Thursday, June 07, 2018

William Cowper - Sometimes a Light Surprises

Sometime a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
it is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings;
when comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation, we sweetly then pursue
the theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
“E'en let the unknown morrow bring with it what it may.”

"It can bring with it nothing, but He will bear us through;
who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed;
and He who feeds the ravens will give His children bread."

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there,
yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice;
for while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.

William Cowper (1731-1800)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

How successful is our ministry from God's perspective?

"Christians who judge successful ministries by external statistics such as attendance figures, membership, baptisms, and offerings should seriously rethink their criteria in light of Jesus’ words here. God judges the greatness of his servants by searching their hearts, examining their inner attitudes, and seeing deeds done in secret. Doubtless, his evaluations of who most honors him will invert a substantial majority of his people's evaluations."

Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992, p. 122.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

How important do you think I am?

After a failed assassination attempt, the king had these noble words for his concerned friends:

"A king cannot live shut up in a box. The wicked have not so much power as ill-will, and confidence in God is the best safeguard. Then I do not consider this danger to be so formidable. Besides, if the project of this man had succeeded, the loss of me would not have caused you so much misfortune as you believed, for God knows perfectly well how long he wishes to employ my frail arm. If I fall, he will raise up another instrument more worthy and more powerful than I. His work does not depend upon the life of one man."

-Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden (1594-1632)

As quoted by C. A. Lacroix in Gustavus Adolphus a Hero of the Reformation

Friday, May 11, 2018

Christian Hip Hop?

In the 1980's The Christian Armory in Columbus, Ohio marketed CCM with an "if you like this secular band, you will like this CCM band..." poster. As someone who indulged in worldly music at the time, this caught my attention. It gave me the opportunity to have the world's music and a Christian message. I eventually imbibed everything from Christian metal bands to Christian rap. But something changed when God saved me at age 19. I became convinced that musical styles can convey a message in both morality and associations. With a new desire to not be conformed to the world (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:15-17), it seemed ludicrous to me to use worldly music to promote a Christian message.

Why would a Christian mix God's message with an ungodly style of music?

First, there are many who do not believe that music is moral. They say that music can be used for bad purposes but in and of itself does not convey a moral message. This does not make sense to me because music affects the human body and emotions. David's music refreshed the spirit of King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-23). The Israelites danced to wild music when worshiping the golden calf (Ex. 32:17-19). And personal experience confirms this. Music affects us in good and bad ways. At its worst, the popular music styles of today promote sensuality, violence, anger, and pride. The music itself pushes you toward those emotions without the words. This is not good.

Second, there are many who simply like a certain style of music. We all have musical tastes and to a certain extent that is not a bad thing. The music your family listened to when you were growing up had a big influence on what you think is appropriate. However, what we like or what we are accustomed to should not be the deciding factor in many areas of the Christian life (Phil. 4:8-9; Gal. 5:16-23). Does this musical style match up to God's desires for me? Does it help me to become more Christlike? Some music does not.

Third, there are many who use popular music styles to reach people. Christians see the popularity of a certain music style and try to use it to bring people into the church or to reach a certain demographic. The motive behind this method is noble but flawed. Think about it for a minute. Why would you want to mix God's message with a worldly style of music? Would sensual, violent, angry, or proud music be appropriate for proclaiming God's truth? This is not only inappropriate but also produces a mixed message of Christianity without repentance or holiness.

What about hip hop?

During a recent conversation, someone postulated the idea that using hip hop was a grey area limited only by a believer's conscience. My initial response involved biblical principles about worldliness (Rom. 12:1-2, 1 John 2:15-17) and some of the thoughts shared above. Since then, I have done some research about the hip hop genre. It is much more than rhyming lyrics backed up with a beat. The common definition of the genre involves four characteristics:

Although widely considered a synonym for rap music, the term hip-hop refers to a complex culture comprising four elements: deejaying, or “turntabling”; rapping, also known as “MCing” or “rhyming”; graffiti painting, also known as “graf” or “writing”; and “B-boying,” which encompasses hip-hop dance, style, and attitude, along with the sort of virile body language that philosopher Cornel West described as “postural semantics.” ... Hip-hop originated in the predominantly African American economically depressed South Bronx section of New York City in the late 1970s.

https://www.britannica.com/art/hip-hop

As new styles of music are appropriated by Christian artists, there is usually a backlash from conservatives. In the case of hip hop is this backlash justifiable? Or would it be appropriate to use this genre for reaching inner-city youth? It would be impossible to investigate every form of Christian hip hop on the market. As with all music, the style and quality will vary from artist to artist. However, the artists in this series of videos certainly fall under the definition of hip hop. Notice how prominent graffiti is in several of the videos. At best, they are trying to identify with inner city youth. But isn't graffiti (no matter how important the message) still vandalism? Note also the "virile body language" and attitudes in many of the videos. Men and women are bouncing to the beat. What do the outfits and motions of the women project? What do the outfits and motions of the men present? Is there improper sensuality or pride in their movements? Does the music support the message or bring confusion?

Conclusion

I am not an expert about hip hip music nor am I an expert about the Christian version. There are, no doubt, artists who do things better than what was portrayed in the videos. However, what I saw there does not convince me that it would be suitable for God's purposes. The identification with the world seems very clear despite the attempt at a Christian message. The renewed mind of Romans 12:1-2 should not be limited to just the inside of man; it should control the outside as well.

Ask yourself this question: If you were to follow the advice of Romans 12:1-2, what would your life look like? If you were not conformed to the world (with its lust and pride), what would your appearance look like? What would your demeanor be like? What would your dancing be like? What would your music be like? A Christian should never allow worldly culture to dictate how he lives his life. Instead, he should be like Christ in word, thought, and conduct. Does hip hop communicate this? I don't think so.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Sinful Christian Music

Why is this conversation important?

Many conversations about Christian music can be boiled down to personal preference. The idea is that since Christians live in many different cultures and have different preferences of music style, shouldn't these decisions be left to the individual's conscience? In a sense this is true. Every Christian should come to a conclusion about what type of music he believes is pleasing to the Lord. However, this does not mean that every decision made by a Christian is equally valid. My supposition is that some musical styles are sinful and therefore inappropriate for Christian use.

How can music be sinful?

Before looking at musical styles, we have to define sinfulness. For my purposes, I will narrow the definition to worldliness as defined in 1 John 2:15-17. In those verses, John contrasts the person who does God's will vs. the one who is worldly, and the one who loves the Father vs. the one who loves the world. How do you tell if someone is worldly? He is someone who is characterized by sinful desires (lust of the flesh), sinful thoughts (lust of the eyes), and sinful motivation (pride of life). These characteristics set apart someone who is worldly and someone who is like the Father.

Writing this article would be much easier if the only problem was worldly lyrics. I would hope that all Christians would turn away from sinful themes in their musical selections. However, the problem is not usually the lyrics; it is the music itself. Much of popular music styles today are designed to promote worldliness. Some popular music promotes unbridled sensuality by the way it is put together. Watch how people react to the music at a concert and you will see how the music affects them. It pushes them toward sensual movement and actions. Other music promotes angry emotions. Have you ever seen a "head banger" thrashing around to his music? This style and perhaps others promotes a proud and fierce defiance of authority. Because music has been designed by God to affect our bodies and emotions, we should be careful that our choice of musical style does not promote what God is against.

What about musical associations?

It is true that at different times, Christians have avoided certain musical instruments and styles due to their association with worldliness. I remember when guitars were considered unfit for use in some churches. Because the guitar was one of the main instruments used in the worldly music of the time, they wanted to distance themselves from any connection with a sinful lifestyle. Was the instrument evil in itself? No, but with a desire to "not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:1-2), pastors have been careful about what they have allowed into their churches. I can understand that. It would seem that many churches have the opposite idea. They try to be as much like the world in their musical styles so that the world will be attracted to their message. Is that really a good idea? The motive may be right, but the method doesn't make sense.

Conclusion

While there will always be a diversity of opinion about what musical styles are suitable for worship, it seems that many churches have abandoned all biblical discernment when choosing the style of music in their church services. For whatever reason, the motive and message is more important than the style of music used. Motive and message are important. But what they don't seem to see is that the music is communicating a different message than the words no matter the motive behind it. This creates confusion for those who hear it. They hear God's message accompanied by the call of the world. Why should this be considered acceptable?

It would be impossible to address every type of music in this short article. What about country, hip hop, rock, jazz, and music from other cultures? Can any of these rightfully be used by God's people to sing to or about Him? To answer this question, we need to look at the principles found in the Bible. How does the musical style fit within the parameters of 1 John 2:15-17 and Romans 12:1-2? Look past the words and seek to discern whether the music promotes worldliness or conformity to the world. Our goal as Christians is not please ourselves or the world, but to please the Lord.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Thought of the Day

"Ministers that have lost the spirit of devotion
will never rescue the world from corruption."

--Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew, 71-72.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Hymn to Follow Psalm 51

While reading Psalm 51 today, I was reminded of God's incredible mercy to David. When you consider that an adulterer and murderer wrote this psalm, it makes its meaning stand out all the more. He had committed adultery with the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers, ordered the death of that soldier, and hidden his sin for about a year. It was not until Nathan the prophet confronted him that David repented of his sin. And yet... God chose to cleanse, forgive, and restore this sinful man.

"The message of this psalm is that the vilest offender among God's people can appeal to God for forgiveness, for moral restoration, and for the resumption of a joyful life of fellowship and service, if he comes with a broken spirit and bases his appeal on God's compassion and grace." (Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, p. 832)

But which one of us can cast a stone at David? We all have fallen short of the glory of God. And so, this psalm is something that true believers must read with humility, repentance, and joy -- a strange but appropriate collection of emotions for those who understand what God had done for us through Jesus Christ. And when we experience his cleansing, we can say with David, "My tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness."

To God be the glory, great things He hath done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Refrain
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He hath done.