No substitute

It doesn’t happen often, but a new thought struck me one day. I was showing my daughter how to shoot a basketball through the hoop when the thought came. There is one person on earth for whom there is, in my case, no replacement. My friends in Africa, Tennessee and Texas can find other friends, I suppose; if I should pass away, my spouse might (and probably should) seek happiness in another marriage relationship.

But for my little daughter, there would always and only be one Dad. I was irreplaceable. In the event of my death she might be lucky enough to have a good man become her “stepfather,” but I was her one and only “Daddy.” Continue reading “No substitute”

Evaluating a hymn

The first surprise might be that we should evaluate a hymn at all. Yet why should we not? If our hymns are to be sung not only with spirit but with our minds (1 Corinthians 14:15), then we should think about the songs we sing. If our hymns are to allow “the word of Christ [to] dwell in [us] richly as [we] teach and admonish” each other (Colossians 3:16), then we should think about what our hymns teach.

So how ought we to evaluate a song? What questions might we ask of it? Continue reading “Evaluating a hymn”

Why do armies sing?

In 1981 I woke up one morning to a sound as beautiful as a nightingale and as frightening as a cobra. When I looked outside my window I saw about five hundred Zimbabwean soldiers singing as they marched. Now I don’t know about the singing quality of five hundred American or British soldiers, but these men sang in four part harmony with a sound as rich as a Johannesburg gold mine. Here they were, men in the prime of their lives, trained in the ungentle art of war, yet they sang with such beauty as they marched past my house and down the road. Continue reading “Why do armies sing?”

Suggestions for song leaders

You will run across several kinds of song leaders:

  • The “super humble” song leader, whom you can’t hear. Yet such an approach instills hesitancy on the part of the congregation, who generally do not want to be the “only” ones singing.
  • “I’m the show, look at me.” On the other hand, the song leader should not draw undue attention to himself.
  • It’s good ‘nuff for the folks I go with. This song leader feels no need to develop or improve himself.
  • Scolding Song leader – “Come on, people, sing like you mean it!” This is usually deplorably bad psychology and will have the opposite effect that the song leader seeks; rather than sing better, the congregation shuts down.
  • My genre or the highway. Contemporary? Traditional? Stamps Baxter? Classics? He forces his favorites onto the congregation and will never contemplate leading songs enjoyed by other members of the congregation.

Continue reading “Suggestions for song leaders”

Grace’s one great demand

Grace presents us with one great demand.

I know it seems strange to see the words “demand” and “grace” in the same sentence. Usually we view grace as the means by which we gain acceptance by God without carrying out works of the law. After all, as Paul reminds us, by “works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

Many try to earn their salvation. Continue reading “Grace’s one great demand”

California concert

Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Ephesians 5:19).

The phrase “making melody” in this verse is rich with implications for our worship in song. It means to “pluck the strings of,” in the sense of a harp, perhaps, or a lyre. But this emphatically does not mean that we are to play a cold, mechanical instrument in worship. Note that the instrument whose strings we pluck is the human heart!

When I lived in the Tehachapi Mountains, I grew to anticipate their annual show of California poppies in the spring. Continue reading “California concert”

In with the old, in with the new

I became aware about a decade ago that our young people no longer know the old songs. They generally sing “contemporary” songs with vigor, but sit silent when many older, “traditional” songs are offered.

Let’s be clear: I am not arguing that traditional songs are better. There are many older songs that lack sufficient biblical content or whose music is not well suited to the words. If a song does not live up to spiritual expectations, new or old, it should probably fade into disuse.

All old songs were new once; all new songs will be old one day. Continue reading “In with the old, in with the new”

Journal from jail

I thank my God every time I remember you, in all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3,4).

The book of Philippians is usually used as a devotional book. One liners and sweet thought-for-the-day type writings abound on this book. Fourteen times in its four chapters the word “joy” or its cognate “rejoice” is used in this letter. Is Philippians really the “Vanna White” of Paul’s epistles? Is it merely the lightweight amongst heavyweights such as Romans and Galatians? Or are those wonderful devotional thoughts such as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) or “for me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21) simply skimming the cream off the top? Are there depths rarely plumbed in this book? Continue reading “Journal from jail”