Under Construction

This album is free to download, however I encourage you to make a donation to CARAD at www.carad.org.au. CARAD is the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees, and do incredible work on a limited budget. As this album speaks about loving others, I encourage you to share the love of others, by donating to this cause that is close to my heart.

You can download the album at BandCamp.

This album started in conception in 2014. Captain Mal Davies came to lead the Tasmanian Divisional Men’s Retreat, under the theme of “Under Construction”. The weekend was based around the Two Great Commandments, broken down into three parts – Love God, Love Others, and Love Yourself. In my reflections from the sessions, I ended up writing a song, the title song to this album – “Under Construction”. When exploring an idea to write an album, I posed myself a question: If I was to only ever put across one message in an album, what would be the most important message to put across? For me, it was this idea: to Love God, Love others, and Love Yourself. So I started writing songs based around this theme. I roughly aimed at following a preaching outline for each point, to present a strong start for the whole album (Praise God for all of my days), a Problem, Opportunity and Result for each of the three parts, and then a final wrap up (Under Construction). It didn’t quite work out this way, but I believe the album works well as a whole, and each song has a strong message that is contained within the individual song and the album as a whole. Continue reading “Under Construction”

Advertisements

Grace Through Our Weakness

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Grace Through our Weakness, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday July 8, 2018. The Reading was 2 Corinthians 12:2-10.

Young, Old, Weak, Strong

Who here is celebrating a birthday today? No one? Are you sure? I have a list of Birthdays here, let me see who’s on it.

Well, I don’t have everyone, but you get the idea – we are all celebrating a birthday, because every day is another day since our birth. I heard someone once say that today is the oldest you have ever been, AND it is also the youngest you will ever be again. I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing to realise, but it’s true. Continue reading “Grace Through Our Weakness”

Sabbath Living

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Sabbath Living, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday June 6, 2018. The Reading was Mark 2:23-3:6.

Improving on what God has made

We have to admit that God is pretty clever. Humans have been trying to emulate God for years, but there are not many things that we have improved upon what God has made. We have tried making humans – both through cloning and through robotics, but both have presented us with either ethical or technological problems that we just can’t solve. We have tried creating new ways at creating plants, and light, and all sorts of other things. But they all result in more problems. Even something that I might be willing to admit that we did better than God – the Tablet… still has it’s issues. I don’t think that Moses ever had issues with the ten commandments freezing, or getting addicted to playing Candy Crush on the stone tablets. He did break his stone tablets though, so maybe ours are still just as fragile.

But there is one thing that we have improved upon what God created. Continue reading “Sabbath Living”

The Great Banquet

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Great Banquet, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday May 13, 2018. The Reading was Luke 14:12-24.

It’s 6:30am, and the temperature is in the single digits. I’m sitting on a picnic blanket on the lawns of Parliament House. To the left of me are two sisters and a friend who have travelled there from Adelaide. Next to them, a native Hawaiian who now lives in Sydney. Someone from Canberra. A couple from Newcastle. Behind me is a man recently arrived from Syria. And on the other side of the group, another man who originates from the Congo but arrived only last week into Australia from a refugee camp in Burundi. Prior to today, I had only met these people the night before as we watched the budget and shared in prayer and worship. Yet today, these people, from varied backgrounds and faith traditions, today we are family. We meet together to learn from scripture, and to be a voice for the unheard.

Over to our right, the news crews stand in readiness, ready to interview a range of politicians as they discuss this latest budget. And in front of us, a banquet table, jam-packed full of goodies to illustrate how the blessings of our abundance means that we have plenty to share with all who need it. Continue reading “The Great Banquet”

A Most Unlikely Hero

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, A Most Unlikely Hero, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday April 20, 2018. The Reading was Acts 8:26-40.

A Most Unlikely Hero

Unlikely Heroes

Steve Rogers, pre serum (from Captain America: The First Avenger)

Steve Rogers was always fighting… and always losing. He was a short, scrawny little kid, who tried to enlist in the United States Army after being appalled at Nazi Germany’s horrific atrocities. However, because of his diminutive size, he failed to pass the physical requirements. His frustration and desire to serve attracted the interest of one Professor Abraham Erskine. He convinced Steve to sign up for a program he was involved in called Operation: Rebirth, which would enhance US soldiers to physical perfection through injecting and ingesting a “Super Soldier Serum” and controlled bursts of “Vita Rays”, which left Steve a perfect 6’2 and 220lbs, with very high intelligence, agility, strength, speed, endurance and reaction time. This scrawny little kid – the most unlikely of heroes, became Captain America, the first avenger and the group’s long time leader. Continue reading “A Most Unlikely Hero”

Win this nation back?

There are some worship songs that I really get into. And there are some bands and writers that I especially get into. At the moment, one of the bands that I’m absolutely loving is Rend Collective. They have this funky, Irish-Bluegrass type feel to much of their recordings, and their songs are just great to sing along to.

I’ve used some of their Campfire Christmas versions of Christmas Carols at Christmas time, and their albums are on a high rotation in my iTunes playlists. And one of my favourite songs – and one that seems to be gaining more and more traction particularly within The Salvation Army here in Australia – is Build Your Kingdom Here.

Continue reading “Win this nation back?”

What U2 can teach Worship Leaders

I’ve just finished watching U2’s 360 Tour DVD, recorded at the Rose Bowl in California. It’s an incredible show, well worth watching. I love U2, and think that they might possibly be the world’s largest Christian band that isn’t a Christian band. Many of their songs draw from Christian spirituality, but do so in a way that it doesn’t sound cheap or fluffy. As I was watching it, I started thinking about what Worship Leaders could learn from U2. There’s a lot that could be learnt, but I’ve decided to narrow it down to four things that I think Worship Leaders and musicians need to hear.

Know your equipment

Part of the reason that I wanted to get this DVD was to watch The Edge at work. I’m wanting to improve in my guitar playing, and the best way of improving is by observing, listening to and working out what they do that makes them so great. Now, The Edge is legendary for his set up. I’m sure that he alone has more gear than many great bands have for their whole band. In the concert, he plays a different guitar for pretty much every song, and his pedal board is custom made to utilise every setting and effect that he has in his box. He knows every piece of equipment intimately, and knows how to use it.

Now, I’m not saying that every person needs as much gear as The Edge – none of us have the money for that. What I am saying is that you need to know what you have, know how to use it, and know how to use it to create the sound that is in your head. Guitarists are notorious for getting GAS – Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. We want to get the next guitar, the next effect, the next amp, that will help define our tone and make us sound better. Instead of looking for the next thing, utilise what you have, make sure you know what it can do. Try different things, don’t just set it and leave it. Singers – why not try singing while crouching, with arms open – opening up your chest – head up, head down, mic pressed to your lips, or far away in your hands. Work out what your equipment can do.

Tell a story through your songs

One of the things that impressed me most about the concert was how the band was able to take you through a story, to portray a message, with barely any talking between songs. The reason that U2 is able to do that is because their songs are so full of meaning. They are able to send a message. If you need to explain to the congregation why you chose this song, chances are either the lyrics aren’t strong enough, or you’re using the song in a way that it wasn’t intended.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t use a song in a different context. One of the goosebumps moments for me was when they were showing images of the Syrian conflict, before launching into their classic song, Sunday Bloody Sunday, which is about the conflict in Ireland. It worked a treat, getting me to rethink a classic song in that it’s not just about a single conflict, but it’s about conflict wherever it happens. Utilising a song in a different context can work wonders, but you need to make sure that the connection works without any explanation.

Utilise multimedia

I think you would be hard pressed to find a church that doesn’t have projection software of some kind. Churches are finding that this is a far better solution as people aren’t as distracted by finding a song in the song book, getting lost, and having to hold things. It also opens churches up to using a wider range of music – so long as you’ve got permission to show the words, you can use the song, no matter where it comes from. However, a projector isn’t just a super expensive song book. You can utilise videos and images to help bring people into a state of worship.

Now, you may not have the same production budget as U2, and be able to make custom graphics for every concert, and record dignitaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but there are multiple websites out there that have videos available for purchase (please purchase them, don’t use keepvid or other youtube downloaders). I love Worship House Media, as well as Sermon Spice, but there are many others. Take the time to find items that will enhance your worship.

(And don’t be afraid to use humour. Many churches shy away from humour, however, utilised effectively humour can break through a barrier which can then help the message break through. Take a look at some of the Skit Guys videos to see how well they utilise humour to make the message hit home).

Utilise dynamics and instrumentation

There’s no doubt that a band as large as U2 can produce a massive sound. But, for a sound to be massive, you need to contrast it with softer sounds as well. This can be done effectively through two methods, dynamics, and instrumentation.

The first, dynamics, relates to the song itself, and you’ll find it generally follows the pattern – softer in the verses, (building in the pre-chorus if there is one), louder in the chorus. But feel free to change it up. Using dynamics, you can highlight certain passages of songs without having to explain it with a mini sermon beforehand.

The second item is instrumentation. Sure, you can have a 4 piece rock band, with a brass section, strings section, and a 200 voice choir, but sometimes reducing it to just an acoustic guitar and a voice can cut through more powerfully than all of that other stuff. Bono and The Edge did “Stuck in a moment…” with just the Acoustic and the voice, and it cut through like nothing else. Sure, they could’ve done it with the whole band, and it would’ve been great, but by breaking it down to it’s simplicity, it brought so much more power.

So there you go, four things that I learned from watching U2. What have you learned from watching other bands?

Doctrinally Sound Songs

I was putting together my lead for this Sunday’s meeting, and a thought came into my head that the song, “In Christ Alone” might be a song worth considering. If you don’t know it, here’s a version by Owl City (of Fireflies fame)

Now, this song has come under a bit of scrutiny in the past because of its lyrics. Last year, the Presbyterian Church of the USA wanted to include this song in their new hymnal, but decided not to because they were unable to change one of the lines of the song in verse 2. The original verse reads

’Til on that cross as Jesus died
the wrath of God was satisfied

Where as the altered version they wanted to use read

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
the love of God was magnified

And to be honest – the change isn’t a bad one. I think it fits doctrinally, biblically and personally I’m more than happy to focus in on the Love of God (which is very evident in the New Testament) as opposed to the Wrath of  God (which is very evident in the Old Testament). However, the original lyrics also work, they are sound, and they also have powerful meaning. When the Getty’s decided not to allow the change, they were well within their right to do so, and for me this issue isn’t a deal breaker.

However, I’m uncertain as to whether to use this song or not. My doctrinal issue with the song comes in the last verse.

No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man
can ever pluck me from His hand

Now the issue here comes with the ninth Doctrine of The Salvation Army:

We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.

Commonly known as the doctrine of backsliding, this means that as Salvationists, we believe that in order for you to remain in a state of salvation – that is saved by Jesus Christ – you need to continue to have obedient faith in Christ – that is, faith that follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. The flipside of this is that if you stop having obedient faith in Christ, then you lose your state of salvation. There’s no “once saved, always saved” here in the Army. Once saved, you need to keep being faithful to God.

And that’s where the issue lies. For Salvationists, if you stop having faith, then you are effectively plucked from his hand, to use the imagery from the song. Where the song states that there is nothing on the earth or below it that can remove our state of salvation, our Doctrines state that there is in fact a situation where we can lose our salvation.

That being said, there is a different way of reading those lyrics. You could argue that in fact, the line is stating that because my faith is so strong, because I have my continued obedient faith, that there is now nothing that can remove my state of salvation. But it’s a bit ambiguous.

And my problem is that I love the song – the melody is fantastic, the rest of the lyrics are so incredibly powerful, and such a grand statement. But can I, as an officer who is to proclaim The Salvation Army doctrines as the defining articles of our faith, use a song that has one single line that speaks against one of our doctrines?

This is the beauty of our Songbook. When we choose songs from there, we are guaranteed that the lyrics are doctrinally sound to The Salvation Army Doctrines. There have been people – far smarter than myself – who have gone through and analysed, and worked out whether the song can be used or not. I’m certainly looking forward to the release of the new songbook, hoping that it might have a few more recent worship songs which will make planning a meeting easier. When we move away from the songbook – as many corps are doing in order to stay relevant – we need to give at least a bit of a thought as to whether the songs we choose meet the standards set by our doctrines. If not, we have an obligation not to use them in our meetings, because as officers we are to proclaim the Gospel and uphold our doctrines.

So until I am suitably convinced otherwise, unfortunately, I cannot use this hymn, as much as I love singing it. Now I best get back to choosing that final song for Sunday’s service.

What do you think? Does one line mean that we shouldn’t sing this song? Is there a strong argument that means that it can be used in a Salvation Army context? or am I just overthinking things?

Removing the Barriers – Creating Inclusive worship for the new person

Photo by CBGlades on Flickr

In class the other day, we were talking about how our language – and more specifically our accent – can sometimes form a barrier that can prevent people from fully engaging in worship. Two of the main points was that Australian’s have an accent, we just don’t acknowledge it and as such we don’t make the appropriate adjustments to ensure that we are heard clearly; and that we often use language that people don’t understand.

Christianese is its name, and there are a variety of dialects within Christianese that can leave even a well versed Christian perplexed. How much more for someone who doesn’t even know about Jesus? Continue reading “Removing the Barriers – Creating Inclusive worship for the new person”

Worship Songs I’m loving

A modern Western worship team leading a contem...
Image via Wikipedia

At the moment, I’m getting my head around being music director for an upcoming Chrysalis retreat. I did this last year, so a lot of my song choices have been able to be transferred, but it does mean that I can spend more time looking for other songs that might fit even better.

At my church, we’ve also started having the youth band on twice a month now, which means that I’m now choosing twice as many songs, so I can be choosing more songs. So I’m constantly on the look out for more songs that can be used. Here’s a selection of worship songs that I’m loving right now.

First off, a couple of songs from Hillsong Chapel, Saviour King, and Hosanna

I love the space in this version of Saviour King, that the instruments just get out of the way and you can just focus on the words. The chorus for me is incredibly powerful, and I think I’ll be able to use this (in some form) at Chrysalis.

As for Hosanna, I’m considering an “acoustic” set for the next Youth Meeting, and love the arrangement of this version.

Now for something a bit more uptempo – and a bit older too.

This song has been in my head for a while now, and I’m not sure where I’m going to use it, but I think that there will be something coming up that it will be just perfect for. I think I especially love the brass lines here, really makes it pop!

This is a new song by Aaron Keyes (co written by others such as Ben Smith and Graham Kendrick). It’s wonderful lyrics are backed up by a great easy to sing Hymn-esque tune. This is a wonderful praise song, and I can’t wait to use it somewhere.

So that’s what I’m listening to at the moment and what’s going through my head. What songs are getting you passionate for Christ at the moment?