Three Big Takeaways from Psalm 48:14

"For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end." Psalm 48:14

This is one of those passages that just has staying power with me.  It was an easy one to memorize, so I can always refer back to it at a moment's notice; it has inspired songs in me; and it contains basic truth about God's character that I've needed to lean on countless times.

There are 3 big things about the passage that are great reminders to me:

1. "For this God is our God"- Our relationship with God is personal.  We belong to Him, and so He belongs to us.  To claim ownership of that relationship by saying that God is "our" God is truly an awesome thing!

2. "For ever and ever"- it's a never-ending relationship!  His faithfulness knows no end, and when we are His, that's it!  There's no changing that.

3. "He will be our guide even to the end"- God is with us for all time and in all times.  I like to look at the words here and imagine that God is our God until the end of time, and also to the end of our circumstances.  So it's both describing the duration of his love, and the expanse of his Love.  Deep and wide.  When we come to the end of our circumstances; when we hit rock bottom; He is with us, and will serve as our guide, walking us through any ordeal.

Asking with no Asterisk

How do we pray?  That was a question that the disciples asked of Jesus, and a question that is still important to be asked today.  In Luke 11, Jesus responds to the question with a very specific prayer, and is gracious enough to spoon feed his people the answer they were seeking.

But he follows up the specific prayer with a couple of stories to help His people pray better.  The themes of both stories are to raise your expectation of your prayers...high expectation is directly related to deep fatih.  Faith is being certain of what you hope for, and hope and expectation are synonymous.  I've heard some say that faith is hope with work clothes on...it's an bold action you take based on a high expectation of and trust in God.

My prayers can easily drift into language that allows my expectation to be lower, just in case I need to protect myself from an unanswered prayer or an uncomfortable answer to prayer.  I'll ask for something in prayer, and quickly follow it up with, "But only if it's Your will" or "But if that's not what you want to do then that's fine."  Not saying it's wrong to openly acknowledge that God's plan can look differently than I expected, but I've found  that I often hide behind those statements just to protect myself.  But I love the language in Luke 11 verse 8...the NIV says the person in the story got what he asked for because of his "shameless audacity."  WOW!  I love that.  God is looking for audacious, bold prayers.  You need a healthy dose of boldness as way of exhibiting your faith. 

Do not ask for something and then include an asterisk, reminding God "I'm totally ok if you decide my prayer is ridiculous."  Just ask with shameless audacity. Ask with boldness.  No conditions.  No disclaimer.  No asterisk.

Life Lessons from a License Plate

I was a stoplight recently and the car in front of me had a custom border around their license plate.  It caught my eye because on the border was written "Lord, Please Protect this Car."  I had never seen that kind of thing before and it sparked thoughts in my mind of how awesome it was to imagine that the there was a constant state of prayer surrounding the car.

But what truly got my attention was when the light turned green, the car proceeded through the light and a big, nasty cloud of exhaust fumes came out of the tailpipe! These folks were praying for God to protect that car to the point of permanently affix a prayer to it's backside, but the basic maintenance of the very thing they were asking God to protect was being neglected.  

I couldn't help but ask the question, "Am I undercutting a prayer in my own life due to my own lack of action?" It left me with this reminder; Don't ask for supernatural power if you aren't willing to steward the routine maintenance.  

  

How to lead Great Band Rehearsals: Part 3

One of the best ways to set yourself up for a distraction-free Sunday service is to have rehearsals that allow for more freedom on Sundays.  God deserves all glory for services that usher people into His presence, but he's all also called us to lead his church so there are steps we can take to steward that responsibility well as musicians.    Part 1 was adjusting your language from "practice" to "rehearsal."  Part 2 was about the importance of preparation.  The next part is all about punctuality.

Ultimately one of your main objectives is to attain and retain trust from your musicians, so you've got to focus on being a good steward of their talents and their time.   When it comes to time, I want to make sure that I make the most of their time, and one of the best mindsets I've adopted is to try to never steal time from your people.  They are being generous with their time, and for many if not most churches, they are doing for no compensation.  You do not want to exploit their generosity by stealing time from them through your own laziness and sloppy leadership.  Being punctual sends a clear message to your people that you value their time.  

REHEARSAL START TIME: You need to guard your start times.  I've found that setting the expectations of punctuality works great when it's based on two times; a "call time" and a "hard start time."  The call time is when you are suggesting most people to arrive to set up instruments, visit with each other, ask questions about songs...it's just a time to get settled in prior to the start of rehearsal. The hard start time is the actual beginning of rehearsal.  I've found that call time should be at least 15 minutes prior to hard start, but no more than 30 minutes prior to hard start.  Some musicians won't need to arrive as early as others, but setting the expectation of people to arrive at whatever time they need to arrive in order to hard start at a certain time is what works for the people I've led.  You need to feel the freedom to hold folks accountable to their punctuality, and of course, before you start holding folks accountable on that, make sure that you are leading the way in your own punctuality.

REHEARSAL END TIME: Punctuality is often associated solely as being on time at the beginning, but we also need to make sure we are being punctual with ending rehearsal in a timely manner.  As the leader, you are solely responsible for how long rehearsal lasts.  You can be punctual with when you start rehearsal, but if you allow for rehearsals to drag on too long, then you've lost all credibility and focus from your people.  I've found that some best practices for ending rehearsal on time are to begin the rehearsal with the most familiar song (and if possible the most energetic song), then follow that with the least familiar song, then progress the rehearsal so that you end with a familiar song.  This does wonders for the psyche of your band members by starting and ending with songs they are confident in playing, it kick starts the rehearsal in a nice way so that everyone's engine is running efficiently when you get to more difficult/less familiar songs, and then you can end rehearsal on a high note.  It just keeps rehearsals flowing.  Another best practice is to not allow a specific song or part in a song to ruin your punctuality.  If a song, a part, or a musician isn't meeting the standards you had hoped for and it's negatively impacting your ability to be punctual, then just leave it where it is.  You can make adjustments and do fine tuning during the week prior to Sunday, but don't steal time from your musicians but trying to achieve perfection at rehearsal if it's just not happening.

How to Lead Great Band Rehearsals: Part 2

One of the best ways to set yourself up for a distraction-free Sunday service is to have rehearsals that allow for more freedom on Sundays.  God deserves all glory for services that usher people into His presence, but he's all also called us to lead his church so there are steps we can take to steward that responsibility well as musicians.  

Part 1 was about the difference between "rehearsals" and "practice" and how a simple tweak of language can cast vision to your team.  Once your language is adjusted, the next step is to back up the vision with preparation. Preparation begins and ends with the leader. You have zero credibility to ask your team for preparation, if you don't lead the way.

Here is how to breakdown preparing for a song:

1. The Beginning! How does each song begin?  Know what instrument starts the song.  Know the timing of chords so that you can communicate.  

2. The Map!  Know the verse, chorus, bridge order.  Where are you trying to take song dynamically?  Know when certain instruments enter/exit.

3. The Standout Sections!  Are there any special elements that demand attention?  Often there's a guitar riff, or a drum fill, vocal run, etc. that takes a song to the next level.  Make sure you are prepared to coach through those parts or at least remind the musicians that you want that part to the stand out.  

4. The Ending!  Have a plan for how to end the song.  Are you going to end abruptly?  Are you going to a big rock and roll ending?  Are you going to end gently with a swellabration (guitars and cymbals milking the swell to encourage celebration)?  

If you have those 4 areas nailed, then you should be prepared enough to navigate through any song and instill confidence in your band that they can trust your direction.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

1. Be Decisive- even if you don't have an answer for something, or have overlooked something in your preparation, just be decisive in the moment.  You can always adjust something in between rehearsal and the service.  

2. Have accurate lead sheets- make sure your lead sheets for your band are accurate.  The map and chords need to be exactly like the reference

3. Plan ahead- make sure you are giving your musicians enough time for prep.  A good goal to aim for is to have all prep materials accessible for them 2 weeks prior to rehearsal 

How to Lead Great Band Rehearsals: Part 1

One of the best ways to set yourself up for a distraction-free Sunday service is to have rehearsals that allow for more freedom on Sundays.  God deserves all glory for services that usher people into HIs presence, but he's all also called us to lead his church so there are steps we can take to steward that responsibility well as musicians.  This will be a series of posts, as there many tangible things we can do as leaders of musicians in the church.

The first thing to do is ensure that your language is accurate by using the word band "rehearsal" rather than band "practice."  Practice is something you do individually at home, rehearsal is something we all do together where each member brings their part.  Using the word rehearsal itself implies there there has already been work done beforehand, whereas you can practice something without any prior history on the subject.  

Think of it as actors in play...if they come to play rehearsal without any history with the script, the beats and rhythms of the play, how to act off of other people's lines, etc., then your rehearsal is going to be long, frustrating, and fruitless because you'll find that the actors will be individually working on the nuts and bolts of their parts.  Individual preparation does not require meeting together as a group.  It can be done individually!  

The same idea applies to a band...each musician should respect the time and talent of their band mates by not using rehearsals as a personal practice time, but as a time to put their puzzle pieces together to create art.  If you have people using rehearsals as practice time, then you're going to end up with frustrated band members who feel disrespected and don't trust each other.  How can you expect to have the people on Sundays put their trust in the leadership of the musicians, if you the musicians on stage don't trust each other?.  A simple adjustment of your language to calling it "rehearsal" and being consistent with explaining the vision of rehearsal time to your musicians will go a long in not only having efficient rehearsals, but it will also increase the capacity for trust, freedom, and creativity. 

Of course, the leader has to lead the way.  You can't simply adjust your language, and expect your musicians to understand.  In Part 2, we will talk about the importance of preparation and how leaders need to go first. 

Passover

The original Passover, people were saved who lived under the blood of an innocent sacrifice spilled on a wooden doorframe.  Death passed over them and they were spared, able to escape their slavery and live in freedom.  With Jesus, we find life by living under the blood of an innocent sacrifice spilled on a wooden cross.  Death has passed over those who believe in faith, and we are free from the slavery of sin, and can live in freedom.  

The original Passover was a miraculous and gracious act of God for His chosen people.  The Passover through Jesus was a miraculous and gracious act of God for any and all who believe by faith.  The original Passover was precious moment in time for those who were present, while Passover of Jesus is a permanent offering for all who believe.  Jesus was the fulfillment and perfection of all things!  

The Discipline of Remembering

I don't know where I would be without reminders.  I find myself so often caught up in the tasks of life, or even just lost in my own thoughts that I forget the simplest of things.  A scary part of forgetfulness is that isn't limited to only mundane, simple things.  Our forgetfulness can also seep into the most deeply valued areas of life.  It seems I'm not alone in forgetfulness of the important because human beings are always putting up monuments to remember and value historical events.  Or we put pictures in our homes of people or places to honor memories and implant the value of those people or places deep within us.  Or we have calendars with important events so we don't allow ourselves to overlook important celebrations.  I look down at my hand and see my wedding band that serves as a symbol of my marriage, but also a reminder of the covenant I've made with Heather.  

All these things are included in our lives to practice the discipline of remembering.  Thankfully God is well aware of our lack of memory fortitude, and he mentions so often how remembering impacts our relationship with Him.  His people in the Old Testament fell out of favor with him because the generations did not remember their God.  He put a rainbow in the sky after the flood to remind people of the covenant he made.  He honored his promise to Abraham because God remembered his faithfulness and the covenant he made with him.  He gave us the Passover meal to remind His people of the deliverance he provided, and Jesus said to eat the Lord's Supper in "remembrance of me."  The theme of remembering and the repercussions of remembering, or lack thereof, are all throughout the Bible.

So on this day when I will undoubtedly forget something, I'm encouraged to know that God knows my remembering muscle is weak and thankful He gives me tools to strengthen it.   

The secret to being a worship leader

Being a worship leader is more about who you are than what you can do.  Being a good musician is important for establishing a trust with the people you are leading in music, but once that initial musical trust is established, you have to offer something more.  Working on your craft as a musician is wise and is good stewardship, but it cannot be where the majority of your energy is focused.   This is where knowing your identity, your calling, and your role (in that order) makes all the difference. 

Your identity has to be found in being a child of God.  Abilities and skills can fade or be taken away, so finding your identity in those things dangerous.  The only thing that is permanent is God and your position as His child. So ensuring that your identity is in that is crucial.  People can sense when someone has their identity in the wrong thing.  

Once that identity is established you have to recognize that your second most important calling is to be a minister to people.  You have to love people people and be vulnerable in front of people.  Having that solid identity foundation makes this a lot easier because you understand better the calling to love people as you have been loved, to forgive as you have been forgiven, and to sacrifice yourself as you have been sacrificed for.  

Once you've aligned your identity and your calling, then you can fully step into your role as a worship leader.  The role is your specific place where you can be of use in building up the people of God, so it's not to be taken lightly.  But the best way to not take it lightly is to get your identity and your calling straightened out.  Only then can you be of most use in your role.