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.

Black and Gold

Do you ever have doubts? Thoughts about significance? Are you ever wondering what it’s all about, where you fit in. Just why me? I mean, the world is a big place. Just the other day I was in London for a meeting, off of Oxford Street. And if you ever want to get a sense of how big and busy the world is, and how small a cog you are in it all, Oxford Street is one of the best places to be! I had some time between meetings, and so took the opportunity to just sit back and people watch. (Do you ever do that? It’s not just me…is it?)There were hundreds and hundreds of people going about their business, all from different backgrounds, and many nationalities.

Sam Sparro burst into the charts with Black and Gold back in 2008, where it went to number 2 in the charts and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy (beaten by Daft Punk…). It is a brilliant electropop dance tune that appealed to me as soon as I heard it…I bought the album off of the back of the single (something I don’t usually do). But it is the lyrics that bear closer inspection; so often great tunes hide an otherwise slightly banal lyrical content…as Matt Redman has said before, pop songs often have limited content: I love you: I hate you: I miss you: Just Dance….etc. Black and Gold is something else.

‘Cause if you’re not really here
Then the stars don’t even matter
Now I’m filled to the top with fear
That it’s all just a bunch of matter
‘Cause if you’re not really here
Then I don’t want to be either
I wanna be next to you
Black and gold, black and gold, black and gold

Personal Meanings

Now I know that lyrics can be intensely personal to those that hear them, and they are up for interpretation depending on who listens to them, and how they are internalised. The same song can mean many different things to different people. But Sparro was the son of a minister and has stated that the song was written about God…”I do like to have a faith about something that is bigger than me”. And if it needed further clarification, the second verse says:

I look up into the night sky
And see a thousand eyes staring back
And all around these golden beacons
I see nothing but black
I feel aware of something beyond them
I don’t see what i can feel
If vision is the only validation
Then most of my life isn’t real

This song speaks to me on so many levels…as a Christian that always wanted to be “zapped” by God, I’ve always struggled with the spiritual versus the tangible. Many years ago at a New Wine conference I prayed really hard during the celebration that I would get that experience, that I would have a defining touch or big kick from God so that I knew he was there! And it didn’t happen. But at the end of the celebration I received a gentle tap on my shoulder…and a man from a few rows back had a real sense that God had some verses for me, and he’d written them down.

Creation, Faith and Doubt

Creation, faith and doubt warrant much more than a short blog post…there are whole books devoted to the subjects and there are many of those. But as the last lines of the verse say, “If vision is the only validation, then most of my life isn’t real”. I believe there is more to life than the tangible world around me, it would take incredible faith to believe that we are here my some chemical accident leftover from the big bang, and evolution and creation, in my opinion, aren’t exclusive. And for as long as artists can create works like this song, it proves to me that artistry, especially music, is always more than a sequence of notes and an amalgam of rhythms. Musicians can always reach into something that is deeper than themselves, and no matter where they are on their journey of faith, the word spiritual is often used.

As an added bonus, here is Adele ably (and brilliantly) covering the song.

Find Your Voice

Now I came across this video this morning on my Facebook feed:

Isn’t it great! 29 perfect celebrity impressions, performed perfectly in Rob’s front room…and a great song too. I’m definitely going to check out the album.

We have a culture where celebrity acts and bands are regularly impersonated…I’ve seen The Bootleg Beatles, Bjorn Again (Abba), The Doors Alive, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Noasis, Blobbie Williams and Take Fat…and they’re all great. And even if a band isn’t trying to sell themselves as a tribute band, most of the pub gigs and duos, wedding bands, Christmas Party bands and so on consists of covers…musicians playing other people’s songs. I did it myself for a while, I played in The Bogus Blues Brothers, Steeling Dan (a Steely Dan tribute band) and The Wiltons, whose primary material was 60’s classics by The Beach Boys, The Stones, The Beatles… (I shall gloss over my misspent youth playing Bon Jovi and Motley Crue covers…)

Now all this is well and good, and for many musicians it’s where we first were inspired to play, the way and why we learnt to play, as we emulated our heros. For me it was Mark King from Level 42 who inspired me to pick up the bass, and by the age of 15 I could play pretty passable performances of most of their repertoire, thumbs a-flying as I had my headless bass high around my neck and in the crook of my arm (it’s how I still play the bass today, although it admittedly looked decidedly odd in a metal band….) And for some musicians that is all they’ll ever do, play other peoples songs as a hobby, or even as a full time career. Now many of these bands have broken up or passed on, the only way of seeing them live is to attend a tribute concert, and it’s big business. The bands themselves spend a huge amount of time and money looking and especially sounding like their heroes. And it makes a lot of money too…the Australian Pink Floyd show has sold in excess of three million tickets in the time they’ve been impersonating.

How does this apply to worship?

For me as a worship leader at EBC, we do essentially the same thing, we play cover versions of other people’s songs. Whether it’s Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman, Brenton Brown or Rend Collective, our repertoire is primarily influenced by what is popular in other churches, and what fits with our congregations. And there is nothing wrong with this, we have to stay familiar with the songs which we use otherwise we will alienate our congregations. But I believe there is a line to be drawn somewhere, and we have to be careful we don’t take it so far that we try to emulate other musicians, the arrangements of songs, even the style and content of other churches. Just because it works in church x, doesn’t mean it will translate to your church. Just because Chris Tomlin sings it in G#, doesn’t mean anybody in your team or congregation will be able to. Just because Hillsong play Gretsch/Duesenberg guitars, it doesn’t mean you have to. And even if Joel Houston has a big beard and wears deep cut V necks and scarves, I will not sound like him if I do the same.

I sincerely love all of these leaders, and we use a lot of their songs in our repertoire at EBC because they are good songs, they resonate with me, and I know they are a good fit for our congregation. But I don’t go as far as trying to copy them. We change keys (often down a lot!) to make them singable by our congregation. We alter arrangements to fit our services, and our band lineups…we do have a strong and large team of musicians, but generally our band lineup is 5 -6 people, so we don’t have the luxury of multiple guitars, complex harmonies and keyboard loops. We have a double bass player who is great, but double bass sounds significantly different to an electric bass. All of our musicians are of differing ability, they are all competent and I am delighted to have them in the band. But to accommodate them, we make changes so the music is accessible to all.

Find your own voice

And then we work together and we develop our own voice. I don’t sound or look like Joel Houston, and even if I had all of Nigel Hendroff’s Gear, I could never play guitar like him. Our drummer never plays like Travis Nunn. I don’t have any singers who harmonise like Christy Nockels or Kari Jobe. But I do have a passionate and dedicated team of musicians, who know their own voice, and use it to glorify God in our worship. And that is all I ask of them.

So be yourself, find your voice, practice, play, learn and enjoy.

And be your own, individual perfect, as only you can be. As perfect videos and songs often are nothing of the sort….

Dive In!

Well I’m back from a (partly) sunny week away, today is the 1st September and the autumn term is beginning again after the summer break. The kids go back to school this week, our final all age summer service was yesterday and now we’re back into rotas, normal Sunday services and (believe it or not…), Christmas planning! So I thought I’d start this September with a carry over from one of my summer posts:

Steven Curtis Chapman is easily one of my favourite artists of all time, and this, the opening track from his amazing album Speechless is a great song. In fact, every track on the album is a doozy from start to finish, and if you’ve never heard any of his works, Speechless is an excellent place to start. It is one of the few albums that deserves to be played from beginning to end…all killer no filler as they say.

My heart is racing and my knees are weak 
as I walk to the edge

I know there is no turning back 
once my feet have left the ledge

And in the rush I hear a voice 
that’s telling me it’s time to take the leap of faith

So here I go

I’m diving in, I’m going deep in over my head, I want to be

Caught in the rush, lost in the flow, in over my head, I want to go

The river’s deep, the river’s wide, the river’s water is alive

So sink or swim, I’m diving in

Now clearly the video hasn’t dated at all…but the song is all out superb. “I’m diving in, I’m going deep, in over my head I want to be”. This Sunday, as we completed our Barbecues of the Bible series, one of our team was preaching about Elijah and his challenge to the prophets of Baal to get their gods to set fire to the sacrifice that had been prepared. For many hours they danced around the offering, calling on their god, chanting, eventually self harming to show their dedication. And nothing. So Elijah rebuilt the altar and arranged the pieces of the sacrifice on the wood. And then Elijah had the confidence to pour gallons of water on the sacrifice, soaking the wood and the sacrifice and filling the trench that was around the altar. Then he prayed to God, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me O Lord, answer me , that this people may know that You O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” And God answered Elijah’s prayer, and fire rained down from heaven and consumed the offering, the altar, the wood, the stones, all of the water and even the dust from the ground.

Elijah didn’t sit on the fence. Steven Curtis Chapman sings about walking to the ledge, and then taking that leap. Now that summer is over, now that a new term is beginning, now that we are (hopefully) rested and ready to go, I pray that you don’t hold back, you don’t approach any of your worship halfheartedly, and you just dive. right. in.

Legacy

Spoiler Alert: This post has ended up talking a lot about death, (sorry), but hopefully you won’t feel morbid after reading it. 

When John D Rockefeller died in 1937, the story goes at the funeral a bystander asked his accountant how much he left behind in his will. And the accountant answered: “He left it all. He didn’t take a thing with him”

We are on this planet for but a short time, and while we are here we make choices as to what we do, where we live, who we live with and where our money goes. And sometimes we plan this in advance…I have friends who have their five year plans, their goals for the year…I even have a friend who achieved their three year plan in six months! And then there are those of us who sort of drift along, happily seeing where life takes them, and just enjoying the ride.

Now I don’t want to be an advocate for either approach, as I think a balance of both is a good thing, and everyone is different. But we can’t escape the two much quoted things, death and taxes. (Although plenty seem to be trying very hard to avoid taxes these days)…I digress.

Remember me…

What is your legacy going to be? After you’ve lived your three score years and ten, what will you be remembered for? Were you a good friend? An entrepreneur? A philanthropist? Movie star? Bad neighbour? Absent sibling? Did you leave a large bank account, or debts? Were you missed by many friends and family, or was your funeral a quiet affair…possibly even a celebration for all the wrong reasons? Maybe you’ll live your life, and that will be it, and in two generations time “insert your name here” will be forgotten.

At the moment I have at least three legacies in the form of my children, and maybe grandchildren one day. While the work I have done will not necessarily be remembered when I’m gone, I am sure the training, input and time I’ve put into rehearsals, writing and Sundays will have made a difference to some, which in turn may have helped change the course of their lives, and those around them. And while I may not write like Shakespeare, or Bronte, or J.K.Rowling, there is always a possibility some of my work will exist and be used in years to come.

I´ll probably never hold a brush that paints a masterpiece
Probably never find a pen that writes a symphony
But if I will love then I will find
That I have touched another life
And that´s something
Something worth leaving behind

Compassion

As The Beatles famously sang, All You Need is Love. Love makes the world go around. Love lifts us up where we belong. And while love won’t pay the bills, make breakfast and get the washing done, it makes the biggest difference in life. Work, relationships, creativity: adding a big dose of love to any of these things will make the world of difference.

We used this song by Lee Ann Womack some time ago when we were looking at caring; a series entitled The Incredible Power of Compasssion. When you love someone, when you show love however big or small, it makes a difference in peoples lives. And while it may not always look as discernible as painting or writing a masterpiece, while it may not be exhibited in a museum or played on the radio for years to come, while it probably won’t ever earn a Wikipedia entry, touching someone else’s life is definitely something worth leaving behind.

What is your legacy going to be?

Dreams part 2

Just last week I put up a post on dreams, centered on the Disney/Pixar movie Up and the main character, Carl, fulfilling the life long dream he’d had with his late wife. Yesterday I saw this advert for Under Armour, which has quickly gone viral internationally.

Misty Copeland is an American ballerina and a soloist for the American Ballet Theatre, one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the US. She is also the first African American soloist at the company. Her whole story is quite incredible, with custody battles, eating disorders and adversity because of her ethnicity. And Misty didn’t actually start ballet dancing until she was 13, when most beginners commence their training aged 5. Despite this she kept going, kept training, and eventually joined ABT in 2000, working her way up to soloist in 2007.

The advert has the narration of her rejection letters playing in the background…

Dear Candidate. Thank you for your application to our ballet academy. Unfortunately you have not been accepted.

‘You lack the right feet, Achilles tendons, turnout, torso length, and bust. You have the wrong body for ballet and, at 13, you are too old to be considered.’

According to the ballet academies she had applied to, just about everything about her was wrong to them…her body, her feet, her bust, her age….and so on. Some would have given up. Many wouldn’t even have attempted to apply. With all that was going on in the rest of her life, it would have been easy to understand why she would settle for an easier life, a straightforward career.

Misty had a dream, a passion she wanted to fulfill. And she worked and worked and worked at it, she focused, she didn’t give up on her dreams.

No matter what life threw at her, Misty knew what she wanted to do, and she worked at it relentlessly with a passion. The ad campaign is titled I Will What I Want. I’m inspired.

How hard are you willing to work at achieving your dreams?

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.

Saturn, Significance and Chocolate Brownies

That’s me. There. Where the arrow is pointing. What do you mean, you can’t see me…I’m there if you could look closely enough. Waving? Yellow T-Shirt. Just left of Ascot? No….?

This is a picture of earth as viewed from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft as it passed Saturn (you can see the rings at the top of the picture). Saturn is over a million miles from earth. You and I are one of 7 billion people on our planet. 7 billion of us on that pin prick of light in the distance. So when talking about significance, this brings a certain sense of perspective.

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This week I’ve had the privilege to be leading another worship team as we work towards holding a joint event with a local church. We’ve had several meetings to plan the event, to share out the jobs, create an order of service and pool the bands together. Yesterday we had our final rehearsal before Sunday, with a mix of musicians from both churches. And while we made a joyful noise, and worked very well together, there was still a sense of apprehension on my part. In my head I was thinking; “am I good enough for this”, “someone else could probably do it better than I”, “maybe I should stick to drums” and “what do the rest of the band really think about me?”. But we had a great rehearsal, the songs sound great, and Sunday is going to be fantastic.

Significance

All of us have self doubt at points, some more than others. Many of us question our significance, especially in today’s media driven society where our self is so often measured by our jobs, our income, our looks and our possessions. When you meet someone for the first time the opening questions are frequently based on what you do, or where you live, maybe the car you drive, even the clothes you are wearing. “Because you’re worth it”! But my life isn’t defined by the clothes I wear or the car I drive, and my significance isn’t coupled to my job or my income.

All of us want to make some sort of a difference in our lives. Whether we have the ambition to do something on a grand scale, to “Change the World!”, or something closer to home. Or to simply be a great friend, a fantastic parent, a loving sibling, the choice is ours. So often all we need to do is to see the need, have the courage to step up, and just be available…to have the confidence to take action, and to give ourselves the permission to do so. I ummed and ahhhed for a while before I started this blog…as everyone blogs, everyone probably does it better than me, and who am I to do this? And I put it off, and I thought I wasn’t interesting enough, or experienced enough, not quite cool enough…(and clearly even just using the word cool automatically means I am not). But then I just gave myself permission (and a kick) to start it, because if I don’t do it, no-one else will. And here it is. And if it’s read by 1 person (currently my wife) or 1,000,000, whether it helps 10 churches or 100,000, whether it inspires one leader or a whole congregation, it will have made a difference.

Chocolate Brownies

This clip, from Notting Hill, (one of my all time favourite movies…I think Julia Roberts has never been better) illustrated the point when we did a Sunday on insignificance. All the friends have just suffered another badly cooked meal and are competing over the last chocolate brownie as to who is the most deserving of it. But to win it, they have to argue as to who is the biggest failure. Including a multi-millionaire film actress who is a surprise birthday party guest.

Significance. Self-Worth. Importance. We all have the ability to make a difference, create an impact, and to make something of ourselves. But do we need to first give ourselves permission, and the confidence to carry it out? I am going to lead the band on Sunday with confidence in my ability, knowing that I am doing the best I can do, with a team behind me that are following my lead. There are 7 billion people on this planet, but only I can lead the band this way, only I can write my blog, and I am the only husband to Hannah and dad to Abi, Naomi and Joel. That’s pretty significant to me.

Is there something you’re not doing because you don’t think you’re good enough? What will change that?