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”

And after that …

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

There was a film star who supposedly declared, on being told of her imminent death: “I always thought an exception would be made in my case.” Of course there are no exceptions; to be human is to be mortal.

Samuel Johnston once declared that the prospect of one’s own imminent death “wonderfully concentrates the mind.” Continue reading “And after that …”

The farewell

Speaking of the day they left for Africa in 1958 to do mission work, my mother described seeing my little head bobbing up and down on my father’s shoulder as he entered the plane in Kansas City.

“Once a friend remarked, ‘I could never go to another land because our family is very close.’ I wanted to cry out, ‘Our family is very close, too!’” (Donna Mitchell, Among the People of the Sun: Our Years in Africa, page 6). Continue reading “The farewell”

What’s next

Every now and then a young person calls me aside and says something like this: “Thank you for being patient with me when I was a young preacher/ a student/ a teenager in your congregation. You inspired me to ministry.”

When they do this, I think of the elderly apostle’s declaration: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).

It seems I am now the older preacher in the transaction, more Paul than Timothy. Continue reading “What’s next”