Friday, June 29, 2007

End of financial year

Today is the last working day of the financial year. Here's five features of the end of financial year (or of the dawn of the new financial year) for me:

1. Bills, bills, bills - no, I don't mean paying them. I mean generating them. Anyone who works in professional services will know about this. Bill as many clients as possible before end of financial year to try to make budget for the year!

2. Consequently, not a lot of other work gets done in last couple of days of the financial year.

3. Pay rise time.

4. Tax cut time (at least that has been the case the last few Federal budgets).

5. Therefore, the challenge: pay rise + tax cut = how can I use the extra cash for good and for God's glory rather than for selfish pursuits?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I'll take my hymns with a pinch of grunge thanks

I spoke recently about doing modern arrangements for hymns - same tune, same lyrics, just smooth out the chords to be more guitar friendly and contemporary sounding. Contemporizing it, as Dan would say.

Well, thanks to David's free music links last week , I've discovered the ultimate in contemporized hymns - grunge! And who better to do grunge than a church from Seattle, the capital city of grunge. Seattle, the home of not only Kurt Cobain, but Mark Driscol, the reformissioning pastor of Mars Hill Church. And Mars Hill Church is the home of some outstanding contemporary Christian worship bands.

Go here to listen. Click on "music" in the menu, then "bands" and then across to each of the bands then click on the individual songs to either download or add to your playlist.

Try these ones on for size (five of them of course). All fantastic hymns in their own right, but now with a distinctly Seattle sound (OK, not all of them are particularly grunge, but they are all definitely edgy!). Can you get your church band to play like this?

1. All Creatures of our God and King - there's numerous versions, but try the ones by E-Pop, The Parsons and Red Letter. My fave is the E-Pop version.

2. Amazing Grace - again, a few versions to try, but try the two versions by E-Pop, and particularly good is the one by Team Strike Force.

3. How Great Thou Art - by Northern Conspiracy and The Parsons. How good are the lyrics to this song? We had it at our wedding ten years ago (a month after having sung it at my grandma's funeral, so a particularly moving hymn for my family). "And when I think that God His Son not sparing, sent Him to die I scarce can take it in ..."

4. It is Well With my Soul - by The Parsons. Good stuff.

5. Praise to the Lord - The Parsons again. Love the simple piano chords in this one.

Have a look around - there's much more than the 5 above. There's some good modern songs there too, but the hymn arrangements are gold. I'm feeling inspired ...

So does this mean the drought's over?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Five ways to increase blog hits

I'm not really the master at this, having only just gone over 1,000 hits myself, but I have seen what works and when the hits have increased more quickly, so here's five tips:

1. As Craig S would say, post regularly. The more posts, the more there is to read, the more often people will come back. Simple really. Craig S of course is the master at this, being a man who posts many, many entries every day.

2. Try to post on controversial topics. My hit rate piked (well, it was a pike by my standards, perhaps not for others) when I stirred up the waters of infant baptism earlier this year (10 comments, 3 links, can't remember how many hits). And when people comment on said controversial topic, respond to their comment to keep the discussion alive and people coming back.

3. Similarly, try to post on topics that other people are likely to find interesting and link to on their blogs. A bit of linkage always increases the hit rate. (Or get someone with a more popular blog, like your brother for example, to link to you, or perhaps have your brother, unbeknownst to you, suggest to someone else who has an even more popular blog, to link to you ...).

4. Comment on other people's blogs. They will see your hyperlinked name and then your blog is only a couple of clicks away.

5. Now this is Dave's technique. Try to post on something topical that people are likely to be searching for, and try to mention that particular topic as many times as possible in your post to increase the prominence of your entry in any search engine results. Dave tried this with his recent post on the frog-turned-prince, piece-of-coal-turned-diamond Paul Potts, the winner of Britain's Got Talent . How did it go Dave? Did people come to your site in a Potts driven frenzy?

Anyone got any more tips?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Now, about that whole "five" thing ...

One reason for finding frequent posting difficult is that I painted myself into a corner by choosing this "five" theme to my blog. It can take some time to think up five points on any given issue, let alone articulate those five points.

This post, and a few of mine over the last week or so, are examples of quick, sharp posts that are easier to do more often. (And via email as well.)

Guthers in fact mentioned in the comments over at The Fountainside the other day that he had noticed I'd started just posting a few lines (while SamR was getting into the whole five thing by doing "penta-posts"!).

I'm going to stick with the five theme, but keep interspersing my penta-posts with shorter, quicker posts to keep things moving ...

One thousand and one

That is the number my stat counter clicked over to today. I know some of you are celebrating 10,000, or 50,000 or even 175,000 hits, but I'm happy to have reached the magic 1,000!

Of course, posting more often might help. In the last few weeks, with a few extra posts the stat counter clicked over a lot faster.

I'll try to keep it up ...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Five cosmic truths from John 1

What a great chapter of the Bible, one of my favourites. It contains such mindblowing cosmic truths such as these:

1. In the beginning was the Word.

2. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

3. Through him, all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

To think that he who is eternal, divine, the creator of all, the light of the world, came and dwelt among us, taking on our frail flesh, is truly amazing.

The Church's One Foundation

An update on my last post. The re-worked hymn seemed to go well at church yesterday with some positive feedback. Really quite simple to do. Just need to work out the basic chords to play, throw in a bit of improvisation, avoid playing the melody and let the congregation belt it out.

I'll be trying more of this and letting some good old hymns make a comeback onto our song list.

Friday, June 15, 2007

On hymnody

Some more thoughts on church and music, this time on hymns:

1. I've always loved hymns. How good is it to bellow out an old Charles Welsey song? Some of these hymn writers of old wrote such gold, words so rich and deep and true and soaked in scripture, wonderful words pointing to a Wonderful Saviour. And accompanied by such soaring tunes, how could you not want to sing them?

2. Yet, since I've started choosing music at church this year, I seem to have avoided hymns for some reason. And I think it's because I've realised that culturally, hymns can grate somewhat. They can have a thumping, sometimes staid sound to them, even the brighter ones.

3. Further, traditional hymn arrangements were written for organs. They kind of work when just played on piano, though even then can have a thumping sound that is slightly jarring, but when you're trying to develop a small contemporary band where guitars have greater prominence, the hymns just don't work. There is the tedium of the chord changing for nearly every note, every strum, each syl-la-ble-of-the-song. It's not the natural way a guitar is played, so winds up sounding weird.

4. The answer? Keep the tune, keep the lyrics, but work up a new arrangement. Not a completely new tune as is common (and often works well). No, this is much easier. Just smooth out the chords. One chord per bar, two at most. Maybe have four bars where the bass note is kept constant. Change a couple of the chords from the original arrangement to give it a slightly different sound - make it a similar chord, but different nonetheless - B minor instead of G major, for example.

5. The result. Great lyrics, great tune. No need to teach a new song, but you have breathed new life into an old song. The guitar can play it and it sounds natural. The changed chords give a few little suprises that keep it sounding interesting. The bass can play along without having to play every note. The piano can muck around with the chords, without having to sound like it's thumping. The congregation is hopefully uplifted having sung great words of praise to God without it feeling tiresome to do so. And the visitor who already finds singing in public to be a little weird, at least finds that the music sounds half decent and not trapped in some cultural time warp.

I'm trying it this coming Sunday with a new arrangement I've penned this evening for "The Church's One Foundation". Will keep you posted as to how it goes.

Overheard in a crowded train carriage ...

"This isn't the Orient Express you know. We're all packed in here like sardines," said the plump man with the hat, speaking to no-one in particular and yet to the whole carriage at the same time, as well as to those waiting on the platform to get on.

The train picked up a few more people, then continued on its way towards the city carrying it's morning load of commuters. The man remained silent, perhaps absorbed by his own thoughts.

The train pulled up some minutes later at Central. A voice could be heard. It was him.

"It's a bit like India." Pause. "How long is it since you've been there?", he said rather embarrassingly and inappropriately to a fellow passanger, who I could not see from where I stood on the steps, but who I could only assume was of sub-continental appearance. I don't think there was any answer to the question, but the man continued nonetheless. "Well, maybe you'll get back to see your family some time soon."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Five things to say about singing in church

I've taken on responsibility for leading the music team at church this year, so have been thinking a bit about music and church. Here's some thoughts, probably all overlapping somewhat.

1. God made us as emotional beings and gave us music as a way to express that emotion. We only need look at the place of music in every culture to see this, but more importantly the pages of scripture testify to the place of song in the life of God's people.

2. The primacy of the ministry of the word should not mean devaluing music. Indeed, a "word-centred" church should recognise that song is a powerful way to express the word of God, but also that music is one way we have of responding to the word of God. In singing, we express our joy and thankfulness to God in response to the saving word of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See Colossians 3:16).

3. In saying that the ministry of song goes hand-in-hand with the ministry of the word, we need to be careful however to ensure our songs are not simply statements of doctrine set to music. A song should have music that lifts our hearts, and lyrics that are rich with poetry. Don't give me dry songs. If you want to just set a doctrine text book or statement of belief to uninspiring music, what's the point of having the music?

4. Much has been made in evangelical circles recently of the "horizontal" dimension to music i.e. singing to each other. This is all true. However, we need to avoid forgetting the "vertical" dimension of music. There is nothing wrong with singing to God and not just about God.

5. OK, the whole "worship" thing. Yes, some churches misemphasise the purpose of church as being to worship God, in a sense which might suggest we are not worshipping God the other 6 days a week, and some have confused what we do in church with Old Testament cultic worship, and that we somehow enter into God's presence when singing in church i.e. the "praise and worship" time. BUT, we evangelicals have way over-reacted against some of these errors by almost purging the word "worship" from our vocabulary all together, and removing any sense that when we gather together as God's people we are worshipping God, or that singing can involve worship. I think we can and should acknowledge that singing does involve worshipping God, while recognizing that worship is also much more than singing.

Stay tuned (excuse the pun) ... more posts to come on music and church ...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Five insights into wealth and happiness

Interesting article in the Herald today: We've never had it so good, so why are we still unhappy? It comes at a time when I've been wondering why the Howard government is faring badly in the polls when the economy continues to be strong and people continue to be well off.

Here's five particular insights the article had to offer:

Increasing numbers of Australians are discovering that despite the booming economy and rampant consumerism, work and wealth may not be the true twin paths to bliss.

... research by the Workplace Relations Centre at the University of Sydney shows Australians are fed up with long hours - men working full-time do an average 45 hours a week - and a third of those polled want to return to the eight-hour work day.

these electoral intentions are consistent with worldwide findings that people in affluent countries are no happier today than 50 years ago, even though their wealth has grown exponentially.

There's a sense that the pressure just keeps mounting but there is no pay-off for increasing productivity in the workplace and all the labour-saving devices that we have at home.

... the happiness of residents of wealthy societies is a function more of personal relationships than money.

As I read these comments, I couldn't help thinking it's all been said before. Here's five more quotes, this time from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:

What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless.

As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owner
except to feast his eyes on them?

God really is very wise. Wiser even than The Sydney Morning Herald.

Five things to do in Melbourne

Never content to simply do business in another city (e.g. see previous London posts), I managed to play the tourist and find a few things to do on a quick 36 hour trip to Melbourne this week. Here's five very Melbourne things to do:

1. Have dinner in a groovy cafe in one of those back lanes off Little Collins Street - a bowl of pasta, a glass of red wine, and a good book (assuming you have no-one to talk to and share dinner with). I love Melbourne's little lane-ways.

2. Rise for an early morning jog along the banks of the Yarra (and realise the sun doesn't rise in Melbourne at this time of year till well after 7am!).

3. Do a lap of the MCG (well, around the outside that is.).

4. Get a bit wet in the drizzly rain.

5. Catch a tram to St Kilda for breakfast. (Actually, I ran out of time for that one - had a meeting to get to. But maybe next time ...).

Five reasons for blogging hiatus ...

I've had a few comments as to why I haven't blogged in a while. Here's five reasons (amongst others ...)

(OK, well, yes this north coast holiday was a few weeks ago now, and it doesn't explain the entire non-blogging period, but it was 2 weeks out of action, plus the week or two beforehand frantic at work getting everything done, plus general busyness on getting back to real life afterwards ...)

P.S. Don't you just love the canefields of the far North Coast? (i.e. second last photo above). There's something about a good canefield that makes you really feel like you're on holidays. Of course, a coffee by the beach helps too ...