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!

 

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.

 



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.



Current and Future Worship Trends- The Community

The artistic community of the Christian is the subject of a recent article, in which I explore the meaning of the word “community” as it relates to the arts and how they function within and through the Church most successfully.

The American College Dictionary defines community as “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and have a cultural and historical heritage.” 

As “community” relates to the expression of the arts both within and through the Church, I believe there are several foundational traits that can be seen.  They are as follows: 1) Boundaries and Location, 2) Language, 3) History, 4) Destiny, 5) Beliefs, 6) Sacrifice, and 7) A Means of Exchange.

Come take a journey into the role of community in the life of a Christian artist in My Vision- The Community.

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 9)

The ninth lesson I learned  from J.S. Bach is to actively serve the local church.

Bach's dream and vision from God for his life's work was to produce music of the highest quality in the worship of God.  He was employed by the local church, but his heart led him to be there.  Many other opportunities were available to him for his career path, but he chose the community of the local church.

Many contemporary musicians think that serving in the local church is beneath them.  They think the constraints that are put upon them by the leadership are too hard to bear, and that they need greater freedom of creativity in order to flourish as an artist.

Bach, in his situation, may have felt that way at times, but he was willing to stick it out.  As a result, the pressures of relational tensions/resolutions, the 'buffetting' that he endured, actually caused him to excel in his creativity more than if he had been left to himself with endless freedoms.

The simple fact is that community is good for us.  "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (Prov. 27:17)  In a church scenario, there will be moments of 'grinding' that happen, but if we're willing to endure it, we will end up much 'sharper' (i.e. more powerful) for having been willing to go through the process.

Contemporary musicians are afraid that submitting their art to the authorities in the local church will somehow be too constricting, and that it boils down to the "Word" versus "Worship", with the music and worship always getting pushed to a lesser place.

Bach, however, found that 'boundaries' are good.  Without boundaries in our lives, we cannot ultimately succeed.  The American concept of 'freedom' for every aspect of our lives has led to our country's moral decadence and decay.  If we don't exercise self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit, by the way (Gal. 5:23), we will end up being controlled.  "The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor." (Prov. 12:24)  Submitting our artistic lives to the 'constraints' of the local church is probably one of the best things we could do for our continued artistic growth.  Bach proved this to be true.  As he willingly worked through the 'parameters' of needs, desires and demands of the situation that he worked in, he ultimately created one of the greatest outpourings of music the world has ever seen.

You think he would have succeeded anywhere, just because of his talent and ability?  Take a look at people groups all over the world, throughout the course of human history that have endured affliction of one kind or another.  They always come out of it a powerful nation.  The oppression created higher discipline.  The high 'structure' brought out the untapped power of the people.  Just look at those who come to America from foreign lands, places that don't have our opportunities.  Once they are given the opportunities, their work ethic causes them to rise to great heights, while the average American-born citizen is selfish and lazy by comparison.  A little 'buffetting' would do us all some good!

Freedom is never free.  Somewhere along the line, someone (including yourself) must pay its price.  Jesus paid the price for our salvation and paved the way for our success in every area of life.  But He also said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.  For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  (Lk. 9:23-26)

Bach willingly followed this path of unselfish sacrifice, allowing himself to be 'sharpened' in his skills, as well as his personal growth.  This also may be one of the reasons that, compared to later classical composers, he had a balanced and successful life, not falling prey to the moral failures we witness in the succeeding generations of classical musicians.  His ability to stay balanced in life caused him to create more music with increasingly higher quality over a successful and productive career.

His dream to serve the local church, the way the Bible outlines, produced success for him.  It also set him up as the teacher and role model for great art and musical creation for generations to come.

Application: When you do things God's way, it always works.  Honoring Him through a humble attitude, being willing to submit your life and your gifting to godly community and godly authority, according to the promise of Scripture, will bring results beyond what you think you can achieve doing it some other way.  There are no short-cuts to success, and there are no shabby rewards, when it comes to God's blessings!

(for more on this subject, see my article from "Current and Future Worship Trends": "My Vision- The Motivation")

Current and Future Worship Trends- The Motivation

What does it mean to be a responsible artist and musician for the Church in today’s world?  There are so many different voices, strategies, paradigms, whims, and desires.  Which direction is the right one, if there is a right one?

The Church is facing either its finest hour, or its darkest, depending on how we respond in our hearts to the call of God for this generation.  The decisions we make right now could either marginalize us for years to come, or thrust us into the next ‘Great Awakening’.  There is so much at stake, and it has all to do with Why we’re doing what we’re doing.  Our heart attitude is what is central to this.  What is our core motivation, not just the surface clichés we like to throw around, but what really are our core values, or what should they be?

Come see my article, "My Vision- The Motivation", as I outline the power and necessity of worship, music and the arts in community.

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 3)

The third lesson J.S. Bach taught me is to be inventive.  While he was alive, he dramatically altered the way people would think about music for generations to come.  Some of the most profound musical paradigm shifts began with him, and have lasted for centuries, even to today...things we take for granted.  We think it has always been this way.  Things like pianists using their thumbs.  Did you know Bach created that technique?  How about equal-tempered tuning.  If we had any other tuning system in our Western music, the average non-musical citizen walking the streets would declare, "That doesn't sound right!"  Bach established it hundreds of years ago.  Now all of our computer sequencers, electronic keyboards and tuning devices are all built on this system...globally.

Compositionally speaking, he pushed the boundaries of the musical instruments of his day to the extreme, like creating a four-part fugue for a violin, or creating music that pianists still believe is impossible to physically play.  He established and 'maxed-out' the concept of motivic development, which would be imitated by composers for many generations to come.  He boldly created things that others wouldn't have even dared to, most not even perceiving the possibilities that he saw.

I sometimes wonder if he ran into opposition when establishing new approaches.  Undoubtedly he did.  Obviously it didn't deter him.  At times I've thought about what he would do if he were alive today.  Would he be creating software, or using new tuning systems that are technologically available?  I know this for sure: you would find him in a church, creating new ideas and pushing boundaries as a spiritual quest, ignoring popular 'fluff', while digging deep into the reservoir of new potential within himself, and inspiring others to do the same.

So the third lesson is: Be perceptive to new potential, not just swayed by those who take popular roads easily travelled.  Search and dig for the undiscovered opportunities that are all around us, but that few dare to see.