Archive for December 2013


December 20, 2013

HANDEL06_SA_C_^_SATURDAY This Advent and Christmas season I have had the opportunity to visit several churches to be a part of their presentation of Christmas music.  One of the important components of my ministry is to encourage worship music leaders of the churches who associate with our state convention.  It is a rare occasion to get to simply attend programs these leaders have pieced together and poured themselves into as musician ministers themselves.  Attending several of these this year has prompted me to seriously contemplate afresh the value and ministerial potency of music as ministry.

It is far beyond the scope of this posting to address all the ways in which music can minister, or to explore the theological depths of music as worship offering, worship expression, Gospel witness, lamentation, balm, etc.  These notions, rich with multi-faceted implications, deserve exploration individually.  Instead, in this season of gift-giving and receiving I want to simply call attention to the gift that is music, and I hope to stir your thoughts and sensibilities to the same in such a way as to prod worshipful response.  Music, oh what a gift!

Music is a gift from God.  Through experience we know that music can somehow comfort, excite, encourage, and call from within the human spirit many other reactions, even to the extent at times so as to move beyond what mere words seem able to do.  Explaining physiological brain chemistry changes during music making or listening falls far short of articulating the power of being somehow moved by music.  That inexplicable quality is part of what reminds me over and again that this art form, music, is truly a gift from God.  Some faith traditions even call it sacrament, a means of grace, and as such a way in which God’s real presence is made known to us.  Even without sacramental language we can surely agree that as the Spirit is alive in and present in worshiping hearts gathered in the Name of Jesus, He may choose to touch the human soul through the gift that He has given.  Examples of such movement are widespread in every era from Old Testament to New Testament to Augustine to Luther to Bach to frontier revivals to modern day testimonies in countless numbers.  Though undoubtedly subject to bastardized imitation that in truth is motivated by self gain, still the Lord continues to employ this gift of music to minister to people.  A gift from God that He has given to us.  Thanks be to God!

Music is a gift to God.  For most, the first thought of music in worship is to see it as something we offer as worship to God.  Music can, of course, serve as art offering from worshipers directed to and for God,- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It serves to offer our praise and thanks.  Even as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we do so as a gift of life service to God Himself.  Our proclamation of the Gospel in and through music, though directed toward fellow humans, is at once understood as gift to God, since it is ultimately Him we are seeking to serve.  Our testimony of faith rested fully in Him joins our music with the music of the ages.  It is the Song of Deliverance, which was the song of Moses at the crossing of the Red Sea, of Miriam, of David, and of the Israelites ascending to the Temple.  The song of deliverance is themed in Mary’s Magnificat, the song of shepherds, and magi, of Jesus with His disciples, of the new covenant body of believers, the Church in its infancy, and lo, as we look into the book of Revelation we see that the song of Heaven around the Great White Throne is still the Song of Moses and the Lamb.  When we proclaim Victory in Jesus or the great Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s MESSIAH, or join Casting Crowns Gospel testimony in Glorious Day, we are singing the sweet, sweet song of salvation, offering our profession of faith in Christ as not only word to fellow man, but as faith expression to the God we worship!  Whewww!  My goosebumps arise as does my hunger to sing Him a song of praise because of His magnificent grace.

Either consideration of music as gift, whether from God or to God, elicits substantive tensions for the pastoral musician, as it should for anyone either making or listening to music as worship.  While utilitarian leaders often dismiss questions of quality as musical elitism, or simply as unrealistic, after all who has standing to declare this music or that as appropriate representation of God’s gift, or as adequate to express our best praise and thanks to God?  Suffice it to say the flesh fails us in either quest to make a kind of music that can be said to be truly representative of God’s intention for music as an adequate display of the gift He has given.  None of us would likely venture such an audacious claim.  Likewise in offering gift to God, who among us would say this music or that is of quality appropriate to God’s standards of artistic donation, and thus is what He desires?  As with any gift given us by God only He can empower it.  As in all worship acts we find ourselves inadequate, needing a Savior, for it is only “Through Jesus” that we bring the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).   Perhaps His intention is that we live out our worship in that tension, praying that He would empower even as we strive to offer our best in thankful response to His grace giving.

            How often, making music, we have found
            A new dimension in the world of sound,
            As worship moved us to a more profound
–       Fred Pratt Green, 1971


December 10, 2013

Coen Christmas Pic  This past week I had another birthday.  Turns out I am piling up a bunch of them, as I was so aptly reminded by some of the cards and well-wishes from “friends.  As part of my celebration we went to church with one of our children’s families and I sat next to my oldest grandson in worship.  He is at an age where more faith questions abound, and needless to say, I love that.  Being with grandchildren gives special opportunities to observe childhood development close-up – including faith development.  Thanks to parents, behavior in church has moved from constant wiggling to learning to sit still and observe.  Drawing on bulletins has gone from scribble to drawing, from shapes to actual writing of words.  It is happening right before my eyes.  It causes me to reflect on the lives of my children and my own as well.

As birthday wishes began to trickle in on my Facebook Timeline.  I was not only overwhelmed by volume, but much more overwhelmed by the realization of how rich have been all the relationships over the years and phases of life.  I have reflected on God’s incredible gift of people all along the way in my life who have loved, supported, and patiently encouraged me.

The life reflections in this Advent season of the year coupled with recent discussions with friends have brought me to some inconclusive conclusions.  That is, the realization that life and ministry happen in times of deeply purposeful/intentional efforts, but that life and ministry also take place in times that, on review, would appear to have been simply going through motions, so to speak.  I think I am trying to say there have been periods of unintentional consequences of ministry as well as intended.  Over-emphasis to the contrary seems to so easily lapse into making effective ministry up to me.  My efforts and intention lack omnipotence.  Do not go too far with that.  Intentions do matter, but then again, the phrase is not “the road to heaven is paved with good intentions,” either.   My point is more focused toward the realization that the tension between my will and God’s will is no less for those of us in ministry than for those we serve in and through our ministries.  In fact, precisely because of the availability to us of special words and biblical knowledge that we think gives us forensic advantage over those we serve, enough for us to use it to prove our points when there is contention, we live in danger of missing the very numinous blessing for which we hunger.  Those of us in worship music ministry are additionally armed with emotive weaponry.  The arsenal available for our own destruction is far too full.

Now what does all this have to do with the aforementioned timeline and birthday blessings, much less Advent season?  Well, having heard from and thought about people from all seasons of life and contemplated those relationships has brought me once again to Eucharistic (thankful) truth.  Life is a gift.  In my days there have been those who were part of my childhood; family, friends, church leaders and school teachers, who spoke into my life journey in ways that may have seemed mundane at the time, but have served love, growth, joy, courage, lament and laughter.  There were school buds with whom I pondered the depths of the universe, and then went fishing.  There have been those with whom I have served as fellow ministers in good times and hard.  There have been people who have asked me to minister to them, and who have ministered to my family and me through acceptance and love.  To be taught to sing and play music in order to share and teach music that helps us all to worship and praise the God we serve is beyond words to acclaim.  To stand before choirs, instrumentalists, and congregations of worshiping singers for the purpose of making music together that seeks to declare Gospel Truth, and join creation’s song of eternal praise is indescribable.

As I reflect, it seems to me that there have been spiritually hot seasons and spiritually cold seasons for me.  There have been times I thought the Spirit was nowhere to be found, and other times I believed His presence was tangible.  Perhaps you have sensed these kinds of extremes as well, personally and in community experience.  Where is the constant?  What is the ongoing truth unchanged?  Too often our inclination is to consider the human dynamics of settings and consider a powerful speaker, clever writer, talented musician, dramatic song as the key to spiritual potency.  There is certainly nothing wrong with any of these components.  As we work toward being at our best at whatever we are gifted to do, however, the reality is that in spiritual enterprise God remains Sovereign.  He gives the increase.  The wind blows where it will, so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Our opportunity and responsibility is to be humble, obedient, and faithful, to trust and obey.  Marking time is not a bad thing, especially if we help mark whose it is.  Advent proclaims His coming and awaits His coming.  Worship rehearses the story that we might rehearse our head and heart posture in response to the Eternal God, Who has given us these lives to live.  Thanks be to God!

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