America the Beautiful (for a cappella ensemble)

Here's an arrangement I wrote for this past year's Patriotic service.  It's probably the most challenging lines I've written for the group, to date.  I finally had a chance to mix it down.

Hope you enjoy!

 

You Are My God (I'm jumping off)

(recorded by the Odessa Christian Faith Center music ministry)

Here's a recent song I wrote about trusting God when you step into new territories.   Even when things may be unfamiliar, foreign to us, it's going to be OK when we just learn to trust Him.  He'll keep us safe and He'll guide us, navigate us where we need to go.

Hope you like it.

You Are My God (I'm Jumping off) (©2012 Lowell Hohstadt) 

I’m jumpin’ off into the deep

That’s where my life is truly free

I’m livin’ life eternally

That’s where my heart is meant to be

 

I trust You, You only

I love You, You hold me safe

in all I am and all I do

 

Living my life to love You

Living my life to worship at Your feet

 

You are my God

You are my God

You are my God

You are my God

 

Here I will trust You

Here I am near You

Living my life with You

I’m holding onto You  

Leaning ev’ry part I am to You

 

 

Emotionalism In Worship- Part 2

In the previous blog, I wrote about the dangers of emotional worship which is unfounded upon a solid understanding of God’s Word.  This kind of worship is empowered only by human sentiments and therefore can only produce natural results, tending towards failure.

There is, however, an emotionalism in worship that is profound and rich with meaning, one that emanates from a deep well-spring of revelation that “God loves me and has forgiven me.”

When Jesus went to visit Simon the Pharisee, there was a prostitute who brought an alabaster vial of perfume to pour on Jesus’ feet, kissing and wiping them with her tears.  Simon was critical in his heart of Jesus, thinking that He didn’t know what kind of woman she was.  But Jesus responded to him through a story of two people that were in debt, one who owed a little money and the other a lot.  In the story, they both had their debt cancelled.  Then Jesus asked Simon which of the two people would appreciate the man who had cancelled their debt more, the one who owed little or the one who owed much.

Simon responded, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”  Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”  Then he enumerated to Simon all of the ways the woman had blessed Him since the time He had walked through the doors versus Simon’s negligence to show hospitality and care, finishing up by this comment, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Lk. 7:47-48)

David wrote, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!  How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!” (Ps. 32:1)

“Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?” (Prov. 20:9)

The greatest message (and perhaps the most foundational) of Christianity is that of Forgiveness.  When we realize God’s love and forgiveness for our very own life, it produces a well-spring of joy and happiness, an emotion not coming from our own humanity, but one that is empowered by God Himself.

The Apostle Paul echoes again in the New Testament, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” (Rom. 4:7-8)

The word ‘blessed’ means: happiness, bliss.  The word ‘bliss’ means lightness of heart, supreme happiness or delight.

There is a depth of emotion that can be released through a believer’s life, which flows like a mighty river from the inside of his being, when he is connected to the spiritual realities of God’s forgiveness and grace.

This emotion is authentic, founded upon reality.  It’s a kind of emotion that brings fullness and benefit to our lives.  It doesn’t have to be ‘ginned up’, it’s not a show or ‘put on’, but rather it is something that no circumstance, situation, individual or community can take away.  “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)  “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (Jn. 15:11)  “but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you.” (Jn. 16:22)

God validated His forgiveness in our lives through Jesus’ resurrection.  "As those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification." (Rom. 4:24-25)  Because of God’s power to raise Him from the dead, we now have the assurance that our lives have been cleansed, purified and made whole.

So when we see emotional worship, we must be careful not to be critical, as Simon the Pharisee was, because in our ‘objectivity’, we might be missing out on an opportunity to love God deeply, based upon His love for us.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I Jn. 4:10)

Worship that stems from an attitude that “I love God” is a worship that is emanating from Natural Man, tending towards self-centeredness and even ‘worshiping worship’.  However, worship which comes from an attitude of: “I love God because He first loved me” is a deep river of blessing, which will produce true happiness and contentment.

Whoever drinks from the water of human emotionalism shall indeed thirst again,

“but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14)

My prayer for the worshiping community is that we always know from which source we are drinking.



Emotionalism In Worship

I am not a stranger to passion in music and worship, but I have come to be careful in my understanding of how it is balanced against self-control.  In the 20+ years I have been involved in the Charismatic/Pentecostal worship movement, I have observed a disturbing trend in those who I considered ‘leaders’ of the movement, those who have focused on ‘praise and worship’ and passionate musical expression.  Invariably, they either are, or have become unstable individuals, both morally, as well as emotionally.  In asking myself the question why, I have come to several conclusions.

Predominantly, I believe their failures are due to an imbalance in their zeal to excel in the areas of music and worship, becoming either unaware or uncaring of the fact that they were exalting emotion over reason, worship over Bible teaching, Spirit over the Word.  I have known a number of people through the years, who once were highly passionate and persuasive, but now have a trail of divorces and general emotional instability.  Sadly, though they are still as talented as ever, these people will probably never fully recover the influence and leadership they once had.

I remember my African-American friend John one day teaching me the importance of putting the study of the Bible preeminently above all other Christian activities.  He related to me the story of how he had grown up in a Pentecostal church in an urban American city, in which they had passionate worship on Sunday, and yet, on Monday were in fornicative and adulterous relationships.    

He frequently warned me of the dangers of super-emotionalism and its negative spiritual effects, as he had seen it first-hand growing up in church.

John was a musician’s musician, who could flow with the best of them, but he chose, in his musical and worship leadership to balance passion with discipline, emotion with control.  In music and worship, just as in life, imbalance ultimately leads to breakdown. 

Music and worship are emotional subjects, and they deal with the emotional side of our culture and community. 

As a general statement about humanity: men are predominantly more ‘reason and decision’ oriented, while women are more ‘emotion’ oriented.  (I know this is not always the case, and I’m not trying to be chauvinistic, just looking at a pattern.)

In the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, we have seen many women in leadership, noticeably more than other religious movements.  Music and worship have played a large role in the Charismatic movement, as well.  My point here is that I see a correlation between emotionalism, music, worship and the general historical unfolding of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. 

If a comparison can be drawn between the ‘woman’ side of culture (which is emotional), versus the ‘man’ side of culture (which is reason and decision based), I think we could agree that the Charismatic movement has historically been leaning towards the ‘woman’ or emotional.

Paul instructed Timothy, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man…it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” (I Tim. 2:12-14) 

In the metaphor that I’m drawing, the ‘woman’ or emotion side of humanity should not have authority over the ‘man’ side of reason and decision-making.  (I am not arguing against women in ministry leadership, or negating the fact that God uses women powerfully in ministry.)  I am simply showing a pattern of priorities: emotion is second to the renewed mind and will; worship is second to the study of the Word; the Spirit glorifies the Word. (Jn. 16:14)  Anything other than this is imbalance, ultimately producing chaos.

If we’re doing everything right in the worship music of the Charismatic/Pentecostal tradition, why is there so much failure, even in its leaders?  We have exalted talent above character, emotion above reason. 

The Scripture clearly encourages reason in our approach to Christian activity: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Even Paul’s exhortation, regarding the use of music in worship, was for it to be instructional: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16)  Once the Word was richly established in their lives, then, out of that came teaching through the use of music and worship.  The word was first, then worship.  Reason first, then emotion.  I have no doubt that the church at Corinth had emotionally charged worship, but they were out of control!  Paul had to deal with them “as babes” and not spiritual men. (I Cor. 3:1)

When we were in the midst of the ‘Praise and Worship Movement’ twenty-some years ago, and we had a group of highly passionate, emotionally charged people in the worship team at my church, I was affronted by their little discipline and much dysfunction.  Over the years, I have endeavored to cultivate a group of people who understand the ‘reason and choice’ in music/worship along with the inherent ‘emotional’ side. 

No doubt, we can always grow in our expressiveness and passionate portrayal of worship and music, inspiring others to become involved, but I am aware that this must always be in relationship with emotional soundness. 

I believe in passionate worship and musical production; however, only in the priority of integrity and discipline.  It is only in this proper structure that there is wholeness and strength, both for the individual, as well as for the corporate worshipers.  Anything else has a big WARNING sign on it!

 

(for more on this subject, see "Emotionalism In Worship (part 2)" and "Trinity Concepts 1.06 Christian Activity")

 



The Three Uses of Music and Arts

Music is useful in our society in many ways, but I believe that there are three main functions of music and the arts in our lives: 1) Performance, 2) Worship, and 3) Prophetic.

The most common use of music and the arts in our lives is that of performance, in which the artist gives his art to another person or group of people.  This is certainly beneficial in many ways, especially when the artist and his audience have commonality in their likes, interests and goals.  Much of this kind of artistic endeavor centers around Man: what man can accomplish in skill, what styles man likes to hear or see, how popular the artist becomes, etc.   In essence, it's all about man’s performance and social acceptance.

A higher level of music and artistic involvement is that of worship.  Music and the arts do a wonderful job of ‘pointing’ the audience to a target.  The ‘pointing’ can draw an arrow to the Artist himself, or to a cause (like ‘saving the planet’), or to a consumer product (like Coca-Cola).  Whatever music and the arts point to will be ‘exalted’.  Another way of saying it is: whatever the ‘arrow’ is pointing to is lifted up and amplified, even worshiped.

There are many examples throughout history of how music has been used to ‘exalt’ that which it points towards.  Take for example the biblical story in the Book of Daniel. 

“Nebuchadnezzer the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  (Dan. 3:1)  Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up.  But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.”  Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.” (Dan. 3:4-7)

Throughout the ages, all cultures and religions have used music in some form or fashion to convey their worship.  The Bible is replete with the subject of musical expressions of worship in Judaism and Christianity.  As the God of the Bible is a creative God, Who made man in His image, it stands to reason that He put within man the ability to create in like manner.  Part of the response from those who worship God is, of necessity, a creative one.

Music and art that are brought to God in worship exist for a higher purpose than the pleasure of man.  This kind of activity seeks to ‘point the arrow’ towards the Creator of all things, amplifying Who He is, inspired and empowered by His worth.

There is actually a third, and even loftier functioning of music and the arts in which few people are ever involved, and that is the expression of the prophetic. 

This is where the purpose of the creativity is not for man’s pleasure, and not even to exalt God, but rather, it is when God Himself speaks through what is created.  This phenomenon is not initiated by man himself.  To do so would be ‘false-prophesy’.  That doesn’t mean that man is a ‘puppet’, however.  Man cooperates, in this instance, with God-breathed inspiration in the creative process.  Man, by supernatural inspiration, brings form to what is being spiritually conveyed by God Himself.

The message that results may or may not bring pleasure to those who hear it.  It may even run diametrically opposed to the culture’s desires.  But one thing is sure: it will always cut deeper into the audience’s conscience than anything produced for performance or worship.  It is a message that demands a response of action by those who hear it.  It can elicit dramatic cultural change and has the power to move history substantially down a new and different pathway.

Elements of prophetic music and art can be intertwined with performance and worship, but when those moments happen, it is in stark contrast to elements that are not prophetically motivated.  The artist is definitively aware of when ‘God steps into the picture’.  All who have tasted of this creative inspiration are forever marked.  Nothing less will ever suffice.

 

 



Put Your Hand In My Hand

Here's a song I wrote a few years ago that my good friend Trevin Woods gave a beautiful piano rendition of.  We were just finishing up our weekly praise and worship team rehearsal, and I pulled out this song, turned on the recording computer and sang around the piano with friends.  It was a special moment for all of us!

"Put Your Hand In My Hand" is not a worship song, but rather a song in which God is talking to us.  I might call it a 'prophetic song'.  The song's message is God Himself encouraging us to put all our trust in Him.  (Prov. 3:5-6)

Hope you enjoy!

Purchase MP3 or Lead Sheet

What About Fame?

As a Christian musician and artist, what is the right attitude we should have regarding the subject of fame?

Whether we admit it or not, every artist wants to know that their art matters.  We all want to know that we are making (and have made) a difference in the lives of those to whom we have given our gift.

Possibly one of the greatest pressures in the life of an artist is the process of going through the desert of anonymity.  As we continue to develop our craft, preparing for its unveiling to the masses, or even when we have been serving over a number of years without much recognition, the nagging question in the back of our consciousness is “Have I really made a difference, and does anyone really care?”

When a shred of recognition comes along, it’s like an opiate, quenching the thirst for this desperate need.

The danger this poses, however, is sinister.  Once public attention begins to soothe the nagging need for recognition, if the artist isn’t grounded in something greater, he will allow his life (and art) to be driven along by the continued need for this hunger to be quenched by his audience.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the very audience that gives promotion will invariably be the one that crucifies him, because no human being (even the most gifted) has the ability within himself to continually gratify an audience. 

“Sheol (the nether world) and Abaddon (the place of destruction) are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” (Prov. 27:20)

People simply cannot be satisfied with an artist’s gifting perpetually.  Instead, something happens in people’s hearts once they have lifted up a ‘hero’ in ‘hero-worship’.  Initially, they want to get as close as possible to the person.  Then, once they get close enough, they begin to see their flaws.  Once the flaws are seen, the illusion of the ‘hero’ is destroyed and they realize that they have just elevated a lie.  They simultaneously begin to reject their first ‘hero’ while searching for a replacement, and the process starts all over again.  Society continues to search for the ‘messiah’ artist, elevating him to ‘deity’, ultimately ‘crucifying’ him, only to search for the next artist.  (Those who have lived long enough to see this heinous cycle know exactly what I’m talking about!)  

The only problem with this ‘crucifixion’ metaphor is that most artists who have lived through this cycle never see a ‘resurrection’.  They simply live an empty shell of a life trying to figure out what went wrong, endlessly pursuing a way to ‘get back’ what they think they once had.

Hopefully, when they ‘wake up’ to the futility of the above scenario, understanding the frailty of the human condition and the pitfalls of ‘fame’, they then begin a journey of true selfless artistic productivity.

Only when an artist begins to bring forth that which God has placed inside of him, regardless of human acceptance, does he step into the true ‘prophetic’ role of an artist.

Look at the prophets of the Old Testament.  They were all artists.  Many were poets, musicians, actors, bringing forth the Word of God to their community.  They were thrown down wells, stuck in mud and left to die.  They were both ridiculed, while at the same time secretly respected by kings.  They were slapped in the face, publicly humiliated and even murdered.  But their art ‘split’ history wide open.  Their voice is still heard, echoing through the ages.

Look at the life of Jesus, the Son of God.  If anyone had the right motivation and understanding of fame, it would be the creator of all things: God Himself, right?  After all, he wanted everyone to hear the message of truth and Good News.  Did Jesus have a global ministry?  No.  Did He go after every available opportunity to promote Himself?  No.

Here are some examples:

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 15:24) 

“Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was at hand.  His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here, and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may behold Your works which You are doing.  For no one does anything in secret, when he himself seeks to be known publicly.  If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.”  For not even His brothers were believing in Him.  Jesus therefore said to them, “My time is not yet at hand, but your time is always opportune.  The world cannot hate you; but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.  Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” (Jn. 7:2-8)

“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore.  Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “Do you want to go away also?” (Jn. 6:66-67)

“Do you now believe?  Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (Jn. 16:31-32)

He was just as confident with the multitudes following Him (between 5-10,000 people at a time), as He was being by Himself, left alone.  The number of people and what they thought about Him didn’t seem to matter to Him.  What did matter was fulfilling His God-given destiny.  He knew the timing, the circles of influence and the right communication skills to reach those specific circles.  To His disciples, He communicated one way, yet to the multitudes, He presented His message another way.  (for more on this, see: Current and Future Worship Trends: My Vision, the Community)

“And He was saying to them (His disciples), “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that while seeing, they may not see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may not understand lest they return and be forgiven.” (Mk. 4:11-12)

He didn’t travel to the farthest reaches of the known world at that time, but simply stayed around the regions of Judea.  He didn’t ‘modify’ His message to try to gain a greater audience, but rather to ‘prick their consciences’ to move them closer to a certain goal.

When He was ultimately crucified by those who were jealous of His ‘fame’, nobody was with Him except His mother and the youngest, most insignificant of His disciples.  Everyone else ran away, afraid for their lives.  This was the end of the life of The Greatest Artist, the One Who compromised His art none at all.

But the story doesn’t end there.

The resurrection!

God Himself took the sacrifice, the pure sacrifice, and raised it up out of death.  He exalted it even above death.  Every death in Christ, every sacrifice in faith must have a resurrection.

God raised Him from the dead.  “Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” (Rom. 6:9)

The artist who uncompromisingly follows in these steps will also have a resurrection.  Take the life of Bach, for example.  He died in obscurity, having given his art into the hands of God.  Within a century later, Felix Mendelssohn put on a concert of his works and Bach was ‘reborn’ to influence music for generations to come.  Study the life of Bach: what motivated him?  It was his love of God, and his passion to follow his life’s destiny and purpose.  He knew his audience (who often didn’t accept or understand what he was about), but he gave his best in faith and God gave his work resurrection beyond fame, to the highest level of cultural influence.

The choice is clear: 1) live to please men’s whims and desires, which ultimately ends up empty, or 2) live to please God, which may be painful for a short time, but ultimately ends in resurrected power.

“The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25)

What are you after: the quick and easy way, or the way of everlasting greatness?

The choice is yours: short-lived fame or eternal prophetic power.



What Do Frequency and Spirit Have in Common?

What do frequency and spirit have to do with one another?

According to the most recent scientific studies of universal structure (i.e. quantum mechanics and string theory) everything that exists is vibrating energy.  Light, sound, even material objects have come to be known as various forms of frequency.

God is Spirit. (Jn. 4:24)  He spoke the worlds into existence. (Gen. 1:1; Jn. 1:1-3)  In other words, Spirit brought forth what was created.  According to Scripture, human beings are also spirit. (I Thess. 5:23)  The Bible instructs us to worship God on a spiritual level.  “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn. 4:24)

The Spirit, however, is unseen.  Jesus taught that it is like the wind.  (Jn. 3:8)  You can feel it and hear it, but you can’t see it.  You know it’s there, you can see the effects of it, but where did it come from and where is it going? 

It’s a lot like radio and television frequencies all around us that we don’t think about until we turn on the device that is receiving the signal.  These frequencies are invisible to us (in our natural awareness) but they are undoubtedly, and verifiably, present nonetheless.

The Bible is full of stories of people who had an encounter with beings that instantly appeared, bringing a message to them from God.  These beings, known as angels, apparently had the ability to make themselves visible in the physical realm, although they were present all the time.  Many Biblical passages talk about angels being present, yet not seen.  (Matt. 26:53; Ps. 91:11-12)  Angels are also referred to as ‘spirits’.

Dogs can hear frequencies much higher than humans, and though the frequencies are unrecognizable to the human, they are yet present.  Some animals can see colors that humans cannot.  Just because we cannot see, hear, or perceive a certain frequency doesn’t mean that it’s not there.

Similarly, just because we cannot see the frequencies of spirit beings doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.  People who live only by what they can see, hear, taste or touch (realists they call themselves) are missing out on a part of human life that is most exciting: the life of faith.

Faith is unseen, but the Bible calls it a substance. (Heb. 11:1)  Medical science has proven that certain chemicals are released into our bodies upon the choices of our thoughts and feelings.

Can thoughts be ‘seen’?  What about love, hope, vision…etc.?  These are all evidences that there is more than just a physical realm.  The life lived with an ‘eye’ for the spiritual is much more rewarding than one lived any other way.  Everything in the natural emanates from the unseen spiritual world.  That’s how it has been from the beginning.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth.” (Col. 3:1-2)

Perhaps frequency and spirit are subjects much more closely related than what we have considered.  Scientists, in their continuation to probe the natural realm, have now begun to touch upon things that require a measure of believing the ‘unseen’.

Even spiritual principles from the Bible parallel frequency studies.  Take for example the principle of agreement: “Two are better than one…and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:9-12)  “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” (Matt. 18:19-20)  Agreement is the place of power.

In acoustics, when two manifestations of the same frequency, in phase with one another, come together, they double their amplitude.  In other words, when two sounds are ‘in agreement’ they create an exponential power.

Conversely, there is the principle of division: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)  “Can a throne of destruction be allied with Thee, one which devises mischief by decree?” (Ps. 94:20)  “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mk. 3:25)  Disagreement and division is the place of destruction.

In acoustics, again, when two similar frequencies come together, yet are out of phase with each other, they will cancel each other out.  This scientific knowledge has been used in military applications, such as the Stealth Bomber.  Sound system engineers are very careful to make sure all of the electrical signals to the speakers are ‘in phase’ so that ‘phase cancellation’ doesn’t happen in their system.

There are plentiful examples of spiritual and natural correlations to Spirit and Frequency.

A number of miracles that are recorded in the Bible may have something to do with this relationship.  How did Jesus walk on water, through walls, and pass through the midst of a mob that was proceeding to throw Him off a cliff?  How did Jesus, “with a loud voice” raise a man that had been dead for four days?  I am convinced that the manifestation of an unusual use of frequency had something to do these supernatural occurrences. 

Music and worship are manifestations of a use of Frequency that affects people internally.  All of us have experienced the sensation of exhilaration or being deeply moved by music.  The Bible even instructs people of faith to use music in their worship of God: “…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:18-19)

Perhaps, in the beginning, God Himself even ‘sang’ the creation into existence. 

In any event, the whole physical universe is still vibrating from His creative voice.



Did You Know That There's a Symphony in the Bible?

It’s not the New York Philharmonic, but it is filled with beauty and wonder.

It’s the unity of Christian believers in worship.

The Greek word sumphoneo, where we get our modern English word Symphony is used to describe being in agreement, in unison, in one accord, to speak together, to concur with one another.

Jesus said, “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” (Matt.18:19-20)

Evidently, agreement creates power: the power of answered prayer, the power of the Presence of God.

The Greek word sumphonia, which is directly related to sumphoneo, means “to sound together, accordant, harmonious, Symphony, concert of instruments, music.”  Its synonyms are humnos (a hymn, a religious metrical composition), psallo (to make melody by the twitching and twanging of strings, to sing), and ode (a chant).

There are two Scriptures which use these exact words in sequence, written by the Apostle Paul, as he was encouraging the Church to participate in these activities when they came together.

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Eph. 5:18-21) 

And here’s the second one:

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 5:16)

Coming together with music is not only a spiritual command, but an opportunity to participate in something profound.  When we do this, we apparently tap into an extra dimension, something not at all ordinary, something unusual and powerful.

According to the Scriptures, we are encouraged to do this through the activity of singing and making music through composed and spontaneous songs and the use musical instruments.

“Yet You are holy, O Thou who art enthroned upon (literally, inhabit) the praises of Israel.” (Ps. 22:3)

God inhabits the praises of His people.

When you put Matthew 18:20 together with Psalm 22:3 you begin to see a pattern.  When God’s people come together in united praise, He says, “There I am in their midst.”  He “inhabits and is enthroned upon” their praises.

As this happens, there is not just earthly human power available.  According to Scripture, there is super-natural (or above natural) power which is present to heal, set free, deliver, fix what is broken, release what is bound, and set straight what is crooked.  Everything you know in your imagination that God can do, in this atmosphere He is present to do it.

It all happens when His people come together in united worship.  He is right there, ready to touch anyone who has faith to draw upon the power of His presence.

The woman with the issue of blood, who touched Jesus’ garment and was instantly healed, was surrounded by a multitude of people who experienced no miracle at all for themselves.  She was the only one who reached out in faith to touch Jesus.  He was physically being touched by people all around Him, but only one touched Him by faith. (Lk. 8:43-48)

When we are in the presence of God through united worship, we need to draw upon His available power to touch our lives, to do the things that natural man can never accomplish, inviting the power of a loving God to give us breakthrough.

It can and will happen in the Symphony of God, His manifested presence through corporate worship, the united gathering of those who draw near to Him by faith.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (Js. 4:8)

It’s a Symphony more powerful than anything this world can create, one that uses song, voices and instruments, but it’s a Symphony that goes much deeper than music, one that taps into the spiritual realm and touches the regenerative power that only God Himself can give.

Will you come to the concert?  The tickets are free.



Who Was the First Musician?

(We don’t know, for certain, that this was the very first musician to have ever lived, but he is the first person mentioned in the Bible who was highly influential in music.)

“And Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.  And his brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” (Gen. 4:20)

Jubal was the father of all the musicians in that day and age.

Jubal’s name is very interesting.  It means: “a stream, or watercourse, to carry.”  It fascinates me that the name of the father of the musicians had a name like this.   A name in the ancient Biblical world had meaning and carried a sense of the destiny of its recipient.

When I think of a river, I think of several things: 1) Nourishment, 2) Refreshment, 3) Flowing, and 4) Cleansing.

Those who either listen to or participate in music, to any degree, would attest to the fact that good music brings nourishment to our souls.  It refreshes us.  

As a musician, I am particularly interested in the flowing nature of the melodic lines and the general direction or flow of the composition.  As a worshiper, I am endeavoring to always be aware of where the flow of the service is going, what direction it’s taking.  The ability to ‘flow’ in music and worship may ultimately be the most important thing for the musician to learn.

The current of the river carries you.  You don’t manufacture it.  You can’t change its flow; it would futile to try.  You simply relax and allow yourself to be carried from one destination to another by the river’s pervasive power.

Sometimes the river is ‘wild’, impassioned and driving, while at other times it is peaceful, tranquil, and serene.  One who is traveling its path cannot dictate when or where these things might happen, he must simply ‘go with the flow’.

In creativity, whether spontaneous improvisation or meditative pre-planned composition and arranging, there is a flow that is already there, just waiting to be ‘tapped into’.  It is when we step into this River that we have the most rewarding times of bringing forth the new.  That which will be created flows out of that which already is.

Fourthly, a river brings cleansing.  We should be listening to and participating in the refreshing waters of music and worship, rather than the murky waters of stagnate pools.  If a music or worship experience leaves you feeling empty or dry, it’s probably because the River was not in it.  However, when you participate in the flow of the River, you always come out knowing it.  You feel refreshed, nourished and clean.

We should always endeavor to tap into the source of this flow, the flow that is already happening…a flow which cannot be controlled or manipulated.  (Oh, we can navigate, but we cannot ultimately control its onward momentum.)  We must simply ‘connect’ to it and participate, not fighting against the current, but relaxing in it, as we are carried to our next destination.

Perhaps Jubal is not only the father of ancient Biblical musicians, but also of all those who enjoy participating in the same River from which he himself flowed.

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 10)

The tenth and final lesson that J.S. Bach taught me was to be devoted to God. 

He not only had the conviction that his music should be used in the service of the Church, but also deeply held the belief that (in his own words), “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.”  He was not only employed by the community of the local church, but believed that anything and everything he would do in his life as a musician would be done to glorify God. 

Before he would create, he would write on the music “In Jesus’ Name” or “Jesus help me”.  Then, once he had finished a piece, he would write “To God be the glory”.  I don’t believe he was trying to be seen as a religious fanatic in doing this, but that he really meant these statements.  It had nothing to do with trying to impress the church leaders or his congregation with how ‘spiritual’ he was.  This was part of his personal devotional life.  His life of creativity was intertwined with his worship, his dialogue with the Creator of all things.

In his own Bible, on the pages of 2 Chronicles 5:13, he wrote a comment to himself, “Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence.”  He knew the Presence of God in his own life, whether in the service of the local church or privately.  He had a relationship with God that went deeper than his occupation as a Music Minister or as a member of a church.

As I’ve shown in previous blogs, his interaction with the people of his community and congregation (who also considered themselves to be Christians) was at times tenuous, fraught with misunderstandings and disappointments.  If he had relied upon this situation to bring him spiritual and emotional strength, apart from his own personal devotional life, he most likely would have had reason to give up.  His conviction to serve God, whether or not his community ever accepted him, gave him reason to serve that community.  His strength to serve was not derived from that community, but from God Himself.  

His involvement with the spiritual went beyond that of natural human organization.  He lived and served in the local church community, but he spiritually lived to serve something beyond that, something more eternal.  “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.  And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:13-16)

Here, on this earth, as wonderful as the community of the local church can be, we are yet human, with human hang-ups and differing viewpoints.  There is no perfect church, and no perfect music minister.  In the end, the only glue that holds the Church together is forgiveness. 

For those who are seeking a place that is above the natural failings of humanity (even in the Church), there can be a place of satisfaction, but it exists in a different place than the natural realm, it’s the place of the spirit.  Bach lived in this place.  He dialogued in this place, and derived strength from a divine relationship he had there with God Himself.

I have no doubt that he could have done well as a musician in any other occupational choice than that of a music minister, and that he could have given the world great music by the inspiration of God in a secular venue.  But he chose to identify himself with the One he served and had relationship with, by serving the local church community.  He was not ashamed to be identified with Jesus.  “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mk. 8:38)

Bach chose to be identified with the Gospel of Christ and to serve the Church community from the power of his own personal spiritual interaction with God.  It was a life-commitment that had far-reaching ramifications throughout history.  Not knowing about the massive impact he would wield on human artistic and spiritual history, unknown to most of his contemporary world, he dictated a final work from his bed: the chorale, “Before Thy Throne I Come”.

Application:  Never serve out of duty or obligation, trying to impress through good deeds a community that can never satisfy your deepest yearnings for success, appreciation and fame.  The only way true life-satisfaction and lasting creativity can be achieved is through a dynamic relationship with your Creator, found (as Bach did) through the grace of Jesus Christ.

 

 

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 8)

The eighth lesson J.S. Bach taught me is to give who you are to your family.

Bach had a very large family, and he included all of them in his musical vision.  Out of his family came two historically distinguished composers in their own right: Carl Phillipp Emanuel (C.P.E.) Bach and Johann Christian (J.C.) Bach.

As I wrote in the previous blog, father Bach may have taught and trained his family members musical skills simply out of necessity, so that he could keep pace with the needs of his ministry.  Copying music, rehearsing sections, etc. may have been done by his family members, much like a farmer and his family would work together as a team to keep things running.

Although this is probably part of the benefit that he gained by spending time with his family, as he gave them the musical skills he had acquired, I believe J.S. Bach's motivation was deeper than that. 

It's obvious that he had a passion for what he did, and this passion spilled over to every part of his life.  His passion and dream was to bring an offering to God of highly crafted music, the best that he could give.  This life-quest couldn't help but be influential to everyone he was around, especially his children.

When at the end of the day, instead of watching 5 hours of television, or playing video games, Bach would gather his family around the piano and sing together, each child contributing a musical part, perhaps playing an instrument, or taking turns on the piano.  This was their established routine, but it was also their recreation, their fun.

The test of greatness for any teacher is to take something that is complex and difficult and make it fun for the student.  I believe, even though his children showed him respect, that father Bach did his part to make this a fun time for them.   He couldn't separate his love for his family from his life's passion, nor did he have to.  He simply gave them who he was, in a fatherly way, and that was enough.

What were the other families doing?  Were they out playing games together?  Or maybe they weren't doing anything at all.  Maybe other families didn't have the rich times of enjoyment that the Bach family had.  Maybe the Bach family was the envy of the town, being able to come together and sing and worship together.  Undoubtedly, the material Bach must have used for these times was filled with spiritual lessons, through the lyrics.

Bach was never ashamed of who he was as a father, a Christian, a musician of the highest standards, and his heart was to give to his family who he was.  His interaction with his children was interwoven with his dream, and they picked up on it.  He was a man of truth, and for him to be one way 'at the office' and another way 'at home' wouldn't have worked for him.  He didn't compartmentalize his life.  Rather, he lived a vision and a dream big enough (like a big stretched-out tent) to include all of those he loved.

The test of a man's greatness is not how much money he has made or how famous he has become, but rather it's the favor and respect he has from those who are closest to him, his own family.  Respect cannot be demanded, but rather it must be earned through years of consistent love and sacrifice. 

Someone once said that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".  His family both respected him and imitated him.  It was his greatest legacy.

Application: Don't worry about what you think you lack as a parent, just give who you are (who God has made you to be).  Give them your dream, a dream big enough for all of them to enter.  It's their greatest inheritance.

Current and Future Worship Trends- The Technique

In order for the future to be successfully navigated, contemporary Christian musicians need a certain set of tools in their tool-belt in order to achieve the maximum success.

These tools can be studied, learned and applied.  To see what makes great music 'tick' in worship, come see my article: My Vision- The Technique.

Opposing Paradigms Reconciled

Have you ever wondered what it would like to reconcile ideas that most people in society are content to 'leave well enough alone'?  I believe there are new areas of success in music and worship if these following concepts can be successfully integrated:

1) The artistic integrity and technique of the Great Masters versus the Contemporary relevant styles of current culture 

2) The Sacred ‘guardedness’ of style and procrastination of historic advances, versus Secular careless experimentation

3) The sense of community experienced on past ‘stages’, versus the technological advances of our day.

To see how this might be possible, come see my article: Current and Future Worship Trends- My Vision

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 2)

The second lesson that J.S. Bach so wonderfully displays is that of passion.

He had a passion that drove him to create a vast amount of music, more than most composers would be able to create in two or three lifetimes.  So what drove him in this quantity and quality of output?  Was it fame?  Was it the hope of fortune?

No one knew of Bach like we know him today, until he was rediscovered many years later after his death.  He obviously was not motivated by fame.  His employers apparently had little understanding of the greatness of his work, criticizing him as having been unproductive, when in fact he had produced in a period of seven years what most composers would have been glad to produce in a lifetime.

His income was barely sufficient to meet the needs of his family.

His musical resources were comparatively limited to other musicians living in that same time-period.  When he asked for a few more hired musicians, he was scoffed at and ridiculed. 

By comparison, most of us music ministers today have it easy!

So what motivated him?  How did he keep going in the midst of the lack of appreciation and misunderstanding?

It was his vision and his faith.  He had a vision to bring to God in worship music of superior quality.  He wasn't content to give God second best in his creativity, and he wasn't content to just let church be average.  Along with this, his personal integrity and expectation of himself was commensurate with the godly Christian values of a work-ethic not based on pleasing man, but on pleasing God.  To him it didn't matter if man revered him or disdained him, because it wasn't man he was ultimately working for. 

As prayer and worship are integral to the Christian faith, so was the act of composing for Bach.  When he wrote, he wasn't just making something to get by for the next event, rather, it was prayer and worship for him.  When he wrote, he was touching his very relationship with God.  His creativity was prayer and worship, and he participated in it on a daily basis. 

Many scholars of his work are amazed by the complexity of pattern and design.  I believe the supernatural touch of God through this interaction of prayer and worship is key to the genius that is evident in his music.

In conclusion, the second lesson that I have for you is this: Don't be swayed by the opinions of man, but rather stay true to your inner convictions which, through a relationship with God, will give you passion and unshakeable vision for the future.