Saturday, January 17, 2009

Are we going to be ok?

I talk to a lot of people that are very concerned about, well, everything. More and more people are unemployed, and if they are working they can't afford the bills. The price of everything keeps going up and up and up. We see many businesses closing and going under because they can't make the profits they need, to stay in business. We're talking about government bailouts for the banks and automakers. Can we as a nation afford all that? Can we afford not to? These are the concerns and issues we face today. We saw gasoline at $4 a gallon just a few months ago and now that it's gone down, it's beginning to climb back up and who knows how far? Everyone's electric bill here in TN went up 30-40% this last month and it's expected to go up even more in the future. many people need loans but can't get them anymore. Instead of the kids moving out and living on their own, they just can't afford to anymore. I'll have a conversation with someone and they'll tell me, "My daughter moved back home this week, she just can't afford to live on her own anymore." I had a customer in my store this week looking for work. He's run his own Company in the past and he has several degrees but what he needs more than anything right now... is a job. Can I hire him? he asks. This is not uncommon... people are getting desperate, they are looking for help, you can see the fear in their eyes. It's like time is running out and they simply do not know what to do next. It's scary for a lot of people right now.

I ask the question again... are we going to be ok?

I can't begin to anticipate how all this will turn out, but I can assure you of one thing. God is with us. In the times when it may not seem so, He's still there. We often base our feelings about God's presence in our lives as we go through experiences. "Thank you God for all the blessings" we'll say, but when things go crazy and things happen like they have been we can fall into the trap of wondering where is God in all of this. Especially if you are one of the affected ones. One of the people facing no more income and a family looking at you with fear wondering... "What do we do now, Mom?" "What do we do now, Dad." It's hard to see God then. The feelings of abandonment can consume us as we feel alone in the world. But know this... God is still there. It's difficult not to want to blame God for our circumstances. But we must be careful not to assume God is great when things are great, and God is cold when things are bad. God is the same for us in the good time and the bad times. God is always there for us and He's aware of what we're going through. It's during these times of trials and uncertainty that we need to come closer to God and ask for his help. Plead for guidance and direction in our lives. Ask God as to where to step next. It's times like these where we must trust in God to provide for our needs. Many of us will learn to live off less, many of us will learn to live without. Many of us will learn to lean on God for strength during our trials. But this time, these difficult times, will be survived. Just as all the other times in history, God has always been there and He's still here today to carry us through.
Meditate on these promises from God's word:

1 Peter 5:7
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Hebrew 13:5
Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, "I will never fail you. I will never abandon you."

May God's blessings be upon you and your family. Cast all your worries and cares upon Him and allow the warmth of his grace to heal you and comfort you as only he can in these trying times. God is still there... reach out and see if he won't lift you up.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Having fun with pictures

I had some fun with a few pictures of my grand daughter.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Music in the Church

I've been reading a book titled the "The Kingdom focused church" by Gene Mims. The point of this book is that we often spend time focused on programs and procedures rather than being focused on the Kingdom of God. Instead we should think about how this program or that procedure impacts the Kingdom of God. Too many times it seems that we try to copy or imitate what another church is doing, because it's working for them. But we must remember that each church is different and unique due to the uniqueness of their market, their people and culture, and circumstances. Each church is different and what works in one may not work in another. In any case... if we stay focused on God's Kingdom, then our church, in our own unique way, will be about God's work in whatever way that may be. I feel too often we try to keep up with the Jone's. The church down the street does this and that's why they have greater numbers of worshippers attending, The church in Nashville (or anywhere for that matter) does this or that and that's why they are so successful. You get the point... If they're doing it and it's working for them, well then, it should work for us too. The truth is it, it may work, it may not. There's nothing wrong with considering and seeing what other churches are doing... but to think it's the answer to our problems, is not a good approach.

My experience in church programs and church worship have been good and bad. But in all cases, we never feel were doing enough as a church. We can always do more it seems. Our focus usually is... how do we reach more people, what can we do to be more for our community, how can we effectively reach the lost? How can we get better discipleship training? We need to do more for our youth. All great questions and concerns and certainly what the Church is about... but have we asked what it is that God wants from us as a church? The danger with watching everyone else and their results, is that we risk missing the plan for our own church.

Music is a topic of much debate in the church. Do we sing contemporary music, do we sing only hymns, do we not use music at all but rather only sing and let our voices be the music. All churches and all people have a difference of opinion about this. I think most everyone wants to do the "right thing" and we seek to honor God in what we do as far as music is concerned but again... who's' right and who's wrong? When I think about it... I believe that's the problem. Too many people trying to figure out what style or kinds of music is right or wrong instead of simply using music (whatever it is) as a means of worship. Don't get me wrong here... I love music and I believe it can move people into a closer more intimate time with our Lord God during a time of worship. But I also believe it can be any music... soft music played by an instrument without vocals can be very moving. Songs of praise and adoration can move us to a closeness to our Lord God during a worship service. Singing several verses of a great old hymn can move us during the worship. No music at all but a vocalist singing can be very touching and moving during a worship service. I've mentioned several way to use or not use music during worship but all of it is meaningless if we can't get past the style, the instruments, the vocals, the organ, the piano, the guitar , the harp ... etc. etc. You see when our focus is on style rather than God, then the music's not right. When we focus on instruments rather than God, then the musics not right. When we focus on the songs rather than God, then the music will never be right... because we're not focused on the right thing, and that's God. Have we come to worship or criticize? The answer to that question should help answer the motive of our heart, and also explain some of why we can't seem to have a meaningful worship experience.

I've posted some history of "Music in the Church" that I found while digging up information of the subject. I do not have the authors name, it was not available, but I've copied it to this post so you can see one thing only. Music has always been integrated into worship and church services... but even more importantly... it's always been changing throughout the years. The changes come from people trying to figure out a better way of using music within the worship service. Was it the right thing to do? Who knows? What I do what you to see though is that music has always changed as people and cultures change. There isn't just one style, one way, a better way than another. The only thing that matters is ... have you come to worship and is God the center of your focus?

"A history of Music in the Church"
Early music in the church was shaped by Greek, Syrian, and Hebrew influences. Only a dozen or so examples of Greek music from the ancient world exist; but from these, music historians can ascertain that music was a part of early Greek religious ceremonies. It was primarily monophonic unison melody, void of any sort of harmony or contrasting counterpoint. This early music did allow for embellishment with instruments. History reveals that Greek music was based on theories concerning the nature of music and certain accepted systems and patterns for musical compositions.

Syrian monasteries and churches were scenes of early musical elements in worship as well. Antiphonal psalmody and hymns were first present in Syria and then spread to Milan and further west. Antiphonal psalmody was also evident in the Jewish temples. Antiphonal singing means that two choruses sing "back and forth" to each other, much as an echo, though not always identical music.

In the case of Jewish psalmody, the text was based on verses from the Hebrew "Book of Praises," the Biblical Psalms. The Psalms were sung every day in ancient Hebrew temples. Another method for their musical presentation was the responsorial chant where the Levite leaders chanted Psalms accompanied by various instruments, singing one line and then waiting for the congregation to sing the next. The chant that was sung as a solo from the altar was called the "verse" and the congregational choral response was known simply as the "respond."

Hymns followed the psalms, adapting melodies from the early chants. Catholicism developed the Canticle, lyrical portions of the Bible that were sung at specified times of worship. Canticles are a part of today's liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church. The first written chants were associated with Pope Gregory and therefore are remembered in history as "Gregorian Chants."

As early as the Middle Ages, the Mass was deemed the worship service most important in the Catholic Church. It was organized into two types: the Proper Mass and the Ordinary Mass. Historically, the Proper Mass was seasonal and the music depended upon the particular feast that was to be celebrated. Its movements included the Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Alleluia, Evangelium, Offertory, Secret, Preface, Canon, Communion, and Post-Communion. The Ordinary Mass was used for services from week to week, unaffected by holy days or season. The Ordinary Mass remained the same each service with five musical sections: the Kyria Eleison, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.

Because the Gregorian Chants were considered sacred, they were utilized in every early Mass. The basic chant was always found in the lower part, the bass line, and was called the Cantus Firmus. Musicians and composers altered the chants by changing rhythms, voice, harmony, countermelody, descant, and imitation, but the chants were always present. History records Machaut as changing the rhythms. Leonin added a harmonic second part. This technique was built upon by Dufay, who arranged a mass for three and four parts all singing different melodies against one another but in chord harmonies. Perotin added countermelody and descant.
Ockegheim was a master of the technique of imitation, writing Mass arrangements that focused on one voice but allowed for the echo of another voice in a lower or higher register. Ockegheim also added harmonies, primarily in thirds. Desprez introduced counterpoint to the Mass, where two distinct melodies played independently against each other, often a few beats apart.

As more and more composers added and altered the basic Gregorian melody, the music for Mass became more complex. It was hard to pick out the text or understand the meaning of the words. In some instances, the music itself was so difficult that singers balked at performance. The organist then played the music or improvised on the theme, thus introducing liturgical organ music.

At the Council of Trent, church leaders met to address the problem of the difficult and extremely varied music before them. The first official catechism was formulated. It was decided that the music for worship must be within reasonable bounds as far as its difficulty so that members of the congregation could participate.

Pope Marcellus asked Palestrina to simplify the church's music. Palestrina tackled the job with dignity and style, simplifying presentation but retaining the beauty of the melody. He limited counterpoint. He also sought to magnify the text so that the words became the most important part of the music and it ministered in its presentation rather than mystifying those listening by its complexity.

In the 1600's and 1700's, some of the world's greatest composers contributed to the Mass. Bach composed a Mass in all twenty-four keys! His most famous was the "B-minor Mass." Monteverdi used dissonance and word painting to express the emotion of the words in the Mass. A. Scarlatti introduced the cantata, a religious musical with five to eight movements, soloists, ensembles, and choruses. Handel created the oratorio, a sacred opera with a narrator. Handel's most famous religious work was "The Messiah." Schutz composed "The Seven Last Words," a work that centered on the theme of Christ's last days (or passions). Mozart wrote eighteen masses. Mozart's masses were so lengthy, however, that only portions of them can be used within the time constraints of a church service. Haydn penned fourteen Masses, all positive and happy, focusing on faith in God. His most famous religious contribution was his oratorio, "The Creation."

In the 18th century, religious music expanded beyond all bounds that had ever been set for it. Composers "borrowed" common melodies and even secular/popular songs, rewriting religious words to them. During this period were birthed hymns, anthems, and choruses for both Catholic and Protestant churches. It was often the case that the same melody was used as a hymn and a cantata or mass. For example, Bach's Cantata #80 is based on the hymn "A Mighty Fortress is our God." Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" share a melody line.

The 19th and 20th centuries introduced freedom of style in what history calls the "Liturgical Movement." Religious music underwent a transformation to suit a changing and evolving congregation. Liturgies were simplified and often translated into the country's own language. The Liturgical Movement sought to preserve the history of the traditional music in the church, yet design a style of music that would meet the needs of a more modern parishioner. Music was not only simplified but integrated, with pastors and composers setting religious texts to folk melodies to encourage congregations to join in the singing. Examples of famous hymns set to popular tunes are "Amazing Grace" and "There is a Fountain."

In the latter part of the 20th century, a new musical idea once again transformed the music of the church - contemporary Christian music. From the folk rock of the 70's with its guitars and drums to the Christian rap groups of the 21st century, Christian music continues to evolve with artists like Carmen and DC Talk who aspire to preserve the message of the church while meeting the needs of an ever-changing world.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

How's Eric doing?

Many friends have asked how Eric is doing? He's doing good. Here's a picture of Eric, Marcie and Halle. I wanted to throw in a picture of Ryan (my youngest son), but he's either in Vo tech school or traveling down to Manchester to visit his girlfriend. If I can get him home long enough... I'll snap a picture of him for you.
God bless you all, and happy new year!

Thanks for your prayers!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Starting Over

It was weird... I awoke this morning excited that last year was over and a new one awaits. I thought to myself, today begins a new experience, I can do things differently than I did last year. I think I'll exercise more this year, maybe even lose a little weight. I'll see if I can't get grounded back in church again, I miss being at home in church. I heard today on CNN that this last year in the stock market was the worst performance of stocks since the depression! We saw over $4.00 a gallon for gasoline this year! This last year Eric, my son, got out of jail and he's doing well now and we can put all that behind us for good. I relocated with my career and we're finally settling in with all that. When I think about this last year... I'm kind of overwhelmed with all that has changed within the life of my family, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. This year I hope will bring with it some stability. I'm not so sure that life has periods of stability anymore. Times have changed... we live in a very fast paced world. Changes in technology alone keep things in turmoil. Last years computer becomes obsolete this year. Just look at cell phones, everyone has to have the latest and greatest. We even have to laws in place to keep us from texting while driving, because we're not smart enough to realize texting while driving can kill us when we crash! We also demand urgency from everything we do... to sit and relax makes us feel guilty for some reason? We always feel that we should be doing something, or we're just not keeping up.

It was weird... because after all these thoughts I realized that there's no magic in New Years day. It's just another day. But for some reason we use it as an ending and a new beginning point. It's certainly become a time for reflection and a time to look at results from the previous year. But even so, I think it's important to always remember. To change or to look ahead can begin with any new day, not just the New Years day. My hope is that I don't return to the ruts I've established over time, but keep moving forward and improving with each day. But if I don't, and I fall back into the rut of a bogged down life. Tomorrow is always a new day, and with that brings new life, new hopes, and new dreams.

I'm so thankful for what God has given me, but even more so, I'm thankful for what God has promised me for the future. With God anything can happen. Each new day should be looked upon with excitement and thanksgiving as we partake in whatever God has planned for us. The good news... God is always with us, he will never leave us or forsake us. With each challenge we face, we're not alone. As a matter of fact we really never know how bad things could have been if it hadn't been for God's hand upon us. So when we think we've had a tough year, we need to always remember, it could be so much worse. I hope this year is better, but even so, There is a lot to be thankful for this last year when we overlook the negative.

I hope you all have a very Happy New years day celebration, but more importantly I hope this next year will be one that we can all reflect on with great joy. I know many fell upon tough time this last year. Let's start over. Let's all just make one commitment rather than a whole list of resolutions and then let's see how it goes from there. Begin every new day with a focus on God and let's see where the rest of the day takes us from there. It could change our whole perspective on how we see things and the outcome or results. This verse says it all...

Matthew 6:33
(33) But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.