Christianity 201

January 16, 2014

The Vision God Births in You

Today I want to juxtapose two verses of scripture and apply them to a context that may seem unusual.

Over the last couple of days I have been thinking about the earliest days of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. While I am grateful for the theological heritage I gained from learning the hymns, I am also grateful for the Christian musicians who pioneered a whole new genre, and endured the thunder and lightning storms that take place when Christianity meets culture. I am grateful also to be able to bring friends and acquaintances to church knowing they won’t suffer an immediate disconnect because of the use of 17th and 18th century musical styles. I am especially thankful for the artists who re-write the hymns with modern chords and those who are part of the modern hymns genre who give us fresh lyrics within familiar structures.

It’s easy to look back at the early days of CCM and say, “Well, it began in California at Calvary Chapel;” or “It began with Larry Norman;” or any other source we might wish to name.  On closer examination however, you discover that God was working in the hearts of young people across the U.S., Canada, England and beyond. There are literally dozens of examples of recordings that pre-date the usual suspects.

The first verse that popped into my head was I Kings 19:18. This is the passage where Elijah waits for God, expecting him to be found in the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, but God speaks to him in a whisper. Then Elijah speaks to God and laments that he is all alone.

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

But God tells him that he is not alone in ministry.

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Paul quotes this passage in Romans 11: 1-4.

Elijah felt he was operating in a vacuum. The comparison to those early music pioneers — or anyone who sets out to do a new a thing — is apt. The musicians were counter cultural on two levels: They were proclaiming Jesus in a medium not accustomed to hearing about him, in places where drug use and free love were normative.  But they were also going against the musical styles and preferences of the established church. They were getting flak from both directions.

But then, almost immediately another rather disparate verse struck me.

In John 21, we see Jesus restoring Peter and then Jesus gives Peter a brief glimpse into his future. But Peter suddenly is interested in knowing John’s future.

20 Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” 21 Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”

22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” 23 So the rumor spread among the community of believersthat this disciple wouldn’t die. But that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

The connection to me is one of personal accountability for vision. If you join these verses together it’s saying, you need to pursue the vision God gives you and not be looking around at anyone else. You need to follow God’s leading even if you’re the only one. You need to consider the possibility that you’re not the only one; that God is doing something and stirring people in locations you can’t see from your current vantage point.

Elijah was told that God was working even when Elijah couldn’t see it.
Peter was told that God had a future for Peter that wasn’t inter-dependent on others.

I don’t usually use illustrations here, or borrow material that starts with illustrations, and I know some of you prefer traditional church music and are not so fond of today’s worship choruses; but I believe that right now, God is birthing dreams and visions in the hearts of a new generation. Some of them will feel they’re going it alone, and if that’s the case, and you see the Spirit of God working in their lives, come alongside them to give encouragement. Let them know that their future is unique to their particular gifts and calling.

July 18, 2012

Why Modern Worship Music is Praise, Not Worship

I know you guys like to go deep, so today’s post is no exception, but unfortunately the writer delves deeply into this topic, but leaves us without a key scripture verse today, so just to frame it up, we’ll begin with a brief repeat item.

The “speaking to yourselves in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” phrase occurs twice in scripture.

In Ephesians 5: 18-19:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (NASB)

and in Colossians 3:16

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

Christianity is a singing faith. No other “religion” (in quotation marks because Christianity does not meet much of the definition) can boast the volume of music that has been given to the world as has the Christian faith.


The verses give us the answer, we sing because:

  • the Spirit of God lives within us and causes us to sing (Eph. text)
  • the Word of God fills our minds and provides us with the lyric to which we give voice (Col. text)

Of course, we can’t omit the whole matter of “experience” as a classic gospel song reminds us:

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.

But this, too has its roots in the text. Happy and free because of the Spirit’s presence. Known, cared-for and loved as promised in the Word.

…That brings us back to today’s item with the provocative headline!  The writer is Father Christopher Smith, writing at the Catholic Education Center Resources blog.  You MUST click through to read this, I am simply reiterating his points without the supporting paragraph that goes with each one. If you leave a comment, please identify which item number you are responding to.  And please don’t leave a comment if you didn’t read the supporting paragraph for that item.

Father Christopher Smith, PhD, STD is administrator of Prince of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Taylors, South Carolina.  He is a member of the Church Music Association of America and contributes regularly to the Chant Café blog. He is also a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a speaker on sacred music, liturgy, theology, and catechesis. Father Smith speaks Spanish, Italian, French and some German. He enjoys reading, kickboxing, and music.

I’ve changed his title in the headline above, because I believe he is mostly addressing the modern worship movement as practiced in most Evangelical churches and blended with hymns and liturgical music in more traditional churches. I address that more at the end of this first section.

Here’s the link: Why Praise and Worship is Praise but Not Worship.

Outline of points:

  1.  P&W music assumes that praise is worship.
  2.  P&W music assumes that worship is principally something we do.
  3. P&W music assumes as its first principle relevance.
  4. P&W music assumes as its second principle the active participation of a certain age group
  5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups
  6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass
  7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition
  8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion
  9. P&W music confuses transcendence with feeling
  10. P&W music denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favour of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship
  11. P&W music prizes immediacy of comprehension and artistic ease over the many-layered meaning of the liturgy and artistic excellence

Let me again state that where he is using the phrase P&W music, I believe it is more correct to say “Modern Worship.” The reasons he gives are rooted in a deep understanding of Roman Catholic spirituality, but are overshadowed with the assumption that only certain styles or genres of music are an appropriate part of a liturgy, i.e. a worship service. This assumes that would be impossible to make the mass (or an Protestant worship service) more culturally relevant to people overseas, or that an encounter with God through worship is not going to have a deep emotional element. (If the end result is rooted in, for example, Gregorian chant; to impose this on people in other countries is not unlike the fringe groups who insist that only the King James Bible saves, and therefore, they must first be taught King James English.)

I also think it is important to remember that today’s modern worship is an outgrowth of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement, and today’s CCM has its earliest roots in the Catholic folk masses of the early 1960s. (See this video as an example.)

But I also believe it not wise to be too dismissive of the writer’s passion about the qualities of worship music we aim for; and I have reproduced this here because I believe there is application here for Christians of all stripes. This is, I believe, the type of thinking more of us need to be exposed to, even if we ultimately disagree.

He ends with a more positive restatement of the same eleven points:

  1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.
  2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.
  3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.
  4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.
  5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there.
  6. The Church’s treasury of sacred music is not the province of one social-economic, age, cultural, or even religious group. It is the common patrimony of humanity and history.
  7. The Church must sing the Mass, i.e., the biblical and liturgical texts contained in the Missal and Gradual, and not sing at Mass man-made songs, if it is to be the corporate Worship of the Church and not just Praise designed by a select group of people.
  8. Orthodox Catholic teaching on faith and morals must always be accompanied by respect for the Church’s liturgical and musical teaching and laws.
  9. The deliberate intention to manipulate human emotions to produce a religious effect is abusive, insincere, and disrespectful of God’s power to bring about conversion in the hearts of man.
  10. While music does affect the emotions, sacred music must always be careful to prefer the transcendent holiness of God over the immanent emotional needs of man.
  11. The Church’s treasury of sacred music inspires and requires the highest attention to artistic excellence. It is also an unfathomable gift to the Church, and must be presented to the faithful so that they may enjoy that rich gift. 

~Father Christopher Smith

October 20, 2011

Drink Living Water From The Fountain of Life

Last night I was searching the ‘net for a song that represents a genre not often heard in today’s contemporary Christian music market, Living Water by Denny Correll.  I have the LP somewhere, but I was dying to hear the song.  In the process, I found a blogger who uses the songs from the Jesus Music era as the foundation for devotionals.  So I invite you to either click over to the blog Great, Great Joy now; or read what follows and then link over to click the audio track and follow the lyrics on a classic song.

Have you ever felt so excited about something that you couldn’t contain yourself? You just had to tell your friend, your neighbor, the person you met while walking down the street? This news you had was just too good to keep inside. It was like something that was bursting out of you that you couldn’t control!

The Joy that Jesus brings to my life is like that sometimes. Almost like a geyser, the Spirit bursts forth from me, usually in songs that I know, and that Joy comes out with it. It is literally energizing to have this happen, and spend the next several hours with music coming out in hums and whistles and fragments of song.

Jesus talks about this in the Gospel of John, chapter 7, verses 37 to 39: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”

This “living water” that Jesus spoke of, the Holy Spirit, is obviously so much more than just a song. But His work in your spirit could be through tears and repentance, or through joy and song. And I know that one way in which He works (at least in me) is to bring back to my remembrance Scripture that I’ve learned in the past — or possibly a song. And regardless of how He chooses to work in me today, it gives me something I can use to water the thirsty land around me, if I choose to let it flow!

Denny Correll released an album in 1979, Standin’ In The Light. One of the tracks on that album, Living Water is a joyful song that explains what I’ve said above in different words. Enjoy!

Click over to Great Great Joy to hear the song and read the lyrics.

October 14, 2011

I Don’t Want To Spend My Whole Life Asking, “What If I Had Given Everything?”

First, here’s a piece I wrote in October, 2009 at Thinking out Loud:

“I don’t want to spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything?'”

Matthew West Something To SayI’ve been aware of this song for some time now, but it really hit home a few weeks ago when I attended the installation service for a local pastor and he asked his worship team to perform “The Motions” by Matthew West from the album Something To Say; also on the album WoW! Hits 2010. In an industry where songs come and go, it’s a song that’s gaining momentum week by week.

“I don’t want to spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything?'”

The song has haunted me since that morning. If that pastor means what that song says — he wants God’s all-consuming passion inside him — there is nothing that he and his church can’t accomplish in the years to come.

“I don’t want to spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything?'”

What’s true for that pastor is true for all of us. What might we feel at the end of the ride called life if and when we realize there’s so much more we could have done? So much time that could have been better spent? So many resources that could have been put to better use?

“I don’t want to spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything?'”

Matthew West invited fans to comment on his website as to how the song has impacted them. So far, over 2,870 comments! On the website, you can select a video where Matthew tells the story of 18-year old Ryan from Oklahoma, a young man who posted the lyrics on his Facebook page and asked his friends to hold him accountable to that song; just before he was killed — the same day — in a car accident. The song became the central theme for his funeral.

“I don’t want to spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything?'”

Here are the lyrics:

Matthew WestThis might hurt, it’s not safe
But I know that I’ve gotta make a change
I don’t care if I break,
At least I’ll be feeling something
‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of life

I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
without Your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
instead of going through the motions?”

No regrets, not this time
I’m gonna let my heart defeat my mind
Let Your love make me whole
I think I’m finally feeling something
‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of this life

‘Cause I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
without Your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
instead of going through the motions?”

Take me all the way (take me all the way)
Take me all the way (’cause I don’t wanna go through the motions)
Take me all the way (I know I’m finally feeling something real)
Take me all the way

Here’s the song on YouTube including clips from Matthew’s (ouch!) vocal surgery:

The Motions (Matthew West) video

Why did I write this post today? Because…

“I don’t want to spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything?'”

Here are two versions of the song, both of which document a fairly rough period in Matthew West’s Life…

“I don’t want to spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything?'”

April 11, 2011

Laura Story: Blessings

The worship song, and the story behind it:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

The story behind the song:

There’s also an “official” video of this story available at this link.

Now that you know the story, click and listen to the song one more time.

June 25, 2010

Interceding for the Lost

As the saying goes, ‘And now for something completely different.’

A lot of Christian music goes over the same lyrical ground.   This one is a little different.  Refreshingly different.   Debby Boone (“You Light Up My Life”) recorded this back in the age of vinyl records.

It’s not a worship song.   It’s not a song of testimony. It’s the desperate plea for the Holy Spirit to dramatically intercede in the life of an unsaved friend.   A music expression of praying for the lost.

I’m not a huge fan of the video itself, so I’ve just posted it in such a way that you just get the audio. (HT: Abraham Piper)(Full video link.)

Do you have someone who you are desperately praying for to come into the Kingdom? We need to do all we can humanly do, and then ask God to do all that he can divinely do.

I got a call from an old friend
We laughed about how things had changed
But I could tell things weren’t going as well
As he claimed

He tried to hide his feelings
But they only gave him away
The longer I listened,
The more I kept wishing that
I knew the right words to say

Can You reach my friend ?
Bring his searching to an end
Lord, I know you love him
Help him understand
Can You reach my friend?
You’re the only One who can
Help him give his heart to You

We talked for more than an hour
I smiled when he mentioned Your name
I said that I knew You

I told him the difference You made
But he never thought he would need You
But maybe he’s changing his mind
As we said goodbye Lord
He told me that I had found
Something that he’d like to find

Can You reach my friend?
You’re the only One who can
Lord, I know You love him
Help him understand
Can you reach my friend?
Bring his searching to an end
Help him give his heart to You

Maybe he’s ready tonight
Lord, he said that he might
Need to call You

Help him give his heart to You