Monday, December 28, 2015

Heart of Worship

Have you ever had a time in your life when God seemed distant?   A time when you felt as though you were going through the motions and missing the whole purpose in the “Why?”  I know I have.  A few years ago, a friend shared with me that her church was hosting a ladies retreat and encouraged me to come.  I thought to myself, with the busy weekend ahead, all the reasons I didn’t need to go, but then I thought of all the reasons I did.  I needed a renewal of heart-a rekindling of a flame as I worshipped and spent time with Jesus, but now seemed to be more like a spark than anything else. 

As I began driving across the mountain that day, I began seeking God and asking him to open my heart for worship.  I prayed and asked God to reveal to me His heart.  In this process, I saw mine.  I saw how the motions of my worship were just that…motions. I saw how my “faithfulness” had not really been faithful.   It was in these moments, God laid the words of this song on my heart:

When the Music fades all is stripped away and I simply come. 
Longing just to bring something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart. 
I’ll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself is not what you have required. 
You search much deeper within through the way things appear.
You’re looking into my heart. 
I’m coming back to the Heart of Worship
When it’s all about you.  It’s all about you Jesus. 
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it.
When it’s all about you.  It’s all about you Jesus. 

I knew “the Heart of Worship” was not where I had been. I thought about these words and I began to sing.  That day there was no music, only my shaking voice as tears ran down my cheeks. I began to bring him more than a song-I brought my heart. I found my worship in the surrender.  Sometimes I think that’s where we get lost-somewhere between the words, and the surrender.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less”-John 3:30

He wants our worship and our relationship not to be motivated by obligation or duty, but to be motivated by love-no matter what, because it’s not about me.

“You will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul”-Deuteronomy 4:29

When we seek Him in our worship, whether it is at church, or anywhere else, even in a car alone, we will find him. 
As we begin the new year, let us resolve to allow God to have a greater more meaningful presence in our lives, and that through our surrender, we would truly come to experience the Heart of Worship.  


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Should the Church Be Writing New Songs?

That seems like an easy question to answer, doesn't it?  You say, "Well of course we should be writing new songs.  The Bible says to sing to the Lord a new song."  You would be correct.  But for me, sometimes the answers to questions like this aren't always black and white. This can be a multi-dimensional question with a multi-dimensional answer.  Let me explain...

At the conference I attended back in September, I was sitting in on a music publishing seminar.  The speakers were two very well known producers in the Christian Worship music industry that have done publishing work for Gateway, Vertical Church Band, New Life Worship and even some Christian radio artists.  Going into it, I thought it would basically be them just giving info on how to handle things if you or your church ever decided to release original songs on a large scale.  However, before introducing themselves or the class, they asked one question: "Should you be writing new songs?".  I thought this would be an easier question to answer than it was, but honestly, I was torn.  I don't know that anyone else put a great deal of thought into it since it was asked rhetorically, but I couldn't get away from trying to answer the question in my own mind.  Part of me said "Well duh.  The Bible says to sing a new song."  But then, the other part of me said, "Wait, there are already a ton of great songs out there that we can use.  Why go through the trouble of writing something that's probably going to be mediocre at best?"   When it comes to writing a song, there are a lot of things involved that most people won't see but that are extremely important.  For example, once you have words that work well together and a good song structure, you then have to come up with a melody, then arranging music.  For most, this will involve consulting with many people who can guide you in the right direction.  So again, why all this effort for something that probably won't be another "Revelation Song"?  For MPBC, the answer is because we are worship leaders and we write songs for our church.  

Last year, I saw Vertical Church Band in concert just after they released their newest album, "Church Songs".  Just the name of that album says a lot.  Is VCB saying that their newest record is so awesome that churches everywhere are going to be doing the songs and that they're to be dubbed the new standard for "church music"?  The VCB front-man, Andi Rozier actually brought this up while he was speaking and what he said was what I believe to be the perfect answer to the question.  He said that since he and his band are worship leaders in their church, they wanted to write music that suited their church and brought glory to the name of Jesus.  He made it clear that these aren't to be the new standard for church music, but rather they are literally songs for his church and what they enjoy. 

Our church is geared much like that of what Vertical Church Band offers, so their songs relate.  For your church, it may be a rendition of a hymn or even music with more space for open worship.  I believe the answer to the question is yes.  If Jesus is at the center, then write new songs.  If that means you are a worship leader and it's you and an acoustic guitar or piano, then write something that works in your church.  If it means that you're a church with a large music ministry and can consult with a few people to write a song that works in your church, then do it.   

Don't begin writing something with the sole intent of it being some sort of hit.  Write something that points people to Jesus and that makes it easy for your congregation to worship.  The only outline you need to begin writing is simply Jesus.  That's what you will need to write your own "church songs".



Monday, December 14, 2015

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

“…keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.”  Hebrews 12:2

I tend to be a perfectionist.  I think most musicians are; however, I believe my fellow worship team members and I are starting to realize that our attempts at perfection sometimes hinder us from the things that really matter.  I’m not sure why we are all coming to this realization about the same time, but for me this mindset started a few years ago, around this time of year.

I love nativity sets and enjoy placing them throughout the house during the Christmas season.  Although I have a nativity that belonged to my grandma and others from around the globe, my favorite is one that I purchased for myself when I was a child.  Each Christmas, I pull it out of storage, carefully unwrap and set each piece out until it looks perfect.  One evening, my nieces were at the house enjoying a fun night with Auntie.  We had a picnic on the living room floor and were busy making crafts when one of the girls got up and started playing with my nativity set.  She eventually lost interest and joined me and her sisters back on the floor.  When they left later that night, I immediately went to “fix” my nativity so it would look perfect again.  Instead, I kneeled down in front of it and realized a profound lesson that had just been taught to me by a six year old child.  Because in my attempt to make things perfect, I forgot what was really important.  Here is a picture I took of my nativity that evening.

I believe it was in this moment that I stopped trying to be a perfectionist.  I realized that no matter how well we play or sing (or do anything else, for that matter), if our eyes are not on Jesus, it is meaningless.  That night, when C. turned my nativity around so that everyone (including the donkey, camel and a little lamb) was looking at Jesus, I couldn’t help but think of the words to an old hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

I hope that through our worship, we always remember to play and sing our best.  He deserves our best.  But more than that, I hope that through our worship, we always keep our eyes on Him, the source and perfecter of our faith.
Celebrating the Perfect One given for imperfect me,


Monday, December 7, 2015

When It Comes to Music

When it comes to music, it’s always been my thing. I was the artsy one, terrible at most other activities. Music was naturally something I wanted to do. It still is.

I had gone to MPBC all my life and had experienced the change in music styles for years. I guess it’s safe to say that I didn’t really appreciate what we have here. When I got married, moved away and expected to find a church “just like mine”, I didn’t. Nowhere was just like MPBC. That is when I began to miss what I soon realized was the desire to pursue “excellence.” Running over a song once and saying “Eh, that’s good enough” just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t our best. So, when I moved back this past July, I reveled in the joy of lots of practice and harmonies and perfectly kept tempos. I was amazed at the changes that had occurred in two and a half years, but I liked it. It just felt good to play and sing and do it with people who really want to do their best for God. Not for show, but for glorious beauty, lifted to the Father.

God deserves our best. We know that deep down, but do we act on it? The music we play for Him should be as perfect as we can make it. The way we serve Him in any area of our life should be striving for excellence. Often times, we give Him our leftovers. I do too. He deserves more than that.

We are imperfect people and it’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to get off beat and miss a note or totally lose your place in the song, but because we take a breath and keep going, that’s the excellence. That’s what pleases God. He doesn’t need perfect people. He wants people striving for perfection so that His name is lifted higher and higher. Make His music beautiful, because it’s the best music of all.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Count Your Blessings...

I want you to ask yourself this question....Am I blessed?  In comparison to most of the world, we are, but not in the way you might think.  Yes, we are blessed in material things, but more so in a richness of spirit.  Because we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we are able to serve Him whether it be in leading a congregation in a worship song, or simply sharing the light of Christ with others. In serving Him, we are provided with perpetual blessings. We may not always be able to see them, but great or small those blessings are always constant.  Blessings from God are one reason we praise Him and thank Him for His provisions. 

However, it gets a whole lot harder to be thankful in difficult situations, or even in those small, every day issues. It is so easy to be caught up in what’s going wrong rather than acknowledging and thanking God for all the good in our lives. The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Let’s go back and look at the “ALL” part. All includes every circumstance that we will face in our lives. I wanted to pause here to say I thought this would be fitting since we are coming out of the Thanksgiving season but the more I thought about it, we shouldn’t be “coming out of the Thanksgiving season”…..we should always be thankful!  There is no beginning or end to being thankful towards God.  “Thanksgiving” is merely a time to gather with family to give thanks together, not to say a prayer of gratitude over a meal then carry on with life.  As Christians, if we are truly serving Him, it shouldn't be difficult to find something to be grateful for all the time!  Even the little things that we so often take for granted.  

One thing I know I will always have to be thankful for is music!  Music is one of the greatest blessings in my life.  There are countless other things that I probably take for granted that I should be  praise God for.  God is constantly faithful and always good!  This truth is one thing we can always, and I mean ALWAYS, be thankful for.  He never leaves us, never forsakes us, and always loves us. He is our strength when we are weak and He is our everything.  Every Christian has at least one thing to give praise to God for…..that He is simply there.  Just the fact that He exists!  Since God is always there, we can give thanks in all circumstances, not just on Thanksgiving.
God graciously pours His blessings down upon us, so please remember to count your blessings!:)

Maddie Dowell