Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Ever been faced with a song during congregational singing which you just couldn't force yourself to sing? There are several on my list nowadays but our church's music service is so good, I don't have to deal with the situation very often. Sometimes the music selection in our prison services leaves something to be desired. One group of men has used a Church of Christ hymnbook for a long time and they sing the corrupted lyrics to a few old standards....hymns which have been gutted of the Gospel of Grace in order to maintain the works-salvation philosophy of that group.

For years, I have found it impossible to sing: I Surrender All. I wish.......Was it Tozer who said: Christians don't tell lies; they just go to church and sing them? I mean, that's a great heart to have: total surrender. If it said: Lord, help me to surrender all; I long to surrender all.........that's singable. But the bold statement: I do surrender all--a lie for me to sing that.

My main complaint about "Southern Gospel Music" is that so much of it is man-centered. (Disclaimer: there is some good sgm....this blurb is not about the good, but the other stuff). I had a Latin teacher who, when referring to the Holy Roman Empire memorably said: It was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. I remember that 50 years down the road. Well, SGM is like that for the most part: neither Southern, nor Gospel, nor Music. Way too much of it is all about "I" and "Me" and very little about the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and what He did and is doing. It's too often about what "I" did and how "I" feel and "me, us, and them" and little or nothing about Him.

So, after 3 paragraphs let me get to the point. There's a song gaining popularity in my very conservative world which, to me, is of the same ilk--a song with serious "I" trouble. And I wonder if no one sees this but me (and my wife).....or are we just over-the-hill into "crank"-dom? Rather than quote bits and pieces to make my case, here are the lyrics as I found them on a website. Actually these seem a bit different from what I remember, especially the first verse, but the impact is the same. I have highlighted in red the portions which are about "I" (and "we" at one point, whoever "we" is....):


We're an anchor to those who are hurting
We're a harbor for those who are lost
Sometimes it's not always easy
Bearing Calvary's Cross.

We've been ridiculed by those that don't know Him
And mocked by those who don't believe,
Still I love standing up for my Jesus
Cause of all that he's done for me.

That's why I am not ashamed of the gospel
The gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am not afraid to be counted
But I'm willing to give my life.
See, I'm ready to be all he wants me to be
Give up the wrong for the right.
No, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For every moment His hand has held mercy
For all the love that He's shown all my life,
A simple thanks doesn't say how I'm feeling
I've got tears in my eyes.
So as for me I'm going to keep on believing
In the one who's been so faithful to me
I'm not out to please this whole world around me
I've got my eyes no eternity.

That why I am not ashamed of the Gospel
The gospel of Jesus Christ
I am not afraid to be counted
But I'm willing to give my life.
You see I'm ready to be all he wants me to be
Give up the wrong for the right.
No I am not ashamed of the gospel
No I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

I've got too much behind me
To let this world blind me
To some He's just a name
But to me He's my everything

No I am not ashamed of the Gospel
I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

--- Dawn Thomas

Now, rather than go on and on and on......any more than I have already, I want to make just a few statements and hope that some of you will interact on them. First, my feelings are very strong on this song: I think it's an abomination of pride and maybe it affects me more because I am so convicted about my sinful pride.

1.) Sometimes it's not always easy bearing Calvary's Cross.......Unbelievable statement from anyone who has any knowledge of Scripture! "Sometimes".....like cross-bearing is easy some days? And, "Calvary's Cross"?......We are not bearing that cross. We're told to take up our own cross and follow Him. Only He can bear Calvary's Cross.

2.) "I'm willing to give my life......to be all....." Easy to say......talk is cheap! We should pray that God make us willing, but this attitude of having "arrived" is overpowering throughout this song.

3.) "I'm going to keep on......I'm not out to please........I've got my eyes......." Look at me, me, me.........how holy am I????

4.) "I'm not afraid.........I'm willing........I'm ready to be all......." Especially that "I'm ready........" OK, folks, I have arrived! The arrogance reaches a crescendo........

5.) "I've got too much behind me............." This is the mystery verse to me.......What does that mean? Is it a reference to one's past........or does it mean: I have this Great Power behind me (supporting me) so that the world can't blind me? Well, if past is precedent, it's not about the Lord but about "I" and "me".......

Paul wrote that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: I am not ashamed of the Gospel............Paul demonstrated that he could indeed say that. I grant Paul that........I long to be able to say it. But I know that I demonstrate my shame for the Gospel all too regularly.......every missed opportunity, every slighted chance to bear witness of my Redeemer is evidence of my shame, diminished it might be from what I demonstrated years ago, I do not, I cannot sing these words.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Overwhelmed By Grace

We partook of the Lord's Supper yesterday morning and I was (and am) particularly affected by the sermon and the service. Earlier in the service two adults were baptized and, as is our practice, they gave a brief testimony of God's redeeming work in their lives as they stood in the waters. Both were greatly moving depictions of His love and grace, transforming lives from misery and hopelessness to peace and hope in Christ. Our pastor's message from I Cor 11, the standard texts for the observance was far from "usual" in that he was greatly empowered by the Holy Spirit to communicate to us (to me, at least) a vivid remembrance of my Savior's body and blood and a fervent longing for His return. He had spoken of our Lord's body being "crushed" as Isa 53:10 is rendered in the ESV (Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; ) The use of "bruised" in the KJV seems weak to us today; being bruised is no big thing. But Jesus was crushed for me! As he spoke about the bread he said, as I have heard others say but not with such convicting power, it would be so much more meaningful if we had a chunk of bread rather than those little Baptist crumbs we use--a chunk of bread from which we would tear pieces--symbolically tearing His body as it was torn for us. Because it was us, it was me, who tore His body......it was for my sin that the Father crushed Him.

So, as the elements were passed to the congregation, I took my little wafer and, as I have always done because I have this dread of ever dropping it, I held it tightly between my index finger and my thumb. This particular wafer had a big air pocket and not much substance. As I squeezed it, making sure I didn't drop it, I crushed it in my fingers. I am incapable of writing well enough to convey how this affected me. Tears well up even now, 36 hours later, as I try to write this. I crushed it. I crushed Him. He was wounded for my transgressions; He was crushed for my iniquities. It was me! It was not some amorphous group of "them" There is no anonymity available in the Truth of His death. It was me. Horatius Bonar wrote:

'Twas I that shed that sacred Blood,
I nailed him to the Tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.

But that's not the end........

He died that death willingly, for the joy that was set before Him.
He died that death willingly, to reconcile me to God.
He died that death willingly, out of Love:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Bonar concludes:

Yet not the less that Blood avails
to cleanse me from sin,
and not the less that Cross prevails
to give me peace within

Yes, I crushed Him. But the Blood avails; the Cross prevails!

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Non-Congregational Singing: Performance or Worship?

In our Small Group meeting Sunday morning, conversation touched on this subject-- one which really needs examination in the Light of Scripture.

I've thought some about it prior to then, and have been thinking about it ever since. I encourage anyone and everyone to chip in their thoughts, especially those with specific Scripture in support of the viewpoint.

In my mind, the question revolves around whether musical offerings, especially non-corporate, non-congregational, thus either solos, trios, or choirs, require some degree of "quality" or "perfection" with respect to musical ability, ear-pleasing to the human hearers........or whether that is in fact, irrelevant, because the idea should be that of an offering to God, a sacrifice of praise.....and the fact that the singer is not "recording-artist quality" and may even be off-key and not particularly "pleasing" to our ears should not be a consideration.

Now, I am a great example of a non-starter when it comes to singing: can't carry a tune, even with a wheelbarrow. I have no desire to stand up on the platform some Sunday morning to sing a solo! I'm not overly convinced that solo or small group performances are a big contribution to corporate worship at all.....but to continue this line of thought, suppose we are having a time of testimony on Wednesday night.......or in our class......and rather than talk (or preach!) I am moved to "sing" a testimony? Songs like "And Can It Be?" and "There Is A Fountain" speak strongly of my personal view, my own experience, and I sing them all the time (when no one can hear but the Lord).....So, if I stand up in a group and squawk out a verse or two of a song like that.......it seems more like real worship than an orchestrated, pristine, rehearsed, "professional" rendition, though the latter would be more appealing to the ears of the congregation by far..........

There is great emphasis in music ministry (I speak as an outsider) on "quality" performances: timing, orchestration, overall pleasing to the human ear musicality. Defenders of this intense effort, in my experience, fall back upon the description of O.T. sacrifices to justify their position.....that the sacrifice be "perfect, spotless, not the lame or otherwise flawed." Is this proper exegesis? When we speak of the sacrifice of praise, is that offering to be "perfect, flawless" in the eyes of man?.......or the eyes of God?

To me, this looks like a case of man looking upon the outward appearance (outward sound)........where God views this offering of praise as it comes from the heart of the person singing.

Complaints about poor quality singing in "specials" are surely a product of the flesh: the music did not "sound good" to our ears. In all this, I am assuming that the lyrics are Scriptural. There is no defense for unscriptural lyrics, no matter how "well done" they are. So, what are we doing if we criticize or avoid altogether a singer whose "offering" is off-key or not too sound musically.......Can we say that because we were not thoroughly "entertained" that his act was not pleasing to God? On what basis do we, or does any man, judge the acceptability of a sacrifice of praise offered by another believer?

How much emphasis do we need (as a congregation) on musical praise being technically perfect to human ears?
Do we need to cull poor singers in our body to keep them out of the "limelight"......to keep the overall group from being subjected to "poor singing"?........
Do we need to eliminate all sorts of "performance" singing: solos, choirs, small groups? Have congregational singing only?

I look forward to your thoughts.