I and the Lad will Go Yonder & WORSHIP

Matthias_Stom_-_Le_sacrifice_d'AbrahamAnd it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.  And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.  And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.  Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.  And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.”    [emphasis added, Genesis 22:1-4]

IF Abraham’s words regarding worship do no harmonize with our ideas regarding worship, Abraham does not need to change: we do.  This first mention of worship in our Bibles could go a long way in defining for you and me exactly what it means to adore and reverence our Lord.

Worship is indeed in the melting pot today.  Yet, while believers splinter and divide, our Lord is not divided and His Word cannot be broken.  ’Tis always best to agree with God!  Genesis chapter twenty-two is not only the locus classicus regarding the gospel but the classic passage describing the basic tenets of worship as well.

One great commentator stated it this way, “Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does.”  In other words, worship is “all that I am focused on all that He is.”  Worship is not the sum-total of public or private prayer + public or private Scripture reading + giving + public or private praise.  Rather, worship equals all of me given to all I know and love about my God.

That is the story of Abraham and Isaac!

The Apostle Paul stated in First Thessalonians chapter five and verse twenty-three,  And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us observe how Abraham focused all that he was on all that he knew about the Lord and achieved an act of worship regarding the offering of his son.

Abraham worshipped the Lord in spirit

This very act of worship was something the Lord dictated to Abraham as he communed with God.  The Bible says in verse two, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah: and offer him there for a burnt offering.  In other words God revealed this truth to Abraham.

We are not naive regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the New Testament believer, and this article is not given to argue upon or defend the dispensational aspects of Spirit fulness.  However, Paul did say regarding you and me, For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit. (Phil. 3:3).  Through faith in Christ’s atoning blood, our spirit has been quickened by God’s Spirit.  In that way the Lord speaks to us.  We are able to receive the things freely given to us of God.

By virtue of Abraham’s receptive heart, which has led him all the way from Haran, he hears the voice of God and responds in worship to Him.  Also, benefiting from that communion with God, he also hears God’s word to stay his hands in not slaying his son (22:10-12).  It pays to be in tune with God!

As Abraham approached the mountain, he brought a willing spirit of worship.

The Bible says that he brought the entirety of his soul

That trinity of ingredients, including intellect, emotion, and will were brought without reservation.

His mind contemplated for three days the sacrifice of his son (22:4) and by faith his mind clave to the promises of the Gospel (22:5, Galatians 3:8) as he firmly states, I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you!  What resolve!

His emotions, too, were offered in worship.  God said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.  Maybe for us, it is not the sacrifice of his son that lays so heavily upon our hearts but rather the great love that he had for that only begotten son of promise.  With great emotion Abraham walked through the valley of decision up the mount of Moriah.  Take emotions away, and you cannot offer biblical worship to God.

Finally, Abraham’s volition yielded.  Willingly, he left Beersheba and his servants before the mount.  The Scripture says in verse eight, So they went both of them together.  He had decided to follow Jesus: no turning back!

Abraham’s body partook in the act of worship

The Scripture says, Offer him there for a burnt offering (2).  Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off (4).  Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand; and a knife; and they went both of them together (6).  And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood (9).  These are the physical acts of Abraham.  He worshipped with his hands, his eyes, his feet, and with his ears.  If Isaac be the dying sacrifice, a beautiful picture of Christ, Abraham is the living sacrifice, consecrating all of his physical body to the Lord.

Abraham brought all that he was and all that he had.  He brought his precious son, the promised one.  He spared not his only son in an act of inconceivable worship to God.  What greater proof could he have for his son that God is preeminent than his willingness to sacrifice his greatest earthly possession for the King of Heaven who had prospered his faith every step along the way!

Chapter fourteen and verse twenty says, And he gave him tithes of all, but now, simply this: He gave him…ALL!  He brought all that he was, and he focuses on all that God is.

Abraham and Isaac served in miniature as a picture of that which our Lord Jesus Christ and His Father fulfilled perfectly for us.  Abraham looked beyond this trial and saw God who is worthy.

He saw God as GUIDER

’Tis grace had brought him safe thus far, and grace would lead him home.  Alexander Maclaren said, “The conflict in Abraham’s soul had a still more painful aspect in that it seemed to rend his very religion into two. Faith in the promise on which he had been living all his life drew one way; faith in the later command, another. God seemed to be against God, faith against faith, promise against command. If he obeys now, what is to become of the hopes that had shone for years before him?”

Never a man so graciously sang,

Jesus led me all the way,

Led me step by step each day;

I will tell the saints and angels as I lay my burdens down,

“Jesus led me all the way.

He saw God as the PROVIDER and ARBITER

Faith looked beyond the trial and saw the triumph in the Lamb to come (John 1:29).  God had thus provided for Abraham and would provide again!  He shouts, “Jehovah-Jireh!”  Not, “God DID provide” but “God WILL provide” at Calvary.  Inherent in Abraham’s plea for mediation and substitution was not just the ram caught in the thicket but the Lamb who took on flesh!  Thanks be to God, two thousands years later in the land of Moriah, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world was carried by His Father to the top of Moriah’s hills!  Yet, this time, the Father’s hand would not stay.  The blows of the Father’s holy justice would meet on the suffering shoulders of the Son, but rejoice!  The Father hath given His Son!  Hallelujah!

He saw God as the MULTIPLIER

God did not just add to or multiply Abraham’s blessings.  The Scripture says, In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed (22:17)!  He was no fool to give what he could not keep to gain what he could not lose!

You see, the very first described worship service in the Bible involved a man, the entire man, focused on his great God.  Have you and the lad learned yet to worship?  Selah!

10 Hindrances to Answered Prayer

maxresdefaultJohn R. Rice simplified prayer by saying, “Prayer is about two things: asking and receiving.”  There is power in prayer!  Prayer works!  You and I are the products of prayers prayed by us and for us.  “Does God do anything that is not in answer to prayer?”

There are, however, hindrances to asking and receiving.  If the arteries of answers are not flowing, consider ten blockages that might be at work in our hearts and lives.

1  Praying without knowing Jesus Christ through faith as your Savior  

If a man is unsaved, he has not taken Christ and his mediator (I Tim. 2:5, John 14:6).

Romans 5:2 says, By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

2  Praying with an unrepentant heart

The Psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  Be right with God and let your family take refuge in your relationship with God.   (Psalm 66:18)

3  Praying for show

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

4  Praying repetitive, empty words

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.  (Matthew 6:6-7)

5  Prayers not prayed

Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.  (John 16:24)

6  Praying with a lustful heart

God is not fooled by prayers that are more about how we can fulfill our sinful or selfish desires than how we can honor Him and fulfill His purposes.

Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.  (James 4:3)

7  Praying while mistreating your spouse

Someone said, “If you won’t listen to your spouse, then God will not listen to you.”

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.  (I Peter 3:7)

8  Praying while ignoring the poor

If we do not cultivate a generous and compassionate heart, we become spiritually impoverished and the Lord ignores us.

Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.  (Proverbs 21:13)

9  Praying with bitterness toward another

Unforgiveness expresses a resistant heart in which God has not been allowed to work.

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.  (Mark 11:25-26)

10  Praying with a faithless heart

If we don’t really believe He can, then He won’t!

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.  (James 1:6-8)

Our families and our country need our prayers.  May we not be hindered today as we approach the Father’s throne.  Selah!

Family Dynamics

o-CHEMISTRY-EXPERIMENT-facebookI failed high school chemistry.  Okay, I almost failed high school chemistry.  Having done enough to pass it and kiss it goodbye, I have succeeded in my adult life without the truths I gained or lost in that class.  Let’s go with, “It was the teacher’s fault; he was boring!”

Truthfully, many of us may not have succeeded at scholastic chemistry, but the consequences of failing the chemistry of family life can be fatal.

Over the last two summers, our eldest daughter has had the privilege to spend elongated times with family members who live out of our area.  Accordingly, one of our nephews has filled the gap left in Phebe’s absence.  Our nephew is a fine, young man who is the same age as our son.  However, living eleven months of the year with four of our own children, including three daughters, the presence of two nine year old boys in the house creates a different dynamic in our home.

This, of course, is not the first time we have experienced dynamic changes in our family.  As our children change at different intervals and in different ways, our home is always in flux.  My wife and I do not mind it, but we have to be prepared for it.

Recently, I have been preaching through the family section of the book of Genesis.  Beginning in chapter twelve, we are introduced to Abram and his wife, Sarai.  They are childless seekers of Jehovah.  As the story develops, Sarai offers her handmaid, Hagar, to lie with Abram in order to raise up seed to him.  The birth of Ishmael creates a new and unwelcomed dynamic into the home.  Years later Isaac is born and when the son of promise is weaned, the dynamics of Ishmael and Isaac vying for prominence becomes a teaming cauldron of explosiveness.

As your family and mine endures these changes, may the Lord help us to enjoy all of them.  Consider a few tips that might help your family in your next dynamic shift:

  1. Keep the Lord at the center of your home

    Our relationship with the Lord is the glue that must hold our family together.  In consideration of all the changes that life may bring, do not allow those things to change your love for the Lord, time in His Word, or faithfulness to His house.  How can we expect God to bless our family if our spiritual lives are a mess?

  2. Love one another

    True love is not conditional.  As God’s Word says, Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.  The love of the husband for his wife, the love of the wife for her husband, or the love of the parent for the child, must be constant and unchanging.  If our “love” does not remain constant through life’s changes, it is not an indictment regarding the changes happening in our loved one.  Rather, it is indictment on the unfaithfulness of our heart.

  3. Communicate

    When my wife or myself feels those dynamics change, it is time to talk things out.  Those three daughters that I have will experience changes that I, obviously, as a man cannot understand.  I need my wife to help me understand how they are feeling and how I can help them.  Without proper communication, those changes can explode if overlooked.

    Also, we want to foster open lines of communication with our children.  We want them to be able to come to us with any problem, because a world of ungodly and unbiblical advice lies at their fingertips via google. Our children need to know our hearts!

  4. Be ready to call an audible

    When how we are leading is not working or the changes we face demand a new focus or direction, we must be sensitive to the Lord in calling an audible.

    Abraham and Sarai got into this mess when he listened to Sarai and not the Lord.  He laid with Hagar against God’s wisdom.  Now Isaac is in the home and Ishmael, a teenager, is mocking the “baby of the family.”  Sarah comes unglued!  For the second time, she says to her husband, “They have to go!”  Abraham thinks to himself, “Sure!  I’m going to listen to you!!!  You got us in this mess and your advice is not going to get us out!”  But the Lord appears to Him and in essence says, “Hearken to your wife, Abraham.  She’s right this time.  Call an audible!”  He did, and his family succeeded.

If your family is changing before your eyes today, keep the Lord preeminent, love one another, communicate, and be ready to call an audible.  It might just save your family and mine from a real crisis.

Selah!

Something Old, Something New

For many years I was a singer who did a little preaching.  Now, I am the preacher who does a little singing.  Recently, for better or for worse, PastorDanielCox.com has served as the hub of my extracurricular ministry in music, when in reality I designed it to feature my writings on issues relating to Bible study, practical ministry thoughts, and theological discussions.  Our plan is to return this site to those ends.

We are designing a site (still under construction) that will exclusively address the music ministry.  You have been so kind to be a loyal follower of this site, and I am asking if you would graciously follow the music site as well.  It can be found at www.HeritageHymns.info.  This way, you can read up on issues relating to the music ministry, and I can get back to the articles and subjects I also enjoy that are superfluous to music.

So, whether you think I am a singer who does a little preaching, or a preacher who does a little singing, I report that I am grateful for every opportunity the Lord brings my way and regard any influence I may have on your life and ministry as a sacred trust. May the Lord bless and keep you.

With Regards, Daniel Cox

P.S. You can download our new hymns podcast at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/heritage-hymns-podcast/id1117385615?mt=2

Making a hymn…”Special!”

photo-greatisthyfaithfulnessWe have all heard “special music” that was not…special!

He sat on the front row, awkwardly attired in a white, v-neck t-shirt. Anxious about his monthly “special music” slot, his contribution awaited him. His name was called, thus beginning a very awkward, yet consistent trip to the pulpit. He had known for a number of weeks that he was to provide the special music, yet strangely the Spirit would only breathe upon him on his travels between the front pew and the pulpit!

He would grab the ole’ red standard Church Hymnal and peruse its pages. Arriving at the sacred desk, he would suggest that he did not yet know what song he was to provide but that we should pray for him that the Lord would guide him. Some prayed, others slept, and me…I was annoyed!

He normally arrived at the same one or two songs, and I am sure that he did what he knew to do, and to mention, he was allowed to do it. Some church atmospheres provide for such spontaneity and unpreparedness. However, if you believe that the Lord deserves better and that we ourselves are capable of more for God’s glory, please keep reading.

My question is this: how DO YOU make a hymn special?

I love the singing of hymns. When they are properly led to the congregation, incorporated into the choir’s repertoire, played as instrumentals for the offertory, or sung as solos or with special groups, no other musical genre has the spiritual resume as do the hymns! They are our heritage set to music. They are our creeds set to treble and bass. They are the biography of the last half millennia’s greatest saints.

Thank you for loving them, too. Thank you for singing them. Thank you for extending them to the next generation. What we need to ensure, then, is that we sing them with the energy, passion, and power that they deserve. Dry, dusty, lifeless hymns are great for doctrine, but you can cross your T’s and dot all of your I’s and still, through the absence of power, create a hunger and thirst for contemporary, strange-fire worship in your church.

Let them live!

Consider the following suggestions to add life to your singing of hymns:

Some songs deserve to be left alone

There are hymns that we sing that are timeless. Their spiritual resumes gleam with gospel light. Offering hope in despair and pointing to Calvary, God has blessed them for centuries. Spice them up, but do your best to leave them alone.

Recently, I traveled to Georgia to record my second recording of hymns. I chose as the last selection Amazing Grace. To me, Newton’s song is timeless. Recognized by people around the world, I sought to record it in such that paid respect to it in its originality. It deserves to be left alone. You may change melodies from time-to-time, but please be careful with the “greats.”

Learn to Interpret the Story

It has been a passion and drive of mine for many years to know as much as I can regarding the writers of the hymns and their personal stories. Knowing these helps me to interpret the song.

A soloist is, for all intents and purposes, a musical storyteller who paints a word picture through music. Their face, hands, and heart convey a message. Face connects to face, hand-to-hand, and heart-to-heart. It is not just that the congregation knows that the singer believes it; rather, the congregation is led to believe it, too!

Ask the Lord to deliver you from yourself. Be free to be real! For many years I sang in a prison of my own making, wanting to be more expressive but failing. Singing with a continuously flowing highlighter, everything was power. Looking back, what many of those songs needed was a voice that matched the message.

When singing Come Thou Fount, I personally identify with Mr. Robinson, whose third verse describes his Christian experience, therefore we should sing earnestly, “Prone to wonder, Lord! I feel it! Prone to leave the God I love!”

The greatest soloists you will ever hear may not have the greatest voices but have learned to tell the story of their songs!

Minor keys

In keeping with the idea of interpretation, the use of minor keys can be wonderfully incorporated. Obviously, the skill and preparation time of the pianist is variable, but the masterful use of the minor key can add great emphasis to your number.

Certain verses have that uncertain, eery, mysterious feeling.

“Does Jesus care when I’ve said ‘Goodbye’ to the dearest on earth to me?”

“Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way, that mark out the mountain’s track? ‘They were shed for one who had gone astray, ere’ the Shepherd would bring him back.’
Lord, whence are thy hands so rent and torn? ‘They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn’.”

“See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did ere’ such love and sorrow meet? Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

Consider the use of the organ or the violin for these minor verses as well. They seem to paint mysterious hues to greater affect.

A cappella

Sometimes, we have to sing it like they did in the days of old! Mr. Spurgeon’s gospel tabernacle was not filled with the sounds of instruments. He said, “What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettinesses of a quartette, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.” He stated further, “Praise the Lord with harp. Men need all the help they can get to stir them up to praise. This is the lesson to be gathered from the use of musical instruments under the old dispensation. Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her to learn; but in these days, when Jesus gives us spiritual manhood, we can make melody without strings and pipes. We who do not believe these things to be expedient in worship, lest they should mar its simplicity, do not affirm them to be unlawful.”

While I do not agree with his conclusion entirely, I agree with his emphasis on the human voice. Quoting the 33rd Psalm, he said, “Sing unto Him. This is the sweetest and best of music. No instrument like the human voice. As a help to singing the instrument is alone to be tolerated, for keys and strings do not praise the Lord.”

There is something natural, raw, and freeing in the absence of accompaniment. We should place the emphasis on the spoken word.

In my experience, a cappella works tremendously well in congregational song leading and amongst singers with relatively good pitch. Some singers tend to go flat, eliminating their ability to be effective, particularly in singing lead, or the melody, in a small group. That can be disastrous!

Number of verses

Straightforward, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus…may not be special! Effectively combine verses or eliminate others. With a few exceptions, specifically stories that tell a story in which case you must sing them all, most songs have a verse that can be eliminated when sung in special music.

I worked for a pastor who limited the number of verses to three and the number of choruses to two. This is not to suggest that you adopt the same rule; rather, it is to suggest you take each song as its own entity and consider how to make it most effective.

Minor adjustment to the timing

When I was a child, I spake as a child, and I understood as a child, but when I became a man, I became a…soloist! Hymns were written for use in congregational settings where structure is paramount; singing them individually gives you the flexibility to personalize. Let’s be honest: some of our hymns were written centuries ago, and their rugged and rigid rhythm are much more marshall than we would write them or sing them today. I am not suggesting that we shelf them. Rather, I am suggesting that you can sing and play them less rigidly, giving them a freshness that does not violate their character or the author who wrote them.

Combine two songs with a similar theme

I love medleys, and I have come to realize that one song may be the key to unlock another one. Such connections may be found in the last phrase of one and the first phrase of the other. For instance, “Yes, Jesus love me, the Bible tells me so…..I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned unclean!”

Choose a song that is right for you

There are many songs that are great, but they may not all be great for you. Some songs are given to male or female voices, while other hymns need more power, lending themselves to those with fuller voices. Also, hymns tend to have a natural range appropriate to their lyrics and music. Lowering many of them will kill their inherent power. Song selection is 75% of singing. Argue the percentage but not the point!

If you like hymns now, you may discover a great love for them in incorporating these ideas and those of your own. God gave us music, and our ministry is to return that gift to Him with our very best. Selah!

Platform Presence

sloppy-man-201x300-copy.jpgThe Bible says, Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen. (Proverbs 25:6-7)

Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, served as the King of Israel. He understood the principles of one’s behavior in the presence of kings and great men, and he wrote with inspired pen to instruct us in the art of exceptionalism. If left with the choice of a man with great ability and no tact, or the man with some talent and excellence in graceful behavior, give me the latter! Every pastor would love to have a minister of music who understands the principles of appropriate platform presence!

Again, the Word of God says, A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men. (Proverbs 18:16) May we all pray today that the Lord will give us the gift of sensibility, being appropriate to every occasion of public worship.

Let us consider four extremes in platform presence that ought to be avoided as to make us appropriate to our role in the music ministry.

Happy but not giddy

There is a distinct difference in being pleasant behind the pulpit, while not being frivolous. We have all seen the music leader that is too dry. He stands with songbook in hand and speaks to the people with a face chiseled stiffly enough for Stone Mountain! If he broke a smile, his face would crack! Therefore, to compensate for this extreme, the pendulum swings violently to another extreme. We have also seen the plastic, cheesy grinned fellow trying just a little too hard to be joyful!

If your demeanor in the pulpit does not meet with your demeanor outside of the pulpit, you are not being genuine. Do not “fake it till you make it!” People can sense real; they can also sense people that are plastic.
First of all, your face must be pleasant but not fake or plastic. By all means, smile. Be pleasant. You are not the funeral director; you are a music director! Be joyful! As Moses on Sinai, if you have spent time with the Lord Jesus Christ and are joying in Him, there will be a genuine light in you that does not have to be manipulated or counterfeited.

Secondly, our pulpit presence ought be light but not loose. We ought to speak to the people. Welcome them. Congratulate them on a job well done, lightly but not loosely. Your time in the pulpit is not comedy hour. The pulpit is not the place for trivial conversation. It is not the 11 pm sports report. We all ask the Holy Spirit to convict us of loose behavior in public worship.

Authoritative but not Angry

The effective song leader has a firm grasp on the service while maintaining a pleasantness about himself. He is authoritative in his charges to the people while not scolding or demeaning them.

Starting out as a fourteen year-old choir director, I personally violated this principle on occasion. I learned that verbally chastising the people about not singing well NEVER produced a greater desire in them to be full-hearted!

If you are you only getting 50% participation, consider whether they are tired, discouraged, or overwhelmed. Did they run to church without dinner to be on time? Is the church going through a valley? We can encourage the people without reproving them.

As a song leader, you must consider that the congregation is not your flock. They are the sheep of God’s undershepherd, the pastor. As a pastor, I have learned more to appreciate God’s people. I have learned to thank them for attending. It is a blessing each and every time they walk through the back door. They do not have to come, and I should never feel as if they are obligated to me personally to be faithful. The motive and motions of faithfulness are to Godward. However, if faithfulness to Christ and His Church resides in them, I am to foster a healthy appreciation of their steadfastness.

Authority means that I fill the pulpit with preparation and passion; anger means that I use the pulpit as a platform from which to correct them. May God help us to be appropriate in our charge!

Organized but not Obstinate

Dr. Earl Holloway often reminded us to be ready always to call an audible. Proper platform presence means that I as the song leader always have a plan but am willing as a servant to call an audible at a moment’s notice. Such changes in plan are necessitated for a variety of reasons.

Church life is family life, so sudden health crises and announced burdens bear heavily on a service. The Pastor’s heart may swing in emphasis within a meeting. Often, the thing that we might have planned does not meet the need of a meeting. Are you ready to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, kissing your skillfully-crafted order of service goodbye?

Some orders of service are like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, but we should seek to be directed by God continually!

Preparation gives you options. As a song leader, keep an eye on the pastor. The purpose of the song service is not only to prepare the people for the preaching of the Word of God but also to prepare the heart of the pastor to preach to the people.

Solomon spoke not only of apples of gold. He spoke of apples of gold in pictures of silver. May we never be too big to make little adjustments, allowing the Lord’s will to be done!

Dapper but not Distracting

Dr. Holloway once told me a story regarding his pastor that I shall never forget. Dr. Caudill had been given a stunning 2-karat diamond tie tac. He gracefully wore the tie tac often in his preaching, until one Sunday morning, a lady left the sanctuary with a word for the stately minister. She said, “Dr. Caudill, that is the most beautiful tie tac I have ever seen. I could not take my eyes of it the whole time you were preaching!” Dr. Holloway then told me that his pastor never wore the tie tac in preaching again, stating, “Nothing in my wardrobe ought to take anyone’s focus away from the preaching of the Word of God!”

That man of God learned that even a good and beautiful thing can become a bad thing. For him, the wearing of that jewelry was not appropriate in his platform presence. The small man says, “It’s her fault. She should maintain greater focus!” The mature man says, “The removal of something I enjoy is a small price to pay to be used more fully for God.” Over-the-top styles, loud colors, and distracting adornments ought to be avoided, seeing that they do not enhance the ministry of the Word but distract from it.
To the contrary, I do not condone disheveled appearance either. Charles Spurgeon said, “A good appearance is a letter of recommendation.” What we do is for our Lord. In everything we represent Jesus Christ! Therefore, shine your shoes. Iron your shirt. Straighten your tie. Press your suit. Be sharp. It costs very little to be clean but may cost you very much if you are not!

In these ways and many more, let us strive to always be appropriate. Your pastor, your church, and you will continually benefit from your desire to be suitable in all things.

The Scripture says, Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings. (Proverbs 22:9)

Dear God, give us Thy servants the gift of discernment, for we desire to be used in a great way for Your glory! Selah!

Amazing Grace!

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Grace is not amazing until it is recognized to be unmerited and undeserved.  Such is the tale of Christianity’s athem, “Amazing Grace.”  Until a vocalist recognizes the sinfulness of his own soul and the outpouring of love from Calvary’s cross, he may sing the melody of this great tune but never understands the song.

Amazing Grace was written by John Newton, who was born in London in 1725.  His mother was a faithful Puritan who taught him the Bible, and his father was a sea-captain.  Dying two weeks before his seventh birthday, the death of Newton’s mother left a permanent hole in his heart, and at the age of eleven Newton would begin to sail the Atlantic waters in the slave shipping business.  He said later of his father, “I am persuaded that he loved me but he seemed not willing that I should know it.”

Following in his father footsteps, he became a slave trader and ship captain at the age of 17.  During these days, the godly influence of his mother had all but receded.  He took up smoking and swearing, and indulged his lusts at every journey’s end.  He became an outspoken atheist and libertine, even attempting to ravage the faith of believers he met in his journeys.

At 18, John was captured and “pressed” into the service of the Royal Navy. He became a midshipman, yet was flogged for trying to liberate himself.  Disgraced and contemplating suicide, he continually proved to be more trouble than his worth.

He was left ashore in West Africa, becoming the servant of slaves.   Given as a present to his servant’s mistress, he was savagely abused.  During the next two years Newton suffered illness, starvation, exposure, and ridicule.  Slaves would smuggle food items to him, as well as letters Newton wrote to his father describing his dire situation.

Lost, lonely, and disgraced…Newton needed something amazing to take place!

In 1747, Newton found himself aboard the Greyhound, a slave-laden ship traveling from Brazil to Newfoundland.  During this time Newton surpassed his earlier immorality and impiety, blaspheming to a degree that shocked even the older men.  He fell overboard in a drunken stupor, narrowly escaping death.

Awakened from sleep on the 21st of March, 1748, the Greyhound had sailed into a violent storm, splitting and taking on water.

“Tied to the ship to prevent being washed away, Newton pumped and bailed all night until he was called upon to steer the ship. All the while he reviewed his life: his former professions of religion, the extraordinary twists of past events, the warnings and deliverances he had met with, his licentious conversation, and his mockery of the Gospels.”  It was then that he recalled his mother’s words from Solomon’s Proverbs, “Because I have called and ye have refused, … I also will laugh at your calamity.”

Amazingly, he converted during the storm, though he admitted later, “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer, in the full sense of the word.”  As he was later to recall it, this was “the hour he first believed.”

Newton had endured many “dangers, toils, and snares,”  and it was not long before Newton had fallen back into the old sins, coming to realize that “grace had brought him safe thus far and grace would lead him home.”  He would need new grace to come to full assurance of salvation and progress in his sanctification.

It was aboard the slave ship Brownlow in 1750 that Newton, who was extremely ill, acknowledged his faith in Christ, suggesting that his fear of death aboard the Greyhound led to his desire to make peace with God. 

Operating the slave ships Duke of the Argyle and the African, he was not well like by his crewmen.  Falling overboard, the crew took a whale harpoon and struck him in the leg.  Like Jacob of old, he would limp the rest of his life.  Additionally, he suffered a stroke at the age of 29 and his slave trading days were over.

In his later years, Newton became an outspoken voice against slavery.  His “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade” were written in 1788 and became a great tributary to the river of abolition.  The Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807, the year of Newton’s death.

His life, however, served more than to only free physically slaves.  Now, more than ever, he desired to preach the gospel and free those enslaved spiritually.  He would later be called “Little Whitfield,” a name given him because of his shadowing of the great evangelist.

Studying Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac, Newton became a lay minister and applied for priesthood in the Church of England at the age of thirty-two but was rejected.  His life would once again imitate biblical narrative.  Few trusted Newton or wanted his fellowship in light of his profligate past.  Methodists, Dissenters, and Presbyterians alike would not accept his story of conversion.  Grace, however, prevailed.

By the age of 39 Newton was serving at Olney, England as a pastor.  In his parish Newton did not become known as a fiery preacher.  Rather, “he became aware that his greatest gift to the church would emerge out of the time he spent alone, next to a fire, with single pages of blank paper, his pen in hand, his black ink close, as he sat and wrote pastoral letters.”

His writing, however, would not be confined to the confidential. During his time with William Cowper in Olney, England, Newton and Cowper wrote universally-known hymns such as Amazing Grace, There is a Fountain, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds, and many more.

Newton would recollect at the end of his life, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

Dying at the age of 82, Newton’s tombstone reads, “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”

Amazing grace, How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I am found, 

Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, 

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come, 

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun, 

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.