Coloratura Christian

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Psalm 34:4-5)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

"Because People Judge You By Your Friends"

Christmas shopping has begun, and I'm amazed how heavily marketers rely on the fact that people care what others think of them. I saw one billboard for an upscale clothing store with a slogan that said something to the effect of "Because people judge you by your friends," and it had a picture of a beautiful socialite dressed 'to the nines' surrounded by other beautiful socialites. The industry's marketing scheme is focused on selling an image, in other words, how others see you. It seems that if people are convinced that buying a certain product will elevate them in other's eyes, it's a guaranteed sell.

While it is true that our dress and the things we own should be a testimony to what we believe, how much should a person be concerned with how others view them? It seems there is something in our human nature that craves acceptance, approval and security from other people whether it be our parents, our spouse, our friends, our peer group, our co-workers or even complete strangers.

The problem is that when other's opinions of us become a deciding factor in how we live and what we do, it is giving them more power and more credit than they should have. We often act as if other people have the ability to give or take away ultimate happiness, and we make a god out of mere humans. When our mind is consumed with what others think of us, God seems very small, and we somehow end up fearing man more than we fear God.

We may not be a fearful or timid person by nature, in fact, we may be very outgoing and confident, but "fear of man" does not have so much to do with personality type as it does with how much we let other people control us. Are we elated when someone we respect speaks highly of us? Do we feel better about ourselves when we receive respect and admiration? Are we hurt, angry or defensive when someone disagrees with us or thinks badly of us? Do our degrees and credentials make us feel more secure? Have we ever felt embarrassed to evangelize, even to a complete stranger? Isn't it true that this is nothing other than "fear of man?"

Fearing man can be so subtle in our lives, and yet the sin of idolatry is no small matter. God alone should be consuming our thoughts.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Remembering Phoenix

My favorite cowboy recently posted about Phoenix and Caballo. It does make me sad to think about Phoenix going to the 'glue factory' seeing as he was the first horse that I ever rode.

There are certain things I don't miss, such as the gaseous emissions that he let out with each step he made, or him tripping on every little twig. I suppose these are merely the evils of his being old and out of shape.

However, there are many things in which we were like-minded. He loved to go slow (mainly because he was lazy), I loved to go slow (mainly because I was scared.) We felt free to chase cows at the speed we were good and comfortable with.

We were both afraid of the bulls. When they started fighting we were happy to go off in the other direction and watch at a distance as Clint and Caballo split up the fight.

He loved to eat, and although his wide belly made it hard to wrap my legs around him, I didn't mind because a wider seat made it easier to stay on.

Ah well, Phoenix is gone, and I suppose all earthly things must come to an end.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Response to a Thoughtful Comment

Elisha brought up some great points about style and worship music in her comment on my last post. My response was getting so lengthy that I thought I would just make a new post.

I am still processing my thoughts on the issue of music style in the church service, and this article by Leonard Payton has made me think about some issues that previously I have not thought about to any great extent.

Just to be clear, this is not a hymns verses choruses controversy. Payton is not against contemporary music, in fact he is advocating the creation of new church music either from high culture which is "fundamentally concerned with beauty and form" or folk culture which is concerned with "wholesomeness of community." He is against modeling church music on Christian pop culture because he believes it is money driven. He says, "The artist is not primarily held accountable to God for a transcendent standard of beauty, nor to a local community with ethical responsibility. Rather, the artist must answer to the share holder."

While the Christian artist’s intentions may be good, he says:

The problem is not their intentions, but rather their lines of accountability. There is little potential for church discipline when these people spread some marginal or outright false teaching (which occurs more frequently than anyone cares to admit). Whenever anyone teaches in the church, as Christian music most certainly does, that person displays a low view of the depravity of man when his teaching ministry is accountable to shareholders rather than to ecclesiastical authorities. So it comes as no surprise that we have high-visibility moral lapses inside the Christian music industry that are handled with patchy results. And this crisis has overtaken us because our church discipline is flaccid and we are lax in protecting the doctrinal purity of the church through its music component of the ministry of the Word. This is what happens when we remove the outside authority of Scriptures and of scripturally ordained ecclesiastical authorities.

His point is that music made popular by Christian pop stars should not be so easily transported into the church worship service because marketing and selling are deciding factors in how this music created. It is much better to create music within the church community, for the church community, under the authority of the church elders who strive to protect truth.

As for my views on Christian pop singers, I'm not dead set against them. There are some that I like and listen to because their lyrics are biblical and Christ centered and I find I'm refreshed and encouraged by listening to them. But with the large majority, I find that their image and sound is really just a cheap imitation of a current secular pop star. Their music is often phony and affected, and full of bad theology. So I guess I do have a problem with the mass of Christian pop music used in mainstream evangelical churches.

I'm very thankful for the initiative of godly men and women recently who have labored to compose some quality contemporary music for the church. Some examples would be Bob Kauflin, Marc Heinrich, Abraham Piper , D.A. Carson, Stuart Townend and many others.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Luther stealing bar songs?

I was recently reading Leonard Payton's article, Congregational singing and the Ministry of the Word. I have to admit, it was one of the most interesting and thought provoking articles I've read on worship. Payton certainly has some valuable thoughts on worship issues that modern worship commentators seem to have largely neglected.

At one point he discusses the appropriateness of certain styles of music for worship. He does not feel that music from pop culture is appropriate, but advocates music from folk culture and high culture.

I had to laugh as he commented on the objection he often receives for his rejection of pop culture in the worship service. How often have we all heard that Luther stole his tunes from bar songs. Payton says:

As soon as I say this, someone will retort, "But Luther used songs from the bar." This is a regrettable misconception widely popularized in our time. Similarly, some will triumphantly respond with that famous Luther quotation: "Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?" Anyone who has read Luther extensively knows that when Luther spoke of the Devil, he usually meant the papacy. In truth, when Luther asked, "Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?" he did not mean, "Why should the good tunes remain out there in the bar when we could use them in church?" Rather, he meant the Reformation church should not leave all the fine old hymns to the Roman Catholic Church. He was making a passionate plea for the use of traditional music!

As for Luther borrowing tunes from the bar, this is a misunderstanding of both music theory and music history. The "bar form" is a label for a musical/architectural form, not a description of musical activity occurring in a public place of alcoholic consumption. In Luther's time, there were academic societies called Meistersingers. They existed for the purpose of composing songs based usually on biblical texts, and the musical form they used was called a "bar form." The bar form is like a fixed recipe. It has as much to do with consuming alcoholic beverages in a pub lic place as does "bar oil" for a chain saw, attorneys "passing the bar," or Jewish boys and their "Bar Mitzvahs."

It is true that melodies from the inn could occasionally migrate into the church in Luther's time. However, it is equally true that melodies from the church could wend their ways into the inn. This is not the case in our time for the simple reason that the inn of Luther's time does not correspond to the bar of our time. The Reformation in England began in an inn. It was a place of spirited discussion and thought. It was a communal place in the best sense...Finally, musicological research since 1923 has leaned more and more in favor of Luther as the composer of his own melodies, though Luther certainly had no scruples with inns as ample historical evidence indicates. They were places to look for good beer, not good music.

It is hard to take seriously a Christian pop singer who sings "I Stand in Awe of You" with questionable Britney Spears-ish guttural sounds after every second word. Even if Luther did transcribe a popular tune or two into worship songs, I'm sure this was not the desired effect he had in mind.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Data-Stream Worship?

Lately I've been enjoying this worship blog by Marc Heinrich, further up & further in music. He links to a variety of other interesting blog posts on music and worship. I found particularly interesting this one on "data- stream worship". Apparently, it's being argued that hymns are not relevant anymore because they only "recite data about God," and today's generation wants to skip the "doctrinal Cliff Notes" and talk directly to God.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Wife's Submission

Ephesians 5 says,
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior...each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
No wife likes to hear the 'S' word, but what exactly does it mean to submit? And what does "respect" for our husband look like? I think one of the best ways to show respect for our husband is to submit to him.

Submitting to our husband is not mindless obedience, I believe it is actively supporting him in the leadership responsibility God has given him. This means we are not competing with him for leadership, but rather, building him up and supporting him in the decisions he makes. We, as women, often become so self-absorbed that we worry excessively about whether our rights are being infringed upon to the neglect of our own husband's well being. Shouldn't we instead be desiring our husband to excel in his leadership? Seeing the one we love most in this world find joy and contentment in what God has created him to be, is one of the greatest joys a wife can have.

In contrast, a woman who criticizes her husband, and who picks apart every decision he makes, does tremendous damage to her husband and consequently to her marriage. I think it is very important for men to feel that their wife really trusts them, and that she believes him to be competent, capable and worthy of respect. Sometimes it can be difficult for us to let go of control and trust our husband with our well being, but ultimately, it comes down to trusting God. If our husband is a believer, we can entrust him to God, and trust that He will continue to sanctify him and guide him in his decision making.

But what if our husband is sinning? Obviously, there is a time to confront, but even this can be done with humility and kindness. I love this example of Winston Churchill being confronted by his wife, Clementine, that I came across in Sharon James' book, God's Design for Women. It's an excerpt from a letter found in Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill. The manner of Clementine's rebuke is so loving and respectful that you know she is doing it wholly because she cares about his well being. She says:
I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know. One of the men in your entourage - a devoted friend - has been to me & told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic and overbearing manner...I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with & under you, loving you - I said this, & I was told 'No doubt it's the strain.' My darling Winston - I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner & you are not so kind as you used to be...with this terrific power [as Prime Minister] you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm...Besides you won't get the best results by irascibility and rudeness...Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful - Clemmie.

Monday, November 07, 2005

"Let a Woman Learn in Silence"

I had no idea how many differing view points there could be on one verse...until looking into this passage (1 Tim 2:11). Most of the older theologians say things that are totally shocking to my modern sensibilities, and many of the modern commentators are so PC that I don't really trust them. Judging from the wide variety of views, it seems that even godly, solid men can be influenced by the presuppositions of their culture in regards to women.

One of the most useful (and accessible) books I found on the topic was Women in the Church, edited by Kostenberger, Schreiner and Baldwin.

In this book Daniel Doriani writes an article entitled A History of the Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 where he notes among others, Jonathan Edwards' view. This drew my attention immediately because Edwards is a theologian that I've really grown to admire. It seems to me that he has something to say on the topic that transcends his culture.

Doriani says:

Edwards discussed the women's issue in the context of spiritual pride in the New England revival. Citing 1 Timothy 2:9-12, Edwards says all persons owe each other a civil reverence, including a "modesty and shamefacedness," which social "inferiors," owe their "superiors," in both civil and spiritual realms. "Not that...women's mouths should be shut up from Christian conversation," Edwards quickly adds. But there is room for women to be reverent toward men, says Edwards.

Doriani then quotes Edwards as saying:

"Tis beautiful for persons when they are at make God only their fear...and to be wholly forgetful that men are present...And tis beautiful for a minister, when he speaks in the name of the Lord of put off all fear of men. And tis beautiful for private Christians, though they are women and children to be bold in professing the faith of Christ...and in owning God's hand in the work of his power and grace, without any fear of men, though they be reproached as fools and madmen...But for private Christians, women and others, to instruct, rebuke, and exhort, with a like sort of boldness as becomes a minister when preaching, is not beautiful."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Thoughts on Self-righteousness

In our North American society there are endless unwritten rules that are seen as virtues. If you follow them you are applauded as the 'enlightened' of society. These rules may include the following:
  • "Be assertive,"
  • "Look out for number one,"
  • "Climb the corporate ladder,"
  • "Be 'tolerant',"
  • "Recycle,"
  • "Donate to charities,"
  • "Be youthful and beautiful,"
  • "Save the trees,"
  • "Support women who kill inconvenient babies,"
  • "Don't regret anything," etc.

In this environment it can be incredibly easy to get caught up in self-righteousness, while caring very little about offending a holy God.

While reading Calvin on 1 Tim. 4:1-5, I came across this passage in his commentary:

Men being by nature inclined to hypocrisy, Satan easily persuades them that God is worshipped aright by ceremonies and outward discipline; and, indeed, without a teacher, almost all have this conviction deeply rooted in their hearts. Next is added the craftiness of Satan to confirm the error: the consequence is, that, in all ages, there have been impostors, who recommended false worship, by which true godliness was buried. Again, this plague produces another, namely, that, in matters indifferent, men are laid under restraint; for the world easily permits itself to be hindered from doing that which God had declared to be lawful, in order that they may have it in their power to transgress with impunity the laws of God.

As hypocrites by nature, Satan easily persuades us that outward discipline is proper worship to God. Often we feel under restraint and full of guilt in matters that should be indifferent to Christians. True godliness can easily become buried resulting in the worst "plague," namely a self-righteousness that feels free to transgress the true laws of God.

While the misplaced restraints and hypocrisy of our society may be glaringly obvious to some, the same in our own lives may not be so easy to recognize. Self-righteousness is a subtle thing.
How often do we feel like God is more pleased with us when we do good works, or like He is far from us when we have not kept up on our 'Christian duties?' How often are we filled with anxiety as if the whole weight of the world was on our shoulders?

Many of us profess that we are saved by Christ alone, and yet feel the need to do certain things to feel saved, or maybe we feel saved but do certain things to feel more sanctified than others. I am not advocating lazy Christians who have no fruit in their lives. But what I am advocating is a change of focus from ourselves and what we are doing, to Christ and what He has done.

This seems very simple, but the full realization of our great salvation is profound. If we are Christ's, there is no more striving to be good enough. Our souls rest in the goodness of God, our hearts are overjoyed at the thought that we "who once were far off have now been brought near by the blood of Christ," our minds are at peace with full assurance as we serve God today because there is nothing to prove and nothing to lose. If Christ is ours, then we are His, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Rom. 8:38-39).