Making Music

I love music. I tend to only half jokingly tell people Dad raised me on 50s & 60s oldies and Mom on opera & classical music. As a result I have a fairly wide musical interest & tend to be pretty eclectic in my tastes. Right now I could tell you some of my favorite songs from any genre from hard rock to cowboy country to blues to a Baroque aria. I have my more favorite genres of course, and I go on kicks with one or the other. One style of music that I will never tire of is acapella singing. And I don’t just mean on during assembly times, though that is where this post is geared towards. If you don’t think acapella singing outside of church times can be good, check out Pentatonix or Home Free (yes even though they’re not gospel, still good stuff!).

Acapella singing is such a wonderful communion in its own right with God & each other. Its something we truly do all together as a body even if one person happens to be leading it, and often I’m extremely encouraged by hearing all of our voices united in the same song, in the same lyric, in the same thought that lyric is trying to provoke. I hear others singing with no barrier between them & God, between each other and our combined praise to God, and personally feel more connected as a body than at many other times when we’re singing together. In the same way as taking communion together as body speaks to one another that we’re in fellowship in Christ, and that we still believe Christ has been raised from the dead, singing together as one voice the praises of our Creator often does something similar, or at least it can. It can unify a body, open our hearts to what God may tell us that morning, and connect us with the person standing or sitting next to us as we together sing a line that speaks to both of us. Singing is one of the more experiential things we do as a body, and I think that’s correct. Many other aspects of walking in the Light require head knowledge to trump our feelings, for instance believing we’re saved by grace even if our heart tells us we could never be. But singing is a place where truly as we sing the lyrics we can both understand them in our heads and feel them in our hearts. To borrow from Horatio Spafford, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.” Even as I read these lyrics now and understand them, when sung with my brothers & sisters it takes on new meaning, it feels different, & it means something different when I read alone versus when I sing with the church. Those lyrics came out of a tragic experience that was put to music as the hymn we know.

We all have different experiences in our lives, some that can be shared with others and some that can’t. We all see God through different eyes, perspectives, & see Him working in different ways. We have different joys, different sorrows, different trials and different triumphs. We know this. What we don’t know is how our experiences may affect, may help, may encourage, may admonish, may rebuke, may relate, may connect with others. Hebrews 10 tells us the assembly is for encouraging each other and for spurring each other on to good works. Many people don’t treat the assembly this way, but that’s another post. Here’s my question:

Why don’t we do this with music more? 

OK, what am I really asking?

Why don’t we write music from OUR OWN EXPERIENCES more? 

This last Sunday I had the honor of song leading an original song written by a sixteen year old young lady from our congregation. While this was done with Leadership Training For Christ (at least as a pushing motivation), and used scripture for the lyrics, there is her experience somewhere in this song. It speaks to others inasmuch that they may not have read the same scripture she used & had it affect them the same way as when they sang the scripture along with the notes & the body singing it with them. To sing together “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trial,” giving glory to God while at the same time singing it with the same person who arranged the notes with this scripture was such a wonderful, encouraging experience for the congregation. To be connected not only now by singing the same lyrics and notes, but connected through whatever experience inspired the song writing, to share in that, to be lifted up by it is a unique experience. This is a similar experience as giving- there’s a blessing to the receiver as well as to the giver, possibly more to the giver. There is a blessing to whomever gives to others of their gifts, experiences, knowledge, & emotions as to the people receiving it, whether it be praying, preaching, encouraging, with whatever gift we have been blessed.

Songs are something that connect us to each other & to the principles contained in Scripture on an emotional as well as knowledge level. They’re a way to truly make the assembly experience our own. I’m not saying that the assembly is or should be totally experiential- not at all, but there must be an aspect of that. Scripture does not change. Principles do not change. We won’t be changing the Lord’s Supper. What does change in the assembly? What do we use to help mold each Sunday to this way or that? Our prayers, and our songs. We don’t use other peoples’ prayers to address our own congregation. There’s nothing wrong with that if its appropriate, but often we don’t, why? Because we personalize our prayers to our body & what’s going on with us today, to speak to each other & to God about the interaction between our experiences & the principles of Scripture He’s revealed to us.

Why not do this with songs too? At one point or another every song you’ve sung was new, & written by often very ordinary people out of an experience. Why not write new songs out of our experiences that speak to God from our experiences, hearts, minds, & thoughts, that speak to each other out of the same fellowship it can also encourage?

I know what many of you might be thinking- “I don’t know music!” “I don’t know where to start.” ” I have no musical training.” “I don’t know how.” “It might not be good.” Etc, etc, etc…

Well as far as the “It might…” arguments, I’ll tell you the same thing as I tell my children and happen to believe- for every “It might be bad” thought there’s an equal “It might be good” thought as well- you don’t know until you try, which as cliche as that’s become is still true!

Far as training & experience, well you’ll never get that until you try too. In this day and age of training, knowledge, & helpful programs literally right at our fingertips (he writes somewhat ironically with his fingertips) while it may not be the easiest thing, it is as easy to try and learn as its ever been. There are websites on tips for songwriting, websites that will teach you music 101, and free programs that can help you write notes & lyrics and let you hear how they sound. Those are just 3 things from a quick search, there are thousands of other resources. And this is assuming that you want to go full out and write a four part harmony song.

A hymn begins with a love for God, a few words and a basic melody. You don’t need notes on a screen, a fully developed chord structure and a copyright in order to share your love for God through song. Come up with something, teach it to someone else, and you’re worshiping in and through song, and if it happens to get sung on Sunday morning, praise God. We needn’t write new songs to have them sung on Sunday morning, but we need to ourselves write new songs to continue the tradition through the millenniums of taking Scripture to heart, of grappling with what it means to me, sharing it with others, and enjoying the blessings of God being praised. This is true, by the way, of prayers, Bible study, sermons, & random thoughts we have through the day. God is praised not just & only when we’re at the church building, but when we make Him such a part of our lives that we think on Him, dwell on Him, wrestle with what He tells us, & we must overflow somehow, whether in prayer, encouragement, sermon, or song in His praise. Worship is not something we go and do, but something we orient every aspect of our life to exude- worship is a life orientation. Church is not something we go to, but something we live, something we are, who & what we must be. A song from a heart that belongs to God is always worth singing. So, go for it, and maybe we’ll be singing your song from the next hymnal printing. Or maybe only your congregation will ever sing it. Or maybe just your friend will sing it with you. God be praised.

Grace to you.

 

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Planting & Watering

I have a brown thumb. I’ve tried- really I have- to plant & water things. They usually die. I’m not happy or proud of it, but nonetheless, I must admit at this point I’ve yet to prove myself a successful gardener.

Maybe its time- I’ll be the first to admit that should I plant something I probably wouldn’t give it the time it requires.

Maybe its energy- the whole “Eh, I’m sure it’ll still be there tomorrow, I’ll weed & take care of it then,” which is oh so easy to do.

Maybe its enthusiasm- once the initial excitement of planting a seed & the potential that awaits wears off and the real grind of daily tending starts, its easy to become less and less excited and it become more and more of a chore…that you just…don’t…want…to…do…

Maybe its not really wanting the end result. This may have more validity to it than the others. I’ve never tried tending a plant that would result in something I truly want- this means food! There’s a good chance I would be far more attentive to a plant under my care if I knew it would produce something I could eat afterwords…corn, potatoes, apples, cheesecake…oh if only, right?

Maybe I don’t think the reward will be worth it, especially if it’s something I don’t directly benefit from (like cheeseca…er…apples). After all, if its just a flower, yes it’ll look nice but that’s all. It’d be nice to have but maybe I secretly think its not worth the effort.

Maybe I’ve never been invested enough. What I mean is I’ve usually only spent a few dollars buying cheap flowers or plants and tried to plant them in areas that didn’t require too much work. I’ll admit I might have been after the whole “Most reward with least effort” thing.

Maybe I’ve been planting inferior seeds that while I feel like I’ve tried to do something never were quality enough to really grow where I’ve tried to plant them.

Maybe I’ve been planting in harsh soil without having been willing to cultivate the ground, till it, & make it a good place for a seed to be able to take root & grow.

Sounds nice doesn’t it?

Hence, I’m not a good gardener. I never said I didn’t know why. I’ve found that usually people can tell you why they’re not good at something. I love my oldest son’s responses when I ask him why he didn’t do something I asked- already at 2 1/2 years old he’ll say brutally honestly “I didn’t want to.” You have to respect that to a degree, even if it means he must be taught that not wanting to isn’t an option when Mommy & Daddy ask something of you unless we give you the choice.

Therein lies the rub for my gardening. In the end, whether I am able to plant, water, & help grow a flower into a beautiful, blooming plant or not (usually not) I chose to try, and while I may be disappointed there’s really not a consequence besides a little lost money, time & some ground which now lies bare. And I resolve to do better next time.

The thing is the field in which I’m commanded to work, and am actually being worked on myself, isn’t about flowers, or veggies, or fruit. It’s about life. It’s about eternity. It’s about so much more than time, effort, enthusiasm, or even choice. Its about to whom you belong, & why.

Matthew 10:42 is such the perfect verse- And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

What good could come from a cup of cold water if that’s the best we can give? The world thinks little, through Jesus, possibly true life!

We, by not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds in Christ plant & water the seeds of eternal life, the seeds of faith in Christ, the seeds of being taken out of the holds of Satan & into the marvelous light of God. We, by praying & acting on faith, are God’s workers, tasked with this responsibility by our very creator.

  • I don’t have time to help save people from a Godless eternity…
  • I don’t have the energy- they’ll be there tomorrow…
  • I’m not excited about bringing someone to Jesus- they’re taking a long time to convert!
  • I don’t want them to be saved, I’d much rather have something other than another Christian…
  • Whatever God’s reward is for doing this work its probably not worth it…
  • If it takes more than 5 minutes or a few bucks, too much investment to save a soul…
  • The seeds I’m planting from my hour a week with God are good enough…
  • Why can’t I convert the outspoken atheist who won’t listen to me…I wish he’d be more like that kind single mother down the street who doesn’t look like she has much…

Can we afford not to be gardening in the lives of people around us? Can they afford us not to be gardening? A single act, a single moment, a single word, and single gesture, may be enough to plant a seed that God can grow to one day bring them back to Him. What can we do to help improve our gardening for God?

  • PRAY

Praying God’s help in something does a few things. It makes us active participants in the process, as well as helps us be more aware of what’s going on around us- it puts us on high alert for spiritual things. Praying for specific people we come into contact with definitely helps us be on alert for what we can do in their lives, as well as intentionally teams yourself up with God to soften their heart for His Word.

  • READ

Being in the Bible daily and looking for His truths ourselves helps to grow our own planted faith, & helps water & nurture our relationship with God. We cannot try to plant seeds of faith if we have little or none of our own. The better nurtured our own trees of faith are, the higher quality a seed we can try to plant in others. I think also the healthier we are the more of a reward we get as well, not necessarily from God, but the awareness that we’ve done what we’re supposed to. For me, that energizes me for the next time.

  • ACT

Here’s the toughie. We must not only act, but we must act in a way that directly lays the credit at Jesus’ feet. Not only must we give the cup of water, but part of acting is to somehow let it be known that you do it because of Jesus’ love for them. While good deeds are, well, good, remember Colossians 3:17-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. We can be honest- this may be awkward at first, but like many things we practice it gets easier with time. Maybe its buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you and just saying “Jesus loves you.” Maybe its going above & beyond for someone & when asked why you did it saying that’s what Jesus tells us to do for each other. Maybe its just being there in a tough time & praying.

There are many ways to plant seeds, but many more ways to avoid it. I challenge you & myself to take up gardening today- let’s work, and not worry about the color of our thumb, but help open the door for God to do His work with us.

Grace to you.