More Than Happy Church Music

Music pattern

Worship is not unilateral. Scripture and reality must not be ignored as Christians seek to glorify God in song, in praise, and in life. Have you ever found yourself wondering why you simply can’t connect in worship the way others seem to? Personally, I have struggled with that feeling during the church’s appointed “worship” time. However, worshipping God cannot be confined to one musical style, to merely happy themes, or to music exclusively.

Worship Can Be Musically Eclectic

Variety within the boundaries of sound doctrine and reverence is not only permitted, but should be encouraged. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 both express the importance of singing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. If the ultimate goal of worship through singing is to lead all people to glorify God, then wouldn’t it make sense to seek to do so in as diverse a manner as possible? Otherwise, churches can certainly find themselves in a musical rut. This is not a call to be edgy, but a call to be intentionally innovative for the glory of God.

Worship is More than Merely Happy Songs

If we are to worship the Lord with Psalms, then we simply cannot ignore the fact that nearly one-third of the Psalms are laments. These are not your average Sunday morning worship choruses, but why not? Perhaps in our haste to rush past the hurtful places of human experience we also rush past the Bible. As we seek to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, God must sometimes wonder why the words being sung are as hollow as the acts of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-36). Ironically, Jesus laments over Jerusalem in the verses that follow (Matthew 23:37-39).

Worship is More than Music

Can falling to the ground in utter dejection be worship (Job 1:20)? Is a Christ-exalting sermon worship (Galatians 1:23-24)? When a believer suffers for the sake of Christ, is that worship (1 Peter 4:16)? In each of these instances I think the answer can be yes. If the actions are an outpouring of adoration because of the absolute worthiness of God, then it is worship.

For those, like me, who sometimes feel like a second-class worshipper, we should patiently call for and cultivate eclecticism, lament songs, and lifestyles of worship. Anything less is just happy church music.

 

 

 

A Millennial Conversation (5 Great Questions)

millennials

Conviction and conversation are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the passion we possess for our beliefs should encourage more lucid discussions. That leads to the great need of our time for sustained amicable dialogue and, as with most situations, there are two sides to that conversational coin.

A Word to the Open-minded…

Christianity certainly needs to do a better job of addressing great questions. Perhaps you have questioned the goodness of God, the hypocrisy of the church, the authority of the Bible, the practices and principles of Christians, and the relevance of faith to life. If so, we have a lot in common. Be assured that your questions are legitimate, shared by others, and important in this healthy conversation. Admittedly, my perspective is biased, but so is every perspective; therefore, introspection and thoughtful engagement are essential.

A Word to Well-meaning Christians…

There is no shortage of explanations as to why people ages 18-30 are leaving churches and orthodox Christianity in America. The finger pointing goes back and forth from liberals and conservatives, elder Christians and younger Christians, traditional and contemporary approaches, and countless other factors. However, genuine interaction is needed more than finger pointing. As Tim Keller says, “settled and assured belief—to any of the big questions of life—is a process.” That leads to five great questions.

1. Would a good God have allowed this to happen to me?

After reading this initial question, memories of your past experiences probably surfaced like painful snapshots. I’d like to say that I could offer an easy answer, but instead I’m compelled to point you toward a difficult journey. Clichés simply won’t do as we wrestle with suffering, loss, and evil in this world. Neither will suppression.

The answer to this question is difficult because it involves understanding an eternal perspective from a temporal one. A good, eternal, and loving God certainly would allow difficult (heart-wrenching) circumstances in your life for reasons that surpass the scope of any perspective man could offer. Furthermore, in scripture we see much more than an “answer.” Did Job, Jeremiah, or Jesus receive an “answer” to their pleas of pain? No. Instead, we find faithful pilgrims of painful journeys that wrestle with God through prayer, doubt, anger, confusion, hope, and faith.

So, let your tears fall, ask your questions, raise your doubts, and know that God offers more than an answer. He offers His presence, His word, and fellow sojourners who will weep along with you.

For further reading check out Psalm 13, the book of Job, A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card, Accumulating Grief, and The Honesty of Hurt.

2. Why should I trust a religion that is so full of hypocrisy?

You shouldn’t. I concede that Christianity is full of hypocrites and am a hypocrite myself. So are you. I can’t name a single person who never “acts in contradiction to stated beliefs or convictions” (Webster’s dictionary). However, you should trust Christ who redeems all hypocrites. Hypocrisy, after all, is not an exclusive weakness of Christianity, it is the mark of all humanity. The church then is a local gathering of people redeemed by God’s grace, prone to wander, and in the process of becoming less hypocritical over time as they grow.

For further reading check out a great article on hypocrisy at Marc5solas site.

3. How can a book such as the Bible be considered authoritative?

Being open-minded to the supernatural is a prerequisite to holding the Bible as authoritative. I unashamedly believe in the supernatural revelation of God through His word. What other book has such a unified and unique message despite the diversity of authors, languages, context, setting, and time? What other book has persevered through the onslaught of rulers, philosophies, and cultures?

It seems to me that the only two options in accepting the clear record of the Bible historically, archeologically, and spiritually is to either believe in its divine origin or to believe in a unprecedented conspiracy theory of biblical proportions. Is it more likely that there is a God and that He in fact did speak or that misguided religious proponents conspired to perpetuate a belief system over a span of 1500 years, in various continents and languages, through authors of extremely diverse walks of life, and all under the constant threat of oppression and persecution? A naturalistic view of the Bible paints the biblical authors as “Jews in dirty sheepskins, rotten-toothed desert tribesmen with eyes rolled heavenward, men like flies on flypaper caught fast in a historic time, among the myths and conceptions belonging to the childhood of mankind” (John Updike). It seems more likely to me that men as described by Updike are much more likely to be conduits of God’s revelation rather than the initial think tank of a millennia-spanning religious conspiracy.

As Wayne Grudem states, “the assurance of the canon of scripture and our obedience are directly proportional because we cannot obey what we are uncertain of.” I can only encourage you to investigate the claims of the Bible and to be open-minded as you do. This question informs and influences all the other questions.

For further reading check out Psalm 119,  Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung, and great resources at Josh Mcdowell’s website. .

4. I believe in God, why should I attend church or adopt certain moral stances?

There is more than one kind of belief. There is intellectual assent to a higher power and there is life transforming submission to God through the finished work of Jesus Christ. The first kind of belief makes no impact on the life of the “believer” and so desires, ambitions, values, and habits are absolutely unchanged from day to day and from before intellectual assent to after. The second kind of belief radically changes the believer from the moment of conversion, from day to day, and in every area of their lives.

So, attending church and adopting certain moral stances really isn’t something you should do to merit your belief in God. Actually, desiring to worship God, cultivating community with the people of God, being consistently exposed to the proclamation of God’s word, and being conformed to values of the kingdom rather than this world are all indications of true belief in the first place. In other words, the person who claims to be a Christian and has no desire to worship God, grow together with other believers, and conform to the ways of God should examine themselves. James states this in the most direct and convicting manner, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19)!

For further reading check out Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney and Jonathan Leeman’s blog at the Gospel Coalition.

5. What makes Christianity unique and relevant to my life?

Eternity matters immensely. If you’re standing on the precipice of unbelief, then you cannot ignore eternity. As you ponder this, you will naturally consider various philosophies, worldviews, and religions; however, Christianity is unique. Only Christianity offers eternal life to unworthy sinners by sheer grace.

Grace is radically scandalous because we are culturally conditioned for performance. We earn grades, degrees, promotions, trust, reputations, wages, and even acceptance. Is it any wonder we bring this notion into our concept of religion? The precious cornerstone of the faith, which is also a stone of stumbling and offense, is Jesus Christ crucified for sinners who come to Him by faith and not by works.

For further reading check out this great post by Jonathan Dodson on the Gospel Project blog.

After ten years of teaching, preaching, learning, and conversing, I’m certain that millennials are seeking opportunities for posing and interacting with such questions. In fact, the desire to discuss is not limited to millennials. The questions offered here are the ones i’ve most frequently encountered, and the brief comments that follow are simply conversational sparks. So, whether your are open-minded towards Christianity or a believer considering how to share your faith, find opportunities to let the sparks fly and kindle meaningful, thoughtful, and grace-filled conversations.

4 Practical Spiritual Vulnerabilities

Vulnerability-Just-Ahead

As I think about the seasons of intense growth and seasons of stagnation in my faith, there are recurring elements of weakness I can put my finger on. I suppose these are more like personal confessions, but I’m sure there are others who share them. The following points comprise a list of common vulnerabilities I need to keep in check. Perhaps you do as well.

1. An Imbalanced Music Selection

Music has a powerful influence on our emotions and intellects. It is remarkable how a turn of phrase and a chord progression can grip our hearts, grant epiphanies, and connect the dots of our lives. Every song is written from a particular worldview and therefore connects us to that worldview in subtle and overt ways. I’ve noticed that when my music selection leans towards secular, my attitude and outlook leans that way as well. Likewise, when God-centered and theologically rich music is on my playlist, my soul appreciates it and my life reflects it.

2. Lack of Christian Fellowship

I am prone to seclusion. I am also prone to justify my sins, as all sinners are. As I find myself pulling away from other Christians (in the name of solitude and focus), I also find myself walking away from the people who hold me accountable, offer encouragement, and who need me to reciprocate. When I am distant from the people of God I am also more distant from God Himself.

3. Abounding Distractions

Exchanging  substantive and edifying endeavors for time consuming shallow habits is an ongoing struggle. There are constant opportunities to waste free time. Chris Rice has lyrics that express our opportunity and responsibility.

Every day is a bank account
And time is our currency
So nobody’s rich, nobody’s poor
We get 24 hours each
So how are you gonna spend
Will you invest, or squander

My greatest weaknesses in this area include filling free time with television, aimless internet searching, and social media binges. We all need down time, but that time might be better spent taking a walk, entering into prayer, or reading a book. Wisdom, discipline, and accountability can help us in this area.

4. Being Unprepared for Church

Faithful assembly with God’s people is undoubtedly essential for believers; however, our preparation for that time is equally important. Whether or not we have saturated ourselves with God’s word, prayed for personal and congregational edification, and positioned ourselves spiritually and practically to benefit from our time at church is an indicator to the importance we ascribe to our relationship with God.

These might be considered the top four practical vulnerabilities of my life. Can you identify with them? If so, ask God to forgive you where you have fallen short and overcome these areas by grace. I know I will.

Christian Education

5 Posts chalk

Over the past two years of blogging one of the topics that I’ve written on most, and which has been best received, is Christian education. In light of that I thought it would be wise to organize all those posts. Click on the links below to read more. 

1.How can we contrast the emphases of secular and Christian education?

Educational Paradigms

2. What essential elements must be considered in thinking about Christian education?

Christian Thinking in Education

3. A pragmatic approach to Christian education fails to engage key issues with eternity in mind.

Pragmatic Junkies

4. What are common dangers within Christian education and how can we avoid them?

The Dangers of Christian Education

5. Christian education is idolatrous if not fully and and distinctively Christian in nature.

Education Idolatry

As always, I appreciate honest feedback and enjoy interacting on these weighty topics.

Hollow Easter?

hollow easter_Fotor

Has Easter brought about the power of Christ’s resurrection in your life? Often amidst all of the activities surrounding this glorious spiritual celebration I find myself lacking personal astonishment in light of my risen Lord. However, this may actually be the symptom of a deeper distraction.

The connection between counting all things as loss, the righteousness of God that depends on faith, and knowing Christ in the power of His resurrection is clear in Philippians 3:7-11. As we approach Easter, this passage can help us understand and examine ourselves in light of the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:7-11

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

1. Counting All Things as Loss

Religion, morality, works, riches, and all sinful pleasures are insignificant distractions from the most significant reality we must embrace, Christ. As we count the cost of following Jesus, it should be clear that it is costly and worth it. There is no system, philosophy, benefit, reward, or treasure this world could offer to surpass what is offered by God through His son. Ultimately, the surpassing worth we find in Christ alone is our faith.

2. The Righteousness of God by Faith

As the surpassing worth of Christ is manifested in our lives through joyful abandonment of all other things, we find ourselves found in Him with an imputed righteousness. The former gains upon which we relied are utterly rejected as we cling to Christ as infinitely superior. We trade our works for a finished work and confidence in the flesh for confidence in Christ.

3. Knowing Christ in Resurrection Power

Do you want to know Christ in the power of His resurrection? This only comes through counting all things as loss and finding ourselves with the righteousness that comes to us from God by faith in Christ. Furthermore, this resurrection power is evidenced in the lives of those who are willing to share in His sufferings, even unto death.

So, whether Easter has brought about the power of Christ’s resurrection in our lives actually begs deeper questions.

  • Have I counted all things as loss in light of the surpassing worth of Christ? Am I continuously doing so?
  • Am I trusting that faith in Christ alone has brought about my righteousness?
  • Am I willing to suffer with Christ?

The answer to these questions will frame our Easter mindset and more importantly our spiritual condition.

 

Education Idolatry

chalkboard-eraser_Fotor2

We live in a society in which the central emphasis could be described as anything but God. Even more alarming is the thought that this same trend can be observed in Christianity itself. The reality of our cultural crisis is a fact we must come to terms with and in context of the Christian School, we must open our hearts and minds to our own negligence of God-focused paradigms and practices. What are the distinctive qualities of “Christian education” and how does our answer to that question impact the daily practices of the classroom?

“Like it or not, true biblical education over time will always result in a division between those Christians who build their cultural endeavors on a biblical foundation and who will prosper under God’s cultural blessing, and those Christians who do not, and who remain in the cultural ghetto typified by a modern Christian merchandise shop. We once built great cathedrals; now we throw gospel Frisbees” (Douglas Wilson, Repairing the Ruins).

The erosion of our Christianity has equally eroded our vision for Christian education. There aren’t enough curricular, programmatic or state standard sandbags to fix the decades of degradation we have suffered. This may all sound dire, but truth needs to ring with reality if hope can ring with possibility. The following points are an attempt to define, clarify, and specify education idolatry. The conclusion is a hopeful call to repentance from education idolatry.

1. What is education idolatry?

Everyone is partially blinded to the degree that we are influenced by our culture. Like the pagans in Habakkuk, we are enamored with our own glory instead of the glory of God. Such a foundational paradigm is not easily recognized and less easily removed. In the book of Habakkuk the prophet laments the iniquity and judgment of Judah. At one point he cries out, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it ” (Habakkuk 2:18-19). Instead of metal images and silent stones we deal with different idols: atheistic and agnostic philosophies of education. Can this teach?

2. Education idolatry clarified

Education idolatry is the result of any educational philosophy that is less than comprehensively centered around God.  C.S. Lewis frames the issue so clearly it is worth quoting him extensively.

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).

The actual pursuit is of God Himself and education is merely a means to better equip students in that pursuit. Lewis understood that education, in general, is idolatrous when it fails to recognize this ultimate pursuit. However, when Christian education is insufficiently permeated by Christian truth the result is particularly idolatrous.

3. Education idolatry specified

So, what does education idolatry look like practically? In purpose, perspective, philosophy, and programs there are numerous ways this becomes integrated within Christian schools.

  • If the ultimate purpose of education matches the worlds (Is the American dream the goal?)
  • If our educational philosophy could be summarized as supplementing secular education with Jesus
  • If each subject is not taught from an all-encompassing Christian worldview
  • If Bible class is the extent of the biblical curriculum of the school
  • If public school is viewed as the measuring rod for academic excellence
  • If chapel is understood as the spiritual component of the school

There are undoubtedly other ways that idolatry can infiltrate Christian education; however, these serve as overarching entryways.

4. A call to repentance

Education is not philosophically, theologically, or spiritually neutral. Worldview effects every facet and Christian education must be held to a higher standard of thinking through curriculum, pedagogy, policy, discipline, and spirituality in a distinctively Christian manner. Christian educators must engage in self-examination, institutional examination, and philosophical examination to determine where idolatry has crept in. Then our call is to confess and diligently pursue the beauty of gospel driven, biblically faithful, and spirit empowered education (Education…for the glory of God).

Christ’s Poverty (Our Wealth)

poverty

There is hope in Christ. This life is filled with difficulties and disappointments that scar us in every imaginable way. Untold stories of unbelievable pain fill the lives of humanity. Beyond our American experience there is a poverty deeper than we may be willing to acknolwedge. All those scars actually double as echoes of sin and glimpses of hope. Depravity and poverty cast a shadow of despair on the souls of mankind that only a substitutionary poverty can reverse. Christ was the good plan and news of God to make us truly rich. This is evident in Isaiah’s prophecy, Christ’s sermon on the mount, and Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians.

1. Isaiah’s Prophecy

Isaiah 53:1-5

“Who has believed what he has heard from us?And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows,and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

 There are few other passages in God’s word that can so powerfully capture the brutality of grace exemplified in He who was pierced for our transgressions. Here the great exchange of our iniquity and His affliction results in the peace and healing we can only experience through the man of sorrows enduring our penalty. Christ is the ultimate expression of humanity’s deepest need; moreover, He is the incarnation of our only hope.

2. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The first of Jesus’ teaching blocks in the gospel of Matthew clearly demonstrates the radical reversal of the kingdom. Those marked by poverty (a spiritual awareness of our depravity) will inherit the wealth of eternity in the very presence of God. Those concerned with the riches of this world will have difficulty entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24). Such poverty is paradoxically the greatest treasure we might dare hope to find.

3. Paul’s Appeal to the Corinthians

2 Corinthians 8:9

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

As Paul seeks to exhort the Corinthian church to exemplify gospel graciousness, he clearly articulates the substitutionary poverty of Christ. This man of sorrows, with no form, majesty, or beauty has become poor so that we might become poor in the richest sense of the word.

Where should this lead us? We are led to the conclusion implied by Jesus’ parable of the hidden treasure.

Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

All the treasures of this world pale in comparison to the poverty we find in Christ. He is worth counting all things as rubbish in order that we may know Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering (Philippians 3:7-11).

Welcome to the new www.mcdunn85.com!

I have been blogging for the past two years. After some consideration, I made the decision to upgrade and expand my site and am ever so glad you are checking it out. I thought I’d take a moment and address why I blog, what you’ll find on the site, and how appreciative I am of your time and feedback.

1. Why does http://www.mcdunn85.com exist?

God is worth loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This blog exists in order to share truth, musings, and resources that help others discover that worth.

2. What can I find on the site?

With the upgrade you can now find an updated biography, all the posts on the blogs since I began, a monthly updated recommended reading section, a monthly updated latest listening section (albums), and a recommended resource page. I’m tinkering with a few other ideas, but they are not on the site just yet .

3. How can I serve you?

Your feedback is important. I am eager to interact, read your thoughts, and use your input to make this site better. I’m also very appreciative for your sharing of anything you deem worthy.

Five Common Mindsets to Avoid in Bible Study

bible

God is worth His word being read, interpreted, and applied well. If you doubt that for a moment, then I recommend reading through Psalm 119 in its entirety. Even if you are convinced of God’s worth and the sufficiency of His word you have likely at times, like myself, approached scripture with a faulty perspective. There are numerous ways to veer off track from faithful engagement with scripture; however, there are five common mindsets that will certainly miss the mark.

1. The prooftext mindset

God’s word is much more than random verses used to prove we are correct about various issues. Being correct is the wrong pursuit. We should actually pursue being in submission to the teaching of scripture. In fact, we will often find our theological theories and presuppositions incorrect in light of the full scope of scripture’s teaching.

2. The man-centered mindset

The Bible is often used as a treatment of the symptoms of our lives. Such usage approaches the bible as an answer book to our problems, struggles, doubts, and failures. Undoubtedly God’s word addresses each of these things; however, they are not the theme. God Himself is the central character and to miss that is to miss the main point.

3. The theological bent mindset

Theology is important and God’s word is the source of good theology. We must be mindful of making God’s word fit into our theological emphases. Instead, our theological emphases must be the product of engaging with scripture faithfully.

4. The overly analytical mindset

Interpreting Gods word well is essential and requires hard work. However, we can so scrutinize scripture that we rob it of its authority because we have become the authority. For example, the historical background of a text can be so emphasized that we miss the clear and main point of the passage. Avoid being overly analytical, but do not neglect diligence.

5. The morality mindset

Does the Bible contain moral truth? Absolutely! Is the Bible merely a compendium of ethical boundaries? Absolutely not! Far too often, like the Jewish religious leaders (John 5:39-40), we search the scriptures and bypass the one to whom they bear witness. We would do well to believe both Moses and Christ.

Can you identify a mindset with which you have approached scripture lately? Thankfully, as Christians we are in the process of “hermeneutical Sanctification” (Graeme Goldsworthy). In other words, we are continually growing in our ability to “rightly divide the word of truth.”

Is there another mindset that we are prone to fall into, which neglects to study the Bible for all God is worth? Share it.

%d bloggers like this: