Easter more important than Christmas

Manger to Cross

Easter is this weekend. Like most Christian “holidays” it is unlikely that it is actually the anniversary of the weekend Jesus died and rose again, merely the week we celebrate or remember that event. The origin of the word ‘Easter’ is from the same word that gives us ‘oestrogen’ and is a pointer back to the original celebration of this weekend, the first full moon of spring, celebrating fertility. That is why we have rabbits and eggs this weekend, symbols of fertility and new life.

I guess I should call it ‘passion week’ to bring the focus back to Jesus, but people still have Christ in Christmas and have little knowledge of Him at that time, so I doubt it is significant.

God created the world and created humans to live in harmony with him. But He gave people free will, to choose to love Him. But inevitably we sinned and rejected God. God could have wiped out the human race at that point and started all over again, but instead He decided to save us. He chose to save us from the punishment due to us for our rebellion from God, and from the need to continue to sin, to punish ourselves.

He did this through Jesus, his death and resurrection. When you mention the man Jesus, you are implying the event we celebrate as Christmas – when Jesus came into the world. He then spent time here on earth, growing up, being in a family, in a community, in a church. Then he spent time teaching, healing and performing the occasional miracle. He spent a lot of time rebuking those in the church who were bringing shame to God and leading his people astray. Then came the time for which God became man – the crucifixion.

On the cross Jesus became the one true sacrifice. He took the punishment we deserve on the cross, and died. We can live freely in the knowledge that sin holds no fear for us. The Jesus rose again, overcoming death starting life eternal. In this manner we too can be reborn into eternity.

So, Jesus purpose in coming was two fold:

  • To reveal God to us.
  • To take away the sins of the world.

If he only did the former, life would still be ruled by the old covenant, sacrifices would be a daily, weekly and yearly ritual and the only way we could know God is through his writings, the Bible. This is all Jesus would have achieved if we had Christmas and not Easter.

But the latter is the reason for Easter and hence, the reason for Christmas, Jesus’ entry into our world. He came to live so that he might die, having done amazing things in the interim. So Easter is the most important time in a Christians year. It is when we truly face our own sin and inadequacy, our need for salvation rather than just a desire to know God.

This weekend I hope people think about the reason Jesus died, our sinfulness. I hope they realise the cost that had to be paid for our sake. I hope they turn away from sin, towards God, in thankfulness. I hope they will see God on judgement day with gladness, not dread.

Word vs Worship

Briefing cover January 2007

January’s issue of the briefing had an in-depth look at the 2006 Hillsong conference and another couple of articles which discuss how different church movements use music in their services. This discussion comes at an interesting time for me as I consider in what direction I should be pushing music at the Toongabbie Anglican church Sunday night service.

My criteria for selecting songs in the past has been, in no particular order:

  • Singable for the congregation
  • Interesting for the musicians
  • Theologically accurate

I’ve struggled in the past with songs that are overly repetitive, are boring to play, that the congregation just don’t participate in or just don’t fit the ‘mood’ of our services. Also songs that are just slabs of bible text or essays on Christianity can be painful to try to play and sing.

I want to be careful in what I write here as I have close friends and family involved at Hillsong and similar churches and I don’t want to be perceived as attacking them or their style. I am merely trying to discover the best and most faithful way I can lead the music team at TAC without endorsing or opposing the opinions held by others.

The articles in The Briefing try to express the attitude that the modern pentecostal and/or charismatic style churches have when they engage in ‘praise and worship’. It is very experiential – by working hard we can create the appropriate environment for God to be present so people can feel His presence. As a result the better the music the closer we are to God and the more impact He can have in our lives.

I may have just butchered that explanation so I may revise it later.

On the other hand, classic evangelical music has been focused on the Word and so the quality of the music being played is less important than being correct in the worshipers attitude and content. Indeed it is my experience that many evangelicals feel music is imposed and artificial and distracts them from focusing on God.

I like music. I like music in church. I like music that talks about God and makes me think about Him, how wonderful He is and the wonderful things He does. I like music in church that helps me remember basic doctrines and passages from the bible.

But I don’t believe we discover God through song. I don’t believe God reveals himself to me more if I am singing than if I am serving Him, or reading His word. I believe God reveals Himself in whatever manner he desires, whatever I happen to be doing at the time is up to Him.

I think there must be a middle position. We sing to encourage each other and to speak out loud how great our God is. I believe we can do that in a way that motivates and encourages the singers, without being either too focussed on the words, or on the experience, instead on the nature of our God and in the company of our Christian family.

I’m not sure if I’ve really declared anything clearly or succinctly or definitively in this post, but I hope I’ve raised some issues and encouraged anyone who might read it to contemplate what they look for or enjoy in music at church. I wrote most of this post over 2 months ago but couldn’t decide if I was happy with it or if it said what I really thought. In the end I guess it is better that it is out there so other people can think about this stuff, even if it isn’t perfect. Then again, until that day comes, which of us is?

Church music

Bass pickup

Lots of church music kind of stuff going on at the moment. We had our New Music Day at church yesterday at which we learned 4 new songs and everybody got a bit of a run through how our PA system works.

The 4 new songs we did were:

  • Awesome God – EMU
  • Before the throne of God – Traditional
  • Take my life – Garage Hymnal
  • The voice of the Lord – EMU

Thanks to God’s providence I’ve also come into possession of the latest “Soul Survivor Songbook” this one is number 4. I look forwards to going through that over the next couple of months.

This week on Sydney Anglicans there is a fair bit of discussion and articles on music in church and musicians and congregations attitudes towards church music.

Music sounds mission alarm Why church musos are brassed off

A different but insightful article about how we might refocus and make our services more relevant: Do you love your church?

I hope everyone is having a good week.

Growth groups

Growth Groups

A couple of years ago, our church followed a lead initiated by the Archbishop of Sydney and renamed our small bible study groups Growth Groups.

This was mainly done to emphasise the purpose of these groups. We do not meet together simply to study the bible, but to grow as people. A secondary motivation is to grow numerically as well, but it is mainly about personal growth.

Also, growth groups aren’t restricted to the traditional format of bible study groups either, although my group has retained that structure. A growth group is a group of usually 6-12 people who meet in a members lounge room. Often the group will pray, examine a book or topic in the bible and enjoy a coffee or snack together.

These groups allow the members to meet up and socialise outside of church. Often at a church meeting it is hard to catch up with more than a few of your acquaintances, let alone have an in depth discussion about problems you might be facing.

An important thing to remember is that a growth group isn’t always going to be about you. It is encouraging others in their Christian walk and letting them encourage you that makes us more effective as a community that is loving and in God’s image.

Romans 15:1-7

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Growth groups are a very important way we progress in our Christian faith. We have had a rule in the band at church that any member who is not in a growth group cannot play in the band. This is a rule that can sometimes appear harsh but is often borne out in fact. If you are not seeking God in your daily life you seldom come to play at church with the correct motivation.

One thing growth groups can sometimes be is introspective rather than outreaching, routine rather than radical. Nonetheless they are an essential means of figuring out what you really believe and a very important step on the path to understanding God better.

I encourage any Christian who isn’t in a growth group to take up the challenge next year and get more involved. For your growth, for your friends’ and for the wider churchs’ as well.

SNC Music Review 2006

Garage Hymnal - Take my life

2006 was an interesting year for music at Toongabbie Anglican Sunday Night Church (SNC). We started the year well, gaining a couple of new musicians and everyone had a pretty good level of enthusiasm. It was great to have Elise come on board as another quality singer and to get Ben and his trombone back. Later in the year Priscilla started playing flute with the band, which was the first time we’ve had a flautist playing at SNC since about 2002.

As the year went on the grind took it’s toll. Some of our musicians were unable to join us for extended periods due to work, study, health, holidays or even missing, broken and stolen instruments. And now we’ve reached the end of the year and we seem to haemorrhaging musicians from next years roster.

New songs we tried in 2006:

  • How great is our God – Chris Tomlin
  • Indescribable – Chris Tomlin
  • Hallelujah to the King of kings – Mark Peterson
  • The power of the cross – Stuart Townend/Keith Getty
  • Christ alone – Garage Hymnal
  • Near – Garage Hymnal
  • Days of Elijah – Robin Mark
  • Your grace is enough – Chris Tomlin
  • Sovereign Hands – Hillsong United
  • All over the world – Matt Redman
  • King of glory – Chris Tomlin

Next year looks like being a difficult year for TAC. Our entire church staff is moving on, along with multiple musicians. I would like to thank everyone that was involved in music at SNC in 2006 for their hard work and effort. God definitely used us for his purposes this year and I pray that next year he will do the same, whomever ends up in the music team in 2007.

If there are any drummers, pianists or guitarists out there looking for a place to worship next year where they can study the Word of God and contribute to a growing community of God’s people, come check us out from 6pm on January 14.

In the meantime please be prayerful in your support of the beach missions taking place over the Christmas break, particularly for Hallidays Point and Harrington SUFM’s. Please pray for the gospel to be clearly proclaimed and that hearts will be opened to the Lord.

Aussie Pilgrims Progress

Spotted and purchased at a Christian book store a couple of weeks ago, another of Kel Richards “Aussie” series of Christian fiction. Not fiction like his detective novels, more fiction like The Message by Eugene Peterson.

Originally I purchased The Aussie Bible a few years ago. I like to think of myself as at least a little sophisticated but I believe most people reading these would find the strine a little over the top.

As an example, view Luke 5:1-11 over on Kel’s site:

When he’d finished, he turned to Simon and said, “Pull out into the deeper water and drop your nets.”
“Fair go!” complained Simon. “We’ve fished all night and haven’t even caught a tiddler. But, okay, if you reckon, well, we’ll do it.”

As I say, mostly okay, a little cringe worthy. But hey, if it brings people to God’s word, it’s all good. The Aussie Bible follows Jesus life & death & resurrection.

Since then, Kel put out a series of short stories, parables and poems called “Aussie Yarns.” In the author’s own words:

“Aussie Yarns is a book of parables and short stories set in Australia, told in Australian language and there is a principle behind every punchline. Each of the short stories and parables sets out to say something about the Christian gospel,” Richards explains.

Well there you go, I might as well have not written that intro. A bit harder to get into, but at least it wasn’t irreverent at all. It mostly follows the story of a country policemen catching out people lying to him.

Apparently Kel has also recently released More Aussie Bible, but I haven’t read it so I don’t feel qualified to venture an opinion. It attempts to retell parts of Genesis, Proverbs, John’s gospel and the first letter of John.

But the book I just finished was Aussie Pilgrims Progress. The original was written in 17th Century olde english by John Bunyan and it a bit difficult to get your head around some parts in 21st Century Australia.

The full text appears to be available on Wikisource. As a teaser, here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a Dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a Man cloathed with Raggs, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own House, a Book in his hand, and a great burden upon his Back. I looked and saw him open the Book, and Read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, what shall I do?
In this plight therefore he went home, and refrained himself as long as he could, that his Wife and Children should not perceive his distress; but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble increased: wherefore at length he brake his mind to his Wife and Children; and thus he began to talk to them, O my dear Wife, said he, and you the Children of my bowels, I your dear friend am in my self undone, by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me: moreover, I am for certain informed, that this our City will be burned with fire from Heaven, in which fearful overthrow, both my self, with thee, my Wife, and you my sweet babes, shall miserably come to ruine; except (the which, yet I see not) some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered. At this his Relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed, that what he had said to them was true, but because they thought, that some frenzy distemper had got into his head: therefore, it drawing towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with all hast they got him to bed; but the night was as troublesome to him as the day: wherefore instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears. So when the morning was come, they would know how he did; and he told them worse and worse. He also set to talking to them again, but they began to be hardened; they also thought to drive away his distemper by harsh and surly carriages to him: sometimes they would deride, sometimes they would chide, and sometimes they would quite neglect him: wherefore he began to retire himself to his Chamber to pray for, and pity them; and also to condole his own misery: he would also walk solitarily in the Fields, sometimes reading, and sometimes praying: and thus for some days he spent his time.

A little hard to understand, no? My Grandpa, who still enjoys his KJV, could probably read it fine. I struggle.

Sydney Anglicans has a page dedicated to Aussie Pilgrim’s Progress. They haven’t got a lot of their own content there, but they’ve reprinted Kel’s introduction and pretty much the first chapter of the book. Have a read. I’ll wait.

Back? As you probably noticed, once your eyesight came back after the massive cringe endured during “As I was carrying my swag on the wallaby track – somewhere out past the back o’Bourke – I came across a big coolibah tree beside a billabong” you probably found it easier to understand the point of the message coming across. It could be you, me or my cousins from out Bathurst way in this story. And I guess that’s where the connection this book makes to me comes from. Someone like me going through similar or worse struggles, but doggedly staying on the path God has given us.

I found the overly obvious naming strategy a bit daggy. I mean, why couldn’t it be “Daryl the boofhead” or “Clarence who was faithful” rather than “Boofhead” and “Faithful”, but I guess that’s a criticism of Bunyan rather than Richards. And I probably don’t have a right to do that, not least until a Christian allegory I write and publish affects so many people and so skilfully describes the challenges that face a Christian on their journey.

You might read the book and meet a character that is a little close for comfort. I know I did. And if we get a wakeup call it was probably worth the effort to read the book. Or even to purchase it if you come across it in a store.

Daily Bread – bible reading resource

Daily Bread Logo

I’ve always struggled with self-discipline when it comes to reading the bible regularly or having a consistent prayer life. I’ve tried numerous different methods over the year but the only constant seems to be me failing to stick with them.

Recently I purchased a copy of Daily Bread. This is a Scripture Union UK publication that contains a short passage from the bible and a short study guide to match. It starts and ends with prayer points and ‘think it through’ exercises which try to make the bible verses relevant to the reader.

It generally takes me 5-10 minutes to do and has been a real encouragement – it is not hard to get into or burdensome on my time, but gives me a daily reminder of what God has done for me and helps me to focus on something other than my own troubles.

Each reading is also available online at Daily Bread UK and to give you an idea of what each study is like, I’ve pasted the one from October 24. It is exactly the same thing in a printed book (that lasts 3 months) that you can purchase here in Australia for $7.95. Be warned, the website is pretty awkward and wants to use pop ups.

I’ve not tried the Matthias studies but I imagine they would be just as helpful to many people. But as Joel said tonight, everyone is different and whatever works for you and helps you be consistent in your study and prayer life is worth doing.

Tuesday 24 October 2006

Bible in a Year: Jeremiah 42,43; John 16

… and a time to be bold

Prepare

Say the ‘Jesus prayer’ to quieten your heart and to help you be open to God: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’

Acts 26:1–18 (NLT)

1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You may speak in your defense.”

So Paul, with a gesture of his hand, started his defense: 2 “I am fortunate, King Agrippa, that you are the one hearing my defense against all these accusations made by the Jewish leaders, 3 for I know you are an expert on Jewish customs and controversies. Now please listen to me patiently!

4 “As the Jewish leaders are well aware, I was given a thorough Jewish training from my earliest childhood among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 If they would admit it, they know that I have been a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of our religion. 6 Now I am on trial because I am looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. 7 In fact, that is why the twelve tribes of Israel worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, O king, they say it is wrong for me to have this hope! 8 Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?

9 “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many of the believers in Jerusalem to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. 11 Many times I had them whipped in the synagogues to try to get them to curse Christ. I was so violently opposed to them that I even hounded them in distant cities of foreign lands.

12 “One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. 13 About noon, Your Majesty, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. 14 We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to fight against my will.’

15 “ ‘Who are you, sir?’ I asked.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 Now stand up! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and my witness. You are to tell the world about this experience and about other times I will appear to you. 17 And I will protect you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am going to send you to the Gentiles, 18 to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’

Explore

‘This King Agrippa was the son of King Herod who persecuted the church in chapter 12, and the great-grandson of the King Herod who tried to kill Jesus as a baby. So his family hadn’t been exactly friendly towards the Christian faith. But that didn’t stop Paul! What did Festus want Paul to explain (25:26)? And what did Paul talk about? Paul holds nothing back from Agrippa – what he used to be like (vs 4,5,9), how he met Jesus (vs 13,14), his calling from God (vs 16–18), the power of the gospel to transform people’s lives. It’s a great story, and if you didn’t have an obviously dramatic conversion yourself, your story might seem tame by comparison. But which is more important – hearing about exciting events, or hearing about the one who is able to bring about such a transformation? Paul is clear that it is Jesus who has made the difference to his life (v 15). Can you share that same confidence even though your story will be different?’

Respond

‘What could you say about your life if you followed the same pattern for your witness as Paul did here? Ask God to make you as bold as Paul in sharing your testimony, and to give you an opportunity this week to do so.’

PraiseHymns

PraiseHymns album cover

Last year for our church carols event we played some contemporary arrangements of classic carols. We got those from the PraiseCarols collection and we plan to use them again this year.

The folk who produced that album and sheet music have released a similar album this year entitled PraiseHymns: Timeless Hymns for Contemporary Worship. If you go to the website you can download a low quality MP3 of all the songs for free. They can do this as they own the arrangement and recording and I imagine most of these songs are public domain, now. Plus their business model is based around selling the sheet music and to a lesser extent the CD’s and backing tracks, so any publicity is good publicity.

The songlist on this album:

  • Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee gospel hip hop
  • To God Be The Glory driving acoustic feel
  • Blessed Assurance medium acoustic drive
  • When I Survey The Wondrous Cross ambient
  • Christ The Lord Is Risen Today gospel hip hop
  • It Is Well With My Soul driving rock
  • Amazing Grace relaxed acoustic drive
  • Holy Holy Holy pop ballad
  • Be Thou My Vision gentle folk sound
  • Crown Him With Many Crowns driving acoustic feel
  • O Worship The King easy half-time feel

Have a listen and see if some of these old songs come alive for you once more. I’m sure they will appear to be a travesty to many others. For mine they got a bit similar to the PraiseCarols for comfort, but to people coming to these songs for the first time they might be brilliant. They are certainly quality performances and musicians and worth adding to your music rotation.

Atheist quotes

Spotted via del.icio.us: Atheist Quotes

Artsch Quotations

I’m inspired to post this link after following links from Neil & Petes’ blogs over the last few days to places like Undo Jesus. Reading the stuff on that site and others linked to it, like the Who was Jesus article has got me a bit down.

I’m not being challenged to the core about my beliefs, as some of the christians Joel encountered on his tropical holiday were, more filled with sadness for the lost. The way God has chosen to reveal Himself in this world and His grace in letting life continue despite our sinfulness, is being despised and ridiculed by His creation. The church has not always been perfect, nor will it be, for it is also filled with sinful men and women. At least those sinful creations acknowledge God, and seek to bring glory to Him as is right.

I hope and pray that we can all be more effective in showing love in this world, rather than causing more division, and that one day the church will again be seen as bringing enlightenment to the rest of the world, rather than accused of attempting to breed ignorance and slavish devotion by the Intelligentsia.