We Should Sing More

My father-in-law’s most lasting impression on me (other than the existence of his daughter, my wife) is the singing. The Mitchell’s were a very hospitable family, hosting various student groups, church groups, and family gatherings in their home. There was usually food of some sort, laughter, joy (sometimes shared sorrow) and general good times. But, usually about 45 minutes before people had to start heading out, Stan would quietly get up from wherever he was sitting and head over to the bookshelf, where he had about 20 songbooks, and he would start passing them out.

If you had been to the Mitchell home before, you knew what was going on, and the books would be handed from person to person while conversation continued, the last of the food was eaten, or drinks were retrieved from various surfaces in the house. If you had never participated in this particular ritual before, it was a little confusing. Isn’t singing something you do at church? Why does he have so many hymnals?

Then, when the songbooks were passed out, he would firmly call out something like “alright everyone, please turn to number 145” (I don’t know what song that is I’m just using it as an example). We would all flip the pages (many still in the midst of conversation), he would blow a note on his pitch pipe, and he would begin the song. It usually wasn’t until about 3-4 notes in that all the talking actually stopped and everyone began singing in earnest.

The quality of the sound, as singing always is, was dependent on the specific individuals present. But the feel of the sound, that was always the same. It was distinct. It was worship.

My wife and I have about 10 songbooks (some of which he bought), and we sometimes break them out when we have people over. More often now, I cast the paperless hymnal from my phone to the TV. I have often noticed in my guests a hesitancy, an unfamiliarity, that I’m sure he experienced dozens of times. Nobody has to say anything, but it’s so clearly written on their faces. Why, they emote, are you interrupting our perfectly good fellowship with singing? It’s not malicious. It’s not irreverent. It’s simply unusual, and this saddens me.

I have never once thought to myself, you know, I wish we had done something else instead of the singing we just did. The transformation is subtle but profound. It usually takes about one and a half songs. I can read it in posture and enthusiasm and volume and demeanor: oh, this is nice. Why haven’t we done this before?

I’m sure other families and friend groups regularly sing outside the worship assembly. But I am equally sure that many more do not. Again, it’s not malicious. I don’t think most people have negative thoughts about singing itself. It’s just not something people do any more. Music has become something other people do, for our entertainment. It’s become something we consume, rather than create. This is true both of secular and religious music. It’s not anyone’s fault, and I don’t think it was intentional, but the results are what they are. People are not used to singing at home (other than maybe in the shower, or mindlessly singing while absorbed in some other task), and so, quite naturally, they don’t. It’s not normal, so it doesn’t happen. Intentionality is required to do something abnormal.

But it wasn’t just in the home. Stan wanted to sing whenever a couple singers were gathered. This audio is from June 12, 2015, right after his father’s funeral. We were gathered in the auditorium of the church building. It was just a dozen or less of us, everyone else had gone home. What else were we going to do but sing? As you listen (and you really should listen), note the atmosphere, the feeling of it. People were sad, of course; we had just commemorated Loy. But there’s a lot of joy in that room, too. Joy powered by and expressed in the worship of an almighty God who deserves every second of praise we can give Him.

Songs have amazing power. They can heal, they can remind, they can inspire, they can break us down and build us back up. I will always remember the day of Stan’s death. As he lay there in the hospital bed, a dozen of us gathered around him. There were family members, nieces and nephews and siblings and friends and colleagues. We sang about six or so songs. It was one of the most powerful things I will ever experience. Probably everyone wept at one point. We sang songs he loved, to be sure, but they were true, with right words and fitting music. And for just a moment, a singular instant of time, I think we tasted heaven.

I remember about a month later, after Tracy and I had come home, a couple friends came to visit. My parents and grandparents happened to be in town at the same time (guys I’m tearing up just as I type this). There might have been another couple there too. I think it might have been Gwen’s birthday or something. We ate and we fellowshipped and we had a good time.

And then we sang, because that’s what Stan taught us.

I didn’t record it, though I should have. We sang some of his favorites and some favorites of those present, including one song that only one person knew. And, as it always does, something magical happened. No, not magical, that isn’t the right word. Something divine happened. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mat. 18:20). The singing broke us down and it built us back up. It opened our hearts, as only singing can do. Not everyone there was what the world would consider a good singer. But who cares? I know God didn’t. We sang, and it was beautiful, and it was powerful.

We should sing more. It is a tragedy, a travesty, that music has become something we consume, rather than something we create. It has become something for the experts to do, not the common person. I think that there are many Christians who only worship God on Sunday and Wednesday, and my heart breaks for them, because they are missing out on so much. You don’t need songbooks, or the powerpoints. Many, many song lyrics are available online, a simple Google search away. It’s probably a good idea to have at least one songbook, but its far from necessary. And, let me stress this again, it doesn’t matter how good you are at singing!

We should sing more. Not just for ourselves, but because God deserves it. God deserves the praise of His children, more than two or three hours a week. He who spared nothing in His pursuit of a people to call out from the world, what does He deserve?

We should sing more. I’ve never once regretted the choice to pull out those hymn books and sing, though there have been many times I’ve thought the opposite: hm, I wish I had thought to sing, that would have been so encouraging. Try it, the next time you have fellow Christians in your home. I think you too will be amazed.

Brexit Insanity and the Disappearance of Nuanced Thought

I have spent a significant amount of time combing through Twitter, Facebook, and various news sites, trying to digest what happened last night, and the reactions to it. For those who are unaware, the United Kingdom voted, by a margin of 52% to 48%, to leave the European Union, a conglomeration of European countries founded on the concepts of easy trade and movement across national borders.

I’m not going to try to break down the economics or the politics; those are not my forte, and they are all horrendously complicated. To me, what is most fascinating are the geosocial ramifications. What does the average person think about the Brexit result? How does this impact the trend toward globalization? What are the consequences for the average Joe on the street? After reading quite a bit of text from myriad sources, the reaction tends to filter into one of several categories:

  1. The war between generations.
  2. Nationalism versus globalization (and in the same vein, race relations and immigration).
  3. Economic policy and impact.

Without fail, those who are in favor of the UK remaining a part of the Union have lambasted and accused their counterparts as being old, racist nationalists who have no idea what they are doing. And those in favor of the secession have derided their opponents as young, whiny, entitled kids with no real experience. Are either of these judgments fair or true?

Where is the subtlety of judgment, the nuance of thought? Do we really think that everyone who voted one way has one unified ideology, and everyone who voted the other way has the opposite, singular worldview? For all our supposed advancement, we sure do fall into the same old traps of human thought, don’t we?

But, I suppose this isn’t anything new. This was also on prominent display last weekend, after the horrendous events in Orlando, and can be seen on a more national scale in our current presidential election.

People on both sides of any particular argument tend to devolve into the “us vs. them” mentality. No one on the other side has any redeeming qualities, and no one on my side has any flaws. Isn’t that the way we tend to be? We have all seen it over and over again, even in social issues here in America. Every person who is pro-abortion is a baby-murdering sociopath, and everyone against homosexuality is an stupid, unenlightened caveman. There is no possible way someone could be opposed to sinful behavior while still loving the person who sinned, and its impossible for someone be a friend with a sinner without being tainted by their wrongdoing.

(If there was a sarcasm font, I would have used it for that last paragraph.)

Here is what I have found to be true; most people you meet on a day to day basis don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold. Individually, we are nuanced, complicated creatures. No one fits the golden standards of CONSERVATIVE or LIBERAL. Everyone believes a little of column A, a little of column B, and a lot of column C. And even if we do lean heavily toward one end of the spectrum or the other, the reasons we have for believing what we do are never as simple as our opponents make them out to be.

Today I see a lot of anger, a lot of emotion. That visceral gut reaction leads us nowhere but the abyss that is the mob mentality, to find others like you and wage war against the Enemy, whoever that may be. The mob mentality brings out the worst in us. It makes us suppress the urge to try to understand the Other Side, and feeds the basest instincts of our psyche. The internet tends to be ruled by that mob mentality. There is no room for honest discussion; you have to pick a side or your voice will be swept away by the war of the extremes. The opinions that are shared and reposted and favorited are those that are the most extreme, because they feed into our anger and outrage, either because the author agrees with us and pumps us up, or disagrees and makes us even more angry. Articles that try to strike a balance, that try to understand both sides equally, don’t feed those base emotions. They’re boring, they tend to be unemotional, and so they are ignored. And the feedback loop continues.

What can we do about it? On a large scale, nothing. We can’t change “the masses”, all that we can change is ourselves. There is only one “us vs. them” mentality that scripture endorses: us vs. the Devil. When dealing with our fellow humans, even if they make mistakes, or act in a way that is the antithesis of our personal ideology, we have a responsibility to reign in our gut reactions and find out the truth. To search out the reasons why people are the way they are, and to find common ground. To endorse open, honest, helpful dialogue.

We must be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” To do anything less is to give our real enemy the victory.

Five Questions Every Christian Should Ask

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the Lord’s people as a body. In it, he subtly rebukes those who would put someone down for not being good at everything, while openly celebrating the diversity of talents within the Lord’s church.

No one can do the entire work of the church, but everyone can contribute something. Here are five questions that I hope will help you find a place in the Lord’s kingdom. There is plenty of work to go around, isn’t there?

1. What am I good at?

Nobody is bad at everything. Everyone is good at something. Everyone has some talents, some things that they are naturally better at than other people. If you think you don’t have any talents, it is probably just because you haven’t found them yet. You need to try some new things. If you have only ever tried to one thing in God’s service, then you don’t have any idea what your talents are: you need to branch out and try something different! Only by trying a multitude of tasks can you discover what you more naturally good at.

2. What am I capable of?

The difference between what we are good at and what we are capable of is subtle, yet profound! We are able to do many things that we are not naturally good at. You may not be naturally gifted at throwing a football (or any athletic endeavor) but through hard work and training, you can learn to throw a spiral. Talent merely decreases the amount of energy or effort required to be good at something. There are way more things you are able to do than things you are naturally good at; how much effort are you willing to invest?

3. What are my fellow Christians doing?

Don’t ask this so that you can compare yourself to others, but so that you can find ways to help others! How can I make the work of others easier, or more effective? We want to help our fellow Christians, but that requires knowing what those fellow Christians are doing! Our encouragement and support will be much more effective if it is specific and targeted. Does someone need money? Time? Another set of hands? You can only answer that by inquiring about the labor of others in the kingdom!

4. What can I contribute that others cannot?

I am not just talking about money; maybe you have more time, or more energy. Maybe you have a skill that others lack. At the very least, you are able to influence a range of people that no one else can. You have a sphere of social influence unique to you. Maybe there is some person that you are uniquely suited to reach. Again, don’t ask the question so that you can see how much better or worse you are than others, but so that you can find the areas where work needs to be done. If you have already answered #3, answering this question will be much easier.

5. Can I be doing more?

I don’t know your life circumstance, but generally the answer to this question will be YES! Too often our default mode is to do the least amount possible. To find the easiest way out, the path of least resistance. But God did not give you His leftovers, He gave you His best. We can always improve, and we can always do more. There will always be work in the Kingdom, and it is the best work there is.


I’ll begin with this: I am not a parent.

But I have been (still am) a child, and I hope to be a parent someday. As a former (current) child, and hopeful future parent, there is a discussion that I think we need to have in the Church.

I’ve been asked, recently and repeatedly, what can we do to get young people in the Church? It is a good and important question, the answer to which is both varied and complex. But there is one very easy way to get young people to attend Bible class, worship, and activities.

Make them.

Now, of course, only the parents of said young people can do this, and really, not only could parents do this, they should do this. At a preacher’s meeting, attended by 8 or 9 preachers ranging from the very experienced to the young and new, the question was raised: are young people and their parents taking elderships hostage? That is, they tell the elders of the Church that they will leave if the Church doesn’t provide this activity, or make worship more entertaining, or provide this fun thing for their children. When elderships can’t or won’t comply, the young families leave. It would be one thing if they left and went to another New Testament Church, but these families often leave and go to a denomination, or cease going anywhere. These older preachers have seen it time and time again.

What is that about? As parents, is the happiness or pleasure of their kids more important than their salvation? Would they rather their kids have fun than worship God? Can they not make their kids attend worship, even if they don’t think it is “fun?”

There are so many facets to this discussion, and I can’t hope to address them all here. The most common response to this that I have heard is that if the parents force their kids to assemble with the saints, their kids will grow up to hate the Church. But that is ridiculous. Parents make kids do things they don’t like all the time. All the time. Eat your vegetables, go to bed at a reasonable hour, do your homework. These are things that kids and teenagers don’t want to do, but should and need to do. And guess what, at a certain point the kids and teenagers realize the necessity of such things, and even find enjoyment in such things. I didn’t want to eat broccoli as a child, but now I like broccoli. Sure, maybe your kids think worship is boring, but so what? Is it important? Is it necessary? Is it valuable? Are you the parent or not?

Can worship and Bible class be boring? Sure, I guess. But the failures of the Bible class teacher should not prevent you from studying the Bible with your fellow Christians. The lack of enthusiasm in the worship should not prevent you from giving your best to God. Maybe these are opportunities for you, as a parent, to set an example for your children about what is important. An opportunity for you to demonstrate that it is the job of each individual Christian to make these things better.

How many times do parents warp their schedules to make sure their kids can attend sports practice, or theater, or activities of various sorts? And yet we can’t make sure they are at worship? Even on a Wednesday, is football practice more important than studying the Bible with your fellow Christians? Than submitting to the eldership that watches out for your soul in part by providing assembled worship opportunities? We want so much for our kids to be involved in all sorts of activities, but we don’t want them to learn about God?

I don’t thank my parents often enough for the way they raised me. Growing up, worship was not optional. I could not get out of it, no matter how much I complained or argued. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do things or have fun; I was allowed to involve myself in any activity I wanted, like soccer or football or academic clubs, with the understanding that when the doors of the Church were open, I would be there. Again, this was not optional. For as long as they were paying for my food, clothing, shelter, etc., they expected me to be at Church. If I wasn’t, then there were consequences. Simple. Like any other thing parents train their kids to do. I know for a fact that my wife’s parents took the same approach.

And guess what? We don’t hate the Church. This, like brushing our teeth and eating our vegetables, grew into an understanding of why it was necessary. It taught us the importance of putting God first. It taught us an important Biblical principle, that I wouldn’t come to understand until I grew up enough:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10