Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Do We Sing? A Case for Christian Worship through Singing

Why do we sing? Why do Christians sing in worship? What is the point? Hardly any other group, or club, or community sings together. I have thought about this lately. I love singing honestly. I have mostly all my adult life loved singing to Jesus through worship. I have lately come across more and more men (and some women) who are a little reticent to sing. It is not their thing, and or they are like most men and don’t care for singing. It seems a case needs to be made for why we as Christians sing. I have thought of fourteen reasons why Christians should sing...

1. The Bible Commands Us to
In Colossians 3:16; and Ephesians 5:18-19 it is pretty clear that the new community of Christ sang and did it in obedience. The early Church sang as a rule, and these passages command us to sing together. 

2. It Reminds of God's word
That same passage in Colossians 3:16 says, “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.” From this passage it is clear that the word of Christ dwelling richly includes admonishing, and singing. How do we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly? First teaching or admonishing and then second singing. Singing is a teaching tool. So as we sing through worship it reminds us of God’s word

3. It is Our Emotional Connection to God
First of all we are commanded to be emotionally connected to God. in Matthew 22:37 Jesus said, “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” No matter how we spin it love is an emotion. We do make decisions to love, but if you are not emotional about the object of your love, then I would say that love is lacking something integral to a healthy love. It is a total love, a full love, and what Jesus describes here is deeply emotional, and singing helps us stir our emotions.

4. It is a Way to Show Our Affection for Christ 
In the same vein as being emotionally connected, we must foster and fan into flame the fire of affection for Christ. singing to anyone is an affectionate thing. That is why people have sang and written love songs for centuries. That is why we listen to love songs together with our wives, husbands, boyfriends, and girlfriends. We love to increase affection, but why when it comes to singing to the creator of the heavens and the earth we suddenly get tongue tied? This should not be. Loose your tongue and sing your affection for Christ! You can’t love Christ too much. You can’t think about him too much, or thank him too much, or depend upon him too much, or sing to him too much. All our righteousness, is in Christ and that should make us rejoice with affectionate singing. 

5. Jesus Did
If Jesus sang then we should. He is our Lord and master. He is our Head worship Leader. You might ask, "wait, he is God what did he sing about?" Did he worship himself? No, he sang as an example to show us that singing is necessary in worship. Of course singing is not all of worship, but like Jesus, he didn't neglect it. Like a healthy diet if you only eat one thing too much, or never eat the healthy stuff you will not be healthy. We need a balanced diet in worship, and Jesus showed us how, he prayed, and he sang with the disciples. “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The writer of Hebrews quotes scripture, and writes it as if it were Jesus speaking, "saying, "I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”” (Hebrews 2:12) In Romans Paul also writes as if Jesus were the one speaking in the scriptural quote, “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”” (Romans 15:8-9) So Jesus will and continues to lead worship by glorifying God’s name through singing.

Czig√°ny The Singing Monk
6. Generations of Saints Before us Sang 
If this is true we can join the throngs of saints who have gone before us. Augustine said, “The clouds of heaven thunder out throughout the world that God’s house is being built; and the frogs cry from the marsh, We alone are Christians. What testimonies do I bring forward? That of the Psalter. I bring forward what you sing as one deaf: open your ears; you sing this; you sing with me, and you agree not with me; your tongue sounds what mine does, and yet your heart disagrees with mine. Do you not sing this?” (Exposition of Psalm 96). Tertullian also said about the martyrdom of Perpetua, “Perpetua sang psalms, already treading under foot the head of the Egyptian;” (The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, Schaff’s). Clement of Alexandria also noted the importance of singing, “But let amatory songs be banished far away, and let our songs be hymns to God. Let them praise, it is said, His name in the dance, and let them play to Him on the timbrel and psaltery. And what is the choir which plays? The Spirit will show you: Let His praise be in the congregation (church) of the saints; let them be joyful in their King. And again he adds, The Lord will take pleasure in His people. For temperate harmonies are to be admitted” (The Paedagogus, Book 2, ch.4). Eusebius summarizes Christian worship as "The singing of psalms and recitation of other such words as have been given us from God" (Church History X.iii.3). In Revelation John also has a vision of what will happen before the throne of God in heaven, "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:8-9) Join the throngs of saints who have come before us and will follow us with singing. 

7. It is a Test of Spirituality Maturity 
People who sing often to Jesus show that they are mature Jesus loving Christians. Those who make excuses not to sing should question why they would make excuses to not worship the one absolutely worthy of being sung to. Jesus said, "He who is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47), and so when we do not return love to Jesus in song, it shows the outside world that we think very little of Jesus. Do you love him? Then you will act like a crazy person singing love songs in the shower. Well now wouldn't that would be awkward at Church on Sunday?

8. The Church is One of the Only Places in Culture Where Communal Singing Takes Place
It is a great thing and community building to sing together. Have you ever been to a concert where everyone in the whole audience was singing together every word of the songs? There is an incredible community building component when we sing together. I remember seeing U2 at the Oakland Coliseum. When it came to the time for U2 to play their very popular song “Where the Streets Have No Name," we all shouted the lyrics together! It was exhilarating, it was community, it was the way church ought to be. The one place where regular communal singing takes place is in the church, and we should engage in it for our own sake, and for the sake of the communal experience in giving God glory together. 

9. You Build up the Body of Christ with Encouragement Through Singing
In Ephesians 5:19 Paul writes, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” In our worship through singing we "address one another" now what could that addressing do for us? It is a form of submission to each other's needs as that passage further points out “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21). So why would we as a body of Christ neglect something that  is so important for "one another." So build each other up through singing. 

10. It is a Missionary Act 
“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” (Psalms 105:1-2). This passage in psalms shows us how singing is an opportunity to tell people of God's wondrous works, and it is making him known to an unbelieving world. Do you want to be a missionary and make Christ known? Then sing!

11. Singing is a Direct Attack on the Enemy
What does Satan hate more than anything? He hates God, and so it follows that he would hate anything that would give glory to God. Because Satan is ultimately a glory stealer. And so when we sing to God we give him glory, and steal it from Satan. Thus it follows that Satan hates worship through music. And it is also a direct attack on Satan's glory stealing attempts. It is very hard to sin while you are singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Satan would love to see you sin. And as a Christian, I have found it almost impossible to sin when I'm worshiping God through song. Every time in ministry where I have dealt with demonic, or enemy powers in some way, I have asked the rest of the body of Christ to sing, and pray. 

12. Singing is Preparation for and Encouragement During Trials
What did Paul and Silas do during their imprisonment in Ephesus? They sang! “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25) Saints under persecution have sung during imprisonment, torture, and trials and have taken seriously the command to "rejoice in the Lord always.” Richard Wurmbrand the founder of the Voice of the Martyrs and imprisoned in Romanian prisons for 14 years said, "While in jail, we sang. Once the director of the prison entered our cell, furious. 'I was told that you sing subversive songs here. Let me hear one,' he commanded. We sang these moving words: 'O sacred Head now wounded, with grief and shame bowed down...' He listened to the end, then turned and left without saying a word. Later he became a brother in the faith" (Jesus Freaks page 290). The current president of Voice of the Martyrs Tom White recounts his experience in a Cuban prison, "I started singing...I was no longer conscious of the cold, only of Jesus...I had entered the highest level of warfare against the enemy--praise. Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits our praises...He held my shaking body in His arms. (Jesus Freaks page 259) As the saints before us have done let us sing to prepare ourselves to joyfully endure suffering and trials in the service of Jesus.

13. It Glorifies God 
How many times in the Scriptures are we commanded to sing "to him" or "unto him?” It is one of the most often commanded things throughout the Psalms, Prophets, and even on into the New Testament. It is seen as a one of the most normative act of worship in the New Community of Christ. 

14. You Increase Your Joy
James is clear that singing can and will increase our joy. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13). Singing is clearly linked to our Christian cheer. So sing and increase your Joy in the Lord, or on the other hand don’t sing and you can stay in your sorrow. Never heard of 'Sorrow of the Lord?' That’s because it isn’t a thing. 

Singing to the Lord is not something that we must resist, but rather submit to for our good and the glory of the Lord. A simple way to apply these truths is to sing joyfully. For instance don't skip the singing times in Sunday services, but go with gladness and focus on Jesus. Another idea is to use Spotify or Pandora as a tool to always fill your heart and mind with the songs of worship. Search for worship artists and create worship channels it's easy. Maybe these songs will soon come out of our mouths too at just the right moments. So Lord fill us with your Spirit that we would respond to you with great Joy in song. No matter how good of a singer you are, we can all sing and shout with a ragged voice because Jesus has saved us. He said, "It is Finished!" SO SING!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Nicknames Are Important For The Church

I was that guy when I was growing up. That guy that made fun of people. Yes I was a bully. To my everlasting shame I was a bully and made fun of people without regard for who, as long as it was not
me. I was merciless with no discrimination as to who it was, as long as it was not me being laughed I was ok with that. It probably had a lot to do with me being harassed and ruthlessly being picked on as a Middle Schooler. What is it with Middle School that brings out the worst in kids. It certainly was a horrific experience for me too. So when I got into High School I decided that I was going to be the one doing the bullying, and not being bullied. With incredible remorse now looking back, I know I hurt many people in the process, all the while claiming to be a sold out Christian. I am terribly ashamed of that part of my life. Part of my bullying included name calling. I was good at making up embarrassing, silly, and rude names for people. After confessing and repenting from these terrible sorts of bullying practices, I realized that God was not quite done with that part of my life, and wanted to use that and turn it for His glory in my future ministry. Early on in my ministry in College, I made up my mind that I would NEVER again degrade anyone with name calling, or mocking nicknames, but rather I would use this ability to empower others, and build them up by finding positive, empowering nicknames that would build the teenagers in my ministries up as people, and give them an identity in the community of Christ. 

The Lord began to use this ability in my life. I gladly decided to never ever denigrate or make fun of people again, but rather build people up with the ability to find nicknames. I started to use silliness and fun to create community. In nicknames I have found an empowering aspect for people, personalities, and the greater community of Christ. I started to to do this with consistency in youth ministry in the past 10-12 years. This has specific application to youth ministry, but I believe the broader body of Christ also. I will give a few examples. Ryan we called Rhino, Peter we called Uncle Pedro, Rebekah we called Sassy Pants (Which she loved by the way), just to name a few. This was a mixture of on the spot nicknaming people according to their personalities, and according to the fun stuff we did together. In the Bible there are many examples of people with nicknames. There was none more effective and interesting at this than the example of Jesus himself. Jesus named his closest three friends Peter, James, and John "Sons of Thunder" (Boanerges in Greek). He named Peter himself "Petra" or rock. Thomas was called "Twin." Jesus seems to use nicknames for specific purposes. He used godly empowering nicknames in a few specific ways...

1. Jesus and the rest of the Bible give nicknames or new names to call people. He gave nicknames to call them out of the world and into his work. For example, when Jesus says to his disciples that they will no longer be fishermen, but in a turn of phrase, they will now be "fishers of men." That is a calling that Jesus placed on their lives. When Jesus called Peter "Rock." he said and "on this rock I will build my church." This is the calling that Jesus placed on Peter's life. We see also that the early Church took on this value of giving new names. For example, Barnabas was named "son of encouragement." The Church nicknamed Barnabas because God had given him the calling as a great encouragement to everyone who he was around. This is how Jesus employed nicknaming people, to call them to a higher calling. 

2. The Bible and Jesus use nicknames or new names to give people a new identity in Christ. Jesus called men to a new life and identity in Him and his power. This is never more evident than in
Barnaba Introduces Paul to the Church (From a Kids Book)
the life of Saul of Tarsus. He was a hateful man who tried everything he could to persecute the Church of Jesus. Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and intervened and saved him. Jesus literally gave him a new identity. With that new Identity Jesus gave him a new name. He was no longer Saul, but Paul. In this case a nickname would not suffice. What was needed was not to accentuate a personality trait, but rather a new name which brought with it a new identity. And who was there in the end to bring Paul into a communion and acceptance into the community of Christ? Barnabas the "Son of Encouragement." This is the type of name calling God had in mind. One of these men had a new name and new identity, and one had found his identity as the "Son of Encouragement" in the Community of Christ. Names are important, and we ought to use what God has given to call people into a New Identity in Christ

3. The Bible and Jesus used nicknames and new names to give people a new work and goal. Jesus gave three men Peter, James and John a new challenge and
A favorite picture is Jesus laughing with friends
possibility to turn the world upside down, and bring their thunderous gifts to bear in His church; to this work of the gospel. Some people debate the semantics and source of the term "Beaneries." Wether it means "Sons of Thunder" or "They Act Like Oxen" it does not really matter. Either of these nicknames could lead us to believe that Jesus had a great powerful work planned for these three men. Jesus in using this nickname was intimating that these three men of power might give their power and kraft to the work of the Gospel. History and the Scriptures reveal that these men put their whole lives and "Thunderous Oxen Power" into the ministry of the Gospel. Jesus obviously used fun, laughter, and nicknames to empower people in Ministry, Calling, Identity, and New Work. This side of Jesus personality is often overlooked for the more serious aspects of his life and ministry, but he was an emotional man that was wholly engaged with his disciples, and people whom he loved deeply. So deeply that he knew them and used names, and nicknames to call them to a new identity in Him. Let us take Jesus example and invite people into the community of Christ wether we give people nicknames or not, and love them the way Jesus did us. This has specific application for youth ministry, but also for the wider Church community. Jesus has called us in love and we can respond to him in love by calling out to him. It seems to me a little weird sometimes to call on the creator of the universe by name, but he has called us by name. He has called and named us as his friends. in John 15:15 Jesus said, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." This is the big brother we have, he has called us friends, and given us a new name in Him. That name he has given to us who trust in him is, "Friend!" Now that is something to celebrate! "In this fortunate turn of events you (Jesus) ask me to be your friend!"