Worshiping Well

The worship wars have come and for the most part gone. Not too many people are debating on what kind of music is “OK” for Church. The lines have more or less been drawn and nobody is really (publicly, at least) arguing over music anymore. So the past few posts (Authenticity and Words Matter)have not been meant to open up old wounds or to start new arguments. It’s my desire that the Church gains a greater heart for its Creator and Savior, which means that we sing with joy the great truths that are found throughout Scripture. With that said, we must ask ourselves some questions.

How attached are we?

Have you ever payed attention to people singing along with or listening to songs in a service? What do you notice the most about them? When do they get excited about the song they are hearing? When or why do they raise their hands? When the music crescendos, are there great lyrics that accompany it? Or is it just a rest where you stop singing and are praying (or texting, or talking to your neighbor, or shushing your kids, or…)?

The question is this: how many of us actually pay attention to the lyrics of the songs we are listening to? Put another way, if the music was to change, would you still be able to worship to the lyrics? Or would the song be ruined. Why would it be ruined? Be honest with yourself and God.

Time for change?

This question is at the root of every discussion regarding the music of the Church. There are many wonderful hymns that, quite frankly, could use new melodies. There are also hordes of contemporary songs with great tunes and horrible lyrics. Perhaps we need to change the tunes of some songs to make them more singable in this day and age. If that is the case, are you ready for the change?

Page CXVI is a great ministry that has done well in this area. I would encourage you to check out their music hereSovereign Grace Ministries also is doing a great job in that area of revamping older songs and creating great newer ones.

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Do our words matter?

How often have you heard the following conversation?

“What a beautiful melody that was at Church this morning! I was so moved by the way he played those notes on his saxophone! I wish I could glorify God by playing so well. It’s a shame that some people weren’t worshiping to it like I was able to.”

What’s the point?

A question we must consider: what is the point of our playing the melodies of songs in our worship, meanwhile excluding the lyrics? I have heard this many times in many contexts; whether it be during the time of worship singing or just as special music, there seems to be some fascination with playing the melody of supposedly popular songs, but leaving out the lyrics so that people can worship to it. But why do this? Yes, there are times in the Psalms where there are rests in the lyrics for reflection. There are also pauses so that a new refrain can come strongly into the singing, but why do we leave out the lyrics to entire songs and hope for people to worship with us?

Not everyone’s a Church kid

I grew up attending Church every Sunday. My family has always believed in Jesus and we have a collective love for the old hymns. But not everyone has grown up in that context. Lord willing, our churches are not comprised of only “church kids”. So when we play the tunes of old hymns or other “well known Christian songs” in our services, I believe we are risking excluding those with “a past” from worship. They didn’t grow up with those hymns, so they most likely don’t know them. Thus they don’t get the lyrics and it’s just a nice melody on a Sunday morning.

I got another great taste of this when I was on break at work one day. The Weather Channel was playing on TV and as I was reading, I heard something familiar. And there it was, just as I was watching radar images of rain go past the screen, DC Talk’s song In the Light was playing… without the lyrics. It’s a great melody but without the words, it’s just background music for The Weather Channel. How many people watching that day were blessed by hearing that? Is our “Church Music” just background music to some people?

How real are we?

I was cleaning out my bookmarks this afternoon and I found this article. In it, the author writes about the CCM (Contemporary Christian Movement) that has been prevalent in the Church for a few decades now. She writes about being raised as a Christian and her slow, steady conversion to secularism. Here are her thoughts on the Church now (emphasis mine)-

When I finally stopped (calling myself a Christian), it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.

It is incredibly worth reading the whole post. I agree with her last point, the Church needs to regain its authenticity. Many have lost sight of the Gospel being the true power of God for the salvation and discipleship of the lost. This means that we are honest with our sin and do well to glorify God in all things. When we do this, we are more able to effectively minister to those around us and save others (1 Timothy 4.16). But what about our music? Do we get rid of all our music and revert back into our corners, shying away from the world? No. Do we need to trash some of our music? YES!

This is a call to wisdom. Music is not the only area that the Church needs to improve in (in fact, it often becomes the unnecessary sticking point with Churches) but it can be a great tool. Let us ask ourselves: what honors God? Does our music actually put Jesus and His Gospel above all else? Is it clear that I am singing about God? And equally important, is my music edifying the Church that is in my context or am I attempting to save people through my singing? We are called to build one another up (and can even use songs, hymns, and spiritual songs!) so let’s do so in the love and grace of Christ.

Jesus, Our Ebenezer

My favorite Christmas movie of all time is The Muppet Christmas Carol. Call me a loser, but I love this version of the classic tale. It’s the same story as always, just with the Muppets… and Michael Cain. As with any Christmas Carol, it ends with Ebenezer Scrooge becoming a nice guy after being scared out of his cruelty by three spirits. He saves the family, becomes a second father to Tiny Tim, and is reconciled to his nephew. Truly heart warming.

The problem with the story of the Christmas Carol is the religious moralism that is portrayed throughout. Scrooge repents of his behavior out of fear, yes he becomes a better person and benefits the welfare of many, but he does so solely because of fear, not because of his love for Christ.

Another Stone of Help

Ebenezer Scrooge is a “sinner turned saint” who comes to change his reputation and glorify the Christmas Spirit. But there is a better Ebenezer alluded to in 1 Samuel 7.12:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”

Israel was moving from the time of the Judges (with Samuel being the last one) to the time of the Kings. God had rescued them time and time again throughout their brief history, and He wasn’t finished. This passage follows a great victory against the Philistines where God had fought on Israel’s behalf. Israel was to remember the Lord whenever they looked at this stone and be reminded of his faithfulness. However, this stone was not the last one to be labeled a stone of help for Israel.

Jesus, our true and better

Jesus is the better stone of help. He is the head of the body, the Church, and the one in which all things have their being. He is the stone rejected by men because of his claims to deity, but the cornerstone, the author and finisher of our faith. God has set up Jesus as the one we can put our trust in. He is the one we can look to by looking at Jesus we can remember who the Lord is and how he has helped us. Don’t stumble on this stone, instead lean on him and rest in him. Our religiousness won’t bring us peace, being scared into obedience won’t bring us peace, only Christ, our true Ebenezer, will deliver to us lasting peace that surpasses all understanding.

The true and better… Santa?

“He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…”

You could probably finish the song, except this time, we’re talking about god. Not God as the Bible teaches though, this god is the one who acts very much like our favorite fat man dressed in red.

Religion, again

Maybe it’s because I have heard “Santa Claus is Coming to town” a lot lately, maybe I’m just becoming increasingly aware of my sin and Christ’s grace. Probably a mixture of both. But at any rate, we need to see the religion of man-kind in general and the true One who gives gifts to men. We all think we deserve good things for good deeds, and everyone who wrongs us deserves death and humiliation, or at least a time out. Right? Few could claim this isn’t how they were raised. If you are good, you get good things, if you are bad, you are punished– being good gets you toys, being bad gets you coal. I’m not knocking parenting here, I’m just trying to show us where we get our view of Jesus from. We think we are acceptable to God because we have always obeyed our parents, but that is far from true.

The Real Jesus?

We first need to not look at Jesus as though he is a skinny Santa. In other words, if you want to really connect with Jesus in  your prayers to him, stop giving him a list like a kid a Christmas time. Prayer is first about God and getting to know his will, and second about you. And even when it’s about you, the focus should be on repentance and a desire to follow him in everything. The real Jesus is kind and merciful- he forgives the repentant despite what he has done. Jesus is also just- he disciplines his people and corrects those he loves.

This is the real Jesus (not the image, rather, the description above). Given the choice between the two, who do you go for? Do you complain to God claiming that you deserve better than what he has given? Or are you content with what he has done in your life (namely, salvation through Christ). He won’t change the way he feels about his children based off of their works, so why would we live as though he does?

Context, context, context

If you have spent any time studying the art and science of biblical interpretation (commonly known as Hermeneutics) you know one thing very well: it all comes back to context. Everything. If you forget that aspect of biblical interpretation, everything falls. Neglecting context means that we fail at preaching the full counsel of God and only look to what we “feel like” talking about. If we ignore the forest for the trees, we end up thinking the Bible is all about somethings other than Jesus.

For instance, it is easy to pull out many verses on the “issue” of Homosexuality and teach what God feels about it, but if you focus only on those verses, you miss the love and grace of God and the fact that Jesus is the center of the Scriptures and not just a fun story that appears in the second act. If you forget context, it is easy to make the Bible about you or anything other than Jesus.

Legalism

Jared Wilson has a great post on legalism (here). In it, he writes:

Legalism ISN’T any preaching of the Law or of moral exhortations (in their biblical context). But it IS preaching “do’s and don’t’s” as if they are the essential message of Christ or of the Bible.

Amen! We must remember the context of every verse or else fall to legalism. For more on this, see Paul.

Interpretations

This concern for proper context should be shown everywhere, we shouldn’t make it a habit to just take a phrase from someone and judge them for that one phrase. However, as Mike Wittmer (author of the phenomenal book, Don’t Stop Believing) wrote on the interpretation of the Koran and the Bible recently:

The Koran does not tell a developing story, as does the Bible, but arranges its chapters by length, from larger to smaller.  So unlike the Bible, where it is inappropriate to pull a verse from Leviticus to say that Christians shouldn’t eat Gulf coast shrimp (God gave us common sense for that), there is no such context in the Koran.  How can you take something out of context that doesn’t have a context?

There will be times when certain things don’t offer an actual context. It’s times like that when we need to exercise wisdom in our reading and interpretation.

How else can context affect the way you interpret? What else should we be careful about?

Update: 8/24/10: A great video about how the Bible is about Jesus- he is the context of everything.

How Great Thou Art

I love Boston.com’s the Big Picture. At this site you can find photo stories covering a huge range of topics. Here, I have seen everything from the unforgettable images of the FIFA World Cup to the dreadful destruction that was Haiti in January. This site does a fantastic job of showing us what is happening in the world.

Most recently, they have posted images of the many storms that have affected the globe recently. These have done two things to me. They have opened my eyes to the pain of those affected by nature and awaken my heart to praising the one who made the storms and calms them. I am constantly being impressed by the beauty that God has created in nature and yet He loves us more than these. He is great indeed!

I would encourage you to click over and see all the images (and subscribe to them). But in the mean time, here are my three favorites: