On being persistent, creative and sacrificial to bring people to Christ

jesusparalyticIn preparing to take a new friend through Christianity Explained I have been reading through the book of Mark in my old faithful NIV study bible. Scribbled in the margins around Mark 2 I found a wealth of challenging comments which were exactly what I needed to hear. Mark 2 is the story of the persistent men who brought the “man on the mat” to Jesus.  Jesus’ concern and his actions showed all those gathered that He was the Son of God.  I’ll list some of my notes here in point form for you to contemplate:

1.  The greatest miracle Jesus performs is that of forgiving our sin – has He ever said to you “your sins are forgiven”?
2. This miracle authenticated Jesus’ power to forgive sin. Neither forgiving sins nor healing was an easy task – but they were ‘God tasks’ – things only God could do. Jesus was clearly the Son of God.
3. The men who carried the paralytic in were persistent, they had faith. Their love for their friend was clear – God is pleased to work where there is love.
4. The teachers of the law showed indifference to the man’s needs and criticised Jesus for healing.
5. Jesus met the man’s greatest need first – his need for forgiveness. This was most costly to Jesus – it revealed his power, his authority, and it was by revealing these that the road to the Cross was paved. It brought out the wrath of the Pharisees who charged him with blaspheming, claiming to be God.
6. We must find ways, at any cost, of bringing people face to face with Jesus. (Do we love those around us this much? Do we love them as much as the men loved the man on the mat?)
7. If we believe in Jesus then we will be persistent, creative and sacrificial in bringing others to Christ.

Please pray for me as I bring another sinner who needs forgiveness face to face with Jesus.

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Why do we sing about Wrath?

I’m sharing this post from one of my favourite blogs (The Blazing Center) by songwriter/Pastor Mark Altrogge from Sovereign Grace:

lightningSometimes I think if a stranger came into our church he might wonder why in the world are we singing songs about a Roman instrument of death, spikes, whips, and a crown made out of a thorn bush. Why are we singing about some poor guy hanging alone in darkness, bleeding, and thirsting while crowds mock him and spit on him?
And it might really seem strange that so many of our songs mention wrath. This stranger might wonder if we’re fixated on death. He might say, “I thought I would come here and sing about God’s love.” We do. We definitely do. But God’s love for us involves….wrath. We can’t sing songs about God’s love without mentioning his wrath, and a cross, and a bloody sacrifice.
“The common contemporary view of this is that we are estranged from God, but He is not estranged from us. The enmity is all one sided. The picture we get is that God goes on loving us with an unconditional love while we remain hateful toward Him. The cross belies this picture. Yes, the cross occurred because God loves us. His love stands behind His plan of salvation. However, Christ was not sacrificed on the cross to placate us or to serve as a propitiation to us. His sacrifice was not designed to satisfy our unjust enmity toward God but to satisfy God’s just wrath toward us. The Father was the object of the Son’s act of propitiation. The effect of the cross was to remove the divine estrangement from us, not our estrangement from Him. If we deny God’s estrangement from us, the cross is reduced to a pathetic and anemic moral influence with no substitutionary satisfaction of God.” — RC Sproul

God’s wrath makes his love that much more amazing and sweet.

If there were no wrath, if God somehow just loved us and didn’t deal with our sins – if he somehow just put up with them – “Oh boys will be boys. You just have to love them anyway” – we wouldn’t appreciate his love and mercy. Most likely we wouldn’t love him, but go on loving our sins. But God’s wrath that once hung over our heads like a very real sword, waiting to overwhelm us with unspeakable and unending horror and unimaginable, infinite agony is gone! Gone forever! And where did it go? It fell on the one human being who didn’t deserve any wrath. It fell on the innocent, spotless Lamb. It fell on Jesus.

And why? Because of God’s love for us. Because of God’s tender mercy and compassion. Oh yes, we will sing of wrath. Wrath well deserved. Wrath stored up from day one. Heaps and mounds and oceans of wrath barrelling down on us like a juggernaut, then suddenly diverted. Suddenly turned aside. And heaped on Jesus. Jesus, like some kind of heavenly lightning rod, absorbing billions of volts of retribution that was due us. Jesus, on the cross, going to hell.

Yes we will sing about wrath. And meditate on it. And marvel at what we deserved but didn’t receive. We will celebrate and sing our strange songs about wounds and blood and darkness of soul and a cry of abandonment. Because God’s wrath makes his love for us so much sweeter.

O Father, thank you for your deep, deep love. Jesus thank you for the height, width, breadth and depth of your love. Thank you Father for sparing us the terrifying wrath we so well deserved and pouring it out on your Son. Jesus, thank you for taking our place on the cross and drinking this unimaginable cup to the dregs for us. Holy Spirit, thank you for showing us the wrath of God and the love of God.

The Hurt and the Healer

HURT_AND_THE_HEALERI have been listening to this song over and over in the car today. Every time I listen it reminds me of something more of God’s grace. On the Cross Christ suffered. He was hurt for our healing. When we realise we are sinners, we are hurt, but this realisation makes for our healing. In our lives we may experience loss or disappointment when things we plan or expect don’t happen. Such pain makes us doubt the very love of God, and doubt His best plans for us. The “Why? question” is never too far away.
But in all this hurt the Healer meets us. God’s glory meets our suffering. The Hurt and the Healer collide. I trust you will also be encouraged by the truths of God’s powerful grace in what may be my new favourite song (for the week). Check out the lyrics below or watch the clip at the end.

THE HURT AND THE HEALER (Mercy Me)
Why?

The question that is never far away
But healing doesn’t come from the explained
Jesus please don’t let this go in vain
You’re all I have, All that remains
So here I am what’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive, Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the Healer collide

Breathe
Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through
So here I am What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

It’s the moment when humanity is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good and all our scars are understood
When Mercy takes its rightful place and all these questions fade away
When out of weakness we must bow and hear You say “It’s over now”

Jesus come and break my fear
Wake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxqfDs-64I0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

(Click here to listen to another one of their songs which I have written about You are I AM)

Powered by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16)

revival_fire-817x1024Happy to say I am finally back to continue this series on the Three Sixteen (3:16) verses. (If you have recently joined us you might like to check out my posts on Matthew through to Galatians. Click here).
Today we have arrived at Ephesians; verse 16 is the first sentence below:
 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19 NLT)

If you ever needed a verse to print out and stick on the fridge, this is the one!
It is just such a mystery the way the Spirit works to deliver this inner strength. Who could ever write anything to adequately describe the work of the Spirit in us? (Probably not me, but I’ll have a go anyway.)
The Spirit’s presence, gifted to us when we receive Christ, brings us peace, union with Christ and power, supernatural power  – inner strength! This power is glorious and unlimited. The Spirit gives us the inner strength to say yes to God and no to sin and selfishness. He gives us the strength to own the name of our Saviour in the face of ridicule and persecution. The Spirit strengthens by leading us to the fullness of grace and strength in Christ. He does not seek glory for Himself. He empowers us so that the glory goes to God.

The Spirit’s work is not about providing a warm fuzzy or sentimental experience of God’s love. His task is to make Christ at home in our hearts, to enlighten the eyes of our hearts, so that we can KNOW God, making us complete with all the fullness of life and power in Christ.
This is the power of the Spirit of Christ! This inner strength requires and supplies the knowledge of truth in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6 – “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

We should also remember that this gracious gift (of the ‘inner strength of the Spirit’) fulfills the big OT promise that came through Ezekiel, that God would deal with our sin problem once and for us. “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).

Praise be to God for this next great 3:16 reminder of how he has dealt with our sin, in Christ, through Christ and for Christ. We get the present and eternal benefits of His sovereign and merciful plan.
We are powered by the Spirit!
How’s your battery running lately?
(Perhaps we could talk more about recharging at another time.)

Building Bolero – flash orchestra (Queensland Symphony)

I was driving home the other day and heard about this happening via the radio – wish I was close enough to have made it there to see. Thanks to youtube we both can. Enjoy this flash orchestra – it is a really well put-together clip! (And welcome to the city of Brisbane for all my international readers!)
“The Queensland Symphony Orchestra surprises a curious and enthusiastic crowd with a guerrilla-style performance of Ravel’s Bolero in Brisbane’s South Bank. The Orchestra relocated to the city’s cultural hub in December of 2012 and performed the pop-up performance to celebrate their move into a new state of the art studio. The Orchestra’s conductor was Tecwyn Evans. The film was co-produced with the ABC.
The Queensland Symphony Orchestra is renowned for its high quality, breath-taking performances of both classical and modern compositions that engage audiences of all musical tastes, interests and ages. You can find out more about the Orchestra’s current season at http://qso.com.au/all-events”.

When should we sing that song?

piano-stairs3There are times when a song fits just so perfectly! It arrives during the gathering at just the right place and right time. Other times a song will stand out like a sore thumb. Despite our best laid plans, both of these instances can occur even within the one church service! If you are new to the service planning task, or even if you’ve been doing it for a while, here are a few tips to help create the best possible sequencing of songs. I hope these thoughts are helpful in some way. (Note: I am writing for churches that use a mix of contemporary songs and hymns.)

OPENING SONGS:
Songs work well early in the service if they have a positive feel and lively tempo. They should be uplifting and encourage as many people to sing as possible. This will create energy and anticipation for all they will do/hear together in the rest of the service. Avoid songs with super-complicated rhythms or minor keys. Songs should be quite well-known to the congregation and not be recently ‘new’ songs. Thematically, it is good to open with songs of adoration, which describe the general attributes and actions of God/Jesus and give praise for them. Songs that encourage personal response/reflection, or that describe details about salvation, are not very helpful as opening songs. Newcomers may be struggling with the concept of God existing at all. Let’s establish that first!
Good Examples:
Come People of the Risen King (Getty), Creation sings the Father’s Song (Getty), Indescribable (Laura Story), Majesty of Heaven (Tomlin), Hallelujah to the King of Kings (EMU), Across the Lands (Getty), O God Our Redeemer (Everlasting) (Altrogge), God of Wonders (Byrd & Hindalong).

MIDDLE SONGS:
Songs through the middle of your service can branch out in terms of theme and feel and tempo. It is a good place to sing songs that teach the Gospel in detail, that speak of salvation and how it was won for us. Songs that speak to each other as God’s people (using terms like we/us/our) help draw people together into community. These songs provide the encouragement described in Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  Songs that move from minor to major feel are great here. Certain songs can also be a calming influence, helping people prepare to hear God’s word preached (without putting them to sleep!).
Good examples:
By Our Love (Christy Nockels), We Belong to the Day (EMU), By Faith (Getty), How deep the Father’s Love for Us (Townend), Mighty to Save (Hillsong), Glorious Day (Casting Crowns), See the Man (Hodge/EMU),  In Christ Alone (Getty), Count it all Joy (Sovereign Grace). How Great is Our God (Tomlin) is an interesting one – seems like it should fit in the opening songs category by theme, but the tempo and feel are not quite right (in my humble opinion). It works well in the middle.

END SONGS:
This is probably the best place to put songs of personal response or commitment or resolve (“I” songs) – since by this point people will have heard the Gospel explained in the sermon, bible readings and earlier songs. Both slow songs and more upbeat songs can be effective for closing, depending on the type of mood you want to leave people in. It is good to remember the final song can be ringing in people’s ears long after they have forgotten the main points of the sermon, so choose something memorable that says something important!
Good examples:
You are My King (I’m Forgiven),.My Hope (Baloche), I give you my Heart (Hillsong), You Chose the Cross (Lost in Wonder) (Martyn Layzell), I will Glory in My Redeemer (Sovereign Grace), From the Inside Out (Hillsong), Stronger (Hillsong), Be Thou My Vision, This Life I live (EMU), Desert Song (Brooke Fraser Hillsong), 10000 Reasons (Matt Redman), May the Mind of Christ my Saviour, Here I am to Worship (Redman), Jesus Thankyou (Sovereign Grace).

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Praise the Lord: New song list ready for 2013!

pianoThe 2013 list is ready! There are just so many good songs out there, it has been pretty tough to eliminate ones I love. But it is great to have a plan mapped out. Some of these songs have been waiting in the wings for several years, so it is exciting to finally get everyone singing along.
There is nothing like a new song to present God’s truth to people in a new and refreshing way, and to focus people’s attention on some important element of the Gospel of Grace which they may have overlooked. I have included lots of details for our music team at ARPC to consider; would love to hear your thoughts on any songs that stand out, for whatever reason. I have also commented on the feel and theme of the song, plus the key I think fits best for a congregation. At our church we have two services, a more traditional family service in the morning, and an evening Cafe Church service, with an average age of around 30, and a good number of teenagers – this is why I have designated some songs to fit only one service. (Sorry if I have overlooked some details. Hope you can find them easily enough. Most lead sheets are on CCLI. Purchase individual songs on iTunes.)

BOTH SERVICES:
1. No Other Name (Trevor Hodge 2010, EMU – Album: Undivided). Listen here This is such an uplifting song, with a tremendous crescendo in verse three which is sung up the octave (for those of your congregation who can). Jesus is our joy in sorrow’s tears, my broken heart’s delight, my strength, my hope! (Key Bb – use key A capo 1 for guitars, or key G capo 3)
2. See the Man (Trevor Hodge 2008, EMU – Album: Advent).  In this song we connect the man Jesus with the promises to the first Adam, and to Abraham, and we see how Jesus has come to fulfill these promises and undo what sin has done. Great theology and a lilting 6/8 rhythm. (Key D)
3. We Belong to the Day (Michael Morrow 2006, EMU – Album: Come hear the Angels sing). Listen What I love about this one is the minor/major change from verse to chorus, and the really triumphant bridge. It challenges us to see that our identy and security is in Christ, He is our refuge from the coming wrath. This song makes no apologies about the reality of what is to come. (Not too many songs feature the coming wrath!) (Key E)
4. Majesty of Heaven (Chris Tomlin 2010 – Album: And if our God is For Us). Listen “To You the nations bow down, To You creation cries out majesty, All things You hold together, Your name will stand forever, Majesty You are majesty.” What a great way to praise the King! (Key G)
5. Saving One (Jon Neufeld, Mia Fieldes, Tim Neufeld 2010 – Starfield). ListenAnd heaven can’t contain the glory of the Son, Jesus is the Christ, The Saving One”. The bridge of this song brings an awesome reminder that all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. This is a simple song but the message is clear – Jesus saves! (Try Key Bb, so bridge is not so high. Guitars can Capo 1 in A)

MORNING service only:
1. Creation Sings the Father’s Song (Getty, 2008 – Album: Awaken the Dawn). Listen This modern hymn from the Gettys invites us to join with creation and praise the Father. “Let all creation stand and sing! Fill the earth with songs of worship! Tell the wonders of Creation’s King.” (Key Bb, guitar Capo 3 in G)
2. All I have is Christ (Jordan Kauflin 2008, Sovereign Grace). Listen That is, afterall, all we have that we can count on in this world! Hallelujah! The song moves us to know that Christ, who saved us from our “hell-bound race” is indeed now our only boast. (Key C, so it’s not too high!)
3. Never Alone (Philip Percival & Simone Richardson 2006, EMU – Album: Let All Creation Sing). Listen This is a gentle song, with a simple melody, but the lyrics bring much comfort. Christ is with us. We are not alone. The song tells the story in 4 verses, of the God-man come to earth, dying and rising for us; now he walks with us in joy and pain. (Key D)
4. Show us Christ (Doug Plank 2011, Sovereign Grace). Listen  A reflective prayer song, asking that God would reveal His glory through the preaching of His Word, that our hearts would be ready to receive His Word, that it would be implanted there and grow much fruit in our lives. This would be great to sing before hearing a message. The wording is very inclusive (us, our, we) and calls people to recognise the community of the church. (Key Bb, use A for guitar, Capo 1).
5. Hear the Call of the Kingdom (Getty 2006 – Album: In Christ Alone). Listen This is a pretty exciting song about the call of the Kingdom, from Jesus, to us, to be part of His expanding Kingdom stretching across time and space, into eternity. We are called to be children of light, living with the humility of Christ. (Key F major, guitar capo 3 in D)

CAFE CHURCH only:
1. 10,000 Reasons/Bless the Lord (Matt Redman 2011 – Album: 10,000 Reasons). Listen This is a gentle yet important song with a rousing chorus. It invites us to tell our souls, in no uncertain terms, that we must value, trust, sing out/call on the Holy name of the Lord – afterall, we have 10,000 reasons to do so! I love the dramatic pause he has created with the inclusion of the two-four bars, leading into the chorus.
2. Hosanna (Brooke Fraser 2006). Listen  Yes, we are a little behind the times having not taught this one yet! It is a favourite for many people, especially for the heartfelt cry of the Bridge section, “Heal my heart and make it clean, Open up my eyes to the things unseen, Show me how to love like You have loved me.” (Default Key is E, but maybe try in D major).
3. Our God (Chris Tomlin – Album: And if Our God is For Us). Listen There is no one like our God, and He is for us. That’s all I need to say. It is a powerful message. (Key G)

Could we live in grace and change the world?

Just discovered this grace-filled challenge tucked away on Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons album, in the song We could Change the World. It’s not really suitable for a congregation to sing, but it is a great personal challenge: Am I really living like God’s grace has made a difference? Am I responding in a way that shows I know God is loving and is stronger than everything in this world? Could I live like this? What’s stopping me?
Only listen if you are prepared to do some serious thinking…and praying.
(See Ephesians 1:16-23 for more details!)

Could we live like Your grace is stronger
Than all our faults and failures?
Could we live like Your love
Is deeper than our hearts can fathom
Could we live like this?

Could we live like Your name is higher
Than every other power?
Could we live like Your ways
Are wiser than our understanding?
Could we live like this?
Could we live like this?

[Chorus]
Yes, our God is all He says, all He says He is
Jesus, in Your name we could change the world
We stand in Your love, in Your power
And all You say we are
Jesus, in Your name we could change the world

We believe that Your grace is stronger
Than all our faults and failures
We believe that Your love
Is deeper than our hearts can fathom
So could we live like this
And shine in all the world
Could we live like this?

We’re saying, “yes, Lord, yes, Lord!”
What else could we say, what else could we say?
We’re saying, “yes, Lord, yes, Lord!”
We’re going all the way, we’re going all the way
We’re going to live like this

Yes, our God is all He says, all He says He is
Yes, our God is all He says, all He says He is