Archive for February 2014

Mind and Spirit

This is the fifth in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

When I read 1 Corinthians 14, I identify with Paul’s situation. He’s talking about speaking in tongues and the place it should have in the church at Corinth. He doesn’t forbid speaking in tongues, as long as an interpreter is there to edify the church. But he does strongly emphasize providing solid, understandable food for the mind, not just the emotions.

That reminds me of my inner struggle every time our Sunday worship service is loaded with contemporary praise songs.

Now I’m certainly not equating praise songs with speaking in tongues. But I do see in 1 Corinthians 14 something of the situation we face. I sense that part of the hymns vs. praise songs issue in our churches is similar to the struggle Paul was facing in Corinth: mind vs. emotion.

Again, hymns are not pure “mind”. They express lots of emotion. And on the other hand, praise songs are not pure “emotion”. They certainly express objective truth. But if there is a line stretching from “mind” on one end to “emotion” on the other, I assert that hymns are nearer the “mind” end, and praise songs are nearer the “emotion” side.

I like what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:15:

I will sing with the spirit and
I will sing with the mind also. (NASB)

Music is always an emotional medium. But it can and must be more than emotional stimulation.

Speaking for myself, and myself alone—expressing personal preference only—praise songs are generally boring. The thought rhythm is too slow; that is, they seem to feed the emotions more than they feed the mind. Too little content, too much repetition. And with their complex, soloistic melodies that I can’t see (I’m used to reading music), they just aren’t worth the effort. They annoy me.

But for every one of me, there is at least one good, godly, Spirit-filled, committed child of God who finds my congregational preferences boring. They find them short on the emotional flavor they prefer, and thus the message just doesn’t connect.

Different cultures, ages, personalities, and individuals are comfortable at different places on that scale of mental stimulation to emotional stimulation. And of course, by even characterizing music that way, I’m painting a highly colorful media in black and white. The issues in congregational singing go far beyond the mind vs. emotion element.

But my point here is this: our Creator God has provided us with an amazing wealth of congregational song that runs the full gamut of mind to emotion. If you’re a worship leader, be aware of both needs, and know your congregation. Feed them a rich and varied feast of song, and don’t be afraid to give them a new flavor once in awhile. They might like it!

If you’re a worshiper, be tolerant, and allow yourself to be stretched. Consider it a chance to broaden your perspective and grow. Participate, and let yourself experience something outside your comfort zone!

For all of us, never forget these two unchanging truths:

  1. Congregational singing is like everything else in life: you will get out of it what you put into it. If resentment and annoyance are all you put in, resentment and annoyance are all you’ll get out.
  1. Always, unfailingly, constantly, show patient kindness toward your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pursue love (1 Corinthians 14:1, NASB).

As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:12-14, NASB)

Doing Our Father’s Will

John 4:25-38

What strengthened Jesus,
nourished Him,
refreshed Him, and
brought Him joy?
Doing His Father’s will.

Jesus’ strength came from
obeying His Father,
serving Him, and
pleasing Him.
Faith and love in action were His daily bread.

The same strength is available to us.
Opportunities to obey God come every day.
Opportunities to serve Him and glorify Him
are everywhere—
just look around you!
The harvest you gather
and the wages you earn
will last forever.

He is calling you to a richer, more fruitful life.
Don’t wait!

The Temptation of Jesus

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’” [Deuteronomy 8:3]

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” 

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” [Deuteronomy 6:13]

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” [Psalm 91:11-12]

Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” [Deuteronomy 6:16]

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13, NIV)

The Heavenly Father drove His own beloved Son, with Whom He was thoroughly pleased, into the desert alone, for 40 days without food, to be tempted by His bitter enemy, Satan, who wanted only Jesus’ destruction.

How different is our Heavenly Father’s treatment of His children compared to us human parents! We do anything we can to spare our children unpleasant circumstances. The Father, knowing what is best for us and how much we can bear, regularly exposes His children to various types of pressure and need. We tend to focus on our children’s temporary comfort and preferences. Our Father focuses on our character and eternal well-being. We shouldn’t squirm or complain like selfish children when He puts us through difficult-but-necessary preparations for His service.

Here Satan tried to turn Jesus away from His Father. Knowing that the key to Jesus’ power was His relationship with His Father, Satan tried to separate them. He tried to turn Jesus toward His own needs.

Jesus stayed focused on His Father. In His responses to Satan, He always spoke of the Father’s will. That was His constant concern.

That is also our key in temptation. When you first sense Satan’s approach, turn to your Father. Ask for His provision, His will, and His glory. Nothing can shake you if you depend on Him.

I have set the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
(Psalm 16:8, NIV)

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: With Jesus in Temptation
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Emotion and Beyond

This is the fourth in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

Music is emotional. Music arouses passion. Who would want it otherwise?

Not I! As a child of God and as a hymn writer, it’s my goal to be fully responsive to the truth. That includes being emotionally responsive to the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ. Who can believe what God has done for us in Christ and not be emotional? How can we grasp that truth and not be passionate about Him?

That’s why music is such a magnificent gift. It combines meaning with emotion.

But the Church is not the only party speaking to people through emotion and the senses. We minister to a people on sensory overload. Communications media saturate their senses and coddle them with entertainment, desperate to get a hearing for their products. Radio, TV, recordings, billboards, everything is designed with maximum sensory appeal and maximum entertainment value.

When we in the Church attempt to communicate with these people, we sometimes use the same tactics. We feel our music must have maximum energy level to break through to people accustomed to high-appeal communications.

So in our church music, we turn up the emotional volume to maximum. And why not? What is more deeply emotional than the truth we are communicating?

But there are negative effects. We further addict our congregations to high-energy emotional appeals. We feed them salt, increasing their thirst for emotional stimulation and entertainment. More and more, entertainment values saturate our expectations and our judgments of quality. “Good” Christian music is music that excites and impresses us, whether or not it improves our lives and draws us closer to the Living God.

With this increased desire for music that emotionally stimulates us, some themes–critically important themes–are minimized in our songs because they don’t readily lend themselves to musical thrills. Topics like holy living, prayer, perseverance, and self-sacrifice tend to be edged out of our church music. I’ve spent over 35 years in church music publishing, and I can assure you that this is true.

For hymns, the problem grows worse because of a blurring of the line between performance music and congregational music. Choirs, ensembles, and soloists believe that their music has to generate enough emotional energy to jump the gap to static listeners and stir them to emotional involvement. And remember, these are listeners numbed by constant, high-energy sensory appeals all around them.

Whether performance music actually needs such emotional levels, congregational music should not need them. The emotional dynamic is completely different. Hymns don’t have to jump a gap from performer to listener. They don’t need to stir static listeners to involvement. In congregational singing, performers and listeners are one and the same. As they sing, they are already physically involved in the music. With performance music, the congregation has to be jump-started into involvement. In congregational singing, they are already involved. No jump-start is needed. That involvement advantage, along with simpler tunes, should free hymns to focus on meatier words.

But the performance and entertainment mentality has so pervaded our congregations that congregations approach their hymns looking for emotional stimulation as the measure of value. Additionally, as performance increasingly pervades congregational music, singability becomes less and less important. The discipline of simplicity is often lost.

There’s more fall-out. With our church music addicted to high emotional energy and focused on narrow, high-emotion topics, our songs get further and further away from day-by-day, moment-by-moment Christian living. We talk less and less in daily, believable tones about daily, practical issues. And let’s face it: happiness, holiness, and the salvation of needy people are won or lost more on Monday morning than Sunday morning.

None of this is doom and gloom, nor is it intended as an indictment of any particular style of music. The solution is not easy, but it is simple: remember and refocus. Christianity is less about feeling better than about being better. For yourself and for your people, do you want to feel better temporarily or be better every day through a closer relationship with Jesus Christ?

In our society, music is usually focused on temporary emotional stimulation. Music makers gauge their success by how much they can stir their audience to excitement or sentiment, though only for passing moments. Music can do much more than that. Expect more from your church music. Expect more from your hymns. As you sing, look to the Living Christ. Desire to know Him better and to live closer to Him. Let emotion be only an overflow of your faith in Him.

Dependent on Prayer

I have set the Lord always before me…
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure. (Psalm 16:8-9, NIV)

I can’t describe how exciting and satisfying it is to discover Christ as a real Being, One who is always with me and in me. He is taking a more and more active role in my daily life. The Lord is teaching me to depend on Him more constantly and more practically in all I do. I’m learning to turn my time over to Him, letting Him direct my schedule. I’m learning I can look to Him for guidance and enabling in all my responsibilities, resting in Him to accomplish through me all that needs to be accomplished.

Having started to experience this way of living and serving, I want so much to be this way only and always. It’s wonderful—more productive, more fulfilling, and more natural. God is becoming more real and dear than ever.

But I’m also finding that, accordingly, prayer is more essential. Depending on God is dependent on prayer. Prayer is the very breath of the relationship. In daily life, with so much pressing us and distracting us, prayer is necessary to keep our hearts and minds turned to Him. We must bring our needs constantly to Him, remaining open to His influence and prompting.

I’m not just talking about time alone devoted only to prayer, as important as that is. I’m finding I need a heart given to prayer on a constant basis, learning to turn to Him quickly, moment by moment, in petition and thanksgiving, looking to Him for guidance in everything I face.

As with human families and friendships, communication is a key to more satisfying relationship. To improve a relationship, we must improve the communication. We must make it more open and more constant.

To get a feeling for such openness, read about Christ in the Gospels. You get a sense of that unbroken communication between the Father and Jesus. Jesus seems to be always listening, always aware of His Father’s presence and power. You can almost feel the bond of trust between them.

That’s the kind of praying heart He wants us to have. His love wants that kind of relationship with us. And having just begun to taste such a life, that’s what I want as well.

The Transfiguration

“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” 

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure [literally, His exodus] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) 

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.
(Luke 9:27-36, NIV)

Jesus had just drawn from His disciples a confession that He was indeed the Messiah. Immediately He began to explain to them what this would mean: He would have to suffer, be rejected, and be killed, then rise again after three days; and if they wanted to be His disciples, they would have to deny themselves, take up their own crosses daily, and follow Him.

What a bombshell for these disciples! It definitely wasn’t what they were expecting, either for Jesus or for themselves.

So to cement this crucial new revelation about Jesus, three of the disciples were given a glimpse of who He really was. Normally an ordinary-looking Hebrew peasant, for a few fleeting moments three disciples saw a glimmer of His natural glory. He physically shone with the radiance of heaven, and there in person were the law and the prophets, Moses and Elijah, testifying to Him. What a stunning sight!

Decades later, as an old man, Peter would still be talking about it as the day of his own martyrdom drew near:

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18, NIV)

This was the One who would soon suffer humiliation and a seemingly-final death. This was the One calling them to lay down their lives and follow Him.

And for all of us who follow after, the truth about who Jesus is still brings us assurance and stability. Who Jesus is fills our uncertainty with a settled peace. It points us beyond suffering to eternal glory. We must never forget Whom we are following. We must never forget Who spoke the wisdom and the promises by which we live.

Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Transfiguration Hymn
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Why Are Hymns Important?

This is the third in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

Hymns are built to last.
Each generation receives them as a heritage and passes them on to the next.

Hymns are rich.
They combine the depths of human experience with the timeless wealth of scripture.

Hymns express God’s wisdom for all areas of life.
Hymns nurture faith, love, service, sacrifice, perseverance, hope, and holy living.

Hymns are not a thing of the past.
Quality hymns are being written today.

Hymns are not confined to one particular style or cultural preference.
The Holy Spirit is inspiring Christ’s servants in a variety of styles and musical cultures.

Dependence

My Creator,
I am completely dependent on You,
whether I recognize it or not.
You are the very breath of life within me.
Should you withdraw for a moment,
I would return to dust.
I, and everything I know,
exist only by Your love and
timeless wisdom.

Help me trust that love
in each simple concern of my daily life.
Help me rest in that timeless wisdom
instead of listening to
each tick of my own clock.

And Lord God, my Holy Father,
make me come to You more quickly,
more eager to see You and
know You and
know that I am with You,
till my every breath be
faith and
prayer and
love.

In all the beautiful glories of heaven,
You will still be the only Source.
Let me look to You now,
my Savior,
my Light of Life,
my God.

I lift up my eyes to you,
to you whose throne is in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God.
(Psalm 123:1-2, NIV)

Forgive Me, Lord

If anyone has material possessions and
sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,
how can the love of God be in him?
(1 John 3:17, NIV)

I watched as a flock of Canadian geese walked through the grass, feeding together. And I wondered:

How would I react if I saw one bird aggressively taking most of the food, hoarding it from the others, letting them starve?

Father, I wonder how I look to You in my wealth and comfort while so many of Your dear ones are in desperate need. You provide enough for all of us, as you do for the birds. But I use so much and share so little.

Forgive me, Father. Teach me how You want me to live. Teach me how to love those in need.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Open Your Hand
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

No More New Hymns?

This is the second in a series of Friday posts on congregational song.

Are you tired of the constant barrage of new Christian songs in a popular style? You’re not alone! Here’s a letter from one frustrated worshiper:

“Please! NO more new hymns. What’s wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it’s to worship God, not be distracted with learning a new hymn. 

“Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving. While the text was good, the tune was quite unsingable and the harmonies were quite discordant.”

This letter was written in 1890. The hymn that aroused the complaint? “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.

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