Make a Joyful Noise

Beautiful strains of music filled our church building last night as the  York College Concert Choir performed. The fifty plus a capella chorus sang songs of praise that brought tears to my eyes.

I was blessed to once be part of this choir, as were my son and daughter, and Dawn’s son. Next year, our youngest, Emma, will be on their risers. All of this reflection made me think about how important music is in our worship.

In Col. 3:16 it 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.” Did you notice the types of songs are differentiated? I believe that’s because all three types of songs feed a different part of our souls. Let’s take a look.

 

Psalms: Psalms are scripture, and besides singing the Psalms in the Bible, I think this idea can expand to all scripture. Singing songs based on scripture helps us commit them to memory and recall God’s word when we need it. Many psalms are also songs of praise, and nothing is more important in our worship than praising our Creator.

 

Hymns: A hymn is song a praise, but unlike psalms, they were not written under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Hymns are filled with important spiritual truths. We might be singing about the power of God, the joy of our salvation, His amazing grace, or recalling the sacredness of a rugged cross.

Some people think of hymns as “old” songs, but that isn’t true. They are as relevant today as ever. They provide a depth and wisdom. They help put spiritual truths and doctrines into our hearts and minds that we will never forget. They touch us intellectually.

 

Spiritual Songs: Spiritual songs touch our emotional core. Whether it’s a praise song or needing the Lord, our modern praise songs “move” us. We can express our joy or praise or brokenness through these songs.

The Bible repeatedly encourages us “to sing a new song to the Lord” (Psalm 96:1, Isaiah 42:10, Rev. 5:9, Rev. 14:3). Our God is a God of creativity and He continues to bless His children through creative expression. Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”

By singing all three kinds of songs–psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs–in our worship, music finds its highest purpose. It allows us to glorify our God. Nothing else moves us or lets us express our adoration and thankfulness like music.

And the best thing is that God doesn’t care whether your notes are pure or a little off key. He hears the song in your heart.

Let’s chat now. What’s your favorite hymn or spiritual song? What role does music play in your worship?

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Singing in Asaph’s Choir

As a musician, one thing I love seeing in the Bible is the important role music plays. And it’s not just for worship and praise, but also for times of battle. Music is used to uplift when in sorrow and rejoice in victory. King David was a renowned musician, and his son Solomon is credited with writing over a thousand songs. (1 Kings 4:32).

Even with all the music mentions in the Bible, one name sticks out, Asaph, though little is known about him. He was the son of Berechiah, a descendant of Levi. He was one of three musicians King David placed in charge of singing in the house of Yahway. He also served under King  Solomon. Asaph’s descendants continued to play a musical role throughout the Old Testament.

Perhaps he’s best known for the twelve Psalms he wrote (Psalm 50, and Psalms 73 – 83) . He wrote Psalms that spoke of God’s judgment and mercy. He wrote Psalms of lament, and songs filled with Thanksgiving and praise. Clearly, the man was very passionate. There’s little doubt that he was one of the most gifted musicians–if not the most gifted–in the Bible.

Can you imagine what it would have been like singing in his choir, accompanied with stringed instruments, trumpets, and horns? I picture tears streaming down his face as praises are lifted high. And then I hear his baritone ring above the rest–clear, strong, and passionate. I imagine being overcome with the Holy Spirit singing through him, through us.

Someday that will happen. Some day, when we go Home, maybe we’ll be greeted by an Asaph-directed choir. And he’ll motion for us to join in the singing. I’m getting the chills just thinking about it!

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Psalm 81: 1 – 2

For the director of music. According to gittith. Of Asaph

Lyre

Sing for joy to God our strength;

shout aloud to the God of Jacob!

Begin the music, strike the timbrel,

play the melodious harp and lyre.

Heart of David

He only lived seventy years, but David made a lasting impression for generations to come. Giant killer, check. King of a nation, check. Man after God’s own heart, check. Let’s not forget he is the father of the wisest man in history and a great, great etc…grandfather of the Messiah. Athough David did some not so note-worthy things, he always rebounded. It was always about his heart. A heart attuned to God.

Psalm quote (250x185)After David sinned horribly and tried to cover it up, (which, come on David, did you really think you were going to get away with it, King or not?) he still found his way back into the shelter of God’s love and grace. Not only did manage to pour his heart into his Psalms, they have encouraged and helped millions of people since they were written. Isn’t that a writer’s dream? To have their writing last for centuries and still be viable and inspiring?

So, for my Biblical figure to have a conversation with, it would have to be David. I’d ask him what in the world possessed him, meager though he was, to go before a giant and his army. How did he draw on the strength of God’s love, even when he was running for his life? How did he face Nathan’s rebuke of his and Bathsheba’s affair and his hand in Uriah’s death? Did your son Solomon ever act like he knew more than you?

These and more questions would fill a notebook that I would ask if I could.

Psalms, Hymns, and Spritual Songs

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father in everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Eph. 5:19

I could name a list of hymns, and for many of us, each one would spark a memory or trigger a chorus. For fun, can you match these first lines to a song? (The answers are at the end.)

1.  Oh, Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands hath made…

2.  When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows rolls

3.  On a hill far away stood an old _____  ______,
The emblem of suffering and shame

4.  I am weak, but Thou art strong
Jesus, keep me from all wrong

5.  ______  ______, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me

If you got them all correct, you may have been raised, like me on a church pew with a hymnal in hand. My father was the song leader and we “practiced” the songs he was going to lead all the way to church every Sunday. Between that and a good memory for songs, I know nearly every verse of most of the songs in our songbook.

Today, the trend in many congregations is to sing more “spiritual songs” or devotional type songs. Our congregation sings spiritual songs, hymns, and scripture songs on a regular basis.

I think there’s a good reason why Paul emphasized all three types of those songs in Ephesians. We need all three types of music in our lives.  When we sing psalms or scripture songs, we are memorizing God’s word. Take it from a long term Bible class teacher, this is a very effective method of memorizing and we all need His word written on our hearts.

Hymns walk us through a story and engage our imagination, intellect, and will. The language is rich and filled with powerful images. They are mini-meditations and challenge us to look at ourselves. Can you sing “All to Jesus I surrender” without asking yourself if you have indeed surrendered everything? Hymns teach solid truths we can hold onto and turn to in times of need.

Spiritual songs touch us on an emotional, passionate level. They feed the spirit, connect us to one another, and provide a fresh awakening.

In the next two weeks, we are focusing on our favorite hymns. After having been raised attending church, singing in college choruses, and listening to countless songs on the radio and cd’s, I decided there was no way I could pick just one favorite hymn. I have too many favorites to count.  So, I’m giving you the answers to the ones above and telling you why I chose them.

How Great Thou Art—This song always gives me chills. My friend Deb and I have sung it together at several funerals. She and I are both sopranos and she sits on the right of the auditorium and I sit on left. The song leader then gets soprano in stereo. But when Deb and I sing that song, we both look at each other in the same spot every time. I love how the music connects us.

It is Well with My Soul—In college, I sang with a girls octet. This is one of the songs we performed. I can still hear Dr. Rhodes, our director, telling us to crescendo just a little on each line of the chorus in order to not go flat. That isn’t as important as remembering Dr. Rhodes and the wonderful Christian example he and my other chorus director, Brother Cox, were. Both talented men were also two of the most humble, Godly men I have ever known.

The Old Rugged Cross—I was blessed to have a Bible teacher named Connie (Mahan) Roundy when I was a pre-teen and young teen. She taught our all girls class and helped me develop lifelong attitudes, goals, and patterns. It was during her years of teaching us that her first husband, Floyd, had a heart attack and died. We sang this song at his funeral.  A few years later, God sent Connie a second wonderful husband, Lloyd. It was a delight to see her fall in love and share the old, old story with him. By the way, Lloyd’s first wife had been named Bonnie. Almost too ironic to believe, isn’t it?

Just a Closer Walk with Thee—As I said earlier, my dad was the song leader for our congregation for many years. Even after he’d given up that particular duty to the younger men, he’d occasionally lead this song. When he sings the words, I can see how much he means them and it makes me tear up every time.

Amazing Grace—According to many, this is the most beloved hymn of all time. If you grew up in the 80’s, your youth group may even have sung it to the Pepsi jingle tune. This song speaks to all of us in its own way. Its profound truths remind us that it is His grace, not our own goodness, that saves.

Still, I have to admit that one of the reasons I love this song is having heard performed by Rodney Britt with the group Acapella in the 90’s. I listened to a lot of Acapella’s albums in the 90’s, and and I added their special children’s cassettes when my kids came along. (No CD;s yet.) The video below is of a slightly older Rodney Britt in a reunion performance with Keith Lancaster at Acafest in 2010. When I used to play the tape in my car of him singing this song, I didn’t just listen to the song, I felt it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Amazing Grace by Rodney Britt (click for video)