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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Comfortable or Uncomfortable?

It is certainly true that a lot of times, Christians are very comfortable resting in Christ, spending time in prayer, or in the work of the ministry.  In fact, we're told to rest and trust in Christ in everything.  However, there are a few aspects about worship that can be very UNcomfortable.

All throughout scripture, we can see that there is the element of sacrifice that is involved in worship.  I'm sure Abraham was not comfortable on his way to sacrifice his son. Sacrifice, is just that.  It can be painful for a person to sacrifice their things, because we've worked hard in getting the things we want or have such a strong attachment to those things thus making it difficult.  Sacrifice is uncomfortable.

Anytime a person is faced with the choice of humbling themselves or doing what they think is best so that they are comfortable, 99% of the time being comfortable takes priority over humbling ourselves.  One example that comes to my mind right away is King Nebuchadnezzar.  He didn't humble himself, so he was humbled by the Lord.  The essence of humility is to forsake all of OUR wants and desires and if we choose that, humility can become very uncomfortable.

Standing up for Christ is uncomfortable.  It's getting more and more difficult to share the unashamed truth of God with the world.  Christians are labeled as bigots, hypocrites, arrogant, or anything else.  Making a stand for Christ means that a Christian might be the only one making that stand.  Remember Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego?  They were the only ones that were standing up for Christ and His truth.  In Acts 16, Paul and Silas spoke up to share God's truth.  I can't imagine how uncomfortable it was for them, shackled in the dungeon, cold, and naked.  I'm sure, like many of us, they would have much rather curled up in a ball.  God saved them and also Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego. 

False worship often imitates true worship in many elements, but true worship should never imitate the elements of the world.  It seems like worship services in Christian churches are imitation of secular rock concerts.  The lyrics of the songs might contain the truth of God's Word, but that's it.  The lights, smokey atmosphere,  loud amplified speakers, and screaching guitars are there for performance purposes and are so loud that they take away the concept of reverence for God.  In every worship account or passage, according to what God has said and what is acceptable, is a strong element of reverence to God.  The element of reverence is a core characteristic of true worship. 

Isaiah 55:8 teaches believers that God's ways and thoughts are not the ways and the thoughts of any believer.  True worship is not characteristic of anything that a Christian thinks it should be like, but only characteristic of what God's Word mandates.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD."

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Music, emotions, and worship

Can music (christian?) change our emotions?  Perhaps our view of God? 

Instrumental music has just as much of an effect on the listeners as does songs that have lyrics.  This can be proven with a simple and fun experiment.  The very familiar tune and very patriotic tune of the 1812 overture is always played on the 4th of July, and usually always has the same reaction, especially in children, who are most likely marching to that familiar beat towards the end. 

Instrumental music effects the emotions too.  Listening to a resounding rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" would spark patriotism in any American and should also cause feelings of nationalism and the sense of American pride.  In the same way, listening to Beethoven's 5th symphony sparks different emotions then listening to "Flight of the Bumblebee" or any other instrumental.  In most instances, the composers had those emotions in mind when they composed that piece and those emotions have been assigned to that piece of music.  A simple example of the emotions that could be conveyed by certain instruments follows.

- The throb of low drums remembers the pounding stampede of a herd, the rumble of thunder, a shaking earthquake, aggression or anticipating potential danger.
- The oboe or cello is the mournful crying of a grown adult.
- The violin, the cries or playfulness of a child.
- The breathiness of a wooden flute, may recall the whispering of a loved one's sweet nothings in your ear, or simply the light-laden joy from childhood, bringing happiness and fond memories outdoors.
- The gentle shaking of percussion, remembers the wind through leaves, signifying calmness and serenity.

Instrumentals of all genres, have emotions already assigned.  The composer(s) of the music already had which emotions they wanted the listeners to feel in mind and therefore controls the way they want the listeners to feel in that moment.  One aspect of biblical worship is self control, which would include awareness over how we're made to feel and having control oher how we feel.  Since certain music makes us feel a certain way, and if we use that music in our worship to the Almighty, eventually our feelings towards God will change.  The emotional message in the music we choose in our worship should match the message in the lyrics, which will shape the way we view the person of God. 

Yes, there is great emotion in worship, but it needs to be appropriate and point to who God is.

Conduct your own little experiment and pay attention to how just music makes you feel.  How should we feel towards God? Does that music promote the appropriate feeling?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Call to Reverent Worship

Sadly, there are many today to whom the idea of reverence in worship sounds too old fashioned,  so out of step with the times, and at odds with contemporary worship trends.  Indeed, many believers seem to be strangers to the fundamental truths that form the basis for our worship.   The New Testament teaching concerning worship, the Lord's supper, and the person of Christ no longer seem to hold their interest.   These do not seem to be popular.   We are a spiritually carefree generation.  Unfortunately,  the broad road has always been more appealing than the narrow way.  But the apostle Paul's exhortation must not go unnoticed, "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Jesus Christ, and have no confidence in the flesh."  (Phil. 3:3)  Therefore, let us draw near unto Him, who in mercy, first drew near unto us and humbly bow our hearts as worshippers in His holy presence.  May out reverent worship once again shine bright as the hallmark of our devotion to Christ. 

David Dunlap, Bible & Life, March 2003

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

TRUE Reverence

It was not always this way.  In earlier days the assemblies were for men of God whose passion to worship the Son of God was unrivaled.  The believers in the Lord Jesus Christ might have gathered in a grange hall or a refurbished building, but the gathering place was not as important as the gathering Center,  the Lord Jesus Christ.  The hymns were sung heartily.  Worship was mingled with tenderness and devotion by men of God who know the Word of God.  There was a beauty of holiness that attracted all true saints of God.  The holiness and reverence that characterized the meeting were evident to all.  Concerning the character of those meetings, one writes, "I sometimes smile when I hear ministers state the assumption that a new type of building will create a worship atmosphere.  In my late adolescence I occasionally worshipped with God-fearing believers, meeting in the barest halls, adorned only with signs carrying Scripture verses, they had the most worshipful services I have ever attended.  Greeting, giggling, whispering, and coughing were all hushed by the miracle drug: REVERENCE.  Children were quieted people tiptoed to their places in the circle to sit with bowed heads or read their Bibles.  The keen anticipation of the movement of the Spirit of God in the assembly was evident in the singing of a hymn or the reading of the Scripture.  These moments of deep reverence sharply contrasts with the hubbub of many services today."  Reverence is not something we can bring to God or create in ourselves, but rather, it is a spiritual grace we receive when we begin to see God as He truly is.  Reverence acknowledges in our hearts the glory of God as presented in the Scriptures, and then yields to God His rightful place in our lives.  Reverent worshippers acknowledge their unworthiness and, in godly fear, bow before an awesome and holy God.  Concerning this source of holy reverence, the Swiss reformer John Calvin writes, "Reverence is that dread and amazement with which holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God...Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their own insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God."  Just a sudden glimpse of the holiness of God will change us forever.  As Isaiah is thrust into the presence of God and the seraphim cry out, "Holy, Holy, Holy", the prophet confesses, "Woe is me! For I am undone." Isaiah, the righteous prophet, in one brief moment, is exposed and broken under the gaze of the Almighty.  In an instant he is measured by the ultimate standard of holiness; he is weighed in the balance and found wanting.  The holiness of God has seized his heart, soul, and mind.  He cannot forget what he has seen. Boredom, casualness, and lukewarmness about the things of God are gone forever.  "Mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts" (Isa. 6:5)

David Dunlap, Bible & Life, March 2003

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The NEED for Reverent Worship

Many are concerned that today there is too much shallowness in our worship of God.  Irreverence in worship is now becoming all too common in modern churches.  Unfortunately, New Testament assemblies are not immune to this affliction.   Increasingly, believers are sashaying into worship meetings 10-15 minutes late without the slightest hint of embarrassment.  The retelling of personal anecdotes, the singing of favorite hymns (singing without conviction), and nonchalance have replaced holy and reverent worship.  Psalm 111:9 exhorts, "Holy and reverend is His Name."  Hearts full of Christ have now given way to hearts full of competing interests.  Many still attend times of worship, but have lost their first love.  The stirring hymns of the faith are sometimes still sung, but rarely with passion and conviction.  Gripping passages of Scripture about Christ and the cross are still read, but with little apparent devotion or heart-felt affection.  Eloquent prayers of praise and worship ring hollow.

David Dunlap, Bible & Life, March 2003

The need for true and sincere worship is leaving the church, and in a lot of churches has already left, being replaced with the superficial ritual of routine.  Of course, God's Word will never return void, but the receptiveness and sensitivity of God's Word is increasing every day. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Biblical standard for Reverent Worship

All too frequently churchgoers gather to worship God, but have never had a fresh vision of God's holiness.  Nice songs are sung, religious thoughts are offered to God, and well-crafted words are uttered, but all this falls far short of true worship.  This worship may be more psychological and fleshy than spiritual.  This kind of worship bears no resemblance to the worship we find in Scripture.  The psalmist writes, "He is to be feared above all gods...splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary...O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before Him all the earth."  (Ps. 92:4-6, 9) Godly fear, majesty, the beauty of holiness, and splendor and majesty were ready themes in the hearts of the worshippers of old.  How this should challenge our hearts!! There are many who study theology, but where are those who study to be worshippers of God?  Where are the churches today whose passion is to "worship God in spirit and in truth"?  Where are the books exhorting, teaching, and equipping this generation to worship God?  A.W. Tozer exhorted the fundamentalist-Bible-believing church prior to his death in 1951, "Many of our popular songs and choruses in praise of Christ are hollow and unconvincing.  Some are even shocking in their amorous endearment, and strike a reverent soul as being a kind of flattery offered to One with whom neither composer nor singer is acquainted.  The whole thing is in the mood of a love ditty, the only difference being the substitution of the name of Christ for that of the earthly lover. How different and how utterly wonderful are the emotions aroused by true Spirit-incited love for Christ. Such love may rise to a degree of adoration almost beyond the power of the heart to endure, yet at the same time it will be serious, elevated, chaste, and reverent. Christ can never be known without a sense of awe and fear accompanying the knowledge.  He is the fairest among ten thousand, but also the Lord high and mighty. He is the friend of sinners, but also the terror of devils.  He is meek and lowly in heart, but He is also the Lord and Christ who will surely come to be the judge of all men. No one who knows Him intimately can ever be flippant in His presenceIf Bible Christianity is to survive the present world upheaval, we shall need to recapture the spirit of worship.  May God raise up such an army of worshippers, those who long to reverently remember Him who first remembered us on Calvary's cross.  Might God raise up tender-hearted worshippers; but more than this, may He raise up those whose passion and aim is to equip others to worship God. 

-David Dunlap, Bible &Life, March 2003

Emphasis was added. 

How true this is and a challenge for God's children and a prayer that true worship will return to our churches.  To learn more about Biblical worship, study God's Word, look through the other posts on this blog, or order your copy of my book, Pleasing or Deceiving: A Dangerous Compromise.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Traditional or "Traditional" music

Written by Steve Hafler

Having lived in Africa for more than a decade, the term “traditional music” strikes me a bit sideways.  Traditional music in sub-Saharan Africa includes indigenous music as well as dance. Singing in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania, Madagascar, and their border countries is emphasized and is often accompanied by rattles, shakers, the mbira (thumb piano), the xylophone, various drums covered with either parchment or animal skin, and a wide variety of flutes made of bamboo. The African instrumentalist has also made great use of the guitar.  This only scratches the surface of the amazing instrumental selection to be found across Africa.  Worshipful expression is also seen in hand clapping, animated body gestures which communicate aspects of the song, and foot shuffling.  These are as common throughout Africa when the church gathers for worship as piano and organ are for westerners.  How do you navigate your way through the deep tradition of indigenous cultures, the wide selection of instruments including an assortment of drums, the associations they have to animistic ceremonies, and the use of clapping and shuffling when singing hymns?

In listening to and answering questions about church music both in Africa and now in America, I am perplexed by the conspicuous absence of any clear argumentation from God’s Word.  I will keep saying that “God’s Word is sufficient for contemporary issues” (music, modesty, alcohol, worship, homosexuality, and other issues that demand our attention).  God, and what He has revealed in His Word, are enough.  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).

The arguments I often hear are people’s opinions unsubstantiated by the rightly applied truth of God’s Word.  We need the Word of God on this matter – God’s Word accurately exegeted and rightly applied. Our children need to see an authority higher than our opinions and preferences or they will make decisions using the same insufficient and errant measure (their opinions and their preferences). There is a better way!  The danger we create is the perception that the Scriptures have no answers for contemporary issues. Is this really what we want to communicate to the next generation?  Absolutely NOT!  What should we proclaim by our life and lifestyle choices? –  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

What we will soon realize is that God wants us to praise, He wants us to sing, and He desires a song from His children. Silence is not an option – so we better grapple with the Scriptures to know what and how to sing.

The texts of Psalm 33:1-5; Ephesians 5:19; and Colossians 3:19 make clear that praise to God is not only acceptable but divinely mandated when believers gather to worship.

Part of authentic worship to God, therefore, involves the corporate singing of praises by His people. We often dichotomize our life.  What Christians believe and what they do often stand in sharp contrast.  Where there should be consistency, there is conflict and contradiction.  When I preach on Sunday it is my hope that the content of the sermon will be applied to the following week’s choices and relationships, but I realize this is not always the case.  This glaring inconsistency is also seen in the area of music.  It is rare that people apply theological truth to this area of their life. Applications are subjective but we must let Scripture guide our applications as we live in a post post-modern 2012.

So let’s begin with a few presuppositions:
(the outline and content below were taken from Wayne; Grudem, Elliot (2009-03-10). Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know (Kindle Locations 78-79). Zondervan. Kindle Edition).

Authority: The Scripture is authoritative because it is God’s breathed-out words. All the words in the Bible, therefore, are God’s words.  "The words in the Bible are God’s words. Therefore, to disbelieve or disobey them is to disbelieve or disobey God himself” (Wayne Grudem).  We must not create a false tension between the written Word of God – the Bible and the Word become flesh – Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2:13; John 1:14).  It is a gross error to say I follow Jesus but I do not adhere to the Bible.  Since the Scriptures are God’s Words they are authoritative for faith and practice (both narrowly and broadly).  Whatever the Bible affirms, we accept as true. No human opinion, preference, church creed, or tradition can supersede or equal the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

Necessity:  It is necessary to read the Bible or have someone tell us what God’s written Word says if we are going to know God personally, have our sins forgiven in the Person and Work of Christ, and know with certainty why God has created us and what God wants us to do (Rom. 10:14,17; 2 Tim. 3:15).  Necessity also means that the Bible is our only source for clear, definite, and accurate statements about God and how to become a Christian, live as a Christian, and grow as a Christian.

Clarity:  God has revealed Himself through His Word in such a way that everything necessary is clearly communicated and able to be understood (Ps. 19:7; Ps. 119:130; 1 Cor. 2:14).

Sufficiency:  Those alive during the Old Testament period didn’t have access to God’s complete revelation as we do. (the New Testament)  They did have access to all of God’s Words intended and sufficient for them during their lives.  “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” (Ps. 119:1).  The Bible gives us instructions that equip us for “every good work” that God wants us to do. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)  This is what it means to say that Scripture is “sufficient.” It is enough.  Therefore, we should be content with what God has given us – it’s enough. God has revealed exactly what He knows is right for us.  It is sad to realize that many differences in church history that have divided people and churches are issues that the Bible places very little emphasis on.  We must be careful not to impose man-made rules on other Christians.  There are issues and situations for which God has not provided the exact direction that we sometimes would prefer, but since Scripture is sufficient, we must be sure we don’t add or subtract based on our predetermined belief system.

An argument often just thrown out is that “traditional” songs are superior to “contemporary” songs.  Really?  Why?  The argument itself is fractured since we first need to define our terms.  People mean different things by the words “contemporary” and “traditional.”  The very music being argued for by proponents of this group also sprang out of a modern culture.  The older hymns we sing were all contemporary at some point. I am not sure the Christians in the 1800′s restricted their hymnology to the 1600′s.  Even if there was a small enclave who held on to the “traditional” music of their day that does not by default mean the believers who chose to sing the hymnody we treasure today (modern to them) were wrong for using it for worship (with the organ and piano this may have seemed over the edge).

In a recent video forwarded to me a man said, “and the music at ___________ [Baptist] brought tears to my eyes cause it brought it back to home like we grew up.” I found this disturbing!  Sentimentality is not our authority and will prove an untrustworthy benchmark.  Watching Rudolph at Christmas causes me to think and feel of home like we grew up. ”Refusal to change” can not become our authority or we might as well become the Amish of fundamentalism (which hyper-fundamentalism is verging towards as it departs from historic fundamentalism). Our children will see it for what it is and depart in search for authentic Christianity.  I won’t blame them for “looking” either. We need in place the presuppositions that God’s Word is authoritative, necessary, clear, and sufficient.

Each individual assembly will need to make some very difficult decisions.  Many will remain in a vacuum caught in time because that is “safest.”  I will argue, however, that incorporating well written, singable, and doctrinally orthodox modern hymns after evaluating them through the grid of Scripture in light of our present culture is not questionable, it’s not unsafe, it’s not even the dreaded “slippery slope.”
It will be helpful to understand that the church I have been given the privilege of pastoring is not trying to be like anyone else’s church or Bible college.  We don’t spend a lot of time trying to be “like” or “unlike” this or that church.  We still sing Amazing Grace even though the Mormon temple around the corner from our church building sings that hymn.  We are an autonomous assembly of believers with God-ordained leadership.  We consider it our duty to shepherd in such a way as to avoid being “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2) while at the same time encouraging “growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus” (2 Peter 3:18).  We are not trying to be like the world and we are trying to be like Christ. Our mission is to love God, love our neighbor as ourself, and take this Gospel to the world.  What fuels our pastoral decisions is higher than simply trying to be like or unlike other churches (this guide will ultimately break-down at some point and will prove unreliable).  Our benchmark is the authoritative Word of God.  My desire is that each generation of Christians know the Word and understand personally how to exegete it for matters of faith and practice regardless of cultural norms or sentimental traditions of the past.