As I write these words in late August, kids and teens are back in school, football teams and marching bands have been practicing for weeks, college students have finally begun attending classes, and the weather these past couple of days has been unseasonably cool--a reminder that a new season of the year is underway. I LOVE the fall--not just the change in the weather, which is always welcome after the heat and humidity of summer, but also the beginning of the school year, and sports seasons, and a new year of ministry.
Today I saw a post on Twitter from Jeremy Cowart (@jeremycowart) that included a photograph of a newspaper column by the late Rev. Billy Graham, who was responding to a letter from a lady who was complaining about the use of new songs by the music director in her church. She preferred the "old hymns" and didn't care for the new material, and was asking Rev. Graham if he thought she should complain to her pastor about it. Graham's response was gracious and empathetic, but he encouraged her to take a different approach:
Last week I attended the National Worship Leader Conference in Lenexa, KS, produced by Worship Leader Magazine, and hosted at Westside Family Church. I've been in a lot of different worship environments over the course of my life, including many different churches, many conferences, and even in churches in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I worshiped with tens of thousands of men at a Promise Keepers conference in Boulder, Colorado, and I've played in the worship band for a women's conference.
In the 60 seconds or so that it took me to grab a mug from the cupboard, pour in a little cream, fill the mug with coffee, and then sit down with my computer in my lap, another 20 people somewhere in the world were forced to flee their homes, to escape war, terror, or persecution. This statistic, which comes from the UNHCR (the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN refugee agency), is staggering--to frame it in another way, every day more than 28,000 human beings are forced to leave everything behind and flee for their lives though no fault of their own.
(For the purposes of the rambling thoughts that follow, I'm going to use "worship" to refer to the portion of a worship service that is given to corporate singing.
I had the opportunity recently, because of the kindness of a great friend, to attend a concert featuring one of the Christian artists who has been among the most influential people in my life as a musician and a Christian: Randy Stonehill.
I've been doing some thinking about the Advent season--partly because it's my job, putting Christmas Eve services together, writing the weekly Advent readings for Sunday morning worship, putting up Advent resources on the church Web site; and partly because we're in the thick of planning for Christmas gatherings and celebrations in our family.
It wasn't until after I had preached my sermon for the second time yesterday (June 12) that I heard about the horrible, brutal murders of 50 people (and injuries of that number and more) at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida in the early hours of that morning. As we know now, the shooter was a Muslim--there are reports that he called 911 prior to the massacre, stating his allegiance to the leadership of ISIS; ISIS representatives have since called him "a soldier of the caliphate in America," thereby praising his actions.
In the Psalms alone there are at least half a dozen references to "a new song"--"Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts (Ps. 33:3)"; "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God (Ps. 40:3)" (see also Ps. 96, 98, 144, and 149). Without getting into an exposition of the topic from Scripture, it seems clear that the things that God does in and through his people regularly inspire them to create new ways, new words, new melodies, and new sounds with which to praise him.