Lyrics express the poet’s message. Music is the vehicle for taking the message into the heart and soul.
Emotions like love, mourning, despair, joy, sadness, and melancholy find expression in music that reflects them. Upbeat, major keys strike a chord of happiness. Minor keys and slower tempos speak of sorrow or loneliness, even without lyrics. Loud, heavy metal speaks of anger. Rap often resonates with a grinding monotony that may speak to boredom or hopelessness. Peace accompanies certain melodies, and soft refrains. Creativity and exploration come with musical surprises, often in the form of jazz.
Steve Martin once sang a funny song about the music of atheism: “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” People of faith have always used music. The Psalms were mostly written 3000 years ago by a shepherd king named David. Some songs are even found in Exodus. And new songs are written every day about the same God who delivered the Hebrew slaves.
Christian hymns have long been a means to greater, deeper understanding of our faith. It has been said that the Bible is God’s Word to us, and the Hymnal is our response to God. Great hymn writers like Charles Wesley gave us poetry to fit our faith in words like these: ‘Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!” Or like the song of invitation, “Just as I am, without one plea, …” Or the evangelical testimony of “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.” “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!”
Contemporary songs often cut to the core of relationship. “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God.” “I could sing of your love forever.” “He’ll break open the skies to save the one who cries out his name. The one the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save you.”
Whether we need to be reassured of God’s love for us, or convinced of his power to heal and help, songs and hymns can open a space in our hearts for these deep convictions. Whether we are thankful for blessings or perplexed over tragedy, songs can connect us to God. Whether we are tired of striving and persecution and pain or suddenly freed from the weight of sin, there are psalms and songs to sing through the tears.
Using music in Bible study has great potential, especially with teens. Peter Rock Star from Galilee uses contemporary songs and a few hymns in playlists at the start of each chapter. The themes in the selections match the study and discussion topics of the week.
Music reaches deeper into our hearts than words alone. Music is a vehicle for praise and thanksgiving. I hope there is a song in your heart today.
By Sherree Funk | Originally published December 19, 2011
The Apostle’s Creed seems to leap quickly from Jesus’ birth to his death. This is not to say that all his teachings and miracles were of no importance, but that his greatest work, his essential work, the thing that we believe above all other things is this: Jesus – fully God, fully man – died a humiliating death by crucifixion at a particular point in history. That he really died is a key point. And this begs the question: Why did the eternal Son of God have to die?
Tennent, in his book, This We Believe!, points us to three reasons taken from Hebrews 2.
In a sense, Christ’s death proved that he lived.
In death Jesus faced the one thing that Satan thought he had over us. And then he triumphed over it.
Jesus did not live avoiding the evil in the world. He faced it head on without ever succumbing to temptation, without being conquered by evil. He was killed in a most evil way. No one will ever die a more unjust, humiliating, painful death. He tasted human death for us all.
I guess I always wondered why old Pontius Pilate got his name in this creed. It seems like he shouldn’t have gotten so much free press. But Tennent points out that this anchors the life and death of Jesus to a particular identifiable point in history. By mentioning Pilate’s name, a person who is well-known in history, whose name has been identified on a stone in Caesarea Maritima, the creed dispels any notions that this is just an abstract set of beliefs that may never have happened. While the crucifixion is not solely the fault of Pilate, he was a part of the evil plan to destroy Jesus. Satan was behind it all, but God had a bigger plan.
The previous phrase of the creed reminded us of Mary’s humble obedience while this one reminds us how we, like Pilate, often make wrong choices, and thus work into Satan’s evil plans. It is worth pondering this human condition, humbly confessing our sins, and earnestly seeking to obey.
Luke 23:23-35; John 19:18-20; Acts 4:10; 1Corinthians 15:3-4; Hebrews 2:5-18
A verse in Charles Wesley’s hymn, Amazing Love captures our gratitude:
He left His father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace;
emptied Himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race;
Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God it found out me –
Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me!
Perhaps it makes Christmas even sweeter when we remember what love prompted His birth, knowing that it would lead to His suffering and death.
Originally published December 18, 2011.
When I was young, the sounds of Christmas came from our hi-fi stereo as we played Firestone Christmas Albums non-stop. I can still hear the clear voice of Julie Andrews singing my favorite Christmas hymns and carols. Her lovely accent made Hark! The Herald Angels Sing unique. I memorized all the verses to most of these hymns just from hearing Julie sing them over and over.
Today’s declaration of the Apostle’s Creed is the beloved Christmas event. It is the incarnation of God in the flesh. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. Tennent points us first of all to Charles Wesley’s beautifully poetic and theologically rich hymn lyrics.
Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the God-head see! Hail the incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!
The fact that God wanted to come to earth and be with us in the flesh is truly awesome. The way he chose to accomplish this is more stunning still.
When the apostle Paul thought about it, he wrote this: “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, But emptied Himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself…” Philippians 2:5-8.
Tennent gives a wonderful illustration as he summarizes Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper. The book is about the son of King Henry VIII who met a ragged beggar and noticed they were quite similar in appearance except for the clothes. They traded places and changed clothes. The heir to the throne then walked the streets unrecognized, ill-treated, pushed aside, and ignored. In the same way, Tennent says, “The eternal Son of God clothed himself in our humanity and walked among us and most did not recognize Him.” John 1:10 says, He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.
Mary is the only person of faith mentioned in this creed. Her simple obedience to the will of God is exemplary. That God would entrust himself to be born and raised by one of us in this way is a sign of his great love. And it is more than that: He shows that he wants to accomplish his work of redemption in cooperation with us, His people, ordinary people.
Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. His conception was from God, by God, by the Holy Spirit, but within the human womb of Mary. And he was born as we all are. In order to become the perfect sinless sacrifice God intended, he had to be fully divine, free of the inherited sin of Adam. In order to be truly our Emmanuel, to sympathize with our weaknesses, he had to be fully human. He was both. It is a mystery. A paradox. The incarnation is a divine event worthy of our worship and praise.
Luke 1:26-38 describes the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary. It is from this scripture that the apostles took the words of this affirmation. Nothing in the creed is carelessly tossed in.
It is never to early to prepare for Christmas. Allow God in Christ to use you in His work. Be His humble servant as Mary was. Embrace the mystery. Glory to the newborn King.