I have so many notebooks.
So many, in fact, that I could probably dedicate an entire shelf to them and they would still overflow into the nooks and crannies of my home. Whenever I acquire a new one, I always have such high hopes for its contents. “I’m really going to fill this one up this time,” I think. I set aside one for sermon notes, miscellaneous thoughts, a particular book study, and a hobby. The list goes on until I’m found in a mess of faux-leather bound volumes brimming with promise but little else. But once I do fill up a notebook, I’m met with questions of practicality. Do I keep it? Is it just taking up prime real estate on my bookshelf? Do I look back on past notes or press forward with new penning endeavors?
I recently spent some time looking over contents from years’ old notebooks in an attempt to purge. Among cringe-worthy journal entries about empty crushes and college drama, I began to read accounts of struggles and trials, all too painful rejections and spiritual hardships, prayers for relief from suffering and long bouts with depression and anxiety. The truth is, I still struggle with many of those same troubles. And with every new or resurfacing trial, I am faced with the question, “How do I endure this?”
A Worldly Endurance & A Godly Endurance
“Grin and bear it.” “Grit your teeth.” “Just keep moving forward.” These are all common phrases to hear while enduring various hardships. I can’t tell you how many times I have used these very phrases to motivate myself to push through anxieties and difficult times. These mottos seem innocent enough until we compare them with Scripture’s encouragements for endurance. Perhaps one of the most brought-to-mind passages is James 1:2-3:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Do we ever stop and truly “count it all joy”? How drastically different from the “grit your teeth” mentality. Yet another convicting passage on this subject is found in Colossians 1:9-11:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy”
Let’s hone in on that last phrase – “for all endurance and patience with joy.” Oh, how often I have endurance without patience. And even more often I have endurance and no joy. When I attempt to grit my way through something, it reveals my idolatry. It reveals my sinful tendency to draw from my own strength and resolve to endure the trials of life. Psalm 103:14 reminds us that we are “dust.” Our strength and rigidity have already been compromised. Paul understands this tendency and so he addresses it: “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Yes, we are commanded to have strength during hard times, but all of this strength is according to God’s power, not our own.
Verses 12-14 of Colossians 1 continues by saying, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
The only way we can endure suffering in this life is to look back on God’s grace and faithfulness to us in the past. And what greater act of grace and faithfulness than for God to transfer us out of our darkened state, riddled by sin, and into the kingdom of his Son, where we are clean like that crisp empty notebook. Believer, we are not called to “grin and bear it” when we face hardship, sadness, and suffering. Rather, we are called to have enduring gratitude. Gratitude that the ultimate hardship has been conquered by Jesus at the cross. Gratitude that there will be a day when He will “wipe away every tear ” (Revelation 21:4).
So go back and read through those old notebooks.
And as you read, remember.
And as you remember, worship.
Worship because of God’s faithfulness to deliver you through those dark places in the past and God’s glorious might to do so again and again.
Mainstream Christian music (or CCM) has always been slightly frustrating to me. Often, when I drive somewhere and I’m not listening to music on my phone, I’ll listen to a few songs on a popular Christian radio station. It isn’t long before I feel agitated and decide that I prefer the white-noise of my car over what’s being played on the radio. This is an over-reaction, because it is not sinful, or wrong, to listen to Christian music stations. God uses them for his glory all the time. However, there are always a few songs that serve as motivators for me to want to write worship songs for our church. These “motivator” songs tend to be what I call, “fluff songs,” that are just vague enough that if you changed a couple pronouns, you could make the song about a girlfriend or boyfriend. Thus, when I have an idea for a corporate worship song and sit down to write it, I want to be very intentional about a couple of things.
I have been writing worship songs since I was 17 years old. Granted, that is not a long time considering I am only 24. I do not have vast years of experience and do not pretend to be an expert. However, my limited experience has been shaped and molded by certain standards that I believe to be both reasonable and necessary. This list I am about to present is not exhaustive. However, I hope these will be things you might consider when writing a corporate worship song of your own.
When Writing a Corporate Worship Song…
- It should be clear and understandable. This means that by simply reading the lyrics of a worship song I should easily be able to understand what you’re trying to communicate within one, maybe two times listening. An example of this is a song like How Great Thou Art:
“Oh Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the world thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder; thy pow’r throughout the universe displayed!”
The first verse makes it very clear that God creates all things like the stars, planets, thunder, and that his power is seen through those things.
- Worship songs should be accessible. What does that mean? It does not mean “easy to get a hold of.” Accessible means that after clearly understanding what the song says, I can personally identify with the narrative or message of the song. Let’s use How Great Thou Art as an example again. We’ve already seen that the song can communicate God’s awesome creative power clearly. Now we see that the Chorus echoes the natural response one should have when faced with such a reality:
“Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee; how great thou art!”
The first verse even uses sensory words in phrases like, “I see the stars” and “I hear the rolling thunder”.
These are all things we can personally identify with and have in past times experienced.
- A worship song should be a marriage between biblical truth and beauty. Truth simply means that everything that worship song says should be true, right, and reflect/reference correct doctrines found in Holy Scripture. Straightforward, right? This also means it should not be false, wrong, or contrary to correct doctrines found in Holy Scripture. Beauty means that what the worship song says should be said in a way that makes the truth come alive and affect us. Since we’ve used How Great Thou Art quite a bit, let’s go to the last verse of the grand ol’ hymn, The Love Of God Is Greater Far:
“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky”
Let’s look at this verse with the criteria we have so far. Is it clear and understandable? If you were actually listening on Sunday morning rather than thinking about lunch, then yes! This song is describing the endlessness of God’s love. Is the song accessible? Maybe not as much because of the dated vernacular, but the poetry certainly is timeless! Is the verse a marriage of Biblical truth and beauty? I believe so. To see this, we must first understand the ways in which the truth of God’s endless love could have been communicated. For instance, the hymn writer could have written, “God’s love is so big, you can’t write it down.” Is that wrong? No. Is it true? Certainly. Is it beautiful? Not really. Now look at the verse above and how the hymn describes the vastness of God’s love.
Do you see what I mean? This song says things that are true and biblical in beautiful ways that makes us truly ponder the vastness of God’s love in a new and fresh way. Beautiful lyrics affect us in ways that straight forward lyrics do not.
- Worship songs should be both catchy and easy to sing. By catchy, I mean a song should be pleasant, memorable, and something people want to sing. Rich truth paired with boring music is not a sin. However, if we can write good melodies for the good truth, why not do so? When I say easy to sing, I mean that the song should be in a range that is comfortable for the congregation as a whole, not necessarily for the worship leader. I don’t care how hipster your glasses are, how tight your jeans are, or how amazing you sound belting out the outrageously high bridge of a worship song, if people cannot sing with you than you aren’t worship leading; you are worship performing. Worship songwriters must be wary of this temptation.
- Worship songs should universal. While accessible means you can identify with the song, universal simply means that almost anyone can identify with the song. It’s a subtle but important distinction. Let’s make up some lyrics for example. Say I wanted to write a worship song about suffering and wrote a line like this: “Lord I’m burdened by my fearful and anxious soul, help me trust that you are in control.” There may be people in the congregation that are experiencing the same thing I just wrote. However, not everyone is at the moment. What if I wrote it this way instead: “When we’re burdened by our anxious souls, help us trust that you are in control.” What’s the difference? First, notice that I changed the anxiety from a present reality to an eventual reality. If you’re not anxious now, you will be later. Everyone can identify with that! Second, I hope you noticed I changed the pronouns from singular to plural. Asking God to help us rather than help me gives the sense that we’re not alone in our struggles and that brings comfort.
I hope this is a helpful window into the world of corporate worship songwriting. However, here are a few warnings with all of this in mind:
- Do not become a cage-stage worship song critic. This is the temptation I personally fall into all the time. Trust me, no one likes that person who can’t enjoy listening to music for music’s sake. Resist!
- Don’t persecute Christian radio listeners! As I said at the beginning, it is not a sin or wrong to listen to popular Christian radio stations. I listen to them periodically as well. The high-horse mentality is not what we have been called to.
The local church body is a beautiful thing; integral to the faithful Christian’s walk in obedience and worship. It’s a family, truly it is. Not simply an amalgam of believers who gather once a week to speak kindly to one another and offer pats on the back and shoulders on which to cry. It’s a divinely ordained institution with divinely ordained instruction which is taught and enforced by divinely ordained leadership, namely the elders.
A consideration of the eldership in a local church is something I think few of us ever actually do but something which is necessary if, as a church, we’re serious about conducting ourselves in a manner subservient to the aforementioned divine ordinances.
So what is the eldership?
For the purposes of this article, I’m not going to worry about when, in the formation of the early church, the eldership was actually first established. If one were inclined to do so, one might explore the book of Acts but it’s not a discussion that will serve much purpose here. Suffice it to say that when Paul gives instruction to Timothy and Titus respectively concerning what qualities an elder must have and how he must conduct himself in the service of the body, I’m willing to take his word for it that the office of elder is a legitimate one and that it’s essential to the proper function of the church.
Having said that, it should be pointed out that elders are mentioned throughout the Old Testament as well as the new. In point of fact most early societies and communities found guidance and instruction from elders. In a general sense it just seems natural, doesn’t it, that the older members of a community should inherently be the ones to teach and correct the young. And the Bible bears this out. For example, Lev. 19:32 says, “You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” But we’re not talking about simply respecting the “gray headed and aged” in broad terms. We’re talking about coming under the office of eldership as specially instituted by God for our instruction and edification. In reading Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, it seems apparent that he’s concerned with wisdom, maturity, and experience above actual age. As Voddie Baucham Jr. puts it in his book Family Shepherds, “Maturity in Christians is marked not by gray hair, but by the fruit believers bear in keeping with their sanctification.” This ‘fruit in keeping with sanctification’ manifests in several ways and is the baseline for how a church might determine a man worthy of the pastorate.
Firstly, it’s important to realize that the eldership and the families which comprise the body are inextricably linked. When Paul writes to Timothy and Titus, one of the first charges he gives to prospective elders is that they be men who have shown themselves to be worthy leaders of their own homes and families. In 1 Timothy 3:2-4 we read that an elder must be the husband of one wife and one who manages his household and children well and with dignity. And just to make sure we understand why that’s so important, Paul poses the rhetorical question. If a man can’t manage his house and children, how is he supposed to care for the church? We could pose another of our own. If a man cannot remain faithful to one woman, how can he remain faithful to his congregation? To again quote Voddie Baucham, “The family is the proving ground for the elder.”
To reinforce the concept of elders being committed to the righteous management and care of family, we can look also to Titus 1:9-11. The man called to leadership is charged with holding fast to the faithful word so that he will be able to teach sound doctrine and refute those who teach things contrary to Scripture. And the reasoning behind the charge is that there are deceitful rebellious men “upsetting whole families” with false teaching. The threat here is not to the church directly although we can be sure that ultimately the body will be harmed if nothing is done to fight this evil. But the immediate issue to which Paul draws our attention is the threat to family. The previous command for the man of the house to care for wife and children faithfully includes with it the necessity of an understanding of Scripture. This so that he can preach to his family, standing as sentinel at the hearts of kith and kin, encouraging them in sound doctrine and rebuking those who refute it.
This idea of proving oneself is broadly significant and reinforced by Scripture. The elder is called to all the same standards of character as every other Christian. Among other things, we read that an elder should be a man who is temperate, prudent, above reproach, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, holding fast the faithful word, not violent but gentle, not a lover of money etc. The difference is that he must not be a recent convert (1 Timothy 3:6). He must have had time to have shown himself a man of character, unshakable and faithful to his allegiance to the Word of God and the doctrine therein. The consequence of a failure in this regard is what we might expect of a recent convert. If not checked and held to account, the conceit of man will take a position of primacy and bring shame to the office of elder and harm to the church.
The ingredients of faithfulness, graciousness, and competent dominion over family and time-proven submission to the Word and the Christ, result in the formation of a good shepherd. A strong-willed man of God equipped for the leading of the church and the making of disciples. And that’s ultimately why the office of the elder is so important. His ministry, through raising his own family and living as exemplar of righteousness, is to teach those under his care to do the same and to refute any teaching that is contrary to Scripture. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9 ESV)
The responsibility of the congregation therefore is twofold and should not to be ignored or understated. First, if, as we’ve already seen, the elders are called to the same standards as ordinary Christians but have proven themselves to be exemplary in those standards, we as the body must be diligent in following them in their dedication to the Word. They have been called to a position of authority in order to exhort us to righteousness. And we who are given to their care are to humbly submit to their leading, passing on the things we learn, thereby working together, all of us, in the making of disciples (1 Peter 5:1-5). Second, we must also encourage and shore up the elders as they guide and teach. Their position of authority is not so high as to exempt them from loving fellowship with the body. We are all one in Christ, some as teachers and others as students but all of a single hope. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father who is over all, and in all, and through all (Ephesians 4:1-8). We must therefore bear with one another in humility and love, as the shepherds serve the flock and the flock serves the shepherds.
“You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world, to not know why you’re here, that, that’s just an awful feeling. Now that we know who you are, I know who I am, I’m not a mistake!” At the close of M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant 2000 film, Unbreakable, Elijah Price realizes his destiny and purpose in light of David Dunn’s existence in the world. After living an isolated life being bullied and outcast, Elijah gives meaning to his identity as an outcast, validating his purpose in life. Everyone does this in some form or another all throughout their lives. We develop an identity for ourselves and we present that identity (often to varying degrees) to the world at large. However, does this concept of identity hold any significance for those who have been changed in light of the gospel?
For better or worse, our first encounter with identity often stems from our interactions with our parents or guardians. Is this obvious? Sure but these identities are often neglected, denied, and outright rebelled against (particularly if our parents were less than spectacular or downright bad). Our parents’ influence often forms the basis for our worldviews, perceptions, mores, etc. For example, “I see a lot of your father in you,” or “You get that from your mother.” A parent’s encouragement, or neglect, of a child informs how that child views himself.
This identity is molded throughout the formative years (adolescence and young adulthood), and often the need for identity causes a child to break away from their parents to “discover themselves”, carving their own destiny and identity. Seeking the wisdom of the culture around them to cultivate an identity can be dangerous for a child who has had no solid structure or discipline. This takes the shape of an identity informed by cinema, music, sports, philosophy, etc. While none of these things are inherently bad as entertainment outlets, these pursuits can lead to destruction when they become gods. Once we have carved for ourselves an identity we present it to the rest of the world. We stand and proclaim “this is me” for the rest of the world to accept, often expecting no judgment. This is the face we put on for the world and it can manifest itself on different levels for different people at different times. Simply put, we don’t often act the same around one group of friends or another, or at a work function, or a family function. We’re always hiding one thing or another.
Regardless of what we choose to present or omit concerning ourselves, we present to the world around us an identity to understand us, a window into the heart and soul. This appears in a thousand different ways — some liken themselves to heroes and dedicate themselves as servants to protect the world (military, police, etc.), some view themselves as rulers and get into politics and government, and some people become teachers to pass on their knowledge to upcoming generations. More often than not though these identities are caught up in temporal things, trends and movements that are like the wind, here today, gone tomorrow, and utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of history.
Should Christians find their identities a different way? If so, how and why? Consider the words of Paul in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Here we glimpse a grave contradiction between the world and the identity we cling to in the flesh and the cold, sobering light of the gospel. Here we are not what we were born into, or what we have to offer or what we have built up for ourselves. Rather, we are the very workmanship of Christ! This new reality predicated upon Christ’s work is also the predestined reality ordained by the Father before the foundation of the world! We read in 1 Peter 2:9-10:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.”
This scripture presents our newly minted identity in light of the gospel. We are no longer slaves to our sexuality. We are no longer striving to carve a legacy around ourselves and our accomplishments. We no longer are the “heroes” of our story striving to save ourselves or those around us, nor are we “villains” scarred by the tainted legacy of our parents or the taunting and belittling of our value by others. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(1 Corinthians 5:17)
Hero or villain, protector or teacher, father’s son or rebel child, it matters not in light of the gospel. In Christ we find new identities and realize that everything we’ve built up to this point to shine a light on ourselves is worthless by comparison. To the person who thought much of himself and spent his life building up his worth to others, that time was nothing but vanity. To those who think themselves worthless or unworthy of life and its joys, this too is foolishness. In Christ all people, great and small, are brought together through the torn veil! Once dead, now alive! Those who have been chosen by God and renewed by the gospel find their deepest joy in this, a new identity defined by one central reality:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses made us alive together in Christ by grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:1-6)
Over the summer I was asked to restart Reformation Christian Fellowship’s blog. The purpose of this blog is to provide weekly writings on various theological and Christian living topics. This blog is under the authority of the plurality of elders at RCF. I believe that writing and reading are oft overlooked but vital ways to learn a multitude of subjects. My hope is that you are edified by these writings, and that your edification spurs you on to pursue deeper knowledge of the Word, grow in your relationships with your church community, and, ultimately, take the things you learn from this and teach them to others.
I am a member of Reformation Christian Fellowship, and I have been with this fantastic assembly of believers since its inception in 2012. From an early age I have had a love for stories and whether it was classic literature, comic books, or movies I have always found storytelling to be a way to convey truth and pass on wisdom from person to person, generation to generation. My hobbies include writing, reading, playing chess, listening to Jazz, and watching and critiquing movies. I also have a great fondness for poetry and art. My goal in leading this writing team is to educate and edify those who read along and to grow in my knowledge as well.
On behalf of the writing team of RCF I extend my warmest regards.
Sometimes it seems if it weren’t for billboards I wouldn’t have any topics for this blog. Poor theology can be found anywhere, but especially on the roadside. I think this is the case because good theology cannot be condensed enough to fit on roadside signs that are read while you are driving 60 to 70 miles per hour. A good summary of the gospel would result in print too small and too much to read in the few seconds the billboard is readable before you pass it up. This is similar to Twitter. You can tweet a short statement that is true, but you can’t say all there is to say about a particular topic in 140 characters.
I recently attended a local theology conference. As one who is called to teach God’s Word, the speaker made a statement that really resonated with me. The speaker said it is time for the church to move from biblical literacy to biblical fluency. My first thought was “Absolutely, it is way past time!” However, my second thought was “Have we even reached the level of biblical literacy?” It seems that so many in the church are just at the level of biblical familiarity, and I’m referring to people who have been in the church for years, not new converts. This is not a new problem. Hebrews 5:11-14 says
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV)
Recently I heard Michael Horton say on the White Horse Inn podcast, “The method reveals the message.” At first I just let the comment pass, but then it began to gnaw on me. The methods he was referring to are the methods and activities engaged in by churches. This includes worship service activities, outreach methods, fellowship activities, and so on. But do the activities of a church present a message? Surely the message is independent of the method. Isn’t this what we hear or read? For example, when it comes to church music I have heard it said, “The music style isn’t important. What is important are the lyrics.” Also, “It doesn’t matter whether sermons or topical or expositional as long as they meet the needs of the people.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what a church does or how it does it as long as the gospel message is presented. But can the methods and activities of a church obscure or change the gospel?
I am so blessed to be able to sit under sound preaching of God’s word each Sunday. My pastor just began a new series through the book of Acts. As he was discussing verse 6 of chapter 1 he mentioned God’s timing. You know the verse. Before his ascension the disciples ask Jesus a question.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 ESV)
As my pastor pointed out, this question reveals that the disciples still misunderstood quite a few things. However, my attention was drawn to the disciples asking about something happening “at this time.” Jesus replies in verse 7.
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7 ESV)
In his own eloquent way my pastor told us Jesus was telling the disciples to mind their own business. Continue reading
One of my favorite passages of scriptures says…
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
What makes this verse one of my favorites is that it shows us the glorious mysteriousness of our God. You see, while the stuff of this world is all to often boring, predictable, and repetitious, our God is just the opposite! The book of Revelation speaks of creatures who surround God’s heavenly throne 24/7 and never do they suffer boredom! In fact, they are so constantly struck with awe that they never stop crying out….
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)