Guest Worship Artist Matthew Smith and Indelible Grace

On September 13 and 14 Matthew Smith and Indelible Grace will be at Covenant Life Church leading us in worship.

Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith

Here is his bio from his website:

Matthew Smith is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who writes brand new music to centuries-old hymn texts.  He is a founding member of the Indelible Grace community, whose work has drawn acclaim across denominational lines and is used in churches around the world.  Born out of a college ministry, the reimagined hymns have found wide acceptance both among college students and the church at large, joining people who desire to honor tradition with those who want a modern musical approach.  His latest album is Hiding Place.

On Saturday, September 13 Matthew will lead a free, one-hour worship seminar from 5-6 pm, and then Indelible Grace will join Matthew for a Night of Reimagined hymns from 7-8:30 pm.  A love offering will be taken during the concert, but admission is free.  Sunday, September 14, Matthew Smith and Indelible Grace will participate in the Worship services at 9 and 11:15.

His music has a bluesy, earthy feel, matching his rich baritone voice well.  I particularly enjoy the Hammond B-3 strains and tube-y hollow-body guitar on his Communion Hymn: Lord Jesus, Comfort Me.

At the seminar Matthew will share his vision for re-imagining old hymn texts.  Worship leaders, songwriters, and musicians are welcome to attend, as well as any who want to learn more about what Matthew is doing.

For more information, go to the event Facebook page.  For more information on Indelible Grace, visit their website igracemusic.com.  I hope to see you there!

Advertisements

2013 in review

Happy New Year, everyone! The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. Thanks for following and reading!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Benefit of Writing Psalms as a Devotional Practice

From time to time I have written on various devotional techniques, and today I want to share one that has become a favorite of mine: psalm writing.

notebook and pencil

Why Write Psalms

A psalm is simply a sacred song or hymn, particularly modeled after the psalms of David.  While many psalms are laments, and sometime I will write one of those, many psalms are pure adoration and praise.

I find my attitude and spiritual perspective improve greatly when I spend concentrated time praising God. Praising God means focusing completely on who God is and what he has done. During this time I do not confess my sins, thank God for personal blessings, or ask him to answer my requests. This time is devoted to recognizing God for who he is and what he has done.

I can begin writing a psalm of praise in a spiritual dull and ambivalent mood, and by the time I am done my spirit has been lifted, encouraged, and strengthened simply because I have been reminding myself who God is. This is why God told his people to always be talking about God and his works; we are encouraged through who he is.

How to Write a Psalm

Begin by choosing an attribute of God, and then start writing down the ways God shows himself in your life as that attribute.

That’s all.

This is not a time to be grammatically perfect, but to be perfect in spirit.

An Example

Here is a psalm of praise I wrote earlier this month. On this particular day I decided to focus on God as my Provider. Here is what I wrote, with only one name edited out for privacy.

God, you are my Provider
on my left hand and on my right;
in difficulty and ease
you fill my heart and life with good things.
I will meditate on all your wondrous deeds.

When I was depressed and overwhelmed
by my guilt and shame
you sent encouraging angels
and friends to comfort me.
When I was struggling under poisonous stares,
you were my shelter,
my umbrella in the rain of accusations.
When I needed nothing material
you were the satisfaction of my heart
and the source of all my good.
When I was desperate and without hope
you became my hope and assurance.
You showed me a way when I could not see
and gave me a hope I did not know.
I was rejected, and you welcomed me
and said, “I was rejected, too.”
I was distraught, and you encouraged me,
for you wrestled with God at Gethsemane.
I was poor and you made me rich;
your people brought me money out of their abundance
and paid my bills.
I was tired from weeping and despair,
and you revived my spirit.

All my life you have been my good;
and nothing good have you withheld.
Your grace and mercy are greater than I know
and more integral than I can express.
You are the blood in my veins and the breath in my mouth,
O God, my Strength and my Provider.

What attribute of God would be most beneficial for you to meditate on?

How to See Blocked Out Dates When Scheduling in Planning Center Services

Our church uses Planning Center Services to schedule volunteers and plan worship services.  Under Services volunteers can actually block out dates that they will be gone so that schedulers do not waste time by scheduling people for dates when they will be gone.

Planning Center Services

Recently I found myself scheduling people for dates they had blocked out. Needless to say, I was frustrated. My volunteers were doing what I asked them to do by blocking out the dates they are gone, but I was not seeing that information when I added them to a service. Not seeing this information also added lots of time to my scheduling because I had to fix the mistakes as people informed me they would be gone.

I fired off a quick email to Planning Center Services tech support and I received a prompt reply. Their answer was simple and direct and I learned something I have not known since I began using Planning Center.

In order to demonstrate what I learned, let’s add someone to a service.

I want to add a Presenter for Announcements on July 21, so let’s go to the service flow page for that date and open up the “Presenter” positions category on the left of the screen. There I find “1 person needed” under “Announcements.”

Planning Center Services - Service Flow - "1 person needed"

When I click on the “1 person needed” window, this is what I see:

Planning Center Services - Select People for Announcements Window - no blocked out dates

In reality four of those people are unavailable, but I will not be able to see that information until I fix a small issue.

In order to see who is unavailable, I need to click “cancel” on this window and return to the main service flow page. When I get there I need to click on the Service Time in the upper left hand corner:

Planning Center Services - Service Flow - Service Times

After clicking on the Service Time I see this window:

Planning Center Services - Editing Time Window - unchecked Assigned People Categories

You can see the red oval around the unchecked boxes. In order for me to see the blocked out dates when I schedule someone their category of service needs to be checked here.

Planning Center Services - Editing Time Window - checked Assigned People Categories

Now that the categories are checked off, I am going to return to the service flow page and click on the “1 person needed” window under “Announcements” to see if I see anything different:

Planning Center Services - Select People for Announcements - blocked out datesNow I can clearly see that four of the people have blocked out July 21 on their calendar and I will be able to avoid scheduling them.

Thanks to Planning Center Services’ prompt tech support I am up and running smoothly again.

When you create a Service Time, Rehearsal Time, or Other Time, make certain you have checked the boxes for the relevant “Assigned People Categories” to make certain you can see their blocked out dates while scheduling.

Are You a Needy Person?

Most of us know at least one person who is “needy.” Needy people

  • Take more than they give
  • Base their self-image on the opinions of others
  • Take advantage of friendships
  • Do not have appropriate emotional and personal boundaries

Truly needy people often cannot recognize their own behavior for what it is.

Every one of us, however, is a “needy” person spiritually.  

Spiritually we all

  • Are completely reliant on Christ for salvation
  • Are completely dependent on Christ to provide for us
  • Are lost without Christ’s guidance throughout life
  • Are ultimately unfulfilled and defeated without Christ

I consistently have to remind myself that I need God. Recently a new worship song on the scene has been helping me to remember that I need Christ every day.

All the People Said Amen

Lord, I Need You, recorded on All the People Said Amen by Matt Maher and written by Christy Nockels, Daniel Carson, Jesse Reeves, Kristian Stanfill, and Matt Maher, is reminiscent of the classic hymn I Need Thee Every Hour (a favorite of mine), yet remains completely original, borrowing only a few lines from the hymn.

Here are the lyrics:

Lord, I come, I confess
bowing here I find my rest.
Without You I fall apart;
You’re the one that guides my heart.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You,
ev’ry hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh, God, how I need You.

Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more;
where grace is found is where You are.
Where You are, Lord, I am free;
holiness is Christ in me.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You,
ev’ry hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh, God, how I need You.

So teach my song to rise to You
when temptation comes my way;
when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You.
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You,
ev’ry hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh, God, how I need You.

You can buy the recording here.

In recent weeks this song has given me a lot of encouragement.  The words, “My one defense, my righteousness,” and “Jesus, you’re my hope and stay,” have been a rallying cry for me.

A few items are of particular interest to me as a musician, worship leader, and composer:

  1. The melody remains low for the first verse , the first chorus, and half of the second verse. The melody rises on the lyrics “Where you are,” highlighting the distance between us and Christ and how Christ lifts us up.
  2. The bridge, with the lyrics “So teach my song,” beautifully paints a picture of how we stumble through temptation and difficulty. The meter throughout the song is 4/4, but here the meter alternates between 3/4 and 4/4, giving the music a halting cadence.
  3. “Where grace is found is where you are” is terrible grammar, but the lyrics perfectly communicate that Christ is the source of all grace. If you experience grace, you are experiencing God.
  4. The melody spans a 12th, making the song difficult to place vocally and sing, but I am certain this song will be sung by many congregations in spite of that because of the incredible composition that it is.

This song is a beautiful reminder of our need for Christ.

What songs remind you of your need for Christ?

Music Preference in Worship: Name It and Claim It

Recently I wrote a post on musical style and the response was astounding. In almost two years of blogging that post received the most hits. Why is that? Why is style such a hot topic in worship?

The answer is an often-reviled word: preference. 

The word “preference” is often spat out rather than spoken. In arguments “their” preferences are pitted against “my” preferences, “they” get preferential treatment, and so on and so forth.

Preference is getting a bad rap. The truth is, we all have preferences, and that is a God-given gift.

Think about it. If Adam had not had preferences, how would he have named all of the animals?

God: “Adam, go name the animals.”

Adam: “Nah. I want to lay out and catch some rays. You go name the animals. I don’t care.”

Really? Take a moment and name all of the animals you can remember. Listen to the incredible diversity of sounds coming from the different names. Listen to how each name describes the animal owning that name.

Then God created Eve and Adam immediately gave her a name, as he had done for every other creature on earth.

Adam cared, and he had preferences from the beginning. You and I also have preferences.

Here are some of mine:

  • I prefer to live to eat rather than eat to live.
  • I prefer to stay up late.
  • I prefer contemporary and modern art over representational art.
  • I prefer Betthoven and Prokofiev over Bach and Mozart.
  • I prefer steak that is medium to medium rare.
  • I prefer congregational songs with ranges from c-d1.
  • I prefer U2, Coldplay, and Norah Jones.
  • I prefer worship services brimming with art, media, music, and stories.

Does this mean I limit myself to these preferences? Absolutely not. I limit my eating, try to get to bed at a reasonable time, listen to many styles of music, eat meat as long as it isn’t crawling off my plate, and enjoy leading worship and visiting churches even when very little art is present in worship

What are your preferences?

Every human being has preferences, and the sooner we become comfortable with our preferences the sooner we can move on to more meaningful discussions.

Discussions such as:

  • Who has God called us to be as people and as a church?
  • What is my role in this church?
  • What is my role in the world?
  • How can I reach the next generation?
  • How can I love the older generations?
  • What can I set aside in deference to my younger or older brother or sister in Christ?

The evil one likes to take the very things God has given us for our good and turn them against us. Instead of letting the evil one get the best of us, let’s reclaim preference for the beautiful description of individuality God meant it to be. Let’s not use preference as a weapon.

List some of your preferences below. Keep the language factual and not argumentative.

A Tension to Manage or a Problem to Solve?

Do you know that some tensions are never meant to disappear?

Here are a few of the tensions we experience in life:

  • Relational tension. Human beings are imperfect, and so tensions will arise within friendships and marriages.
  • Work tension. At work we may discover that our bosses have different expectations of us than we do, or we may have a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Cultural and Social tension. Christ-like living is contrary to many of society’s norms; choosing Christ often means choosing conflict with our society. Artists sometimes have to choose between creating art they can sell and art that says something meaningful.
  • Parental tension. As parents we are called to first lead, train and discipline our children; friendship is secondary, although very important. Choosing to parent well often means choosing to create tension with our children for their own good.
  • Theological tension. God is sovereign, but bad stuff happens to good people. God has chosen a good path for us, but human beings have free will. Many issues in theological discussions involve tension.

Some of these tensions can be resolved.

  • Relational tension. Christ calls us to take the initiative in making peace with those who have sinned against us. We need to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, and we need to confront those who have wronged us. In marriage spouses must constantly be checking to make certain they are speaking the same language and holding similar expectations of each other.
  • Work tension. If we have conflict with a co-worker we need to resolve it. If we discover that our expectations do not match those of our boss, we need to take action to bring our expectations into alignment.

Some of these tensions, however, cannot be resolved.

  • Marriage is the combination of two individual people with differing tastes and preferences. While hopefully a marrying couple has many of these in common, some differences will always exist. One may like beef and the other one chicken. One is a night owl and the other is a morning person.
  • As Christians we are called to engage culture and make an impact for Christ. Because culture has so many negative components, however, many Christians try to completely disengage from culture. I believe Christ’s call to be “in and not of” the world requires us to walk the difficult grey area of engaging culture while remaining firm in our beliefs and principles.
  • Parenting is tough. Being a friend and support to your children while disciplining and guiding them is a difficult tension to manage. As a father I want nothing more than to play with my kids and give them everything they want because I love them so much. Because I love them, however, I have to discipline them and train them.
  • God is a Spirit. Jesus revealed himself in the form of a man, but he was fully God as well as fully man. When we become Christians the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us power to overcome the evil one. We are in a spiritual battle for the souls of people. The way to life is narrow and few find it. Those who truly receive Christ’s offer of salvation will spend eternity in heaven, and those who reject Christ will spend eternity in hell. Theology and the spiritual life is full of huge tensions, most of which are beyond our comprehension.

Deciding which issues are tensions to manage and which issues are problems we can solve is in itself a tension to manage.

Christ, however, enables us to experience his peace in every situation because his peace is based on him. Christ does not change. Christ was, is and will be forever the same. For that reason life with Christ is peace and joy, even in the midst of some of the hardest tensions life can throw at us.

Our goal, then, is not to resolve every tension, but to find peace and rest in Christ, who is the calm in the middle of every situation.

Are you trying to find peace by resolving unresolvable tensions, or are you finding peace in Christ, who does not change?