God graciously works through the weak and unimpressive

weaknessI’m sharing today something encouraging I found over at the Blazing Center blog. If you want to read the whole post you can visit there, but this is the heart of it:

“God often does his most powerful work through those who are weak and unimpressive.

John Flavel says:

How the weak have been used for the good of the church! Christ did not choose eloquent orators, or men of authority in the courts of kings and emperors, but twelve poor labourers, and fishermen. This is the most ridiculous course that can be imagined, in appearance, for such a design. And yet, in how short a time was the gospel spread in all the kingdoms of the world. (Voices From the Past, 140)

Jesus established his kingdom on the shoulders of fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He chose Peter to lead the charge out of Jerusalem. Peter, the guy who denied Jesus three times. Peter, the guy who gave up gospel ground to the Judaizers. Peter, the guy whose mouth seemed to always run ahead of his brain.

Jesus could have chosen the most articulate orators as his spokesman. He could have chosen great war heroes, or political superstars. He could have built a campaign of shock and awe and power. Instead he chose fisherman. Guys with cracked hands, plain speech, minimal learning, and the constant aroma of raw fish.  The disciples were not power players in the Roman world.

God will not allow us to receive any of the glory, so he builds his kingdom through and in spite of our weakness. If your worship team is mediocre, don’t freak out. Instead, work toward excellence and trust that God will use your weak, halting efforts for his glory. If you stutter and stammer when sharing the gospel, don’t get discouraged! Seek to improve your gospel communication, but more importantly, trust God to use your stutters and stammers to bring salvation to the lost. If your sermons feel like duds, don’t sink into despair. Improve your sermons and improve your confidence in God. If you feel like a constant parenting trainwreck, seek to grow in your parenting and trust God to use your trainwreck efforts to work in your children.”

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More Sheer Grace from Tim Keller

How do you feel when you’re given good advice on how to live? Someone says “Here’s the love you ought to have, or the integrity you ought to have,” and maybe they illustrate high moral standards by telling a story of some great hero. But when you hear it, how does it make you feel? Inspired, sure, but . . . do you feel your burdens have fallen off? Do you feel as if something great has been done for you and you’re not a slave anymore? Of course you don’t. It weighs you down: This is how I have to live. It’s not a gospel. The gospel is that God connects to you not on the basis of what you’ve done (or haven’t done) but on the basis of what Jesus has done, in history, for you. And that makes it absolutely different from every other religion or philosophy.

from Tim Keller “King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus” (2011)
kingscross  For my first post on this book click HERE

Big God Words for kids of all sizes

Col BColin Buchanan is a pretty clever guy. I’m not sure how many of you from the USA or UK know much about him, but he has been producing fun and biblically true kids songs for around two decades. He is very well known here in Australia, not just for his kids music, but also as a Country singer and presenter on kids TV.
This is just one example of how Colin’s songs teach the great doctrines of God in a really catchy way. Though some people steer away from teaching the big words of the Bible, Colin makes clear the meaning of words like propitiation, substitution, salvation, justification and redemption to name but a few. All these words reveal the awesome grace God has shown us in sending Jesus! Enjoy.

Big Words That End in “Shun”

CHORUS
Big words that end in SHUN!
Show us what the Lord has DUN!
Through Jesus, His own SUN!
Big words, Big words that end in SHUN!

Revelat-SHUN! God shows Himself to us
Substitut-SHUN! Jesus takes our place
Salva-SHUN! Sinners saved from hell
Big words, Big words that end in SHUN…

CHORUS

Propitia-SHUN! God’s anger turned away
Justifica-SHUN! Just like we’d never sinned
Imputat-SHUN! Jesus’righteousness is mine
Big words, Big words that end in SHUN!

CHORUS

Resurrect-SHUN! Raised from death to life
Redemp-SHUN! Sinners bought by God
Adopt-SHUN! Sinners made God’s sons
Big words, Big words that end in SHUN!

http://colinbuchanan.com.au/releases/super-saviour/

Click HERE for a link to the sheet music and a Sunday School Lesson plan which I found.

You Are A Theologian

theology-mattersFound a great post on a topic I have been meaning to write about myself over at Worship Sense. It talks of something about which I’m thoroughly convinced : that church music has a huge role to play in teaching good theology to the Body of Christ, and growing people in faith. I hope it will prove to be great encouragement to your music department! Enjoy.  . .

“In spiritual circles, few people are seen as intimidating as often as theologians. Theologians are scholars. Studied. Educated. Cultured. And they wear old-school glasses, vests and wool sweaters as they sit in an aged leather wingback chair in front of a stately, oversized bookcase in a home library with loaded oak bookshelves lining all of the walls, all the way up to the ceiling. (Whew . . . that was a mouthful!) Okay, maybe not all of them, but we like to think they do. The point is, when we hear the word “theologian” often we get an image in our minds that, at least in some way, represents the description above.

So what if I told you that YOU are a theologian?

Well, if you’re a worship leader and/or worship songwriter, you are! Sure, perhaps you aren’t necessarily discovering any brand-spankin’ new theology. But, you are writing and/or choosing worship songs that speak a theological truth. You are communicating theology to your local church. This is why one of the most important things you do as a worship leader is pick out the songs for the weekend setlist.

Sure, key changes, arrangements, transitions, dynamics and flow are all important parts of what we do as worship leaders, but none of those things matter if we aren’t singing truths in our churches. It is widely known that ideas and messages are retained better in our brains when presented in song than by spoken word (a sermon). This is because our brains interact with music differently, thereby establishing a stronger retention of what we heard/sang. Why is this important?

It’s sad to say this, but most people don’t remember the sermon they heard last week or this morning, in some cases. Now sure, these days we have recorded sermons, sermon notes, etc. All of these allow us to go back and go through the messages again. However, overall there is a limited shelf life on the specific messages that are preached every week (hopefully the themes and lessons are learned and continue on!).

With music, however, things stick around a bit longer, including the lyrics of the songs themselves. These lyrics are a biblical message, just like your pastor’s sermon. The only difference is that yours is set to a music, may have some repetition, and may be more like 4 to 5 mini-sermons during a typical worship set. This is a big deal!

Why? Because what you sing in your worship times is going to stick in people’s hearts and minds longer than the sermon does. Therefore, it’s imperative that we sing songs that contain solid theology.

We basically have three options with the songs we sing at  church:

1. Lyrics that present false, inaccurate theology.
2. Lyrics that aren’t false, but are theologically weak and don’t really say anything.
3. Lyrics that present a solid biblical truth with rich theology.

PLEASE stay away from songs in category one. As for category two, there is nothing wrong with this category necessarily, but there are too many songs that fit this mold.

I challenge you to shoot for the third category of songs. Pick songs that are not only correct, but really drive home messages that your congregation needs to hear. One helpful way that I’ve found to pick more songs in category three is not just listening to the song on the CD (with the fancy production), but taking the time to sit down and read the lyrics without the music.

This is no easy task, but it’s vital! You are a theologian. A musical theologian. Don’t take that responsibility lightly. Invest the time into being intentional about the words that your congregation sings each week.”

Some unusual thoughts on parables and miracles (Message of Mark part 3)

peterIn studying Mark’s Gospel narrative I’ve been challenged to consider a few familiar things in a new light.

1. Parables
These stories were the main form of Jesus’ teaching. They are actually a veiled way of teaching spiritual truth, that draws some people closer to Jesus in faith, and turns others away in hardness of disbelief. This is a hard thing to grasp. You would think Jesus should speak in simple stories that clearly reveal who he is and what he is going to do . . . but no. And perhaps this is the point.
The Kingdom of God is not going to be handed to people on a platter. Jesus wants people to exercise faith! Jesus wants those who have “ears to hear” to draw near and gain understanding of the secrets of the Kingdom, to draw near in faith. To those who do this, they receive greater understanding. Their faith increases! After Jesus told the parable of the sower and the soils (Mark 4), he took the disciples aside to explain:

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,

    and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’

While the Sower parable reminds us that there will be mixed responses to the gospel, there will be a certain harvest. Mark 4 contains several other parables of the Kingdom, explaining through brief stories or sayings the type of Kingdom he ruled over.

The Lamp: no matter what people think of Jesus now – as obscure, insignificant, foolish – one day he will be seen in power and glory.
The Seed and the harvest: The word of God will advance and grow Jesus’ kingdom by God’s hidden power. The harvest is guaranteed and will come suddenly.
The Mustard Seed and the Tree: The Kingdom of God may seem small, beginning in obscurity, but one day it will be see for what it is – the greatest Kingdom of all.

2. Miracles
While people think that if there were more miracles today there would be greater numbers of people following Jesus, if you look at what happened in Jesus day, this is unlikely. Although crowds swarmed around Jesus (and made his teaching ministry more difficult) the miracles he performed did not cause faith to appear. When most miracles occured it was because the person had faith in the first place. The faith of the men who brought their friend on a mat (Mark 2), the faith of the bleeding woman who touched Jesus & the faith of Jairus whose daughter was raised to life (Mark 5) – in all of these faith came first.
We also see that despite witnessing miracles most people still do not understand or draw near in faith (which is the case for the disciples several times!). Rather, the faithful are the ones who cut through the crowds to draw near to Jesus, having faith in his ability to restore them. Each time, Jesus directs their faith to greater knowledge of Himself.  Miracles are not the cause of faith, but Jesus uses them to increase a person’s understanding of him and to provoke questions.

Just thought you would like to know! It certainly changes the way I read the Gospels to appreciate these!

Ps. In searching for a suitable imappage I found a link to an iPhone/iPad app called “Parables and Miracles“. Check it out if you have children and you don’t mind giving them another reason to use your “i” device!

Message of Mark Part 1: Kingdom
Message of Mark Part 2: Titles of Christ in the midst of a whirlwind

The titles of Christ in the midst of a whirlwind (Message of Mark part 2)

sonof manWell I had promised to do some more study here for my exam on Mark, but a few things have been drawing me away. Let me share some things from the last few days: We hosted the first night of the Parenting Teenagers Course at our church, I prepared to run a session on one-to-one Bible reading for women at a retreat (and then did so), I found out I had upset a lovely long-term friend (sorry!), managed to put out my lower back (I am walking around like a fragile old woman), then hosted a staff meeting and dinner at my house. Most of that happened yesterday! Today I have led music at church and felt ‘obliged’ to go see Iron Man 3 with my teenagers and husband. (This last one was no huge sacrifice, but it did take a few hours. Fun film!)

So now it is time to stop and think clearly for a few moments in the midst of this whirlwind, about the way Christ referred to himself, the titles of Christ as recorded in Mark’s Gospel. These titles reveal so much of God’s great plan to rescue a people for His own Kingdom purposes, a people who would come to resemble the beautiful King who saved them!

“How do the titles of Christ reveal who Jesus is?”

MESSIAH/Christ

Messiah is the Hebrew term, Christos the Greek, for the title which tells us that Jesus is God’s anointed and promised King. He fulfills the promise to King David of a descendent who would reign on his throne forever! (2 Samuel 7).  Jesus, God’s Son, became the Son of God (a Messianic title which also applied to the OT Kings of Israel). The Son of God would be the one to subdue the nations and be the means of reconciliation between God and man. “Kiss the Son” is the instruction of Psalm 2, meaning we must bow to or align ourself with him. We must trust in Him: “blessed are all who take refuge in Him”. Jesus’ divinity (meaning He IS God!) was made apparent by the authority he displayed over sickness, nature, death, evil spirits and most importantly sin – God alone could forgive (Mark 2 – the Man on the Mat!). Jesus is the One who clearly fulfilled the words of Isaiah: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5-6).  Several times in Mark, in the voice from heaven (at the baptism and the transfiguration) and the voice of demons, God revealed that Jesus was indeed His Son. Peter, Blind Bartemeus and the Roman centurion (who saw Christ crucified) all conclude “You are the Christ”, Son of David, Son of God.

Son of Man

Another significant title is this one, Son of Man, which Jesus often used in referring to Himself, and what He had come to do. While this may seem to be a puzzling title, since the man Joseph was definitely not his biological father, Jesus used it to show how he fulfilled the promises which came through Daniel. Daniel 7 speaks of one like a Son of Man who will be victorious over evil, who receives the Kingdom in the new age, and shares it with the saints (all believers). He is the servant of the Lord who delivers God’s people through a resurrection (Daniel 12). This Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:8-12), and he will preside over the great Sabbath rest at the end of time (Mark 2:27-28). The Son of Man is the true descendent of Adam, representative of God the Creator, who will rule over creation within God’s total and sovereign rule.

In Mark 14:61-63 Jesus draws these two titles together, and admits who He is, as he stands before the Sanhedrin under arrest. Jesus says He is “I AM”, both the divine Son of God, Son of the Blessed One, and the Son of Man who will receive the Kingdom with power!

Suffering Servant

The final title is that of Suffering Servant, promised through the prophet Isaiah many centuries before. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Son of Man will serve us by suffering, in our place. He takes the punishment for sin, our sin, which was death. Isaiah 53 provides the clearest picture of what the suffering Servant would do: the righteous servant would justify many, giving his life as a ransom. Fulfilling Isaiah’s words perfectly, Christ was crushed for our iniquities, pierced for our trangressions. The punishment that brought us peace was laid on him. Silently as a lamb he was led to the slaughter, the Perfect Lamb of God, the sacrifice that perfectly fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and brought a way for our forgiveness. Psalms 22 and 69 also foreshadow the way Christ (in fact God himself) entered into our suffering, forsaken to death for US!

And strangely, apart from all that I can learn about the titles of Christ, there is a great comfort in knowing that Jesus is not some modern, man made or religious idea, but the great God-man who fulfills the purposes of our creator, and He draws us to himself through Jesus. The name of Jesus is indeed a refuge (as Chris Tomlin has sung, below). Theology brings us comfort and assurance of all that we hope for in faith.

And just if you are interested to keep reading:

Yehoshua means ‘the Lord saves’, and is translated into English as Joshua.
Jesus’ Hebrew name is Yeshua, which is a shortened version of Yehoshua. Yeshua means ‘he will save’, and is translated into English as Joshua.
Yeshua translated into Greek is Iesous.
Iesous transliterated into Latin is Jesu.
Jesu became Jesus in English.
Jesus’ name is actually “Joshua”.

Click here to read part 3:
Some unusual thoughts on Parables and Miracles

Songs to GROW Women by . . .

.facebook_-22058451Great to have an audience of interested people who can consider my song selection for a Women’s conference in July, called GROW. Speaker Jenny Salt from Sydney will no doubt have some ‘salty’ words to share, teaching from the book of Numbers to show God’s trustworthiness and to encourage us to count on God, holding on to Him through all of life’s jouney. Themes include: trusting God, His faithfulness, taking Him at his Word, resting in God’s promises which are fulfilled in Jesus, blessings, consequences of sin, God’s holiness.

Here is my initial shortlist of songs, keeping in mind that we are hoping to cover a wide range of ages and denominations, mixing well known and new songs.

When Peace like a River (Hymn, aka It is Well) – connected with I will Rise (Chris Tomlin)
Hymn – Great is Your Faithfulness
My Hope (Nothing will change, if all the plans I make go wrong… by Paul Baloche). We taught this one last year at GROW.
Desert Song (This is my prayer in the desert – quite appropriate for Numbers, by Brooke Fraser)
O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus (Bob Kauflin’s hymn arrangement) – will do as item in 3part harmony, to teach it to the group.
Mighty to Save (Hillsong).
See the Man (Trevor Hodge) – this is a great one for see howing God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus!
No Other Name (Trevor Hodge)
10 000 reasons
(Bless the Lord O my Soul . . . Chris Tomlin)
Blessed be your name (Matt Redman)

If you have any thoughts for other songs that tie into the theme perfectly, please comment below. I hope you can also find a new song or two above!

Where should we put those musicians?

bananaThese thoughts come courtesy of a website that produces many good products for training your musicians. It is called Musicademy, with the tagline “Outstanding Practical Worship Training“. I found this list of 10 suggestions really useful. We often have sound issues caused by people being jammed in to a tight space. Have a read and see how much you can improve the overall sound of your music team!

10 Tips to improve your worship team – stage placement

There is rarely one quick fix to improve the musicianship of your worship team. Individual tuition so that each musician can play competently as well as an emphasis on practice both as individuals and as a group will help hugely. But there are also plenty of more subtle and often overlooked issues to be considered – communication, leadership, dynamics, arrangements, musical flow and more.

Before we even start to play its worth thinking about where each of the instruments are placed. Most contemporary worship music has been influenced by rock bands, and it is therefore no surprise that many worship teams position themselves in a similar manner – the drummer at the back, lead singer in the middle and other players flanking each side. The looks great visually and is fine if you are well rehearsed with little need for spontaneity but most worship bands are really based on making community music where the interactive involvement of the congregation actually changes the order, volume, tempo and sound of the music. This challenge means the musicians primarily need to be able to see and hear each other to run with those changes on the fly.

With that in mind here are 10 tips to improve your team all around positioning:

  1. Arrange yourselves where you can see each others eyes. You can communicate a lot just by eye and body movements. It’s no good for a drummer if the primary view they get of the worship leader is the back of their head! And make sure everyone has a clear view of the worship leader who should be directing the band through body language and other cues.
    We often suggest that a “banana” shape works well.
  2. Try placing the drum kit at the front and side of stage and rotate it 90 degrees so it faces inward to the rest of the musicians.
  3. Experiment with arranging the other musicians in a semi circle so they can see each other too.
  4. Split up instruments that produce sound in the same frequency range e.g. guitar and keyboard. Its so much easier to hear yourself if you are not competing with another sounds from the same octave range.
  5. When sound checking work on hearing each other acoustically before adding any fold back.
  6. Place amps only towards the musicians that need to hear them, like drummers. And be aware that when standing immediately in front of an amp you are unlikely to feel the full force – that will be reserved for the unfortunate Doris sitting in the front row of the congregation.
  7. Try to position the whole band in the area in the building that best connects with the congregation.  It can be anywhere, on a stage, in the round, whatever works best – just try to build a physical sense of all of us worshiping God communally together rather than a separated congregation and band.
  8. Do you need to be on a stage at all? If so, too high or too low a platform can hinder communication.
  9. The whole band doesn’t have to face the congregation. As in tip 1 the priority is being able to gain eye contact with each other.
  10. Don’t put equipment in positions that block sight lines between you and the congregation – e.g. mic and music stands at head and even chest level can seem like a barrier and can hinder visual communication.

The Message of Mark (part 1) Kingdom

kingdomofgodI’m currently in my final week of studying the New Testament 1 subject (Moore external studies) which focuses on the Gospel of Mark. The exam is next Wednesday, and so I’m going to take this opportunity of having a captive audience (here at sevennotes) to motivate me to condense and revise the main concepts I’ll need to write on next week. Hopefully you will find some encouragement here too (especially since you don’t have to write an exam next week).

This first one is based on a practice essay question which asks: Why is the theme of the Kingdom of God an important theme in Mark’s Gospel?

Well the main reason is that this is the heart of the good news which both Jesus and Mark are announcing. God’s promised King, Messiah, Son of God, has showed up, calling people to repent and believe. The Kingdom of God is at hand because the King has come and if you bow your knee to him, take up your cross and follow him, you become part of his Kingdom! Mark wants his readers to be part of this kingdom of faithful followers of Jesus. He wants to free us from lives of serving our own little kings, that is, ourselves. He knows that the service of such little kings leads to death, but in the service of King Jesus there is eternal life and joy!

So what aspects of the Kingdom does Mark make perfectly clear through his gospel account?
1. Jesus is the King of the perfect, eternal Kingdom of God. He fulfills all the promises foreshadowed through the chosen nation of Israel, the rule of David and Solomon, and the voice of the Prophets. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he gradually revealed who he was. This is reflected in Mark’s gradual reveal which draws the reader to see why he has come.
2. King Jesus rules over a kingdom where sinful humanity is restored: sickness, suffering, death and evil have no authority against this king! He has the power and authority to heal, restore and most importantly to forgive sins. He is God’s son, with the full authority of the author of life.
3. The Kingdom will remain a mystery to many: kingdom teachings come in parables that will draw those who have ‘ears to hear’ closer to Jesus, in faith and repentance. Those who reject the message of the King will never understand or find a way into the kingdom.
4. Jesus is the one like a ‘Son of Man’, (promised in Daniel 7, 12) who would receive the Kingdom in the new age, winning victory over evil and sharing the spoils of the kingdom with the ‘saints’. Jesus identified himself as this Son of Man several times (Mark 2, 8 and 13), who comes on the clouds, bringing in the Kingdom, with power!
5. In the resurrection we see the arrival of the Kingdom with power! This is the beginning of the new age of salvation. Death and sin are defeated since Jesus is alive.
6. The way to enter the kingdom is by faith in the King. True discipleship involves bowing the knee to the King. “Kiss the Son” (Psalm 2) comes to mind. The way of the Cross, the response of faith is the response Mark wants us to have to his gospel account.

This Kingdom is indeed a kingdom of grace!
See you again for more study soon.

You may also like:

The Message of Mark (part 2): The Titles of Christ

The Message of Mark (part 3): Some unusual thoughts on Parables and Miracles

The blessings of multi-generational music teams

top-10-offensively-young-musicians_h
Though some may think church musicians must be either young and trendy or qualified professionals, people of all types and ages have different and valuable things to contribute to a church music team (even that baby drummer could add some great percussion!). Older, non-professional church musicians have many years of valuable experience, of knowing what works and what doesn’t, knowing how to create good arrangements of songs on the fly, and knowing how to work together effectively with others.
This last one is probably the most valuable asset! People who have been Christians and serving for a while (in an area which sometimes tempts us to all kinds of self-serving attitudes) have valuable insights, of thought and action, to teach newcomers to the faith and music ministry. Lots of really good discipling can occur in the context of regular team practices.
I must say I am blessed to be part of a team of around 30 people, with several representatives of each ‘decade’ from teens right through to people in their 60s.
One of my greatest joys is to learn from and teach others in music ministry. Often the learning comes from all directions, regardless of age.
If you are in the ‘older’ experienced church musician category, I would encourage you to seek out some younger players to mentor, not just in the mechanics of playing or singing, but in developing a mindset of music as Gospel ministry, where leaders are servants, and selflessness is the key.
Blessings to you in your ministry!