Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - "Heaven Is For Real" Movie Review

Just a few days after we returned from our St. Andrews Musical Residency, we had the opportunity to attend a prescreening of the film Heaven Is For Real. Today, I share the thoughts I wrote that afternoon...

Heaven Is For Real

This morning, I gathered with 100 bloggers, pastors, and journalists to watch a pre-screening of the movie Heaven Is For Real. It was about a year ago that I reluctantly read the book. I’m a person of faith, but I can be cynical of miracle stories, so I entered the book with some trepidation. My logic brain could write some of it off, but there were moments that I just could not wrap my head around. For that reason, this book became a story of faith for me.

If you haven’t read the book yet, here’s the crux of the story: Todd and Sonja Burpo are two young parents struggling to make ends meet, but otherwise living a pretty happy life. On a family trip, their 4-year-old son Colton becomes deathly ill. After surviving emergency surgery, Colton tells his family that he visited heaven.

The story is set in small town Nebraska (shot in Manitoba), and the landscape almost becomes a character in the film. The lush, sweeping shots of big skies and bright fields are a constant reminder that we’re dealing with issues that are larger than ourselves, and that perhaps we see glimpses of heaven every day.

The Burpos (at least as characters) are the kind of Christians we rarely see portrayed on film. They’re not pious snobs, nor are they God-hates-you-Sinner caricatures. This a normal, fun, loving family, who are also people of faith. The parishioners that we meet are level-headed, decent people - the kind of church folks we meet every week in our Infinitely More travels. Colton’s stories about heaven unfold with greater and more profound detail. He knows things that he shouldn’t know, such as recognizing a young photo of the grandfather he never met. For some, this is a sign of faith. For others, it’s the hallucinations of a sick boy. Through his parents and the church, we see the full range of human emotions enflamed by this phenomenon, and the genuine struggles of faith, doubt, and logic that should be explored by this topic.

I attended the screening with my family (my Dad has written the review for the Anglican Journal) and we spent the whole day talking about the film and our ideas of heaven. And that's why this film is important. For years, Hollywood avoided Christian story lines because they were seen as unprofitable. As a result, they were generally low budget, ugly, and completely unentertaining. In recent years, we’re seeing more stories of faith inspiring big budget films. Although there will always be groups who attack these stories on the perfection of their theology, I do think we need to celebrate and support this movement of film making. Stories of faith need to be told, and we need to discuss, debate, and think about the issues they share. So grab a few friends - people of faith or not - and go see Heaven Is For Real. Will it make you a believer? I don’t know. Is heaven for real? One of these days we’ll find out for sure, so let’s chat about it while we have the time.

This weekend, I wrote my 1000th blog post! 
You can read it HERE.

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My 1000th Blog Post!!!

You read that correctly - 1000 blog posts!

When I first started this blog, I had no idea where it would lead. It was 2005 and I was heading to Nashville for the first time to attend Ben Speer's Stamps Baxter School of Music. Gerald (my then-fiance) was watching Tech TV, and they started talking about blogging. "Perfect", I thought, "I can write on this blog thing, and then the family and everyone at church can keep up with my Nashville adventure."

So I started writing. Now even though, technically, I knew my blog was on the internet, it didn't even occur to me that anyone else would or, even could, read it. Halfway through the school, people started asking me for my blog link. "How bizarre," I thought. I then found out that other blogs were sharing my link! That's when the action started. Suddenly, my 'private' stories to friends and family became a public buffet. Musicians, songwriters, publishers, and lovers of Gospel music started to follow my Adventures, and many of them reached out to me. Friendships, support, and wonderful meetings followed...

Another amazing thing happened on that trip. 
On the final night of the school, after months of praying for direction, 
I had my calling into full-time music ministry. 

Through this blog, I've been able to capture and share my creative journey. I've written posts in hotel rooms, cyber cafes, libraries, and restaurants. I've always tried to be transparent and authentic in both the joys and challenges of this kind of life. I've also tried to share a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the art of music making and worship leading.

As I've changed, my blog as changed as well. In 2005, I was a newly-engaged, actor/musician who had just received this calling as a solo Gospel music artist. Now, Gerald and I have been married 8 years and we've lived in 2 countries and 5 different homes. We've gone from individual musicians to our shared passion of Infinitely More, a full-time, nationally touring ministry. We've written hundreds of songs, performed in all kinds of venues, and have been blessed to work with amazing musicians and songwriters. Our 4 CDs have garnered 5 national award nominations, and we start work on our next CD this summer. But more than any of that, I am now someone who has a greater knowledge and appreciation of what it is to follow God's calling on my life. I want to use all my talents and skills to draw people closer to God, so they can know His love and grace in their lives. I pray this is always reflected in my writing...

This weekend, my family is celebrating this 1000 post milestone, so I thought I'd bring the celebration online. In January, I was invited to share the story of my calling with the folks of All Saints Church. I recorded it, simply to share it with Mom and Dad. But in the spirit of this blog, and of all that has happened since my first post, I want to share that story with you today:


Thank you to each person who has joined in this Adventure so far, 
and to each of you who will join us in the steps ahead.

Here's to the next 1000...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - An Astronaut's Guide to Worship Leading - Part 2

Today we wrap up my 2-part post inspired by Commander Chris Hadfield's book, "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth."

As I mentioned in Part 1, I don't know anything Chris's personal beliefs, nor do I mean to imply anything about them by these posts. I'm just sharing my own thoughts, inspirations, and applications gleaned from his writing.

There are so many great lessons in this book about preparation, leadership, and contributing to a larger whole. But one of my favourite themes is a definition of success.

Early on, Chris adopted this attitude:

"Throughout all this I never felt that I'd be a failure in life 
if I didn't get to space."

Wow. I didn't even realize you could be an astronaut if you didn't go into space. And how happy can an Earth-bound astronaut be?

In music, we love the great successes - the hit song, the huge publishing deal, the national award. Even in worship music, we've developed a culture of music hits and superstars. We create our music for God and God's people, but let's be honest - who doesn't want their song to become a worship hit? Who doesn't want to hear their song on the radio and see it rise to the top of the CCLI charts? Only a few musicians will ever have any kind of superstar success, but all career musicians will have those highs - the moments when we feel like we're in space. It you stick around in this business, you'll have an amazing performance, or a television appearance, or some other accomplishment that makes you go, "Wow, this is the best life ever!!"

"Still, I also know that most people, including me, tend to applaud the wrong things: the showy, dramatic record-setting sprint rather than the years of dogged preparation or the unwavering grace displayed during a string of losses. Applause, then, never bore much relation to the reality of my life as an astronaut, which was not all about, or even mostly about, flying around in space. 
It was really abut making the most of my time here on Earth."

What is your life in music truly about? If it's about the hit song or the big win, quit now and go back to singing in the shower. We personally know several musicians for whom that is their driving force and you know what? They're miserable. They are never satisfied. They live with a constant sense of entitlement and disappointment.

If your goal is to make music for God and for God's people, then do that. Make music. Experience the joy and fulfilment of creating a song that didn't exist before your hand hit the guitar. Have a rehearsal where you take an old song and find a fresh new way to play it. Feel the frustration of that one riff you just can't nail. Wrestle with rejection. Sing for a group of people who need your message. Hear their stories, and let that inform your music. Wake up the next day and do it all over again.

Along the way, you'll have successes of various sizes, 
but let them punctuate your life and not define it. 

Enjoy each step of the journey, and love your musical life here on Earth....


SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: 
My next post will be my 1000th blog post!!
Come back this weekend as I celebrate this milestone...

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Most Things to Most People

For today's Worship Wednesdays, please welcome my better half in life and music, Gerald Flemming!

Most Things To Most People
Guest Post by Gerald Flemming

The advantages of a personal touring ministry are many. We are constantly brought into people’s lives and get to hear the stories that are foundational for their congregation and faith walk.  This extends even further as we play in different denominational settings or, as we had established in St. Andrew’s, an ecumenical service. Here we witnessed Christians worshiping. We weren’t Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians or any sect of Christianity. We were just Christians who were seeking the most practical Biblical choices we can make with our lives in modern times.  It was an honor to witness teachers and a congregation in pure joyous teaching worship.

Wednesday Worship at St. Andrews, NB

This was the Wednesday evening service that we started in St. Andrews. It was predicated on the paradigm that we started with Rev. Drew MacDonald at St. John’s York Mills, called the Gathering.  It was a simplified service that was teaching and music based. In St. Andrews, it was less dialogue driven and more teaching driven which suited the people there a little better. Within a few weeks of starting the service, it was one of, if not the best attended services within the local townships. As much as I’d secretly like to believe that it was because of the music, I really don’t think it was.  Between the tremendous meal and conversations that happened prior to the service, and the ideal that it was an all inclusive service, there was created a sense of community almost instantaneously.  There was a vibrant need that seemingly wasn’t being satisfied by any of the Sunday morning services for these people. I think on some level they felt as if they were helping to create and shape a worship that served them more directly and idiosyncratically.

Let me say first and foremost, I am in no way against liturgically based services. I think they are the backbone of our faith and have an intellectual veracity that is both necessary and edifying.  And even the best worship band would be hard pressed if they were up against an amazing choir doing Mozart’s Requiem. However, there are often times an enormous gap between this service and the moral and spiritual countenance of our everyday life.  Where do we test our ideals and the quandaries of everyday living?  Where can we as individuals admit defeat, exhaustion, pain, horror…and feel relatively safe?

Is it possible that we could have a conversation around the idea that both of these worship services are necessary for a well-rounded spiritual life? 

I realize that I’m touting an ideal here. It’s just an interesting experience seeing the different pieces of the spiritual pie doled out to different people with varied needs. And instead of there being the unfortunate and unnecessary culture war that can often take place in churches, you could have a bonded sense of dual purpose intended on serving the whole soul, instead of just prioritized pieces.

There are churches all over that are experimenting with this idea, and the interesting outcome is that they are, by and large, flourishing. They have, on average, a higher attendance rate as well as a higher rate of personal ministry involvement. The offshoot of this, of course, is that they end up with more resources that feeds back into the community creating many different types of momentum.

There are many people out there who, on some level, feel that this approach defiles tradition  That it is in some way an affront to the purity of what Church has been and should continue to be. And I know I have a personal agenda, but I question this calcification of approach, as something that could conceivably turn young people away from the church to more digestible forms of worship. I’ve heard people and priests use the adage, ‘You can’t please everyone.’ And it’s absolutely true, particularly with limited resources, but within those frameworks it might be time to start a Wednesday night service, where the food is great, the conversation is meaningful, the teaching has an immediate and practical relevancy…and the music isn’t bad either  ;)


Next week, Worship Wednesdays returns with Part 2 of 

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - An Astronaut's Guide to Worship Leading - Part 1

Last year, I and millions of other followed the space adventures of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. As Commander of the International Space Station, Chris made it his job to share the space experience with those of us who will never get more than a few feet off the Earth's surface. His photos showed our planet's captivating beauty, and his videos of life in space made everyday activities like shaving, brushing your teeth, or even crying truly fascinating. 

I recently read Chris's book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. In the book, he shares many of his space adventures, but he also shares the unique life of an astronaut. The book is filled with inspiration and life lessons, so I started thinking, "What can this book teach me as a musician and worship leader?"

For the next few weeks, I'll be writing posts inspired by this book. As a personal disclaimer, I'll say that I don't know anything about Chris Hadfield's personal faith or religious practices, and I don't mean to imply anything about them through this writing. But I would hope that these posts actually fit the original intention of Chris's book - to take the extraordinary experience of being in space, and apply it to life here on Earth. 

I underlined many favourite quotes in the book, and this is the one that keeps coming to mind. On an online Q&A, Chris was asked "Are astronauts religious?" and his answer:

"...they run the gamut from devout to atheist, 
but whatever the personal belief system, 
space flight tends to reinforce it."

I find that fascinating, because I imagine if I was ever in space and could see our planet and universe from that perspective, I'd probably fall face down in praise of the Creator. But it got me thinking about our role as worship leaders, and I asked myself, 

"When we're leading people in worship, are we reinforcing their belief system?"

There are many reasons people go to church or attend a night of Christian music, and one of them is to reinforce their beliefs. They want to know that this story, this thing they've committed to, is true. In ministry, we can obsess over 'reaching the lost' and 'saving souls', but the entire faith journey is so important. Once we've 'reached' and 'saved,' what then?

I believe one of our roles as worship leaders and Christian artists to bolster the faith of the faithful. Average attendance in today's church is once every two to three weeks. In between those visits, a lot can happen to shake someone's faith - anything from a family illness to a horrible news story to a personal failure can put a crack in their faith foundation. They're not 'lost' again, but they might be looking for the back door.

In that moment, we have a responsibility to help them reinforce the faith they have. From our song choice to our prayers to our conversation at coffee hour after the service, we can use all the colours on our palette to remind them of God's love, forgiveness, and mercy. We can never make someone believe or force them into faith, but by demonstrating God's love, by creating community, and by drawing them into honest and beautiful worship, we can remind them of the grace they've already found.

And when that happens, there's less room for doubt. When we allow God to fill our vision, our faith can only grow stronger. As hymn writer Fanny Crosby said it:

"...but purer, and higher, and greater will be 
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see."

How are you reinforcing the faith of your worshiping community?
Share your thoughts in the comments section!


Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Changing of the Seasons...

In theory, we should be switching from Winter to Spring some time soon. Looking out my window at our icy, snowy neighbourhood, it's hard to tell that life is hiding in the dirt, ready for that one sunny day to start a new journey of growth.

This week is a changing of the seasons in our home.

On Sunday, we left St. Andrews By-the-Sea, New Brunswick. For a little over 2 months, we lived in a cozy house in this beautiful small town as Musicians in Residence at All Saints Church.

Our initial goals included introducing contemporary music to the congregation and building the worship teams. It was hard to tell what that would look like exactly until we arrived at the church and started to meet the community. Over the 2 month period, we started a contemporary ecumenical service, played for the Sunday worship, appeared on local TV, led the choir, started a worship band, wrote & arranged new songs, worked with the youth group & Sunday school, hosted workshops, taught private lessons, performed concerts, and enjoyed all the town had to offer.

There are too many wonderful moments to share with you, but I want to share one of my favourites:

One Wednesday, we were preparing for the evening worship. This was our week to debut the worship band - a brand new venture for this church. Soundcheck and rehearsal were finished. Folks were gathering for the evening meal, chatting and finding their tables. Sounds of clanking pots and laughter were coming from the kitchen as dishes made their way to the buffet. Children were chasing each other around the tables as smiling parents told them to slow down.

I was feeling a few pre-worship jitters - would the band be okay? Would the tech all keep together? What if people didn't want a band? Gerald gently grabbed my arm and turned me to face the busy room. He whispered in my ear. "Five weeks ago, none of this was here." And he was right. In just a few weeks, something wonderful had grown from an empty room and a powerful idea - 
what if we tried church in a new way?

We're so grateful to the people of All Saints for inviting us for this musical adventure, and to the community of St. Andrews for sharing their lives with us.

So this week, we're changing seasons in our home. We're looking back over the lessons of the past season, giving thanks, and wrapping up loose ends. And we're looking forward into the next season - a new CD, our first concert tour of the prairie provinces, and a pile of other dreams and plans we've just started to sort through.

The adventure begins again...

You can see the photos we took during our St. Andrews adventure HERE.

And this is this interview we had during our first week:


Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Relaxing in the Storm...

Well, today's blog is receiving a last minute rewrite. Originally I had written:

"As you read this, we'll be on the road, driving home to Ontario..."

Now, I need to write:

"As you read this, we're still in St. Andrews, not knowing when we'll drive home to Ontario..."

All last week, the weather reports for this week's drive were perfectly clear. Then Monday morning, we awoke to a switch in the forecast. Snow, freezing rain, and storms were predicted for every stretch of our 3-province, 2 day drive home.

Much discussion, a little stress, and a few phone calls led to the decision to stay put until we could find a 2 day window of clear weather.

A little ironic that our arrival here in St. Andrews was also delayed by January storms!

As someone who loves making plans, changing them isn't always my strongpoint (anyone else want to testify?) But I'm learning to actually enjoy change, and find the blessings in a schedule thrown off course.


Here's how we're using this scheduling change to our advantage:

We're going to rest a little, after 2 months of intense work. 

Instead of a rushed day of prep before the drive, 
we're taking care of a few tasks a day, to enter the drive in a more relaxed state.

We're continuing to book concerts on our Prairies Road Trip concert tour. 

We're going to visit our favourite St. Andrews restaurants one more time. 

I'm moving next week's To Do List to this week, 
to knock down the list and give us more open time when we get home.

I'm going to watch TED talks, which remind me of the 
power of thinking and following through on great ideas.


This week, I encourage you to embrace change as it comes your way. 
Seek blessings in the chaos, and you'll find grace and peace in unexpected places.


We've just finished our season as Musicians in Residence at All Saints Church in beautiful St. Andrews By-The-Sea, New Brunswick. 
Follow our adventures at www.Facebook.com/InfinitelyMoreBand 


Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!