Made to Make Much of Something Great

Last month, I was asked by two very different groups to teach on the topic of worship. The first was a women’s bible study (about 70 women) who were having a day-long retreat in Bethesda, Maryland. The second was my church’s newly re-launched men’s ministry, about 75 guys who get together once a month.

Both of these groups had their meetings on the same day. The women in the morning, and the men in the evening.

My goal was to intersperse teaching and singing over the course of an hour, helping to lay a biblical foundation for why we worship God, and how that looks. I leaned heavily (i.e. almost entirely) on the writings and teachings of John Piper and Bob Kauflin, since they have contributed immensely to my understanding and theology of worship. Bob’s seminar from the 2008 Sovereign Grace Worship Conference, “Praising God with the Psalmist” was a model of how I felt this should look.

My title was “Made to Make Much of Something Great”, and I talked about four ways we do that in corporate worship:

  • By desiring God.
  • By singing to God.
  • With our bodies.
  • With our minds.

You can listen to the teaching below. If you’re a reader/listener of John Piper and/or Bob Kauflin, you’ll probably recognize most of this stuff. This is how I tried to cram it all into about 45 minutes.

Music Through the Eyes of Faith – Pt. 2

Yesterday I shared some quotes from Harold Best’s book “Music Through the Eyes of Faith”. (See part one).

Here are some more quotes from chapter 1 (“God’s Creation, Human Creativity, and Music Making”) that struck me as being powerful arguments for using all sorts of varieties of music for God’s glory, and learning how to love them all.

“The creation, at first glance, appears to be full of anomalies. Because there are lobsters and hummingbirds, deserts and rain forests, turtles and people, we might be tempted to believe that a mixture of creative opinions has been at work, as assortment of deities, if you will, who have either compromised with each other or concluded their business in outright disagreement. How could the same Someone think up a hippopotamus and then turn around and imagine an orchid? Is God inconsistent? Does God have any taste? Or is he a Creator whose sense of rightness and beauty are so complete that we will have a more comprehensive way of integrating all of the supposed anomalies and contradictions in human creativity? Is there a way for us to see if or how the music or Eric Clapton or Beethoven can fin a place among the musics of Japanese kabuki, the Balinese gamelan, the songs of Stephen Foster, an anonymous dreamer of songs in Africa, J.S. Bach, and Blind Lemon Jefferson? We need to find ways to validate artistic pluralism without becoming so sloppy as to allow anything.”
God’s Creation, Stylistic Pluralism, and Music Making, pg. 24

“…We may have no more aesthetic right to say that a sunset is more beautiful than an artichoke than we do to say that classical music is more beautiful than jazz or Gothic preferable to Bauhaus. Perhaps we need to compare Gothic with Gothic, jazz with jazz, folk with folk, and so on, before we get involved in trying to decide among them.”
God’s Creation, Stylistic Pluralism, and Music Making , pg. 25

“If the same God can think up a cucumber and a falcon, the same potter can make a vase and a free-form object, the same poet can make a simple couplet or an extended drama, and the same composer a Scripture song or a symphony.”
God’s Creation, Stylistic Pluralism, and Music Making, pg. 26

“A galaxy and a blade of grass may differ, but only in the expanse of quality. This should give us no excuse for overlooking the wonder in a blade of grass. The galaxy and the grass are put together in the same way: elemental particles are chained together, in the one case to make something small and, in the other, to make something exceedingly vast. It is the elemental parts, the “simple particles,” that, yet to be explained, remain the greater mystery. We can make the same mistake with simplicity and complexity that we do with worth and function when we see one as better than the other. What is simplicity in human creativity? Complexity? If complexity means more and simplicity less, then the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is complex and Braham’s “Lullaby” is simple. If complex means complicated and simplicity clear, then Karl Barth’s writing is complex and C.S. Lewis simple. And if the cathedral of Notre Dame is complex, the great pyramids of Egypt are simple. Which of these is better? More profound? … Which is more profound, the brevity of the Golden Rule, or the cumulative rhetoric of the book of Romans?”
God’s Creation, Simplicity, Complexity, and Music Making, pages 30 and 31

Music Through the Eyes of Faith – Pt. 1

In 1993, Harold Best, emeritus professor of music and dean emeritus of the Conservatory of Music, Wheaton College, Illinois, and a former vice-president of the National Association of Schools of Music, wrote “Music Through the Eyes of Faith”, a book written to help Christians think biblically and critically about God’s amazing gift of music.

Every worship leader needs to read this book. Every musician needs to read this book. Every pastor needs to read this book. Really, every Christian should read this book.

My wife will vouch for how enthusiastic I am about this book. My shouts of “this is amazing!” or “can I read this to you?!?!” or “this is really amazing!” rose from the living room for the five or six nights it took me to read through it. What a remarkably rich, thought-provoking, Bible-saturated, well written book. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

I wish I could quote the entire book to you, but I’m afraid that might be illegal. For the next few days, though, I would like to share some of the quotes (some are fairly long – but they’re worth it, trust me) that I found most amazing.

Chapter 1: God’s Creation, Human Creativity, and Music Making
“God is directly and continually engaged with his handiwork. Natural laws continue to work because Christ is now saying so; the galaxies continue to speed away from each other because Christ is now saying so; we continue to live, move, and have our being because Christ is now saying so.”
God’s Names and Creatorhood, and Human Creativity, pg. 13

“Had God not made the creation, God would still be the Creator, self-caused, entirely complete. In a way that eludes us, the triune God can be eternally at work within himself, disclosing the fullness of himself to himself and infinitely rich within those disclosures. What does this mean to our creativity and music making? Above all, it means that we should not make music in order to prove that we are or to authenticate ourselves. God created in us the capability for understanding that we are authenticated in him, not in what we do.”
God’s Names and Creatorhood, and Human Creativity, pg. 14

“As glorious as the creation is, it was merely created and not begotten. A strawberry, a galaxy, a dolphin, and a sea lion are not in the image of God. They are handiwork, pure and simple, thus of an entirely different order.

The next point is crucial. Having made the creation and having created us in his image, God has given us particular assignment that could not have been given to any other created beings. In telling Adam and Eve to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Genesis 1:28), God was setting down a basic principle. Man and woman, created in the image of God… are neither the same as the rest of creation nor subject to it. While materially they can be outweighed by a mountain or overpowered by the force of the ocean, and while they are incapable of changing the speed of light, they cannot be morally, spiritually, or behaviorally overcome by anything in the creation around them.”
The Creator Is Not the Creation and the Music Maker Is Not the Music, pg. 16

“Let’s concentrate on something that almost never comes to mind: the music that Jesus heard and made throughout his life – the music of the wedding feast, the dance, the street, and the synagogue. As it turns out, Jesus was not a composer but a carpenter. Thus he heard and used the music made by other, fallen creatures – the very ones he came to redeem. The ramifications of this single fact are enormous. They assist in answering the questions as to whether music used by Christians can only be written by Christians and whether music written by non-Christians is somehow non-Christian. But for now, it is important to understand that even though we don’t know whether every piece of music Jesus used was written by people of faith, we can be sure that it was written by imperfect people, bound by the conditions of a fallen world and hampered by sinfulness and limitation. So even though we do not know what musical perfection is, we do know that the perfect one could sing imperfect music created by fallen and imperfect people, while doing so completely to the glory of his heavenly Father.”
The Fall, Creativity, and Music Making, pgs. 18 and 19

More tomorrow.

Quotes taken from “Music Through the Eyes of Faith” by Harold M. Best.