Category Archives: Service recaps

Memories, flags, hostility and peace

It’s funny how some memories are etched in your mind more vividly than others.

I remember one Sunday driving, with my late mum in the front passenger seat. I was 19 at time, still a new Christian. We were driving through Botany to drop her off at the Fo Guang Shan Temple in Flat Bush, where she served often with the Buddhist organisation.

As we waited at the intersection, I noticed the church in front of us had the flags for several countries flown at full mast. They were billowing in an array of colours across a cloudless blue sky, a kaleidoscopic statement of the nationalities represented in that church family.

My mum looked up for a moment, then pointed at the flagpoles and remarked that it was the only place she’d ever seen the Taiwan ROC flag flown alongside the China PR flag.

(If you don’t know, Taiwan isn’t an official country according to the UN, and there’s ongoing political pressure from China not to fly the Taiwanese flag. From the Chinese point of view, Taiwan’s the prodigal son that needs to return to the fold. From across the strait, Taiwan sees itself as politically and culturally distinct from Mainland China).

While I’m half-Taiwanese via my mum’s bloodline, at the time I didn’t think much of her observation. But today, the picture of those flags flown side-by-side is etched in my mind, representing something only Jesus Christ can do: break down barriers and bring true peace and reconciliation between two opposing sides.

HowGreatThouArt-lyrics-bilingual

Fast forward nearly a decade to last Sunday: when our church was joining with the Evangelical Formosan Church (they meet in HBC’s building) in a combined worship service, I thought again about how Jesus really is our peace.

As Peter preached so magnificently on Sunday from Ephesians 2:11-22, Jesus himself is our peace, who breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between us, who reconciles us to God in one body through his atoning death on the cross, and who grants access in one Spirit to the Father.

And to know that in EFC church there are Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese Christians, worshipping Jesus together, gave me so much encouragement and hope. Not merely that there’d be political resolution between China and Taiwan (even if there was, it would never be perfect), but that in Christ there would be true peace and reconciliation between Chinese and Taiwanese people. And likewise, that in Christ there would be peace and reconciliation between whites, blacks, Pacific Islanders, Africans, Asians, Europeans, South Americans, in churches around the world that herald and live out the gospel.

And to imagine that one day, an innumerable multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, who were once alienated from each other, will be united in worshipping Christ:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number,from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10)

What a memorable day that would be.

 

A good evangelical church in Taipei

In between spending time with our relatives and the sightseeing these two weeks, our family spent two Sundays worshipping God with His people in Friendship Church Taipei.

They are a Reformed Presbyterian, PCA-supported church located in the heart of Taipei's University district that exist “for the glory of God and the good of Taipei”. Currently, Dennis Brown is the lead pastor and Jason Truell is the Associate Pastor. The congregation is very culturally diverse with South Americans, Asians, Africans, Europeans – in fact we seemed like the anomalies, culturally speaking (“Oh New Zealand? That's like Australia isn't it?”) We certainly got a bigger vision of God's Kingdom!

Both Sundays we were blessed with good preaching, warm fellowship and were convicted by the gospel to shape our parenting and the nature of our relationships. Some things I noticed and appreciated from the service leading point of view:

  • The service leader (seemed like an elder each time) was clear and concise in explaining what to do next. The use of responsive readings were done well and placed in a sensible flow (I think they use the Praise, Renewal and Commitment Cycle described by Tim Keller).
  • Musicians led a balance of older hymns/refrains and contemporary songs. As a visitor from across the world, it was easier to participate during the hymn singing (though most of the contemporary songs had good lyrics). Instrumentation was simple (guitar, vocals, some hand percussion) yet effective.
  • They take up the offering after the sermon (as part of the church's response to the preached Word, committing to the work of the gospel). That seems to have the advantage of communicating that our giving is worship in response to what God has done through Christ.

Someone shares their testimony during a previous service (Source: Facebook)

Other random thoughts:

  • Great website (seems like it was redone at the start of 2013). We discounted a few other churches that had hard-to-find or no information on their website. For most people, their first impression of a church comes from their website. You might as well not have a witnessing presence if no one can find you online.
  • We love our family here, but it is a real refreshment to be able to step into a church in a foreign country, and immediately know and celebrate a common love of Jesus with saints from all over the world. “Surely God is among you!”
  • Taipei needs the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I'm so thankful that there is a solid, Christ-proclaiming church here.

If you're looking for an English speaking church in Taipei that's evangelical and gospel centered, I would highly recommend Friendship Taipei.

 

Some reflections on singing together at STAND 2013

 

Cheryl and I have just come out of a busy weekend of serving during our home church’s Stand for the Gospel conference. This was the 4th year we helped out (this time around I organised the music ministry and helped plan the general sessions, taught a seminar on hymns, and also helped to get the website and registrations system up and running, Cheryl helped to bake some food for morning tea and looked after E all weekend). It was a privilege to serve over 300 people from across NZ (and Australia) and boy, did the LORD meet with us through the preaching, singing and praying of His Word.

I’ll share a bit about how the hymns seminar went in my next post. But for now, here’s some of my reflections on planning and leading the gathered worship through 20+ songs during STAND 2013:

  1. The singing was LOUD. For example on Friday night by the time we hit the last chorus of our first song (Behold Our God), I was struggling to hear the instruments either side of me because of the volume of the church. That’s a good problem to have! As a worship leader it’s wonderful to hear the church singing praise to God, almost to the point where we could have just stopped leading from the front and let the truths being sung just wash over us. So thankful that we experienced this time and time again throughout the conference.
  2. Throughout the weekend the conference attendees were very gracious and game to be stretched a little with a couple of new songs and tunes (e.g. Thou Lovely Source, Psalm 130 – From the Depths of Woe, The Apostles’ Creed). Actually I was pleasantly surprised how easily they picked them up, with most people singing full volume by the end of each of those songs (You can see a full list of songs we sang together here). It seemed like new songs were easier to pick up when led sensitively (e.g. simplified as a tune, demonstrated by the vocalists, doubled on a melody instrument), and when the church was convinced/prepared to sing them (e.g. the story behind a song shared, or an explanation about the particular gospel truth a song helped us to consider).
  3. God’s providence was on display. Several times the LORD kindly connected songs we sang to things that were happening during and around the conference. Thabiti referenced “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” in his sermon, and we ended up singing the same song. Peter prayed passionately to God the day before same-sex “marriage” comes into effect, and we had a song like “We Belong to the Day” to respond with. There were many people struggling with fresh trials, and topics discussed like sexual abuse and youth suicide… and we were able to sing gospel hope with lines like “Our Shepherd Good and True is He who will at last His Israel free from all their sin and sorrow…” and songs like “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” and “I Asked the Lord“. It’s funny, we can be so busy putting together set lists, music parts and making plans, but I was reminded again that it’s the LORD who truly directed steps and made things connect richly.
  4. I appreciated Thabiti’s challenge during the Q&A session about ensuring that what musicians lead from the front enables and enhances the congregational singing, which should be the primary sound of a church singing. The consistent feedback from STAND 2012 was that we didn’t do well on this, so I’m so thankful that God continues to impress this principle on us and help us grow in this. Some ways we tried to encourage the congregational singing this year was to do things like inserting “voices only” sections when leading as a full contemporary band, leading a session with just male voices and organ, and thinking through the musical arrangements of our songs and shaping it with dynamic contrasts.
  5. Also, Thabiti’s suggestion of practising Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19 by including times of singing to each other – actually turning from left to right to sing God’s marvellous truths to each other – was brilliant. I’m already thinking of how we could encourage HBC to grow in this area. Don’t be too freaked out the next time I’m standing next to you and singing to your face! 🙂

It’s easy and tempting to turn conference singing into times of showing off what we as worship leaders and musicians are capable of, or to frustrate people by forcing lots of new songs on them, or to be a lightning rod for musical style arguments. But I think what we tried to do — sing the gospel and its implications to the Lord and to each other, in a variety of musical styles — helped us to savour Christ crucified for our sins more, supported the message of 1 John (that we might be more sure of our salvation in Christ), and supported the preaching of God’s Word. And I pray that God used our sacrifice of praise, perfected only by Jesus Christ, to magnify His Name this weekend.

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Leading a worship song I don’t personally like

10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman has been #1 on CCLI, on the Planning Centre weekly aggregates, and sung at nearly every conference I’ve been to, or listened to, or heard about recently. People have told me how blessed they have been singing this song in their private worship and other areas.

Now, I love singing Matt Redman’s songs (e.g. How Great Is Your Faithfulness, Blessed Be Your Name, Once Again).

But I’m OK to go on record saying that I don’t like 10,000 Reasons.

Sure, the musical hook is perfectly crafted, it’s loosely inspired by Psalm 103, and the theme of praising the Lord in all seasons is helpful (even “on that day when my strength is failing”).

My personal gripes are the use of the words “sing like never before” (how? why?), the absence of the gospel explicitly (though that shouldn’t be a problem in itself), the plodding feel of the song (even though it’s marketed as an “anthem”), feeling that other songs cover this topic better, the desire not to do a song “just because everyone is doing it”, and a feeling that the Body of Christ won’t be singing it in 50 years’ time.

But I don’t think my personal reservations break the song, and so (though Cheryl disagrees with me on this) on Sunday I introduced it at our home church for the first time. And it turned out fine: it fit the flow of the service (a time of thanksgiving after explaining and praying for the new missions initiative, for church family recovering from illness, for the opportunity to give financially), and the congregation sang it with immediate gusto.

Psalms Hymns Spiritual Songs

And I’ve also had to think through this when using other songs I don’t personally like (Shine Jesus Shine comes to mind).

But for leaders and service planners (and a reminder to myself in future), here’s a few reasons to occasionally use a worship song that we don’t like ourselves:

  • The words speak Truth that we should be singing to one another (e.g. the attributes and actions of God, our response to His revelation, the person and work of Jesus Christ)
  • The congregation can already sing it well (especially when both the high school student and the senior citizen get it!)
  • You might end up liking or appreciating the song.
  • No one died from singing an occasional song they didn’t like!
  • It’s good practice when we get to Heaven, where no one person’s musical preferences will be entirely catered for. I like this quote by Marva Dawn:

“If our churches are really going to reflect the diversity that makes up the body of Christ then everybody is going to have to sing songs they don’t like.”

Laying our preferences aside

Ultimately, a song I don’t like gives me an opportunity to show love and encouragement to brothers and sisters with different tastes to mine.

Just as Jesus laid his preferences aside in humbling himself to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:1-11), we can likewise lay our preferences aside at times in order to bless each other.

Mike Cosper asks in his book “Rhythms of Grace”:

“I know many worship leaders who cringe at the thought of incorporating one of CCM’s big “hits” (I often cringe myself), but we need to think about who our church actually is. Do the people listen to those songs? If so, they’re ready to sing them in worship—they’ve been listening and preparing all week! Is it worth incorporating one or two of those songs in our gatherings to serve people who are encouraged and blessed by their style and substance?”

I’ll still have my own musical preferences, and in leading worship I’ll still pass on using unhelpful or untrue songs and texts. But I’m happy to hear, and join in, if we’re singing:

Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name!

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Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – STAND 2011 set list

(Here’s a recap of the service and the songs we chose over the past weekends at Howick Baptist Church. You can find links to the set lists of this church and many other churches each week at theworshipcommunity.com. You can also read through previous HBC service recaps here.)

I’ve spent the past weekend being involved in leading the music for the 2011 Stand for the Gospel conference hosted at our home church.

I wrote up a set list last year and shared my reflections back then. So for a start I’ll put up the list of songs we sang this year.

It was a joy to lead the attendees in worshipping our Lord for His unsurpassed work of redemption, and standing firm in the gospel of our glorious God. Folks came from a variety of denominations and churches across New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Wales, and we had Geoff Thomas from Aberyswyth, Wales as the keynote speaker.

We hosted people from various church backgrounds and musical preferences – so our range of music was chosen to reflect that diversity. The music teams over the weekend ranged from a full praise band — complete with a brass section — to an a cappella mens groupleading in four-part harmony. Some criteria for the songs were: is it God-exalting? is it singable? is it congregational? is it edifying?

Many of the hymns we sang were public domain. We also used songs from/by Emu Music Australia, Chris Tomlin, Sovereign Grace Music, and the Getty/Townend songwriting duo.

The list of songs (with lyrics and audio/video examples where applicable) and messages are below. The opening message from Geoff in particular will give you an insight into Jesus that could only have come from a man who’s known Him all his life!

 

FRIDAY
A Mighty Fortress (Covenant Life version) – lyrics, video
Come People of the Risen King – video
Jesus Messiah – lyrics, video (note: we did this in G instead of B)
1. Geoff Thomas – The Altogether Lovely One
Soli Deo Gloria (Sovereign Grace Music) – lyrics

SATURDAY
How Great Thou Art – lyrics
Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah – lyrics
Peace (Sovereign Grace Music; children’s choir item conducted by Mandy Fleener) – lyrics
Grace Greater Than Our Sin – lyrics
2. Geoff Thomas – The One Full of Joy
O Great God (Sovereign Grace Music) – lyrics

Glories of Calvary – video
By Faith – lyrics, video
Consider Christ (Emu Music; item sung by Janine Rye) – video
Jesus, Thank You (Sovereign Grace Music) – video
3. Geoff Thomas – The One Who Accomplished Redemption
Let Your Kingdom Come – lyrics

SUNDAY
Everlasting (Brian Doerkson) – video
See What a Morning – lyrics
O Great God (item)
Glorious and Mighty – lyrics
All I Have Is Christ – lyricsvideo
Perfect But Painful (Emu Music; item sung by William Chong) – video
4. Peter Somervell – He is Able
In Christ Alone – lyrics

Here is Love (trad.) – lyrics
When Peace Like A River (It Is Well) – lyrics
I Hear the Saviour Say (Jesus Paid It All) – video
5. Geoff Thomas – The One Who Conquered Death
O Church Arise – lyrics

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