Waiting Here For You

So by now the decorations should all be packed away in the loft, there may be the odd mince pie left lurking in the cupboard (they never run out, and rarely go stale…), and the days go back to normal now Christmas is all done for another year.

This past December at EBC we looked at Waiting Here for You as our Christmas theme, using the song by Martin Smith and examining the topics: God works while we wait; While we are waiting on God we are waiting with God; and Who you become while you are waiting is as important as what you are waiting for.

We all waited with eager anticipation in the Kerslake household for Christmas, possibly our favourite time of the year. I love sharing food and gifts together, bringing friends and family under the same roof and having a joint celebration together. There were 13 of us for Christmas day, and 9 for Boxing Day, and the following days were spent catching up with more friends and family. And of course the three smaller Kerslakes were excited to see what was going to appear under the tree.

But now Christmas is over, I wanted us to start the year looking at the same song, and the lyrics behind it. Even though we are into January, the words are just as pertinent. Over Christmas we were waiting for Jesus’ arrival on Christmas day, an event which had been foretold throughout the Old Testament. And this Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, every day…we do the same. We eagerly await His arrival in our services, in our offerings, in our day to day, week to week. We know He is always with us, no matter where we are.

I challenge you, this 2015, to approach each day with the same anticipation which was there for Christmas. That we have an eagerness and expectation for our services, that we offer our songs of worship in open and honest praise, fully expecting Him to be there as we sing, pray, listen, stand there with our arms lifted high or are seated with our heads bowed. He is waiting here for us, He is always there, expectantly waiting for us. I pray we will be doing the same, as we sing, pray, and are silently there.

Waiting Here for You.

If faith can move the mountains

Let the mountains move

We come with expectation

Waiting here for You, waiting here for You

 

You’re the Lord of all creation

And still You know my heart

The Author of Salvation

You’ve loved us from the start

 

Waiting here for You

With our hands lifted high in praise

And it’s You we adore

Singing Alleluia

 

You are everything You’ve promised

Your faithfulness is true

And we’re desperate for Your presence

All we need is You

 

Singing Alleluia

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Written by Chris Tomlin, Martin Smith and Jesse Reeves 2011

The Toilet Brush Christmas Tree

Just this past week we completed our annual Community carols, a tradition we have had for many years now, which is growing year on year. We bring together several of the local primary school choirs together to perform some Christmas songs to their friends and family, which we chain together with carols, a generally silly Christmas theme and a short talk. This year the theme was Weird Christmas.

Did you know Germany created the first artificial Christmas tree? But, what was it made out of?Toilet Brush Tree

  1. Hedgehogs?
  2. Feathers?
  3. Toilet Brushes?

Now the correct answer is 2), feathers. They dyed goose feathers green and attached them to rudimentary branches. But, answer 3) is also vaguely correct. The Addis company, who made (and still do) toilet brushes employed the same factory equipment to make fake Christmas trees…in fact if you look at many of the artificial trees we have today, you can see the resemblance. And as if to prove the point, Amy our youth worker and I presented out schools with an extremely authentic and hard to find antique toilet brush Christmas tree. I can guarantee you will not find another one of these in the shops!

We also looked at weird facts about Santa (did you know there’s a Santa Winter Games every year in Sweden, and the Chicago Tribune holds an annual “Scared of Santa” photo competition?), Weird Food (did you know KFC has marketed it’s fried chicken as a delicacy to the Japanese, and that in Greenland there is a dish called Kiviak which is made by stuffing 500 auks (cute penguins) into a seal carcass, smothering it all in whale fat and then burying it for 7 months. The aroma and flavour is akin to a strong stilton apparently….)

And then our final round was Christmas injuries. Can you believe 4 people broke their arms last year in cracker pulling incidents, several were injured by out of control Scalectrix cars, and over a 141 (I am sure men) had injuries from not removing the pins from their new shirts….

But Why?

You may ask, what is the point of all of this? I would say, its Christmas! We share the event with primary school children, and for many it is possibly their first experience of church. And if the statistics are to be believed, then a majority of them may not even associate Christmas with the birth of Jesus. So if we can find a way of including them, sharing Christmas traditions and messages with them, and making it as interactive as possible, for them and their families, then at the very least they will leave with a positive impression of us as a church, and also some stories as to why Christmas is Christmas and what we believe.

Both nights were really warmly received, the six choirs (we had three schools each night) did some great singing of a variety of Christmas songs, and we already have the schools booking in for next year…what an endorsement!

Same for Sundays

I apply the same mentality to planning this as I do Sunday services: humour, real life and common experiences will always go a long way to communicating to any audience.

So this Christmas, or next year, I encourage you to think of creative and interesting ways to communicate the Christmas message to all ages. And if you need some help, drop me a line! I have many years of material stored up in my archives!

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

OK, I admit, I am a Christmas addict! I Love Love Love Christmas…getting the family together, all of the food, carols, and of course decorations! Now I know today is the 2nd of December….but we couldn’t wait…so our decorations went up in the Kerslake house this weekend…yes, it was still November!

In years past we have looked at gifts and giving at Christmas, the colours of Christmas and their meaning, we did Simple Christmas which examined the main message once all of the trimmings and sparkles had been stripped out. This coming Sunday we start our Christmas series for 2014, and this year we have themed it on the phrase and song Waiting Here for You. This Sunday we’re using Come thou long expected Jesus, and the video above (from the SkitGuys) is superb.

Christmas is all about anticipation, whether it’s looking forward to holidays, getting the family together, or trying not to peak at the presents under the tree! And not just at Christmas, as we plan ahead we are waiting for holidays, birthdays, surprises…we even wait for the weekend to arrive! But waiting isn’t a bad thing, it can be a good thing because of what God does in the waiting.

Jesus’ coming had been foretold all through the old testament, but there were 400 years of silence between the last prophet in the old testament and Jesus arrival in the new testament. 400 years! My mum thinks I’ve forgotten about her if I don’t ring for a week or two…can you imagine what 400 years of silence is like?! And yet believers stayed faithful, scriptures were passed through the generations, and Jesus’ coming was anticipated, believed in and waited for.

While God rarely comes at our appointed time, He always comes at the right time. It’s easy to bale on God at the first sign of trouble, to worry, make new plans and take shortcuts. But there is another way, the quiet way of rest and trust.

We couldn’t even wait to put our decorations up, and are so excited for Christmas day when we can give our kids their presents, pull our family and friends together and enjoy the celebration. But that is only 23 days away…I cannot begin to imagine what 400 years of patience and waiting looks like.

How good are you at waiting?

Carol Arrangements

Christmas Music

Do you jingle all the way?

It’s the most, wonderful time of the year! We are in full on Christmas mode now at EBC as December is almost upon us, our services and activities are all mapped out and most of them are planned, publicity has been distributed and the tree will be going up in the next couple of weeks!

Now a lot of our Christmas planning is quite straightforward, as the story stays the same every year and there are obvious themes and traditions that we will stick to. But one of the things we do sometimes struggle with is carols and carol arrangements.

Where to start?

There are thousands and thousands of worship songs, hymns and choruses, and many more are released every year. I’ve written before how we whittle down our song list to something that is manageable both as a worship team and as a congregation. While the new songs and hymns that are available to use seem to  grow exponentially every year, traditional carols and popular Christmas songs remain pretty constant, and as they are only really used for one month of every year, they don’t get an airing very often. A lot of traditional carols work brilliantly in a traditional setting…we had the privilege of attending some carol concerts at the Royal Albert Hall some years back, and it was truly special to sing along with an orchestra, massed choir, royal trumpeters and the massive organ that is installed there.

But we as a church don’t have an organ, or a choir, and our band is based on who we have available to play, but also on the style of music that we deliver on a Sunday…which is primarily guitar and drums based modern worship*. Hence why we have a bit of a struggle come Christmas with our music. We have had many discussions in and around this topic in years gone by, weighing up whether we go full traditional just for the month of December, if it’s acceptable to do carols in a contemporary fashion with added choruses and drums, are we alienating visitors if we make recognisable carols too modern (even if the tune stays the same!) and so on. And to be honest, there hasn’t been an easy answer yet…if you canvas the opinion of five or 10 different people, you’re going to get 5 to 10 different answers!

I did it my way…

So what I’ve been trying to do the past few years, as we will do this year, is to strike a balance between the two. We have a relatively short list of carols that we will introduce over the month of December, and even then we won’t have a complete Carol Service as such until the week before Christmas. The carols that we do use are familiar, set in a contemporary style appropriate to our band lineup, but still retaining the original words and tunes. We make sure the tunes stay relatively straight as well….I have done arrangements where we put Silent Night into 4 in the bar and the like, but it seems to be a step too far for some! And the same with added choruses and new words…Chris Tomlin’s Joy, Unspeakable Joy is great, but incredibly high and too much for some! That said, we have used a version of Angels From the Realms of Glory by Steven Curtis Chapman that has the wonderful chorus “Come and Worship…”

At the end of the day, you have to do what works for your church, as you probably are doing with all of your worship.

How are you choosing and arranging carols this year?

*This also applies to choosing and arranging songs for every other Sunday of the year…if you don’t have five guitarists and a small choir, it doesn’t mean you can’t do Hillsong songs. And if your range isn’t that of a counter tenor and you’re more comfortable in a Barry White range, it doesn’t exclude all of Chris Tomlin’s repertoire. But it does mean you need to choose, transpose, and arrange more carefully…

Christmas is all in the heart

I know it’s only November, but that means that its just 43 days till Christmas! Yay!

I have always always been a huge fan of Steven Curtis Chapman…he seems to have an amazing ability to put the perfect words to the perfect tune, and then sing and play it…well, perfectly! I have mentioned him before, and no doubt I will mention him again…and again…and again…. This song is from one of his older Christmas albums, and although the haircuts and shirts may look a little dated (I did get away with a 90’s Friends clip the other week….), the song and the sentiment far outweigh.

I find more and more as I get older that the cliche “it’s better to give than receive” becomes more and more true. My kids are getting older, so the Christmas present lists change. Hannah and I still buy for each other, although these days there is so little that we actually want for, let alone need. In fact my Christmas list doesn’t exist this year…I’m happier planning the food and festivities for the family and friends that are coming with us.

This Sunday at EBC we’re filling shoeboxes for Samaritan’s purse. This is something we have done for many years now, and the effort has spread across all of our Sunday services. We’ve always had the ethos of setting aside some Sundays to do community projects…for some we shut up shop altogether and go out into the community, for this one we start with a time of worship, and then devote the rest of our service to filling shoeboxes.

There is more information about Samaritan’s Purse here, but the basic premise is that they distribute thousands of filled and wrapped shoeboxes to children all over the world, that otherwise would not get anything for Christmas. We put in toys, games, soap, toothpaste and brushes, pens and pencils, pads, cuddly toys, scarves, hats…as much as will fit!

So much of Christmas gets lost in the commercialism…the real sentiment, the humble beginnings…the real story.

Lets make sure that this year, the true story of Christmas doesn’t get pushed down the Christmas lists.