Sheer grace, not good advice

kingscross“The gospel isn’t advice: It’s the good news that you don’t need to earn your way to God; Jesus has already done it for you. And it’s a gift that you receive by sheer grace – through God’s thoroughly unmerited favor. If you seize that gift and keep holding on to it, then Jesus’ call won’t draw you into fanaticism or moderation. You will be passionate to make Jesus your absolute goal and priority, to orbit around him … The Gospel is not about choosing to follow advice, it’s about being called to follow a King.”

Tim Keller, King’s Cross, 2011.

Sharing the rich, indwelling Word (Colossians 3:16)

Bible-28“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.” (Colossians 3:16)

I have really been looking forward to this verse in the Three Sixteens series, because it identifies a strong connection between music and grace, my two favourite topics! When we make the effort to speak or sing the ‘Word of Christ’ to one another, we are showing grace because it serves to build others up in their faith. This is such an important yet sometimes overlooked aspect of praising God together. The horizontal encouragement that is gained from enthusiastic congregational praise is priceless! Praising God brings us untold blessings, both individually and together as the growing body of Christ.

But what is the ‘word of Christ’, you may ask?

Put simply, Paul most likely means the ‘teachings of Christ’, the doctrine of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which at first was passed on as spoken words. This exhortation comes in the context of a letter which emphasises the person and work of Christ, a message that is centred on the Word of Truth, the good news of the gospel of Jesus.

This WORD is to have its gracious and glorious way in our lives, both individually and in community, as Christ shapes us to be more like himself. When we gather to listen and bow to the authority of Christ’s living Word, His word dwells richly in us. This Word indwells us by the Spirit. Such a glorious but unseen mystery this is!

John Piper speaks about the important role God has given each of us, to be speaking in a way that helps others persevere in the faith. In his message on Hebrews 3, Piper focuses on verse 13, where the writer says we must “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

“God has designed his church so that its members endure to the end in faith by means of giving and receiving faith-sustaining words from each other. You and I are the instruments by which God preserves the faith of his children. Perseverance is a community project. Just like God is not going to evangelize the world without human, faith-awakening voices, neither is he going to preserve his church without human faith-sustaining voices. And clearly from the words, “exhort one another” (verse 13), it means all of us, not just preachers. We depend on each other to endure in faith to the end.”  Read more

We Christians are to be tactfully and thoughtfully challenging one another with the Word of Christ. Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is but one way to do that… But what a great way to do it! And this is why it is so important to choose songs with lyrics that are true to the Living Word of Christ, rather than just songs that create a warm fuzzy feeling amongst us, or have a catchy rhythm.

How good it is that our times of corporate praise and worship give opportunity to speak the words of Christ to one another in song. Such an encouragement God’s people can be to one another!

You may also enjoy:

Sharing the Perspicuity of God’s gracious Word

The Blessed and God-breathed book (2 Timothy 3:16)

From the Gospel Coalition: 7 Arrows for Bible Reading

Music ministry training paper – great resource for your team

guitarsIf you are a leader of a church music team it is helpful (and wise) to think of your ministry as a training ground for growing ‘servant hearts’ in people generally. You want your musicians to be willing to serve God in any area of gospel ministry, not just music. Simply because a person has musical ability then that should not be the extent of their service. Rather it is simply one way they can serve the body of Christ, and further develop an attitude of being ‘other-person-centred.’ This is certainly the example Christ has called us to follow.

In the link below you will find a great resource, a four page ministry discussion paper to work through with those your music team:
Music Ministry Training Paper
This paper explores a wide range of topics, from the role of the musician in the team, to the role music can play in ensuring the Bible stays at the centre of our activities. It looks at how church music can help ‘the Word of Christ’ dwell richly in the body of believers. It also touches on tricky issues like personal pride and motivation, committment to church and song-leading.

The paper could be used as a series of four discussions/studies, or two, or one, depending on the time you can afford to spare. It could even be something you give out ahead of time, then gather to discuss. Whichever way you do it, it should provoke some really useful discussion (and hopefully right thinking) in an area of serving which can easily become a self serving ministry, or Me-nistry, as some have described it.

If you want more indepth material to work through, check out my post on the bible studies called SING FOR JOY from Matthias Media.

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How church music can welcome newcomers.

New SongThere are many great ideas out there for how best to choose songs for your Sunday services, the order you put them in, and the types of songs you choose. (And if all else fails, tip over the filing cabinet and choose the first four you pick up.) But recently I picked up a new great idea: purposefully limit your song repertoire for a short period of time so as to make newcomers to your church feel more included. Let me explain.

You know how it is when you are in a new church – and you know none of the songs? You stand there looking awkward, and the whole exercise reminds you “you are a newcomer”! Unless you work really hard to get your eyes off yourself and onto the meaning of the lyrics, this can be quite isolating. Imagine how much more so for a new Christian or someone who is checking out church for the first time. Imagine too how it feels when all those people around you are belting out “How Great Thou Art” which they have sung from infancy – and you just silently stand and wonder why ‘they’ are praising graphic design (“Art”).

How can music help in this scenario?

Well, if you deliberately limit your playlist to a small rotation of songs for a term (around 10 weeks) this will allow newcomers (providing they come back next week) to quickly become very familiar with some of the church repertoire, as you will be repeating them more often. They won’t have to wait six months before they get to sing the song again. If you repeat one or two songs from the previous week in each subsequent service it will make a real difference to how included new comers feel (“Hey, I know this one, we sang it last week”). Even better, if you build a culture of learning a new song nearly every week then this becomes a great way to put your newcomers in the same boat as everyone else. They will feel more part of the group because everyone is learning together.

It also helps to choose songs that (predominantly) sound like contemporary mainstream music, which will sound familiar (in terms of the rhythm and the mix of instruments) for your newcomers.

So how do you find enough new songs?
Well of course you can start by reading my blog – but you will find many more resources at: CCLI, Worship Together, Gettymusic, Sovereign grace music and churchmusictoday……to name but a few.
Buy lots of CDs from Sovereign Grace and the Gettys and EMU music (from Australia) and you will get some great ideas for singable songs. Sovereign Grace have all their lead sheets free online and I doubt you would ever exhaust such a wealth of great songs!