Sunday, December 15, 2013

"What Man Is This?"

These are my notes from the sermon I preached today (12/15/2013) at One Hope Church. Download the audio here.

A couple of weeks ago, the Monday after Thanksgiving actually, I overheard two girls talking in the hallway of Dawson Hall. One girl was going over the Christmas account in Luke's Gospel while the other listened. When I walked by a few minutes later, she was talking about Moses. I've noticed these two girls before and since, and from what I can gather, one is a not yet a believer or a very young believer, and the other girl is discipling her...every week at the same time in the same place. Pretty awesome, if you ask me. This season gets people talking and singing about Jesus that might not any other time of year, and I thought that it was a good time to ask, "Who is Jesus?". As we continue through the Gospel of Mark, we see a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus and the lives of his disciples.

Mark 8:22-26

The Healing
One thing that always stands out to me is that Jesus was not afraid to touch people, even sick, dirty, and sinful people. In a culture that had extensive rules about touching unclean things, Jesus touched. I'm reminded of a scene in "The Lord of the Rings" when Frodo had been injured. As he was recovering, Sam rushes to his bedside and takes his hand. It was specifically mentioned in the book, and the filmmakers made a point to include it in the movie. Touch is powerful.

The other thing that always stands out to me is that Jesus doesn't heal in the same way every time, even if the person has the same condition, in this case, blindness. In John 9, he heals a blind man on the Sabbath (which caused quite a stir) with spit and mud. In Mark 10, he heals Bartimaeus with only a word. He heals two blind men in Matthew 9 with only a touch.

This miracle is unique, though, among all of the healings recorded in the Gospels; it's progressive, or occurs in two stages. Was Jesus having an off day? Did He not have his 'mojo' working? Was this healing particularly more difficult? Not at all! As with many miracles, it served a purpose beyond simply healing the person.

Look back on the previous passage. Jesus had just fed four thousand (second miraculous mass feeding) and was warning His disciples about the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees, but His disciples didn't understand that He was referring to the Pharisees' hypocrisy and thought that he was upset about them not bringing enough bread. Verse 21 records Jesus saying, "Do you not yet understand?".

He goes on to illustrate their lack of understanding with a living, or acted out, parable. Just as the blind man could only see partially after Jesus' first touch, likewise the disciples could only 'see' Jesus partially at this time. Understanding didn't come on like flipping a light switch; it was, in the same way that vision was given to this man. As we'll soon see, the disciples recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but they didn't truly understand what that meant.

His Identity
This period in Jesus' ministry is marked by times of withdrawal or retirement. In Mark 1:45, we see that Jesus could no longer enter a city publicly. If people knew He was there, a crowd would develop quickly because of the miracles He performed. Also, people believed that He might be the Messiah (among other things, as we'll soon see). Jesus had to be intentional about His movements and finding times of seclusion to teach His disciples and rest.

When Jesus would encounter a demon-possessed person, the demons would recognize Jesus for who He was and identify Him as the "Holy One of God" (Mark 1:24) and the "Son of God" (Mark 3:11). He would typically warn the demons and those that were healed not to tell anyone, with one notable exception: the Gerasene Demoniac (Mark 5). Once healed, this man wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to go back to his village and report what the Lord had done.

When His disciples saw Jesus calm the sea, they asked themselves, "Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" (Mark 4:41). Jesus was increasingly being recognized (Mark 6:54), but not for who He truly was.

In the case of the blind man in Mark 8, Jesus took him out of the village before performing the miracle and told him not to enter the village on his way home. There are a couple of possible reasons for this. First, Jesus may have been trying to avoid the chaos and excitement that would erupt upon people seeing the miracle. Second, Bethsaida is noted as a unrepentant city in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13. Jesus knew their hearts and may have been unwilling to perform a miracle in their midst.

Mark 8:27-30

Who do you say that I am?
These verses are really the climax of the first part of Mark and parallel with Matthew 16 and Luke 9, which both provide more detail. John the Baptist had already been executed by this point (Matthew 14), and the prophecy of Elijah's return was well known, if misunderstood.

Malachi 4 provides the basis of this prophecy, but the Jews didn't know how Elijah would be sent. They expected, understandably, that he might return in the way he was taken up: with a fiery chariot and whirlwind (2 Kings 11). The other idea was that he would return through a physical resurrection or reincarnation. It's no wonder that people started wondering if John the Baptist or maybe even Jesus was Elijah returned. John the Baptist denies being Elijah (John 1:21), but Jesus says that Elijah has already come as John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13). We gain some clarity through the words of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias, John's father, that John the Baptist would go "in the spirit and power of Elijah" but not actually be the person Elijah.

This was also not the first time that the disciples had said that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:41; 6:69; Matthew 14:33), but the title "Messiah" (or "Christ" in Greek) carried a lot of baggage. The Jews were (and are still) expecting a political Messiah (John 6:14). They expected Him to come and overthrow their Roman occupiers and restore the kingdom of Israel, but that was not His purpose. He stopped using the title "Messiah" when He spoke to avoid the political and revolutionary complications, but even his disciples still had these ideas in mind. It is clear from verse 29 that Jesus understood that He was the Messiah (and don't let anyone tell you that He didn't), but it was not until the triumphal entry and after His resurrection that He began using the title freely.

Mark 8:31-33

Journey to the Cross
We then start a new section in the book leading up to the cross. It was the right time for Jesus to begin clearly telling them what was going to happen, and He was holding nothing back. The title "Son of Man" is interesting. In the Old Testament, it has a very general application referring to all mankind, but not so in the New Testament. It appears 81 times in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) but only in the sayings of Jesus referring to Himself. It is most often used in regards to 1) His earthly work and humble condition, 2) His coming suffering, death, and resurrection, and/or 3) His future coming in glory. In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the title to refer to His pre-existence in heaven (John 3:13; 6:62). The church did not use this title for Jesus (John 12:34) until it was well established that Jesus used it of Himself.

Peter and the other disciples apparently didn't like this talk of rejection and death. Peter takes Jesus aside to set Him straight; 'surely these things wouldn't happen to the Messiah'. Just a few verses before, Peter had gotten it so right, yet now he is completely wrong, and Jesus wanted all of the disciples to know it. He turns back to the group and rebukes Peter by saying, "Get behind Me, Satan." Wow! I can hear the other disciples thinking, "Did Jesus just call Peter, 'Satan'?". Well, not exactly.

When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, the last temptation was to take Jesus to a high mountain and show Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matthew 4:8-10). In effect, Peter was repeating this temptation: power and authority or obedience to the Father. Jesus recognized the source of Peter's words: Satan. Temptation can come even from those closest to us, even godly people.

Mark 8:34-38

The Painful Truth
Francis Chan said, "When Jesus saw a crowd, He got skeptical." He knew that few would understand and follow Him. Six months away from the cross, He lets the crowd in on the decision He had made and that they would have to make: the world or their souls. This flies in the face of what Peter and everyone else were offering and expecting. He also established a key principle: their conduct now would affect His conduct when He returned in glory. We are each personally responsible to Jesus. He came as the Suffering Savior but will return as the Triumphant King, and we must be ready.

Lord, may we not be blind, whether fully or partially, to who Jesus is, what He is saying, and our need to respond.

May we be faithful to what He has called us to, not what this world offers.

Our response now affects His response then.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


"In the gospel God reveals the depth of our need for him. He shows us that there is absolutely nothing we can do to come to him. We can't manufacture salvation. We can't program it. We can't produce it. We can't even initiate it. God has to open our eyes, set us free,  overcome our evil, and appease his wrath.  He has to come to us."
-David Platt, Radical

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Music in Worship - OHC talk

These are my notes from my talk at One Hope Church on May 26, 2013. Audio available here.

Psalm 150
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty expanse.
Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
Praise Him with trumpet sound;
Praise Him with harp and lyre.
Praise Him with timbrel and dancing;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
My mother was a music teacher and church choir director, so it was no surprise that I took to music early in life. One of my earliest memories of church music was attempting to play the organ during the service while my mother directed and my older brother did nothing to stop me. I was probably 3 or 4 at the time. Fortunately, it was turned off.

I started 'beginner band' after school in fifth grade playing percussion, mostly because my older brother was a drummer, making it infinitely cooler. I went on to play in band throughout middle and high school, marched in Southwind Drum and Bugle Corps, studied church music (voice) in college, and led music in local churches for over a decade. I also had the pleasure of working for the Atlanta Opera after moving to Georgia. I did my graduate internship at Nu├ži's Space in Athens, Georgia. I now live Athens, an internationally-known music city, and get to make music on a regular basis. Needless to say, music is a big part of my life.

I believe that music is a gift from God to all, like rain and the sun (Matthew 5:45). Martin Luther claimed that anyone who does not regard music "as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being."

Science about music:
  1. More soothing than Valium in relaxing people for surgery.
  2. Lullabies reduce stress levels in infants and stabilize their vital signs.
  3. Listening to a specific piece of music produces consistent brain patterns in the auditory, attention, memory, and movement portions of people's brains.
  4. People with a musical background are more likely to be able to learn a second language.
  5. Musical training prior to age 7 can have a major effect on brain development.
  6. Makes men more attractive. (Greg Hagues wonders if this can explain John Mayer...)
Music is everywhere, both intentional (what we choose to listen to) and incidental (what we hear whether we want to or not)...commercials, TV shows, movies, sporting events, on the street. Music is often used as a tool because it is closely connected to emotion.
  • Music can both reflect and affect our mood.
  • Music has a strong connection to memory and emotional recall ('that song takes me back...').
  • The Mozart Effect.
  • Use of music in marketing and retail.
  • Use of music in movies to 'set the mood.'
  • Music therapy.
Music in the Bible
Music has always played a significant role in the worship of God. Here are a few examples:
  • Genesis 4:21 (first mention of music in the Bible)
  • 1 Samuel 16:23 (David refreshes Saul with music)
  • 2 Chronicles 20:21 (Jehoshaphat appoints singers to lead the army in battle, though the army would not need to fight)
  • 2 Chronicles 29:25-28 (Hezekiah restores temple worship)
  • Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32 (songs of Moses)
  • Psalms (the hymnal of the Bible, instructions to musicians)
  • Luke 1 and 2 (Mary's Magnificat, Zacharias' Song, Angels' Song)
  • Revelation 15 (song of Moses, song of the Lamb)
  • Paul's Epistles contain several unidentified quotations that focus on the Lord Jesus and are regarded by many as early Christian hymns.
    • Philippians 2:6-11
    • Romans 11:36
    • Colossians 1:15-20
    • 1 Timothy 3:16
So what did this music sound like?
We know a good bit about the instruments used, which were especially prominent in the Old Testament:
Cymbal circa 500 BC
  • String: harp, lyre, lute, psaltery
  • Wind: trumpet, oboe, flute, shofar (not really used as a musical instrument)
  • Percussion: timbrel, tambourine, drums, cymbals
  • Voice: singing is present throughout the Bible, but the New Testament focuses on singing
    • Singing included solos, choirs, and congregations and included methods such as "call and response" between the song leader and the congregation.
    • Singing is encouraged throughout the Bible (i.e., Psalm 100:2).
    • Jesus and his disciples sang (Matthew 26:30).
    • Paul and Silas sang while in jail (Acts 16:25).
    • There was a variety of song types that were utilized (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). The people were largely illiterate and depended on a strong tradition of oral history.
How did they learn the songs?
They couldn't exactly go check out David's latest psalm on Youtube or Spotify! The earliest forms of music notation date back to around 4000 BC, but we have no notation of any form for the psalms other than the instructions found in the text (i.e., selah). Western music notation was developed in the 9th century AD and only indicated the relative pitch, which was utilized for music like Gregorian chants. It wasn't until the 14th century that rhythm was added. For that reason, the best we can do for music dating back past this point is to offer educated guesses. Needless to say, it would sound very different than what we are used to.

Biblical Teaching About Music and Worship
As we've already seen, the Bible clearly teaches that music should be a part of worship. The Bible also offers some characteristics of God-pleasing music:
  • Joy (Psalm 81:1)
  • Orderly (1 Corinthians 14:26-40)
  • Skillful (Psalm 33:3)
Much like we mistakenly refer to a building as a 'church,' we often refer to music as 'worship.' Music does not equal worship. Not all music is worship (obviously), but not all worship is music, either. Worship can take many forms, including prayer, bowing, dancing, giving, serving, preaching, and meditating on scripture. Romans 12:1 urges us " present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." Certainly this includes more than music.

Music can also be used in ways that are displeasing to God, even within the church. Nebuchadnezzar used music to call people to worship his golden image (an idol), something that Daniel and his friends refused to do (Daniel 3:7). The Lord refused to hear the songs of his people when they had become greedy and refused to follow Him, care for the poor, or seek justice (Amos 5:23). Both in and out of the church, musicians receive praise for their abilities and talents. As church musicians, we must constantly work to maintain the humility described in Philippians 2 and use these talents for others, not ourselves. If we lack humility and love, we are but a "clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1). I love percussion, but I don't want to listen to a clanging cymbal by itself for very long!

Music in the Church
Music has often been a significant indicator of other changes going on within the church over the past 2,000 years. In the New Testament and early church, we see congregational (everyone) singing as a part of the Christian meeting. By the Middle Ages, though, it had all but disappeared, due in large part to the move towards professional clergy and musicians. Music became more complex and more foreign to the congregations. Around 1,000 years later, Martin Luther (1483-1546) was instrumental in returning congregational singing to the Christian worship services and is regarded as "the father of congregational song."

John Calvin (1509-1564) believed that the only thing that should be sung as part of the Christian meeting were the Psalms and other songs from the Bible, seeing "hymns of human composure" as unfit for the sacred assembly. Calvin also was opposed to the use of instruments in the meeting, viewing them as "shadows of the Law" that Christ has fulfilled, but this position should be viewed in light of his overall opposition to the trappings of the Catholic Church, including its music and instruments (i.e., large organs).

Martin Luther, on the other hand, encouraged the use of hymns and wrote many himself, a position widely viewed to be supported by Colossians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 14:26 (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs). Luther was also a proponent of polyphonic (parts, harmonies) music as opposed to the monophonic (unison) music of the Gregorian chants.

Throughout history, the worshipers of God have both sung to God and about God. They have used music for worship and thanksgiving, as is demonstrated throughout the Psalms and elsewhere. Music is also used for edification (instruction, improvement), as seen in 1 Corinthians 14:26.

So how should we use music in the church today?
Aristotle sought to help speakers be more persuasive by identifying three crucial areas to keep in mind. He called them logos (truth), ethos (character of the speaker), and pathos (ability to stir the emotions). I think this approach can be helpful in describing how music should be used in the Christian meeting.

Logos (truth)
The music must be theologically accurate. Bob Kauflin states, "Worshiping God requires knowing God, which requires truth." In a quote attributed to many, the speaker says, "Let me write the songs of a nation: I don't care who writes its laws," suggesting that music has a tremendous effect on what we think, say, and do. Austin Lovelace explained that there is a theology in every hymn text and that what we sing is more likely to be remembered (how many of you learned your ABCs by singing?). Musical devices such as repetition, dynamics, rhythm, and pitch are all used to support learning and expression.

Ethos (character of the speaker)
We've probably heard the phrase, "before they will care about how much you know, they have to know how much you care." The character of the speaker has a tremendous affect on the hearer. Let's look at this from two perspectives. First, the relationship between the worship leaders (musicians, preacher, etc.) and the congregation. If either of these groups is thought to be less than genuine and authentic, it will affect their willingness and ability to worship together and follow leadership. (I was never good at putting on the 'worship leader' persona!)

Second, this also applies to the church and the community. The music of the church should be culturally relevant. This is now a new area of research, called ethnodoxology (if you are really interested, check out this lecture by one of my former professor, Dr. Boozer...yes, that is his real name). Music in the Bible was heavily influenced by the surrounding cultures (Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.), as evidenced by the instruments used. Given our technology and access to global media, this is true of us now more than ever. The most appropriate style of music for a local church is the one that the people have to study the least to understand (even if it is hip hop)...the music doesn't get in the way. Matt Redman refers to this as the idea of windows and doors. If a lost person looks (or listens) through the 'windows' of our church, will they recognize something familiar in the music. If they do, that 'window' may become a 'door' that the person can walk through.

Much like the way we dress for church, musical style is predominantly an issue of culture, preference, and familiarity, yet churches have been split apart by it. Ed Stetzer states, "A church in consensus would rather have Jesus than the hymn, "I'd Rather Have Jesus." A church in consensus will sing of God's greatness rather than need "How Great Is Our God" as their anthem. Music will not bring unity in of itself. Worship brings unity."

Pathos (stir the emotions)
Music's affect on emotion is almost universally understood, and there is no shortage of opinions about emotion's role in the meeting of the church. God created us with emotions, and the Bible depicts a wide range of emotions demonstrated in worship. Many things that occur during the meeting affect our emotions, not just music. Preaching, taking the bread and cup, fellowship with other Christians, testimonies, children, lighting, images...all of these can evoke an emotional response. For the church, "an emotional high is no substitute for true spirituality," but emotions can be used by God to bring about change in us. If the church and/or worship leaders are properly addressing logos and ethos, then an emotional response can be expected.

In Closing
John 4:23-24
"But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

Colossians 3:16
"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
Even God's gift of music can go wrong in the church. The story behind Matt Redman's song "Heart of Worship" is certainly an example.

Let us be thankful for and not misuse this wonderful gift God has given us: music.

Additional Reading
Wikipedia: History of Music in the Biblical Period
Bob Kauflin: The History of Congregational Worship
Ed Stetzer: Ending the Worship Wars Without a Truce
Luther and Calvin on Music and Worship
Why men have stopped singing in church