The Greatest Gift

So we’re almost halfway through May, which means it must be about time for Christmas planning…. No? Well, even though this post is nothing to do with the festive season, here is one of my all time favourite Big Bang Theory clips…

We’ve just started a new series at EBC called “50 Shades of Grace” (see what we did there….), which while blatantly ripping off the title from a well known book series, has nothing to do with the content of the novels or movie (not that I’ve seen or read either….)

The first part of the series was simply called “Saved“, and looked at how we all fall short, we all make mistakes, but everyone can be saved through the grace of God. And this gift of grace is freely given and freely received…the cost has already been paid.

Free?

In my “other” life as a royalty accountant, I work with many companies and artists in the music industry, and they have been getting to grips with the whole Freemium model which is growing within the industry. Companies like Spotify, Pandora and BeatsMusic, cover mount CD’s and YouTube means there are now so many ways of exposing artists and sharing their creations, but the majority of it makes no money and is perceived by the consumer as free…if I can stream it/watch it/consume it on my laptop, why should I pay for it? And if it’s then “free”, it’s value is diminished…we don’t treat it in the same as we may have a CD or Vinyl which we would have previously bought.

Church is quite often perceived in a similar way. I posted the other week about our volunteer celebration, and how for some church just “happens” when behind the scenes there are countless people making it “happen”. Week after week we put on a service which has great music and arts, an interesting and challenging talk, sometimes drama, accompanying literature and good quality refreshments, and all it costs is an hour of your morning. Theatres and concert venues would charge you lots for a similar experience! But because it’s “free” is it’s real value diminished?

Always Grace

Grace, the thing that separates the Christian faith from other faiths or world views. Grace is a free gift, free for us to grasp and receive and live in its light. We can’t earn it, we can’t buy it, much as we may try we cannot “be better, be more good” to deserve it.  But because it’s “free”, do we again devalue it, not take it as seriously as we should, not realise how important and how incredible this gift is, and how much it actually cost in the first place?

In the clip, Penny has just got Sheldon a napkin signed by his hero, Leonard Nimoy. But to Sheldon this is possibly the greatest gift he could ever have received, and no matter how many gift baskets he lavishes on Penny, he is not going to be able to repay her and show his gratefulness.

We cannot repay Jesus for his gift of grace. But we can accept it, we can acknowledge it, and we can be thankful every day for He who saved us, and gave us all the Greatest Gift.

As a bonus (as my posting has been all over shop these past weeks…), here’s a great new song from Matt Redman at this years Passion conference….Always Grace.

Jesus Loves Me

As we approach the Easter weekend, I’m sure you have your services and content in place, and are preparing to remember Jesus’ death on the cross this Good Friday.

I stripped our stage at church bare this morning, so all we have is an illuminated cross. We have an agape meal tonight, and joint all age services for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I know Christmas is great…but really, Easter is our most important time of the year.

I love this new song from Chris Tomlin. I remember singing “Jesus Loves Me” back when I was in Sunday school (as it was then), and the line still resonates:

Jesus loves me this I know, ’cause the bible tells me so.

It doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that, does it?

Jesus, He loves me, He loves me, He is for me.

Jesus, how can it be, He loves me, He is for me.

Happy Easter everybody.

With Every Act of Love

Our Senior Minister came across this song, which is surprising, as his general musical taste is awful (Genesis/Phil Collins anyone….?) We use it last Sunday as part of our Follow series (from Northpoint), where we were looking at What We Wear…which, as you can probably imagine, is more than being just about clothes…

Collosians 3: 12-14 says:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

So compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love. Beats jeans, T shirt and trainers (which is my usual daily outfit…)

The lyrics to this song are just amazing, I am going to check out more of his material. But it is the bridge that to me is the most powerful:

God put a million, million doors in the world
For his love to walk through
One of those doors is you

What are you wearing?

I am one of those doors. And so are you. But I’m not too proud to admit I don’t put on my compassion outfit regularly enough, or my kindness hat. Harry Potter had a cloak of invisibility which I was envious of, but I have a cloak of humility that too often I’m too arrogant to wear. And while I consider my self a gentle and considerate person, I know there are plenty of times my “patience trousers” wear thin. And I won’t mention my “love” outfit here for fear of it being misconstrued…but if all above and beyond was approached With Every Act of Love…well, as I’ve said before, the world would be a better place.

So clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Then with every act of love, be one of the million million doors that God put on the planet.

What could you change about your outfit today?

All About Love

As a bonus Friday extra from yesterday’s post which was All About Love…here is Steven Curtis Chapman and All About Love.

See, told you it was All About Love. Happy Valentine’s for tomorrow

We’ve got CD’s, tapes
And videos, radios and TV shows
Conferences, retreats and seminars
We’ve got books and magazines
To read on everything from A to Z
And a web to surf from anywhere we are
But I hope with all this information
Buzzing through our brains
That we will not let our hearts forget
The most important thing

Is love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
Everything else comes down to this
Nothing any higher on the list than love
It’s all about love

Now they’re fighting in the Middle East
And they’re fighting down on 7th street
And there are fights in my own house on given days
It’s like something’s lurking deep inside
That can’t seem to be satisfied
But life was not meant to be lived this way
‘Cause it’s true for every man
And woman, every boy and girl
That our only hope for living
Here together in this world

Is love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
Everything else comes down to this
Nothing any higher on the list than love

This is the reason we were made
To know the love of our creator
And to give the love He’s given us away
Yeah, the Maker and the Father
And the God of everything
He says to love love love
He says love love love
Love love love
‘Cause after all it’s all about love

God says, love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
Everything else comes down to this
Nothing any higher on the list than love
‘Cause after all it’s all about love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love, love, love, love, love

What Love Really Means

You probably can’t have failed to notice it’s Valentine’s Day this weekend (if you have, go ahead, there’s still time to get flowers/chocolates/card/iPad (if you follow the Apple ads) etc….) Have you ordered? Good. Let’s carry on…

Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love….as Ewan McGregor sang to Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. Love makes the world go round. The Truth About Love. Love, Love me Do. Strange Love…I have over 500 songs about love in my iTunes library, Steven Curtis Chapman wrote an entire album for his wife called All About Love (it’s great), whether you’re an incurable romantic or have a heart of stone, you can’t escape it. And this song by J.J. Heller is just incredible in words, melody and sentiment.

I’m currently reading Andy Stanley’s new book, The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating…and while I am only just on chapter three, it is (like all of his other books), an essential read. Chapter one is called “The Right Person Myth”, and it unsurprisingly looks at finding Mr or Mrs Right. Spoiler alert: there isn’t one. You should read the book, but I’ll give you this quote:

“Looking for the right person is a great idea as long as you don’t assume that finding the right person ensures everything will be all right”.

The right person doesn’t mean everything will be all right. Now I am a self confessed incurable romantic, Love Actually, A Lot Like Love and Notting Hill are firmly (and proudly) in my top ten movies of all time, and I have an idealistic image in my head of my wife and I, strolling into the sunset arm in arm, happily ever after. Now clearly my wife chose me because I am Mr Right, I am obviously a great catch and who wouldn’t want to be married to me but we work really hard at being married, which is why we are still happily married. Of course we’re very compatible, there was an attraction there initially which has only grown over time, and we genuinely enjoy being together…which helps. But it’s not like it every day…I know there are days Hannah would quite happily push me out of a window… probably deservedly.

The Bible is of course full of love: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son; Love your enemies; Love your neighbour as yourself; Above all love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

God’s story is a love story, He who loved his people, He who wants the best for us, He who is forgiving and loving. And we as Christians are called to love… and if we loved more instead of judging, comparing, condemning or generally not being interested in others…wouldn’t the world be a happier, better place? And I’m not resorting back to sugar coated happy ending movies again…if we did love our neighbours as ourselves…and they did the same…and so on…how different would everything be? That may be incredibly simplistic…but a little bit of love goes a long way.

So this Valentines as you exchange gifts with your beloved, or send cards to your secret crush, or maybe just sit at home quietly disapproving of the whole consumer driven cardfest and overpriced roses gone mad…try to remember what love really means.

He cries in the corner where nobody sees
He’s the kid with the story no one would believe
He prays every night, “Dear God won’t you please…
Could you send someone here who will love me?”

Who will love me for me
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means

Her office is shrinking a little each day
She’s the woman whose husband has run away
She’ll go to the gym after working today
Maybe if she was thinner
Then he would’ve stayed
And she says…

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me?
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means

He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone
He’s a man in a cell who regrets what he’s done
He utters a cry from the depths of his soul
“Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home”

Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside
And it said
“I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied
I have watched you suffer all of your life
And now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…”

I will love you for you
Not for what you have done or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew

Do Something!

Do you ever get weary from all of those talking head programmes, those analysts on the news, the sports “experts” who pull apart the match/game/tournament and tell you exactly how it should have been done, if you’d have done it this way, why it was completely wrong to put “” in goal? Admittedly some of them may well be experts in their field, but they always always spend a lot of time talking about it, but never actually do anything about it!

Over the next couple of Sundays at EBC we are looking at our World Mission, Toy Box this week, and Sierra Leone next week. We have had long term projects with both of them, and ToyBox is probably a well known charity, so let’s look at our friends in Sierra Leone.

I’ve posted about my friend Abs before, as well as Regent Road Baptist Church, so do look back and read about them. We have partnered with RRBC to build a church and a school in Tombo, a fishing village some way out of Freetown in Sierra Leone. The church is completed, and despite the current Ebola crisis, construction on the new school continues and they hope to have it completed soon. Now we at EBC are in the middle of working through a building project, and it’s been slow going. Admittedly, there are many more planning regulations to adhere to and apply for, as well as a difference in the funding…building costs are very different here than they are in West Africa! Incredibly, now the Tombo project is nearing completion, RRBC are looking towards their next plant!

Before their current project is finished, they are already looking ahead to the next need, where to plant, where help is needed!

Step out of your comfort zone!

It can be relatively easy to maintain the status quo, keep things ticking over and do the 9 to 5. It is even easier (and I am just as guilty at this) to criticise and fix from a distance, just like the TV critics.

“Why did they do that song?!”

“I’d have never worn that shirt to deliver a sermon!”

“Who planned that service…I’d never have trusted “” to speak, I’d  have done it this way”

And so the question must be….why didn’t you then?

If you can deliver a really good talk…why don’t you? If you are gifted in worship music, why don’t you join the band? If the church is asking for money for it’s new project why don’t you give? If you have spare time to give, what are you doing with it?

The Matthew West video says it all really:

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

This is also the week that Band Aid 30 have released a new version of Do They Know It’s Christmas, and along with the positive press and big sales which are contributing towards Africa, there has been the almost predictable cynicism. I watched an interview with Bob Geldof on Sky (it was doing the rounds on Facebook), and the thrust of the interview was “why should we pay money for this when you millionaire rockstars don’t pay your taxes…if you did, we wouldn’t need charity singles”. Now I don’t know how much Bob Geldof, or Bono donates every year to charity, or how they pay their taxes, but I’m sure they do. And I know this single will raise significant money for Africa which will help fight the Ebola crisis. And Sir Bob and the rest of Band Aid 30 (and 25, and 20, and the original) are using their gifts, time, and very public presence to actually do something.

Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

What can you do today? Do something!

 

Legacy part 2

Friday has come around again, and I look back on another nice summer holiday week which has included (between work) a trip to the Tower of London with the family, food with friends and time out watching Castle with my beloved once the kids have gone to bed. All things which I will look back on with fond memories. Earlier this week I shared the great song Something Worth Leaving Behind by Lee Ann Womack, and looked at the legacies which we all leave. I thought as rather wonderful way to wrap up Legacy Week, I’d share this clip, Yes to Love:

You may recognise the couple: Isaac and Amy shared the most amazing Lip Sync Proposal on YouTube back in 2012, something we at EBC used as part of a marriage series we were doing. This video is a follow up to their proposal which they put together, and it shows the whole family and legacy that they and their parents and their siblings are leaving behind them.

The relatively simple act of Saying Yes to Love has led to 14 children and 40 grandchildren…and 35 great-grand children!

Purpose

Now I don’t think you need to purposely set out to create a legacy, I am sure most of us don’t wake up in the morning and think “I’m going to be known for…” and then set along a path to do it. But I do think we need to be aware of our legacy, and acknowledge the decisions we make will affect where we’re going, and also the trail which we leave behind. Everything we do and say has consequences, positive and negative, especially when it is dealing with other people.

Foot in Mouth Syndrome

I used to be a fan of Changing Rooms back when it was on (showing my age again…), and one of the useful pieces of advice was “Measure twice, cut once” when it came to Handy Andy and his DIY. I believe we should apply the same ethos to our words, thoughts and decisions….”think twice, speak/do once”. I have been on the end of plenty of conversations where things are said and thought about afterwards, and I am as guilty as anyone for “foot in mouth” syndrome. But simple adjustments to the way we say and do things can make significant changes.

Leaving a legacy does’t have to involve lots of money, charitable foundations, art installations or best selling albums. Legacies don’t even have to include large families and multiple descendants. But leaving a legacy must involve love at its core, and saying Yes to Love may be the first step towards leaving your legacy.

What is your legacy today, if you look back? Where do you want it to be in 10 years time?

Come as you are

I cannot quite believe it’s over 14 years since I purchased David Crowder*Band’s “Can you hear us?” album. I remember reading a review at the time where the journalist had dismissed it as a nice album that would get lost in the midst of the avalanche of worship band releases. I thought the cover looked great, and it was on offer in my local Christian bookshop (remember those days…), so I bought a copy anyway. And I loved it…it still gets regular rotation now, and the songs are just as impactive as they were when I was a 20 something drummer.

David Crowder*Band always were a bit, well, a lot different, incorporating all sorts of effects, toys and computers into their music. Their Illuminate album even came with a demo version of Propellerheads Reason on the disc, and when I saw the Remedy: Live DVD and Crowder leading worship songs with a Guitar Hero controller…well I was captivated and excited by it all. (I wholeheartedly recommend you watch it…)And of course great songs with great musicians…but most of all, they were having a ball. They were doing serious music but not too seriously…they clearly understood how to bring a sense of fun into their worship which is a difficult thing to pull off.

Banjos and Moogs

Fast-forward to 2014, and David Crowder*Band is no more, but in its place we have The Digital Age continuing as a band and Crowder, David’s solo career. Neon Steeple was released this year to critical acclaim, and while undoubtedly different, it still possesses the Crowder quirk, instantly familiar music but with an added eccentricity. Crowder calls it “Folktronica”: folk music with a dash of electronica, and who am I to argue. Banjos and Moogs were clearly made to play together, it was just no-one had quite figured out how the pieces fit.

The album is full of great tracks, but the one I want to bring to your attention this week is “Come as You Are”, a glorious and deeply personal song which was on the Passion album this year, which is also where the video comes from. For me, it doesn’t get much more raw than this…the words and the vocal performance are heartfelt and sincere. I used it this Sunday as a response to the talk, and I have also used it recently during communion, as the words are just a perfect fit for such a time.

Lay down your burdens, lay down your shame

All who are broken, lift up your face

Oh wanderer come home, you’re not too far

So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart

Come as you are

I am already getting slightly lost in it now. Find a quiet place, press play on the video, and just be.

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t cure.

Try

Self image. Confidence. Fitting in. Society seems to demand a lot of us these days, whether it’s to do with our jobs, our cars, our houses. And even more personally, we have to wear the right clothes in the right way, have our hair and makeup on before leave the house, and make sure that we’re not over or underweight. Isn’t that what the entire advertising and marketing industry is geared towards? We must have the latest phone/dress/music/movie or risk not “fitting in”. “What do you mean you haven’t seen/heard/eaten/worn….etc?!*” (*delete as applicable)

Now I am a 40 year old father of three, who does to a limited extent pay attention to how he looks. I don’t tend to feel the pressure to wear/read/listen to the “latest thing”. I have lost a fair amount of weight recently, but this was a conscious decision rather than a question of style…I don’t think I’ll ever suit skinny jeans. But I do have two daughters who are approaching their teenage years…who are already aware of their bodies and clothes, don’t want to stand out from the crowd, and like “shopping”. But I’m pleased to say that somehow we’ve instilled confidence in them that they can be who they want to be, without conforming to the rigours and style that their peer group follow. 

Try

This track by Colbie Caillat is simply called Try, and the accompanying video is a doozie…it’s already doing the rounds on social media, and I can understand why.

You don’t have to try so hard

You don’t have to give it all away

You just have to get up

You don’t have to change a single thing

Be Real

My girls are forever watching Glee, and listening to Pink!, Kelly Clarkson, and more recently musicals (Mrs K and I are both musicians with an appreciation of musical theatre…), so they don’t have dreadful role models. And something that their teachers have always said (that could be said of us) is that they are individuals. They’re no great leaders at school, but at the same time they’re not followers. They do their own thing, and they’re happy to do so. Which I am delighted about as their daddy.

Be comfortable in your own skin. Be real. Choose your friends wisely. Remember, it’s all about what’s happening on the inside that counts. And if anyone tells you otherwise…they’re probably not worth listening to.

Thanks to LosWhit for this one…who probably says it much more succinctly than I.

Judgement Day – Hey Ref!

Have you ever felt unfairly judged, or that someone has made the wrong assumption about you? Maybe you’ve been quick to jump to conclusions about someone else, or in the heat of the moment you’ve said something you shouldn’t have, and now you’re not quite sure how to undo it. I know that I’ve done it, and I continue to do it…and the majority of TV soap operas and cop shows base their story lines on the premise.

This clip from Outnumbered shows Karen, their youngest daughter, taking it upon herself to referee a “friendly” tennis match with her dad and his friends. Karen judges according to her own understanding of tennis games (probably on a par with my football knowledge) while one of the tennis players takes it all a bit too seriously. The outcome, predictably, is hilarious.

Referee’s decision?

As we’re moving towards the end of another football world cup, there have been many refereeing decisions made about possible goals, the conduct of players and of course the infamous offside rule. To be honest, I have never been much of a football fan, so haven’t really been paying much attention to any of the matches…so I catch the edited highlights on the news each day. So to be seasonal we’re using the World Cup as a loose theme for our current series, this week looking at judgement.

God is the ultimate judge, and is often portrayed as such…smiting the heathens, frowning on our mistakes and ultimately testing us against his book when we’re before him on judgement day…do we go up or down? But our God is not a vengeful God…he doesn’t run around us, waving a red card and waiting for us to trip up. He judges with love and grace, and wants us to succeed.

Organised chaos

Without a referee, football would be anarchy (some may say it already is)! Without a moral referee, the world would be in chaos. Our moral compass is an argument for the existence of God.

God is perfect and holy, and therefore we will always fall short…but he made a way for us to be on the right side. Judgement is a good thing to help keep us on the right track, to help with our decisions, and to aid our direction. Through Jesus we will be judged righteously and ultimately be redeemed. No final warnings, no red cards, no dismissals. If God is on our side, who can be against us?

Is your view of God as a judgemental referee or as someone who is cheering you on?