Friday, August 2, 2019

The Frustration of Music

Music is a great distraction. Done strategically, it has the ability to alter our emotions and transfix our attention, even directing our thoughts, transporting us to a place beyond our personal situations.
Like fast food, caffeine, drugs, sex and wealth, music, or particular styles of music can be addictive. The "wrong" style of music for a particular person may also be abhorrent or repulsive.
Being creatures of habit, and of acquired taste, we may develop a love for certain music styles simply by repeated or early exposure.The repeated exposure may be the result of the influence of others we admire or who have influence over us, including the musicians themselves, but also our peers, family and friends and contemporary media.
There is a mystery in the music itself. The combination of notes, chord progressions, melodic phrases, repetition, rhythmic and percussive elements, the combinations of various instruments, and other textures, the rise and fall of melodies, the contrasts in volumes, tempo, keys, dissonance and sweet harmonies, and so many other elements, when used effectively, enter a persons conscious and subconscious mind. The music can unify both performers and listeners, and there is the potential for rapturous levels of pleasure.
But the correct formula is itself a mystery. Yes, songwriters, composers, producers, and various other musical artists appear to find the secret recipe that has millions tapping their feet and longing for more, but that “formula” sometimes seems too simple, and other times, beyond the reach of ordinary people. And those who at one time appear to have the formula, later seem to loose it. Yes, expensive advertising campaigns flooding as much media as possible, help to bring certain music to people’s attention, but sometimes, a simple melody from very humble and obscure beginnings triggers an avalanche of addiction from the music craving public, defying all rules of advertising and promotion.
The truth is that we are creatures of music. It is in us, in our DNA. Before we learn to speak, we are bobbing to the gentle melodies of our parents lullabies, maybe even in the womb. And that soothing sound can calm a child in pain, in hunger, in suffering. And we as adults, can be soothed in the midst of suffering and pain by the sound of a familiar melody. The right music influences our behaviour in lots of ways that commercial industry has tapped into.

During Corporate worship, when a body of believers joins in song, the words and melody can have a powerfully uplifting and unifying effect. The experience of being one voice amongst a choir or simply being surrounded by voices in harmony or unison can be strongly uplifting. Being one violin in an orchestra has a similar effect.

It is accepted that to some degree, music is almost always part of the gathering together of Christians.

The New Testament exhorts us to share in spiritual singing.

Today, music has become a powerful stakeholder in the western church. The commercialisation of Christian music has raised the stakes of Sunday worship leading, and added a dimension that is in many ways unhelpful, and certainly a trap and a frustration.

The music industry has led to wealth for many stakeholders, and this is attractive to many, including Christians.

The perception that great performances, great songs, and swelling crowds leads to some form of success, including financial success, may divide the attention of worship leaders, faith based musicians and songwriters, including myself.
Envy, greed, anger and pride can muddy the crystal waters of Sunday worship.

Promising amateur musical Christians can become disheartened..;

"Surely my faith is genuine, my gift in music from God, and my dedication to the art sincere.
But what separates me from the “successful” artists or song writers?
Is it my equipment, my church, my style, my abilities, my geographic isolation, my attitude, my lack of financial support, my age, my gender, my appearance, my cultural heritage, my denomination, my relationships (or lack of- with the movers and shakers) or something else?


Are others making sure that I don’t make it for financial or other reasons?

Or is what i do simply not that good?"

So many frustrating possibilities.

And what of the recurring dream that just when you have the opportunity to share a song with someone “important” something doesn’t work, like a guitar lead, or a speaker or a microphone, and the opportunity dissolves before your very eyes.

Meanwhile people who are younger, much younger, less experienced, and less mature in faith become megastars and icons in the "church".

It is such a frustration and a trap.

Could it be that God himself frustrates every effort?

Maybe, like Cain’s offering, our musical offering is not acceptable to God?

All this is truly within the realms of possibility.

God has every right to lift up certain songs and certain people, and allow others to remain obscure. Yet, in my reading of the scriptures, it seems the people of faith are subject to many frustrations and sufferings, that ultimately God uses in unexpected ways, significant ways, important ways, that do not result in financial security or wealth, but rather spiritual security and peace.

Maybe it’s OK to sing the popular songs and overlook the meatier ones. Maybe it’s ok to be an excellent artist or songwriter, yet to never receive accolades. Maybe accolades and “success” lead to dangerous departures from faith, at least temporarily.

And maybe our most useful function in God’s world, occurs in obscurity.

There is a mystery in music, as well as a trap and frustration,

Yet it is in our DNA, and is to be celebrated and enjoyed along with all other good gifts that come from above.

Ultimately, music is a free gift from God like oxygen and water. Yes it can be bottled, labeled marketed and sold, with great success, but it is also available free, in large quantities, and at high quality. 

If people use our music, it is a privilege, and what is ours, is only borrowed from the Lord, and ultimately His.

Yes, artists have legal hold over their creations, and I am not here trying to justify illegal downloading. Stealing is a sin.

God knows how to provide for our needs, and in particular, for artistic believers. But he doesn't promise monetary wealth for anyone, in fact, the New Testament repeatedly warns against this trap. 

What we as Christian artists of any form should be seeking is simply contentment, and the good use of our skills, as well as the appropriate honing of our skills, as well as right relationships with our circle of friends colleagues family and church family.

If we are writing or choosing songs for Christians to sing, we should be sober, mature, thoughtful, and selfless in this role. 

When Jesus asked Peter if he truly loved him, the outcome of this love was not to feed himself, but rather to feed Jesus lambs.

This is how we serve God with our various gifts.


And God himself is the source of all true music

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Relevance

Having just visited another small rural church in NSW, I was not at all surprised that my wife and myself, in our mid 50’s, even apart from our adult children, were the youngest people at the church service. 
Though I could have been, I was not disappointed.
As I mature in age and character, I am learning to accept the reality of most people’s situations.
I think it is likely that most average, main stream Protestant churches in outer suburban and rural locations are made up of smaller, ageing congregations, meeting in historical church buildings with many empty pews.

How significant is the lack of younger generations?

Does this imply a failure in theology, planning, integration, teaching, training, zeal, true (as opposed to nominal) faith?

Or is this the judgment of God now upon the church, for our secret past sins?

Is the current church simply a historical remnant of an ideology doomed to failure?

Could a new generation of fervent believers reverse or improve the state of a dying church?

Or is the reality of the future church in Australia to be the ongoing ministry of Pentecostal or para Pentecostal movements such as Hillsong, and the inevitable demise of mainstream denominations, some slower than others?

My honest answer is I don’t know.

But what I do know is that the elderly congregants at this mornings service were actively and joyfully involved in the celebration of Gods word and in the sharing of communion.

Their (our) age does not disqualify us from relevance in God’s family.
In fact it was elderly people who first recognised the holiness and true identity of Jesus as an 8 day old infant ( Simeon and Anna) in the gospel of Luke.

What if God is happy to “waste” the skills of thoroughly trained and gifted ministers on small, frail, elderly congregations?

Who can say that God cares more for young families than elderly people?

Does a large congregation made up of employed people with children deserve more faithful and theologically relevant teaching, as well as better sound systems and general use of technology, than older, smaller, dying congregations?

Society today would say yes.

But God, what would God say?

If we were to take the comparison across into offensive territory, we could suggest that these small, elderly, dying congregations should simply be closed, officially, after all, they “serve no useful purpose”, and they are clearly on the way out. Like euthanasia for the terminally ill, these geriatric meetings should simply have their life support turned off.

Yes, I have suddenly diverted to that morally loaded issue of euthanasia.

Is it even possible that a church would consider the case for mercy killing? Sadly, the answer in Australia at present is yes.


“The smouldering wick he will not put out and the bruised reed he will not break.”
“Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there”.
Does God write-off the elderly, the feeble in mind and/or body?

The scriptures (God’s word) sound a resounding “no”, to those who willingly and faithfully look for His answer.

For even from frail and feeble hearts, God receives true praise. And this sacrifice of praise is acceptable to him. While ever we have life and breath, let us honour the name of our wonderful Saviour, as well as the faith of our brothers and sisters, no matter what age.

May God flood our land with a hunger for righteousness, drawing all people to himself.




Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Measuring Stick

You can only measure to the accuracy of your gauge. You can’t measure fractions of a millimetre if your ruler only has centimetre markings.
A hair’s width does sometimes make a significant difference.
At other times it makes no difference at all.

Purity in manufacturing calls for high degrees of accuracy in measurement and discernment. For example, the silicon crystals in electrical semiconductors must be greater than 99.9999% pure (and the impurities are very specifically added.)

But what about purity in our moral beings.

What gauge or discernment do we use for these measurements?

To measure centimetres accurately the markings on a ruler need to be accurately and evenly spaced. What if only some of the markings were accurate but not all of them?
Though some measurements would seem correct on our ruler another ruler would read differently. Which one could be relied upon?

This is the problem with our sin, our moral compass, and our bias.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, who believed their moral compass was precise and finely tuned, that they would strain at a gnat yet swallow a camel.

In other words, their judgement of sin and purity was simply to their own liking and they were blind or indifferent to the weightier matters of the law.

Others of us know clearly that our moral compass is basically non-existent, but we take refuge in the knowledge that others have committed what we believe are far greater crimes, and that if anyone were to call us into question, we could pull out our knowledge of their failings and somehow nullify their argument.

But when the Lord, the Holy Spirit appears and acts in our lives, our biased, inaccurate, weak moral compasses are consumed by holy fire.

Suddenly we are undone, as we are convicted of guilt, judgement and righteousness (Gods holy, utterly pure and impeccable moral standards) and we can only cry out; “who will save me from this body of death?”

Thanks be to God, who so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The scum of the earth.


What if I suggested that there was an apostle, one of those godly men, hand-picked by Jesus, that everyone hated, not only in his own time, but even down through history, and especially today, especially amongst the modern church?

Who do you think I would be referring to?

Well there was a man named Judas, who was chosen by Jesus, and who, we know, in the end betrayed him, and later, out of uncontainable remorse (but not repentance) killed himself.

Despite the fact that Judas did not become an apostle, he is not the one I am referring to. 

(An apostle refers to one of those significant people, who were part of the initial formation of the church at Pentecost, were eyewitnesses of Jesus, and upon whose teachings the whole church is built. The best example is Peter.)

Yes, Peter is probably the most famous apostle.

But who is the most infamous, the most controversial, the most hated, even in his own time, even by the church, then and now?

Of course, I am referring to Paul of Jesus (Saul of Tarsus).

As I re-read the book of Acts, I am again transfixed by this man chosen by God. Chosen not because of his faithfulness, or abilities, as he is first introduced as a key enemy of the Christian church, and all who believed in Jesus. He was passionately on a mission to find and arrest, and even kill Christians for their offensive seeming irreverence of Moses and everything Jewish, and their delusional belief in a self-acclaimed religious charlatan called Jesus. This cult was labelled the “Nazarene cult”. How could anything good come from Nazareth?

Yet, Saul, of all people, was stopped in his tracks by a blinding light, the Lord Jesus who clearly identifies himself. And Saul was left blinded, with specific instructions for his future. From this point forward, Saul, who later became known as Paul, was single minded, and unswervable in his mission to give witness to, and preach the foolish, offensive yet powerful message of forgiveness of sins that comes through trusting in the name of Jesus, the chosen one of God, who will soon appear to judge the living and the dead.

Paul was willing to suffer hatred, humiliation, imprisonment, stoning, slander and even shipwrecks in order to go where he believed God was leading him. Even with repeated warnings from his dear friends that he would suffer imprisonment and death, he stubbornly returned to Jerusalem, where he was quickly arrested and falsely accused.

Paul was even willing to go and preach to the people that no-one in their right-jewish mind would go to. The gentiles. That's us. To Jews in those days, the gentiles were unbelieving pagans, not worthy of true religion. It would be like throwing pearls before swine. Thankfully that did not stop him.

What was his motive?

Was it money?

Yes, he was eager to collect provisions for the church in Jerusalem which, by implication was suffering poverty. (But not for himself)

Was it fame?

Yes, he was willing to refer to himself as the top of the pile. The chief of sinners.

Was it sex?

Yes, he was quick to point out to young men that it was better to marry than burn with passion. But for those that were like him, it was better to stay single, and be single minded in serving the Lord. Because having a wife or a husband seemed to allow in the worries of the world.

It was Paul who wrote the majority of the new testament. Probably much of it from time imprisoned.

His most beautiful writing must be the chapter on Love, in the 13th chapter of 1Corinthians.

His most deeply theological writing must be the book of Romans. (Even Peter admits that his writings are hard to understand).

And his most hated writing today must be that of the role of women in the church, followed closely by his specific warnings about the sin of homosexual acts. (He never highlighted homosexual acts above other sins such as dishonouring of ones parents)

Why is it that this man suffered as he did?

Even when he was arrested in Jerusalem, it seems as though the church there abandoned him, having his own nephew come to his aid and help avert an ambush that would have killed him. Though they celebrated his mission to the gentiles, did they ever really get over his persecution starting with the death of Stephen?

Did they feel his sins had finally caught up with him, and it was his turn to suffer what he himself had inflicted on the church previously? (This is pure conjecture on my part)

God had plans for, and reassured him that he would witness before Caesar himself.

Did Paul ever become disillusioned?

My reading of Acts as well as all of his letters suggests no.

The closest we come to is Paul’s words that he pleaded with God three times to have his “stake in the flesh” removed, a messenger of Satan, something that caused him continual suffering. What this was, we don’t actually know, but he found acceptance knowing that God’s grace was more than enough, and that this pain was actually a blessing that would prevent pride. Paul could so easily have had pride in all he achieved even in his own life time.

His own words were “To live is Christ, to die is gain”.

In other words, while ever he had life and breath, he would gladly witness to the truth of Jesus crucified, risen, and glorified at God’s right hand.

And this he did.

And what of the signs and wonders?  At one point after he healed a cripple in the name of Jesus, the crowd wanted to worship him and his companion Barnabas as the gods Hermes and Zeus. But Paul and Barnabas refused, tearing their clothes. (That went quite badly leading to a near death experience. Was he dead or not, after being stoned?, you be the judge.)

Even his shadow and his aprons and handkerchiefs had power to heal.

How unbelievable it is that today, our modern church scholars so easily dismiss this precious instrument of Jesus.

How sad it is that many in today’s western church ridicule his teachings.

What if we, in raising ourselves above this humble, diligent, committed, obedient and loving servant of our Lord Jesus, experience what those seven sons of Sceva did, taking on themselves the ability to pronounce the name of Jesus, whom Paul preached, independent of Paul’s and Jesus authority?

The demon they were trying to cast out said it clearly; “Jesus I know, Paul I’ve heard of, but who are you?, and they were beaten badly.

I worry that some of our theologians, teachers and leaders of today believe that one day they will stand before the Lord and be rewarded for “sorting out” the “erroneous” teachings of Paul.

Instead, their work will be burned up, and they themselves will escape but only just, like someone escaping through the flames.

Paul himself warns us about building carefully on the foundation that he laid, which is Christ, that he too, is Holy Spirit filled, and that he himself carries the marks of Christ.

Yes, Paul referred to himself as the chief of sinners, the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world, and never allowed himself to forget that he once persecuted the church, which by default, according to Jesus’ own words, was persecuting Jesus himself.

And Jesus did show Paul how much he would suffer for his name.

Yet, if there is one man to whom Jesus would say “Well done my good and faithful servant” I believe that man would be Saul of Tarsus, Paul of Jesus., the Apostle to the gentiles, the Apostle to us.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

I Stand In Awe.


I stand in awe of the goodness of God.
Everything good comes from heaven above,
Pardoning grace, mercy and love
flow from the throne of our wonderful God.

Though I was fallen you lifted me up,
all my unworthiness washed in the blood.
Once I was lost, you sought me out,
now I am safe in the arms of our Lord.

Every eye will see, every heart will know
the glorious truth.
When the heavens burst from beneath the feet
of our Saviour, the King,
All will cry, “Lord!”

Sing, O my soul, of the goodness of God
All that I’ve needed, so free from above
Pardoning grace, mercy and love,
Gifts from the throne of our wonderful God

Friday, April 19, 2019

The cup Jesus drank-Good Friday 2019


John 18:11 "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

Jesus mind and attitude were firmly made up. He would accept the cup.

What was this cup?

When Jesus prayed in the Garden, in Luke, he asks, Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.

Most agree that “the cup” referred to the suffering and death he was to experience.

Once his prayer was completed, Jesus was able to complete his mission, and drink this cup.

An when we as Christians dink from the cup at communion, we are also identifying ourselves as Jesus disciples, submitting to God’s will in our lives, recognizing Jesus great sacrifice.

So Jesus knew what was going to happen, he knew the time had arrived, and he was willing to face it, even without the support of his friends and family.

No-one really understood the absolute need for Jesus to be tried and executed.

Certainly Judas was willing to betray him. Peter wanted Jesus to win an earthly victory with his great abilities, wisdom and influence. He was even willing to resort to violence. And when this was rejected by Jesus, Peter rejected him.

His mother Mary and his aunty, the other Mary’s and John looked helplessly on at the cross. Probably confused as well as distraught. Surely he took his faith too far?

What of that young man that decided to go onto Sentinel island?

What of Israel Falau?

Surely these people are taking their faith too far?

What of Jesus, who showed so much promise, so much understanding, who gained so much of a following, and was able to do such amazing miracles, what a waste of a life, and at such a young age.

You see no one was planning on grace, on full forgiveness, on a resurrection. No one.

And what of us

Would we have had any moral power to hold back from anger, disappointment, offence, shame, and hurt?

Would we do any better than the religious leaders? The political leaders? The criminals crucified with him? Those watching him die? The disciples?

The answer is clearly no. We would be no better.

But what actually happened on that cross?

Yes, an innocent man was condemned to death. An innocent and good man.
But was this not the cross of all history?
Is this not the black hole of the universe that sucks in all sin into a gravitational force that no sin, once within its realm can escape?

Not only sin, but sinners are dragged into this powerful irresistible vortex, destroying us and all our plans for self aggrandisement.

We are drawn in with our enemies and friends. People we hate, and who hate us, and the vortex forces us to face each other and our consciences, and confess that we are despicable in our pretences.

The super tsunami of pure wrath-love falls from that cross destroying us, and all of our plans for greatness, security, success. We are left crippled, disabled, with a desperate need for righteousness, a hunger for holiness, a place to rest from our continual painful failures.

The cross emits an aroma, one that God our Father breathes in with deep satisfaction, because he planned it and sent his dearest Son, who shared his deep longing to redeem the lost.

The cross is the place where we are washed, sanctified, justified. Transformed.

The rebel is disarmed. The robber repents, the soldier yields, the sinner confesses, the proud-religious are silenced, and the guilty-condemned find peace.

The full price for all sin, for all time is completely wiped out.
It’s not like the millions of dollars offered by billionaires to help restore a priceless work of history to its former glory,
It is a mountain range of gold offered for the mean two-dollar shop of Satan.

We are not worthy to be part of what God has done, but God has come to us and deliberately drawn us into his loving family.

When Jesus drank this cup he did it for Peter, for his mother, for Pilate, for Nicodemus, for the high priest, and for us. But he also did it in loving obedience to his Father, because he longed to serve his Father like no other son has ever served any other father before or since.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Becoming

Difficult people are not hard to find. At school, at work, at the shopping centre, at church, and most often, in the mirror. The problem is our personal bias tends to only see the good in ones self, (except when we go the opposite way and abhor ourselves.) The command to love your neighbour as yourself was not at all a command to self love, new age religion turned it into that. We are very good at self love, no matter our flaws.
We are experts at it. I would even suggest that when we are self abhorent, we are still seeking to soothe our conscience.

But back to the issue of difficult people, in particular, ourselves. What does God do with difficult people? Does he tolerate them? Does he love them? Does he expect major changes in response to his love? Does he grow impatient with us if we are slow to transform?

Saul, of the old testatment is an interesting example. In contrast to David, who was a man after his own heart, Saul was a loveable rebel. All that he did wrong, he seemed to do almost accidentally, or with some good intentions. But David, on the other hand, when he sinned, he really did it badly, and deliberately.

Yet God had mercy on them both, in various ways.

God's mercy to Saul seemed to come to him through David, who was never willing to strike "the Lord's annointed". God's mercy to David, came through Nathan the prophet, who opened his eyes to the deliberate killing of Uriah and his adultery with Bathsheba, yet the second child to that union was Solomon.

Before I make any conclusions, I want to look at how we deal with difficult people.

I myself have a tendancy to avoid, or try to expedite my dealings with difficult people. I don't expect them to change, and see them as a necessary but less enjoyable part of life. I certainly don't wish to live with these people. Sadly some people would say they are married to them.

In other words, my love is not as strong for difficult people as it is for "nice" people.

Is this Godly?

How strong is God's love for difficult people?

The answer to this question is very important when we realise that we are the difficult ones.

Were the 12 disciples somehow more gifted than the rest of israel at the time of Jesus ministry?

Surely if Jesus were to hand pick his followers, he would have included John the Baptist ?

But Jesus did hand pick his followers, and it included Judas Iscariot who betrayed him, and Peter who dissowned him.

When I meditate on mself being a difficult person, and God choosing me as a child and follower of Jesus, I consider that God's love for me must be independent of my personality and character.

And I do not think that God just chooses the ugly ducklings because he loves imperfection.

He truly loves all of us, and loves us through and through, and is also frank with us regarding our shortcomings. Our shortcomings must be dealt with, but they are dealt with by him, by his transforming grace, not by our self improvement efforts.

Yes St Paul tells us that he presses on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of him.

And that pressing on, is to gain a better understanding of the grace that God so freely lavishes upon us.

There will be a great transformation, and that will occur when Jesus appears, as he will suddenly transform our lowly bodies ( and personality and character) to be like his.


He is able to do that. He will do that.
Soon.


And in the meantime, we are willing to submit ourselves to his wonderful plan for our lives, which includes loving one another.

And when we aren't looking, we very occasionally get glimpses of the person we are going to become.