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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Bry Bones Worship Devotional

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Bry Bones
Arlen Salte

“Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath.  He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”  - Exodus 13:19

Martin D28
I own a very old Martin D-28 acoustic guitar.  It’s beat up. It has cracks from airport baggage mis-handlers.  It has the imprint of a crashing Shure SM58 microphone on the top. The neck is somewhat twisted and the action would challenge even Arnold Schwartzenager.  But it’s mine and every dent, scratch, split and twist carries a ministry story behind it. But it’s more than the ministry stories; it’s a reminder of the Christian heritage I’m blessed with.  I will never sell it.  Some day it will pass to one of my children.

At this point, the keyboard players may be thinking, “It’s just a guitar. What’s the big deal about something that’s always going out of tune?”

Well, there’s quite a story behind this out of tune piece of wood.

My father was a pastor. When I was seven, our family was in a terrible car accident as we returned from Bible camp.  My father was thrown from the car and brutally killed.  My mother was left with three young children, a fourth on the way and very little money to meet our needs.  But what she was left with was tremendous faith in a powerful God.

Arlen & His Father
My father had a small insurance policy that provided a few hundreds dollars for each child.  When the money was released to me as a young adult, I had an important decision to make.  What would I buy with this money from my father?  I wanted to buy something that would remind me of my father as I continued the ministry that was cut off at his prime.  By now, you’ve guessed the rest of the story.  That’s how I was able to purchase this beautiful old Martin.

For over 3 decades, wherever I ministered with this guitar I would be reminded of God’s faithfulness.  I would remember how he provided for my mother in miraculous ways.  I would be reminded about my father’s passion for God and my challenge to continue to share his words of hope.

In the scramble to be “contemporary” we must not forget the lessons of the past.  Our lessons from the past remind us that God has been with us before and He will certainly be with us again.

Our reading today refers to that.  Over 400 years before the Exodus, Joseph had his family pledge that they would carry his bones back to his homeland when they left Egypt.  Did you read that?  Four hundred years! That’s over three and a half million hours of caring for a pile of old bones.

Did Joseph really need his bones carried out of Egypt?  I don’t think so.  So what was the purpose?

These bones were a reminder for generations living in Egypt that they had made a pledge to God and that He had made a pledge to them as well.  Once they left Egypt carrying these bones they were reminded that God had fulfilled His promise to them, even 400 years later.   As they trampled through the desert those old dry bones helped to remind them that God would be with them as they faced the challenges to come.

How has God shown His faithfulness to you in your worship ministry?  Have you remembered His faithfulness lately?  How has God shown His faithfulness in your past?

·   Did you once need a bass player and God brought one to you?   
·   Was a member of your praise team struggling in a relationship and God brought healing?
·   Have you won the fight to have drums in church? 
·   Did God come through for you with an upgraded sound system?

As I travel the world I hear worship teams share countless stories of God’s faithfulness.  But I also meet many teams who have forgotten God’s blessings.  There is a danger of forgetting God’s faithfulness in our scramble to find the “hot new thing.”  We can also forget in the midst of our struggles.

God knew that His people could easily forget His promises and decrees.  He formed us and He knows that we’re made of dust.  That’s why He stated, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  - Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Do you have physical reminders of your spiritual heritage?  Whether it’s 400-year-old bones, candles, stained glass or chalices, the church has used physical reminders of God’s faithfulness for thousands of years.  These symbols weren’t just to beautify sanctuaries.  They were to help us remember and to build our faith.

Can you look around your church and see physical reminders?  Perhaps you see it in the eyes of your team members.  Why don’t you take a few minutes now to recount some of the ways God has proven His faithfulness in the past?  From now on, every time you start to lead worship perhaps you’ll be reminded of the trustworthiness of God as you see a physical representation of His faithfulness.

What are the old Martin guitars in your worship ministry?  Never forget your past as you move towards your future.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Imperfect Scores - A Worship Leader's Devotion

You may notice that I've been a little slow on updating my blog. I'm sorry about that. The past few months have been very hectic. When I decided to check in on the statistics and saw over 25,000 readers around the world, I realized that I need to get back to writing. You can expect more regular updates from now on. 

In the meantime, here is a worship devotional from my co-authored book, Times of Refreshing. Hopefully it will bring a smile and a word of inspiration to your day. 

Imperfect Scores
Arlen Salte

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  1 John 4:18

It was my first recording session with an orchestra.  I was 21.  Writing for an orchestra wasn’t exactly a skill that I’d picked up playing the Rolling Stones songs in my rock band days.  Mick Jagger could certainly pout and prance but I don’t think he cared too much for the oboe.
The moment of truth arrived when the orchestra showed up.  They filled the studio, took their chairs, tuned their instruments and started looking at the score I had written.  They ran through the pieces.   The lush sounds gave me goose bumps.  I was in heaven. 
But something was about to suddenly change my mood.  These fabulous players couldn’t control themselves any longer.  Laughter came rolling through the expensive microphones.  The conductor showed me that I had placed the stems on the wrong sides of many of the notes.  Needless to say, this was the last time I transcribed my parts by hand for an orchestra. 
Quite frankly, I was so embarrassed that day that I wanted to pack in the entire idea of music.  I had shown my ignorance in front of all these awarded musicians.  
But I take great courage in the following true story.
There was a man who desperately wanted to be a conductor.  He put his very heart and soul into it.  During soft passages, he would signal the orchestra by crouching low.  During loud passages he’d leap into the air with enthusiasm.  He’d even shout to the orchestra in excitement.
But despite his passion, he was not exactly blessed with a great memory.  In concert he once forgot that he had instructed the orchestra not to repeat a section.  As instructed, the orchestra didn’t repeat the section.  He lost his temper, yelling at the orchestra for not repeating the section.   He was horribly embarrassed!
For his very own piano concerto, he tried conducting from the piano.  He thought he could do it all.  At one moment in the concert, he leaped from the piano bench, knocking the candles from the piano.  At another concert, he knocked over a choirboy.
His hearing started to rapidly deteriorate which left him with even bigger challenges.  Not only did he have a bad memory, a clumsy body and a poorly controlled temperament; now he couldn’t hear well.  It got so bad that the orchestra started to get their cues from the first violinist, rather than from the inept conductor.
After great pleas from the musicians to give up conducting, he finally gave up and went home. 
His name; Ludwig Van Beethoven. 
While he is one of the greatest composers the world has ever known, he was a failure as a conductor.  But this did not make him a failure as a person.  He pushed beyond his fear of failure to take on new challenges and the world is richer for it.
One of the most inhibiting fears is the fear of failure.  This is the fear that has stopped great moments throughout human history. 
This may also be a fear that has stopped you from taking new steps in your ministry.  Maybe you have become constricted because you failed before.  Maybe you tried to play by ear before and it sounded like you actually were playing with your ears.  Maybe you stretched out to try a vocal solo but that little hormonal demon of adolescence made you yodel instead. 
Or maybe you wrote orchestral arrangements for an album but you put the stems on the wrong sides of the notes.
Whatever your past failures may be, they may have limited your reach.  Now, God is asking you to take great new strides.  Yet you fear the embarrassment of past failure so much that you remain in your comfort zone.
This is why it is so important to ground our ministries in God’s love and not in legalism.  We need to know that whether our efforts gain great applause or rotten tomatoes, God’s view of us does not change.  His love is with us no matter what side we have placed the stems of the notes on.  This gives us freedom to try new things in ministry, knowing that we will never be viewed as a failure in the eyes of God.
In our Bible verse today, we see that there is no fear in love.  God’s love sets us free to spread our wings and to face the possibility of failure head on.  Perfect love drives out fear.  When we know that we are perfectly loved by the creator and sustainer of all life, the highest authority in the universe, the one who holds planets in their orbits; we are freed to take great steps of faith.  When we know that our failure in the eyes of the “crowd” is really nothing to fear at all, then we are free to stretch.
Who knows how many great songs or poems or voices have gone to their graves because of a fear of failure?
But as a child of God, you have been given a new authority in ministry. God is waiting for His children to step out in the authority that comes with the gift of grace.  Do you have past failures that are holding you back?  In God, there are always new beginnings.  
Today, I challenge you to live in the reality of God’s grace. Step out of your comfort zone. Spread your wings, knowing that God’s perfect love for you drives out the fear of failure.  Have you been challenged to learn how to sing alto?  Do you need to dust off that old Hofner Beetle bass from the ‘60’s?   Take the step.
I still have those original orchestral scores in my files but now I don’t look at them with shame.  I see them as another step taken in the reality of God’s grace.  Every day, we’re called on to write imperfect scores.  God wants to use the ink of your life poured out for others.  Let’s get writing!

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