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.

Influence

The Scripture says, “For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 3:8). These are the words of the Apostle Paul to the church at Thessalonica. They reflect the heartbeat of the great church-planting Apostle concerning the churches he established. In his absence, the greatest monument of gratitude for his investment in their lives was their steadfastnesses in the midst of tribulation (I Thes. 3:4-7), their charity (I Thes. 3:6), their faith (I Thes. 3:6), their testimony (I Thes. 1:8), and their anticipation of Christ’s return (I Thes. 1:10). No wonder the Apostle John said, “For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (III John 3-4) 

Great men have children, and what brings those great men joy is that those same children walk in truth! Paul’s epistles themselves display the trophies of grace on the mantle of his ministry. As Timothy stood fast in the Lord and continued in that which Paul delivered to him (II Timothy 3:1-11), Paul lived! Even after Paul’s earthly life was over, he continued to live through the obedience of his disciples. Did not the writer of Hebrews say of Abel’s obedience, “[He] offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it be being dead yet speaketh”? (Hebrews 11:4). 

Distilled down into one Bible truth, the illustrations above are all about influence. Timothy cannot joy in his obedience. Abel cannot boast of his sacrifice. The church at Thessalonica cannot gloat of their reputation. Gaius cannot personalize the glory of the Beloved’s adulation. All of their glory was in Jesus Christ and the human instruments God used to deliver that body of truth we call “the faith” to them. Jude said, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 3). 

When someone makes kind remarks regarding your standing fast in the Lord, to whom do you give credit? Yourself, or the human instrument God used to “expound unto you the way of God more perfectly”? (Acts 18:26). 

As a trepidatious, fourteen year-old teenager, I walked into the home of Dr. Earl Holloway. Dr. Holloway was the director of our Bible college’s choir and also taught private voice lessons in his home. He had come to my hometown after his second “retirement” from the music ministry, but retirement from influence and discipleship was not in God’s will for his life. 

Dr. Holloway was classy. Reared on the banks of the Red River in Adams, Tennessee, he developed a love for the opera as a young boy. Enthralled by the sounds of the Metropolitan Opera, he sat spell-bound near the radio on Saturday evenings as he listened to the greatest voices of his day. His love for music became a hot pursuit of it. Receiving a quarter every weekend from his father, those twenty-five cents afforded him a round-trip train ride to Nashville, a hamburger, and a music lesson in the city. Those were the beginnings of something wonderful the Lord was doing in his heart. 

Entering his home that day, all that I saw was an old man. I was too immature and too ignorant to see what the Lord had done for him on the train tracks of life from Middle Tennessee to East Tennessee. However, the steps of that good man were ordered by the Lord, and the Lord delighted in his way. 

Impeccably dressed and impressively articulate, he lovingly and graciously picked me apart that day. The song of the hour was “No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus.” If I remember correctly, I did not reach the chorus that day. If I could not get it right, we did not go further, because “It’s for the Lord, Daniel,” and the Lord deserves our best! I shamefully admit, I hated that first session and promised myself never to return! He hurt my feelings and so bruised my country twang that it never fully recovered! However, I did go back. For six years, I went back. I went back until he became the dearest person in the world to me. 

After his family, for good reason, had taken his driver’s license away, I went back to pick him up for church. I went back until I could tell his stories, finish his jokes, and do things just his way. 

A few years later, I went back to see a dying man. Not long after retiring his director’s baton, he took his peaceful journey to Glory. Again, I went back. I went to pay my profuse respects to that dear man of God, and I report that even to this day, he being dead yet speaketh. He vicariously lives through my ministry. When conducting my choir, singing a solo, giving voice lessons or even in conversing with others, he still speaks. He influenced me so earnestly that, like Timothy, I fully knew his doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith and charity. 

So, I turn my previously asked question on my own head: When someone makes kind remarks regarding my standing fast in the Lord, to whom do I give credit? If I were to be honest, all the glory goes to the Lord Jesus Christ and to Dr. Earl Holloway, the human instrument God used to expound unto me the way of God more perfectly. Man worship, you say? Not at all! The Lord Jesus said of Mary, “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” (Mark 14:9). 

You see, it is all about influence. I thank the Lord for the day Dr. Holloway became my musical influence. I am a debtor to his investment in my life. 

He taught me the principle of excellence 

He believed that our music is for the Lord and that we should always do our best. He was a staunch believer in the excellence of the music minister. He believed that our attire ought to reflect a reverence for God. Among his quotable quotes is my personal favorite and oft-used expression, “It doesn’t cost much more to go first-class!” 

He taught me to sing like a man. He would say, “Think big, son! Think big!” Excellence also means memorizing the lyrics, even to Handel’s “Messiah.” He would say to the choir, “Beloved, put your music away!” It is for the Lord! 

He taught me the principle of kindness 

To him, everyone could sing. I said, “Mr. Holloway, I am not so sure about that!” “Nonsense,” he said, “God gave everyone a voice to sing!” 

He taught me that “my wife may not always be right, but she is never wrong!” He gave me three words to keep my home a happy place, “I was wrong. I’m sorry, and I love you!” He built me with the bricks of encouragement. Even when I felt like he was “blowing smoke,” I did so earnestly want to believe that what he believed about me was true! 

Lastly, he taught me the principle of balance 

He opened my eyes to great music within the color prism of what is Christ-honoring, Biblically- accurate, and distinctively-sacred. Growing up in country churches, my worldview was very limited. We sang out of the old red-back “Church Hymnal” and canonized its pages. I still value that music to this day, but I am grateful that Dr. Holloway came my way and gave me a telescope to see a giant galaxy of godly music hidden from my view. 

He is now in Heaven, but I am still here. Now, I sit in the seat of influence. Oh, how cautious and Christ-like I ought to be! 

You see, young ears are developing a conviction of right and wrong by what we allow them to hear. The next generation of Christian leaders sit in our college classrooms. In none of our halls of Bible training may the attitude be adopted that we can flirt with contemporary, man- centered worship and still produce a holy progeny of preachers! 

What our soloists sing in moderation in the pulpit will be adopted in excess by those in the pews! If we date the world and its music, we are soon to adulterate true worship! 

May every pastor, choir director, music teacher, church soloist, congregational pianist, and Christian worker think soberly today on this thought: What manner of legacy am I leaving behind, and to what destination will my influence lead my disciples? Selah! 

Give me Liberty…to Think!

Within the last couple of weeks, the symbol of “Southernism” has come under attack. The Confederate flag, ignorantly brandished by a psychotic shooter in Charleston, South Carolina, has been curtly and abruptly considered foul and racist. Retailers like Amazon and Walmart (to name only an extreme few) have banned all sales of products using the image of the flag. Disregard the fact, however, that Nazi flags, ISIS flags, and rainbow flags, all symbols of either hate, racism, and division, are still available for purchase. Did you hear about the man who went into Walmart and ordered a cake with the Rebel flag on top? Walmart said, “No!” They would not make a cake with that symbol of racism on it. However, the next day, the same man went to the same store, bringing with him graphics for the ISIS flag. The cake was ordered, made, and purchased. That, my friends, is the epitome of ignorance, bigotry, and hypocrisy.
With all deference to my many friends who live north of the Mason-Dixon line, the Rebel flag has always reminded me of my heritage. When I see the flag, I think of Southern things, Southern states, and “The South will Rise Again!” However, I do not think of racism. To me, the flag has never been about racism. I am educated enough to know that the Civil War was about state’s rights! I am also educated enough to know that slavery was prolific in the North, too.  
This is not my attempt to condone slavery. Although opinion regarding slavery was split in the South, many Christians worked tirelessly to free the slaves. Slavery was wrong, and it was abolished. However, “The War of Northern Aggression” continues to be waged by race baiters who profit mightily off skewing history and fomenting racial division.  
Having said that, I grew up in Dixie hearing MANY more insults about “Yankees” than I ever did about blacks or other races. The flag symbolized love for our heritage, not hatred for others. It symbolized respect for the Confederacy and their fight for federalism.  
As a preacher of the gospel, the events of the last two weeks alarm me for one particular reason. Whether it is same-sex marriage or the banning of the Confederate flag, the issue is not the issue itself at all. The real issue is soul liberty, freedom of thought and conscience. The culture does not only want same-sex marriage legalized; they want to make you agree that it is right. You can burn the American flag, but you had better not own or purchase a Rebel flag. Better yet, cave and tell us that you believe it is a symbol of racism. Sorry, but the answer is “No!”  
These “thought police” have NEVER been forced to defend the merits of same-sex marriage in the public forum This is the reason the Genesis account of creation is given zero air time in the public school class room. It is not even allowed as a “devil’s advocate” position; it is outlawed. In 2015 America, you are not allowed to think for yourself. “We will tell you what you will accept, and you are not allowed to disagree.”  
Such practice is wrong, and extremely dangerous! As a proud Baptist, my forefathers recognized that man has a free will, and as a free moral agent, may lawfully practice the dictates of his conscience, answering to God, not government. Baptist people have never sought to build a state-church or to legislate morality.   
In 1802, Thomas Jefferson responded to the Danbury Baptist Society in kind by saying, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state…Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” Jefferson understood that it was the government’s responsibility to build a wall of protection against the building of a state church, as well as to ensure that government not intervene in matters of a man’s free conscience and opinions deeply held concerning his God.
We live in dangerous times. When our “culture” decides that something is wrong, it is necessarily considered wrong for all. When the “culture” decides that something is acceptable, it is acceptable to all and seen as bigoted to revolt against popular opinion. The Kardashians? Right! The Dukes of Hazard? Wrong! Approval of same-sex marriage? Right! Dissent against homosexuality according to God’s Word? Wrong! The theory of evolution? Right! Adamantly right! Absolutely, unquestionably, and unopposedly right! The Genesis Account of Creation? Wrong!  
The real casualty will not be the Supreme Court’s overreaching legalization of same-sex marriage in all fifty states. The real casualty would be people like me and you agreeing to agree, despite the dictates of our conscience. I am not suggested that you go out today and purchase a large Confederate flag and hoist it high in the front yard. I am suggesting that you do not have to agree with popular opinion. You can disagree. Millions of American soldiers gave their lives for that privilege. Freedom of speech led to the ruling by the Supreme Court; religious dissent might be our only hope of reversing it.  
“Give me liberty, or give me death!” Happy 4th!

“Oh, Be Careful Little Ears”

When the “Beatles” invaded from Britain, and the heartland of America was shaken by the gyrations of Elvis, who would have thought that the tectonic plates upon which the American culture rested would so violently shake that Bible-believing churches would be so easily removed from their fundamental foundations? Who but the Old Deceiver would have ever thought that within fifty years a growing number of fundamental brethren would adopt modern-day experiments in worship borrowed from a worldly culture?

The invasion has not subsided. On a consistent basis, we hear of churches churning internally due to the arguments of “conservative vs. contemporary.” Indeed, the fight of our lifetime is not a denominational one! Increasingly, the question the unchurched ask is, “What style of worship do you use? Are you conservative or contemporary?”

The battle has a lot of players: pastors, evangelists, Bible colleges, music directors, parents, and, yes, children. We know about the “greatest” among us (Matthew 18:1-3) and where they stand. We should mark well where our institutions of training stand or lean. Oh, how we ought to equip the music director and the parent in this assault from the enemy! However, for a moment could we consider the children? What does our music mean for the spiritual life of our children?

Beloved, we know what the culture wants to do with our Christ. America has been weighed in the balances regarding crimes against the Almighty and has been found wanting! We have legislated sensual freedom and called it “abortion.” We have expelled God from school and canonized the words “separation of church and state.” We now call Bible-believers intolerant because of the exclusivity of Christ’s gospel, yet preach that the army of be-headers and terrorists exists within a religion of peace! Within our lifetimes, we see the possibility of hate-crimes legislation passed nation-wide concerning pastors who preach the full counsel of God. Our culture will not cease until Christ is not only divorced from the state but from the country entirely!

And who bears the strain of the fight? Who bears the brunt of the storm? Whose future is paved with uncertainty? The children! The children! The children!

In Matthew chapter number two, the high-and-mighty Herod quaked in his boots! Great as he was, he shivered in fear at the prospect of a baby “Born King of the Jews.” After the wise men were sent to investigate Christ’s coming and returned home another way, Herod declared that all children two years old and younger in Bethlehem and surrounding coasts should be killed. Matthew’s gospel says, “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not!”

Herod’s attempt to stamp out Christ was a burden borne on the tiny shoulders of Bethlehem’s babies! Mothers had sucklings ripped from their bosoms! The strong arms of Daddy had not the strength to hold at bay the forces of evil that day, and Rachel wept! She wept because He who would come to His own would be rejected by the same. The Emperor quaked and soon the crowd cried, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Why have we accepted a culture that has rejected Christ?

Pray tell me, then, why we would allow a culture bent on our Christ’s destruction to teach us how to worship Jesus Christ? Why should we borrow from the whims and weapons of this world to win the world to a cheap imitation of itself, and in doing so, destroy precious things in our children’s lives?

As songbooks and choirs disappear from many of our churches, please consider the following consequences borne on our children’s shoulders.

They never really get to enjoy childhood

Our children are growing up too fast! Before you paint me an over-protective father of four, consider the culture in which our children live. The sights and sounds of this culture are not oriented to protect their hearts, minds and appetites. Video games pump the music of the rapper and the disc jockey. Their adrenaline becomes intoxicated with sounds developed by and produced for older ears. Their time in the public school (if applicable), grocery store and shopping mall are enough to wax off any veneer of innocence they might have.

Then, they come to church (again, if applicable). What they ought to find there is a counter-culture. Here, they ought to find a safe place. The sights and the sounds, if protected, create the conviction that church ought to be different! While exciting, fun, and often loud, there is a wholesome and historic element in it! We sing choruses and hymns with them that allow them to speak as a child, understand as a child and think as a child (I Cor. 13:11). We all understand that they cannot live on this diet forever. We are moving them to the banquet table of meat! However, a child’s life and influences ought to be protected from the culture!

Several years ago, my wife and I taught a children’s choir in a homeschool group in our city. What truly broke my heart was the influence culturally-relevant music had on this particular group of 8-11 year olds (most of which were girls). The bodily movements they already deem as appropriate had produced a lack of blush in them. This was indeed the by-product of worldly music at home and worldly worship at church. Rather than being protected, the adults in charge of their spiritual watch-care wanted to act like children, and, in turn, made the children act like adults. Rachel is still crying for her children!

They can only speak the language of the culture

In his book, “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns,” author Gordon T. David said, “My own generation and my children’s generation are- to use the Greek term [idiotes]- musical idiots. We think we are choosing to listen to pop music, when in fact we are not choosing, any more than a Kentucky coal miner flatters himself that he ‘chooses ‘English. He does not compare and prefer English to (for example) French; English is all he knows.”

Many children only speak the language of the culture. When served a heaping spoonful of sacred music, one might say, “This is boring! This is awful!” Yet, such a declaration suggests that no one ever taught them the language of sacred music! Adults are often surprised when children use the full vocabulary of the culture’s native-tongue, but we ought not to be!

Vance Havner said, “We spent so much time seeking to be relevant that we forgot to be reverent.” Beloved, if we do not run to the front lines of this war on music, our hymnal faces the possibility of extinction within a generation or two.

Psalm 78:4-6 says, “We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:”

Just as God expected the children of Israel to speak the language of the Red Sea, and manna and Canaan land, so our Lord has entrusted us to teach our children the sacred dialect of the redeemed. May our children understand that they are not part of a johnny-come-lately experiment in worship. Rather, they come from a long line of biblical men and women who knew and loved God and worshipped in spirit and in truth.

The culture is knocking on your church’s door today. In all thy doing, protect the children!