the Bible through and through. This God is not a god we have created, one the world would approve of, a benevolent grandfatherly figure who simply indulges us moment by moment. God wills, He purposes, He acts, He works all things together for good, including suffering. “The world is suffering because it stands under the heavy hand of God’s judgement . . . Our world, marked by suffering and death , is a world that has been bent out of shape BY GOD. . . God has visited upon us the results of our sin” (p48-49).
Yet this God has involved Himself in the suffering of His creation; suffering is at the heart of His plan to create a perfect world and glorify himself. Jesus faced the suffering that should be ours. While suffering may be painful and awful, it comes from the hand of a sovereign God who will use it for good, and who guarantees that good by the gift of his Son (p64).

2. Don’t downplay the real suffering for Christ that Western Christians experience – being scorned, reviled and mocked! In Chapter 6, entitled “Where’s all the persecution gone?” the discussion moves from the general suffering of our fallen world to specific suffering for being a Christian. Grimmond wants us to see that in taking up the cross of as Christ’s disciple, the imminent danger is not usually physical hardship, but the danger of being ashamed of Christ. “When we think of suffering for Christ “persecution” is the word we naturally use. But in the bible the language is much more diverse. It talks of being reviled and spoken against and maligned . . . The Bible’s big question for us is will you obey Jesus and speak for Him, or will you be ashamed of his words?” (p.96).  Grimmond sees the great danger for Western Christians is “the slow, spiritual death of a thousand tiny compromises crouched at the door, waiting to devour our hearts. . . at the moment we need it most we have let go of a robust theology of belonging to Christ and suffering for him”(p.97).  Though we live in a culture where words are cheap and people can say what they want and be rude to each other all the time, we don’t have to see it as weakness if those words really sting us. Grimmond suggests that we do not serve or encourage one another well when we say we don’t suffer, because it reinforces the view that suffering for Christ is only physical. “As a result we fail to teach each other to live without shame in the face of the more subtle pressures in our culture” (p.98).  So, this IS persecution and we discourage each other when we downplay it! We should also rebuke ourselves when we fear it or shy away from it. This is the shame we are NOT to be ashamed of! With regards to the promise of suffering for and with Christ, Grimmond insists we teach it to people from the moment of conversion. We must share this truth with our children so they grow up rejoicing that they’re counted as Christ’s when they suffer for him(p.103).

Grimmond says we also suffer as Christians because of our compassion. When we see the suffering, the sin, the lost people of this world through God’s eyes, it brings deep sorrow. And as for the ‘predictable surprise’ of the title . . . I might leave that for you to read about in chapter 5! If you want to get a better handle on the question of suffering, and find hope in the midst of it, grab a copy of Grimmond’s book, which successfully turns our eyes back to our Sovereign God, who is in control of all our suffering.

What are we Christians called to do in the face of suffering? We are called to wait well, to praise our God in every moment, and to ask for God’s strength to do good – even to our enemies (p.139).

You can buy Paul Grimmond’s book from Matthias Media by following this link: suffering-well

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