The Devising of Things More Wonderful

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Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’

— Tolkien, The Silmarillion, 6.

“You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:20 CSB).

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 CSB).

True Happiness (Psalm 32)

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In the darkness of my sin
I confessed, came to the light;
My brittle bones bent beneath
Your hand of holy might

Let the sinner pray to You,
And the rising flood escape;
Judgment’s waters cannot reach
The one who lives by faith

My joy is Your forgiveness
My happiness, Your peace
How glad I am that You don’t count
All my sins against me!

Lord, You are my hiding place
The devil’s arm is too short:
The shouts of Your salvation
Drown out the Accuser’s hurts

The wicked are beset by pains
Their end is ruin and shame
But faithful love surrounds the one
Who trusts alone in Jesus’ name

My joy is Your forgiveness
My happiness, Your peace
How glad I am that You don’t count
All my sins against me!

3-12-2017

“If I Look at Bach, I Cannot Be An Atheist”

One of the most widely revered figures among contemporary European composers, György Kurtág, recently confessed:

‘Consciously, I am certainly an atheist, but I do not say it out loud, because if I look at Bach, I cannot be an atheist. Then I have to accept the way he believed. His music never stops praying. And how can I get closer if I look at him from the outside? I do not believe in the Gospels in a literal fashion, but a Bach fugue has the Crucifixion in it–as the nails are being driven in. In music, I am always looking for the hammering of the nails. … That is a dual vision. My brain rejects it all. But my brain isn’t worth much.’

— John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, emphasis added

Why We Sing

And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21 HCSB)

Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16 HCSB).

Singing is an important part of the life of the church. At Grace Community Church, we sing for many reasons, which can be remembered by the acronym FIRE: we sing to feel, instruct, relate, and exalt.

We sing to feel. In Ephesians 5:19, singing and making music is “from your heart to the Lord.” The psalms, which are themselves songs, are a library of emotions. We sing as a way of expressing to God and each other what we or others (or both) are feeling. We sing when we are

  • sad (Psalm 6:6-7)
  • thankful (Psalm 9:1)
  • feeling alone and forsaken (Psalm 13:1-2, 22:1-2)
  • trusting God (Psalm 23)
  • confident in God’s protection (Psalm 27)
  • forgiven of sins (Psalm 32)
  • confused and angry about evildoers’ success (Psalm 73)
  • broken and repentant (Psalm 51)
  • depressed and don’t know why (Psalms 42-43)
  • attacked by hateful people (Psalm 52)
  • thankful to be saved (Psalm 63)
  • sharing the gospel (Psalm 67)
  • amazed at who God is (Psalm 93)

Throughout the Bible, God’s people have turned to singing and music to express their hearts to God and one another. Singing is not a way of plastering over how we really feel with a veneer of happiness; rather, we sing from the way we feel now, and many times singing can be a way of moving to the way we want to or should feel.

We sing to instruct. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 both describe the purpose of singing as “speaking to one another” (Ephesians 5:19) and “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). In fact, the Colossians passage specifically says that singing with each other is a way of soaking ourselves in Jesus’ word.

Putting things to music is one of the most common ways of learning things. The tune sticks in your head, and that tune gets associated with the words of the song. Learning rich, God-honoring songs–both the ones in the Scriptures and ones written by believers after the Bible was finished–is a way of keeping the truth about Jesus with us all the time.

What’s more, when we sing together–which is particularly what Paul has in mind in Ephesians and Colossians–we’re teaching each other, not just ourselves. We sing to remind each other of what is true because we’re weak and frail sinners who forget.

We sing to relate. Many of the psalms include instructions such as “To the choirmaster” or “for the flutes,” indicating that they were originally intended for a group setting. And, in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, Paul tells them to sing with one another and to one another.

We sing together, because we are united in Christ as His body. We can sing sad and joyful songs, because we weep with those who are sorrowful and rejoice with the joyful. We teach one another by our songs, not only ourselves. And by hearing so many others sing the same truths, we’re reminded that we’re not alone.

We sing to exalt the name of Jesus. Whether rejoicing or weeping, we sing because of who Jesus is and what He has done. All throughout the Old Testament, songs are used to celebrate God’s saving power and loving mercy to them. Moses sang a song after the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 15); David wrote many of his psalms as a response to how God had delivered him from enemies like Saul.

Our singing, whether together in a worship service or individually during the week, is always and only possible because Jesus is our Great High Priest, interceding for us because of His perfect obedience, atoning death as our Substitute, and resurrection to the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the Worship Leader, and He gives us new hearts that want to sing.

Music Monday: All My Fountains by Chris Tomlin (with help from John Newton)

Chris Tomlin’s “All My Fountains” is based on Psalm 87:7:

Singers and dancers alike will say,
“All my springs [or fountains, per the NIV84] are in you.”

The psalm is an excited celebration at the thought of being a part of God’s people. John Newton wrote a great song titled after verse 3, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” It helps us get at what the psalm as a whole is conveying:

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for His own abode.
On the Rock of ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See the streams of living waters
Springing from eternal love;
Well supplies thy sons and daughters
And all fears of want removes.
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to quench?
Grace, which like the Lord, the Giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Blessed inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood;
Jesus, whom their souls rely on
Makes them kings and priests to God.
Tis His love His people raises
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests His solemn praises
Each for a thank offering bring.

Savior, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in Thy name.
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasures,
None but Zion’s children know.

For the sons of Korah (and John Newton and Chris Tomlin), the central reality of each of their respective songs is the blessing of God Himself calling you His own. In Psalm 87:6, Yahweh Himself registers the peoples, noting “This one was born there [in Zion].” Newton says it this way, “Savior, if of Zion’s city / I, through grace, a member am.” For Tomlin, it’s finding home and rest after the “dry and desert land.”

The songs also get at the soul-satisfaction found only in Jesus. To combine Tomlin and Newton: The worldling’s pleasure is a dry and desert land. I’m searching for a flood for my soul, a well that will never run dry–a stream of solid joys and lasting treasures.

The chorus of “All My Fountains” refers to Jesus’ own teaching about the soul-satisfaction only He can give. In John 4, Jesus offers the woman at the well living water, which can satisfy the thirst of her heart eternally; Jacob’s well can only satisfy physical thirst temporarily. “Everyone who drinks from this water [in Jacob’s well] will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again–ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life” (John 4:13-14 HCSB).

So, what Tomlin is leading us to sing in the chorus and bridge is this: Jesus, You alone give living water. You alone quench the thirst of my heart forever. You alone have a wealth of solid joys and lasting treasures. That’s why I come to You. Rain down on us, Lord, the cleansing water of Your hope, Your word, Your promises, Your truth. Open the Heavens; come, Living Water: You are the only place I can come to for life. Your fountains are my life, my cleansing, my refreshing.

It’s a great song (and terribly fun to play, too). May it encourage your hearts and spur you on to trust Jesus.