We Win

(recorded by the Odessa Christian Faith Center music ministry)

“And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” (Col. 2:13-15) 

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:37-39) 

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith.” (I John 5:4) 

It is evident that Christ has won the victory for us, both now and to eternity, in which we can confidently say, “We Win!”

 

We Win (©2011 Lowell Hohstadt)

In the darkness You shine Your light through

In the battle Your ev'ry word comes true

In the chaos You shine Your glorious light

With You on our side, we win the fight!

 

All the victory here

comes from victory there

All the promises here

You brought us the victory hanging on Calvary!

 

Takin' a walk of faith ev'ry day now,

Talkin' talk of grace, as I look in Your face

Set my eyes on things above this world

With You on our side, we win

 

We win, we win,

We win, we win,

We win,

We win the fight!

 

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

(purchase entire string hymns album)

The hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, written by Martin Luther, has had wide-spread influence throughout Christendom, having been used by many well-respected musicians throughout history, starting with J.S. Bach in his chorale cantata “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (BWV 80). 

Other well-known composers include Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel, Felix Mendelssohn, Claude Debussy, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and more recently jazz pianist Bob James.

The message of God’s protection is as ancient as the Scriptural texts from which it is inspired.  Having faith in His capacity to protect and defend us against all forces that would attempt to bring harm to our lives is foundational to the Christian faith.  This protection even defies death itself: “That through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:14-15)  “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:54-55)

This conviction is not only relevant for eternity, but also for our daily existence, as the following two passages reveal a truth beneficial to our personal relationships.

“The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe (set on high)” (Prov. 18:10)

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

The words “safe” and “exalted” in the Hebrew are the same word: sagab, which means to be inaccessibly high, having the connotation of security, a place of safety to the one fleeing or to the one at rest in a fortified height which would be inaccessible to beast and enemy alike.

How many people curry the favor of various communities and leaders, only to be let down in one way or another.  “Many seek the ruler’s favor, but justice for man comes from the Lord.” (Prov. 29:30)

Eventually, man’s ideas, communities, governments, authorities and protection all fail.  But there is an absolute foundation of strength and power to those who unite to Him by faith.  “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we may confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.  What shall man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6)

Throughout the ages, thousands will attest that He is faithful to all who put their trust in Him.  “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom. 10:11)

 

 

 

 

The Songs of Christmas in America

 

Christmas, by its very definition, is a special day about Christ.  With all the history that surrounds celebrating Christmas (some secular, some sacred) it’s interesting to see the progression in America over the past few decades in how we view the holiday. 

Nothing shows the common mindset of the nation better than the songs popular with each generation, the songs of Christmas. 

Although “Silent Night” was written in 1818 by Franz Gruber, in 1935 it became a hit single with Bing Crosby’s recording.  In 1941 Katherine K. Davis wrote “The Little Drummer Boy”, which ended up becoming a hit single in 1958.  In 1963, Bing Crosby again topped the charts with “Do You Hear What I Hear?” 

These are examples of songs with a clear Christian message (albeit, with some creative license), honoring the Christian ethic and ultimately Christ Himself.  That generation of listeners embraced these songs (and others like them) as meaningful representations of their own convictions, evidenced by their popularity. 

However, it seems that the general American audience has strayed from the earlier sentiment of a Christ-centered holiday to songs revolving around Santa Claus (“Oh, Santa” Mariah Carey, 2010), elfs (“Elf’s Lament” Michael Buble), Christmas-trees (“Christmas Tree” Lady Gaga, 2009), mistletoe (“Mistletoe” Justin Bieber, 2011), and even wizards (“Wizards of Winter”, 2004 Trans-Siberian Orchestra).  Ranging from secular to crass, songs like “The Greatest Time of Year” (2006, Aly & AJ), or “Mistress for Christmas” (1990 AC/DC) seem to suggest a greater commercialization and decadence in our culture than in past generations. 

I’m not criticizing the artistry, relevance, or general fun that these songs may elicit.  All of them obviously hit a share of the market that put them on top.  But as one man said, “You can tell a lot about a person by observing what they do for entertainment and leisure.”  What does America’s entertainment say about our society? 

While there are examples of secularism in songs from earlier generations, as well as a few sacred examples that have arisen in our contemporary culture, the overall direction of what has been hailed as ‘popular’ through the past decades of American listeners seems to indicate a departure from the centrality of Christ in Christmas.

Let’s remember the true reason for Christmas, not only in our songs, but in our attitudes and convictions, celebrating Christ instead of the myriads of other detractions (i.e. materialism, hedonism, secularism and even mysticism). 

After all Christ is central to the holiday’s name.  Let’s make Him central in our lives, as well.   

The Solid Rock

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "The Solid Rock".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

With so many voices competing for our attention, so many good ideas and seemingly stable aspects to our culture or community upon which we can lean, there is only one truth that will withstand the test of time, and that is the solid foundation of faith in Christ Jesus. 

It surprises many when they see something they hold dear, something familiar just vanish from existence.  Maybe a familiar building that is destroyed to make room for something new, maybe a cultural style that has ceased to be mainstream, or maybe a close family member or friend who has passed away, all of these things can have an unsettling effect upon our lives.  As someone said, “The only thing constant is change.”

Even though everything in this world is perpetually changing, there is something higher than this world, something above the natural realm (i.e. super-natural).  These things, however, are spiritually perceived.  Though they are invisible to the natural eye, they are more real and more substantial than the things we can physically observe.

“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

“Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

Even though everything around us is changing (seemingly impossible to keep up with) it is the spiritual realm that contains something solid as a rock.

When Jesus asked His disciples who people said that He was, Peter answered,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter (lit. Petros, a stone), and upon this rock (lit. Petra, large rock, bed-rock) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (Matt. 16:17,18)

As Peter acknowledged Jesus as being the Christ, the Messiah, he was seeing the ‘unseen realm’, he was able to perceive beyond the natural.  Upon the bed-rock revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the true church is being built.  It is an unchangeable foundation.  Even though history and cultures change, Jesus remains the priest,

“according to the likeness of Melchizedek (king of peace and righteousness), who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.”  (Heb. 7:16)

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:19,20)

He is the Solid Rock, an unchanging foundation in the midst of an ever-changing world.

 

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Refrain:
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Edward Mote

'Tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "Tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

A simple hymn of trust, “Tis So Sweet” challenges the believer to simply relax and release control of our cares, worries and all of life’s difficulties, placing them all into the hands of our loving Creator. 

It seems too good to be true, this message of God’s love, forgiveness and grace.  It’s so easily mocked because of its simplicity.  Many wonder, “Could there really be a way of escape from all the uncertainties of this life?”  Yes!  It’s in the simplicity of trust and faith in Christ.

“Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen.”  (Heb. 11:1) 

God placed in each person the ability to perceive His goodness and to see that which is spiritual.  Some people call it “women’s intuition” or they say, “I just knew in my heart…” 

Modern science has proven multiple dimensions in the known universe.  Is it really that hard to believe that there are things happening the realm of the unseen?  After all, how many radio, television and cell phone waves are all around us, carrying messages, yet are imperceptible to the human eye?

The spiritual realm does exist, and God’s love, care and guidance are ever-present.  It’s really not that hard…take a deep breath, lean back in your chair and say, “I trust You, Lord.”

 

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

Oh, how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

 

Louisa M. R. Stead

 

Just As I Am

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "Just As I Am".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

Many churches today have stopped doing altar calls, hoping not to offend anyone.  This is a departure, however, from the past century of American churches whose congregants became familiar with the hymn “Just As I Am” as it was either sung or played during an invitation for salvation.

In 1934 famed evangelist Billy Graham came forward to become a Christian while this song was being played, and subsequently used it in his own widely renowned crusades. 

I remember my own decision to step forward publicly, as I got up out of my seat to stand before a congregation.  It was both a bold moment and an awkward one.  I knew all too well my own insecurities, weaknesses and failures, yet when presented with the idea that I could approach the Creator of all things in a sort of ‘divine forgiveness/relationship’, it evoked desire, wonder and fear all at the same time. 

As I remember back, I’m glad I decided to get up out of my chair that day, even with all the uncertainty that that moment evoked.  As I continued to grow as a Christian, I remember coming across a passage in the Bible that said, “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32-33) 

Knowing that I was willing, and am still willing, to be identified with Jesus Christ produced a foundation upon which I could continue to build my faith and deepen my spiritual roots.

That one awkward moment grew into a strength that has extended wonderful benefits, not only to my own life, but to those of my family, friends, co-workers in ministry, and many people I may never know.

My hope is that the American Christian will continue to require passage through that narrow gate of awkwardness for the unashamed.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16)

 

Just as I am - without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - though toss'd about

With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - poor, wretched, blind;

Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - Thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - Thy love unknown

Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - of that free love

The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

 

Charlotte Elliot

 


Amazing Grace

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "Amazing Grace".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

What is grace?  The Bible defines it as follows (from the Greek word Charis):

That which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, a benefit, thanks, gratitude, a favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor.

That’s what God has done for us by His love, through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and resurrection, having justified us before God.  As God sees Jesus, He sees us.  The Almighty God, perfect and complete, sees us through “Jesus-colored glasses”, if you will.  The same way He views His Son, in righteousness and completeness, is how he views all mankind.

You may not feel holy and righteous.  You may not always do holy and righteous things, and you may feel completely undeserving of total forgiveness, wholeness and peace.  But it’s God’s gift to you.

Like any gift, we can refuse it or accept it.  For those who choose to simply accept it, saying, “Thank You”, all the benefits pour in.  How could anyone reject such a lovely gift?

Receiving it inspires us with a new idea: we want to give a gift to someone else.  It's the gift of unmerited, undeserved favor, forgiveness and acceptance.  Our desire to do this is the evidence of whether or not we first received it for ourselves.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are My friends, if you do what I command you…This I command you, that you love one another.” (Jn. 15:12-14, 17)

His grace is truly amazing, as it comes to us, but it takes on a whole new dimension when it flows through us to others!

 

Amazing grace!  how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.

 

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

 

Thro’ many dangers toils and snares,

I have already come;

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

Heaven is filled with the praises of God.  All of His created beings acknowledge His beauty and worth.  The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of some of this activity: 

“And the four living creatures, each having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” (Rev. 4:8)

The word Holy (Gr. hàgios) means: set apart, chaste, pure, clean, virtuous, blameless, without blemish. 

Living this human life, it’s hard to imagine anything (or anyone) being completely perfect.  Everyone has some flaw, some vice.  Even the creation itself seems to have imperfections, some quite noticeable, others less noticeable, but still there, nonetheless.

The only place true holiness can exist is somewhere outside our natural experience.  As perfect as man tries to be, he ultimately will fall short of complete holiness this side of heaven. 

The Apostle Paul shows the answer to this dilemma:

“Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!...There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Rom. 7:24,25; 8:1)

God alone is holy, and He has extended His holiness to those who accept His love and forgiveness through Christ Jesus.  We are holy only through His benevolent forgiveness.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Pet. 2:9,10)

Again, in Revelation, there was a book with seven seals that needed to be opened, and the question was asked, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” 

“And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it.  And I (John) began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”  (Rev. 5:2-5)

Jesus, the spotless, pure Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of all humanity, is holy, and He has graciously extended His holiness to those who trust in Him.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Merciful and Mighty!

God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  All the saints adore Thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,

Which wert and art, and evermore shalt be.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Tho’ the darkness hide Thee,

Tho’ the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see,

Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee

Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty!

All Thy works shall praise Thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea;

Holy, Holy, Holy!

Merciful and Mighty!

God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

How Great Thou Art

Here’s a string quartet arrangement I wrote based on the well-known hymn “How Great Thou Art”:

(purchase entire “String Hymns” album)

When we look up to the sky to see the stars, wondering how far the reaches of the universe extend, or when we see the beautiful mountain ranges topped with snow, or the beautiful flowing brooks of water, the trees, the birds, animals species too numerous to count, for those who can see the Creator through all of these things, it’s not difficult to acknowledge how truly magnificent and powerful God is.  But the miracle is not how immensely intelligent He is, or how much force He is capable of wielding.  It is rather that He was willing to meet with us on a level by which he calls us 'friend'.

 

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down His life for his friends.  You are my friends…” (Jn. 15:13,14)

“And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.” (Js. 2:23) 

“And Your gentleness (lit. condescension) makes me great.” (Ps. 18:35)

 

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy pow’r thro’out the universe displayed.

 

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;

How great Thou art! 

How great Thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;

How great Thou art!

How great Thou art!

(Stuart K. Hine)

 

 


Destroying the Malachi Mindset

There is a mind-set that has unfortunately been pervasive regarding Music Ministry for a number of years.  It's similar to Nathanael’s remarks to Phillip when he said he had found the Messiah, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Our culture, together with many musicians and artists have a similar disdain for the capacity of the Church to produce anything worthwhile, stating, “Can anything good come out of the Church?” 

The viewpoint is: if an artist wants true recognition and success, he or she must find it outside the realm of ministry or Church involvement.   Church ministry is not usually a consideration, and is even disdained by those who are serious about fulfilling their career pursuits and dreams. 

To make matters worse, many of those in Church ministry have accepted the premise that maybe they can’t ‘make it’ in the world, so they just settle for a non-competitive ministry position. 

All of this stems from the general conclusion that local church (or the Church at large) is irrelevant to current culture, even unnecessary.  It certainly is not viewed as a place where high artistic achievement can exist. 

There was a time in Israel’s history that people had a similar mind-set.  The people through whom God chose to carry His Name had come to a place of ambivalence and even neglect of His temple.  It was as if they had grown cold to their calling, nonchalant to the richness of their heritage.  The prophet Malachi wrote to the people of Israel: 

“ ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  Then if I am a father, where is My honor?  And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name.  But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’  You are presenting defiled food upon My altar.  But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’  In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’  But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil?  And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?  Why not offer it to your governor?  Would he be pleased with you?  Or would he receive you kindly?”  says the Lord of hosts.  “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us?  With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts…You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’  And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering!  Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord.” (Mal. 1:6-9,13) 

The priests had grown weary in the administration of temple service, and the people were not bringing their best anymore.  They were giving God their ‘leftovers’.  The temple (which represented God’s presence in their midst) was being shunned for other ‘more important things’ in their lives. 

Today’s artistic community has become a place in which fame, finance and dissipation has supplanted discipline, sacrifice and a desire for integrity (even at the expense of obscurity).

The local church, to today’s artist, has come to represent the death of an otherwise successful career.  The path is an exact reversal of what today’s artist hopes to achieve. 

Our community, much like the Israelite’s in Malachi’s day, has willingly walked away from God’s presence, while still wanting to receive His blessing.

Even many of our priests (those called into the service of the local church) have longingly looked away from the altar of sacrifice, to the approval of pop culture and compromised integrity. 

What does integrity as a dedicated artist look like in today’s world?  What does pure dedication, holiness and honor look like for someone who is ‘sold out’ to God, having a passion for worshiping His Name and exclaiming His excellencies with whole-hearted commitment?  Is it even possible that the phrases: ‘dedicated Christian minister’ and ‘artistic excellence’ can be uttered in the same breath? 

King David, who established a pattern of whole-hearted worship in his reign in Israel, had become a distant memory to the Israelites in Malachi’s day.  His passion would have been distasteful to them.  Had David lived in their time, he may have even been persecuted or killed for his ‘extreme’ views.  (Interestingly, today’s media culture demonizes anyone who is ‘passionate’ in their religious convictions, calling them ‘radicals’ and ‘extremists’.)  

Here is just one of many accounts in David’s life revealing his whole-hearted passion for God’s presence: 

When the Ark of the Covenant had come to Araunah the Jebusite, David wanted to offer a burnt offering.  Araunah offered to give David everything necessary to do so, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight.  Look, the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood.  Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”  But David’s response, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:22-24) 

David wanted to give God his very best.  Nothing less would be congruent with his heart of gratitude, respect and honor for all that God was in his life. 

At a time, historically, when numerous artists are struggling to be heard above the myriads of voices in the world, a time when community for the artist seems to be closing in with greater isolation and fewer opportunities, perhaps the long forgotten venue of the community of the local Church is prime for renewed artistic expression. 

Perhaps the hollowness of today’s secular ‘success’ will give way to a new generation of artists who are ‘sold out’ to a higher purpose of extreme spirituality, commitment, dedication and sacrifice, those who are willing to be motivated by the approval of God rather than the approval of man, willing to release the pursuit of fame for the motivation of pure craftsmanship in His Name rather than their own.

Perhaps the true prophetic role of the artist will return to those whom God can trust, vessels of honor through whom Almighty God will speak, artists who have become instruments in His hand, through whom He changes the course of human culture, yet are incapable of being changed by that culture.

Such artists are fearless among men, highly esteemed in secret places.

 

(for more, see The Three Uses of Music and the Arts)

 

7 Attributes of a Complete Contemporary Musician- Part 7

Attribute #7: In the previous six blogs, we have seen that the complete contemporary musician will have a meaningful purpose for his work (Attribute #1).  He will be open to cultural influences, learning from great artists of the past (Attribute #2), as well as embracing the creativity of other contemporary artists (Attribute #3).  He is able to both improvise and read music (Attribute #4), and is willing to study and participate in new innovation (Attribute #5).  He will have a rich understanding of both composition as well as performance (Attribute #6). 

In this seventh and final blog, we will discuss that the Complete Contemporary Musician is willing to teach and train the next generation of artists.

It is not enough to simply achieve artistic greatness for the sake of one’s own personal goals.  That is certainly more noble-minded than the pursuit of fame and fortune, but there is yet a deeper and more profound meaning to an artist’s existence.  He must be doing more than serving his aspirations for the sake of his own name, or the duration of his work, but rather have an awareness of a larger historical context.

The sincere artist is part of a much bigger picture.  He is part of a community that is influencing the course of human existence in the expansion of noble purposes and eternal consequences.  Upon the accomplishment of his life’s work, a sincere artist will have influenced society on a much more profound level than what can be measurable by Billboard’s top 10 list.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)

An artist’s ultimate goal should not be that of fame, notoriety, wealth and personal gain.  Rather, it is the propagation and continuance of the very inspiration and beauty he has stewarded throughout his life.  The flow of the creativity he has nurtured, and the inspiration with which he has co-labored, must be carefully handed over to the following generation.  Successfully passing the baton insures that this flow will continue to influence succeeding generations.  Some call this an artist’s legacy, but it is really not about the artist at all.  It has more to do with the inspiration being transferred than it does the skills and philosophies of the artist himself.

“And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2)

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior…teaching what is good, that they may encourage the young women…” (Titus 2:3-4)

The Scriptures are full of admonishment to train and educate the younger generations.

“He has also set eternity in their heart…” (Eccl. 3:11)

Whether we like to admit it or not, our journey on this earth is finite.  We can somehow perceive eternity, but this eternal vision should not cloud our thinking when it comes to how precious the commodity of time really is.

The priests who ministered in the temple were given a set number of years that they would serve.  “This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting.  But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more.  They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting.” (Num. 8:24-26)  There is a time in life to shoulder the burden, and then there is a time to step back and help those who are carrying the load. 

Teaching and training is a precious commodity.  “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” (Prov. 25:11)  “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.” (Prov. 27:9)

The willingness to give the wisdom and skillful knowledge gained, combined with the inspiration from which it came, is seed sown, ultimately producing a harvest.  This harvest is not just for the student, but for the teacher, as well.  As we give away what we know, more is given back to us.  This miraculous process of teaching and training deepens the roots of the very things we have shared, giving us even richer insights than what we initially gave away.

Perhaps J.S. Bach did this out of necessity, but the role he lived as teacher to those around him produced exponential benefits in his artistic work.  Even though he didn’t have the modern tools of our day, he was able (through delegation, training and leadership) to produce a huge quantity of music, arguably greater than anything produced in our generation. 

The only way an artist’s 'legacy' can be perpetuated into history, causing exponential influence, is through this process. 

There is a sacrifice, however.  It takes a willingness to look beyond the natural human desires of today’s prestige.  It takes an eye to see another artist’s burgeoning creative pursuits, along with the compassion to give away time and energy you would otherwise have used for your own work.  It takes patience to help the maturing artist see in himself what you have seen in him, and the willingness to push past his natural human failings, knowing that the treasure hidden inside is worth mining.   

The sacrifices, however, are well worth the effort and even though the giver may only see the results through heaven’s eyes, ultimately, there will be a harvest of eternal proportion.   

 

(for more, I encourage you to read “What About Fame?”)



My Political Views

1)      God is bigger than any nation or ruler

a.       “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.  (Prov. 21:1)

b.      “For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations. (Ps. 22:28)

c.       “God reigns over the nations.” (Ps. 47:8)

d.      “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim. 2:1-4)

e.       For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation;  But God is the Judge; He puts down one, and exalts another. (Ps. 75:6-7)

2)      God’s love transcends politics and government

a.       “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.  For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority?  Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. (Rom. 13:1-3)  Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.  Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.  For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:7-10)

b.      “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22)

c.       Where there is little love, there is much law.  Where there is much love, there is little law. (Dr. E.L. Cole)

d.      “My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (Jn. 18:36)

3)      More money will not solve a nation’s problems

a.       “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.  And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.  But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.” (I Tim. 6:7-10)

4)      More governmental control will not solve a nation’s problems

a.       “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself; nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23)

b.      “Many seek the ruler’s favor, but justice for man comes from the Lord.” (Prov. 29:26)

c.       “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.  His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Ps. 146:3-4)

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

e.       “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

5)      Capitalism without morality will ultimately fail

a.       “Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor, but it is swept away by injustice.” (Prov. 13:23)

b.      “O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent?  Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?  He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart…He does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.” (Ps. 15:1-2,5)

6)      Democracy without self-governance will ultimately fail

a.       “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” (George Washington)

b.      “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” (George Washington)

c.       “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.  And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (Js. 3:16-18)

7)      It is impossible to legislate morality

(In other words, people are going to find a way to do what they want to do regardless of what laws exist)

a.       “These matters (of the Jewish law) which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” (Col. 2:23)

b.      “Do we then nullify the Law through faith?  May it never be!  On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Rom. 3:31)

c.       “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit…for the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.”  (Rom. 8:3-4,6-7)

 

Conclusion:

The main problem with governmental rule is that it is intrinsically woven with the human condition, which is subject to failure.  The root cause of people’s unlawful behavior is a lack of peace and inner contentment due to a deep-seated sense of guilt and awareness of imperfection.  The only solution to this dilemma is absolute forgiveness, which can only come from a supernatural God.

The source of all war and civic disturbance is a lack of peace in the individuals of a community, state or nation.  Governmental rule attempts to ‘keep the peace’ through external force: rule of law and militaristic strength.  Those, however, who live in peace with themselves live above the Law, fulfilling the Law’s requirements, and even surpassing those requirements.

"Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God." (I Tim. 1:9-10)

The forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ, when accepted by an individual, causing one to be at peace with himself and all those he comes in contact with, is ultimately the foundation of societal peace, contentment and harmony.

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God; Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” (Is. 9:6-7)

His Kingdom is an everlasting one, not made with human wisdom or ingenuity, not a kingdom of this world.  Fighting political battles, ultimately, will not produce the results of societal peace, harmony and contentment.  These benefits can only be won through the supernatural influence of God’s love and forgiveness in each individual’s life.

The highest possible societal functioning is one without government, where individuals are self-governing.  “Four things are small on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise…the locusts have no king, yet all of them go out in ranks.” (Prov. 30:24,27)  God’s original design for Israel was that they not have a king.  He gave them one only because of their insistence to be like the other nations.  Though it will never happen in our current world, God’s original plan was that individuals be self-governing, living to serve and bless others.  Selfishness, however, invokes the Law.

It is the Christian’s responsibility to: 1) Live by God’s Spirit of love, 2) Submit to and pray for his governing authorities, 3) Extend God’s love and forgiveness to his surrounding world.  In doing these things, he can be involved in the most productive political activity that there is: the expansion of God’s Kingdom, which is evidenced by grace, love and forgiveness.

 

 

Grace and Giving

I Peter 4:10 “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

The word ‘gift’ is the word Charisma (SEC 5486), which is an extension of Charis, or grace.  (The word special, before it, was added by the translators.)

Psalm 110:3 “Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power.”

The word/phrase ‘volunteer freely’ is the word Nadab (SEC 5071), which means: a freewill offering, denoting an uncompelled and free movement of the will unto divine service or sacrifice.  Among other places, it occurs in the building and rebuilding of the Temple (I Chron. 29:5, II Chron. 35:8, Ezra 1:6)  It shows abundant and voluntary giving and sacrifice from God’s people.

Putting these two passages together (I Peter 4:10 and Ps. 110:3), it is evident that Psalm 110 is a prophetic utterance regarding the age of grace, as grace is an exhibition of God’s power: “…in the day of Your power”.  It is referring to the Church age, as God’s Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh. (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17)  In the building of His Church, as the building and rebuilding the Old Testament Temple foreshadowed, His Spirit moves through His children in various manifestations of His power.  His grace is given as a free gift to each person, flowing through each person, to the building up of His Church.

This exhibition of God’s power is seen through the free and uncompelled choice of His people to voluntarily give and serve.

The grace of God is the power of God, which has been released now in the age of the Church.  As God’s people respond to His gift of grace, being motivated by His Spirit, they will give and sacrifice towards the building up of His Kingdom.  The process is simple: God gives (grace, Charis) to people, then people give (Charisma) to others.

Conclusion: When people volunteer their time, money and abilities at church, they are fulfilling and validating the prophetic utterance made in Psalm 110, making it evident that we truly are living in the ‘day of His power’.  Through the responsive giving of His children, God’s grace and power now flows into the earth.

 



Crucifixion Song

As we approach the Easter season, here's a song from a musical I wrote called "Resurrection Power".  I just call it "Crucifixion Song".  It's set to the text of Isaiah 53.

Hope you enjoy!

As a lamb led to slaughter,

as a sheep before its shearers,

He opened not His mouth He was silent

He was despised and forsaken of men,

a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief

Surely our griefs He bore and our sorrows He carried,

but He was pierced through for our transgressions

He was crushed for our iniquities

The judgment for our peace fell upon Him

By His stripes we are healed

By His scourging we are healed

 

By His Blood

By His Blood

His sacrifice brought us freedom

His sacrifice made us whole

 

Bought by the Blood of the Lamb

Bought by the Blood of the Lamb

Purchased with nail-scarred hands by love

 

Washed in the Blood of the Lamb

Washed in the Blood of the Lamb

Bought with the price of love,

by love, by love,

by love, by love,

by love

 

 

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.



7 Attributes of a Complete Contemporary Musician- Part 3

Attribute #3: The Complete Contemporary Musician, along with having a meaningful purpose for his life and art (Attribute #1), and having a solid understanding of those who came before him, with the ability to perform their works (Attribute #2), must also be familiar with the current styles of the day, not only of his own geographical and philosophical region, but of those regions beyond.  He should desire to be relevant to the times in which he lives, yet not at the expense of excellence.

Having a firm grasp of past historically successful artists gives him ‘food for thought’ and creativity, but the modern artist must not be stuck in the past if he intends to successfully connect with a contemporary audience.  Being aware of cultural trends, the likes and interests of his current day should be like a whetstone, sharpening his own artistic edge.  “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)

It is important that the artist have a solid understanding of his artistic direction, being firmly established in his own unique giftedness, while looking about the landscape at the works of others.  Otherwise, he will be tempted to abandon the inner-plan of his heart to chase after someone else’s success.  An artist who has no grounding in his own predetermined pursuits will be invariably “tossed about by every wind of doctrine” he sees coming his way. 

There is a successful balance, or ratio, that must be struck between identity and cultural relevance.  If an artist becomes so aware of all the cultural swirlings of ideas and ideologies that he loses his sense of personal destiny, then he must back-up and regain his equilibrium of who God has created him to be. “For we are His workmanship (lit. work of art), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) (for more on this see, “My Vision- the Community- History”)

While firmly grounded, the artist must not be afraid to step beyond the familiar, to see what others are doing.  The very nature of artistic endeavors is to focus on creativity and innovation; however, if the artist stays in that state of focus and creativity, he may realize that the world has passed him by if he doesn’t look up (and out) from time to time.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we artists are not an island unto ourselves.  We are ultimately not independent at all, but are dynamically involved in the flow of history and community, having relationship within our own lives, those around us, and God himself. 

Not being aware of the surrounding culture would be like trying to drive a car through the city blind-folded.  It doesn’t matter how pretty or powerful your vehicle is, at some point, you’re gonna crash!

The artist should not only be aware of his surrounding culture, but also challenge himself to move beyond his own levels of comfort, into new areas of knowledge and study, not just of past artists (as was discussed in Attribute #2), but of new geographical and philosophical possibilities.  For example, one who is familiar with the latest advances in American techno-pop genres could look into what is currently happening in Bali music or tribal rhythms from Africa.  It’s about having a curiosity of life and a sincere appreciation for the successful creativity of others.

Technological advances are changing at a fever-pace, and this opens another wide door for new possibilities, challenging our very paradigm of how the creative process functions.

Igor Stravinsky is a great example of navigating change.  He went through several stages of artistic development, starting with large orchestral works for the Russian Dance Theater, then developing Neo-Classicism through works of smaller scale.  He went through periods of experimentation with jazz and serialism but somehow he always sounded like ‘Stravinsky’.  His unique giftedness never swayed as he moved through these vastly divergent musical styles.

He could have easily been so enamored with Gershwin, that he ‘copied’ his style, or so impressed by Schoenberg that he mimicked his every stroke, but rather, he stayed true to his own uniqueness at the expense of ‘caving’ to the pressures of what was ‘hot’ at that particular moment in history.  He included the cultural leanings without compromising who he was as an artist.  This is what prioritizing excellence above relevance successfully looks like.  Success as an artist is the ability to give the world uniquely who you are, while using the current cultural language to do it.

Could there be any greater example than Jesus, who identified with His culture on every level, yet brought a revolutionary message that transcended that culture.  He was intrinsically woven within the fabric of the culture’s history, yet He stood out from it, pointing to a new destiny.  This is the goal of the successful artist, to touch culture, yet to transcend culture, to excel in the midst of the mortal weaknesses of that culture’s communication tools.

The complete contemporary musician must be willing to ride the edge of these truths, constantly navigating and negotiating: 1) Who God has made him to be, 2) What he can learn from others, and 3) How he can speak truth to an audience that understands his message. 

This is the sojourn of the one who hungers and thirsts to fulfill his destiny as a successful artist in both relevance and excellence.



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")

 



7 Attributes of a Complete Contemporary Musician- Part 1

To be an artist in today’s fast-paced, highly competitive society is a daunting challenge, to say the least.  The artist/musician must have a tenacity and inner strength that can withstand the criticism of his new ideas, the charisma to reach a new audience and the technique to rise above the average.

When considering ‘success’, an artist must grapple with the question as to what ‘success’ really is for his own life.  It’s a little like the Peanuts Cartoon of Charlie Brown shooting an arrow at the fence and subsequently drawing a circle around where the arrow stuck.  When asked by Lucy what he was doing, he replied that this was the way he knew he would always have a Bulls-eye.

As artists, instead of justifying our lives, living in a dream-world of ego-centrism and unrealistic expectations of an audience’s recognition just because we consider ourselves to be ‘great’, there should rather be some concrete and measurable standards to which we hold our lives and our art.

In this series of blogs, I am outlining what I believe are definitive characteristics of a successful contemporary musician/artist, attributes of ‘character’ (if you will) of a complete and mature artist, who will be truly beneficial to society.

 

Attribute #1:  The Complete Contemporary Musician/artist, before anything else, must have a meaningful purpose for his art.

If the artist has a purpose that is anything less than compelling, his art will suffer for it.  The motivation of the art defines the art itself.  The art emanates from within its purpose. 

For example, if the artist’s intention is to simply ‘make lots of money’, then his art will be crassly commercial, artificial and superficial.  This kind of art lasts long enough to titillate an immature and naïve audience, then quickly falls into obscurity and obsolescence.

If the artist’s purpose is to ‘become famous’, then his art will revolve around ‘self’ instead of anything of higher meaning.  Flamboyancy and a wide palette of extreme attention-getting techniques are typical to this kind of motivation.  Unfortunately, the self-made artist is, in the end, a disappointing object of worship.  Once the shock-value of the display wears off, his audience is acutely aware of his ordinary humanity, and even resents the fact that he spent more time on ‘marketing himself’ than on developing something of lasting value. 

Another unfortunate result of this kind of artistic purpose is the fact that men are simply unable to withstand the pressure of being ‘worshipped’.  They self-implode.  The psychology behind all of it is too much to bear when they find themselves living a lie. The subconscious awareness that they are not really able to live up to everyone’s expectations of ‘deity’ drives them to strange and various dissipations, which all end in further emptiness and un-fulfillment.

Having a purpose of ‘societal benefit’ is compelling to many artists.  Some find fulfillment in promoting a ‘Green Earth’, or to help raise funds to ‘Fight AIDS’ or some other societal ill.

Some artists simply like to ‘bring beauty’ into the world, or to ‘make people think’ about politics or societal dilemmas.

Every artist is on a journey to answer the question of meaning in his life and work.  It is not a stagnate, life-long rut that he endures, but rather a constantly evolving paradigm-changing awareness of ‘reality’.   What he was involved in a year ago may seem to be ‘silly’ to him today.  Most artists are adept at raising these questions, and are constantly searching for new answers to meaningful awareness.

In my journey, I have come to believe that the highest expression of music and art are in the worship of God. 

I’m not alone in this belief.  One of the greatest musicians to have ever lived believed that “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” (J.S. Bach) [for more on this, see 10 Lessons J.S. Bach Taught Me]

The Bible is replete with thousands of years of historical records showing the use of music in worship to God. 

In my personal experience, having lived through most of the above-mentioned examples of artistic purpose and motivation, I have come to sense a vastly greater peace and contentment in this pursuit, knowing that I don’t have to ‘measure up’ to society’s varied and ever-changing whims and ‘hoops’ to jump through.  I simply have ‘an audience of One’, and He is already pleased with me by the forgiveness He offers through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.  

Regardless as to where you might be in your pursuit of meaningful artistic creativity, I encourage you to continue to ask the question: “What is the purpose of my life and art?” 

When you ask it sincerely, you will undoubtedly be on course for a life of true meaning and authentic success.

 



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.

 

 



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.