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The real St. Nicholas would be worshiping Jesus Christ this holiday season.


Happy Christmas! Check out this brief history of St. Nicholas. I really enjoyed reading it and think you will, too.

I hope your Advent has been more worshipful than ever before, culminating in celebrating the Nativity of our Lord tonight or tomorrow with your church family or with your family's church family. I am so excited about our Christmas Eve services tonight! Our band consists of piano, acoustic guitar, percussion, banjo, mountain dulcimer, violin. And I get to sing beside my wife. Most importantly, I know my pastor will be preaching the Gospel - the truth of God entering our mess and cleaning us. Melissa will be singing Andrew Peterson's song about Mary's messy delivery, "Labor of Love," and I will be introducing a new song, "Awaker of My Soul." I pray the Holy Spirit will awaken souls tonight.

I'm checking out for the next week or so, chillaxing at the family's in Chicagoland. Rest, do nothing, build relationships, reminisce, reform worship. Until next year, peace.

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Life Is a Highway


On my lunch break today I was running sound in the auditorium for our preschoolers, who were singing a few songs for their parents and families. Between songs, Preschool Director Miss Amy said, "Okay friends, let's sing our favorite song, 'Deck the Halls,'" to which one of the four year olds responded, "I like 'Life Is a Highway.'"

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Advent Love


A few years ago, while I was taking a class at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, I met a nice young fellow by the name of Derrick, on his way to becoming a priest in the Anglican Church; this while I was at the peak of my conversion to historically informed worship. Derrick gave me a gift before we parted at the end of the term: a little book titled Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas. This is my third Advent season going through the book, which is broken down into forty or so two page readings, one for each day of Advent and Christmas.

Today's reading, December 18, is particularly awe-inspiring, so I thought I'd share it with you. It comes from a sermon by Richard Baxter. Would that you would not lightly read the following excerpt, but engage your heart in the wonder of God's love in worship and adoration:

Oh, what then would I not either perform or part with to enjoy a clear and true apprehension of the most true God! How noble a faculty of the soul is the understanding! It can encompass the earth; it can measure the sun, moon, stars, and heaven; it can foretell each eclipse to a minute many years before: yes, but this is the top of all its excellency, it can know God who is infinite, who made all these, a little here, and more, and much more hereafter.

And if this were all, what a high favor that God will give us permission to love him; that he will allow himself to be embraced by the same arms that have embraced lust and sin before him! But this is not all; he returns love for love, yes, a thousand times more. As perfect as we shall be, we cannot reach his measure of love. Christian, you will be then brimful of love; yet love as much as you can, you will be ten thousand times more beloved. Do you think you can outlove God? What, love more than love itself? Were the arms of the Son of God open upon the cross, and an open passage made to his heart by the spear, and will not arms and heart be open to you in glory? Did God begin to love before you loved, and will not God continue now? Did God love you, and enemy, you a sinner, you who even loathed yourself, and own you when you disdained yourself; and will God not now immeasurably love you a child, you a perfect saint, you who returns some love for love? You were accustomed to question God's love; doubt of it then if you can.

Thank you, Derrick, for giving me this powerful little book. And thank You, Jesus, for giving me a spiritual understanding of your advent love.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

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Barton Damer: Reforming Church Media


Ryan and I created this site to hopefully aid in the efforts of reforming worship in the church, particularly the Contemporary Church. Our call is for worshipers to "take up your oar" and help row the ship of worship as Christ steers it where He wants it to go. My friend, Barton Damer, has a similar mission. His blog could be called "Reform worship media," but he is way more creative than I am. His site, alreadybeenchewed.net, is a call to reform church media, for church leaders to stop serving food (graphic, video, and other forms of media) that has "already been chewed." Instead, Bart cooks up some fresh and scrumptions resources, the main ingrediant of which is God's limitless imagination. He is a culture cooker in finest form.

Bart's oven is set high. (Okay, enough with the food metaphor.) Chances are many of you have seen his work in one form or another. He is esteemed in both secular and Christian circles for his premium graphic and video skills, employing his art for several well known companies, tutorials for big name video sites, and, as it pertains especially to us, articles and resources for church worship through Igniter Media and Collide Magazine. I have found great use in many of their videos and backgrounds for worship gatherings. I subscribe to Collide and religiously read Bart's entries at alreadybeenchewed.net. Check out all three of these sites. They are a nice break from our normal worship theology conversations. Not to mention, you may find some Christ-centered, excellent media to help you put some of our crazy worship ideas into practice. Ryan just told me they will be using Igniter's "Retooning the Nativity" video for their Christmas Eve service.

As for the other video Ryan mentioned, I was having lunch with Bart one day and by chance was asked to be part of Igniter Media Group's Christmas video “All Ye Faithful.” I think it's a creative way to call people to worship in a Christmas season gathering. Had I known I was going to be a part of the video, I probably would have shaved and purchased a green or red polo shirt...but the halo is their fault.

All Ye Faithful from Igniter Media on Vimeo.

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Igniter Media: New Christmas Video Starring Sean Carter


Click here to watch the video. Sean is the skinny dude with the crazy shirt who sings, "Born the King of..." (If you pause it at the 33 second mark, Sean looks like Jesus with a halo.) Use this video in church next Sunday, and find other useful church media resources at Igniter Media Group. Sean will be sharing more about Igniter real soon.

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Inside Worship: A Little About Myself and the Story Behind "Christ Is Exalted"


I am honored to be featured in the latest Inside Worship podcast. Click here to go to their site and listen to the interview. [Or press play below]

Episode eight - podcasting from Vineyard Music's studio house in Houston, TX. Casey and Anabeth sit down with Ryan Flanigan to talk about his family, his worship journey, how his seminary background influences his worship leading, and the heart behind this episode's featured song "Christ Is Exalted". Ryan is the worship pastor at River Valley Church located in Granger, IN (near South Bend, IN).

The church is actually in Mishawaka, IN.

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Some More Free and Amazingly Good Liturgical Music



I have not heard anything in the Church as creative, unique, and good as this music from Church of the Beloved. These guys are culture creators. I am tremendously encouraged to hear good, godly music like this (and the Advent Songs from Sojourn) in the Church. I hope to see and hear more and more quality musicians who are Christians using their gifts for the Church, instead of feeling like they have to use their gifts outside of the church in order to be faithful and uncompromising. Why is it that most Christian Music (CCM and Praise and Worship) is second rate, sentimental pop?

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Bonhoeffer on Worship and Praying the Psalms


The following is an excerpt from Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

God has promised to be present in the worship of the congregation. Thus the congregation conducts its worship according to God's order. But Jesus Christ himself has offered the perfect worship by perfecting every prescribed sacrifice in his own voluntary and sinless sacrifice. Christ brought in himself the sacrifice of God for us and our sacrifice for God. For us there remains only the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in prayers, hymns, and in a life lived according to God's commands (Psalms 15 and 50). So our entire life becomes worship, the offering of thanksgiving. God wants to acknowledge such thanksgiving and to show his salvation to the grateful (Psalms 50 and 23). To become thankful to God for the sake of Christ and to praise him in the congregation with heart, mouth, and hands, is what the Psalms wish to teach us. (41-42)

There are several things I find encouraging in Bonhoeffer's words, the greatest of which is his Christ-centeredness and acknowledgment of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus as the only means by which we can worship God. But I want to focus on one implication of such Christ-centered worship that is often overlooked in our contemporary reading/praying of the Psalms.

Recently, I have been pondering the seeming individualism of the Psalms. I often hear from the mouths of my peers, and I myself have said it a number of times, that the "I/me/my" language of the Psalms justifies our modern emphasis on the individual in Contemporary Praise and Worship songs and the American church as a whole. There is no question that such is the language of the Psalms, but perhaps in our quest to find approval in our individualistic tendencies we have misinterpreted what was always meant to be understood as communal, or congregational. Indeed, in my Western mind, I have the tendency to separate the individual from the communal, the personal from the corporate. Maybe this chasm, this dichotomy, is a hindrance to a right understanding of worship in general and praying the Psalms in particular.

I would submit that the individualist component of the Psalms, which is certainly there, is, for all intents and purposes, much more communal than we think. Bonhoeffer points out that David, God's anointed king, was a prototype of Jesus Christ. Obviously, David (Asaph, Solomon, etc.) prays the Psalms; he authored them. But Jesus also prays the Psalms, in the purest sense; Jesus is the Word of God, and the Psalms are inspired Scripture. So where does that place us? Well, we pray the Psalms, too.

We, that is, first of all the entire community in which alone the vast richness of the Psalter can be prayed, but also finally every individual insofar as he participates in Christ and his community and prays their prayer. David, Christ, the church, I myself, and wherever we consider all of this together we recognize the wonderful way in which God teaches us to pray. (21)

So we're back to Christ's worship, Christ's prayer, being the only acceptable offering. We simply participate in His perfect sacrifice. That is how we worship. That is how we pray the Psalms. Indeed, through Christ I pray...and it is perfectly okay for me to say that in first-person singular.

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Free Advent Music If You Tell 5 Friends



Thanks, Matt, for considering me one of your five friends.

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Help Us "Put the Lights on the Tree": You Are Invited to Our Advent Night of Carols


[Update: Thanks to everyone who attended and participated in this wonderful evening. The place was absolutely packed out, and the kids were absolutely adorable. Let's keep up the spirit of the Advent season by genuinely anticipating the coming of Christ!]

When?

  • Sunday, December 7th, 6:00 P.M.

Where?

  • River Valley Church, 55855 Bittersweet Rd, Mishawaka, IN 46545

Why?

  • Because we want to come together as a family to help each other usher in the Advent emotions of anticipation, penitence, longing, excitement, expectation, etc., preparing our hearts for the coming Christ.

  • Because a choir has emerged and needs you to lead them in singing several Christmas carols.

  • Because our kids want to educate us adults about what in the world Advent is. They will perform a couple sketches and a few songs, including two Sufjan Stevens arrangements.

  • Because our pre-schoolers will adorably adorn a tree to the accompaniment of a four piece ensemble consisting of tuba, trombone, trumpet, and flute.

  • Because we have all worked tremendously hard over the past month preparing to bless you with the life of this season.


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Advent Conspiracy


A few weeks ago I posted on "How to Get Maximum Fulfillment Out of Christmas." Add this to my list of suggestions:

adventconspiracy.org

Thank you, Hans, for pointing out this "organization?" to me. I haven't had much time to surf their site yet, but it doesn't take much time to see how right on they are.

There are areas in my life as a middle class American where I know I can sacrifice. I hope to one day soon be like my friend Keith who has such a passion, which amounts to action, for the thirsty and dying in Africa, that back when the government tried to stimulate the economy, Keith rallied a bunch of friends to give towards building wells in Africa instead of spending their "free" money at the mall.

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Our New 30 Song Repertoire


To kick off the New Church Year I have launched our Music Ministry's new six-month song repertoire. There are a few reasons why I have narrowed down our song list to thirty songs. First of all, the common church-goer is simply not able to handle a ridiculous amount of songs. Therefore, as a courtesy to the congregation (who is really the song leader) we should stick to fewer songs in the regular rotation. Secondly, the band is part of the singing congregation, too. We should be freed up to not have to focus too intently on the music. The way this is accomplished for most musicians is for us to have fewer songs to learn and master. Thirdly, song selection is much easier with a smaller list of songs to choose from.

In addition to the thirty song repertoire, I have a running "B" list of songs that is made up of over a hundred songs the congregation is quite familiar with. I can pull from the "B" list at any time, especially if a song fits a given Sunday's topic, but otherwise minimally. At the start of each new repertoire season, I move the overused songs to the "B" list, keep the working songs on the "A" list, and add five or six new songs to the repertoire. I will then introduce those new songs over the next three months, and hopefully the congregation will have them down by the end of the six months. I will repeat the same thing six months from now to kick off the next repertoire season.

How do I choose the songs for the repertoire? Well, for one, I like to have a good balance of fast and slow songs. For some reason good fast songs are hard to come by these days. Perhaps it's because they are harder to write than slow songs. At any rate, with my repertoire system I can control the number of fast and slow regulars by gearing the new songs to be introduced one way or the other. This time around most of the new songs will be fast. Another thing I look for is a good mixture of thematic content amongst the songs: Creation songs, Cross songs, Heaven songs, etc. Personally, I prefer singing songs that are communal (we/us/our), because we are trying to combat the culture of narcissism that unfortunately carries over into our songs. That means less of the songs we sing are in first person singular (I/me/my). I also include a handful of original songs, and I would highly recommend using original songs in your church. Congregational connectedness skyrockets when good original songs are put into the rotation, particularly because the songs were more than likely written as an expression of what the Holy Spirit has done or is currently doing among the local body.

These are mere guidelines generally adhered to. There is always room to, say, add a new song if one arises in the middle of a repertoire season. Oh, and in addition to the "B" list, we have a list of about twenty great hymns and a handful of Advent/Christmas songs that we draw from. We typically sing five songs every Sunday Celebration. Usually at least four of the songs are from the thirty song repertoire. Okay, here's the list of songs with their authors. I would also love to know the songs you guys are singing in your churches.

  1. All I Have by Brennan & Dobbelmann
  2. Beautiful One by Tim Hughes
  3. Bless His Name by Tony Sanchez
  4. Cannons by Phil Wickham (new)
  5. Center by Hall & Redman
  6. Center of It All by Tim Hughes (new)
  7. Christ Is Exalted by Ryan Flanigan
  8. Communion with the Trinity by Ryan Flanigan (new)
  9. Everything by Tim Hughes
  10. Glory by Reuben Morgan
  11. Holding Nothing Back by Tim Hughes (new)
  12. Holy by Brenton Brown
  13. Hosanna (Praise Is Rising) by Baloche & Brown
  14. In Christ Alone by Getty & Townend
  15. Jesus' Name by Ryan Delmore
  16. Lift High by Fee & Kirkland (new)
  17. Light of the World Arise by Carter & Flanigan
  18. Living for Your Glory by Tim Hughes
  19. Nothing But the Blood by Matt Redman
  20. O Praise Him by David Crowder
  21. Sing Sing Sing by Chris Tomlin (new)
  22. Stand in Awe by Jeremy Riddle
  23. Take My Life (Here Am I) by Havergal/Tomlin & Giglio
  24. That I Might Sing (Woe Is Me) by Ryan Flanigan
  25. The Lord Is Gracious and Compassionate by Graham Ord
  26. There's No One Like Our God by Beeching & Mitchinson
  27. Unchanging by Chris Tomlin
  28. Up From the Fall by Ryan Flanigan
  29. You Came by Ryan Flanigan
  30. You Never Let Go by Beth & Matt Redman

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