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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

How We Learn Theology Through Music


Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [Col. 3:16 ESV] Paul's warning is clear: teach the truths of God's Word through what you sing.

I am not trying to minimize the importance of sermons, but state the obvious: the songs we use in worship have the advantage of repetition over a more extended period than sermons, which are heard only once. Songs often connect truth with our thoughts and feelings, especially during times of crisis. Just a couple of weeks ago, I found myself listening to the Getty's song, "He Will Hold Me Fast" over and over because of things going on around me. Like David's playing the harp for Saul, the words and music spoke to me and helped me refocus on the fact that God is in control, that He loves me, that He has a plan, and that I can trust Him. Research has shown that thoughts and ideas linked to an emotion are stored in a different part of the brain, which is why even senior adults who have dementia can still sing songs they knew in church as a youth.

Earworms are melodies that get "stuck in our heads," sometimes all day. We can find ourselves repeating the earworm repeatedly, which can be very annoying, or not so much if it is a song we like. If the lyrics to the earworm are not trustworthy in their biblical message, then we reinforce wrong understandings of who God is and how He works. For example, I know songs that invite God to come to those gathered so that they might worship Him, ignoring the fact that it is God who initiates worship and that His Holy Spirit permanently dwells in the believer. Such texts instill false notions that somehow God is outside our place of worship and won't join us unless invited, or worse yet, that God is not present until we "feel" His presence.

Social media and the internet have provided avenues of input for multitudes of new songs for worship, which has the potential for great good. However, many of those composing the songs have very little theological training and lack the filters to realize the implications of what they have written. No one is questioning their sincerity or honest desire to share their musical offerings for worship; the issue is truth, not sincerity. A child could make some cookies for his or her parents, but not notice that some dirt accidentally got into the mix. Regardless of the love and sincerity of the child, the cookies still would not be healthy. More than ever, the disciples of Christ must deepen their understanding of Scripture so that they can recognize questionable biblical teaching in what is being offered as worship.
     
We need to consider one more aspect of using songs to teach biblical truth: repetition. No, not the songs of 7 words repeated 11 times, but the repetition over time in which the words and music become part of a “canon” known by heart. Songs like "Amazing Grace" can be sung from memory because it has become part of the canon of our praise. One of the dangers of just singing new songs every week in worship is that we will fail to develop a canon that we can remember in times of need. In addition to becoming the theological filter, we need to be diligent in developing our "sung canon" for worship. We need to ask the question, what could we sing if all we have is what we know, no tech, etc. What songs of God's nature, Christ's work, the work of the Holy Spirit, the church's mission, or even God's Word would we know? We need to work to fulfill the mandate to Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Another Week of Quarantine: Notes to My Students

        Another week. Waves of all the things we have to do keep 
        knocking on our door in a relentless pounding; even the 
        desire to get out of bed makes the covers seem like heavy      
        weights. We know in our minds God is there, that He has 
        not left us, but we long to “feel” something; we’re numb.

        What can we do? Let’s ask ourselves, “What is the truth 
               of God in this matter?” Not how we feel, but what is 
               God’s truth?  
         God is God, God is all-powerful, 
         God is in control, God is not caught off guard, 
         God is not surprised, God knows my needs, 
         God knows my hurt, God knows what will come next, 
         God loves me, God loves my family, 
         God provides, God protects, 
         God never changes, God has a plan for my life, 
         God sent His Son to die for my sin that I might have an 
                eternal relationship with Him and share this good 
                news with others, 
         God Is the Great I AM, the Ever-Present One, eternally 
                present and here, 
         Almighty, Infinite, Loving, God.
   
         Since this is the truth of God, I can trust Him. He did not 
         put me on the planning committee, He just asks that I trust 
         Him. Because we know these things to be true, we can say 
         with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him...” 
         [Job 13:15]  His love and commitment to us are shown by 
         what was done on the cross and the empty tomb. Even 
         though I walk through the valley of the shadow of 
         death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.” [Ps. 23]

          Because of Who He is and what He has done, we can lay 
          our fears before Him; we can share how we feel, we can be 
          completely transparent– He knows our thoughts anyway. 
          As we share these innermost thoughts with Him, we can say,

          “Father, this is how I feel, yet I know who You are, I know You 
          know what is best. I choose to believe You, Who You are and 
          always have been; I choose You over my feelings, my fears, 
          my confusion. I trust You. Help me in Your grace and 
          mercy. I love You. I need You. I thank You for what you
          are going to do.  In Jesus Name.” 




Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Confessions....

Today has been a rough day; not because we are sick, praise God, Kathy & I are fine, Mom is being well taken care of, we have plenty of food [and TP :)], we can teach from our home, we have been able to worship online with Metairie Baptist, we have been ministered to through the prayers of students and others praying for us. I am more than grateful, I am overwhelmed with God’s grace.

Yet, after lunch, I began to cry. I recalled the great number of our students and faculty going through major trauma, loss of jobs, family members sick and some dying– so many being affected by the virus. Suddenly the feelings that I had when we were going through great stress overseas, – memories of tapped phone calls, letters opened and read before we got them, secret police taking our trash, listening to gunfire during the day and some even at night– all of these memories started coming back. We loved so many of our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters in Christ who were going through situations even worse.  Later when we couldn’t return to Nicaragua, we were transferred to Panama. Panama was such a blessing, even with the invasion and all the stress and mess that went with it. I remember thinking back then, “Oh God, how would our children survive the trauma of all we’ve been through?” During those years, the stress on our marriage, and some of our responses were less than what we had hoped; God was revealing things in our lives that were not consistent with His character and nature in us. It was convicting; it was painful.

So, here we are again. This time the entire world is shaking, trembling from a virus that no one anticipated, without a vaccine– no place to run, just shelter in. Not totally true. We can and do run to our loving Father. He watched over us for the years overseas, through countless dangers, illnesses, and most recently, Kathy’s cancer. I still grieve over so much hurt. I’m not mad at God; He did not put me on the planning committee and I can trust Him, especially when I don’t understand. I will thank and praise Him through my tears. HE is the Faithful One. When the flashbacks come again, and I have no doubt they will, I can remember how God has worked, is working, and I know will continue to work.

I pray for my students, that God would use this in their lives to build these “lion and bear” stories as monuments in their hearts of God’s faithfulness, love, mercy, and grace, just like He did in the life of David. I pray that God would use this time to draw millions to Himself. I pray for the leadership of our Seminary, our pastors, political leaders, that God would grant wisdom, that He would provide and protect His children. I thank God. And I thank you. Thank you for walking through all this as I try to process my feelings.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Blessings of God...Why?

Why does God bless us?  I was meditating on the following passage and wanted to share what I found.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. [Deuteronomy 6:10-13]

The land was promised by God: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land...” – no “ifs”, just “when.” The gift of a new homeland was settled hundreds of years before with Abraham just as the declaration that the people would be slaves for 400 years. God knew.  God also knew something else: the Hebrews would be going into a land flowing with milk and honey, taking houses that they didn’t have to build, vineyards they didn’t have to plant, wells they didn’t have to dig, and, the temptation to begin to take it all for granted would be as close as their next breath.

The warning was clear and the danger anticipated: “then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Day after day, month after month, the Israelites ate and slept, living in the amazing blessings of God. How were they to be able to avoid succumbing to the temptation to forget? God’s answer to the dilemma as straightforward:   Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. But what exactly did that mean?

In “fearing God” they would have an awesome reverence for Who God was, a reverence that would lead to serving only Him, in total dependence on Him. God had led them through the wilderness for 40 years, providing for their every need and protecting them from harm; He was worthy of their respect and worthy of their service. Another way of considering the command might have been that God was calling them to remember what their purpose for being here was.

When God made the covenant with Abraham, He declared “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” [Gen. 12:2-3] From the very beginning, God’s blessing would have a purpose beyond self-enrichment, but to share the blessing of God to others. Later, God clarifies, even more, what that the blessing would include the land as an inheritance: “Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward, they will go out with many possessions.  But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age.  In the fourth generation, they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. [Gen. 15:13-16] 

Years later speaking to Moses, God says: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Ex. 19:5-6] God clarified further what being a blessing would be: a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Centuries later this passage is used by Peter: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [1 Peter 2:9-10] Those whom Christ had redeemed by His blood have now become the people of God, and as God’s chosen people, they assume the role of the royal priesthood. The role of the priest was to be God’s representative to the people, to minister to the people and to God. As the people of God, we now have the privilege to share the news of that blessing He has given in His Son, – the restored relationship with God through Christ, and to minister to others in obedience to Him. We are not to just enjoy the blessings of salvation, or assume that we deserve the richness of His grace; the blessing is the eternal relationship with Christ and to remember that the purpose to become bearers of that good news to others.

After years of being surrounded by God’s provision and grace, we need to take to heart the warning God gave the Israelites in Deuteronomy: not to take the blessings of God for granted, nor to believe that we were entitled to them. We need to be ever grateful and remember the purposes for which they were given.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Servant-Leader Professor: How to Recognize One...

Over the years I have had and observed many professors and the most outstanding reflected the character of Christ in real and visible ways in and out of the classroom. One of these observations was the “professor as a servant leader.”  Although much more could and should be said, here are a few summary statements:

1. The servant-leader professor sees the student is a gift from God to whom God calls professors to come alongside and to join in what God is doing in their lives in an area of ministry for God’s glory.
2. The servant-leader professor’s task is not to impress the student with how much knowledge the professor has, but aid in the development hunger to grow and learn and to model how the character of Christ is lived out in everyday life in and out of the classroom.
3.  The servant-leader professor understands that the student does not exist to make the professor look good, but rather to seek to develop the student to his or her full potential.
4.  The servant-leader professor understands that his or her worth as a professor is not so dependent in how well the student’s performance makes the professor look, but in how well the student reflects the character of Christ.
5.  The servant-leader professor understands that the true worth of the student and professor is rooted in what God through Christ has done in their lives.
6.  The servant-leader professor understands that respect is earned, not demanded and is mutually given.
7. The servant-leader professor does not lead in such a way that the students fear the professor,  but follow out of love and mutual respect.


Lord, work in my life to become a servant-leader professor.