To Hymn or not to Hymn

Growing up in church we always sang hymns from a large hymn book that was placed in holders on the back of the church pew.  Many times there would also be a Bible there.  The “song leader” would announce the page number before each song and we would all turn to that page and sing from the hymn books which had both the words and the music printed for us.  (In some churches the page numbers would be listed in the bulletin or posted on a sign at the front of the church.)

Depending on the local church, the singing might be accompanied by a pipe organ, an electric organ and piano and maybe even a few guitars or drums.

hymn 2

This was how worship was supposed to be done.

Slowly over the years in the churches I attended the organ became a thing of the past and the piano was replaced by the keyboard.  A few guitars became many guitars.  Song leaders were replaced by worship teams.  Hymn books became obsolete as the words were projected on a screen from an overhead projector.  Finally, the hymns I grew up with were replaced by what we call “contemporary music.”

Gone were the days of the great song writers like Charles and John Wesley, Fanny Crosby and Isaac Watts.  This was now the time of Chris Tomlin, Michael W Smith, Amy Grant and Matthew West.

And the music war began.

On one side was the younger generation who loved the new songs and the new technology which made hymn books seem outdated.  On the other side was the older generation who treasured the songs they had grown up with and loved singing with hymn books that included the music.

Arguments went back and forth.  Some said we needed to use music that would reach the younger generation and keep them in the church, or in some cases, bring them back to the church.  Others said we were showing disrespect to the older generation that had worked hard in the past so that the church even existed.

I have found it so sad that we have had this music war.  While I understand the desire to have worship that we feel comfortable with and really like, I question:

  • Is our worship based on the music itself rather than on praise and gratitude to God?
  • Are we unable to worship God unless it is done “our” way?
  • Is it really worship of God if we seek our own personal enjoyment?

I wrote a couple of blogs on this thought before – hope you will click on and read them also

Worship – What’s Your Style?

Worship – What’s Your Style – Part II

Recently I began reading a book “The Hymnal – A Reading History” by Christopher N Phillips.

I discovered that this war on music in the church is not a new thing.

Mr. Phillips has studied the practice of reading and using hymnals going back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  He relates that Isaac Watts created a small hymnal with only words.  These hymnals were not kept in the pews at church but rather were owned by individuals who used them not only for worship in church, but as a source of devotional reading.  They would carry their hymnals back and forth to church much like we used to do our Bibles.  Many learned to read by using the hymnals as a text book and the songs were memorized as poetry.

Up to this time the worship in churches had been to read only songs taken directly from the Psalms.  When Watts began introducing hymns (songs written about God but not taken directly from scriptures) there was controversy between those who welcomed the new hymns and those who said the church should only use psalms.

watts

Examining old hymnals Phillips found that family members used them to record special events and even wrote notes in them during the church service to share with one another.  In one hymnal he examined he found written notes in two different hands:

What are you laughing at?

Bumble Bee has struck an atitude (sic)

In one hymnal he found comments on the fashion and appearance of other members.

Mrs. Horatio Fisher has got a new bonnet!

Ellen Stearns looks at this distance like Mrs. Frank Cutter.

As hymns became accepted and replaced the psalms or were used with the psalms,  churches began to use hymn books as a mark of membership.  Phillips writes:

“Only the most ambitious and radical new communities made the effort to produce a new translation of the Bible, but every group seems to have shared an impulse to create its own hymn book.”

At first even the hymns were read more often than sang as there was no musical notation for the songs.  Slowly musical notation for the hymns was developed.  Only a few who were trained in music would purchase the books with the notes since printing both words and the notes was very expensive.  As some became trained in music choirs developed to sing the new hymns.  Most of the congregation still had hymn books with the words only and read along as the choir sang.

Then Henry Ward Beecher came along.  A minister at Brooklyn’s new Plymouth Church,  he wanted his congregation to sing the hymns in church.  He felt a strong need for his people to get beyond intellectual consent to the Gospel and to actually have an emotional response to the good news.  Music was a way to do this.  If he could get the music into the hands of his congregation they would sing and thus engage personally in worship awaking their emotions and heart as well as their intellect and mind.

So – began another war on music in the church.

But that story is for another post.

Questions:

  • What style of music does your church use?
  • Do you like the “contemporary” worship or long for the “good old days of hymns?”

 

 

 

 

How Quickly We Forget

Reading my Bible this week I came across the story of the great Old Testament prophet, Elijah.  I read of his great faith and courage as he confronted the 300 prophets of the idol Baal and challenged them to prove whose God was truly God.

They built an altar, placed wood on it and an animal to sacrifice.  All day they prayed to Baal to send down fire from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.  As they danced around the altar crying out and even cutting themselves with knives and swords, Elijah taunted them:

“You’ll have to shout louder for surely he is a god.  Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself.  Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be awakened!

As evening came, Elijah took his turn.  He dug a trench around the altar and had them fill four large jars with water and pour over the wood with the sacrifice.  Three times he had them pour water over the altar until the wood and the sacrifice were saturated with water.  It even filled the trench around the altar.

Then he cried out to the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and clearly show the people who was the true God.  As fire fell down from heaven it consumed not only the sacrifice but also the stones of the altar and all the water in the trench.

elijah.jpg

The people cried out:

The Lord He is God!  The Lord He is God!

They then joined Elijah in killing all the false prophets.

What a great victory!  What an example of a man with great faith in God!

But the story does not end there.  When the queen, Jezebel, heard that all the prophets of her false religion had been killed, she sent word to Elijah:

May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.

What does this great man of courage and faith do?  He runs for his life and hides in a cave.

As I read this I could not help but wonder how someone could have such faith and stand up to 300 false prophets and then run from a single woman.  What happened to his faith?  Where was his courage?

Then Sunday morning our guest speaker spoke about the coming year 2019.  He pointed out that we might see great victories, prayers answered, problems solved.  But in this life we might also see losses, prayers seemingly unanswered and more problems created than solved.  What should we do?

He encouraged us to look back and remember all the times God had sustained us and brought though difficult times.  He then asked us to list three times in our life when we knew for sure that God had intervened in our life.

Sitting with pen in hand, I found there were so many times God has intervened I did not know where to start.

I thought of the time when I was seven years old and there were some reported polio cases in our town.  Earlier my class had been vaccinated for polio but I had a severe reaction to the first shot (there were a series of three shots at that time) and my parents were told I should not take the other two shots which meant I was not protected against the disease.  One morning at school I went to the nurse complaining of pain in my legs and neck.  Checking me for a fever, the nurse called my mother to come get me from school as I was running a high fever.  Today my parents would probably have rushed me to the doctor’s office but they had no insurance and little money for doctor bills so they placed me on the couch, my mother gave me some aspirin and a cool cloth for my forehead.  By the next morning the pain in my legs was worse and mother wanted to take me to the doctor.  My dad asked that we give it one more day and if I was not better when he came home from work, they would take me to see the doctor.  As the day passed my fever grew worse and my neck began to be drawn to my shoulder.  I could not move it and the pain in my legs caused me to begin to cry.

In a panic, my mother called my dad at work and he said he would get home as quickly as possible and take me to the hospital.  Fears of polio filled their minds.  While waiting for my dad to get there we heard a knock on the door.  Opening the door my mother found two friends standing there who apologized for coming by unannounced but said in their time of Bible study and prayer they felt led that they should come to see mother.  They had no idea why.

When they saw me they asked if they could pray for me.  As they prayed for me, the pain in my legs instantly stopped.  After praying mother asked me if I could lift my head.  I could and in a few minutes my fever stopped.  Dad came home to find me sitting up feeling great.

Now a skeptic will say this was just a flute, or just mind over matter.  But I know as a seven year old girl I did not have “mind over matter” ability and I know the pain was severe, the fever was high and they both left instantly.

My mind raced ahead to many other times when God intervened in my life.  I would love to share them all but this blog would then become a book.

However if you are interested in how God intervened when I was receiving radiation for an advanced case of breast cancer, check out this post:

Coincidence or An Act of God?

So – I asked myself:  Am I like Elijah – forgetting all the moments of God’s intervention and His protection as I face a new problem?  Have I so quickly forgotten His blessings in the past that I fear a new situation that requires faith and courage?

I think we all are like that.  So quickly to forget – so quickly to worry and fret.

Forgive us Lord!

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
    Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
    Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
    rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
    his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
you children of his servant Israel,
    you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.

 

Why Sunday Morning Worship Speaks to Me

In Christian circles we use the word “worship” to often refer to the twenty or so minutes we spend on Sunday morning singing songs.

Depending on the church you attend the music may be very formal with hymn books, organ and perhaps a choir.  It may consist of words projected overhead on a screen with guitars, drums and a small group of singers leading.

You may sing hymns written hundred of years ago by Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby or Isaac Watts.  You may sing contemporary songs written by Chris Tomlin, Michael W Smith or Darlene Zschech.

worship 2worship

It is amazing how churches have been divided by the style of music played on Sunday morning.  I have shared some thoughts on that subject in the past.

Worship – What’s Your Style?

Worship – What’s Your Style – Part II

But worship is much more than that.  Realizing that is important if we are to grow in the Lord for only twenty or so minutes once a week  is not enough to keep strong the bond with us and Jesus.

Still, I find those twenty minutes on Sunday morning are such a blessing to me.  First, it is encouraging to sing with fellow believers and hear their voices raised with mine declaring our faith and God’s goodness.

This Sunday I was reminded how important the sense of community really is and my heart was so encouraged.  I try to stay focus on the music and the words and keep my attention on the Lord.   But I noticed a young family worshiping across the aisle from where I sat.  They are a young couple with a small child.  What a joy it was to me when I saw this young couple clearly  focused on worshiping God as the father held their little daughter.  What an encouragement to know we still have  young families loving and serving God.

I am also amazed how many times when the choice of songs seem to speak directly to me.  Songs of joy and praise when I come to church and everything is going great in my life.  Songs of encouragement when my week has been stressful.

Right now I am in a physical struggle facing possible surgery and dealing with pain that I have experienced now almost four years.  Pain that is only getting worse.  The worship leader who chose the songs did not know that but it was as if he had read my mind and picked songs just for me.

These songs have reminded how God has always been there for me – and I will be playing these songs over and over in the weeks to come.

Hope you might take time to listen to these songs also and let them encourage you.

 

 

I

Are You Holy?

Growing up in a Pentecostal background much emphasis was put on the need to be holy.  I was told that God was holy – and I needed to be also.

Well – Scripture does back that up.

In the Old Testament God is called “Qedosh Y’Israel – Holy One of Israel.”

Holy-One-of-Israel-Q_dosh-Yisra_el-150x150

 

Isaiah uses this term multiple times – I counted 29 times.  Perhaps he used this term so much because of his vision of the Holy One.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel also used that term as did the Psalmist.

The New Testament affirms that Jesus is holy.

Luke tells us in his Gospel that Gabriel told Mary:

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.

Evil spirits, when confronted with Jesus recognized His holiness as Mark tells us:

Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

And both the Old Testament and the New Testament called for us to be holy also.

Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Tell the whole congregation of Israel: Be holy because I, Yahweh your Elohim, am holy.

Peter reiterated this command to be holy as he reminded us what the God had spoken in the Old Testament:

For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

Being holy is an important thing because the writer to Hebrews declared:

Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.

But, what exactly does it mean to be holy?  That has been a subject of debate and study for centuries so I am not going to pretend that I have “the” answer.  But I think for too long we have looked at holiness as something we can obtain by our own efforts.

We see it in every denomination as we all have our lists of “do’s” and “do not’s”.

For me a lot of what it meant was all about outward appearances – and most of that was for the women.

  • Your hair must be long
  • You cannot wear any makeup
  • You cannot wear slacks or pants
  • You cannot wear jewelry

And on and one the list went with what I could not do.  Not much was said about what I should do.

I joke now that if I wanted to know if something was a sin I would just ask myself “Would I have fun if I did this?”  If the answer was “yes” it was probably a sin.  It really was not that bad, but  it always gets a laugh.

The big one for my Catholic girlfriends was

  • You cannot use birth control.

I want to share more in future posts about how I came to realize holiness was more about what was inside of me than outside.  I don’t want to give the impression that being holy does not require an effort on our part but I believe (as I will share more in later posts) that holiness shows up on the outside only when it is rooted on the inside.

For now I would love to hear from some of you on this subject of holiness.

  1. What does holiness mean for you?  How would you describe it to an unbelieving friend?
  2. What were some of the “rules” you grew up with in your church?

 

Jesus Wept

I posted this back in 2015 but think it is so appropriate today as serving God seems to have become to many more a hobby than a real conviction and calling….so I’m sharing it again.

Jesus wept

Then Jesus took His disciples up on the mountain and gathering them around Him, He taught them, saying:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
  • Blessed are the meek
  • Blessed are they that mourn
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are they that thirst for justice
  • Blessed are you when persecuted
  • Blessed are you when you suffer
  • Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.”

Then Simon Peter said, “Are we supposed to know this?”

And Andrew said:  “Do we have to write this down and take notes?”

And James said:  “Will we have a test on this?”

And Thomas said:  “Do we have to get this signed?”

And Phillip said:  “I don’t have any paper.”

And Bartholomew said:  “Do we have to turn this in?”

And John said: “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.”

And Matthew said: “May I go to the boys’ room?”

And Judas said: “What does this have to do with real life?”

Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plan and inquired of Jesus:

“Where is your anticipatory set, your aim (long-term goals), your objectives in the cognitive domain?”

AND JESUS WEPT!

Taking Three Views at Communion Time

communion

Christians around the world take communion.  Some take it every time they go to church (Catholics, Lutherans, Christian Church among others).  Others take it monthly and some just at Easter or Christmas.  Since Jesus said to observe communion as a remembrance of Him and what his death on the cross meant, I question why some churches only take communion occasionally.  Do we only need to remember that sacrifice for us from time to time?

Through communion we are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the  Messiah.  That is why we need to realize that communion is not just a ritual we go through each week, but it is a reminder—and a celebration of all that the death and resurrection of Jesus really means.

As we take communion each week, we need to look three different ways:

past

We look back.

cross

When Jesus shared that Last Supper with His disciples He told them, “‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me”.  Luke 22:19.  This should not be a hurried “Oh yeah, Jesus died for me” kind of remembering.  We should take time to reflect on what that death on the cross cost Him.  The  agony in the garden as He asked if possible this death could be     avoided.  The human side of Him must have experienced such distress that we cannot imagine    because He knew the painful suffering that was ahead of Him.  We do not totally understand what He was feeling as He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but it indicates there was also a moment when God the Father turned His back on Jesus.  We cannot even begin to understand what that would have been like?

We look inside.

heartTaking communion is a sacred thing.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 tells us “that is why a man should examine himself carefully before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if he eats the bread and drinks from the cup unworthily, not  thinking about the body of Christ and what it means, he is eating and drinking God’s  judgment upon himself; for he is trifling with the death of Christ. ”  When we take communion we need to look inside, reflecting on the meaning of the ordinance and confessing personal sin.  Do we really understand what communion means, and are we taking it for that purpose? Are we actually walking out our faith and living in active relationship with God, allowing Him to do His sanctifying work in our lives? If so, communion is a sobering celebration of Christ and His church. If not, we make a mockery of the ordinance.

We look ahead.

returnJesus told His disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. “  The second return of Jesus—not as a suffering servant—but as victorious Lord of all is the hope of the Christian.  When we take communion we need to gain hope as we realize  that the death and resurrection of Jesus means ultimate victory for us—victory over sin in this life and victory over death in the life to come.  But more than that, it means that someday we will have the joy of seeing Jesus face to face.

“We shall behold Him!!!!”

 

Have You Had Your Checkup?

doctor

Every six months I get a routine checkup from my doctor.  She checks my A1C, my cholesterol, vitamin D levels, my blood pressure.  She listens to my heart and takes a look at my ears and my throat.  We discuss any problems I might have.

I keep these appointments faithfully not because I am sick but because I want to make sure I remain healthy.  By seeing her on a regular basis and discussing my health if something does go wrong, we can catch it before it is a serious threat to my life.

As a follower of Christ, I think it is good that I also do a routine checkup on my spiritual life.

Some questions I ask myself:

  1. Am I sharing the good news of Jesus or just sharing my own ideas?  Do I study God’s Word so I know what it says or do I just pass on what someone else says without bothering to check God’s Word for the truth?
  2. Am I making those in my cirlce a matter of intense prayer.  What am I doing to reach beyond my own circle?  Am I praying for other groups of people, other nations or only “my four and no more”?
  3. Am really living in agreement with what I say I believe? Do I “walk the walk” or only “talk the talk”?
  4. An old song I used to hear goes through my mind when I ask these questions.  That song said:

If I were arrested for being a Christian, would there by any evidence to convict me?

 

guilty

 

 

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did….1 John 2:6

spiritual checkkup