An Ode to Joy and the Power of Music

Love this “flashmob” event. It says so much about the way music touches people and brings such joy. The experience brings smiles, goosebumps and tears all wrapped up in the one package. Music is indeed a gracious gift from God!
(The little girl up the lamp post is my favourite.)

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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!

Are My Motives Clean?

This is really encouraging for times when you wonder, should I or shouldn’t I?

Are My Motives Clean?

by JoshBlount on August 24, 2012 (the blazing center blog)

Have you ever held back from serving the Lord because of fear that your motives weren’t pure?  Maybe you were thinking about praying out loud in a group setting, but then thought, I just want to sound good and impress people – I shouldn’t pray with that kind of attitude. Or you were about to share an insight that came to you during a Bible study discussion. You almost opened your mouth, but then couldn’t quite bring yourself to actually speak up. It’ll sound like I’m showing off –and it’s not that important anyway.

The examples could go on and on: sharing the gospel with your neighbor, playing on the worship team at your church, giving your testimony in public, writing that book you’ve been thinking about for years – all of these potentially good works can, and I’m afraid often do, get put on the back shelf to die a long, slow death while we try to get our motives completely clean.

If you ever done or thought something along those lines, I have good and bad news for you. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: your motives will never be pure. You will always be tempted in some way by pride when you step out in service or some good work for the kingdom of God. That’s the reality of being saints who simultaneously have God-given desires to bear fruit (see John 15:16, Eph. 2:10, 2 Thess. 1:11) and also remaining sin that taints our good deeds.

But here’s the good news: Jesus cleanses our acts of service. It is through Him that we offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5). Listen to John Owen’s words about how Jesus purifies our spiritual offerings:

The Lord Christ first, as our high priest, bears the iniquity, the guilt, and provocation [of our best duties]; and not only so, but he washes away all their filth and defilements…Whatever is of the Spirit, of himself, of grace – that remains; whatever is of self, flesh, unbelief… – that he consumes, wastes, takes away…The saints’ good works shall meet them one day with a changed countenance, that they shall scarce know them: that which seemed to them to be black, deformed, defiled, shall appear beautiful and glorious. (Communion with the Triune God, p. 292)

I’m convinced that Satan, the enemy of our souls who opposes every advance of God’s kingdom, rejoices at how many of us stay on the sidelines because of fear that our motives aren’t pure. Yes, we must watch our hearts and be open to the Holy Spirit’s conviction when pride becomes our dominant motive. But don’t buy the lie that one day pride will be totally dead and you can serve without any trace of self-seeking in your heart.

Here’s what I suggest. When you’re wondering whether you should step out and act but analyzing your motives, ask yourself this question: will what I’m about to do glorify God and bless others? If the answer is yes, do it – even if your motives aren’t 99.4% Ivy soap pure. Trust the work of Jesus to cleanse your good works, take your eyes off of yourself, and then step out in faith to serve others. It’s what you were created to do!

It’s all Yours!

Feeling desperately tired and somewhat overwhelmed by all the demands on my being, I found a refreshing perspective in a song by Steven Curtis Chapman the other day, “Yours”. Here is a little of the perspective he shared:

It’s all Yours, God
My life is Yours, my heart is Yours
My hands and my feet are Yours
Every song that I sing
It’s all Yours, all is Yours
All belongs to You
Our gifts are Yours, God
All our dreams are Yours, God
All our plans are Yours, God
The whole earth is Yours, God
Everything is Yours

For me this song brought a “Peter moment”. I was able to get my eyes off the waves and stresses of my situation, and look instead to the God who created and calms the waves.

Despite all the strivings of mankind,striving to appear competent, achieve worthwhile things, be responsible and get a slice of glory in this world, it really all belongs to God! We are a vapour. He is the only rightful recipient of praise. He made everything and everyone. He owns everything! All the glory goes to Him.

We are most satisfied in this life when we recognise that God is the one who deserves praise and glory. We are most satisfied when He gets the glory He deserves. Everything is yours, God! The pressures of our day to day living are relieved and we are refreshed when we grasp this reality.


IT’S ALL YOURS

I walk the streets of London
And notice in the faces passing by
Somthing that makes me stop and listen
My heart grows heavy with the cry
Where is the hope for London?
You whisper and my heart begins to soar
As I’m reminded that every street in London in Yours

I walk the dirt roads of Uganda
I see the scars that war has left behind
Hope like the sun is fading
They’re waiting for a cure no one can find
And I hear children’s voices singing
Of a God who heals and rescues and restores
And I’m reminded that every child in Africa is Yours

And its all Yours, God, Yours, God
Everything is Yours
From the stars in the sky to the depths of the ocean floor
And its all Yours, God, Yours, God
Everything is Yours
You’re the Maker and Keeper, Father and Ruler of everything
It’s all Yours

And I walk the sidewalks of Nashville
Like Singapore, Manila and Shanghai
I rush by the beggar’s hand and the wealthy man
And everywhere I look I realize
That just like the streets of London
For every man and woman, boy and girl
All of creation, This is our Father’s world

It’s all Yours, God
It’s all Yours, God
It’s all Yours, God
It’s all Yours, God
The glory is Yours, God
All the honor is Yours, God
The power is Yours, God
The glory is Yours, God
You’re the King of Kings
And Lord of Lords

It’s all Yours, God
My life is Yours, my heart is Yours
My hands and my feet are Yours
Every song that I sing
It’s all Yours, all is Yours
All belongs to You
Our gifts are Yours, God
All our dreams are Yours, God
All our plans are Yours, God
The whole earth is Yours, God
Everything is Yours

Steven Curtis Chapman (2007) Album: This Moment

Hide the Word

This week I am busy trying to get a few memory verses stuck firmly in my head. I hope this will allow me to impress those who mark my term exam in Intro to the Bible! I haven’t really done this for a long while. . . studying or memorising.
Several ‘scriptures in song’ in the back of my mind are coming in quite handy, but I am wondering why no one has ever put Ezekiel 36:26 into a song, or Jeremiah 31:33-34, or Colossians 3:1-2, or even God’s promises to David?
Memorising Scripture, difficult as it is, is so worth it. How invaluable to have the one source of life and hope, to have the Word, IN you. You don’t have to rely on the presence of your Bible or have enough memory left in your smart phone in order to hear God’s voice. It is what Paul speaks of in Colossians 3:16, where he says we should LET the Word dwell in us richly. What am I doing to LET it sink into my heart and mind on weeks when I don’t have an exam? What am I doing that is preventing it?

The Word dwelling in us is how God’s Spirit works to change and shape us, transforming our heart through radical surgery at the hand of God.
“The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it is for teaching and rebuking,….. training in righteousness so that the man of God might be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Hebrews 4:12.

Consider also these words from John Piper: “Satan’s #1 objective is to destroy our faith. We have one offensive weapon: the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). But what many Christians fail realise is that we can’t draw the Sword from someone else’s scabbard!  If we don’t wear it we can’t wield it. If the Word of God does not abide in us (John 15:7) we will reach for it in vain when the enemy strikes.” (Piper, ‘Desiring God’ p.151)

If you want to start letting the Word sink in, try writing or printing out important verses and posting them behind the toilet door, or behind the glass in the shower. Singing them in the shower is even better, since music helps to cement things in our minds so much more easily (unless people in your household object). Here are two musicians who have done some hard work in writing songs that help the Word settle in, put its feet up and feel right at home in our hearts:
Colin Buchanan, an awesome Aussie who has a huge string of kids praise albums. For remembering scripture try this CD: Baa Baa Do Baa Baa!
Also, Sovereign Grace songwriter/Pastor Mark Altrogge has several cd collections for scripture memorisation for adults at Forever Grateful Music

Be a grace detective

This post comes to you courtesy of THE BLAZING CENTER blog by Stephen Altrogge (14.08.12). I dare you not to be encouraged by the way he invites us to see God’s grace in the lives of Christians around us.

I’m not Catholic, so I don’t believe in confessing sins to a priest, but for the sake of an interesting blog post, let’s pretend that this is a confessional, and I’m confessing to you.
ME: Father, forgive me for I have sinned.
YOU: What is your sin my son?
ME: I’m a critical jerk. I’m always far more aware of people’s failings than I am of God working in their lives. This turns me into an irritated, curmudgeonly person, who isn’t very gracious. I don’t radiate grace like Jesus did. I radiate the fact that I’m irritated. I’m a self-righteous punk.
YOU: Remind me not invite you over to my house.
ME: Yeah, tell me about it. Now, what should I do?

Aaaaaannnnnnddddd, CUT SCENE. Okay, now you swap out of the confessional and let’s put the Apostle Paul in your place.

PAUL: What you should do is simple. First, repent of your sins and receive the free forgiveness that comes through the blood of Christ. Second, you must become a grace detective.
ME: I’m sorry, a what? It sounded like you said, “Grace detective.”
PAUL: I did. What I mean is that you must be looking for God’s grace at work in people’s lives. God’s grace is at work all over the place in people’s lives. We just need eyes to see it. For example, when I wrote to the Corinthian church, I was writing to a church that was in absolute chaos. There were people getting drunk during communion, a guy sleeping with his stepmother, and people were abusing spiritual gifts like crazy. But, before I brought correction to them, I wanted them to see how God was working in their lives. So I wrote:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV)

Yeah, that church was a wild house. But, I could see God working in their lives. They were eager for the spiritual gifts. I also knew that God would be faithful to finish the work he began. So I could genuinely thank God for them and genuinely encourage them by pointing out God’s work in their lives. And when I remembered that, it changed my perspective on them from being irritated with them to actually caring for them.

ME: So what should I be looking for in people’s lives? Where do I start?
PAUL: Simply start by looking for the fruit of the Spirit in people’s lives. Do you see a person sacrificially loving someone else? That’s God’s work. Thank God for that work and encourage them about that work. Do you see a person enduring a trial with joy and peace. God’s work. Do you see a person extending kindness to an unkind person? God’s work. Be a grace detective. Help people see where God’s grace is at work in their lives. That practice will transform you from an irritated critic in a grateful, loving person.

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A good blokey church song: The Kingdom of God

I’ve been pondering recently whether some of the songs we sing at church are rather too feminine, flowery, slow in tempo or have some other feature which really does not enthuse the males among our church family to really sing out in praise to God. It is so encouraging when men do open their mouths and sing, rather than just mouth the words of a song which doesn’t resonate with them at all. Well for all you blokey blokes out there in churches, I am pleased to say I have found one song which might fit the bill: The Kingdom of God (2007).
It doesn’t have any of those “Jesus, I’m so in love with you” lines. Instead it talks about running with endurance, pressing on to the goal, being trained for war, to fight, standing on the Word and taking up the sword. It is a real battle cry for our men (and women), that speaks of the urgency of announcing that the Kingdom of God is here. Jesus is King over us!
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14

Jesus already has authority over every man and woman and child, but not every one knows it. They don’t realise there is an eternal King ruling over them, before whom they will bow. So let’s keep working to make that Jesus’ kingship known. Let’s take up our Swords together!

THE KINGDOM OF GOD
With great endurance, Lord
I’m gonna run this race
Pressing toward the goal
I will follow You with eyes of faith
You’re training these hands for war
You’re showing me how to fight
Standing on the Word
Taking up the sword of truth and life

The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God is here
We believe the calling is urgent
The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God is here
We’re alive for something eternal
We’re gonna fight the good fight
Givin’ it all for the Savior’s sacrifice (Hey!)

Teach me to walk in love
Shine as a light in me
Even in the dark
I will live to be Your hands and feet
I wanna see like You
So open my eyes I pray
Lead me to the lost
Send me for the glory of Your name

The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God is here
The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God is here

Mia Fieldes , Paul Baloche, 2007, Integrity.

You may also enjoy:

I will boast in the Lord my God                          Why men have stopped singing in Church

God’s light at the end of the tunnel

Really love this photo. The light at the end just beckons you to follow. Throughout history God has always provided a light at the end of the tunnel: the promised Son of Adam would finally crush the enemy in the Garden; the promise of land and blessings given to Abraham was the light at the end of Israel’s captivity in Egypt; the return to the promised land was the light for the exiles in captivity; and Isaiah’s promised Suffering Servant was a light to all who looked forward from the other side of the Cross. He would make a final and full payment for the sin of the people, allowing them to experience the certainty of forgiveness.

Today we live in the glorious light of the Cross and the future hope it has secured for us. The hope of heaven illuminates our minds, even in the darkest circumstances. The ‘light of Christ’ shows us how momentary these troubles are by comparison with the glory that is to come. Thanks be to God for always providing the light of hope at the end of the tunnel. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Light of the World. He is the author and perfector of our faith!

This photo comes courtesy of a blog I follow (The Phoblography by David Bignell).
Click here to see more.

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

Blessed with extravagant grace to bless others

Do you ever shake your head in bewilderment at God’s people in Old Testament days? Despite many blessings, God’s faithfulness and the repeated demonstration of His power and redeeming love, they refused to share the glory and knowledge of their merciful God with the peoples about them. Instead they chose to turn away from the true & living God to pursue the gods and lifestyle of the culture around them. How could they do this? (we ask!) I know I have thought this way in the past, but perhaps we need to examine ourselves here in 2012, as God’s blessed people.

Consider these words from David Platt: “God blesses His people with extravagant grace, so they might extend His extravagant glory to all peoples on the earth. This basic, fundamental truth permeates Scripture from beginning to end. . . (yet) we live in a church culture that has a dangerous tendency to disconnect the grace of God from the glory of God. Our hearts resonate with the idea of enjoying God’s grace. We bask in sermons, conferences and books that exalt a grace centering on us. And while the wonder of grace is worthy of our attention, if that grace is disconnected from its purpose, the sad result is a self-centred Christianity that bypasses the heart of God.”
(“Radical” by David Platt (2010), p69-70).

Ouch! Basking in conferences, sermons and books! (That’s me.)
So have we also been keeping God’s blessings to ourselves? In our modern (western) world we have freedoms and luxuries unimaginable in past eras. Consider our education, our health, our homes, our families, our incomes. Are we using them to make ourselves comfortable or to spread the extravagant glory and grace of God to all peoples? Do we use our technology, our maturity in Christ, our education and knowledge of the Bible to bless others? Our blessings are given that we might bless others – this was the essence of God’s promises to Abraham (that all the world would be blessed through Father Abraham’s great nation).
Let’s not be content to sit on our blessings – particularly the blessing of salvation.
Unlike those OT people, we have the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit at work in us, moulding and shaping us to be more like Christ and giving us the desire to serve Him. Pray that we would not be content with self-centred Christianity. . . let’s not keep the blessings to ourselves.

Jeremiah 31:33 –  “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (NLT)