Tag Archives: religion

“Post Christmas Blues?”

The following message is based on Psalm 90 and discusses our God’s eternality and humankind’s mortality, as we see in another year.  It was given on December 30, 2012.

This week I had the pleasure of having family in from California and Missouri.  We had a great time with our favorite foods, playing games, opening presents, touring Philadelphia, etc.  They all left yesterday and I have to admit, it was a bit of a letdown.  Life must return to normal.  Everybody must go back to work; kids must go back to school.  Reality sets in.  When all of this fun, goodwill and joy come to a screeching halt, if you’re like me, you could experience Post Christmas Blues.

Although we love these things, like food, family and fun, we are also reminded that the true meaning of Christmas is something that should last long past the holiday.  Jesus gives us reason to celebrate with those things we count as blessings.  He is life’s main blessing: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

One of the methods in dealing with post Christmas blues is by having a plan, goal or direction for the new year.  As a new year dawns, what do we want for 2013?  What is life all about?  What direction do we want for our lives?  What is our vision as individuals and as a church?  For part of that answer, we turn to Psalm 90, which speaks of the eternality of God and the frailty of man.  It reminds us that the years are given to us as a gift.  Each one is precious.  We must make the most of them.  How do we do that?

Let’s consider some observations from Psalm 90.  Thought to be written after the tragedy at Kadesh- Barnea, when God denied the Israelites entrance into the Promised Land because of their lack of faith, it is the oldest psalm in the book of Psalms.  Even though the Israelites had to wander in the wilderness, they needed to be reminded of some important lessons.  Man is limited in many ways.  The first of which is…

WE ARE LIMITED BY SPACE, WHILE GOD IS OMNIPRESENT.

This psalm forms the start of book four of the Psalms.  Psalm 90 is entitled: “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.”  Interesting to note that this is the only psalm that is ascribed to Moses.  It “contrasts God’s eternity and human mortality.  Moses seems to pray for God’s blessing on his own generation, doomed to wander in the wilderness.”[1]

Notice verse one: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  Ironically enough, Moses wrote this psalm during or around the time of the exodus and wilderness wandering.  At a time when the people of God did not have an established home or a place where they could literally “hang their hat,” the prophet sang of how God was their dwelling place, “throughout all generations.”  In His character, in His love and in His identity as their Creator and Father, the Israelites did not have to have an established place, at least for the time being.  This led them to depend on God for everything.  Egypt was a source of food, even though the labor was harsh.  Now, God would be their source of sustenance.

There were several reasons why God took His people through the wilderness.  Consider the following:

  • He would lead them with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  Exodus 13:21-22
  • He would part the Red Sea for them on their way into the wilderness journey. Exodus 14:13-14
  • They would experience the bitter waters of Marah and then the 12 springs of Elim. Exodus 15:22-27
  • He would show them his provision through the manna and quail.  Exodus 16
  • He would give them the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai as well as other laws I call “respect and responsibility” laws. Exodus 20

Some people are nomadic by nature.  The Kurdish people in the Middle East have no country to call their own.  They have been pushed out of countries such as Turkey and Iraq, so they live in pockets wherever they can.  Others have to leave their homeland because they are forced out.  Maybe it is religious reasons, maybe it is economic reasons.  I remember meeting a man named Abraham from Egypt.  He had made his way to Greece. I asked him why he left his home country.  He said it was because he could not find work.  He was trying to support his family.

This reminds us that sometimes we can get too attached to what is around us.  We don’t stop and consider that the only source of real stability in our lives is God.  It is only through a relationship with Him that the fear about the future can be taken away.

I was reminded of the reason why I celebrate Christmas in the words of Norval Geldenhuys: “Without the coming of Christ we should have no assurance that God really exists as a personal God, perfect in love and mercy, and we should still have been overcome with fear as regards the invisible, the hereafter, the divine and eternal. But thanks be to God that His Son gave Himself to the world in condescending love and became Man, bringing a perfect revelation of God as the Holy and Merciful Lord.”

God is our dwelling place.  Therefore Jesus must be our focus.  Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  WE ARE LIMITED BY SPACE, WHILE GOD IS OMNIPRESENT.  Secondly…

WE ARE LIMITED BY TIME, WHILE GOD IS ETERNAL.

This passage also reveals how mankind is incredibly finite.  Notice verse three: “You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning– 6 though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.”

Compared to God, our existence is limited by time and ability.  The book of James describes us as a vapor that is here only for a short while.  James 4:14 tells us: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Psalm 90:10 says: “The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

In contrast, God is unlimited by time and space.  Notice the way that Peter puts it in 2 Peter 3:8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”  Keil and Delitzsch put it this way: “He is however exalted above all time, inasmuch as the longest period appears to Him very short, and in the shortest period the greatest work can be executed by Him. …A whole millennium appears to God, when He glances over it, just as the yesterday does to us… .”[2]

In other words, adopt Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”  Paul saw His life as a commodity for Christ.  He wanted to live on for the sake of his spiritual children, for those in Philippi.  But he knew with these imprisonments, he could, or maybe even would lose His life.  Joy is mentioned in this letter no less than 13 times.  His focus was ministry; ours should be as well.  Tim Tebow recently put things in good perspective when he said: “Your character is who you are as a man and that’s a lot more important… “It’s a football game. That’s one thing, if you’re good or bad at football, but your character and integrity, that’s who you are as a man. That’s a lot more important. … I take that way more serious than I’ll ever take a football game.”[3]  Since our lives are short, how should we make the most of it?  Consider our church’s mission: To love God, serve others and grow disciples.  So I invite you this year to…

 

  • Make the glory of God your goal.
  • Make the love of others your mission.
  • Make your spiritual growth and that of others your passion.

 

This morning, we are limited by space, but God is omnipresent.  Secondly, we are limited by time, but God is eternal.  Consider the following poem as you prepare to start off this year:

 

Another new year now awaits us,

A page that is spotless and white;

New grace, dear Lord, wilt Thou give us,

To watch each new day what we write

Thine all-seeing eye is upon us,

Thine ear hears the words which we speak,

Thy heart knows the impulse which moves us,

Thy mind knows the object we seek.

The days Thou shalt give us in mercy,

We promise to spend to Thy praise;

And may honor, and power and glory

Be Thine, O Thou Ancient of Days![4]

 

 


[1] NGSB, 854.

[2] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 5: Psalms.

[4] —Author Unknown, Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.

 

“The Value of Music in Worshipping God”

The following message is based on 1 Samuel 16:14-23, explaining what church music is designed for: to assist us in our worship of God.  It was delivered on May 6, 2012

Music is powerful.  It places us at different times in our lives.  I can remember as a youngster that I used to hum a tune after I prayed, to calm my spirit so I could go to sleep.  Someone at prayer meeting on Wednesday spoke of how Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City,” placed him back in his service days.  Still another spoke of how she would come to church during a difficult time in her life and the hymns especially touched her.  Just recently, a church member remarked how Dottie and Karen’s Black’s rendition of “My Tribute,” especially ministered to her during her time of loss.  Today is Choir recognition Sunday.  We are reminded that sacred music does so many things for us.  One of Central’s strong points has been its music program.  We are grateful to everyone involved in our music program.  You minister to us every Sunday.

In our text for this morning, we see the value of music to the soul.  Saul was tormented by an evil spirit; the Hebrew is vague.  It could mean a harmful or distressing spirit, as the New King James puts it.  Regardless of what type of spirit it was, the sending of it was part of God’s judgment against Saul because he disobeyed the Lord by not destroying the Amelekites in chapter 15.  Saul feared people more than he feared God.  The church father Tertullian said: “God grants the devil power to inflict trials on humans in order to bring about their sanctification or punishment.”[1]

In the Old Testament, God’s Holy Spirit rested only on Prophets, Priests and Kings.  In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit inhabits all believers in Jesus Christ. God’s Holy Spirit had left Saul to reside upon David, Israel’s future king.  As part of God’s sovereign provision, David was appointed the court musician for Saul.  As he played on the lyre, Saul’s heart was put at rest and he was able to function.  1 Samuel 16:23 tells: “So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.”  This morning, I’d like us to consider a couple of aspects of this portion of our worship experience.  First of all,

MUSIC IS ANOTHER MEANS TO PRESENT GOD’S WORD.

The music that David played would undoubtedly be the psalms written from the time of Moses.  The Psalms were Israel’s hymn book.  Many were written by the Sons of Korah, a special designated group that led the people of God in worship.

There’s a lesson in good church music.  There’s a text that appears within the selections, but also in the bulletin itself.  Donald and Sally are teachers by calling; you will find them employing that approach on a continual basis.  Just like the sermon, our challenge is to be in a position to receive the message in the music, regardless if it fits our style.  Music draws intellectual and emotional responses.  Some music is meant to be lively and rhythmic; other music is meant to be smooth and legato.  Music is meant to invoke a response in us.

There is value to singing the Doxology, the Gloria Patri and other regular numbers.  Music affords us an ability to share, as well as listen and appreciate.  Music is a gift.  There are two sides to musical element of our service.  Our choirs present God’s message in song, whether that be Cherubs, Juniors, Dorians Bells, Celebration Brass, Chancel Choir or Brasswinds.  Our musicians help us feel the themes.  It might not be a wow song.  Or your sense of wow is not another’s sense of wow.  That’s why we aim to have an eclectic program.  There is a goal in mind: to minister God’s message to you through music.  The more styles we’re presented with, the more capable we become of understanding and appreciating other musical forms.  And, the more we appreciate, the more we are likely to be moved and inspired.  So, be adventurous.  Expand yourself.

The more we understand the closer we become to our Creator.  We gravitate to what we know.  Music affects the soul.  Music is another way that we can “…be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2).”  Music touches us on an emotional level.  That is what the arts do.  They touch the soul.  Personally, when Keith Maurer sings: “Bow the Knee,” I can’t help but become emotional.   Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Van Gogh struggled with mental illness most of his life.  He would read Shakespeare and become so bothered that he had to go outside and meditate on a blade of grass.  Nature was his “music.”  Unfortunately, he was a troubled man and took his own life when he was just in his mid 30’s.

But if we are not careful, we fall prey to thinking that music is meant for entertainment, just as the sermon or the presentation may be for entertainment.  So, if we’re not entertained, we leave disappointed.  The sermon and music don’t have entertainment as their goal.  They might contain portions of entertainment, but that is not what they are there for.

And we can be wrongly influenced by music.  Some popular music has the foulest messages; many of which are overtly sexual and violent in their meaning.  Jimi Hendrix, the iconic guitarist of the 1960’s once stated: “Music is a spiritual thing of its own. You can hypnotize people with music and when you get them at their weakest point you can preach into the subconscious mind what we want to say.”  What are the values, ideas and philosophies being presented to the minds of our young people?  Parents’ Music Resource Center found five major themes that rock music returns to repeatedly: rebellion, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and perversion, violence and the occult. These themes are blatant and recurring. Our minds are like computers: garbage in; garbage out.   In contrast, we try to marry the text to the music.  Look for it and use it as another means of receiving God’s word.

Moreover, our culture has made religion such an intensely personal and individual matter that we make it intensely self-centered and void of a sense of community.  Dr. Soong-San Rah in his book The Next Evangelicalism states: “While there are times when we should express our personal adoration of God, should the subject of the majority of our songs be the great I rather than the great ‘I Am?’ Worship, which should be the ascribing of worth to an Almighty God, can become an exercise of attaining personal self-fulfillment.”[2]

In contrast, worship music is meant to exalt God.  Psalm 108 states: “My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul. 2 Awake, harp and lyre; I will awaken the dawn! 3 I will give thanks to Thee, O LORD, among the peoples; and I will sing praises to Thee among the nations.  For Thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; and Thy truth reaches to the skies. 5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Thy glory above all the earth.”

MUSIC INVOLVES US.  IT IS ONE OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICPATE IN THE WORSHIP EXPERIENCE.

Music is also an opportunity for us to add something to the worship experience.  Worship is meant to be a participatory exercise.  You’re not coming into this “auditorium,” to see a show.  You are here to offer up something to God.  Colossians 3:16 is a directive: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Music has always played a role in the worship of God.  The Sons of Korah were musicians meant to aid the Israelites in their worship. In addition, Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples before He went to the Mount of Olives, as part of their Passover observance (Matthew 26:30).  So we ought to give God our best when participating in it.  Are there some practical suggestions for this?

John and Charles Wesley were two brothers that felt called of God to bring about a renewal movement within Anglicanism, what later came to be known as Methodism.  Both loved music and Charles Wesley wrote many of our favorite hymns like “”And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”  “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” and “Rejoice, the Lord is King.” In 1761, the following rules were singing were written by John Wesley[3]:

  • Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
  • Sing with passion and courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
  • Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
  • Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
  • Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Dr. Sam Logan, former President of Westminster Seminary and my advisor at Biblical Seminary, is quite animated when he sings in a worship service.  He pours himself into the experience.  You come away being inspired by watching him sing hymns.  There’s nothing wrong with getting into it.  Fred Seipt, avid Penn State football fan, once said: “Why is it that we can get excited for a football game and not about God on Sunday morning!?”  That’s a very good point.  Offer to God your best and get into it, as God enables us.


[1][1] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. IV, p. 263.

[2] Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 35-36.