Love affair with the secular worldview?

Christ has wonPlanning today for songs to share with those who attend the intensive CMS Summer School at Mt Tamborine in January 2014. The theme is Christ’s Victory, specifically in the book of Revelation. I have been having a meeting with myself at a coffee shop and the level of agreement is quite remarkable!

One of the speakers for the conference is federal Secretary of CMS Australia, Peter Rodgers. At a recent speaking engagement, he shared some words which stand as a challenge to my comfortable, middle-class Aussie, Christian outlook. He suggests that Christians have a love affair with the secular worldview: “Australian Christians often value exactly the same things non-Christians value. They prioritise their own comforts over the gospel and consequently have a low commitment to global mission. The antidote to this is to help people develop a biblical worldview. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the central message of the bible. If people put Jesus and the gospel at the centre of their lives then mission will receive the attention it deserves.” from SMBC news winter 2013 issue 29. 

The sad thing about these words is the extent to which I know they are true – for me, and most other Christians I know. But is it any wonder considering the amount of time we spend soaking ourselves in the worldview of the world’s media? (Read more on this here.) Oh that we would soak our minds more in the truths of God’s Word and keep the gospel at the centre of our lives.

‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ Romans 12:2

And in case you are curious, here are some of the songs I have selected to go with the Revelation/Christ’s victory theme: All I have is Christ (Sovereign Grace), Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn – Getty), Beautiful Saviour (Stuart Townend), Come Hear the Angels Sing (EMU), Crown Him with Many Crowns (Hymn), Glorious Day (Casting Crowns), Grace has now appeared (EMU), Hail the Day (EMU), Hope of the Nations (Doerksen), It is Well (Todd Fields), Jesus Thankyou (Sovereign Grace), Let Your Kingdom Come (Sov Grace), Majesty of Heaven (Tomlin), No Other Name (Trevor Hodge), See Him Coming (EMU), We Belong to the Day (Michael Morrow).

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I will boast in the Lord my God

Recently I noticed that many of the new songs we had introduced at church were lacking a little variety in terms of tempo! What was missing? The fast songs!
It probably takes a great degree of skill to build a singable song that isn’t slow – especially when we are singing such weighty words about the grace and riches of Christ!  But I have begun a quest: to find all the good, singable, fast songs! I’m digging back into my lists of possibilities from the last few years to see what missed out, and why, and what tempo they have. There’s nothing like a lively song to engage people and draw hearts together in praise.
Here is the first one I would like to share, “I will boast in the Lord my God” by Paul Baloche, 2006. I have not used it with a congregation, so I can’t say it is tried and tested . . . but hopefully!  (I’ll be using the key of Bb, capo 1 in A for guitar – or try key of C if you don’t mind it a little higher. Alternatively, use E major for a brighter verse, and sing the chorus down the octave if necessary, which it mostly will be for the women!)

There are at least two passages combined in the lyrics of the song:
Jeremiah 9:23-24

23 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

Galatians 6:14

14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Here are the full lyrics:

I Will Boast

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom
Or the strong man boast in his strength
Let not the rich man boast in his riches
But let the humble come and give thanks
To the One Who made us
The One Who saved us

I will boast in the Lord my God
I will boast in the One Who’s worthy
I will boast in the Lord my God
I will boast in the One Who’s worthy
He’s worthy

(Bridge)
I will make my boast in Christ alone
I will make my boast in Christ alone

CCLI Song # 4662350 Paul Baloche © 2006 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music

If you want to hear more of Baloche, try my posts about 3 other songs:
My Hope in God’s Grace
The Same Love is Calling
A good blokey church song: The Kingdom of God

Seeking truth or comfort?

birds“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth …”
C.S. Lewis

I discovered this quotation today and thought it would have gone well with my previous post on taking control of your life – but really it stands alone. Blessings!

Taking control doesn’t guarantee safety or happiness

hands on wheel“Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”
Oswald Chambers

There is an illusion of safety that comes with being the driver of a car. We think we have control over the brake, the steering and accelerator, and we feel safer since we are calling the shots. We think we have control over our destination, that we will arrive safe and happy. And we can foolishly think this holds true while juggling a coffee or phone – or both!  On the other hand it takes a great deal of trust (particularly for me) to hand over the controls to an unseen pilot who sustains your life 30,000 feet in the air in a metal tube, and promises to deliver you safely to some distant destination. Yet statistically we are safer in the air! (There is a 1 in 20 000 chance of death by air travel, but only 1 in 100 by car! Read more here).

Now I know this is not a perfect analogy, but the same is true of the Christian life in many ways.

When things seem to be going wrong in our life, and we are not enjoying the level of happiness we (think we) see all around us, it is all too tempting to grab the reins and take back control over our life. We think our way (or the way of the world around us) will lead to fulfillment and lasting joy. Even if God has explicitly put certain choices off limits, our hurts push us to take back control. We may feel desperately lonely as a single woman, a childless mother or uncherished wife (talking mainly to the women here today). We think God (and others) don’t understand just how difficult it is to live like this! And in this state it may seem like a great idea to have an affair or hook up with an unbeliever, to focus on the selfish pursuit of eternal youth, or fill your life with material things that (also) can only buy short term joy. But taking control doesn’t mean we will be happy!

As Christians we have placed our lives in the hands of our Saviour. That’s how we became Christians – by submitting to Christ, to His revealed will, to His word. We chose to live with Christ as our Lord and Saviour, to walk His way, worthy of the life he called us, worthy of His name we own. So even in the hard things of loneliness or loss, God’s way is still the best way. His ‘restrictions’ are motivated by love and designed for our good! If we take control and choose to live outside of his revealed will, it won’t be long before we find ourselves in a greater state of unhappiness than we were in before.

There are no easy solutions in this fallen world, but If you are in Christ then pushing Him out the driver’s door won’t help. Try digging deeper into His living words. Try serving, try building deep relationships with others, sharing your frustrations and praying together, and growing in the knowledge of God. These things will not fulfill all our longings in this life, but they will be living inside God’s good will for us. As John Piper says (in a post entitled “Are Christians Satisfied?“):

“Christ does offer total satisfaction, much of it right now in hope and forgiveness and growing power to love. But all of it in the age to come when we will be made perfect in a perfect world. Then there will be no sense in which we will be disappointed in ourselves or in our circumstances at all.”

Choosing to go God’s way definitely means we won’t have our hands on the wheel, but the One who does is infinitely wiser and greater than we. Keep trusting Him!

More great GRACE songs

Here are two GRACE-filled songs, both with a lively tempo, for you to try with your church family. The first is “Grace has now Appeared” from a recent Christmas album, ADVENT by EMU Music. I think this would be very suitable to sing all year, since we celebrate the grace that comes to us in Christ every day. It is a joyful song, full of gospel riches. The second is an older song with a simple chorus, made popular by Chris Tomlin, “Your Grace is Enough” (album: ‘Arriving’). (Click on any of the titles to listen.)

Grace has now appearedadvent

See the love of God the Father for our lost and desperate race
Sending to our world a Saviour, full of truth and grace
People who once walked in darkness now are dwelling in the light
Undeserving of His kindness, Blindness turned to sight
Dead have come to life

Glory to our God in heaven, Celebrate the Saviour’s birth
Joyful news for all the people, Hope has come to earth
God has comforted His people, Come to drive away our fear
Born for us in David’s city, Grace has now appeared

See the grace of our Lord Jesus who was rich but became poor
In our place He pays our ransom, Satisfies the law
Giving up His life for sinners, Banishing our guilt and shame
Pouring out for us His life-blood, Freeing us from blame
This is why He came

See the Holy Spirit’s power overshadow Mary’s womb
Come upon the suffering servant, Raise Him from the tomb
He has come to dwell within us, Bringing us from death to life
Giving us the hope of glory, Making us like Christ
Shining forth His light

CCLI Song # 6426257 Rob Smith© 2012

arrivingYour Grace is enough

Great is Your faithfulness O God, You wrestle with the sinner’s restless heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy, And nothing can keep us apart
(PRE-CHORUS)
So remember Your people, Remember Your children, Remember Your promise O God
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me

Great is Your love and justice God of Jacob, You use the weak to lead the strong
You lead us in the song of Your salvation, And all Your people sing along
(Chorus 2)
Yeah Your grace is enough, Heaven reaches out to us
Your grace is enough for me
God I sing Your grace is enough, I’m covered in Your love
Your grace is enough for me for me

CCLI Song # 4477026 Matt Maher © 2003 spiritandsong.com

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The wonderful mystery of harmony singing

cracking_the_harmony_2I absolutely love singing in harmony. It would have to be my most favourite thing to do. At church it takes lots of self-control to stop myself singing harmony all the time. (But I do refrain most of the time since it can seem a bit show-off-ish, and also off-putting if you are meant to be leading people in the melody up the front!)
But give me a few spare minutes and some other keen people, this is my preferred activity! There is just something totally mysterious, extraordinary and beautiful about the way harmonic notes blend together. When people ask me to write them some harmony parts for a song I rejoice at the challenge and opportunity to sit and fiddle with harmony for a few hours. (I’ve often wondered if this could be a lucrative business activity via the internet! What do you think?)
You may call me crazy for such harmonic enthusiasm, but this is what comes from being brought up on huge doses of harmony singing, at home, at school and church, in choirs and small a cappella groups. Yet despite my experience, when people ask me to teach them how to sing harmony I scratch my head and wonder? How do you teach someone what is a pretty complicated process in listening and anticipating?

“In the simplest style of vocal harmony, the main vocal melody is supported by a single backup vocal line, either at a pitch which is above or below the main vocal line, often in thirds or sixths which fit in with the chord progression used in the song. In more complex vocal harmony arrangements, different backup singers may sing two or even three other notes at the same time as each of the main melody notes, mostly with consonant, pleasing-sounding thirds, sixths, and fifths (although dissonant notes may be used as short passing notes)”.

You can now see why I say it is a pretty complicated process, especially if you are going to improvise!
I think the only way to learn to harmonise well it is to hear it, to hear someone do it, a lot, then try it! When you sing harmony you have to anticipate what’s coming, both in the melody and the chords that support it. You have to anticipate what will blend well with the note coming up. You have to hear the harmony in your head before you execute it, and then you need the courage to try it. Good harmony singing has to be “caught not taught”. I had about 17 years of ‘weekly lessons’ in harmony singing with my dad – well not formal ones, more just singing in the pew beside him each Sunday, listening to his improvised tenor line for every hymn in the book.

And are there any benefits of harmony singing, you may ask? Well for singers you have to listen to other people well, which has to be a good thing. It develops team work, and together you create something beautiful which one voice alone could not create. In performance it helps shift the focus from the glory of one person, to the team work of several. There are also benefits for the listener, as they hear the blend, the movement of sound, the tension and the resolution of different voices working together.
And of course there is a spiritual application here. Living in harmony with others requires the same practised skillful decision making. We must choose to listen to others, consider where they are heading, that they are walking in different shoes from us – and then we choose grace over judgement. Again, these skills are often better caught than taught. Great harmony can be achieved from a group of people who are careful to keep in tune with God and each other, living selfless lives. The loving characteristics of our heavenly Father blend so well together. If we are reflecting his character and glory we cannot help but harmonise beautifully. He is the Father of all harmonies, both musically and between us.

2 Corinthians 13:11 NLT
“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”

Here is a clip of some harmony singing I did with a friend (on melody) at a recent women’s conference. Oh the Deep Deep Love of Jesus.

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Hymn lines that didn’t stand the test of time

Today’s post comes from a ‘Gathered Worship Director’ (I like that!) in New Zealand – the original article can be found here at Chong’s Worship: I think you’ll find it quite amusing, but at the same time remember that some lines of our modern hymns may sound equally as strange in a few hundred years time!

old hymnGod’s blessed the church with hundreds of memorable hymns of the faith. Christians and non-Christians alike recognise lines such as “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound…”, “How Great Thou Art”, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, and “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide…” (I’m sure you can think of many of your own examples).

For a bit of a laugh, here are a couple of examples of old hymn lyrics that, although theologically sound, have thankfully fallen out of use:

Stanza 6 in “How Firm A Foundation”:

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

(Hoary means ancient, aged.)

Stanza 9 of Charles Wesley’s “Come Thou O Traveller Unknown”:

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy bowels move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

The term “bowels” used to mean the seat of one’s emotion (what we refer today as our heart).

The first line of Isaac Watt’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was originally:

Hark! How all the welkin rings, ‘Glory to the King of Kings.”

(Welkin refers to the highest heavens.)

And from verse 3 of Joseph Hart’s hymn, “Salvation to the Lamb”:

When we incurred the wrath of God, Alas! what could we worse?
He came, and with his own heart’s blood Redeem’d us from the curse.
This paschal Lambour heav’nly meat, was roasted in the flame.
Repeat, ye ransomed souls, repeat, “Salvation to the Lamb!”

While I like Joseph Hart’s sincere attempt to link Jesus to the Passover lamb in Exodus, this particular imagery is um… hard to stomach (thankfully other people have tried rewriting it).

To fit the language

So why did these hymnwriters use those words? To fit the language of the people at that time, who would have understood the phrases and meanings without any hint of snickering.

Brian Wren in his book Praying Twice adds some helpful insight (p.297-8):

“… The need for change sometimes overrides the need for familiarity… In the Preface to his Hymns and Spiritual Songs, [Isaac Watts] says that “what is provided for public worship should give to sincere consciences as little vexation and disturbance as possible” However, “where any unpleasing word is found, he that leads the worship may substitute a better; for (Blessed be God) we are not confined to the words of any Man in our public solemnities.”

“However much we value our past, our present interest in congregational song is not antiquarian, but immediate. We sing to God from today, in lyrics which — whether ancient or recent — express today’s faith. When a lyric from the past gets too archaic to be understood, or too out of sync with today’s hope, faith, and issues to speak for us, it will eventually cease to be sung, or amended to keep it singable.

I was reflecting awhile back on whether Christians had to hang on to obscure hymn lyrics. Ultimately, I think Brian Wren is right – if a line is worth understanding and remembering, it will stay in use. And if it makes you think about your bowels, it’s probably not worth keeping!

Working for those moments of Joy

grow musicThe non-musician in our Christian gatherings often looks towards the musicians with a certain measure of (perhaps misguided) awe. One thing they find ‘awesome’ is that we even bother! We musicians put ourselves through many practices, where we must work closely with others, negotiating different opinions, and we put ourselves ‘out there’ and up front, where the criticism can sometimes sting. . .  a lot. (Luther didn’t call church music the War Department for nothing!)  And while some look with awe, others may look with disdain and consider most of our efforts simply for show and self-glory.
But there is one thing that keeps musicians (music directors in particular) in the job – and it’s not usually the pay grade!  It is the love for gathering people together in song, praising our great God! Corporate singing provides a unique opportunity to create joy as people praise God and sing out words of encouragement to each other. It gives people the opportunity to express publicly the joy, confidence and hope they have in Christ. These are things they may not find easy to say in everyday conversation.
Since God also delights in the praise of His people (which thwarts Satan’s best efforts at discouragement) we musicians experience much blessing and encouragement ourselves in leading people in something that has eternal, spiritual and cosmological impact!

When we put effort into selecting great sets of song, that are biblically true, Gospel-focused and singable for a group of people, there is the hope that the Word in song will challenge people’s hearts and teach them to know and love their Saviour more. The lyrics might even move people to great (or small) acts of love and service, bringing glory to God. Some may experience a lightbulb moment, as a difficult theological concept makes sense for the first time, in song. “Where the Word goes the Spirit goes” (John Piper) – so the more our songs are steeped in the Word, the more He works through them.
And while I admit that not everyone may be looking joyful as we lead them in praising God, it is the possibility for creating deep inner joy that keeps us coming back. This is what we love! We love to hear God’s praises! We love to see the joy that music brings, joy that encourages us all on our journey of faith.

“. . . . for the joy of the Lord is our strength.”
(Nehemiah 8:10)

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