Archive | July 2014

Selecting Music for Worship (Part 1): Know The Word

Leading God’s people in song is a great joy. It is a rewarding responsibility to sing and play psalms and hymns and spiritual songs in praise to God. But like other aspects of worship—reading and preaching God’s Word, lifting up prayers in behalf of the congregation—with the joy comes labor. It takes time to plan and prepare music for worship. This is especially evident given the reality that the task of worship is ongoing. Week by week, music must be selected, ordered and rehearsed. There is always a service coming.

So what is the best way to plan music for worship? How can worship leaders, given the task each week to select music for the services, make the best use of their time and efforts? How can they avoid the ruts of simply resorting to favorites or choosing what’s trendy? How can they guard against weariness and wearing out over time?

There is no simple solution to finding the right songs for the right service, but there are some vital ways that worship leaders can prepare themselves to be ready for the task. Those who give direction to the music of the church must learn to be students, and not just students of the music itself—giving attention to tunes, lyrics and arrangements. In the next several posts, I will explore three areas of study that every worship leader should seek to master:

  1. Know the Word
  2. Know Theology
  3. Know Your Church

My first encouragement to those who lead music in the church is know the Word. This of course applies to all worship leaders—to those who read and preach God’s Word, to those who lift up prayers in behalf of the congregation, as well as to those who lead in singing God’s praise. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture. The first and best way to prepare for the task of selecting music for worship is to be regularly and diligently in God’s Word.

In John 4 Jesus taught on the essence of true worship:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him (John 4:23).

If we are to worship God rightly, we need to preach, sing, and pray the truths of the Bible and we need the life-giving work of God’s Spirit quickening our spirits that we might understand, embrace and apply those truths to our lives. So as we plan for worship, our two greatest priorities should be to 1) saturate our services with the Word of God, and 2) pray earnestly for the power of God’s Spirit to illumine His truth that we might walk in its light.

Paul echoes this emphasis of spirit and truth when he teaches the church about music. In Ephesians 5 he exhorts the church to:

…be filled with the Spirit,  addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:18–19).

In a parallel passage in Colossians 3 he says:

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 (Colossians 3:16).

It is essential that our music be rooted in the truth of God’s Word and in the work of His Spirit. As we preview the lyrics of songs, we should look for quotes, allusions, and connections to God’s Word. If we are to sing in a way that lets the word of Christ dwell in us richly, we need to:

  1. Sing the words of Scripture (from Psalms and other passages)
  2. Sing words that are filled with the truth of Scripture
  3. Sing words that help us rightly understand Scripture
  4. Sing words that help us rightly respond to Scripture

Consider, for example, the hymn How Firm a Foundation. One of the reasons this hymn has endured the test of time is its faithfulness to Scripture. The opening verse speaks of the value of resting our faith in God’s “excellent Word.” The remaining verses then rehearse several promises from the Bible. Read through the lyrics and see how many passages come to mind.

How Firm a Foundation
(from John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787)

1.  How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

2.  In every condition—in sickness, in health,
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home, or abroad, on land, on the sea,
“As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.”

3. “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed;
For I am Thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”

4. “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”

5. “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
May grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”

6. “E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.”

7. “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

(Click here to see the lyrics of hymn with the passages of Scripture listed)

We want to select and sing music in the church that will let God’s Word dwell in us richly. We want songs that are biblically sound, songs that will teach and edify, not amuse and entertain. We want to recognize and cast aside songs that are in error or are lacking in truth. We want to identify and keep songs that will help us interpret, verbalize, and respond to truth, songs that will serve and undergird the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.

But in order to recognize such music, and find fitting places for that music in the life of the church, we need to know the Word of God. So commit yourself to being a student of God’s Word. Be in the Bible every day. Read it, study it, memorize it. Take notes as you read. Look for connections between the lyrics of your church’s songs and the verses of Scripture. Note where those connections are lacking. Highlight where those connections are strong. As a worship leader and musician, aim to be well-rehearsed, not just in the music you plan to sing, but in the Scriptures you intend to teach, proclaim and celebrate. Know the Word!

The Light of Faith

Focus Verse of the Week

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14-16)

Classic Commentary

[The believers were called to] unity of spirit by grace, and a walk according to God, so that they may be as heavenly lights amid the moral darkness of this world. [They were] to always carry, and thus hold forth, the word of life: such was Paul’s desire. Thus, they would give proof by the constancy and practical effect of their faith, that the apostle had not run or labored in vain; and they would themselves be his glory in the day of Christ. (Oh, if the church had continued that way! Be that as it may, Christ will be glorified.)

The apostle unites his work and the reward in the day of Christ with the blessing of the assembly. He would not be separated from it in his death. This union of heart and faith is very touching. He presents himself as capable of being poured out (that is to say, his life) upon the sacrifice and service of the Philippians’ faith.

(Adapted from the John Darby’s Synopsis of the New Testament.)

A Thought to Keep

Is your faith lived out so consistently that others see you as being a light that shines in a dark world?

Keep Moving

keep going or moving don't stop continue don't give up

“Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”  Exodus 14:15

Moses had brought the whole nation of Israel, approximately 600,000, to a dead end in the desert. The only thing between Israel and Pharaoh’s pursuing army was the Red Sea. This was after ten plagues God had inflicted on Pharaoh to motivate him to free the Israelites. Finally, Pharaoh had freed Moses and the people, and they left Egypt. They thought they were home free.

“Freedom at last,” they said.

But God did a strange thing. He directed Moses to take a route that led to the Red Sea, instead of the northern route around the Red Sea. God explained that He didn’t want them fighting the enemies they would have encountered on this route. But still, there was the issue of the Red Sea.

They finally arrived at the Red Sea, and the people were wondering where they would go from there. News hit the camp: Pharaoh had changed his mind. He was coming after them with his army. Panic set in.

God sometimes brings each of us to a “Red Sea” in our life. It may be a work problem that can’t be solved. It may be a marriage that seems to be failing. It may be a debilitating disease. Whatever your Red Sea, God tells us one thing: “Keep moving.” The Red Sea was before them, yet God was angered at Moses and told him to “Keep moving.”

“But Lord, the Red Sea is before me.”

“Keep moving.”

When we live by sight, we act on what we see. God sets this stage in dramatic fashion. God is into the dramatic. There is no way out without God here. That is just the way He wants it. No one will get glory except God.

A friend once admonished me when I was in the midst of an extremely difficult time in my life, “You must not withdraw from being proactive in your faith just because of this trial that you are in. God’s hand is on your life. There are too many who are depending on you to fulfill the purposes God has in your life. Keep moving! Keep investing yourself in others.”

I didn’t feel like it. I was in too much pain. But I did it anyway.

God met me at the point of my greatest need once I decided simply to be obedient. Getting past myself by investing myself in others helped heal the pain.

There is great healing when we look past our own problems and seek to invest ourselves in others for the sake of Christ. This is when our own Red Seas become parted. We begin to walk to freedom.

But we will never experience the miracle of the Red Sea in our lives if we don’t first “Keep moving.”

–by Os Hillman


Chained to the World

Focus Verse of the Week

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

Classic Commentary

Every thing is as God made it; not as it appears to us. We have the world in our hearts so much and are so taken up with thoughts and cares of worldly things, that we have neither time nor spirit to see God’s hand in them. The world has not only gained control of the heart, but has formed thoughts against the beauty of God’s works. We are mistaken if we think we were born for ourselves; no, it is our business to do good in this life, which is short and uncertain; we have but little time to be doing good. Therefore, we should redeem the time. Satisfaction with Divine Providence is having faith that all things work together for good to them that love Him.

(Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible.)

A Thought to Keep

Are you tied up so much in the world that you miss what God is doing? Pay attention to the good He does for you this week

Credit: (BibleStudyTool)

 

Quiet Time

Bible Study

A quiet time is an intimate, face-to-face, heart-to-heart connection with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s the time when you actually build your relationship with Jesus. Specifically, it is a time for you to get up every day and read the Bible and pray and get closer to Him.

A lot of people say to think to themselves: “I prayed a prayer, but I don’t feel closer to God; or I felt really close to God when I was at that retreat or camp, but now I don’t feel very close to Him.”

You’re not going to feel close to anybody if you’re not spending time with them.

If you were married and didn’t spend time with your spouse, the two of you would not grow any closer. Actually, you would move farther and farther apart.

A quiet time is an expression of your commitment to be a true follower of Christ. It’s as if you’re saying, “Lord, I’m going to make sure that I don’t accidentally get farther and farther away from You. In fact, I’m going to use this time to get closer and closer to You.

I’m going to use it as a time to get fed by You and to get filled up with You and to understand more of You.” Before you do anything else, start your day with God. Talk to Him, seek Him in His Word and pray through your day.

Make it your top priority.

Maybe you’ve never had a quiet time with God before. Start thinking about what kind of quiet time you want to have and where you want to have it.

Think about what time you need to get up in order to have enough time to read your Bible and pray before you start your day with the world.

Your personal relationship with God is the dynamite that it will take to affect this generation. You will begin to spread the gospel as your character becomes like Christ. This transformation process can only happen in direct relationship with Christ.

The more we know Jesus, and look like Him, the easier it will be to lead people to him.

by Ron Luce

Wisely Handling the Bible’s Wise Sayings

by R.C. Sproul

Every culture seems to have its own unique, collected wisdom, pithy insights of the wise. Oftentimes, these tidbits of wisdom are preserved in the form of the proverb. We have proverbial sayings in American culture. I am thinking of sayings such as “A stitch in time saves nine” or “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

The Bible, of course, has an entire book of such pithy sayings — the book of Proverbs. However, this compilation of proverbial wisdom is different from all other such collections in that these sayings reflect not just human wisdom but divine wisdom, for these proverbs are inspired by God.

Still, we must be very careful in how we approach and implement these wise sayings. Simply because they are inspired does not mean that the biblical proverbs are like laws, imposing a universal obligation. Yet, some people treat them as if they were divine commandments. If we regard them in that way, we run into all kinds of trouble. Even divinely inspired proverbs do not necessarily apply to all life situations. Rather, they reflect insights that are generally true.

To illustrate this point, let me remind you of two of our own culture’s proverbs. First, we often say, “Look before you leap.” That is a valuable insight. But we have another proverb that seems to contradict it: “He who hesitates is lost.” If we tried to apply both of these proverbs at the same time and in the same way in every situation, we would be thoroughly confused. In many situations, wisdom dictates that we examine carefully where we should place our steps next so that we are not moving blindly. At the same time, we cannot be so paralyzed in our evaluation of the pros and cons of our next move that we hesitate too long before making a decision and lose opportunities when they present themselves to us.

Naturally, it does not really bother us to find seemingly contradictory proverbs in our own cultural wisdom. But when we discover them in the Bible, we find ourselves wrestling with questions about the trustworthiness of Scripture. Let me cite one well-known example. The book of Proverbs says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4). Then, in the very next verse, we read, “Answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5). How can we follow these opposite instructions? How can both be statements of wisdom?

Again, just as in the example I gave above, the answer depends on the situation. There are certain circumstances when it is not wise to answer a fool according to his folly, but there are other circumstances when it is wise to answer a fool according to his folly. Proverbs 26:4 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (emphasis added). If someone is speaking foolishness, it is generally not wise to try to talk to him. Such a discussion will go nowhere, and the one who tries to carry on the discussion with the fool is in danger of falling into the same foolishness. In other words, there are circumstances when we are better off saying nothing.

At other times, however, it can be helpful to answer a fool according to his folly. Proverbs 26:5says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (emphasis added). Although it was made an art form by the ancient Greek philosophers, the Hebrews understood and in biblical teaching sometimes used one of the most effective ways of arguing with another person. I am referring to the reductio ad absurdum, which reduces the other person’s argument to absurdity. By means of this technique, it is possible to show a person the necessary, logical conclusion that flows out of his argument, and so demonstrate that his premises lead ultimately to an absurd conclusion. So, when a person has a foolish premise and gives a foolish argument, it can at times be very effective to answer the fool according to his folly. You step over onto his territory and say, “Okay, I’ll take your position for argument’s sake, and I’m going to take it to its logical conclusion and show you the foolishness of it.”

So, the book of Proverbs is concerned to give us practical guidelines for daily experience. It is a neglected t treasure of the Old Testament, with untold riches lying in wait in its pages to guide our lives. It holds real, concrete advice that comes from the mind of God Himself. If we want wisdom, this is the fountain from which to drink. He who is foolish will neglect this fountain. He who is hungry for God’s wisdom will drink deeply from it. We need to listen to the wisdom of God so that we can cut through the many distractions and confusions of modern life. But, as with the entirety of the Word of God, we need to be zealous to learn how to handle the book of Proverbs properly.

 

Evidence of Real Change

Focus Verse of the Week

“If you return, O Israel, declares the LORD, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, 2 and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” 3 For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. 4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” (Jeremiah 4:1-4)

Classic Commentary

In Jeremiah and Deuteronomy 30:6, we find the spiritual significance of circumcision. A prophet like Jeremiah was not likely to attach much importance to an external act like circumcision. He bluntly tells his countrymen that they are no better than Egyptians, Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites. They are uncircumcised in heart. Paul uses the term concision for this outward circumcision unaccompanied by any spiritual change (Philippians 3:2). The question of circumcision occasioned a protracted strife among the early Christians. Judaizing Christians argued for the necessity of circumcision. It was a reminiscence of the unrelenting particularism which had sprung up during the prolonged oppression of the Greek and Roman period. According to their view salvation was of the Jews and for the Jews. It was necessary to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. Paul consented to circumcision in the case of Timothy “because of the Jews” (Acts 16:3). But he saw that a principle was at stake and in most of his epistles he points out the sheer futility of the contention of the Judaizers.

(Adapted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.)

A Thought to Keep

Outward forms of faith do not impress God if there’s no evidence of a changed, repentant heart. Examine yourself to see where you stand.