Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rejoice With Trembling

Psalm 2:11 says, "serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling." Then Psalm 114:7 says, "Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob." One main point of Psalm 114 is that the presence of the Lord is not something to be treated lightly. These Psalms have been my meditation for quite a while, and I posted a line from one of my new songs to Twitter, "Lord, we long to know your presence, but we live with Adam's fear. Hide us in eternal mercy, as we tremble and draw near."

One friend responded to challenge this, asking how that squares with the confident approach to Christ that Hebrews 4:16 encourages, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." It is a good question.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Meditations from the Psalms: Twitter Feed Explanations

#ResurrectionMeditation 1/7: Psalm 8 He is most glorified at the cross (humility) and is given a name above every name (exaltation)

Imagine the most beautiful sight you have seen, the northern lights, the Grand Canyon, Angel Falls, or any other of the spectacular portions of His creation. God has given Him a name that is far more glorious and beautiful than any of it or all of it combined.

Psalm 8 is quoted by Christ, when the Pharisees had to try and get Jesus to silence the kids who were singing Psalm 118 to Him, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." Jesus points to this Psalm as if to say, the kids have it right.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

All is Well - Psalm 16:8-11

As per a few requests, the following is a chord chart for our song, "All is Well." While working on a different song, based on Psalm 16, a friend called to tell me that they had just lost a loved one. At the same time, I was meditating on verse 8-11 and the implications of Christ's resurrection. It is a song that seeks to capture the peace that comes from a mind who is focused on God, who is walking with God, who has been made alive in Christ, and who is following His path of life.

With Him, not even death can shake you, because He is the firstborn from the dead. He who knows our weakness became sin for us and suffered the wrath of God in our place. Then the Messiah, Jesus, did not stay in the grave long enough for his body to decay, but He rose to life again on the third day, and by His resurrection, we are enabled to live a life, alive to God and dead to sin.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Trajectory of Godliness

What does godliness look like? In describing godliness, we would probably come up with some sort of list, outlining characteristics and behaviours of a godly. It isn't difficult to cull several examples of this in Scripture, such as the the great commandments, loving God and loving others or the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.

We could articulate all these factoids as a bullet point list of descriptive characteristics, and this would give us a rather comprehensive picture of the ideal behaviour of a Christian. Then this could serve as an apt description of Christ-likeness and could be represented in this way:

Godliness -----> -----> Descriptive List

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Interrupting Life

Have you ever had an important and extended conversation, with your kids around? You know how it is; when they need something, you do your best to cover the mouthpiece and quickly answer their needs without breaking the flow of the conversation. If you do it well, the other side of the phone conversation won't hardly even notice the interruption and your kids will know their needs are important to you.

Too often we act as if prayer is this sort of interruption to life. It is as if the conversation with God is interrupting whatever activity is important at the moment, and so we address the need for prayer efficiently and relatively quickly, but not too quickly, since we don't want to give the impression that talking to God isn't important. This is completely backwards!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Does the Music Matter?

Does music communicate? While there are a few would argue otherwise, there is a growing body of scholarship that indicates audiences can understand the emotional tone of a given piece of music with astonishing predictability. However, this matter isn't the main point of this article; rather, let's accept the idea that music communicates emotion and run with it. What then? For the worship leader who believes our communication matters, we should explore how we might be able to evaluate a given musical expression.

Before beginning, there are some who will welcome this discussion for all the wrong reasons. They suppose that accepting the idea of musical communication will send all the "evil" styles of music scurrying back under the rock, and others, in reaction to them, try to minimize and dismiss the idea of musical communication altogether. For both, music is often spoken of as a disconnected thing, fixed in time and space, and for those who prefer to ignore musical communication, it is ephemeral and completely subjective - irrelevant to the verbal message of a song.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Praise God for Who He Is

Here is a quick, and wholly inadequate tour of some of His attributes:

God is Great

He is everywhere, all at the same time. He knows every thing, even our thoughts before we think them. God is all-powerful; He can do anything that is consistent with His nature. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe, and He created all things to display His glory as the best and highest possible good for His creation.

Praise His Greatness!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Remember Charlie Brown's Teacher?

If you can understand Charlie Brown's teacher, you can understand that music communicates, but first, let's take a look at how understandable words are, by themselves.

Have you ever noticed that missunderstandings are easily started through textual communication? With the advent of email, many businesses have found it necessary to advise their staff to be careful what they write in emails for precisely this reason. This same tendency can also be observed in social networking and online forums. In a text driven environment, meaning can be lost or even reversed, in some cases, in the mind of the reader, simply due to a lack of “tonal” information. Since, tone of voice, and even facial expressions, contribute significantly to effective communication, care should be exercised in seeking to understand a textual communication in their absence.

So in spoken language, we can readily acknowledge that how something is said is often just as important as the verbal content of what is said. For example, I can say the words, “I love you,” and alter my tone of voice to communicate meaning that is sarcastic, deep, flippant, casual, questioning, or even completely opposite of what the words would seem to say. Context also plays a role in this, since the words spoken in my home, alone with my wife, will likely carry a different connotation than if they were spoken in church to the whole congregation.

Moving beyond the text, it is possible to communicate (more generally) with only the tone of my voice. Remember Charlie Brown's teacher? Isn't it interesting that you could understand, "Whaah Whaah wa wa Whaah Whaaaaahh?" The cues from the other characters and the context provided enough information that your imagination supplied words that went perfectly with the rising and falling of her voice. Then there was Woodstock and snoopy…no words, but you could clearly understand what was being “said” simply with tones and visual context.

To suggest that these characters don’t communicate would be silly, but we should observe that they don’t have the precision of communication that would be added with the inclusion of words. The fact is that music is just like tone of voice, it can and does communicate, though its communication is fairly general. It is as if music simply amplifies the tone of voice. So to suggest, as some Christians like to do, that music does not communicate apart from the words would be just as incomprehensible as suggesting that tone of voice does not communicate apart from the words. You can do, with music, everything that you can do with your tone of voice…often better.

Some would like to run with this idea and begin to construct a taxonomy to describe the communication of music in precise terms, but this is the equivalent of trying to build a taxonomy of tonality in language. Such an effort is doomed to fail, because while tone and music do communicate, they are (at best) general approximations of meaning. There is absolutely no precision to it, and the situational and cultural contexts both play a critical role in understanding the expression.

In any case, it really doesn’t matter how it communicates; the fact is that it does. When we can observe that it is even possible to musically mock good doctrine with exactly the same words you use for proclaiming it, we should be driven to consider carefully what our music is communicating to the audience. As pertaining to how we approach worship music, we must understand that music is a crucial part of the over-all message, and how we sing matters as much as what we sing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Unshaken Worship is Godless Worship

Worship leaders...

The presence of the Lord shakes everything, just as it shook Mount Sinai at the giving of the law (Psalm 114). We also know that there is coming a day when the presence of God will shake all creation, until only that which cannot be shaken will remain (Hebrews 12:27). For those who believe and follow Christ, there is a promise in Psalm 16:8, "I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Hebrew: "shaken")

This promise speaks first of the buffeting from around us, but it also speaks of the unshakable stability we have in Christ. Our union with Him gives us a stability that transcends death, so that we remain even when heaven and earth crumble at His coming. The wicked may claim that they cannot be shaken (Psalm 10:6), but the righteous King will come one day in judgment.

The presence of God in your life has the same effect. Where God is, sin cannot remain, and those who are indwelt by His Holy Spirit cannot help but have that presence shake their idolatry and wickedness from them. If this is true, then there are some profound implications of this idea to our worship.

Worship leaders often claim to be leading a group of people to experience the presence of God, but if that experience doesn't shake lives, then you can be assured something is wrong. In Psalm 40:6 we see a person who has a song that can be seen. That is a song that springs from a changed life, a life where sin is being shaken free.

That reality must mark our worship, both expressively and experientially, and if sin remains, the presence of the Lord will shake it lose. It is the mercy of God that He doesn't shake hard enough to destroy the wicked entirely, but that time will come. In the mean time, the bottom line is that the church's songs should be songs that you can see, in the changed lives of both individuals and the church body.

If you desire this kind of worship, you need to pray. Pray for God's presence, because music, though powerful, cannot ultimately shake a person's life. Beg God to use your worship to display His glory and press it upon the hearts and mind of those you are leading. Pray that God would shake your life, and repent of sin in your own life. Draw near to Him, because it is impossible for you to lead people where you have not gone. The following will go nowhere without this.

Then you must choose the expressions of worship (commonly called songs) to display accurately who God is, and this should include both the content of the songs and the emotional force of the music. It makes little sense to sing about the love of God to angry music, but it also makes little sense to sing about the wrath of God toward sin with loving music. Each expression should appropriately display the glory of God to the church.

Don't obscure your congregation's view of God with unintelligible or false lyrics. Turn their eyes to God, in the person of Christ, and leave them there to soak in His glory. Where their focus is on themselves, worship will be anemic, even if it is exuberant. (People who idolize themselves have no trouble reveling in what they get.) Show people that the best life is one in fellowship with God, freed from all that He hates and loving all that He loves.

You can't do that if your music is stale, and I am not suggesting anything about style. Any style of music can be either vibrant or anemic, and it is possible to allow any style of "worship music" to devolve into little more than a concert. You must use music to communicate, but you should not allow it to eclipse the community based nature of public worship. Make sure the congregation can and does participate by choosing your music carefully to fit the lyrics. Also, practice your craft so that you can communicate as effectively as possible.

Plan elements of prayer, doctrine, and response in your service and never lose sight of the fact that worship is relational. It isn't about what you know or how many elements you tick off a checklist. It is about a community expression of a right relationship with God. Where that relationship is made clear, God's presence will really shake things up.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dangerous Fences - Epilogue

(a parable)

A few days ago, my daughter showed up at the doorstep with her four children. It was a great surprise, since we hadn't heard from them in a long time. Her eyes were red with tears and she began sobbing almost as soon as she sat down in our couch. My heart broke as her story poured out... (in her words)

"Dad, I am soooo sorry that we cut you off five years ago. I don't know where else to go, but I knew we would be safe here. The last few years have been miserable for me, as my husband began putting up many more fences for all of us. At first it was ok, because you always taught us to stay within the fences, but the fences became so constricting that we couldn't leave the house. All the shades had to be drawn on the windows, and the walls we had built kept us from any meaningful contact with almost anyone.

It didn't feel right, but I didn't know why. I went to the salesman for advice, and he showed me how the supplemental manual required us to stay inside the fences. I went along with it until my husband began wiring the fences with electricity. No one really understood or believed what he was doing. From the outside everything looked great, and the salesman said as long as we stayed in the fences, there shouldn't be any problems.

But the problem was that our whole house had become a dangerous place, and it was all fenced off, so the danger was not evident to those outside or even to us. There was no where to go, and the fences weren't able to protect us. They had imprisoned us in our own home; we were definitely not safe. There were no more fences to build, and there was no way to avoid danger.

I found the power switch to the electricity and turned it off; then I began taking down the fences. It was the only way to get out of danger, but my husband objected and called the salesman. The salesman came over right away and advised me to stay within the fences. When I told him that the danger was actually inside the fences, he couldn't see it. He urged me to get back in the fences, but when I refused, the salesman and my husband built a fence, cutting me and the children off.

We had no place else to go, but we remembered that beautiful spot in your yard and we just wanted to come here, so we can figure out what to do."

[My heart broke for my daughter, but I couldn't help but realize my acceptance of the supplemental manual for fence building had paved the way for my daughter's pain. I hoped the manufacturer would give me a chance to help others avoid the same kinds of fence building monstrosities. That is why I have shared our story with you.]

[Beware of fences! They are all dangerous, so you need to follow the manufacturer's directions very carefully. Small alterations to it seem ok, at first (or even desirable), but the danger in doing so is very real.]

Previous: A Sad Letter to Dr. Salesman

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dangerous Fences - A Letter to Dr. Salesman

(a parable)

[A Letter From the Daughter / Sister to her fence salesman]

Dear Dr. Salesman,

It is with great distress that I write this letter, since we have heard that you lost my father as one of your fence-builders. I wanted to assure you that your fence building advice has not been lost on us, and we continue to follow your supplemental manual religiously. The audio tapes have been especially motivating.

You were right that if we built a few very high fences and rebuked the children sharply they would eventually not want to go outside of the fences toward the danger. We were still concerned about my brother and his influence on Dad and the rest of the family, but we had made the difficult decision to build a wall and fence to prevent their influence on our own children's desire for the other side of the fence. Eventually we came to believe you were right, and now we agree that we should have done it sooner.

It has been hard, but the results have been effective, and our children have almost entirely quit going over, around, or through the fences. Your guidance has been a real help, but we were hoping you could come over and help us maintain these fences. There are just so many of them that we need your expertise. You are so good at explaining how to build and maintain them, and I want you to know that we really appreciate your work. It is no wonder that you have such a large sales base.

The children love and admire all fence salesmen (especially our own), and they are all very good at marching around the fences singing, "The Foolish man Built His Fence Upon the Sand" and "Father Salesman." Thank you for all the good teaching materials. The children have had great fun learning from them, and it has really opened their eyes to understand how many dangers there are on the other side of the fence. The "History of Fence builders" has been especially helpful, since it has helped us see that all who build fences will be made fun of.

In any case, our family is safe, and we have you and your sales force to thank for it!

Respectfully Yours,

Sister Fences

[Reply From Dr. Salesman]

Dear Sister Fences,

Of course the path you have chosen is difficult, and the rigors of fence building and maintenance are a challenge, but the manual has said that it wouldn't be easy. You need to do your part, and the manufacturer will always help you. That is why I am here to guide you as you build more fences. Make sure you attend every fence building session, since it is there that you will gain motivation, encouragement, and advice on how to build fences, and don't forget to read the manual in light of the supplemental materials.

Also, make sure you continue to tell others about the importance of fence building. Your experience will be an encouragement to them, and teaching others will solidify your commitment in your own mind as well. Especially avoid those who don't love the manufacturer. You can always recognize them because they will be using the wrong edition of the manual, and they don't have very high fences. Its usually best to build a wall when you find one of these. They are very dangerous to fence building.

It was sad to have to deal so sharply with your Dad, and of course, you know your brother abandoned fences long ago. It always happens the same way. They start claiming that the supplemental material isn't in the manual, and then they start tearing down fences. At first they will start claiming to be free, and then they will run all over the place until they trip into some danger that they didn't have fenced off. It is so foolish to try to live your life with low fences, and especially to have so few of them. In time, when they do fall into danger, you will be assured that your children are safe.

I had heard that your oldest has gone around the fences a few times, as children often do at their age. Don't worry too much about it; it is normal for children to fall into minor dangers from time to time. Just make sure you keep the big dangers fenced off thoroughly and rebuke them sharply. Follow all the directions I gave you carefully, and I will see you next week.

Much Love,

Dr. Salesman

Next: Epilogue - Dangerous Fences
Previous: One More Time Around the Fences

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dangerous Fences - One More Time Around the Fences

(a parable)

Well, it had been a long time since we had visited our son, and we at least wanted to give him another opportunity to return to a proper view of high fences. Also, in part I was curious to see how his children were doing. Over at my daughter's house, it was becoming quite a challenge. Since the increasing influence of neighbors and the ever-increasing dangers were demanding more and higher fences, their house had become a confusing labyrinth of fences.

When we arrived, we noticed that there were no new fences, but we were surprised to see that there were a few fences still up. I made a mental note to ask why he kept them, even though he didn't seem to value the safety of closer and higher fences. We also noticed the older children happily playing, out in the open, unprotected, in the middle of the yard. It was clear to us that he hadn't changed course, and we needed to try one more time to encourage our son to protect his children.

I told him about his sister's difficulties, and he seemed genuinely concerned when he asked, "Has she figured out that she is going about things the wrong way?" There wasn't a hint of anger or bitterness in his voice, and I was confused to see a confidence about him that wasn't expected. I asked him a few questions:

Son, why do you have so few fences?

"Its funny you should ask that, Dad," he replied. "It all started when I began to read the fence builder's manual. I discovered that fences actually serve to demonstrate the tendency of children to go over, under, or around them. I also learned that the fences were very specifically designed to assist children in learning to see and avoid dangers by guiding them toward the good places to play. I was surprised to learn that the manual didn't include protecting kids from danger as one of their purposes." [Now I was really confused - I always thought he was against fences...and what did he mean that protecting from danger wasn't listed? I was taught that it was by a very fine fence seller! He even provided me with a fence-builder's supplemental manual.]

He continued, "You had always taught me to follow the manual, so that is what we set out to do. That was when I noticed one section near the back of the manual that described a few of the dangers that could accompany fence-building. The prime danger was marked in bold red letters: Beware that you do not vary your installation from the recommended height, length, and placement of your fence! It could produce unintended consequences. It also warned that there were some fence sellers that were known for producing supplemental fence-building advice, and it specifically suggested that heeding such advice would void the warranty." [I wonder why I had never paid much attention to this? Maybe it was because the salesman told me that those portions of the manual were for a different kind of yard?]

"So we decided to eliminate all fences that were not found in the manual and to make sure that any remaining fences were installed strictly according to the manufacturer's instructions. that was just before you came to our house the first time. The whole concept was new to us, so we didn't know how to tell you that we hadn't rejected fences or the manual. We were only rejecting the supplemental materials."

But how can you keep your children safe with so few fences?

"You know, we were really nervous about that as well, but the manual also said that we needed to institute a danger-awareness program in our home. I also noticed a warranty card that said the fence manufacturer guaranteed the safety of all children when following the right method of fence building and instituting consistent danger avoidance education." [I had seen that portion of the manual before, but the fence salesman assured me that the updated educational program was designed to protect the children no matter what..."higher is safer and more is better" was their motto.]

"We decided to trust the manufacturer, even though we were very nervous about it. Everyone that we loved was insisting that this approach was sure to lead to disaster, so the decision wasn't easy. It just seemed that the one who designed the fences should know how to install them, and the instruction program seemed very thorough. We enrolled that next week."

What is this educational program? [I had to wonder because I had never even heard of such a thing. The education we were given by the fence salesman was simply how to build fences, and the advanced class then taught us how to teach others about building fences. We faithfully spread the word about how effective the fences were and were instrumental in recruiting so many new fence-lovers that we were honored as excellent sales associates by the Salesman's Quarterly.]

"It is interesting that you would ask that, because we thought it was a little odd at first. The educational program director came to our house and simply observed us for a few days while we tried our best to keep the kids from danger. After this observation period, we sat down at the kitchen table to go over his recommendations and lesson plans. We were not prepared for what he told us."

"He told us that we didn't understand the nature of danger, and that our main problem was that we were too focused on keeping the kids from going over, around, or through the few fences we had left. Even though we had the fences as they were supposed to be, we were told that unless we used them for the right purpose, they would not have the desired effect. To say we were confused is an understatement, but the lesson that really took us by surprised was when he showed us that the manufacturer clearly explained the biggest danger was actually found in the children themselves and had very little to do with anything in the yard."

Wait a minute! How can you keep children from danger if they ARE the danger?

"That was what we wanted to know as well. 'It is their desire to go toward the danger that is the real problem,' he said, 'however, you need to learn the next lesson before you will be able to help your children.' Then he took us to a spot in the yard that we rarely enjoyed, then he showed us its beauty and all of the great places to explore for children. (I confess that we also have a great time exploring this part of the yard.) He kept showing is around until we grew to love this area of the yard, and then he showed us how the fences were perfectly constructed to guide children toward this place."

"The only way to protect your children is to bring them here and teach them to love this place. The more they love being here, the less interested they will be in the dangers.

Ok...I think I get it, but why can't we build a few more fences to make their journey easier and faster?

"You know, we asked the same question. We had already figured out that the fences cannot prevent children from going over, around, or through them. Now we accepted that they simply served as a guide. On top of that, it turned out that if you add or modify those fences they always block the paths to the best part of the yard, and we learned that some families build so many fences that they never get to see the beauty of it. His description reminded us of my sister's yard.

We also learned that as long as we trusted the fences to keep our children safe, we were actually voiding the warranty, and we were told that we needed to teach our children about the fences, show them the beautiful spot to explore, and show them how the fences act as a guide to take them there. It definitely takes a lot more work, and we had to put in a lot of windows to keep watch over them. Whenever they began to go from the beautiful place in the yard, we would go out and teach them some more about the fences and guide them back to the beautiful place in the yard.

However, this has not only been more effective at keeping our children safe, we have had so many wonderful times together as a family, that none of us want to leave this spot in the yard. We live to go back there, if only for a few moments, and we spend so much time there, that the rest of the neighborhood has begun to notice. Would you like to see it, Dad?"

[Me and my son walked to the fences and then walked along it toward the center of the yard. There I saw so much of interest and beauty that I could scarcely go home! My son assured me that there was a spot just like this in everyone's yard.]

A few months later, I invited my children to our home for a party. That night I planned on burning the supplemental material, my sales associate of the year awards, and the remaining wood and stubble from our old fences. I also hoped to introduce my daughter to that wonderful place in the middle of our yard.

Next: A Sad Letter to Dr. Salesman
Previous: Higher and Stronger (Walls and Fences)