IMG_1957-300x269One of the joys of my job as coordinator of the Atlanta Arts Network is meeting and partnering with other Creative Artists and in this case Worship Artists.

Jay and Abby Akins have just released a Album called Trust.

You might be saying, yeah another CD from a worship leader.  Isn’t that par for the course.  Everyone who leads worship these days pretty much has to record as well as lead worship.

This is where Jay and Abby are a bit different from the rest!  Jay and Abby see this Album as an extension of their ministry to worship leaders as well as a way to serve the church by providing great songs for worship.

From the first time I met Jay at a Chick-fil-a (the original one in Hapeville GA) I realized that Jay’s heart was for building disciples as well as making music.  Abby and Jay are part of our South Atlanta Worship Leaders Community.  Jay has been a big part of our getting that group going and he really loves investing his time in people.

Trust is a testimony of a Jay and Abby’s vibrant heart for God and a desire to cultivate worshippers of God.  While many people focus on styles of worship, Jay has been at the forefront of helping his congregation learn to focus on Christ and the message of the gospel.  In a culture that looks at the church and what it offers as products and services to be consumed, Jay is quick to point to the fact that their focus is engaging the worshippers in such a way as to point to Christ and to challenge them to vibrant walk with God, and be owners of the church rather than be a merely a member who comes to church!

Trust features songs that call the worshipper to consider Christ and what it means to follow Him in the midst of life!  “Hope is” is a praise anthem that sets Jesus before us as the eternal son who is Himself Hope.  We bring our “Golden Dreams Fragile Hopes and Simple Faith” and find that they are torn.  When we look at ourselves we hear the call of Jesus to “surrender.”

Hope is Rising from the Ashes
I’m delivered
I’m restored
Hope is Rising
Christ delivers Christ restores

I Stand in Awe of You“, communicates the commitment of a follower of Christ who sees the truth of the gospel and prayerfully calls on God to work and shows a overwhelming sense of wonder of His person and work.

Jesus my Savior
I bow low before You
Carried my sin
Healed my shame
I live for You
Forever I am changed
My heart will sing Your praise

I stand in awe
I stand in awe of You

Hope in You, considers the nature of God and how He is the place to find true hope.

Trust, the title track, beginning with a lyrical feel with some nice mandolin work that a made the song flow and yet didn’t take away from the melodies and sing-ability of this song.  The vocal counterpoint between Abby and Jay in chorus will translate well into congregation singing.

Invited features strong vocals from Jay and Abby’s harmonies blend well with the driving guitar which gives this song energy.

Returning is features a nice organs and guitar which complement the Abby’s vocals on this rock ballad that echoes the themes of a prodigal.

For too long now
I’ve turned my face from You
I have tasted
The bitter sinful fruit
I am longing
To feast upon Your love
I am turning
Please fix my eyes above

Ransom Song and Point of Surrender finish off this album pointing us first to the Cross of Christ where the debt was pain in full, where Jesus took our place.  Point of Surrender finishes by taking lyrics of traditional hymn and re-tuning it in such a way that provides a new melody that still ties to the original and then weaving the melody of “I surrender” as a close.

Take some time to listen to “Trust” and consider getting a copy and spreading the word.  This review is no where near unbiased as I think Jay and Abby are pretty awesome both as musicians and partners in ministry.  But listen for yourself and let us know what you think.

Get the Album on iTunes

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/trust/id715743606

 

 

 

 

Get at CD at cdbaby
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jayabbyakins

Hear about the Stories for their Songs:

http://jayandabbymusic.com/song-stories/

Don’t Forget to Like their Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/JayAndAbbyAkins

 

Editors Note: Previously posted at Atlanta Arts Network

i stood in front of loved ones 9 years and 1 day ago and declared my “til death eternity NOTHING do us part” love for jesus. this was my public and outward vow of faith in christ. in a very real way it was my wedding to him: a public statement of my intent and desire to remain with him for all eternity.

Keight

i stood in front of many of those same loved ones exactly 7 years ago today and committed my entire earthly self to jesse. sickness, health. richer, poorer. brain-meltingly frustrated, googly-eyed smitten. every moment we’re both on earth, we’re each others’.

KeightnJesse

the kingdom of heaven

the marriage parallel is probably my favorite of all the ways that the bible likens our relationship with christ to other things (i also LOVE king/subject, btw). i think one of the main reasons i favor this one above all the others (coin, sheep, prodigal, etc) is because it’s sort of backwards from the way the others are presented.

lots of time we hear jesus say “the kingdom of heaven is like…” and then he puts it in terms of smaller, everyday stuff that we have more experience and familiarity with than the all-encompassing glory of god. i dont super-understand the everlasting sanctification of my mortally sinful spirit through christ’s work on the cross, but i can picture a tree giving crappy rotten figs versus nice delicious plump ones. (i’ll take a bushel of sancti-figs, please!)

take a big awe-inspiring idea and use something more common to help us understand it. take a big magical mysterious thing and boil it into something simpler that we have real life experience with. jesus was helpful like this when explaining his ways to us pea-brains

these comparisons are illustrations and they kind of stop there. we arent going to become seeds, or sheep or fruit when we enter god’s kingdom. it’s just a little glimpse to help us understand until we can truly see.

but with marriage it’s the opposite. he presents the thing we’re more day-to-day familiar with first: earthly marriage, and then says: “hey, this right here, it’s even more lofty and weird and cool than you had ever dreamed of. MARRIAGE is like the kingdom of heaven.” it is a subtle difference but it’s one that i think makes both the faith relationship and the earthly marriage relationship both more magical.

when “the kingdom of heaven is like…” something else, it’s glory coming down to earth. to our level. god most-high becoming human. the mystery of god’s word being like scattered seed so we can sort of/kind of understand it. the creator of ALL THE THINGS becoming a tiny middle-eastern baby so we could feel his love.

that is amazing and awesome. but the coolest part of jesus isnt that he came down. it’s that he rose back up: out of the grave and back to heaven and he brought us with him.

marriage isnt something bigger becoming something more humble to get on our level. it seems to me that it is something already magical having the chance to become even more. marriage is like the kingdom of heaven. the promise of the chance to be more, to love more. to draw even closer to him.

the bride

because when we get to god’s kingdom we ARE actually going to be brides. spotless and new. perfected and ready to enter into an even deeper and more intimate relationship with our groom than we could have even dreamed of before the wedding feast. charles spurgeon describes it so perfectly:

Then it shall come to pass that Christ will celebrate this marriage supper, which will be the bringing of the people of God into the closest and happiest union with Christ their Lord in Glory.  Even now the Lord Jesus Christ is no stranger to some of us, and we are not strangers to Him. Yet there shall come a day when we shall see Him face to face and then we shall know Him with a clearer and fuller knowledge than is possible for us today.

jesus didnt give us marriage just to help us understand his love for us and ours for him. he gave it to us to PRACTICE this love…in both directions. when everything is as it was intended (this occurs approximately 43 minutes per year in our house) my jesus relationship should constantly be informing and dictating my devotion to and love of jesse, and my marriage relationship should constantly be pointing me back to jesus and acting out a perfect christ-minded unity. like two mirrors face to face reflecting back to infinity.

christian marriage isnt just LIKE the kingdom of heaven. when we give christ the centrality and sovereignty over our marriage that he intended, asks for and deserves, it actually IS the kingdom of heaven.

mind: blown.

having my 2 wedding anniversaries within a day of each other is an awesome reminder for me every year of the high standard my marriage is called to and of the even more perfect promise of christ to come.

 

This blog was written by Keight Dukes.  Keight is married to Jesse Dukes, associate staff with WDA.

Their staff page can be found here.

You can follow Keight’s original blog by clicking here.

 

universe picture

universe picture

Are we alone in the universe?  For centuries people have wondered about the place of mankind in the vastness of space.  Ancient astronomers calculated the movement of the constellations, wondering if there was some connection between the stars and people on earth.  Now, with the development of long-range telescopes, the observable universe has expanded significantly.  Some now believe there is a high probability that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.  (Supermarket tabloids certainly agree: reportings of UFO sightings and alien abductions are on the rise.)  But this curiosity is more than a fringe movement, the scientific community routinely explores the possibility of life beyond our planet.

But not everyone is certain we’ll make contact with other cosmic civilizations.  Ever the cynic, the young protagonist of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” quips that the only compelling evidence that there might actually be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, is that “no one has ever tried to contact US!”   But despite the various points-of-view, the question remains.

In 2003, Australian astronomers tried to calculate how many stars exist in the universe.  (Every star could be the center of a system of potentially life-supporting planets.)  Using two of the world’s most powerful telescopes, these scientists observed 10,000 visible galaxies.  By extrapolating this data to the limits of the known universe, they estimated the existence of an astonishing 70 sextillion stars!  (For the mathematically challenged among us, that’s a “7” followed by twenty-two zeroes!) (1)  To begin to understand the immensity of this number, try to visualize all the grains of sand along every single beach, and in every single desert on the planet Earth. (2)  Then multiply that amount by ten!  This certainly suggests the possibility that, by comparison, we solar-system earth-dwellers are pretty insignificant.

But the Scriptures maintain another perspective.  Instead of the myriad of stars pointing to humanity’s insignificance in the universe, the Bible says that the vast number of stars actually affirms mankind’s great worth and value.  The psalmist considers the question: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place, (I ask), ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ “  The passage goes on to explain that God has placed man (not the rest of the cosmos!) at the apex of His creation, and “crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5)

These verses (and others) remind us that God gave man great worth amid all He created.  In addition to placing man at the pinnacle of His created order, He did two other important things to underscore our value to Him:  He created man in His own image; and He honored man by sending Jesus, God’s own Son, to earth as a man.  We are not alone in the universe!  God has chosen to live among us as one of us, not exactly like us, but significantly like us as a friend and brother!  This ‘living among us’ has three encouraging implications.

God Initiates Toward Us.

God came to earth as Jesus to reconnect with us, initiating the restoration of a relationship that had been broken by sin (John 1:14).  He searched for those who were willing to receive His love.  (And though He returned to heaven, He continues to search through His Holy Spirit!)  The Bible describes this search as like a man who has lost something of great value and who leaves everything to find what was lost (Parable of the Lost Sheep:  Luke 15:1-7).  The parable affirms that once the man finds what he lost, he experiences great joy (vv. 3-7)!

We are not alone.  Though we have been separated from our Creator, He has not forgotten us!  On the contrary, He is actively, diligently, looking for and seeking to rescue us, His lost sheep.  We are the people He created in His image, for His glory.  And once the relationship with any of us is restored, God rejoices and the angels join Him!

This longing for a restored relationship has always been God’s agenda, even when the relational distance seemed impossible to span.  When God dwelt among His people in the Old Testament (Exodus 40:34-38) many of His words and actions made Him seem unapproachable (e.g. Exodus 19:1-25, 20:15-21).  He often appeared to people in His awesome power, reminding Israel of His holy nature with repeated warnings that sinful men were forbidden to come near to Him.  To further underscore this separation, there was an immense veil installed in the Hebrew Temple as a reminder that God could not be approached without an acceptable sacrifice.

But here’s the Good News:  Jesus WAS God’s acceptable sacrifice!  After His death on the Cross, the veil-barrier was removed!  Anticipating this reconciliation, Jesus initiated toward people while He was on earth, embodying the love and grace of God the Father (John 1:16-18).  Jesus put people at ease.  Even the worst sinners felt that they could come to Him and He would befriend them.  God’s nature didn’t change, He was still holy; but the relationship was restored at His initiative.  Jesus was the embodiment of God the Father, showing God’s love, grace, and approachability.

God Identifies With Us.

Not only does God initiate toward us, He identifies with us completely.  Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ was like us in his humanity (Philippians 2:7; Romans 8:3).  It’s incredible, but true: God was fully human in the person of Jesus, The Son!  He functioned just like we do: He got hungry and ate, got tired and slept, worked, moved around, thought and had ideas, made decisions, experienced frustration, was limited by time and space, etc.  But one way in which He was NOT like us, is that He never sinned.  He was tempted, but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).  (This sinlessness allowed Him to be the acceptable sacrifice we mentioned earlier and which we’ll talk more about later.)

Because He was so much like us, we can know and have confidence that He understands us.  He is totally empathetic.  Jesus experienced the ups and downs of life just as we do.  He experienced the joys and challenges of childhood, the teen years, and adulthood.  He experienced good times and disappointments.  He was wronged, suffering unjust persecution at the hands of people with selfish agendas.  He was even betrayed by a friend.  Because Jesus is able to empathize with us and our weaknesses, (without sinning), Scripture encourages us to approach His throne of grace in our times of need with hope, courage, boldness, and confidence (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:15-16).  He’s like a best friend.

We all know what friendship is like, because we’ve all had a friend.  I’ll never forget my best friend from high school.  We did everything together.  We played sports (and rooted for the same teams), we went on double-dates, we took the same classes, we liked the same music, we ate the same fast-food; we could even finish each other’s sentences.  There were few secrets we didn’t share, and he never betrayed a confidence.  Don was more than a friend, he was like my own brother, (but without sibling rivalry).

It’s hard to imagine Jesus being someone like that; but He is!  In fact, He’s better than any friend or brother we’ve ever had, or could ever imagine having.  Because He was like us during His time on earth, we can call on Jesus as our brother and friend (Hebrews 2:11-12; John 15:13-15), and He will be there for us.

Because He was like us, we can also look to Him as a model for living the Christian life.  But He’s not some insufferable bore who’s always correcting us or pointing out our mistakes.  He’s like the buddy who’s always ‘got our back,’ the friend who can teach us how to throw a curve-ball, but who’ll also fight for us and keep us out-of-trouble (if we’ll let him) because He loves us.  We can look to Jesus as this kind of friend, as we seek to emulate His righteous life because it’s the best life, observing how He dealt with rejection and suffering, seeing how He related to God the Father, etc.  And, as we follow His example, we find encouragement and camaraderie.

God Substitutes For Us.

But He’s more than a good companion.  He’s a friend who’ll die for us.  Here’s the Bad News: because all people have sinned, all of us are awaiting God’s judgment and wrath (Romans 3:23, 2:5).  There is nothing anyone of us can do to work our way back into God’s good graces.  All of mankind’s religious systems (attempts to placate God) ultimately fail.  We spoke earlier of God’s holiness and justice.  We can’t approach Him on the basis of our very best merits and deeds, because He is holy, totally unlike us.  Apart from God’s initiative and intervention, mankind has no hope, only the frightful prospect of God’s judgment.

But don’t forget the Good News!  God intervened by sending His Son as a sacrifice and payment.  (John the Baptist referred to Jesus as God’s sacrificial lamb.)  Because Jesus willingly became a man and lived a sinless life, He was an acceptable substitute for us (I Peter 3:18).  When Jesus died a humiliating death on the cross, God poured out His wrath against our sins on His Son, rather than on us (Isaiah 53:6; I John 2:2).

The magnitude of this sacrifice shows the value God places on mankind (Mark 10:45).  (The value of something is seen in the price a wise buyer is willing to pay for it.)  God, who appointed us as the apex of His creation and made us in His Image, also died for us. God has done everything He could do to acknowledge the high worth of mankind and to make it possible for man to come back into a relationship with Him.  Since this was not deserved in any way, all men ought to be humbled and in awe of what He has done in the Atonement.

Though humbled by the majesty and mercy of God, we are not alone in His vast universe, but comforted by His Presence!  He has a cosmic plan and purpose for each of us that spans time and even creation itself.  But at the heart of His plan is a relationship with Jesus, our friend and brother.  It’s impossible for us to fully comprehend all of this, but we aren’t asked to completely comprehend it; God simply asks us to believe it and trust Him.  But it’s a belief that invites action: the decision to follow Jesus!

  Application:

• Choose a passage from a Gospel and read it, paying particular attention to how Jesus relates to people.  Suggested passages:  Luke 7:36-50; John 4:7-30; John 11:1- 44; John 20:19-29

Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

End Notes:

(1)Josh Gough, http://www.helium.com/items/128325-ascertain-answer-question-absolute

2)Josh Gough, ibid.

 

Come as you are

I received yet another email this past week pointing out the mounting statistics that show church attendance continues to slip. This particular email pointed out that more than 65% of people in my home county claim an affinity to “the church” (adherents), that 46% of those interviewed claim membership to a particular church but less than 20% actually go to church. As I pondered those numbers three questions came to mind.

empty pewWhat have we “the church” done to drive people away?

What has the world done to draw people away?

What do we do to overcome points one and two above in order to welcome people back?

While I don’t want to over simplify the issue, it seems the gap continues to grow between those who understand “church” and those who don’t. It is becoming more complicated all the time; we “the church” have developed our own language, social norms, and even dress code for almost every different church in town. In fact it took me a while to understand the email I received, as I had to look up the term “adherents”.

 

Adherent-(ad·her·ent adˈhi(ə)rənt,-ˈher-/noun) plural noun: adherents

  1. someone who supports a particular party, person, or set of ideas

 

I can only imagine how off putting it must seem to someone who has no knowledge or association with what “the church” is or is supposed to be.  And, for the record, that now amounts to more than half the country if the statistics are correct.

Jeff Christopherson, in his recent book “The Kingdom Matrix” puts it like this:

“The essential distinguishing issue in this new evangelical culture is not the character of our hearts, but the vocabulary of our expression. Our subculture has developed universally understood code words that offer indisputable evidence of our club status….. They are found in our evangelical glossaries and come glibly off our lips; fellowship, brother, born-again, and membership indicate our club-status within the subculture.”

It seems to me we need to make “the church” more accessible.  When did it become important for religion to become complicated? My Bible clearly shows that Jesus spoke plain language and a good bit of his talking was done with folks who did not have a grasp on what the “the church” was all about.

Perhaps a simpler approach is in order.

Come As You Are“Come as you are”—With what you know, how you are dressed, without all the answers, without all the lingo. Come because we care about you, come learn about the One who created you and loves you, come because you are valuable, come because you are going to be met just where you are–and helped to take the next step. Come to a place that is not perfect and wants imperfect people. Come!

I shared these thoughts with a friend of mine. Bob knows a lot about the church, about Jesus, and thankfully, a lot about me. He has attended seminary, preached a lot and has written forty or fifty some publications regarding Jesus and his teachings.  His message back confirmed my thoughts-but he also says so much more.

David, what you described is The Gospel.  It’s The Message about Jesus.  He’s The Sent One who dwelt among us and was full of grace and truth.  When we neglect teaching EVERYTHING He commanded, we neglect Him and His Message, and we end up corrupting His Message.  People do this, at least initially, without intentionally meaning to.  We make it about conforming to OUR image and OUR likeness, or, as Paul said, we hold on to “a righteousness of our OWN that’s derived from The Law.”  It’s a poor likeness, but close enough to trick immature or unadvised people. But instead of glorifying God, it insults and demeans His Name.

Just as I expected he would, Bob spoke right to my heart. Powerful words, words to remind me and to help center me…words of encouragement, and words admonishing me to continue the good work placed before me.

And maybe they are words of encouragement for you too.

Come.

Please come!

A Harmony of the Gospels

Ever Study Jesus’ Ministry in a Chronological order?

A Harmony of the GospelsOver the years there have been plenty of people who have considered the life and ministry of Christ.  The gospels which are good news were written by eye witnesses to Jesus.  While the idea of taking individual gospel texts and placing them in parallel or harmony isn’t a new idea, our founder Carl Wilson began to develop a ministry philosophy which, through the years, has been developed into WDA’s progressive discipleship philosophy.

What Jesus Did, You Can Do

One idea for a challenging and encouraging time in Bible Study is to take the Gospels and follow the themes using WDA’s 5 phases. What Jesus Did, What You Can Do, which follows the Biblical texts of the Gospels, shows how Jesus went about His life and ministry and considers how we too can follow His pattern. Each section has scripture references that follow the Harmony of the Gospels.

One way to begin this study is to get a copy of Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework. You can Biblical Frameworkbegin by reading about the big picture of discipleship and learn about the RCAPS Grid and the 5 Phases.  You could also begin by looking at the Harmony of the Gospels and use the document, What Jesus Did, What You Can Do (phase 1 sample), as an introduction. What Jesus Did, What  You Can Do is included with Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework that you can order for free at the WDA Store.

Harmony of the Gospels Downloads and Links

Consider using one of the “Harmony of the Gospel” links and books.

Get a copy of the Harmony and then order a free copy of Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework.

Take some time to study the life and ministry of Christ. 

 

Notes of the Peterson pdf. –  Headings and scripture selections were defined by A. T. Robertson in A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ, Copyright 1922 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., Copyright 1950 by The Citizens Fidelity Bank and Trust Company. Bible text is from the 1769 King James Version of the Holy Bible, also known as the Authorized Version.