Christianity 201

October 1, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together. – Isaiah 52:18a, NASB

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. – I Corinthians 12:12 NIV

As someone who has been part of music ministry in many different churches, I don’t know how I missed today’s analogy before. (I’ve added italics and bold type for emphasis!) We begin with a return visit to Christward Collective and a piece by author Gary Wilbur. Click the title below to read the article in full at source.

Singing in Parts

I love plainsong chant and the power of unison singing. This type of singing fulfills particular roles in worship that part-singing cannot. However, I would suggest that the current status of congregational singing is not lacking in unison options but is in fact neglecting the benefits of singing in parts.

One reason that people do not sing in church is the lack of opportunities to do so with a voice part or a melody that fits into their vocal range. Altos and basses were not physically made to sing in the same range as sopranos and tenors. When faced with a high melody line and no opportunity (or training) to sing anything else, basses and altos either stop singing or strain their voices. If they are able to hit the higher notes, they do so in a different part of their voice that makes them stick out of the blend.

Singing in parts allows for different voice ranges to have vocal parts that fit their voice. This allows them the opportunity to participate more fully in congregational singing—which is, of course, a significant reason for singing together in the first place.

In addition, when people sing in harmony the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Literally. Notes sung together cause sound frequencies to resonate together in such a way that “sounds” other notes that are not physically being sung. The combination of voices creates the opportunity for additional notes and harmonies to fill out the music with greater richness.

Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions. The melody is supported by the harmony, the inner voices contribute tension and release, color, and enriched harmonic textures. The sopranos need the basses who need the altos and tenors…

He then moves on to talk about some of the practicalities of music ministry that aren’t applicable to all readers here.

It’s import to note that the idea of the capital “C” Church as a body is itself an analogy; so that when we noted that part singing is analogous to the notion of that body, we’re actually proposing an analogy to an analogy. We can get quite carried away doing this.

But we wouldn’t be the first to propose that the music of the church can be a microcosm of something taking place on a larger scale. For example, most of the basic chords in music are comprised of three notes, and writers in past centuries saw this as analogous to The Trinity.

Augustine wrote, “In that supreme triad is the source of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and wholly blissful delight.”

That quotation was sourced at the article “A Perfect Chord: Trinity in Music, Music in the Trinity” by Chiara Bertoglio (link here; opens as a .pdf) where we also see this:

In Greek theory and philosophy, since music is an expression of order and harmony, it is analogous with the harmony of nature, and is sympathetic with it. For Christians, the harmony of creation mirrors the Creator.  (p488)

But music can be highly complex. How far do we take such analogies?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer significantly used the musical image of the counterpoint between cantus firmus and higher parts as a metaphor of our love for creation and Creator: our love for God is the basic melody, ‘to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint.’ (p491)

And what do we say of polyphony? Or poly-tonality? Or the place of unresolved chords or even discords? It gets complicated when we try to impose too much on an analogy or metaphor; when we run too far down the rabbit trail!

So let’s leave it where we started, namely that Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions.

That’s an image I believe we all can embrace, and can remember the next time we hear four-part harmony sung in worship to God.

 

 

August 2, 2017

Christianity is a Singing Faith

We’ve frequently mentioned, quoted and linked to Mark and Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud. This is his fifth time here at C201, but it’s been nearly 3 years.

Christianity is a singing faith. It sets us apart from many other belief systems. As an old hymn, noting God’s care and protection put it, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Another hymn writer wished for “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” More recently, a popular worship writer wrote:

…We will sing, sing, sing
Grateful that You hear us
When we shout your praise
Lift high the name of Jesus.

Click the title below to read this at source. Though Mark and Stephen Altrogge and I are from different doctrinal streams, there usually isn’t an article on their blog, The Blazing Center that isn’t top-notch reading. This one is by Mark.

7 Reasons God Commands Us To Sing To Him

Have you ever wondered why God commands us to sing to him?

Does he need our songs somehow? Does he get some kind of sick pleasure out of commanding us to sing his praises?

First of all, God doesn’t need anything from us. He doesn’t need our worship or our songs or our money or our obedience. He is infinite and lacks nothing. Everything he commands us is for our joy and benefit. If God commands us to sing, then it is to bless us and add to our joy in him.

What are some reasons God commands us to sing?

First, we should sing to God because he saved us

We have so many incredible things to be thankful for and sing about – we’ve been forgiven, justified, and adopted as God’s own children and made joint-heirs with Christ. We’ve been rescued from eternal destruction. We’ve been given eternal life. Jesus SAVED us! That’s something to sing about. When God led Israel through the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on their tail, then closed the sea over the Egyptians, and saved the Israelites from certain death, and the Israelites saw the chariots and horses washed up on the beach they began to sing and dance. Can you imagine them shrugging their shoulders and saying, “That’s nice”? No, they wrote a song for the occasion. And Jesus saved us from something far worse than death – God’s eternal wrath. How can we not sing and rejoice?

Secondly, we should sing because we are loved.

God’s love is too marvelous and amazing to simply talk about. Think of all the love songs people sing. If we sing love songs about our love for human beings, how much more should we sing songs to the One who so loved us he gave his Son for us? How much more should we sing to Jesus who bore the wrath of God to redeem us?

Third, we should sing because Jesus has filled us with joy.

Singing is an expression of joy. We sing for joy at birthdays, weddings, ballgames. God has given us unspeakable everlasting joy in Christ. We just have to sing about it. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Someday Jesus will wipe away every tear and sorrow and sadness will flee away. For all eternity we will celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb. If earthly weddings have music and songs, how much more will the marriage supper of the Lamb?

Fourth, we should sing because Jesus sings over us

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zeph 3.17

Jesus rejoices and exults over his people with loud singing. How can we not rejoice in our King and Savior?

Fifth, because singing is a wonderful way to meditate on the gospel

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. CO 3.16

Our songs should be filled with “the word of Christ” – the gospel. And as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God, the gospel dwells in us richly. Singing usually involves repetition, rhyming and easily remembered phrases– it is a wonderful way to soak in and remember God’s truth.

Sixth, singing allows us to express our emotions to God in a way we couldn’t by mere talking.

What an incredible gift from God music is. How much color, joy and depth it adds to our lives. The band Cream sang a song called “I’m So Glad” in which they sang, “I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad!” (I know, not the most creative lyrics in the world). But it just wouldn’t be the same to merely speak these words. When you’re really happy you want to sing.

Seven, when we sing and rejoice in our God it honors him.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Ps 66:1-4

Singing is a way for us to glorify God – to “sing the glory of his name.” God created and saved us and gave us gifts, talents, intelligence, minds and bodies that we might glorify him. Not only are we to seek to glorify him by our lives, but with our tongues. And singing is such an easy way to glorify Jesus! It’s not like when we glorify him by suffering for him. How hard is it to sing?

Our God is so great, and so good and so glorious, he’s worthy of all of our praise. And one of the easiest ways to praise him is by singing. Let’s “sing the glory of his name!”

August 1, 2011

In Dying, Die Well

Julian Freeman is the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, Don Mills (Toronto) located just a mile west of where I grew up, and has been blogging since the spring of 2005.  This appeared at his blog under the title, Who Dieth Thus, Dies Well.

Last night as I was singing to the girls before bed, I decided to sing some older hymns we haven’t done in a while. I sang More Love to Thee and My Jesus I Love Thee and O Sacred Head Now Wounded. As always, it’s a time of worship and contemplation for me as I pray for my girls and hope that the songs will help communicate the gospel to them in meaningful ways as they grow older. It’s just one way I try to speak the gospel to my kids in all of life.

Anyway, as I sang those three hymns, something stuck out to me. All three hymns seamlessly move from the reality of Christ’s finished work to the hope that we have in the face of our own death. These songs sing freely of the unavoidable nature of death, but glory in the hope that we have in the Saviour who has already overcome death.

This is why I love singing hymns: they speak with the freedom of past generations. Our generation doesn’t like to think about death. The church has largely handed over death to doctors and funeral directors and cemeteries. There once was a time when death was an integral part of church life and worship, hence the cemeteries on church property. (Just imagine for a second what it would be like to come to church every week and walk past the grave of family members and church members who had died through the years. That’s a totally different experience than walking into a trendy café type lounge after having your car valet parked. But I digress.)

In any case, death being a part of the cycle of church life and something that people had to face and talk about brought greater freedom and natural impulse to sing about death. It also calls on the worshipper to cling to Christ, feeling the desperation of this life which will inevitably slip away. This is a far cry from singing ‘Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord…’. I’m so thankful to God for preserving these hymns for our generation. These hymns and those like them provide us with guidance on how to ‘die well’ — a concept almost entirely lost in our day.

More Love to Thee, Elizabeth Prentiss, 1856

Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

(Two of four verses. Prentiss wrote this when she was ill and suffering as part of her private devotions. It wasn’t until 13 years later her husband encouraged her to have these words published. Thank God!)

My Jesus, I Love Thee, William Featherston, 1864

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

(One of four verses. Amazingly, Featherston was 16 at the time he wrote this.)

O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Bernard de Clairvaux, 1153

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

(These are just three of the original 11 verses. Click here to hear Fernando Ortega’s rendition of the hymn.)

~Julian Freeman

March 28, 2011

A Sure Cure for Complaning

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From Our Journey devotional

This reading by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

True story:  A church group from New Bern, North Carolina, had traveled to the Caribbean on a mission trip.   During this particular trip, their host took them to visit a leper colony on the island of Tobago.   While there, they held a worship service in the campus chapel.   As you can imagine, the sight of emaciated lepers filing into their seats on the bare pews bore deeply into the minds and memories of each visitor to this unaccustomed scene.

But no memory left its mark like this one:

When the pastor announced, “We have time for one more hymn.  Does anyone have a favorite?” he noticed a lone patient seated awkwardly on the back row, facing away from the front.   At this final call for hymn requests, with great effort, the woman slowly turned her body in the pastor’s direction.

“Body” would perhaps be a generous description of what remained of hers.  No nose.  No lips.  Just bare teeth, askew within a chalky skull.  She raised her bony nub of an arm (no hand) to see if she might be called on to appeal for her favorite song to be sung.   Her teeth moved to the croaky rhythm of her voice as she said, “Could we sing, ‘Count Your Many Blessings‘?”

The pastor stumbled out of the pulpit, out the door, and into the adjoining yard, tears of holy conviction raining down on his face.   One of the traveling party rushed to fill his place, arguably the most “unblessed” of any spot in the universe.

A friend hustled outside, put his arm around the sobbing pastor, and consolingly said, “I’ll bet you’ll never be able to sing that song again, will you?”

“Yeah, I’ll sing it,” the pastor answered, “but never the same way, ever again.”

Leave it to a grotesquely deformed leper to remind us that grateful people are characterized by grateful words, while ungrateful people are giving to griping, complaining, murmuring, whining.

Some grumble at why God put thorns on roses, while others wisely notice — with awe and gratitude — that God has put roses among thorns.   Hear what people are saying when they talk about the everyday events of their lives, and you’ll see in an instant the difference between gratitude and ingratitude.

“You are my God and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Ps. 118: 28-29 ESV

September 28, 2010

It is Not Death to Die

About a year ago Tullian Tchividjian posted a very heartfelt and very anguished article about the feeling of walking in to the hospital and seeing his father hooked up to tubes and other apparatus.

…as I reminded my dad last night (hoping–believing–that he heard me), for those who are in Christ, the best is yet to come. The day is coming when God will satisfy our deepest longings and fulfill our highest dreams. He’ll wipe away all our tears and end every frustration. He will, in the words of J. R. R. Tolkien, make “everything sad come untrue.” He’ll right every wrong and correct every injustice. The day is coming when we’ll work and play and worship forever, with no more sin, no more sickness and disease, no more failure, no more pain, no more death. There is coming a day when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and we will reign with him forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).

I ended my time last night with my dad praying with him and singing a hymn that has brought me deep comfort in these difficult days as I watch my dad suffer–a hymn that speaks loudly and clearly of the hope we have in Christ: “It is not Death to Die”…

This is that song:

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God

It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just

It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

Original words by Henri Malan (1787–1864).

August 21, 2010

Being Real, Being Transparent

The word ‘transparency’ comes up in more recent worship music once that I know of, in the 1976 hymn, “We Are God’s People,” by Bryan Jeffrey Leach.
“Our cornerstone is Christ alone
And strong in Him we stand
So let us live transparently
And walk, heart to heart and hand in hand.”

But the theme is stronger in scripture, especially the injunction to “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (Matt. 5:37 echoed in James 5:12) Interestingly enough, that scripture got twisted to form the chorus of a hit song by Brownsville Station about a girl who is teasing a guy who wishes she would just say if she’s interested or not. The song’s a bit off the mark with its sexual suggestiveness, but in a sense, when we don’t live life transparently, we’re just teasing everybody.

When we opened our first bookstore, a well-meaning friend recognized the need for a store like ours to be a denominationally neutral zone, like Switzerland is politically. “People shouldn’t know what you think;” he told me. I took that advice for awhile and then realized, people actually wanted to know what I was thinking. In fact they were looking for someone who, as sports talk show host Jim Rome would say, “had a take” on any given doctrinal or ecclesiastical issue.

Mark gets right at the heart of the issue in Jesus’ ministry in verse 22 of chapter 1; “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (NIV) Unfortunately, the NIV doesn’t use the word “Forthright” anywhere, which also describe the quality we see here. But authority (which comes from God) is as desirable now as it was when Jesus taught. People are looking for someone who is willing to take a stand. To delineate the issues. To not be concerned about possibly offending a few (or many) in the process.

I admire people who are wiling to stick their neck out to defend their position on various subjects. And it’s simply an added bonus to meet the person and consider that their public persona is not an act. Because in Jesus’ time, as now, there is a lot of acting going on. I just wanna be transparent.

~For the full lyrics and further thoughts on “We Are God’s People,” check out today’s post at Thinking Out Loud.

July 25, 2010

Post for Hymn Lovers

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In the Christian blogosphere, modern worship rules.   But if you grew up in church in the hymn era, and you had extra time on your hands, you probably know that each of the hymn tunes has a name.

I don’t know of a tune that continues to inspire and continues to remain somewhat ‘current’ as the tune known as Hyfrydol.     Its meter is such that it can be used with so many different hymns.   It’s a tune that has a strong identification with Christians, and sung with passion (sung that is, not choired) there’s nothing like it.

But this is where YouTube is less than helpful.   I would like to have included a version of this sung by a powerful choir and using the lyrics to “Our Great Savior” aka “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners;” or “I Will Sing of My Redeemer;” but alas, we’ll have to make do with the Crystal Cathedral Choir using the lyrics for “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling.”  (But I can re-edit the video insert if anyone has a better link.)

Regardless of who is singing, this is one of those moments where a unique tune melody blends with inspiring lyrics.


July 14, 2010

Love Unknown: This Isn’t The Answer to Prayer I Wanted

From yesterday’s modern worship song, we flash back more than a hundred years for the song “Love Unknown” (the tune name, which I chose as the blog post tile) better known as “Oft When of God We Ask.”  And yet, there’s something very contemporary about these soul-searching lyrics, and approach to its theme: Trusting God in trials.   It’s almost out-of-sync with other hymns from the same era.  (Or perhaps, with the hymns that have survived with which we are now familiar.)    The writer is Thomas Toke Lynch (1818-1871).   I tried to find a video for this, but as you can imagine, this is a very obscure hymn.

Oft when of God we ask
For fuller, happier life,
He sets us some new task
Involving care and strife ;
Is this the boon for which we sought?
Has prayer new trouble on us brought?

This is indeed the boon,
Though strange to us it seems :
We pierce the rock, and soon
The blessing on us streams ;
For when we are the most athirst,
Then the clear waters on us burst.

We toil as in a field,
Wherein, to us unknown,
A treasure lies concealed,
Which may be all our own:
And shall we of the toil complain
That speedily will bring such gain ?

We dig the wells of life,
And God the water gives ;
We win our way by strife,
Then He within us lives ;
And only war could make us meet
For peace so sacred and so sweet.

June 10, 2010

Be Ye Glad

Two music posts in a row. What can I say? I had some different ideas for today, but this song was in my brain crying out to be shared. The lyrics follow and are also in the video. Every debt that you ever had has been covered by grace.

In these days of confused situations.
In these nights of a restless remorse,
When the heart and the soul of the nation,
lay wounded and cold as a corpse.
From the grave of the innocent Adam,
comes a song bringing joy to the sad.
Oh your cry has been heard and the ransom,
has been paid up in full, Be Ye Glad.

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,
Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.

From the dungeon a rumor is stirring.
You have heard it again and again.
But this time the cell keys are turning,
and outside there are faces of friends.
And though your body lay weary from wasting,
and your eyes show the sorrow they’ve had.
Oh the love that your heart is now tasting
has opened the gate, Be Ye Glad.

So be like lights on the rim of the water,
giving hope in a storm sea of night.
Be a refuge amidst the slaughter,
for these fugitives in their flight.
For you are timeless and part of a puzzle.
You are winsome and young as a lad.
And there is no disease or no struggle,
that can pull you from God, Be Ye Glad.

Words and Music by M.K.Blanchard
© Gotz Music/Benson

May 17, 2010

Partial Depravity

Nobody likes to think of themselves as “depraved” but one of the things Calvinism has brought us is the phrase “total depravity;” it’s actually the “T” in the “TULIP” acronym.

Catholics say that we are born with “original sin;” though to see to widespread nature of different types of sinful acts is to know there’s nothing original about it.

The “Four Spiritual Laws” begin with premise that “Man is sinful and separated from God…”

But what happens after conversion?

Much of the Apostle Paul’s writings discuss the dual nature; the fight put up by the desires of the flesh.   James talks about “double mindedness.”   In the epistles at least, we get a picture of the spiritual warfare raging all around us; the accompanying tension between where we are positionally in Christ, and where we find ourselves pragmatically in the world.

But on Sunday mornings, nobody wants to admit this.  That’s probably why in surveys of “crazy hymn and chorus lyrics” people always vote for:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.

I mean seriously, what terrible advertising for the Christian life.   Nobody wants to admit to that propensity to sin.   And as for depravity, Dictionary.com defines it as “moral corruption” and there are people I know who don’t know Christ that I would regard as “upstanding morally;” so I don’t think too many Christ-followers would even want to say they were depraved before they made Him lord of their lives.

This past week I was driving my car and my mind wandered into less than stellar territory.   (More about thoughts in tomorrow’s post.)   Please don’t try to guess or read too much into this, but after the thought had flashed through my brain — okay, it actually parked there for about five minutes — I thought about how people are, and how I am, always just a few mis-steps away from conceding to my human nature and its way of thinking.

But we are also possessed of a divine nature.   I want to end this the way the song quoted above ends; with a prayer for redemption;  this was my prayer for the beginning of this week, and it’s not such a crazy hymn lyric, either:

Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.