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The Power of Music

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Joseph Fletcher, the Scottish political activist of the eighteenth century, once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation. I care not who makes its laws." Fletcher knew music can have a greater impact on the thinking and behavior of people than the laws they live under. He saw music as a powerful tool for political and social change. And it still is.

Music can inspire revolution because of its inherent connection to our emotions. As one man said, “Music is the language of the soul.” However, music’s ability to express emotion and connect with our hearts, is also a cause for warning. First, we will speak in the realm of music in general and then specifically of music directed toward God as worship.

The Power of Music in General

Every song carries with it a worldview, a philosophy, a way of seeing the universe. That message is birthed in the creative minds and skillful hands of the musicians. It is carefully crafted in the studios of Nashville, TN or Brooklyn, NY. Then it is digitally snipped, cut and packaged into its most palatable form by producers to be devoured by you, the consumer. 

Consumption of that message takes place in the most sacred human space, the heart. “Watch over your heart with all diligence," Wisdom says, "for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Wisdom warns us to be careful what we pour into that sacred wellspring. Exposure to and acceptance of the message a song is espousing will have consequences on our thinking and behavior (Mt. 15:18-20).

But lady Wisdom gives us both warning and instruction. Music should also be regarded as a gift from God. Our God is a musical, eloquent God, and has blessed many with the ability to create music. You may be able to bring blessing through the power of music to the hearts of others. Paul's words are a helpful filter not only for what we allow into our hearts but also what we are sending out from our hearts into the hearts of others: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things" (Phil. 4:8). All our creative endeavors should be under the influence of the gospel. Do not use an attractive melody as a cloak for evil (cf. Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:16). 

Many forms of music have no lyrical content at all. Classical, jazz, and other forms of “music for music’s sake,” though without words, are not without power. See the difference in ideology between the two great German composers Ludwig van Beethoven and, a generation later, Richard Wagner for proof.

The Power of Music as Worship

Let’s move to the realm of music in the context of worship. God is praised with music. But what kind of music exalts the Lord of the universe? Notice the relatively few New Testament passages on song worship give little direction as to the form that music is to take. We are simply told to “sing” (Jas. 5:13) with the “fruit of [our] lips” (Heb. 13:15) “making melody with [our] heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).

We are given freedom as to the form those “hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs” take as long as we “sing” them. Notice God emphasizes content not form. Our worship songs glorify God when their content is spiritual (Col. 3:16). The primary way worship music reaches us emotionally is through the message that resonates within our hearts as we sing. The form is secondary and should be in service to content. Good song writers know how to appropriately match melody and poetry.

Some contemporary trends in worship music have gotten away from this content-first, participatory approach in favor of a form-first, observation approach. The emphasis is less on instruction through content and more on producing emotion through the form of the music. Instead of thinking about the message of the song through the words, we are encouraged to feel the message through the form. In true worship, however, God wishes us to use music as a vehicle of expression that points to his glory. When the content of our worship music is given a back seat to form, the music no longer points to God but is, in a sense, pointing to itself. The music is no longer a means to an end (to exalt God and express truth) but becomes an end in itself, a subtle form of idolatry.

Because music has the potential to sound so beautiful we can become infatuated with form at the expense of content. This is no big deal with secular music but when it comes to worship music, content must precede form. In Amos’ day, Israel was “at ease in Zion” and had turned the worship of God into an exercise in self-indulgence. They were those who “sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music” (Amos 6:5). The prophet says “Woe” to them! (6:4). They had no awareness of the meaning and instruction of the psalms of David and sang them as idly as any other common song. 

The irony is that the very thing that could have brought the Israelites out of their sin and closer to God (true, spiritual worship) had been perverted as a tool to gratify their own pleasure and pushed them further away from God. The warning stands today. If we "worship in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:24) worship will have its intended effects: God will be glorified (Rom. 15:6), we will grow closer to him and become more like him (2 Cor. 3:18), and unbelievers will see that “God is certainly among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).

Consecrating our Children

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Train up a child in the way he should go;

even when he is old he will not depart from it.

(Proverbs 22:6)

The Bible is full of wonderful instruction on family relationships, marriage and the rearing of children. Among the many verses that address parenting, Proverbs 22:6 is a classic. It teaches the general truth that if parents train their children to love and obey God when they are young they will grow up to love and obey God as adults. When this verse is read aloud to the church, however, it breaks my heart to see the pain on parents’ faces whose children have grown up only to leave the Lord. They blame themselves for not training their children "in the way [they] should go. Or worse, they blame God for not keeping his promise. But is this fair? Let's examine this passage in more detail to find out.

WHAT IS A "PROVERB"?

It is important to note what a proverb is. The word “proverb” comes from a root which means “likeness.” The related verb means “to be like, to represent, be comparable with.” For example, “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psa. 49:12). The word "like" is the same word for "proverb." A proverb is an object lesson based on a comparison or an analogy (Psa. 78:2-6), a short, pithy statement (Ezek. 16:44) or a general saying (Deut. 28:37). In the Bible, proverbs are memorable sayings that, if heeded, generally turn out true in life.

So let’s revisit Proverbs 22:6. God is not making a hard-and-fast promise like “If you do A, the result will always be B.” Proverbs doesn't function as computer code for life. God’s wisdom in the book of Proverbs is given in short statements that capture a general truth about wise and godly living in poetic form. It is beyond the scope of any one proverb to exhaust the subject it addresses. You might say a proverb is the rule and not the exception (for the exceptions, see Ecclesiastes). So as a rule, if parents follow the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6a, then verse 6b will probably result. While a person's disobedience to the Lord may be attributed in part by a failing in the parents, it is not always necessarily the case. 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "TRAIN UP" A CHILD?

Wisdom teaches us to “train up” our children. This conjures images, at least in my mind, of training an animal to do tricks. This gives the impression that parenting isn’t too different than potty training a beagle. But this is missing it by a long shot. The verb translated “train up” can also mean “to dedicate” or “to consecrate.” The same word used in reference to children in Proverbs 22:6 is used to refer to dedicating a house (Deut. 20:5), the temple (1 Kgs. 8:63; Psa. 30:1), altars (Num. 7:10; 2 Chron. 7:9) and the town walls (Neh. 12:27). A related adjective describes men who have been trained, tried and experienced (Gen. 14:14).

So how does this all fit in with parenting our children? The proverb pictures a child whose parents dedicate him to the Lord. This certainly involves moral training and guidance but underneath it is a deeper desire to consecrate this precious gift of human life to the Creator’s service. This reminds me of Hannah’s attitude in 1 Sam. 1:11, “And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life...”

Hannah had the right mental picture of parenthood. Her inability to bear children like other women left her in humility and disgrace in society but it also gave her a deeper appreciation for children and a higher perspective on parenting. To Hannah, the life of a child was a gift from God meant to be given back to him in faithful service. 

IN WHAT "WAY" ARE CHILDREN TO BE TRAINED?

The “way” talked about in the proverb is a path, a road, a metaphor for the journey of life. We train our children by starting them on a path headed in a certain direction at a young age. Even though the proverb indicates there is a correct "way" children "should go," the proverb remains true no matter how you train your child. Generally, when we are set on a path as a child, whether that pathway is righteous (Prov. 13:6) or wicked (Prov. 12:26), we will seldom deviate from that path later in life. 

This proverb is a warning about the character forming habits parents instill in their children at an early age. They are “soaking up” how to live life based on what they see in mom and dad. Parents are setting their children on a trajectory, a heading, whether they know it or not. The Lord says through Ezekiel, “like mother, like daughter” (Ezek. 16:44) just as we say, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." As we stated before, there are exceptions to the rule, so don't be discouraged if you are ashamed of the tree you fell from!

Now, the “way he should go” is stated elsewhere in the book. There is a “way that seems right” to a person (Prov. 14:12) which, to the child, is often the way of “foolishness” (Prov. 22:15). It is the godly parent’s duty to dedicate their children to the Lord at the earliest moments of parenthood. Like Hannah, we should have a mind to consecrate our children to the Lord even before they are born and to see in every moment with our children an opportunity to shape their character. Continuing that act of consecration requires loving parental “discipline” along the “way” (Prov. 22:15; cf. Col. 3:21; Eph. 6:4). The NEB translates Proverbs 22:6a as, “Start a boy on the right road.” Sound wisdom and a dire warning all wrapped up in one statement. A true proverb!

Fully Integrated

Saturday, May 09, 2020

“He who walks in integrity walks securely, 

But he who perverts his ways will be found out.”

(Proverbs 10:9

Doctors may disagree on what makes a person ill and the cause of our sickness, but they are all united in what makes a person whole and complete. In other words, we may go into the hospital with one leg less but we will never leave with one leg more because doctors are all united in what a healthy body looks like.

Politicians see it the other way around. All politicians agree that the country is sick, but they can’t agree on what a healthy country looks like. What one political party suggests as a solution to the problem of societal sickness is viewed as worse to the other party than the present state of things. But conservative, liberal or moderate, politicians all agree that the country needs to be made whole.

We may never agree on what makes one physically incomplete or what makes a country politically whole but Jesus, the great physician and king of creation, knows what makes us spiritually incomplete and how we can be spiritually whole again. 

Jesus is in the business of making people whole again. He once “restored” a man’s hand “to normal, like the other” (Mt. 12:13; cf. 15:31). But the miracles were never supposed to be an end in themselves but rather a means to an end. The miracles teach us valuable lessons about what Jesus can do within us today. Each healing miracle of the great physician is a paradigm, a miniature picture or physical illustration, of how he can restore us to spiritual health and wholeness. In fact, this is the primary aim of Jesus’ mission, “to restore all things” (Mt. 17:11; cf. Col. 1:20).

This concept of wholeness and completeness brings us to an interesting word we find scattered throughout the Bible: integrity. Defined negatively, integrity means uncorrupted, undivided, sinless. Defined positivity, integrity means wholeness, completeness, oneness. 

So a person who has integrity is the same person all the time. He is fully integrated. This is the essence of God’s character revealed in his personal name, “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). That is, whatever God is, he is that all the time. His character is changeless and eternally consistent (2 Tim. 2:13). With him there is “no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas. 1:17). He “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). He doesn’t behave one way with one group of people and behave another way with another group (see “Hypocrites!” Mt. 23). He is the epitome of integrity. 

But are we fully integrated humans? John is right when he described God as “love” (1 Jn. 4:8) because God loves all the time no matter what. Even his judgments are consistent with his love because love is integral to lis character. Can that be said of us? Could a person say, “(insert your name here) is love” and be speaking the truth? Is it even possible to be a fully integrated human? 

I believe the answer is a resounding “No” outside of Jesus but an equally resounding “Yes” in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). The “old self” “corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Eph. 4:22) is dominated by the desires of the flesh which are “in opposition” to those of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). But Jesus can create a “new self” “in the likeness of God” who is fully integrated “in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24). To be fully integrated apart from God is absurd. But by the grace of God in Jesus we can make real steps to be people of integrity.

In the passage we began with (Prov. 10:9) integrity means blameless in conduct. One who lives in a blameless way will live in security. He is certain of the course he is following and doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. He doesn’t fear retribution from man or God because he lives with integrity. Living with integrity is essentially living by faith or trusting obedience in God's word (Hab. 2:4).

By faith, integrity is achievable. David was a man of integrity (1 Kgs. 9:4). He even asked God to vindicate him on the basis of his integrity (Psa. 26:1,11). He called upon God to “search” and “try” his heart to “see if there [was] any hurtful way in” him (Psa. 139:23-24). Job was also a man of integrity. Even when the devil tried to crush him with evil, his wife railed against him and his friends accused him of living in some secret sin, Job held fast to his integrity (Job 2:3,94:68:2027:531:6, etc.). The apostle Paul spent much of his second letter to the Corinthian church defending his integrity because it had been called into question (see for example 2 Cor. 1:12-24). 

Integrity has a direct correlation to trust. It impacts every relationship in life. Friends cease to be friends when they learn that we lied to them, deceived them or acted hypocritically. A loss of integrity forfeits trust. The American public’s trust in their media, in their politicians, and in their beloved Hollywood idols has dissolved because of huge moral and ethical failings. Every relationship from friendship to government is shaped by the question, “Can I trust them?” 

The corrupt system of world under the power of the evil one is utterly irredeemable and irreconcilable (Eph. 2:21 Jn. 2:15-172 Pet. 3:7,10-12). It is reserved for the fires of judgment. However, those in Christ have passed from death into life, out of darkness and into light (Jn. 5:24Col. 1:13-14) where, by the power of forgiveness, we can grow into maturity, “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ”, the only human who has ever been fully integrated (Eph. 4:13,16). 

Are you maturing in your integrity? Can others trust you and depend on you? Does your word count (Mt. 5:33-37)? By the power that works within all Christians (Eph. 3:20) we can be people of integrity and, in the resurrection and new creation, be fully integrated humans!

Connections with Elijah

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Elijah was a mighty prophet of the LORD who arose during a time of crisis in the northern kingdom. He courageously opposed the wicked leadership of Ahab and Jezebel and played a vital role in a significant victory over Baal-worship at Mount Carmel (1 Kgs. 17-18). He was a man of great faith but like all biblical heroes of faith (minus one) he was also flawed.

After facing some unexpected opposition from the queen, Elijah retreated from conflict and nearly cast aside his faith, looking to lay down his prophetic mantle prematurely (1 Kgs. 19:1-4). At Mount Horeb, God gently reminded him he was only one servant among many (1 Kgs. 19:5-14). He continued to serve God (1 Kgs. 21; 2 Kgs. 1) but he displayed moments of definite reluctance, perhaps even disobedience (1 Kgs. 19:15-212 Kgs. 2:1-10). When things happened the way he expected Elijah fulfilled his role successfully but when the going got rough he did not always handle the disappointment well, let alone smooth the way ahead for others! 

Elijah and Jesus the Messiah

Elijah appeared “in person” in the New Testament, standing on the Mount of Transfiguration along with Moses and Jesus (Mt. 17:1-13). The significance of this meeting is widely debated but the main point was to show that Jesus is far greater than both Moses and Elijah. Like Moses, Elijah explicitly prefigured Jesus. Like Jesus, he was a mighty prophet who embraced the Gentiles (Lk. 4:24-26). But there are implicit connections to Jesus as well. Angels ministered to them in the wilderness (1 Kgs. 19:5-8Mt. 4:1-11); they opposed Baal(-Zebub) and dealt with the possessed (1 Kgs. 18:20-40;2 Kgs. 1:2-17Mt. 12:22-28); they worked miracles of provision and healing (1 Kgs. 17:7-24Mt. 14:13-2115:29-39); in the end, they both ascended into heaven (2 Kgs. 2:11Acts 1:2). The portrait of Jesus in the New Testament is building on and perfecting the portrait of the great prophet Elijah in the Old Testament.

Elijah & John the Baptist

However, for all the connections to Jesus in the gospels, Elijah is more closely associated with John the Baptist. Elijah’s preparatory role to pave the way to God’s victory over the powers of darkness (1 Kgs. 19:15-18Mal. 4:1-6) is likened to John’s role as the forerunner to the LORD.  John appears on the scene before Jesus dressed like Elijah (2 Kgs. 1:8Mt. 3:4) announcing the coming kingdom of God and warning people to repent. It was John, not Jesus (Mt. 16:13-1627:45-49), who was identified as the Elijah to come (Lk. 1:11-17Mt. 11:1-917:11-13). This led some to think that John the Baptist was literally the Elijah from the Old Testament, which he flatly denied (Jn. 1:19-34). This confusion is understandable considering the peculiar circumstances of Elijah’s departure from this world in 2 Kgs. 2:1-18. John was not Elijah in any literal sense but he was Elijah in the figurative sense: he performed Elijah’s task without actually being Elijah.

Elijah & The Faithful People of God

Elijah not only functions as a type of Jesus and John but also of us. He was “a man with a nature like ours” (Jas. 5:17). He was one of the people of God. And we, as people of God ourselves, can learn many lessons from studying his story. 

  1. We learn how God works with the “remnants” of His people (Rom. 11:1ff). Elijah went up against 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and he prevailed by faith in the power of the LORD. But he had sunken into a depressed state at the cave at Mount Horeb believing he was all that was left of the faithful. There are times we may feel we are all that are left of the LORD’s army. But there will always be a faithful few scattered throughout the world engaged in the same conflict against the powers of darkness (1 Pet. 5:9-10). God’s people have always been in the minority. Think of Noah, Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, Daniel and his three friends in Babylon, the apostles and early Christians. Most of all, think of Jesus, who was truly alone on the cross but who won the victory for all who put their faith in Him!

  2. We also learn about what it means to endure hardship “by faith.” The Hebrew writer references Elijah in a list of those who endured life’s difficulties by faith (Heb. 11:32-40). The Lord said that persecuted peacemakers are “blessed” because they are in the company of faithful prophets like Elijah (Mt. 5:9-12). We ought to “rejoice and be glad” when we are “persecuted for righteousness sake” “for [our] reward is great in heaven.” When we get backlash from the world for living out our convictions we are proving our spiritual DNA and are counted with the faithful.

  3. We learn about the power of prayer. Paul says we are to “pray at all times” (Eph. 6:18). James says we are to pray when we’re in trouble, when we’re happy, and when we’re sick (Jas. 5:13-14). James points out Elijah as an example of the power of faithful prayer. He was a man just like us, with the same spiritual resources. “He prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” We should recognize that the power of prayer is available to all who are sincerely following the Lord and not just to a special few (Jas. 5:16b-18).

  4. One of the greatest lessons we learn from Elijah is to have a sense of perspective on one’s life of service to God. No one should think he is greater than anyone else in the kingdom (Rom. 12:3-81 Cor. 3:1-9Phil. 1:12-18). We are each only part of God’s plan and not the plan itself. Elijah needed some convincing of this at Mount Horeb but John the Baptist humbly grasped this truth right away (Mt. 3:11-1511:11Jn. 3:27-30). We must understand, while we all have an important place in the kingdom, that place is never ahead or above anyone else (Mt. 20:20-27). 

Elijah is a powerful teacher for us both in his successes and in his failures. God can work with imperfect people like us so long as we are humble and faithful to Him.
 

Psalms: The Christian's Playlist

Saturday, April 25, 2020

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

Colossians 3:16

You've probably noticed I've been talking a lot about the Psalms recently and that's because I've been reading about Jesus in the Gospel accounts! Jesus quoted the Old Testament all the time but the book he quoted most often was the book of Psalms. Of course, this should be no surprise, seeing as how the book of Psalms acted as the prayerbook of Israel and their guide to public worship and personal devotion.

Jesus directly quoted from Psalms at least eleven times not counting all the subtle references and allusions because they, like all of Scripture, were written about him. When he appeared to his disciples after being raised from the dead he reminded them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Lk. 24:44) The early church used "psalms" as well as other "hymns and spiritual songs" in their regular worship gatherings (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

This got me thinking about the role of the Psalms in our lives today. The Psalms are a collection of 150 song/prayers to God written by various authors in different situations. King David wrote most of them but several were written by a group of priests and temple worship leaders called "the sons of Korah" and a man named Asaph. Solomon and Moses wrote at least one a piece and there are a few written by unknown poets. The book is divided into 5 smaller "books" which may imitate the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch:

  • Book 1: Psalms 1-41
  • Book 2: Psalms 42-72
  • Book 3: Psalms 73-89
  • Book 4: Psalms 90-106
  • Book 5: Psalms 107-150

The first Psalm acts as an introduction and 'user manual' for the Psalms. The last psalm that ends each book finishes with a beautiful doxology, while Psalm 150 as a whole is the conclusion both of Book 5 and the entire Psalter.

Though some of the psalms are written in response to very specific situations, the wide range of emotions expressed within them can give voice to our feelings today. They do more than simply express our emotions, however. If we study and pray through them carefully, they can also shape our emotions and transform us into people of deep faith and radiant joy! This is the great power of the psalms. The words on the page go beyond the experience of the original authors and speak straight into our own life. They teach us to process how we feel in any given situation through the discipline of prayer. This is one of the reasons why our Lord and the authors of the New Testament quoted them so much. The psalms have much to teach God's people of any day and serve as a practical tool to help us through the general troubles of life.

Because the psalms are poetry and were meant to be set to music (you can see this in some of the liturgical directions at the beginning of some psalms like "To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments." Psa. 4), they should be the soundtrack for our life. These are the words that should fill our hearts and minds as we journey through the wilderness toward our Promised Land. The cadence of poetry within the psalms should keep our feet pressing on toward our goal and keep our eyes on the Lord. The psalms ought to be our spiritual playlist running on a constant loop as we grow and mature as God's people.

  • Are you troubled? Pray through a psalm of lament like Psalm 13.
  • Are you thankful? Pray through a psalm of thanksgiving like Psalm 30.
  • Are you guilty? Pray through a psalm of repentance like Psalm 32.
  • Are you in need of forgiveness? Pray through a psalm of forgiveness like Psalm 51.
  • Are you in awe of God? Pray through a psalm of praise like Psalm 8.
  • Are you appreciative of God's word? Pray through a psalm of celebration like Psalm 119.
  • Are you seeking wisdom? Pray through a psalm of wisdom like Psalm 37.
  • Are you in need of confidence? Pray through a psalm of confidence like Psalm 23.
  • Are you disillusioned with our nation's leaders? Pray through a psalm of true leadership like Psalm 72.
  • Are you thinking of Jesus? Pray through a royal psalm like Psalm 2.
  • Are you in need of a history lesson? Pray through a historic psalm like Psalm 78.
  • Are you forgetful of God's promises? Pray through a prophetic psalm like Psalm 81.

Whatever you're going through in life at the moment, God's word can help guide you through it. Every book of the Bible is important because the words are breathed out by God himself and profitable to shape us into the people we were created to be (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Thank God for the wonderful gift that he has given us in the book of Psalms! I hope that together as we grow in our appreciation for Biblical poetry we can be strengthened by the Psalms.

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