Flashback: God is God

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

I recently listened to an old favourite album of mine by Steven Curtis Chapman and was struck by the words of the song, God is God. I won’t try to comment on what is significant about these words. There are so many treasures here. But they hold one simple and powerful lesson, that takes most of us a lifetime to realise: Only God is God.

“God Is God”
(Listen here on Spotify)

And the pain falls like a curtain
On the things I once called certain
And I have to say the words I fear the most, I just don’t know

And the questions without answers
Come and paralyze the dancer
So I stand here on the stage afraid to move, afraid to fall,
oh, but fall I must on this truth that my life has been formed from the dust

[Chorus]
God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting
God is God and I am man
So I’ll never understand it all
For only God is God

And the sky begins to thunder
And I’m filled with awe and wonder
‘Til the only burning question that remains
Is who am I

Can I form a single mountain
Take the stars in hand and count them
Can I even take a breath without God giving it to me
He is first and last before all that has been
Beyond all that will pass

[Chorus]

Oh, how great are the riches of His wisdom and knowledge
How unsearchable for to Him and through Him and from Him are all things

So let us worship before the throne
Of the One who is worthy of worship alone

[Chorus]

From the album Declaration (2001)
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The Basin and the Towel

Hello readers, today I’m sharing a post from a few years ago, before many of you were following. I hope it will encourage you as you gather with and serve other Christ followers in your church community. Blessings!

sevennotesofgrace

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
Mark 10-:29-30

When we are saved into Christ we are saved into community, a community of believers. This is a great promise from Mark 10. Even if we lose many things in order to own the name of Christ we gain so much more. We gain family! We gain relationship. We gain brothers and sisters in Christ. (And yes, we gain persecutions, though that is not the topic for today so I’ll just leave it to the side). As we serve one another, we grow relationships, we grow bridges between us –…

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Why We Worship on Repeat | Desiring God

I enjoyed this discussion from Desiring God about praise/worship as meditating together on the truths of the Gospel. It makes me much more enthusiastic about the idea of another chorus repeat.

“Many a modern church-goer has been miffed by repetition in corporate worship.

The Information Age is conditioning us for new content, fresh ideas, new data. Why re-read what we’ve already read, why rehearse what we’ve already heard, when new information is available like never before?

But do we know what our unprecedented access to novelty is doing to us? All indications are that it’s threatening to make us shallower, not wiser and more mature. Running our eyes across the page and mouthing words to a song are not the same thing as experiencing the reality in our hearts. Our hearts simply don’t move as quickly as our eyes and our mouths.

Which makes corporate worship such an important elixir for what is increasingly ailing us today.

Learn to Feel the Truth

Take Psalm 136 as a flashing red light from the divine that our newfound intolerance for repetition is out of step with what it means to be human. The psalm is 26 verses, and each verse ends with “for his steadfast love endures forever.” It rehearses God’s goodness and supremacy, his wonder-working and world-creating, his delivery of his people from slavery and provision for them in a rich land.

Twenty-six times the psalm repeats this refrain — and not one of them is wasted. With each new verse, another attribute or rescue of God is celebrated, and then our souls are ushered deeper into his steadfast, ever-enduring love with each glorious repetition.

“Our hearts simply don’t move as quickly as our eyes and our mouths.”

The goal of the song is not to make his steadfast love old hat, but to help us feel it afresh and at new depth. The dance of each new verse, with each return to the refrain, is designed to bore the central truth about God’s resilient love deeper and deeper into our inner person. The psalm is not atreatise on the unwavering, persistent love of God, but what we call a meditation — less linear and more circular — crafted to help auger the reality of his love from information on our mental surface down to an experience in our hearts.

If you come away bored (unaffected), you’ve missed the point. But if you come away with God bored deeply into your soul (tasting afresh the strength and sweetness of his love), you’ve been carried by the Holy Spirit.

More Than Data

God made humans to meditate. And it is increasingly the lost art in our age. We were made to think deeply on his truth, not just be informed; to ponder reality down to the depths, not just move on to the next piece of data.

Non-Christian forms of meditation seek to empty the mind and transcend concrete specifics into the ethereal, and experience some form of meaningless enlightenment. But Christian meditation fills the mind with biblical truth, and chews on it, seeking to savor every bite.

“Meditation receives the truth into our souls and changes us in our deepest part.”

Unlike mere reading, even slow reading, where our minds and eyes keep moving at some pace, meditation slows us down, way down. We pause and ponder. Reading keeps us marching in linear fashion, while meditation moves us into a more spiral pattern by limiting the information set and seeking to press and apply the truth to our hearts, to actually experience the truth and not just let it run on through our minds on our way to the next thing.

Meditating Together

One remarkable aspect of corporate worship is that it gives us the opportunity to meditate together. The pinnacle of a good sermon is typically a form of corporate meditation, led by the preacher, as he circles around his main point and verbally kneads its goodness into our hearts.

And the summits of our best praises together in song are essentially meditative. It’s not the discovery and delivery of an obscure stanza that binds our hearts and draws us highest together toward heaven, but returning to the chorus, which has been enriched with each additional verse. The verses provide fresh information, but the refrain we know so well bores the truth even deeper into our souls. The verses and chorus together help us to know the reality even better, as we collectively digest the truth from our heads into our hearts. They help us actually experience and be affected by the truth in our inner person, not just rehearse the data on the surface.

“God made humans to meditate. And it is increasingly the lost art in our age.”

And only once we’ve taken the truth into the heart, into the core of our soul, do we organically grow external actions and lived-out transformation. Rather than circumventing the heart, by moving from the mind to the actions, meditation receives the truth into our souls and changes us in our deepest part so that our actions aren’t whitewashed, but authentic expressions of the movement of our souls.

Purposeful repetition in corporate worship empowers us to be changed not only as individuals, but as a people. It is not only the truths we read, but the truths we sing — and sing often, and take into our hearts — that mold and shape us for lives of worship.

So, perhaps this weekend, you’ll have a chance to experience corporate repetition afresh, and instead of begrudging the worship leader for it, you may find it to be a new pathway for enjoying the grandeur and love of God.”

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-we-worship-on-repeat

Alternatives to pride

‘Yes, I know one doesn’t even want to be cured of one’s pride because it gives pleasure. But the pleasure of pride is like the pleasure of scratching. If there is an itch one does want to scratch: but it is much nicer to have neither the itch nor the scratch. As long as we have the itch of self-regard we shall want the pleasure of self-approval; but the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither, but have everything else (God, our fellow-humans, animals, the garden and the sky) instead.’

From The Collected Letters of C S Lewis Volume III

God’s Marvel heroes?

A great challenge here

sermons and soda water

Utmost

We come across many valuable lessons in life without learning (m)any of them. The lessons we do learn remain with us. Forty years ago, a friend, not intending to teach me anything about prayer, did. She simply shared her glad discovery that she was fighting far less with her family since she began praying for them (rather than about them). This first of three brief posts on the theme of intercession comes from Oswald Chambers….

“Christ Jesus … who indeed is interceding for us.”
“And … the Spirit intercedes for the saints …”
Romans 8:34, 27 ESV

Oswald Chambers wrote about these verses…”Do we need any more argument than this to become intercessors – that Christ “ever liveth to make intercession” ; that the Holy Spirit “maketh intercession for the saints”? Are we living in such vital relationship to our fellow men that we do the work of intercession as the Spirit-taught children of God?

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Assurance for the flawed and incomplete

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One of my most popular and most discussed posts concerns the Mercy Me song ‘Flawless’ – with the statement ‘the Cross has made you flawless’. You can remind yourself of the song here.
Today I’m sharing a post from John Piper which explains the certainty of our salvation in Christ. This salvation is not flawed – though we most certainly are. But the question remains: Has Christ truly perfected us for all time? Now?

Assurance for Incomplete People

Article by John Piper Scripture: Hebrews 10:14 

By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Two things here are mightily encouraging for us in our imperfect condition as saved sinners. First, notice that Christ has perfected his people, and it is already complete. “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” He has done it. And he has done it for all time. The perfecting of his people is complete and it is complete forever.

Does this mean that Christians don’t sin? Don’t get sick? Don’t make mathematical errors in school? That we are already perfect in our behavior and attitudes?

There is one clear reason in this very verse for knowing that is not the case. What is it? It’s the last phrase. Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who “are being sanctified.” The ongoing continuous action of the Greek present tense is important. “Those who are beingsanctified” are not yet fully sanctified in the sense of committing no more sin. Otherwise, they would not need to go on being sanctified.

In What Way Are We Perfect?

So here we have the shocking combination: The very people who “have been perfected” are the ones who “are being sanctified.” We can also think back to chapters 5 and 6 to recall that these Christians are anything but perfect. For example, in Hebrews 5:11 he says, “You have become dull of hearing.” So we may safely say that “perfected” inHebrews 10:14 does not mean that we are sinlessly perfect in this life.

Well, what does it mean? The answer is given in the next verses (Hebrews 10:15–18). The writer explains what he means by quoting Jeremiah on the new covenant, namely, that in the new covenant which Christ has sealed by his blood, there is total forgiveness for all our sins. Verses 17–18: “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” So he explains the present perfection in terms (at least) of forgiveness.

Christ’s people are perfected now in the sense that God puts away all our sins (Hebrews 9:26), forgives them, and never brings them to mind again as a ground of condemnation. In this sense, we stand before him perfected. When he looks on us, he does not impute any of our sins to us — past, present, or future. He does not count our sins against us.

Finding Assurance in Perfection

Now notice, second, for whom Christ has done this perfecting work on the cross.Hebrews 10:14 tells us plainly: “By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” You can put it provocatively like this: Christ has perfected once and for all those who are beingperfected. Or you could say, Christ has fullysanctified those who are now beingsanctified — which the writer does, in fact, say in verse 10, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Thus verse 10 says, we “have been sanctified.” Verse 14 says, we “are being sanctified.”

What this means is that you can know that you stand perfect in the eyes of your heavenly Father, if you are moving away from your present imperfection toward more and more holiness by faith in his future grace. Let me say that again, because it is full of encouragement for imperfect sinners like us, and full of motivation for holiness. Hebrews 10:14 means that you can have assurance that you stand perfected and completed in the eyes of your heavenly Father, not because you are perfect now, but precisely because you are not perfect now but are “being sanctified” — “being made holy.”

You may have assurance of your perfect standing with God because by faith in God’s promises, you are moving away from your lingering imperfections toward more and more holiness. Our remaining imperfection is not a sign of our disqualification, but a mark of all whom God “has perfected for all time” — if we are in the process of “being changed” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So take heart. Fix your eyes on the once-for-all, perfecting work of Christ. And set your face against all known sin.
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/complete-assurance-for-incomplete-people

Are we eager for the King of Heaven?

Here is a song from Paul Baloche which I have been considering for a while to include in our church repertoire: King of Heaven from ‘The Same Love’ album. It challenges us to collectively anticipate and call on the Lord Jesus for His return. It has a lively and uplifting feel. You will find the words in the first clip, and at the end. Blessings!

“King Of Heaven”
Jesus, let Your kingdom come here
Let Your will be done here in us
Jesus, there is no one greater
You alone are Savior, show the world Your love

King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign, shining like the day, King of Heaven come

King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King of Heaven come

We are children of Your mercy
Rescued for Your glory
We cry, Jesus set our hearts towards You
Every eye would see You lifted high

King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign shining like the day
King of Heaven come

King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King Of Heaven come

Ooh, ooh, ooh, King of Heaven come

King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign, shining like the day
King of Heaven come

King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King of Heaven come

The conundrum of keys, capos and congregational singing

capoarticle_1_1

Most of the songs we now use to gather Christ’s body together in praise and worship are not written for that specific purpose – for singing together. Rather, they are written to be performed and recorded (for God’s glory), while satisfying the vocal range of an experienced soloist, who most often has a fairly high male (tenor) voice. The melodies are therefore shaped and situated in a vocal range that few of us can manage. Sure, we can sing along with the best of them on our iPods, but unconsciously we do a lot of octave jumping, or harmonising, so that we can sing along. This doesn’t work too well when the congregation is singing together.

Choosing the right key is quite tricky. The default or original key on SongSelect rarely works well. It can end up with a really high melody section in the chorus that no one can sing (bar the tenors) or else the whole thing is too low when you jump down an octave. This low singing equates to really quiet singing, and when we can’t hear each other we are discouraged from singing at all.

You also have to consider the musicians: is this great key the guitarists are happy to play in one which will induce a mild psychosis in the keyboard player, as they scamper around playing on only the black notes?

Here are just four rules of thumb that I find work well when selecting singable and playable keys for church singing (on SongSelect (CCLI) or a similar website).

1. Keep the vocal range between A (below middle C) and D (8 notes above middle C). Remember that D signals Distress for many people, so ensure the transposed melody only has a few passing notes of the high D (and the low A as well, for that matter). If the song ends up with a low G as the anacrusis note in the melody of the verse then teach it as a B instead (it should fit the chord, and won’t really be noticed).

2. Try to maintain the original shape and development of the song, starting with low verse notes and moving to higher chorus notes. If you sabotage the ‘chorus lift’ by a poorly chosen key, or by forcing people to jump down an octave, it can all fall seriously flat.

3. Don’t choose keys that have too many sharps or flats. Stick to maximum of four sharps (E major) and max 3 flats (Eb major). There are a few major keys that work well for both guitar and keys: C, D, E, G and A major. Keyboard players generally don’t mind keys with flats (one flat F major, two flats Bb major), but these will probably make your guitarists unhappy. This leads to my next point.

4. Understand Capos and get your guitarists to understand and use them. The keyboard and the guitarists can play in different keys quite effectively. A guitar capo effectively shortens the guitar strings and produces a higher sound. This enables the guitarists to play in comfortable keys (mostly ones with sharps) while the pianist can play in a key with flats that may mean a better vocal range for the congregation.

For example, if I want to use Matt Redman’s Ten Thousand Reasons in a flat key (Eb major, with three flats), then the guitarists can play in D (with their music in key of D) and capo on the first fret. (Each fret raises the guitar’s pitch by a semitone. So, the guitarists playing in D major want it to sound Eb major. Placing the capo on fret one moves the sound up by a semitone. Success! It sounds in Eb major but they don’t have to play in a key with flats.)

Another example would be Trevor Hodge’s No Other Name (Listen below!) in Bb, which has two flats. The guitarists can play in G major, but sound Bb by placing the capo on fret 3. There are 3 semitone steps to get from G to Bb (go check a keyboard) which is why the guitar must use capo three.

Remember that the guitarist needs to be playing in a key slightly lower than the keyboard player, so that the capo will bring their sound up to pitch, and they will only need to use capo 1, 2 or 3.

Next time: let’s look at a case study and decide what to do with Tomlin’s ‘Jesus, Son of God’ which has a huge vocal range! I’m still working on this one myself.

Discipling New Believers – what to read first

For new believers with little exposure to the Bible, it can be one overwhelming book. I recently came across this ordered list of suggestions for reading the four gospels. It has much good reasoning.

Start reading the Gospels ONLY… preferably in this order:

(1) Luke, (2) Mark, (3) Matthew, (4) John

Why that order?

Luke, (like that new believer), never met or saw Jesus in the flesh. His account is “closest” to where that new believer’s feet are. Luke is like a “reporter”, repeating the events witnessed by the disciples and (according to a number of scholars), Jesus’ mother, Mary and John (the Apostle) her companion. The Gospel of Luke is descriptive and truthful in the telling of what Jesus did, what He said, and how He taught. Everything is there… the teachings, the parables, the private conversations, the healing, the triumphs and horrors. But there is little “sophisticated theology” or “flights of divine intimacy” in it. Like the Goldilocks/Three Bears story, Luke is a great start because it is neither “too shallow” nor “too deep” for the beginning swimmer.

Mark next. Why? Mark’s Gospel was once described to me as “the travelogue of Jesus”. There is a hurried, breathless quality to it. An excitement to it. “And then we went there, and then He said this, and then He met them, and then this miracle happened….. And then we went there, and then He said this, and then they came, and then He did this…” repeat, repeat, repeat. The divinity of Christ comes to the fore, the authority and Godhead of Christ is made observable… along with a repeated theme of “but Jesus said, ‘don’t tell anybody about Me, yet!’” (which was consistently disobeyed). The water runs a bit faster with this Gospel… skills, balance, breath control, and strength are built swimming in this stream.

Matthew next. Why? Matthew has ever been special to me. No one, but Paul later, deals so well with integrating the New Testament Jesus with the Old Testament Messiah. Matthew, as a tax-collector, was a pariah to his community. “Respectable folk” wouldn’t walk on the same side of the street as he, nor eat where he was eating, nor even sit on a chair he had occupied. And yet, when he wrote his Gospel, he did it in Hebrew! (All the others in Greek). His love for Israel, his dedication to the good news of their Redeemer, their Messiah, the fulfillment of ALL the prophecies, cries out from every page of this Gospel.

Matthew misses no opportunity to integrate the prophets with Jesus’ ministry. I suspect no heart in Israel knew more joy ever, than the day Matthew was called into the Company of the Savior… for I believe he loved Israel, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… with all his heart. The water gets deeper here, the Old Testament, the prophets, the history, begin to weave into the threads of Jesus’ day to day life. The new believer watches the Old Testament light up in its foreshadowing and preparation for the coming of Jesus. Deeper water, yet manageable currents.

And LAST, let us come to the Gospel of John! He was the youngest of the disciples. He had the “least to unlearn” as Jesus taught him. He went everywhere (nearly) with Jesus, and he was one of the “faith choir” Jesus took with Him when a miracle required much faith. John’s experience of Jesus, the intimacy of it, the depth of it, the understanding of it… was unlike anything we can imagine. John puts the reader on notice from the very first line… that they’d best strap in, ’cause it’s gonna be quite a ride… John’s head was far more Greek than Israeli! He flows with concepts of “essence”, “ideal”, “accident”… with the mutability of words as essence and essence as words, like a tadpole in a pond!  I mean, seriously… look at the very FIRST PARAGRAPH!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Scholars are STILL debating how to understand all that, and it’s been two millennia!

John saw directly into the Divine! Jesus got to him young enough that when Jesus said “here’s how you do this… here’s how you SEE… here’s how you PRAY…”, John didn’t have to shake his head, walk away, and say… “Gosh, that’s not what Rabbi Nicodemus said… I wonder which is right?” John just believed Jesus, tried it, and found that it WORKED! Hoorah! John learned meditation and contemplation before he could probably SHAVE! So… the Gospel he wrote, is filled with the insight, the recollections, the perspectives he recalls from his embrace as the “disciple most loved” (i.e. the disciple most capable of experiencing love)… Therefore, his Gospel is the most “ethereal”, the most “contemplative”, the most “mystical”.

Also, as an interesting aside, his “recall” of Jesus’ words… his specificity on key discourses, is often the most detailed. (For a “mystic”, the words spoken by God Himself, are often “graven into” the mind in a way that remains crystal clear for decades. Folks often think it’s a “memory thing”. It’s not… it’s a “prayer thing”.)

Anyway, John’s Gospel is deep water, whirlpools, waterspouts, and a good bit of flying thrown in. Only when a believer has anchored him/herself securely into their relationship with Jesus… will these celestial contemplative sections of John sort themselves out. (Of course, no one comes to “harm” reading in any part of the Gospels! Jesus’ Spirit is so there, all the time, to take them in hand. But they’ll just be “confused” when they’re way over their heads.)

https://churchsetfree.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/discipling-and-new-believers/

I will boast in the Lord my God

Just sharing a post from several years ago, about a song I believe deserves a place in our ever changing and rather intangible collection of great praise and worship songs for Christ’s Body here on earth.

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 skil…

Source: I will boast in the Lord my God