The Lackluster Hall Tree

Over the years, we’ve inherited several pieces of antique furniture, which are proudly displayed in various places in our home. These pieces of furniture are not only beautiful, but also quite sentimental. One piece in particular is a hand-carved hall tree from the 19th century that came from my great grandmother’s house in Enterprise. When she passed away in 1996, she willed the piece to me because every time I’d visit her, I’d comment on how beautiful and practical the hall tree was—especially the umbrella stand! Once my wife and I got married, the hall tree made its way to our first home and has been a part of every home we’ve owned since. Unfortunately, over the years the mirror has lost MUCH of its luster. Many days I’ve passed by it to check out my hair or adjust my clothes in the hall tree mirror only to discover later than I missed several pieces of lint on my shirt. Obviously that mirror didn’t provide a clear image for me!

Four years ago I had a similar experience when I went for lasik eye surgery. I’d worn contacts and/or glasses since I was 10 and I was finally going to “see” again clearly. Without corrective lenses I couldn’t read a book unless it was about level with my nose—Yeah, I was that blind. Right after the surgery I noticed that even though I couldn’t see perfectly immediately, I could see better—and day after day during the healing process, I developed better vision than I had before. I really noticed a difference when driving at night; I had no idea how bad my astigmatism had gotten until after the surgery. I had gotten to where the halos on headlight made me not want to drive at night—but finally things were clear.

As I’ve thought about how blind I was, I became keenly aware that before I trusted Christ as my Savior, I was just as blind. Just like my view through the lackluster mirror or haloed headlights, I had a blurry, myopic understanding of who I was and what Christ has done for me. What I needed was to place my faith in Christ (lasik for the soul!). Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.”

This being Holy Week, believers everywhere recall and celebrate the hope we have in Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus reminded his followers of His purpose as Messiah, but their perspective/sight was blurry. They kept missing the point that Jesus’ death was not the end even though Christ was clear about what would happen next. Even though we have the Bible that clearly outlines what’s to come, believers today still struggle with “blurry” faith. Thanks be to God this will not be the case forever. In 1 Cor. 13:12 Paul writes, “now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Then in 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul writes, “while we are limited in our perspective here on earth, God has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Our faith requires that we believe even when we have a myopic perspective.

So this week as we remember and celebrate: TAKE HEART! Even though we see blurry today, one day we will live forever face to face with our Savior with clarity of sight!

Pine Trees And Easter

One of my favorite Easter memories is also related to my story of how I came to faith in Christ. You see, my journey to salvation was just that—a journey. I grew up in an evangelical, bible-believing church. I knew all the answers at Sunday School, but I knew early on there was more to knowing God than simply knowing about Him. I started really questioning my faith in the 4th grade, but I was a skeptic and needed convincing—I needed something tangible and physical. Here’s part of my story:

Every Easter after church, my extended family would gather at my grandparent’s house for Easter lunch. I’m sure many of you have similar traditions. This particular year when I was in the 6th grade, my grandfather walked his eight grandchildren out to the backyard and told us to look at the tops of the pine trees in the yard and how the new growth at the top forms a cross at Easter signifying new life in Christ. He reminded us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and these crosses on the tops of the trees are there to remind us of His love that went to the cross for us. I needed empirical evidence God existed and this was did it for me.

At that moment the Holy Spirit penetrated not only my mind, but my soul as well. I knew there was nothing I could do to earn or merit the grace of Jesus because I truly understood that I was a sinner and had disobeyed God, but finally I was ready to let go of my sin and trust Christ. It was shortly after that Easter that I publicly professed my faith in Jesus. To this day, I think back to that Easter and the impact it had on my faith formation. I’m so eternally grateful for parents and grandparents who cared enough to share the greatest story ever told to future generations.

Once I became a believer, scriptures I’d read before became real to me in a new way such as:

Hebrews 12:2–fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19 speaks this – Paul writes asking that God would strengthen us by the power of his spirit so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

AND John 3:16- for God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son that whoever would believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

2 Corinthians 5:17–Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!

And Romans 5:8- That God demonstrates his own love for us in this- that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

Do you know Jesus? Have you experienced His grace? His love is evident in creation-all creation reflects the glory of God!

One of my favorite newer hymns, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”  Stuart Townend echos this truth- of the vast and great love of Jesus Christ:

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Striving for diversity in congregational song in the intergenerational church

Colossians 3:15-17- And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Music surrounds my life! My boys find it strange that my favorite music to listen to in the car is so varied they never know what I’ll be listening to. I will admit, though, I often have something from Latin America playing; it’s always a fiesta in my car! Joking aside, as a musician, I find that all over the world music speaks to people in different ways. Paul knew the power of music as well as he admonished the Colossians to use all types of music to remember the gospel truth.

Having been called by God to serve in vocational ministry, I’ve devoted most of my life to promoting, teaching, and glorifying God through music. I feel blessed that I enjoy leading and worshiping in most music contexts that glorify Christ and articulate the message of the gospel clearly. I’m an anomaly, however. Most people I encounter do not like all kinds of church music. In fact some are more adamant that certain types of music are genuinely more worshipful and edifying to the body. Further, there are those that believe that the presentation of “their” idea of worship music is somehow more authentic and “holy.” Then there are folks who, given the choice in their churches, would rather simply just turn the worship team “off.” It is vital that worship leaders be sensitive to this me versus them mentality and strive to integrate a musical atmosphere that is sensitive to the various generations and cultures in our churches.

if you asked most American churches to describe their worship experiences, most would say their congregational song includes some variation of hymns and/or modern worship music. From a musical standpoint, other than the newness of the songs composition, there is little really very little diversity from a stylistic standpoint. It’s interesting how diverse we really think our music is that many churches create services specifically to homogenize the musical style, rather than provide opportunities for diversity! When I taught high school choir many years ago, diversity of the literature was encouraged strongly to promote unity in spite of the diversity. However, our churches who should be beacons of light for the gospel, struggle to even find unity in their congregational songs!

Our lack of unity is no stranger to contemporary culture. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, knew that unity was important for the early church because sin would always creep in and cause division. Not only should worship be vertical (in praise to God directly), Paul asserts that unity could be achieved by singing the WORD of God to each other (horizontally) in a variety of types of songs. Paul knew that the early church didn’t have the printed Word of God that we enjoy today. These early Christians would need to remember the Word somehow…and singing scripture was an incredible way for the word to “dwell richly” in the hearts and minds of those early Christians. The songs we sing today should do the same thing. We must sing substance and the music should complement the text of Truth. Further, the various types of music available today should be reflected in our worship services. I encourage the writers of today’s congregational song to branch out into styles more reflective of the diversity of our communities.

Here are some suggestions to select worship music that reflects ethnic and generational diversity, while being rich in text.

  1. Text is most important factor in selecting worship music. Period.  Worship music should include vertical and horizontal expressions of worship where the people of God sing to God as well as one another the truth of the gospel. For more information, see this previous blog post Building Community in the Intergenerational Church through Music- Selecting We-Centric Songs
  2. Use black gospel as well as southern gospel music, especially if you have African-Americans in your congregation. We Georgians are well adept at singing southern gospel; our people are familiar with it. However, if we are to reflect our communities, we need to sing black gospel also. There are numerous wonderful songs out there to sing. However, I’ve found the best places to find these songs is by looking into literature written for schools and/or community choruses.
  3. Investigate music from Latin America. I love syncopation, especially the habanero and other cross-rhythmic beats. We have a severe lack of latin flavor in many of our churches. Just be sensitive if the presence of congas and a cowbell make some folks in your church squirm! Again, school literature often has more variety in terms of literature.
  4. Integrate music from Asian cultures. In our county, the Asian population is exploding. Traditional Asian music utilizes a limiting pentatonic scale, but there are some interesting things out that can be used if you investigate.
  5. At the very least, utilize worship leaders (players and singers) who are not ethnically the same as the majority of your congregation. Example, I have a wonderful Korean young woman in my choir who studied opera in South Korea. She is an excellent singer, but didn’t know many songs in English she could use in worship. I suggested she look at some oratorios she might be familiar with. She wound up singing “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd,” one December and it was a glorious offering of worship.

The key is strong text, varying music types, and utilizing folks from various generations AND cultures. Doing so can really make the difference in the worship experiences for ages to come. I believe this is exactly what Paul was referring to when he was encouraging the Colossians to be unified…bring your various experiences and abilities and be unified in PURPOSE and the Lord will be glorified.

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