I heard you the 1st Time!

We have all seen jokes about the lack in lyrical content in modern day contemporary worship music or the repetition that often runs throughout songs and the genre as a whole.

i-write-modern-worship-choruses

Repetition is often used as a divisive wedge between the “contemporary” and the “traditional” songs.

In fact, the repetition often found in the lyrical content of contemporary worship songs is framed as a negative thing and used as a weapon in the “worship wars” that still wage in many churches around the country today.

I find it interesting though that many of the most popular “traditional” hymns that have been sung for centuries in the church deploy the tactic of repetition in them as well.

Lets take “The Old Rugged Cross” for example. We all know how it goes… this particular song uses the phrase “the old rugged cross” twelve times. Twelve!

Or… we can look at one of my favorite hymns, “To God Be The Glory.” This particular hymn uses the phrase “Praise the Lord!” in the refrain four times. That means if you sing the song straight through, you will have sung “Praise the Lord!” twelve times.

Or we can do the Baptist “fight” song, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The phrase “Onward Christian soldiers” is used seven times throughout the song. This song even uses the same structure as many contemporary songs with the refrain coming in after every verse just like our modern day choruses.

But… we aren’t here to compare “new” and “old” because ultimately they are both great when used for the correct purpose. We are here talking about repetition.

We see repetition in Scripture! Psalm 136 uses the phrase “His love endures forever” twenty six times, and Psalm 119 refers to “The Word” over one hundred times.

We even see repetition in the worship found in Isaiah 6:3 where we see the creatures in God’s throne room. It says,

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

In fact, we find this phrase repeated again in Revelation. So… what is with the repetition, and what purpose does it serve? Let’s think together below.


  • Recognition

Many argue that the lines used repeating phrases are just a “cop out” for poor writing or a lack of deep lyrical content or theology. I would say that sometimes this is true.

Sometimes.

But… on the other hand I am a firm believer that repetition can be used to effectively convey beautiful Scriptural truths. The reason that I say this is because, I will be the first to admit that, it is far too easy for me to sing over a line in a song without ever thinking about it at all. I see the words ion the screen, I read them, and they flow out of my mouth. The end. No thought required.

The repetition instead provides more opportunities for me to read and recognize. Deep lyrical content doesn’t mean a lot if our congregations are breezing by the words and not even recognizing what they are saying or singing.

Bob Kauflin has this to say about repetition,

When someone has a problem with repeating lyrics, I’m reminded of my daughter’s response when I suggested she read a certain book of the Bible. “I’ve already read that,” she replied confidently. I had to help her see that reading something once doesn’t mean we’ve fully grasped all God has for us in it. Besides, we’re dull. Our minds aren’t always engaged with the words we’re reading. We need to hear them again.

  • Reinforcement

As a Worship Pastor that holds an undergraduate degree in English the problem many have with repetition perplexes me. In fact, I’d suggest that some of the greatest moments in literature, and even history, came riding in on the wings of the repetition of key phrases being reinforced over and over again. In Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, he repeats “I have a dream” eight sentences in a row. Eight! 

Sound like a familiar technique used in many songs today?

We see that each time Dr. King repeats the phrase it gains power until his audience is completely swept up in his dream of racial equality and love for one another.

Repetition can be a powerful tactic to really create impact in certain lines of speeches, poems, or songs. This doesn’t mean that repeating one line a thousand times makes it acceptable or “rich” in the sense of what makes a song good for corporate worship. It just means that using it intentionally as a device to reinforce a key theme is valid, and we actually see this employed in songs across the ages.

  • Memorization

Do you struggle to remember the words to songs that you sing weekly in church?

How about memorizing Scripture?

I don’t know about you… but I can’t memorize something after only reading or hearing it once. But, that is where repetition can come in to play. Repetition is a time tested and useful tactic in songwriting that when used properly can create a sing-able and memorable expression of worship and/or Biblical truth that serves our congregations well.

What better way to disciple your congregations than equipping them with memorable words and phrases that they can sing or preach to themselves throughout the week when we aren’t there to spur them on or encourage them in the Lord.

Nick Roen says,

We often bristle at repetition in our corporate worship. We think it breeds superficiality, or creates a false emotional frenzy, or is just plain boring. We have to remember, though, that our hearts are slow to feel. We need to remember that, even in our believing, we suffer from unbelief (Mark 9:24). We need to remember to remember. Dwelling on a simple and weighty truth for an extended period of time will, at times, be the only way to break through spiritual forgetfulness.

This reality is why we come together for corporate worship. Every week, we rehearse the same realities to one another over and over so that our rhythms of forgetfulness fade (again and again), while our faith rises. We remind each other of the familiar old story through song and through preaching, so that we might begin to remember. We continue to admonish, encourage, and strengthen each other, not with novelty, but with repeated refrains, “God is holy, we are sinful, Jesus saves!” Or, “his steadfast love endures forever.”

How could we ever sing that too many times?

  • Declaration

We already mentioned the instance found in Revelation 4:8 where we are given a glimpse into the heavenly throne room. In that passage we see the four living creatures, in all their terrible beauty, falling before God and singing over and over one single song.

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

It’s not vain repetition. It’s not empty emotionalism. This is the never-ending, increasingly satisfying worship of a God who is worthy of the infinite reprise of his attributes. It is a declaration.

I believe that there is nothing more worthy of my declaration than the gospel… and that is what we do with repetition. We declare to ourselves, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the world that we serve the almighty God and He alone can save and is worthy of our praise.


So… what are you repeating, recognizing, reinforcing, memorizing, and declaring?

Advertisements

The Dangers that come with Talent.

Talents. We all have one… some people have many.

We don’t have to look hard or far to see people all around us using their different abilities for all kinds of different purposes, and it making an impact on the world around them. We have talented actors and musicians who provide for us entertainment. We have talented mathematicians who keep the financial part of the world moving. We have people gifted and talented with patience who teach our children, and the list could go on and on.

The same goes for the church world. We can see people with incredible gifts making incredible advancements for the Kingdom of God. I fully believe that the church has some of the most talented artisans, speakers, and individuals in the world within it. Some of the best archeological research, art, and humanitarian efforts come out of the Body of Believers known as the church.

In fact, using our abilities for the glory of God is part of what we are called to do! Romans 12:6-8 says,

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

So… talents, we all have them.

But, with every good thing comes a temptation. What dangers come along with our assorted talents and how do we place safeguards in our lives to overcome these temptations? Let’s think together below.


  • The focus shifts.

Lets face the facts… talents have a way of drawing attention to themselves.

All of us at some point have looked up to someone and said something along the lines of, “If only I could (fill in the blank) like (whomever it is you look up to) then I could (blank).

We live in a society that places individuals and gifts on a pedestal unashamedly and unfortunately that creeps into the church without us even realizing it. Too many people use someone else’s talent and their apparent lack thereof, or shortcoming in that particular area, to make excuses as to why they can’t do something. Or, it can turn into resentment or bitterness towards a person, group of people, or ministry area just because they aren’t “part” of it or just because they aren’t necessarily gifted in that area.

All of us are aware of what Romans 12:4 says,

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function.

But, do we live with that attitude and/or mentality?

For example, I know people personally who are incredibly talented in areas but can’t move past the fact that they aren’t so talented in the ones in which they place on a pedestal. We all have met these people. They may be a great teacher, but they live in constant frustration because they want to sing and they just can’t…

Let’s embrace OUR gifts and use them, while also embracing others and their gifts and allowing them to use them!

We also must be aware of where we are placing the focus when we utilize our gifts. Sometimes it isn’t just another person’s fault when they idolize a particular gift that we may have. We must fight the danger of pride and point all of our workings and talents towards Christ the giver of all good things.

When the intentions are pure the focus will be right.

  • Preparation begins to take a back seat.

Another danger that comes along with talents is that we begin to rely on our talents alone and preparation can take a back seat to other things. Now obviously this can be preparation for the task or spiritual preparation… but we will discuss the spiritual aspect in the next point.

As a Worship Pastor there are times when I could easily “check out” and not be prepared to lead my band at all when we are playing songs that I’ve either played or heard a thousand times before. We all know that most of our church music isn’t the most “technical” stuff out there… and I must fight the urge to simply rely on my abilities to put out a mediocre product.

But… by relying on talent or gift alone who and what does that glorify?

Hebrews 13:16 says,

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

We must fight the urge to offer up our “second best” sacrifice out of convenience.

Instead we must embark on the journey past mediocrity and into “excellence” for Christ, and excellence won’t come without preparation.

  • Your giftedness can begin to overtake your spiritual maturity.

For me this is the scariest danger of all.

Each of us has the opportunity to allow our own giftedness to overtake and surpass our spiritual maturity.

We have seen this take place in our society over and over again. Think of a pastor, evangelist, or worship pastor who has fallen in their ministry. How does that happen? Up to the day their “ordeal” came out to the public they were still “ministering” and blessing others with the gifts and talents they had been given. But… what were they relying on? Obviously not God… instead their giftedness had surpassed their character. Their giftedness and overtaken their spiritual maturity.

Sure… we all mess up. But I believe we are talking about something else here.

God has given us gifts and we are to choose what we do with those abilities. In Scripture we know that David was called for a special ministry by God, and immediately following that call he returned to the field where he would shepherd sheep for years until the day that calling would come to fruition and be worked out within his life. Why? He had a gift… he was called.

I believe that God called David and then sheltered and hid him until his character was prepared for the calling in which he was made.

So… if David was sheltered until his spiritual maturity and character were ready for his gift then how are we safeguarding ourselves?

Our giftedness or success in life or ministry should never equate to our “spirituality.” They simply aren’t the same.

Guard yourself. Abide with Jesus. Your gift will work itself out in your life… but our first calling isn’t to our giftedness, instead it is to Jesus.


How are you gifted? How are you using that gift? How are you safeguarding your life?

Why so Personal?

Have you ever been offended by feedback that someone “most graciously” offered you at church?

It could be about anything… a ministry you are in charge of or involved in, the songs you pick or play, the way you approach and speak to people/ carry yourself, or even something as frivolous as the way you dress. We are a society of critics. We have game shows where we critique people. We rate performances, music, movies, athletes, etc… We all have feedback, and most of us want to share it, but none of us like to receive it!

Sometimes I wonder if we as Christians have, and offer, too much feedback on minor issues while being spineless and quick to zip our lips and stand back on major “counter-Christian” ones.

I also have come to wonder… why are we so sensitive? We treat most feedback as a personal attack against us, and sometimes we can be offended even when no offense was intended. Let’s be honest… most critiques we receive aren’t attacking us on a personal level, and most of it isn’t meant as an attack at all, but actually it is usually meant to try to aid or assist us in what we do.

I myself, being a creative person, have found that we artists can be overly sensitive. Artists can be the most stubborn people of all. I will be the first to admit that I personally have to watch myself because often times I want things my own way and become angry when I am challenged to do things a different way.

I wholeheartedly believe that because art is such a personal thing, it is difficult to separate ourselves from our work. We pour all that we are into our work, and that leaves us feeling vulnerable. Our “art” or “creation” is constantly being evaluated, and not everyone will like it! A Picasso painting doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone!

So… in a culture full of evaluation and critics how do we handle feedback from within the church? Do we let it break us down and ruin our spirit? Do we become defensive and turn people away? Do we try to please everyone and run ourselves into the ground in the impossible process? Let’s talk about handling feedback below.


  • Greet feedback as your friend.

Proverbs 27:5-6 says,

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:17 says,

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

As individuals sometimes we begin to resent feedback or criticism and treat it as an enemy rather than a friend that is “sharpening” us. We must have a teachable spirit and be open to critique… be open to “sharpening.”

It is important for us to realize that feedback can be God’s agent to bring growth in your life- spiritual growth as well as artistic growth.

It sounds easy on paper or on your screen… but it is much more difficult when you are receiving it.

  • Respond with grace.

James 1:19-21 says,

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

This passage is important for us as Believers when responding to criticism or feedback.

We must “be quick to listen” instead of being quick to justify ourselves.

We must “be slow to speak” instead of being quick to defend ourselves.

Most importantly, we must “be slow to become angry. Let’s commit ourselves to cooling down and prayerfully thinking about feedback and our response before giving it.. Proverbs 15:1-2 says,

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

When constructive criticism is given it is important for us to make an effort to respond with appreciation. If you are doing what the Lord is calling you to do then pursue that and let Him handle it.

  • Learn how to fail graciously.

No one succeeds all the time. We are going to make mistakes and we need to own up to them. If we have a teachable spirit then we commit ourselves to learning all we can from our mistakes.

By accepting feedback and criticism we are not only accepting our “mess-ups” and shortcomings… but we are also moving towards making those things better.

Don’t take yourself SO seriously. Be joyful and laugh at your mess-ups… everyone else probably is anyways!


A couple of thoughts in closing:

Forgive those who hurt you with harsh feedback or criticism. Harboring bitterness and resentment can do more damage to you than negative words ever did.

You can’t control what people are going to say… but you can control how you’re going to respond.

Fast Food Jesus

We all probably eat WAY too much fast food. It is just so convenient and enjoyable! The thing about fast food is… no matter how many people tell us that it is bad for us most of us will continue to eat it anyways.

But… here is a serious question: Do we treat our faith like a fast food drive-thru?

I think that too often we do and we don’t even realize it. Let’s make some connections below.


  • You can’t “Have it your Way.”

Too often we try to walk out our faith the “Burger King” way… we try to have it all “our way.” Unfortunately… a life touched by Jesus doesn’t work that way. As Christians we are followers” of Christ, which means we walk by His leading.

We see a prime example of this exact lesson in the story of Jonah.

Most of us know the story of Jonah and the Whale as found in the book of Jonah. This story opens with God speaking to Jonah, son of Amittai, commanding him to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh.

As a prophet of God Jonah found this order unbearable. Not only was Nineveh known for its wickedness, but it was also the capital of the Assyrian empire, one of Israel’s fiercest enemies. Jonah wanted to see them fall! Jonah wanted to see justice served up to Israel’s enemies! This “mission” of God wasn’t the mission that Jonah had “pictured” God would put him on. God commanded Jonah to help people he didn’t even like.

How many of us can relate to that?

We see Jonah react in a way that many of us have probably reacted before… he did just the opposite of what he was told just like any child who frequently tests the patience of their parents. Jonah went down to the seaport of Joppa and booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, heading directly away from Nineveh. The Bible actually says that Jonah “ran away from the Lord.”

We all know the outcome of this action… God sent a violent storm, the sailors tossed Jonah into the sea, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish sent by God, and then while in the belly of the whale Jonah repented and cried out to God in prayer.

Jonah was in the giant fish three days until it finally vomited him out onto dry land. This time Jonah obeyed God. He walked through Nineveh proclaiming that in forty days the city would be destroyed, and surprisingly, the Ninevites believed Jonah’s message and repented and God had compassion on them and did not destroy them.

Are you like the reluctant Jonah?

What is God calling you to do that you just don’t understand, or don’t want to do?

Christianity doesn’t follow the Burger King slogan… you cannot “have it your way!”

  • There is nothing “convenient” about it.

In Scripture we see a lawyer encounter Jesus and leave with something he never expected… Luke 10:25-36 says,

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

This parable contains stories of both convenience and inconvenience. The lawyer, who knew the law, attempted to put Jesus in a bind by asking him a question about the law that he already knew the “religious” answer to. Jesus in turn replied with an answer that shook the foundations of the law and what this man understood as “following” the law. The lawyer probably had a comfortable life of convenience that he simply inserted his knowledge of the law into… but the application is always the hardest and most inconvenient part.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus draws a line between those who knew the law and those who obeyed the law… even at their own inconvenience.

In this story the first person who encounters the injured man is a priest. The priest represented the religious-acting people of the time. They “talked the talk” and knew all the right answers, but rarely walked the walk unless it was for show in front of others. We can even see this in today’s society and culture. Sometimes it is too “easy” to play the religion card or to use Christianity as an out or “back-up” plan. It is a convenient “social networking” or Facebook Christianity… and it is detrimental to the cause of Christ.

Anyways, the priest in this parable went out of his way to avoid the injured man because as a priest he didn’t want to make himself unclean by associating with someone who may have had blood on them. Not to mention the fact that the man was a Samaritan and that whole group of people was deemed “unclean” by the Jews. The priest could have even been on his way to perform his priestly duties and didn’t want to undo the ritual washings on himself that he had already likely performed. Ultimately, he let his convenience get in the way of what he knew was right. He knew the law in his heart and didn’t act upon it with his hands.

The same can be said of the Levite. Levites were experts in the Law… but sadly the one in the parable ignored what Jesus had just defined as the law: to love God and then love your neighbor as yourself.

The last person to come by was the Samaritan… the Samaritan people were considered a low class of people by the Jews since they had intermarried with non-Jews and did not keep all the law. Because of that the Jews would have nothing to do with them. In this parable Jesus doesn’t specify whether the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s race or religion. The Samaritan saw past race and religion differences and saw a person in need. He didn’t just know the law… he acted upon the law. He got involved! Christianity has to get involved… even when it isn’t convenient.

A true experience with Jesus or encounter with the Lord strips us of our convenience and replaces it with a cause.

  • You can’t exchange it if it isn’t what you expected or ordered.

I always wonder if Paul knew what we know now if he would’ve just stayed blind! Think about it… shipwrecks, beatings, prison, etc… not exactly the most comfortable or convenient life. In all actuality Paul probably had it better while working for the Romans… he was an ancient government worker! Paul probably had a nice lifestyle, some recreational cash, and maybe even a couple of weeks of paid vacation days per year!

But… the road to Damascus changed everything.

In what is probably the most famous chapter in Acts we see a life unexpectedly changed after an encounter with God. Acts 9:1-19 says,

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

This Saul character who has a miraculous encounter with God and is forever changed is the last guy most people would expect! Before this passage of scripture we hear about Saul. He was the one that people were laying their coats down in front of during the stoning of Stephen, and it was mentioned previously that he was leading the persecution of Christians. But when he encounters Jesus his world is turned upside down. God changes everything.

So… that leads me back to my point… Saul/ Paul had a comfortable job, influence, and success by the worlds and governments standards, and yet gives it all up to follow Jesus and spread the Gospel. When hard times came he had the deep understanding that we don’t always get what we want or expect, but God’s will and ways are higher than ours. No returns and no exchanges.

Paul truly decided to follow Jesus… no turning back, no turning back.


Let’s work together to get out of the “Fast Food Jesus” mentality. Our faith isn’t meant to be convenient, or fitted to our taste.