Posted tagged ‘hymns’

Running Ahead of Grace

February 8, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        February 8, 2020

                                    

At our small town Baptist church we have a machine that plays the organ music for the hymns that we sing. Our youth do another song during the worship service where they play a praise song on their Bluetooth speaker and the congregation sings along with them. For hymns, however, we sing with the machine.

Here’s the thing! Sometimes the volume of the music machine is not loud enough for us to hear if we are on the right note, word, or line. Sometimes it runs ahead of us, like an unleashed dog with a wide open field in front of him. Sometimes the machine lags behind, like a shy kindergartener being pulled into his first day of school.

Last Sunday we sang that great hymn, “Amazing Grace”. The music lagged behind and the singers scampered ahead, leaving grace in the dust. It wasn’t loud enough or dominant enough for it to be pursued. Instead, as we finished the first verse, it had become the pursuer.

By the final stanza we had slowed down our hurried vocal pace and seemed to be more in step with what it was that we were singing about. If “Amazing Grace” had three more verses we would have felt synchronized with the emphasis.

It seems that’s how it is with grace. We run ahead of it, run away from it, and run despite it. Our actions sometimes suggest it, but our thoughts betray our lips. The volume of its potential gets turned down and fades into the background of our beliefs.

Finding the rhythm of grace in our lives is challenging. When the crowd sings too quick, staying in step with grace requires resolve and conviction. When some of the group decide it’s not worth singing about at all, grace-filled people decide to stay the course, sing the next words that others find antiquated. 

“…I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see!”

I have found in my years as a Christ-follower that the most amazing moments in a journey with other believers happen when a church finds it’s grace harmony. Repentance and forgiveness seem to join hands and the transformative power of the grace of God seems to make singing the hymn freeing.

It’s like last Sunday! After we finished the last verse that John Newton wrote, and finally got in step with the music, we added an additional verse of our own. We sang two words over and over again to the same “Amazing Grace” tune. Two words again and again.

“Praise God, praise God! Praise God, praise God!”

The Rigid New Worship

March 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 12, 2019

                                  

A few months ago my wife and I attended a mega-church that had grown incredibly fast…numbers-wise! It wasn’t my cup of tea. The pastor’s message was okay, although it had a not-so-subtle hint of “Look at us now!” to it! But the striking…er, deafening aspect was the performance upfront that was referred to as “worship music.” I usually enjoy singing, but since I couldn’t hear my own voice I closed my mouth. Obviously, where I was in my parameters of worship was different than the masses.

Back in the 1980’s and 90’s there were battles in churches across the country that were known as “the worship wars.” Some churches had broken away from hymns and began singing praise music. Others put one foot in the hymnbook and one foot on the praise choruses sheet music. Generally speaking, the elder generation saw praise music as a step away from Jesus and a step closer to fallenness. The younger generation wanted the parking brake taken off of the organ! Few were happy. The Deceiver used music about Jesus to bring division into the church.

I was an “in-betweener”, singing “The Old Rugged Cross” in morning worship and then “Pass It On” at youth group that night. We never sang “Pass It On” in the church service, but, of course, we never sang “The Old Rugged Cross” in youth group.

And then when I was a student at Judson College things started changing. Keith Green came to campus and did a concert and I was “wowed” by the depth of the lyrics and the sound of the music. And then there was a lady known as “Honeytree”, and Rich Mullins, and a three siblings group known as The Second  Chapter of Acts. I still remember when our hymns-only church sang “Easter Song” by Second Chapter…but it was deemed okay since it was about Jesus, the resurrection, and it was Easter Sunday!

I remember the consternation about having someone play the drums in church, let alone the bass and electric guitars. Gradually, there was a softening of the hearts, or, perhaps, a turning down of the hearing aids, and we trudged to a worship wars truce. A suspicious spirit, however, emerged in a number of churches. I remember a man in my church who would leave the sanctuary every time a praise song was sung. If an organ was good enough for Jesus it was good enough for him. Anyone who liked those new praise songs was suspect in his mind, and, on the other hand, other people were suspicious of him!

But now we’ve come to a new day where the worship wars have ended…sorta’! Congregations were seeing their young people leaving the church and using adjectives such as “irrelevant” and “boring” to describe it. So…they surrendered to contemporary Christian music!

Once in a while they still sing a hymn…a revised, updated, hymn that is! One that has the same words, but a better beat in case anyone wants to dance in the aisles!

It’s amazing the flip that has happened! Just as there was a rigid loyalty in the older generation to singing the old familiar hymns, it seems there is now a rigidity in the new worship about not just singing the new music, but to making worship into a performance. The voice of the lead singer needs to be so amazing that the congregation thinks they are in the “American Idol” audience. The lyrics, more often than not, have to be so simple that the audience doesn’t even need to look at the mega-sized screen up front. The music so moving or soothing that it causes the audience to either jump or sway. 

Just as our old traditional congregations were steadfast about having the hymnal in hand the new worship is uncompromising about having the audience’s hands free.

I don’t believe we are headed back to the worship wars again, and that’s a good thing! But we do have a new crisis that we’re walking through. I’ll call it “The Worship Wows!”

The Challenge of Speaking The Same Language…in Church!”

August 12, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     August 12, 2015

              

What is a hymn?

How you answer that question may actually say something more about your age…or lack of…than anything else.

If you answered that question with responses such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, “In the Garden”, or “Blessed Assurance”, chances are you are over fifty years old.

“If you answered that question with such songs/hymns “Blessed Assurance” (again), “Majesty”, and “Pass It On”, you are probably under fifty by a few years or a couple of decades.

Why would I say such a thing? I hear quite often from the senior folk of my congregation the desire to sing more hymns. We try to balance our worship between hymns and praise songs. Recently, however, a revelation occurred to one of our musical members when she was talking about what hymns are. The younger folk she was in conversation with thought that a hymn was any song in our current hymnal…which includes each of the songs I listed in both sets of responses above.

That makes sense, in that they are in the…hymnal! But those who have been around for a few years would tell you that “Majesty” is not a hymn because…it just isn’t!

It speaks to the fact that any church that is a mixture of ages will have situations occur where people assume they are speaking about the same thing, but they really aren’t. It’s a cultural disconnect in the church.

When I was growing up and someone was asked whether they went to church the answer would be “yes” if they were there every Sunday. Some might even have said yes because in their thinking being a part of a church meant you were there every Sunday morning and evening, and every Wednesday night.

If that same question is asked today the answer could be yes, but the determining criteria for the one who answers is completely different. If a person attends Sunday worship once a month he characterizes that sa being intimately involved in his church. The typical church member now attends Sunday worship 1 to 2 times a month, whereas in my young days it was 3 to 4 times a month.

It is the same topic…are you very involved in your church’s ministry…but the definition of “very involved” is seen different.

What happens too often is that people, fallen in nature, misread other people they never  discover are speaking the same language in different ways. Instead of grace entering into the conversations sometimes suspicion and presumptions become the gap fillers.

The challenge for any church is creating that environment where people can hear those who are different than they are, while also feeling like they are also being understood.