My Heart Is Steadfast (Psalm 57)

PSALM 57

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise.

PSALM 57:7

MY HEART IS STEADFAST

This Psalm is tied to the one we looked at yesterday. David was facing some serious crisis moments in his life. He didn’t necessarily feel like singing praise to God. Perhaps he was even sliding into a depression (you know stress can trigger that sort of thing).

Sometimes it’s hard to feel the weight of worship when we are so burdened by our present circumstances. We know that we should rejoice in the Lord for all of his goodness, his greatness, and for his glory, but our hearts just don’t feel it. Our present circumstances seem to fight against it. Some times in those situations we can look to other places to blame. Maybe it’s the music? Or the preacher? Or the church we are in? We blame something externally for the thing we feel internally.

The reality is the God hasn’t changed, regardless of how we feel, or the circumstances we face, He is worthy of worship! David recognizes this in his own heart and so chooses his attitude in worship (Did you know that you could do that?) It’s not being fake to let your will lead your emotions. It’s shallow to let your emotions lead your will! David doubles down on trusting God in the middle of his fear. He confesses that he is steadfast twice! He sings in the middle of his depression because God is worthy! In the next verse he even goes as far as to say he is waking up his soul to sing to God. Sometimes when we feel the most Blah, is the time that we need to sing to the Lord the most!

Who need this encouragement today? I’m publishing this on a Sunday morning. Are you going to church today? I hope you have an opportunity to go to church somewhere and worship the Lord, He is worthy of praise! Go even if you don’t feel like it. You may find in the midst of your blah feeling that being with God’s people is the exact place you need to be. Go with the attitude and intention of worship. Let your heart be steadfast today!

PRAYER

Father, YOU are worthy of all Glory, Honor and Praise! You are worthy of all our worship. Sometimes my body feels tired and I don’t feel like singing your praise. Sometimes I am stressed and I find it hard to focus. Sometimes my soul is tired. Today Lord, let me be steadfast. I offer you praise because you are worthy, not just because I enjoy the company of my neighbors. I am leading my feelings with my will. I’m not allowing my feelings to run the show. So dear Lord please meet me as I gather to worship today! Please awaken my soul to your glory and your goodness! You are worthy of all my praise! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I’m reading and blogging the Psalms Through The Summer. I’d love for you to join me. You can find out a little more here.

Can The Sons of A Heretic Still Worship The Lord? (Psalm 42)

PSALM 42

1 To the Chief Musician. A Contemplation of the sons of Korah. As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, “Where [is] your God?” 4 When I remember these [things], I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And [why] are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him [For] the help of His countenance. 6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me; Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, And from the heights of Hermon, From the Hill Mizar. 7 Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. 8 The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song [shall be] with me–A prayer to the God of my life. 9 I will say to God my Rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 10 [As] with a breaking of my bones, My enemies reproach me, While they say to me all day long, “Where [is] your God?” 11 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.

PSALM 42:1-11

CAN THE SONS OF A HERETIC STILL WORSHIP THE LORD?

The answer is yes. You can read the story of Korah and his rebellion in Numbers chapter 16. While Korah along with many others who had stepped out of line were swallowed up by the earth, his sons were spared (See Numbers 26:9-11). The line of Korah still existed and his descendent served in and around the tabernacle. By the time that David came to reign, they were known for their musical ability in worship and many of the Psalms are attributed to them. What great grace this is to see that the sins of the father are not the destiny of the children.

I love how this psalm begins. Talking about a panting deer longing for water. These folks knew what it was like to be thirsty. They could see in nature a picture of a panting deer longing for a cool and refreshing drink and think about how they longed for, craved, needed to worship the Lord.

I can’t help but think of the moment that Jesus stood up and said that if anyone was thirsty they should come to Him for a drink (John 7:37). There is no reason to go thirsty in this sense today! God has given us His Holy Spirit! My Big takeaway today is to make sure that I am satisfied in Christ and not trying to fill my heart from broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13).

PRAYER

Father, I am grateful that you meet our deepest needs. I long for you in my soul like a deer pants for water. I want to be satisfied and filled in you, Lord. Please keep me from pursuing the things in my life that do not satisfy. Keep me from chasing the things that won’t fulfill me. Let me trust in you and you alone to provide all that I need. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I’m reading and blogging the Psalms Through The Summer. I’d love for you to join me. You can find out a little more here.

A New Song From Old Pieces (Psalm 14)

PSALM 14

1 To the Chief Musician. [A Psalm] of David. The fool has said in his heart, “[There is] no God.” They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. 2 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. 3 They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; [There is] none who does good, No, not one. 4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, Who eat up my people [as] they eat bread, And do not call on the LORD? 5 There they are in great fear, For God [is] with the generation of the righteous. 6 You shame the counsel of the poor, But the LORD [is] his refuge. 7 Oh, that the salvation of Israel [would come] out of Zion! When the LORD brings back the captivity of His people, Let Jacob rejoice [and] Israel be glad.

PSALM 14:1-7, NKJV

A NEW SONG FROM OLD PIECES

One of the churches I used to serve had a woman who would make a “breakfast cake” every week and set it out in the foyer with doughnuts. Every week the cake was the same shape and size, it had the same general texture, but it was almost always a different cake than the week before. Sometimes it had a banana-nut taste, other weeks it was pumpkin, still other weeks I’m pretty sure I tasted bits of apple or pear, then there were weeks that it definitely had chocolate chips. Then someone told me the secret, the cakes she made were, “whatever is on hand cakes”. She used the same base of flour, eggs, oil, or whatever and then would see what she had “on hand” to make the rest of the cake. If it was baking with apples earlier in the week, we got an apple cake. If she had done a banana nut bread earlier, we had a banana-nut cake, etc., etc. Sometimes the cakes had peculiar combinations that somehow seemed to work really well (my favorite, banana-nut-chocolate chip!).

That’s kind of what we have with this Psalm here. It’s got the basic set up of a good Psalm. All the structure, theological depth, etc. is there, but it seems like many of the ingredients were borrowed. Not only that, but some of this Psalm is quoted later in the New Testament.

It reminds me of the first time I had a real conversation with a friend about Jesus. I had never lead someone to faith in Christ before. I didn’t know that there are different “approaches” to sharing my faith, we simply had a conversation and I presented the gospel in a way that I understood it and it made sense to me. It wasn’t a cookie cutter approach. We didn’t walk down the Romans Road, or go over the four spiritual laws (different approaches to sharing the gospel). I just simply quoted the verses I knew about the things we were talking about. It was encouraging to me because I was seeing how to apply scripture to a given situation and it was helpful to my friend.

David writes a new song with familiar words that in several generations will become an old song with familiar words. God uses the lyrics of this song throughout the scripture because they carry key truths about who he is and who we are. They are relevant for worship in every generation because they speak to the greatness of God and our desperate need of Him.

I can’t help but think of all the old songs, made new in my generation. I love it when a musician plays an old tune or sings an old lyric for modern ears. I can’t help but think of what Chris Tomlin has done with Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone.

PRAYER

Father, Thank you for this old song made new. We all truly stand in desperate need of you. Let us not brag on our positions in life as though we have achieved something great. Let us walk in humbleness and holiness because of your great work in our life. It is you the preserved the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament and it is you who preserve those who trust in you even now. We are saved by grace, through faith, not of our selves. So let us sing with confidence today of your great grace and goodness. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I’m reading and blogging the Psalms Through The Summer. I’d love for you to join me. You can find out a little more here.

TOGETHER

“Together,” it is just one little word, yet somehow it came to mean so much. You are three and so maybe the word was big for you. Big or Little, we both know what “together” means.

We were praying. You were saying the Lord’s Prayer. You wanted to say the prayer alone. (It is lovely to watch your confidence grow.) You made it most of the way through, you paused, looked up at me with those mild yet gleeful eyes and said, “together, let’s pray together.” You wanted me to add my voice to yours in this prayer.

Maybe you lost your way and you didn’t know the words. You needed me to step in on this prayer and remind you of the words we pray behind the Lord in His model prayer. You needed me to be there for you as a mentor, a father, a pastor and a discipler to show you the way. There are several moments where I have done this in my own life and called out for the help of others and recognized that I needed someone to show me the next steps to take. I’ve also been blessed to be there for many who have needed someone to shephard them along the way.

Maybe though you just saw me alone and you didn’t want me to be alone and so in your sweet childlike simplicity you reached out and said that one small/ big word, “together.” And by saying it, you were saying that I wasn’t alone and you weren’t alone, but we were together.

Maybe you just didn’t want to say the next part alone. It was full of big words that somehow roll easily off the tongue but plague us in their difficulty to put into practice. You needed to know that it is okay to ask God to forgive you, even as your daddy does. It’s okay pray to forgive, even as your daddy does. It’s ok to pray against temptation and for deliverance, because even your daddy needs to pray this way… you needed to know that I too am a sinner and struggle to ask God for these things sometimes, but that I do.

Maybe you just know that I love Jesus too! You thought I shouldn’t be left out when we pray. You know he is my king and that I pray to see his kingdom come and you didn’t want the opportunity to pass me by. So you said “together” to encoourage me to do what I already do and what is right.

Maybe you said it because I use that word with you all the time. You know all the analogies I use and always sum it up with, “we belong together.” And you just wanted to have another “together” moment with me with God in prayer.

Maybe it was all of the above, maybe it was none of it or perhaps something in between. But you taught me so much about how to pray just now when you said together. For such a little word it means a whole lot. There were days before the isolation that we see so much of that I took that word and all it meant for granted, but today when you uttered it in all it’s simplicity I understood it like never before.

Now to make a broader application of these thoughts. I look forward to the next full gathering of our church where we are together. Together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Together as the called out ones. Together to minister to one anothers needs. Together to encourage. Together to disciple. Together to strengthen one another. Together to bless one another in the Lord’s name. Together to bless and worship the Lord.

I am grateful for the words, “our” and “us” in the Lord’s prayer that reminds me that when we pray, we never really pray alone, but we pray together. Perhaps you are on your side of the globe and I’m on mine. But we are both praying for the kingdome to come and his will to be

“In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as [it is] in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

-Matthew 6:9-13

Audience of One: How We Kicked God off the Stage in Worship

What would happen if we were to subtly change the way the church goes about worshiping God? What if we were to remove an emphasis on the objective truth of the Bible and place a subtle emphasis on personal experience? What if we did this in a way that on the surface seemed like we were worshiping God, but in the end actually removed God from worship and put us on the stage instead?

I am afraid that is exactly what is going on in many congregations across America. We are seeing popular pastors abandon Biblical authority in honor of individual subjective experience (Rob Bell and more recently and to a different degree, Andy Stanley). What bothers me the most, is that I think there are many pastors and worship leaders with good intentions, who are taking us down the path of looking for subjective experience instead of objective truth in weekly congregational worship.

For me, this can most clearly be seen in the rhetoric of “Audience of One” on the lips of pastors and worship leaders. Typically the “Audience of One” illustration is described this way: We gather for worship and it seems like the audience is the congregation and the actors or entertainers are the musicians, worship leader and pastor. But in this illustration, the roles are redesigned to account for God in the room. The congregation becomes the actors in worship, God is the audience, and the musicians, worship leader, and pastor are all prompters whose function is to provide the script by which the congregation performs worship.

Cool concept right?  It sounds cool to say that “God is the only audience we seek.” But is it right? More importantly is it Biblical? Before you assume I’m crazy, hear me out. I’ll explain to you that when we say, “Audience of One” that the whole illustration is a complete misunderstanding of worship that ultimately moves us away from an emphasis on truth from God (God’s Word) to our own subjective experience of “worship” and personal interpretation of that experience. My real concern is that we may have just kicked God off the stage and replaced Him with pathetic individual experiences of worship that are more about us than they are about the God of the Bible. Like I said hear me out.

 

I want to level a serious contention: What if the illustration of God as the “audience of One” in our services was originally a thought experiment designed to introduce a philosophy that would eventually  come to be known as existentialism to Christianity? Think I’m off the mark? Let’s look at where the illustration originated.

Audience of ONE_ How WE Kicked GOD off the Stage of Worship(1)

The History behind the Phrase. The concept behind the phrase “Audience of One” first appears in Soren Kierkegaard’s book, “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.”  Kierkegaard in his own words:

 It is so on the stage, as you know well enough, that someone sits and prompts by whispers; he is the inconspicuous one; he is, and wishes to be overlooked. But then there is another, he strides out prominently, he draws every eye to himself. For that reason he has been given his name, that is: actor. He impersonates a distinct individual. In the skillful sense of this illusionary art, each word becomes true when embodied in him, true through him—and yet he is told what he shall say by the hidden one that sits and whispers. No one is so foolish as to regard the prompter as more important than the actor.

Now forget this light talk about art. Alas, in regard to things spiritual, the foolishness of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as an actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgment upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor—not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if he is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk. The prompter whispers to the actor what he is to say, but the actor’s repetition of it is the main concern—is the solemn charm of the art. The speaker whispers the word to the listeners. But the main concern is earnestness: that the listeners by themselves, with themselves, and to themselves, in the silence before God, may speak with the help of this address.

The address is not given for the speaker’s sake, in order that men may praise or blame him. The listener’s repetition of it is what is aimed at. If the speaker has the responsibility for what he whispers, then the listener has an equally great responsibility not to fail short in his task. In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener … is the actor, who in all truth acts before God. (Kierkegaard, Søren, trans. Douglas V. Steere. Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. 180-189.) * bold print and underline added for emphasis

Existentialism: A Shift to the Subjective Human Experience Over Objective Truth.
Soren Kierkegaard is regarded by many as one of the first existentialist philosophers. Though, the word “existentialism” never appears in any of his works, the concepts of existentialism are core to many of his writings. In a nutshell, existentialism emphasizes the right of the individual to discover truth for themselves. Truth doesn’t come from an objective outside source (Like the Bible, institutional religion, society, etc.) but through individual experience and our subjective interpretation of that experience. Because of this, there is actually a broad spectrum of philosophers who can be classified existentialist, but would hold a different understanding of life (Nietzsche was another early existentialist philosopher).

Kierkegaard was really one of the first to press this idea into many different areas of society, including Christianity and religious practice.  You may have noted in the quote above, that it is said of the actor, who is pretending to be someone else, that “each word becomes true when embodied by him.”  At it’s core, Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy focuses on the individual to give the world meaning. In other words, an individual’s experience, and subsequent interpretation of that experience is more “authentic” and “meaningful” than objective truth. (Where have I heard those buzz words before?) To say it in terms of the illustration, the prompt (the sermon? the scriptures? he doesn’t tell us) isn’t true until acted out by the actor. Indeed, the prompt line become true “through” the actor. The actor’s experience is what defines truth for Kierkegaard. There is no truth in the prompt itself, only in the experience of the actor.

In Kierkegaard’s illustration the church goer is transitioned from a passive audience member to the main actor in the worship service.  The actor’s experience is where truth is produced and God now fills the role of the audience… an audience of One.

HOW DID THIS GET INTRODUCED TO THE CHURCH? I think that through ignorance that the “audience of one” terminology became common language to talk about how worship leaders are to lead in worshiping God.  What sounds cool often gets repeated. I’ve heard musicians such as Matt Redman, Big Daddy Weave, and others use the illustration. I am also aware that there are several books on “worship leadership” by authors that I very much respect that use the “audience of one” illustration as a description for worship leadership.

What effect has this had on the worship service? We have elevated to congregation to the stage to perform “for God.” So now, your experience of worship determines it’s worth, not God’s worthiness.  Now each individual is an actor for the sake of God who is our “true” audience… We have moved the emphasis of worship from objective truth of God’s Word in the pulpit to subjective experience in the pew.  In Kierkegaard’s view, the Bible isn’t true, unless it is acted upon by an individual, and thus experienced subjectively. While many of our pastor’s and music leaders wouldn’t say this out loud, we have used the metric of personal engagement and experience to determine the “quality of worship” (despite supposedly having an “audience of one”).

The flawed analogy: Why does God have to be the audience? Intentional or not, I believe Kierkegaard’s analogy is flawed. In the illustration that Kierkegaard gives, we have only two ways of seeing the room and all the participants. 1. Either God is the audience, the worshipers are actors, and the pastor is the prompter or 2. The audience is the congregation and the pastor is the actor and God is not present. (A not so subtle point of  Kierkegaard illustration: God is present as the audience or not at all).

WHAT IF THE ILLUSTRATION IS WRONG? Is there another way to see the room on Sunday morning? If you will notice the one thing really missing from Kierkegaard’s illustration is the Word of God.  It would be missing because Kierkegaard’s writing was trying to supplant the idea of “objective truth” and replace it with “subjective experiential truth.”  The Bible has long been understood to be objective truth (it is true weather you believe it or not).

What if we correct Kierkegaard’s view of the devotional service with the scripture as central? Has God not been present all along? Was he not always on center stage? Was the role of the pastor to ever entertain at all or was it to declare the word, work, and majesty of God through the Word of God? Was the role of pastor not to provoke our hearts to worship all along, not because God is in the audience but because God has commanded and invited us to worship Him?

Now let’s get down to the Scripture. Isn’t God the one who has invited (even commanded) us to worship Him (Exodus 20:3-5)? If we’d just read the Bible we’d see a divine plan of redemption unfolding where we who were separated from God, have no right or ability to reach up to God, but God reached down to us through Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, making payment for sin, rising from the dead, so that those who come to Him in genuine faith and repentance are reconciled to God (Romans 5:8). The very heart of worship is who God is (Revelation 4:11) and what He has done to reconcile us to Himself (Isaiah 61:10).  Even those who have rejected Jesus and will find themselves acknowledging that he is worthy of all glory and honor (Philippians 2:9-11).

Isn’t God at the very center of the stage of worship in Heaven? (Revelation 4:11, 5:12-14, 7:9-12, 19:1-10, Isaiah 6, etc.)  You won’t and can’t have an “audience of one” in Heaven because God is the only act! You will fall on your face and you will worship because He is worthy! If anything we will be part of the audience applauding Him. His glory demands an audience of worshipers (Luke 18:40)! 

What if we meant something other than worship by “audience of one?” If you mean to say that, “Gods opinion of you is the only one you care about,” do you not recognize the emphasis on a subjective individual experience in that statement as well? Would you not recognize that God has given us each other to be the voice of reason, accountability, and reminder of who He is (1 Timothy 4:12, Matthew 18:15-20)? I care about God’s opinion of me, but I also recognize that He judges my heart better than me and this attitude might be more about resisting accountability than it is about truly seeking the Lord.

If you mean to say, “Only God can Judge you perfectly,” then I think you are right (Romans 14:4). But there is a huge difference between God as a just judge and God as your audience. Judges render verdicts, audiences by nature observe and applaud (or heckle)… either way the verdict of a judge is more serious than applause of an audience.

I pray that we would all be aware that God is a just judge and we would strive to have pure hearts, but not in the way that Kierkegaard suggests. I would that we had them in the way that Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount. I would love to have a pure heart that doesn’t do deeds so as to be seen by others, but to be seen by God (Matthew 6:1-6) and simultaneously loves to do good works that are seen by everyone and point to God (Matthew 5:13-16).  Only God can judge a heart like that and to be clear only God can create a heart like that in me (Ezekiel 36:26, Psalm 51:10, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Jeremiah 24:7) . I reject the “Audience of One” illustration for worship because it is a dangerous philosophy that removes God from the act of worship and puts us center stage.

For more on the topic of an undue emphasis on the individual subjective experience in American Christianity check out this previous blog post: Who are you really worshiping?

How A Widow Helped a Little Boy

When I was younger my dad told me that a particular widow always had ice cream sandwiches and coke at her house.  So once or twice a week I would stop by for a snack and a conversation. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out then that my dad had tricked me into regularly visiting Mrs. Robinson. As time drew on I went for the conversations more than for the sweets. God used my dad’s creativity and sweets to bless both Mrs. Robinson and me more than any gift he could have given either one of us.

widdow

As a little boy I never would have dared visit a widow from the church, but for ice cream sandwiches I’d knock on anyone’s door. I was a chatterbox back then, much like I am now, and would talk anyone’s ear off given the chance.  I also knew how to be polite and listen, especially when I was taking a bite out of a sweet treat. I was blessed to hear her talk about her life and how Jesus had walked with her through it all in the good and the bad.

I didn’t know it as a little boy, but I needed to hear how Jesus had helped her through the hard times. I needed to hear it and she needed to say it, because somehow in the saying, it reminded us both that Jesus was still there. What started out as ice cream sandwiches became worship. We didn’t sing songs. She didn’t break out any music. She just simply testified of what Jesus had done and maybe for the first time I saw someone who had a real relationship with God besides the people in my family.

Things changed, my family moved on, and we lost touch. But her life marked mine and I count her as my first true senior adult friend (other than my grandparents of course). I don’t think she or my dad set out to do anything profound other than introduce a little boy to a widow who could use some company, but it ended up being so much more than that.

As our society has transitioned, one of the things I miss the most is the cross generational conversations. We are fortunate to have several folks in the life of our family that we look up to and are blessed to count them as a friend. One of the things I hope my kids always experience is the blessing of Godly saints, telling true stories about how they have walked with God.

Fight Anxiety with Faith in God, not Faith in You (Nehemiah 2:18-20)

Anxiety can come into our lives though all sorts of avenues. One of the key ways it can creep in though facing opposition. We can hear the negative voices around us and begin to believe them. We can second guess our own thoughts, efforts and plans simply because of what someone else said. Often it is too easy to listen to the voices of the doubters, the haters, and the plain old enemies. So what do you do when you face anxiety because you have listened too much to the voices of your detractors?

Go back and you remember the vision. You remember the plans that were put in your heart, not by your own ambition or effort, but by almighty God himself. You remind yourself that if God is for it… does it matter whose voice is against it?

Cover

And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 2:16-20 ESV)

This is what Nehemiah does. When the contemporary leaders of the territories surrounding Jerusalem were pressing in on him, saying that they would get his permissions revoked and that he had no right to rebuild a wall (before a brick was even put on top of another). He didn’t appeal to his own courage, he didn’t appeal to his relationship to the king; he appealed to the will of almighty God. He knew God was in it and therefore it was going to happen. There was no room for anxiety.

So when you face opposition (and you will) be sure to press into God. For years I have been praying the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-11) as a way of helping me take the focus off the struggles in front of me and placing it on God’s plan and purpose for my life. If he has given you a vision or a dream to reach others, then be sure that He will deliver you, your job is to stay humble and stay close. Make sure that all along the way you are pointing others to the work that God will do and is doing. To take credit for it yourself to stumble and fall before you have reached the finish line.

Does God Like Our Music? (The Object, Quality, & Background)

Worship Music

God is the Object of Music Offered as Worship

There is something distinctively different about the music in the Bible and the music in our culture and the difference is mainly the content of the songs. In order for a song to be a Biblical or Christian song is should come from the scriptures or be a response to God. Every song in the scriptures teaches us who God is, pleads for him to act, or celebrates what He has done. Even in the Song of Solomon you have the celebration of marriage which is an institution created by God.

The primary issue about songs in worship isn’t the style (hymns or Choruses) or even the type of instruments used or not used, at it’s foundation a song suitable for worship must have God as it’s object. Churches that divide between  contemporary and traditional miss authentic worship because they choose style over substance and divide the body over a non-essential. When we insert preference into the mix we have to ask, are we concerned with God’s preference or our own? The issue about what music should be sung for the purpose of worship is simply this… is it a response to God? does it teach truth about God? does it ask God to move? … in essence is it Godward?

The essence of worship places the value on the one being worshiped not the worshiper. When it comes to using songs in worship, the emotional benefits of a song are secondary to the truth of the song. Is should be noted that your emotions can be wrong and misleading. Not that emotion in worship is bad, but that songs must be evaluated for more than how they make you feel. Worship in song in often very emotional, but it should be emotional because of who God is, not because of how much you like the song.

Music Offered as Worship Should be Quality

Those who lead our churches in corporate worship should be quality driven folks. Everyone from the music minister down to the smallest child in the congregation should do their best to understand the music that they are singing in worship.

Take a look at some of the introductions to the Psalms (Psalm 4:1, 5:1, 6:1, 8:1, 9:1, 51:1).  There is a note to the choirmaster about the tune of the song. He should know the song and be familiar with how it is to be played. On some occasions there are notes as to which type of instruments are to be used. Then we also see that the songs have an author and sometimes even a background. The message is clear, “here is a song to be employed for worship. Play it in a specific way, with a specific instrument, according to the design of the author… don’t mess it up.

Today we have songs that were written to be played in arena’s full of people and those written for more intimate settings. It can be quite unsettling when a praise band sets up to play an arena song to a smaller coffee house type gathering. The band may love the song, but it’s not a fit for the size of the community they are leading. It would be helpful if modern worship leaders would include some suggestions on their songs to help others who want to use them.

It is a difficult job to lead a congregation in singing praise to God. Whoever leads looks for the right songs for the moment for the community they are leading. Musicians and vocalists take music home to practice (How do you offer your best to God without practice?). Then they get together to practice, work out any issues, harmonize, etc. Don’t be fooled, they don’t do all of this in order to pull of a flawless production, they do it to exercise their God given gifts and lead you and I in songs of worship so that we can worship God TOGETHER. They do it so that when we have an awesome encounter with a holy and righteous God we have a method and a mode to offer expressions of praise back to Him. They don’t do it just to show off their talents and gifts… They do it so YOU can JOIN THE SONG! It is not about who is on stage and who isn’t. It is about God, who has gifted and called individuals to lead his people in a response to him of authentic worship through song.

Music Offered as Worship has a Background

You can’t help but notice that when you read some of the Psalms that there is a historical background to the song (see Psalm 51:1 for an example). This provides a great template for worship leaders to share relevant background information about the songs we sing in corporate worship. Some great resources for this are the three volumes “Then My Soul Sings” by Robert Morgan.

Even more contemporary songs have background stories. A simple search of the song title, author and the words “background story” will often yield results. Bellow is a video of an interview with Matt Redman who shares the background on his song, “Heart of Worship.” Though it’s not as popular as it once was, it reveals that these songs don’t arise out or mechanical song writing studios, but often arise out of real life responses to God in current situations.

A worship leader doesn’t need to share the background to every song or even share a background every time they lead, but the background does go a long way toward helping the congregation know how this song is a response to God and the appropriate emotions and sentiments that the song carries. Knowing that Martin Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress is Our God in the midst of depression, illness and persecution can help the people in the congregation see how this song can be their response to God as well.

We’ll look more into music and song as an avenue for worshiping God as well as the benefits of singing to God together in the next post. Until then feel free to like this post, share it, comment below, and be sure to sign up to get new posts sent to you via e-mail (on the top right of this page).

 

Does God Like Our Music? (Intro)

Several years ago I heard a story about believers in Asia who met in a cave in order to be able to sing praise to God. It was illegal to assemble as the church in their country and so if they wanted to sing praise songs together in community they had to rise early and travel a great distance to this cave and sing. To be honest when I heard the story (I have every reason to believe it was true) I couldn’t help but be a little bit curious as to why these believers would risk so much just to sing? What was it about singing that would draw them to that cave? The more I thought about it, the more I questioned myself, Why do I sing? What is it in the life of a believer that calls not just for prayer, or bible study, but song… And not just a solo, but the need to join a chorus of other believers in offering praise to God?

So I’m going to take a few blog posts here to chase that thought. I won’t be chasing it though my mind… I don’t have the answers. I’ll be chasing it through the scriptures. We will examine song in the scriptures and the compulsion for believers to offer God worship through song.

Worship Music

To be clear, music or singing isn’t worship. Music is an avenue of worship, but song alone does not exalt God. There are many songs that honor God and many that dishonor God. Music just like sex, food, and all the rest of God’s pleasures were designed to be good and for His glory, but can also be perverted. Sex is perverted when you look for sex for sex sake. Food is perverted when you look at food for food’s sake and music/ singing can be perverted when you look at music for music’s sake.

Music touches our emotions like nothing else can. When used legitimately there is nothing that can compare to the rise that music gives. The Bible is saturated with music! The book of Psalms is the songbook for the nation of Israel and it contains 150 songs for most any occasion. Stack on top of that all the times that people burst into song in the Scripture and you will quite soon realize that if we were to dramatize the scripture it would be a musical. People in the Bible sang! There was something in them that called for a response to the acts of God that couldn’t be expressed with normal words spoken in a normal way.  Their voices had to elevate to put words to meter and music! Moses led the entire nation of Israel in a song when  God wiped out an Egyptian army by way of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Mary sang upon visiting her cousin Elizabeth and receiving confirmation that she was carrying the messiah in her womb (Luke 1)! The angels sang to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2) The Song of Solomon is a wedding song written by or for Solomon. And there is more than I have time to write here.

Music expresses our emotions and it can help change our emotions. How about all those love songs that make you want to grab someone, hold them tight, and not let go. Then there are the songs that make you want to cry. Then there are songs that put a little pep in your step (great for a workout play list). I know that a little classical music on the drive home goes a long way towards curbing my anger issues at other drivers.  When the Lord sent an evil spirit  upon Saul, it was only the harp music of David that could calm him (I Samuel 16). Music does something for us! Even those people like me who can’t carry a tune or play an instrument. The writer of James tells us to sing when we are joyful (James 5:13).

We’ll look more into music and song as an avenue for worshiping God as well as the compulsion to sing corporately in the next post. Until then feel free to like this post, share it, comment below, and be sure to sign up to get new posts sent to you via e-mail (on the top right of this page).

 

The Color of Justice (REVIEW)

the color of justiceThe Color of Justice is an engaging courtroom drama centered on the issue of racial reconciliation. In 1964 a white girl is murdered and a young black man is fingered for the crime despite a lack of evidence. Cooper Lindsey an aspiring lawyer with roots in the small town of Justice, Mississippi steps in to make sure the defendant gets a fair shake. The book is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird , even to the point that the author references Mobile and Montgomery with some frequency. The twist comes when another lawyer enters town in 2014 to answer the questions left by the case in 1964 and to defend a young white man accused of killing a young black man.

The Color of Justice speaks well to the theme of racial reconciliation, repentance and forgiveness. The author helps the reader seemingly explore the issues from both a black and white perspective. Early on the main character maintains that he is not racist, but when confronted with difficult circumstances he has to really examine his motives and thoughts. The author does a great job of illustrating the reality of racism in a 1964 Mississippi town without fully engaging in racist rhetoric. He lays down enough hints and interjections to get the message across without ever actually penning derogatory terms.

Over all I thought this was a great book. The author kept the lines of tension tight which always makes for a great read and the inability to put the book down. I know I lost an hour of sleep just so I could muddle through to the end of the book and not have to wait till later. I got my copy from amazon.com who has it on sale right now for $13.49 in paperback.

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