Friday, July 11, 2008

Some General Thoughts on Music in the Church

Note: the opinions presented in this blog post are mine and mine alone. They are personal, and I am merely considering the issues at hand.

“Worship Wars” are raging in evangelical, predominately white churches throughout America (Fischer). What is a worship war? Worship wars often erupt when churches begin discussing musical styles. “Old-fashioned or more trendy, upbeat services?” and “hymns or praise songs?” are some of the controversial questions debated. Over the past fifty years, worship styles in many American churches have changed. Let me state right here that I am NOT, repeat am NOT against using new music in churches, nor am I opposed to “modernizing” music in churches to a degree. However, what concerns me ARE some of the seeming reasons behind the changes many churches are adopting. Rather than focusing on what honors and glorifies God, some pastors, elders, and church leaders seem more focused on numbers (aka people in the pews). In order to draw more people into the fold and to keep their young adults attending church, many churches are being influenced by the American pop music culture and are changing from traditional church services to contemporary worship styles. Again, I am not speaking against more contemporary worship in the church; I am questioning the motives of many who are seeking to make their churches more appealing to the masses.

A Quick Look at Hymns:

In current, evangelical American culture, there are two main kinds of worship in Christian churches: traditional and contemporary. What is the difference between these two styles? When people think of a traditional service, they often think of pipe organs, choirs, and hymnals. Contemporary worship brings to mind more modern instruments, overhead projections, upbeat music, and a praise team. However, there are greater, yet often less perceived differences between both worship styles. In most traditional hymns, the music, derived from Classical music, is very structured. It enhances the words of the hymn—meaning that it does not overpower it, but it adds beauty to the song. The emphasis of each hymn is the content found in the words, which are often didactic, not the music behind the lyrics. When a hymn has powerful words coupled with strong, harmonic music, it tends to last. Many hymns are sung for generations. Take “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” which was written by Martin Luther, Father of the Protestant Reformation, or “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” written by Robert Robinson in 1758: both hymns have stood the test of time and are still sung and well-beloved by Christians today. Since many hymns are written in four-part harmony, hymns are meant to be sung by congregations or full choirs, thus drawing the church together as they raise their voices in song (Lusher). Now, I am not advocating that churches stick merely to “hymnal worship” (though I have no problems with that); however, I think it a shame and a pity when some go on “hymnal burning sprees” just because hymns are not as modern and hip as current praise songs. Certainly, I will grant that most songs from the hymnal are not exactly in vogue with pop culture, but does that mean that we need to eradicate them from the church? No. The “Church” is the body of Christ, and it shouldn’t be taking orders from the world. Christians are to be in the world, not of it. Personally, I feel that a healthy mix of hymns and solid newer music makes for a nice balance between the two styles.

On Praise Songs:

According to Michael Schmid, “A frequent complaint regarding contemporary songs is that there is little meat to them. The content is sparse, repetition is common, and very little doctrinal material is presented” (2006). Let’s stop here for a minute. First of all, I am NOT saying that all repetition is wrong. Nor am I saying that contemporary songs are sinful. There are new songs that I truly enjoy singing and that have blessed me. Aside from the difference in content, there is a large difference between traditional and contemporary songs. In addition, praise songs are generally sung in unison and have more instrumentation (often electronic). Because praise songs ride on the wave of trendiness, they often do not last very long (Lusher). Whichever style one prefers, it is evident that they are both very different. What has encouraged and influenced modern churches to make the switch from traditional to contemporary worship styles?

A Brief Timeline of Change and the Desire for the Masses:

Change is inevitable. Times change, people change, and cultures change. In the current age where older, classical sounding hymns hold little appeal for the masses, many churches are changing their styles of worship music to draw more people through their doors. Because many are unfamiliar with the complexities of classical music (thus unable to harmonize), some argue that traditional worship services alienate many people (Smith Creek). As a result, many churches are switching gears and moving from traditional services to more upbeat, contemporary forms of worship in order to re-invent the church for this new era (Guinness). More and more congregations are becoming “seeker-sensitive.” According to Ana Petitfils, “A ‘seeker-sensitive’ church is a church whose main purpose is to try to make the church look more attractive to unbelievers. Many churches use technology and media to drive outreach to the communities” (1). This “seeker sensitivity” was birthed by the pop music culture in America. In the 1960s, many hippies came to Christ. According to Peter Masters, these converted hippies, known as the “Jesus people,” began to worship God by singing in the style that they’d known as hippies: extremely simple songs, often consisting of one line repeated over and over again. This style of music helped them to release their emotions through song. Some Christians then began to want worship music that sounded like secular rock (“Is ‘New Music’). Following the hippie era, the Contemporary Christian Music movement (CCM) took off in the 1970s and became known and encouraged as an alternative to secular rock. As the popularity of CCM grew, churches began inviting artists, like Amy Grant, to give concerts. Eventually, hits like “Great is the Lord” and “How Majestic Is Your Name” were incorporated into the worship service as a result of their growing popularity in the world of CCM (Hymnody). Because many find the old, classical hymns either boring or intimidating, many seeker-sensitive churches are opting to discard them in the hopes that their new, Christian alternative to rock will draw the masses through their doors. Should this be done?!? What of the people still in the church? The CHURCH is the BODY OF CHRIST, and who said that had to be cool? Add in new songs if they glorify Christ, but do not, PLEASE do not disregard the solid hymns of the past in the process.

Dissection of a Song:

Let’s take a look at one song that is now being sung in at least one Reformed church: “Above All,” made popular by Michael W. Smith.

------Verse 1------
Above all power
Above all kings
Above all nature
And all created things
Above all wisdom
And all the ways of man
You were here
Before the world began
------Verse 2------
Above all kingdoms
Above all thrones
Above all wonders
The world has ever known
Above all wealth
And treasures of the earth
There's no way to measure
What You're worth
Laid behind the stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like the rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all
(Verse 1)(Verse 2)(Chorus)(Chorus)
Like the rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all

Okay. As written, the song has lots of repetition. To be fair, the church which recently incorporated this into the worship service cut out the repetition. Is that done everywhere, though? Read the words of the song. Are they spiritually enriching? I don’t know about you, but the lyrics do little to stimulate spiritual growth for me. Compared to the level of what should be taught in a healthy church, this song doesn’t seem to fit in. In addition to the rest of the words being weak, I also dislike likening Christ’s atoning death for sinners to a “rose trampled on the ground.” To me, it seems to reduce and simplify the awesomeness, the wonder, the beauty of what Jesus did for sinners. He “took the fall” or took on the wrath of God? Like a “rose trampled on the ground” or like a lamb let to the slaughter? Perhaps some would accuse me of nitpicking, but I honestly cannot sing that song in good conscience. Yes, we must have things in terms that the unconverted can understand, but why are we boiling away all the meat and leaving only broth behind as is done in this song? Let’s face it. This is a pop song. It is. In Christian pop culture, this simple ditty has won plenty of radio time on stations that have advisory boards comprised of listeners (like WRBS). Why is it being sung in a Reformed church? Dare I even question that? I will. What is the motive behind it? There is soooo much other music, songs better suited for corporate worship, lyrics more doctrinally solid, strong, and uplifting . . . I’ll leave it at that and continue my discussion.

Another Common Motive:

Church attendance among young people is dropping drastically. A survey conducted by LifeWay Research showed that seven out of ten Protestants ages 18-30, all who had attended church regularly in their youth, had stopped going to church by age 23 (Grossman). In an attempt to stop this trend, churches are also modernizing their music in an attempt to keep young people in their midst. According to Warren C. Slaten from Audio International:

Nationally, more contemporary music is being added to traditional worship services. This music includes a variety of instruments, including electronic/amplified and high-powered vocals sometimes called “praise-power-teams”, all designed to excite, inspire and to captivate an audience. This music is, primarily, directed towards young people to simulate the kinds of music they hear in the secular world.

By making church music “more cool,” many are attempting to use the appeal of pop music to retain their younger attendees.

The Need to Refocus:

Now, why are so many churches so focused on MAN and man’s needs rather than on God? Church isn’t about man, it’s about God; therefore, we must seek to honor and glorify God, rather than to please and bribe men. In Reformed circles, it is believed that God is responsible for man’s salvation: that the Holy Spirit must draw a man unto God, and that God grants repentance and eternal life. What is a basic means of drawing? The Bible speaks on preaching in Romans 10:

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

I would argue that preaching is CRUCIAL, even more important than music. This doesn’t say “How shall they hear without a worship leader? And how shall they sing unless they be gifted? As it is written, How beautiful the feet of them who sing of the gospel of peace, bringing glad tidings of good things through song!” In my opinion, music is too emphasized in many Christian circles.

1Corinthians 1:21 “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

The Bible makes it clear that preaching is foolishness to those who are unsaved, but that He has chosen to use that which is foolish in their eyes to make them wise unto salvation. Too many want to change the music to draw people into the church through imitating the secular world, thus giving unbelievers that which they are used to hearing. If the main emphasis of the change in worship styles is man-centered rather than God centered, then I am very wary of the shift. Rather than emphasizing the importance of the music, why are churches not focusing on PREACHING? A potential problem with trying to draw people into the church with music is that those already in the pews will be neglected—either underfed or ignored in the attempt to fill seats. I am NOT saying that churches should not be evangelistic, quite to the contrary. However, churches should rely on God and the Holy Spirit to draw men to salvation, and not make music man-centered in order to win souls. Equip the saints in the pews to evangelize—feed them, nourish them, love them, strengthen them that they might be mighty and able to share the Word. Keep the focus of worship on God, and not on men. In the Old Testament, God killed those who offered Him strange fire, struck down those who dared to touch His ark. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Just because He isn’t sending down fire from heaven now does not mean that He is pleased with all that goes on in Christian worship services. I am not advocating an “exclusive psalms and hymns” kind of worship. Rather, I am pointing out that the reasons for changing the style of music in a church (and perhaps dividing it by doing so) must be biblical, and that the songs chosen should be sound and God-honoring. We should not be influenced by the culture (and God warns us of fascination and love of the world) when considering music for a church service. Keep God as the focus.

A Conclusion:

Music is definitely an integral part of the Christian church. Whether classical or upbeat, traditional or contemporary, music plays a key role in religious services (though perhaps it is over-empahsized in many circles). However, there is much controversy over worship styles. Many older people prefer traditional hymns, accompanied by the organ or a piano, while many of the younger generation like praise choruses, replete with guitars, keyboard, and often drums. Regardless of one’s preference, it is interesting to note how popular music in America has influenced many modern churches. Because churches wish to attract new members, and they desire to keep their young adults from leaving, many are changing their worship styles to mimic secular music. This is fascinating. Only time will tell how far popular music will influence American churches in the future. Am I saying that all churches with contemporary music or which are moving toward changing worship styles are doing so for negative reasons? No. For now, though, it is worth noting the great power held by the pop music industry, and to question the motives and reasons behind the great musical shift in churches today. If you are seeking God and His glory first and foremost, by all means, go for adding in some newer music. However, if drawing men into the holy house of God is your primary focus, please pray and ponder the weighty decision that is before you. It's more than just "changing the music," it's about the intentions of the heart.

Works Cited

Fischer, John. “What to Do About the Worship Wars.” Moody Magazine 2001. Moody Magazine. 23 Apr. 2008‌articles.php?action=view_article&id=955.

Grossman, Cathy Lynn. “Young Adults Aren’t Sticking with Church.” USA Today [Maclean, VA] 27 July 2007. USA Today. 2007. 22 Apr. 2008‌news/‌religion/‌2007-08-06-church-dropouts_N.htm.

Guinness, Os. “Trusting in a Culturally Relevant Gospel.” Interview with Christianity Today. Christianity Today 1 Aug. 2003. Christianity Today. 26 Aug. 2003. 21 Apr. 2008‌outreach/‌articles/‌trustingculturalgospel.html.

Lusher, Paul. “Hymns and Praise Songs.” Center for Church Music: Songs and Hymns. 2008. 23 Apr. 2008‌music-worship/‌article/‌hymns-and-praise-songs.

Masters, Peter. “Is ‘New Worship’ Compatible with Traditional Worship.” Sword and Trowel 1998. Freedom Ministries. 23 Apr. 2008‌masters/‌worship1.htm.

Petitfils, Ana. “’Seeker-Sensative’ Movement Poses Threat to the Church.” Christian Examiner Mar. 2005. Christian Examiner. 21 Apr. 2008‌Articles/‌Articles%20Mar05/‌Art_Mar05_oped1.html.

Schmid, Michael. “My Perspective: Michael A. Schmid on Praise and Worship Music in the Lutheran Church.” True Vine Music. 24 Mar. 2006. 23 Apr. 2008‌my_perspective.htm.

Slaten, Warren C. “Music VS Worship.” Audio International. Nov. 2001. 22 Apr. 2008‌musicvsworship.html.

Smith Creek Music. Rev. of Praying Twice, by Brian Wren. Hymnology: Praise and Worship Music. 17 Apr. 2004. Smith Creek Music. 21 Apr. 2008 .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Remember, Rest, and Hand Over the Reigns!

For the past six or seven months, I have been captivated by the book of Jeremiah. Today, after I arrived home from work, I decided to go dig up my commentaries by Calvin. When Ris and I redid our room awhile back, all of my knick-knacks and books were packed into storage and put into the dark recesses of the basement. While I had hoped to dig out my books and bring them back to the room, that hasn't happened yet, and I don't think we have the space for any more furniture (like a bookshelf). As a result of everything being in storage, I had to dig through my boxes until I came to the crate filled with my commentaries. Although I could have used the set that my parents own, I wanted to have mine so that I could feel free to mark them (I'm a big fan of underlining and margin writing). There were about three thick, entire volumes devoted to the book of Jeremiah. For a start, I decided to go to one of my favorite verses, and then I wrote down some of my own thoughts on what I'd gleaned from the mighty pen of Calvin.

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end."

What God has decreed cannot be changed; He already has my future mapped out. Attempting to figure out the mind of God is futile: His ways, thoughts, deeds, and plans are so far above me that they are incomprehensible. Here, however, God was reminding the Jews of His promises to them in the past, bringing rebuke to them for doubting His deliverance. How often have I been tempted to doubt the will of God for my life? How frequently have I been anxious when considering my future? Truly, God's reproof to the Jews applies to me as well. As Calvin said, "He teaches us that true wisdom is to obey God, and to surrender ourselves to Him; and that when we understand not His counsel, we ought to resignedly wait until the due time shall come." Oh Lord, grant ME true wisdom, and may it ever increase that I might trust You more! It is so easy sometimes in trials to to forget that God loves us, and that He is working all things for the good of His people. The Lord IS faithful to His promises, and He has promised good to His own. Whether in this life or the next, God will fulfill what He has said. He is steering the ship of the believer, and with Him at the helm, who can fear? Remember the promises of God, rest in the knowledge that He will keep them, and wait patiently for your deliverance.

There is another quote of Calvin that I love (not from my readings today): "Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness." Oh the beauty and truth in that sentence! In today's day and age, so many people love to say that "God is my copilot, and with God as my copilot, how can anything go wrong?" AAHHH!! That idea terrifies me. I don't want to be in charge. My life with me at the helm would be disastrous. No, me in command is a very bad idea. Humans are so sinful, so depraved, so self-centered, and those without Christ have their ships sailing in sin. As Christians, the current of evil tries to take us off course. With me at the helm, my ship would follow the current and either capsize or be hopelessly lost. Only God can keep a ship on course, only God has a firm and steady hand to steer. It is this God who has promised to be faithful. He will never leave us or forsake us, He has promised good to us, and He will fulfill all that He has decreed toward us. Seek after true wisdom, and surrender yourself to the Pilot who steers the ship into safe harbors.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Joy Comes in the Darkness Too

Three days after the death of Mrs. Cummings, my grandfather passed away. Although we had been expecting it and praying that his suffering would end soon, the news struck me like a load of bricks. True, I had gone to say goodbye a few days before. Sure, I knew that it was coming. But when a loved one dies . . . For a long time, I hurt in silence, keeping my grief hidden away, locked from the sight of those around me. It was not the despairing kind of grief or the kind that one has when there is no hope of seeing the departed one again. No, it was just the empty, "I miss him" kind of grief. Had it been the other kind, I don't know how I would have faced it. Looking back, I stand in awe of how God worked things in the few months before Poppop died.

Pastor Brent preached recently about the storms of life. We don't know how long a storm may last, how bitter and difficult a trial may be, but we must have faith that God will not only see us through, but also work it for our good. How easy it is to forget this!

Luke 8:23-25
But as they sailed he fell asleep: and there came down a storm
of wind on the lake; and they were filled [with water], and were in jeopardy.
And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he
arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and
there was a calm. And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being
afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he
commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.

While we may wonder how the disciples, Jesus' disciples, those who were with him constantly, could lack the faith and trust that He would see them through, we must also recognize that we, like the disciples, often lack in faith--we, who have seen so often the goodness of God, who have been blessed by Him so many times, who have always found Him to be faithful. In truth, we are no better than the disciples, and we, as they, have no excuse for failing to remember the mercies of God. As a loving father protects his children and does all things for their good and well-being, so God, our heavenly Father, watches over His own. It's always neat to see the sun break forth in all her glory from the clouds after a storm, to see the beauty of the sky, to smell the fragrance of the earth after the rain. So also, after we have been tossed about by the pounding of the waves, drenched by the pouring wrath of the rain, deafened by the booming of the thunder, blinded by the lightning flashing forth from the sky, we can often see the magnificence of God shining forth once the storm has calmed, how His hand was guiding all along . . . If only we would remember that more DURING the storm, rather than looking back and seeing it once morning has broken. Oh that God would grant us grace to trust Him more fully, to remember Him always, and to seek His face at all times.

I found joy in the morning. Oh that I had had the faith to find it in the darkness as well! Had I trusted God more fully, rested more in His sovereignty, and found peace in His promises, what depths of joy might have been mine while being battered by the waves? God HAS promised to be faithful. What could bring more joy than the knowledge of that? Knowing that He is working all things to our good, that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that we are FIRMLY held in His hands, we can find peace through the troubled times. I had peace, but I lacked joy. May He grant me more faith and more trust during the next storm that I might not have to wait till morning for the blessing of the joy of the Lord.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

In Loving Memory

Today. One year ago today. I was visiting my grandfather for the last time. To say goodbye. A tearful visit, a voiceless kiss, a whispered farewell, and one, long, final glance over my shoulder. I was emotional, to say the least. It was time to let go.

On the way to the VA home that day, we drove past her house. I thought of her and smiled. Looking back, I remember thinking of how I needed to call her and how I was anticipating teaching VBS with her once more. Little did I know. How could I have known that even then, that very day, that tragedy would strike? It did.

Later that afternoon, my father, sister, brother, and I returned to the home of my mom's parents. The house was cold, silent, and dark in a way that I had never seen before. Something, something was wrong. It was too quiet. As I entered the living room, I saw Poppop sitting in Mommom's rocking chair. He never sits there. The room was dark. His face was long, his eyes were sad, and I clearly recall what he said. He looked at me and asked, "Erin, did you . . . did you hear what happened, honey?" A wave of fear broke upon me as I shook my head. Then, he told me. She was dead. I remember feeling sick, reeling from the impact of the news. No! She COULDN'T be dead! But she was. I turned and found Mommom. She was crying. So was I. She held out her arms, and held me as the three of us wept, wept for her. We loved her, oh yes we did. Whenever I went up to teach VBS for the summer, she always looked out for me, always had a kind word to say, a smile to offer. Always she was full of enthusiasm, life, and joy. Or so I thought. I don't know the full story, I probably never will. What I do know, however, is that she loved Christ, and I could always tell that she loved me. I wrote this poem to comfort myself a year ago, just after her tragic death.

A life lived for others, a life of love,
The life of a servant of God above.
A woman who poured out her life and shared
All she was. A woman who showed she cared.
A life lived for God, a life in His will.
That life left a void only God can fill.
A woman who now rests in God's glory
With a happy ending to her story:
Finally her peace and joy are complete.
Those left behind will mourn her empty seat,
Her missing presence, the lack of her voice.
Many will wonder at her final choice.
But knowing that God is sovereign still,
That He always has and always will
Work all things for the good of His people
Will help comfort those under Faith's steeple.
And let all remember this woman's life:
Good mother, grandmother, good friend and wife,
A true example of good Christian love.
Her story ends in bliss with God above.

~In loving memory of Carol Cummings

This is how I remember her. This is how she was to me. I praise God for the time that He gave me with her, for the blessing that she was in my life, and for the lessons I learned from her. Today marks one year since she left us, and though her departure from this earth was tragic, I wanted once more to celebrate her life and honor her.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Passivity, Activity, and Blessing

"Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call upon the Lord with a pure hear." 2 Timothy 2:22

"Flee also youthful lusts . . ."

Lust is a problem all over the world. In American culture, however, it runs especially rampant. Pornography is just a couple of clicks away on the internet, provocatively dressed women can be found on nearly every channel on television, scantily clad people "grace" the covers of the magazines that line the racks at the supermarkets, etc. etc. etc. Lust isn't something that should be taken lightly. It can lead to greater sins. How many times have things started with looking, then desiring, then touching, then taking, then consuming? Do not only turn from youthful lusts, FLEE them. Run from them with all that is in you. Do not take it lightly. All sin must be taken seriously. Do not take a casual approach to this sin. Flee it! Do what ever it takes to avoid it. Whether it's getting rid of the internet, television, avoiding certain stores, or getting an accountability partner, DO IT. Think not that you can just dabble with sin. Not only is that wrong, but it is dangerous. Lust is a deadly sin. I have seen families torn apart, limb by limb, through the sin of pornography, men driven almost insane because they are caught in the grip of addiction. Stay away, avoid, and flee. Be active in fighting sin.

"But pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call upon the Lord with a pure heart."

So often, it is a temptation to fall into "passive" faith--to be content where I am, to think that all I need to do is pray, read my Bible, and "be good." While those things ARE necessary and vital to the Christian walk, I was truly convicted when I read this verse. Pursue righteousness, pursue faith, love, and peace . . . the word "pursue" is an action verb. It doesn't say "Sit back, relax, and God will bless you with these things." It says pursue. Let's think about that word for a minute. What are some examples using the word? "The policemen are in hot pursuit of the murderer." Okay, wow. They are CHASING him with diligence and passion so that they can bring him to justice. "John is pursuing a law degree." Is he sitting on his sofa just waiting for it to fall into his lap? No, he's working HARD to earn it. "Bob is pursuing my best friend because he wants to win her heart." How about this guy? Is he passively just hanging with around, or is he going after the desired prize with all he has? If he wants it, he's got to really turn it on. My point is, in all of these examples, there is active, dedicated, passionate pursuit of the thing being sought, and that to pursue is something that requires great and constant effort. Therefore, how does this apply to running the Christian race? We cannot just wait around for holiness to find us, we must seek after it diligently. This past weekend, I attended the New Attitude conference in Louisville, KY. John Piper was one of the speakers, and, while both of his messages were excellent, something really stuck out to me. He compared sanctification to swimming upstream in a river. Basically, the river is our sin--vile, foul, and reeking, and we are trying to swim against the strong rapids of our sin toward holiness. If we stop swimming, we don't just stay where we stopped, we get pushed farther and farther back into sin and away from holiness. This really struck me. If we stop pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace, then we will not just sit around chilling until we've rested, we will be pushed farther and farther away, and we will have to fight even harder to return to the place where we left off. Push on, run on, and continue on and do not stop. Not only will it sanctify us and help us to grow in our Christian life, but it also will mean that we are obeying the command of God. Pursue. A statement. An order. A command. Not pursuing or stopping pursuit is not an option. Obey the command and be blessed.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Materialism and the Christian

John 6:27

"Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you."

In this age of American consumer-minded materialism, these verses are especially worth noting. With men being so driven in their quest for castles in the sand, it is good to remember that the things of earth fade away, and the riches of this earth will perish in due time. Americans are motivated by wealth, and the desire for worldly riches overshadows the pursuit of God. These verses, however, teach that seeking after God is the most important thing in the world, surpassing the need for worldly wealth. Believing on the Son, Jesus who was sent by God as a propitiation for sinners, is crucial. So many families are ruined by the false belief that money is everything, that if they can only work hard and earn enough now, that they can be happy and relax later in life. Don't be fooled by this LIE! The Bible makes it clear that our main focus in life is not to be on temporal things, but rather on seeking after God.

"Labour not for the meat which perisheth."

This is not saying that we cannot work for a living, that it's wrong to have a job, that one cannot support his family. Rather, the Bible teaches that those things are very important:

1Ti 5:8
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

2Th 3:10
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

It is easily seen that laboring for food and providing for one's house are necessary things, and that those who fail to do these things are in sin. However, the verse as a whole emphasizes that making money should not be the main focus of our lives. This truth is CRUCIAL in modern day American culture. So many families are driven apart because one or both parents are more concerned with material things than with seeking the Lord, spending quality family time, etc. Therefore, do not abandon your vocation, but temper your time there, and do not place money over God and family. Seek God first. Always seek Him first. Some might argue that they might not be able to provide comfortably for their families if they did this. Well . . .

Mat 6:33
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

This verse isn't promising that you'll have money coming out your ears when you seek God first, but it is assuring that God blesses whose who put Him at the forefront of their lives. Whether those blessings will be made manifest in this life or withheld till the life to come we do not know--it is different for all people--however, know that God HAS promised this, and that God ALWAYS keeps His promises. Seek Him first. Failing to do this because we fear poverty is not trusting God. Don't abandon your job, but don't put in in the place that God rightfully deserves in your life. God freely grants eternal life, He freely blesses His people with wisdom and knowledge of himself, so take advantage of that. Seek Him with all that is in you, run after holiness, and put God first in your life at all times. I'm not saying that this is easy--to the contrary. The world is like a strong vacuum, attempting to suck us down into sins like materialism--it must be resisted through prayer, reading the Word, etc. Resist sin. God blesses those who obey Him, so labor for God, and He will be faithful to provide.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An Update

Man, I haven't been on here in a while. In fact, it's been so long that I couldn't remember my password today when I tried to log in. Things got hectic . . . between dealing with a carpal tunnel flare up for a month, studying for finals, and everything else in between, things were schedualistically (new word?) brutal for me. God has been amazingly bountiful with His blessings over the past month. Someone should remind me of that next time I complain.

Anyway, I had an amazing gospel opportunity about two weeks ago. The best way to explain it is probably to just post a copy of the letter that I sent to one of my pastors:

I work as an English tutor in the writing lab at HCC, and
my closest friend/coworker there is a Hindu woman from India named Seema. Our personalities clicked right away, and we've had a lot of fun working together. Over the course of the semester, I have had several opportunities to witness to her. Recently, I helped her proofread a paper for her religion class. She was comparing Islam and Christianity. Not surprisingly, she has absolutely no concept of sin (she asked me what I meant by the word sin), and knows nothing about Christianity except for what she learned from her research . . . and even that was seriously flawed (I was able to help her fix some of those misconceptions and help give her a clearer understanding of some aspects of Christianity).

Anyway, after her paper was written, she asked me if she
could come to church with me. She's never been to a Christian service before, and she wants to see what they are like. We were discussing this again today at work when another of her
Hindu friends came in. When she asked what we were
planning for Sunday and Seema excitedly told her that she was coming to church with me, her friend (Jessica) got excited too. "I've never been to church before! I was just telling my husband that I have never been to church: not in India, not
here. Can I come too?!" All that to say, both ladies are eagerly
anticipating coming to Trinity for the morning service on
Sunday, and they will then be coming back for dinner at my house. When I left, they were both still pretty excited about coming to church. I know that this Sunday is
Mother's Day, but I wanted to let you know that two
(perhaps three, if Jessica's husband comes) raw pagans are planning to be in church. I don't know what you have planned for your sermon so far, but I would really, REALLY appreciate a strong, clear gospel presentation for these two girls who I have come to love so much. Seema is moving to Chicago
at the end of this month, so I only have a little bit of time left
face-to-face with her. I am so thankful to God for this opportunity, and I am praying that He might use it in the salvation of my friends.

After a week of much prayer in their behalf, both girls came to church with me on Mother's Day. They loved it. Although I know that much of it was probably because Hindu's tend to be very tolerant of all religions, both girls found the service to be beautiful and profitable. Jessica, who it seems will be rather lonely with Seema gone, indicated that she would like to come back again. Both were thrilled that many people came up to meet them, and they were very impressed with the church building (of which they took pictures). Once the service was over and we had fellowshipped for a while, a huge crowd of people came back to our home where, on Mother's Day, my mom served a huge meal of meatless pasta. Seema and Jessica were challenged to consider their eternal destiny, to think about the difference between the hopelessness of reincarnation and not knowing what their god requires of them and the assurance and eternal life offered freely in Christ. They were taught about sin and how nothing man, even a "good" man, can do will save him, and of repentance, and salvation. Both girls accepted everything that was said, appreciated it, conversed well with everyone, and gushed to me once I drove them back to the library where I'd picked them up. They could not get over our family, our church, and what a wonderful time they'd had at their fist dinner in an American home. Please pray for Seema and Jessica as I and others continue to share the love of Christ with them.

I am so thankful that God granted me this amazing opportunity, and that He gave me and those present that day the boldness to share the gospel with them.

Monday, April 7, 2008

In All That You Do

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." Ecclesiastes 9:10

As I grew older (and more Reformed, believe it or not), I became fascinated with the flowing beauty of the English in the King James Bible. It is like unto poetry.

Anyway . . . I came across Ecc. 9:10 tonight and was again reminded that everything I do should be done with all that is in me. All too often, I find myself lacking enthusiasm for the task at hand, performing half-heartedly the duties of the moment. Sometimes, I think it would be wiser to have verses like this dangling in front of my eyes at all times. Better yet, what about one of those angel guys? You know, the ones who pop out of thin air, land on your right shoulder, and then proceed to raise Cain until you either listen to them or give into the bad dude on the left side (notice that I only want the good guy). Or how about a little cricket or SOMETHING that would constantly remind me to plug away full steam? I mean, it would seriously boost productivity on my part. Unfortunately, the little angel men and the tiny conscience crickets are reserved for fairy-tale fiction. There is still this verse, though . . . maybe the Psalm 119:11 approach is best: "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." It would seem that memorization of scripture is beneficial not only for the spiritual life, but also for the physical. Hmm.

The second half of the verse sort of emphasizes the importance of the NOW. I only get one life, after that, it's OVER! Riches are temporary--they aren't gonna help me when I'm dead. I think that it's so easy to become focused on the temporal needs of the world. "I need to get a good education and study hard in school so that I can make enough money to live comfortable. I need . . ." the list goes on and on. Rather, Christians should think more along the lines of: "I need to do whatever I can NOW, while I CAN." Is there someone who needs my help, my support, my love, my prayers? I have been given this life. It's not mine. It's God's. What can I be doing while I'm on this Earth to glorify God, help His people, and reach the lost? Seize the moment. Focus on the important things in life: loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. When life becomes less ME-focused and more GOD-focused, it is, in my opinion, easier to do all things now to His glory.

Therefore, in all that my hands find to do, may I do them with all my heart, to the glory of God. May God help me to keep this verse from Ecclesiastes ever before my eyes and may He apply it to my entire life.

Friday, April 4, 2008

This Week in Witnessing

I had an experience this past week that was kinda neat. For the past month, I've been watching and waiting. For what? My chance. A Hindu friend of mine informed me that she had to write a paper comparing Christianity and Islam. "I know NOTHING about Christianity," she said, "so when I write it, I will ask YOU because you know all about Christianity." Wow. I began praying for wisdom and that she would remember . . . Well, my opportunity came on Thursday, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. As it turned out, she decided to compare and contrast the way both religions treat women. Before she asked me for help, though, she asked someone else. Who? A dear, sweet, older Roman Catholic woman who believes that "All religions are just so BEAUTIFUL!" My heart sank. A few minutes later, my friend turned to me and asked for my input as well. "Oh yes," the other woman said, "Erin probably knows a lot more about this than I do!" Well, we proceeded and I was able to insert things about God and Christianity as we went. The bad part? My friend decided (I think I was busy at the time) that since the term Christianity encompasses such a large variety of denominations, she would limit her paper to the Roman Catholic view on women. Hmmm. Well, since I just happened to be sitting at the computer next to her . . . let's just say that I continued to help her out with her research, all the while explaining that Christianity is the religion that offers the most equality to women, that the Bible (about which she knew nothing) was inspired by God, and various other truths. Not exactly what I'd been hoping for, but it was a major opportunity nonetheless. I pray that God will continue to give me opportunities to share with my coworkers and that I will be as shrewd as a serpent and as wise as a dove.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Live Each Day

How often do you contemplate the brevity of life? Do you ever think that when you leave your house in the morning that you may never return? When you say goodbye to a loved one or dear friend do you ever wonder if that will be the last time that you might ever see him? If you die, are you sure you'll go to heaven? Truly, the importance of working out your own salvation with fear and trembling should be stressed to all believers. Death could come at any time and we should be ready to meet it. I believe that God has a purpose for my life and that His purpose has not yet been fulfilled. I was in an accident about six months ago. Being the way that I am, it really caused me to think. Had God taken me, I would have run to Jesus. But He did not. However, it might have happened. Did I remember to tell my family goodbye and that I loved them before I left the house this morning? Did I tell my dad that I loved him before hanging up the phone? Did I kiss my little sisters before leaving? Perhaps it is just the way that I have been brought up, but whenever I say goodbye to my grandparents, I hold them extra tight and make sure that I kiss them because they are growing older and I may never again have the opportunity to love them in person again. Whenever I hang up the phone with my parents, my sisters, my cousins, my family, my friends,I always try to remember to tell them that I love them: if I were to die before seeing any of them, especially my mom and dad again, at least they would know that I died loving them. Life is so precious. Life is such a gift. Live every day to the fullest, glorifying God as much as possible. Live each day as if it were your last--but don't forget that it really could be your last. Seek God while He may be found. Show love and affection while you have the chance. Never miss an opportunity to show kindness to someone. Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.


What am I leaving behind me? What will be remembered about me when I am gone? What kind of impact am I making? Often, little things remind me of my late grandfather. Thinking of him, it came to me that the legacy which he left behind him was great and I began to wonder what kind of legacy I will leave behind. Unconverted until the last three and a half months of his life, my grandfather was not what one would call a godly role model, one to emulate in the Christian life in his unregenerate state. However, he did have many good qualities and values which he passed on to his six children. The most important of these was his legacy of love. He taught the importance of love and of saying “I love you.” I cannot think of any family that says “I love you” more often than the family of Leo J. Wilcox. He taught us that those words are not to be saved for special occasions or Valentine’s Day, but that they are to be used frequently. Knowing that there are people who love me and care for me is a very comforting thing. Sometimes just hearing those words can brighten a day and bring a smile. His last words to me were “I love you.” Practically every time I hang up with an aunt, uncle, cousin, brother, sister, or parent, the words “I love you” are uttered by both parties. I even do this with many of my friends. Poppop's legacy was love. And yes, it is a very important legacy. As a Christian, though, I can leave an even greater impact and I should. How am I influencing others? Can they tell by my life that I love Christ? Am I evangelizing the lost and begging sinners to repent? While it would be wrong to do such things only to leave a mark behind me when I’m are gone, it does cause me to think. Am I living a godly life? Am I being sanctified? Am I guiding others toward the light or am I causing them to stumble? These are questions that I believe are legitimate for every Christian. Less attention should be paid to liberty and to walking a “fine line” and more should be paid toward seeking after holiness. This is needed in my own life and is something that I am working on. What kind of legacy are you leaving?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I spent Easter with my family . . . my Big Fat Italian Family (just kidding). Ris and I drove up in my car and got to spend some quality time together. I drove, she dozed. Still, it was just nice to be together. When we arrived in New Jersey, we found that Mommom's dining room table was set for a million people. Typical. If there is one part of being Italian that I love most, it's hospitality. There is a revolving door at my grandparents home, their dinner table can hold limitless numbers of chairs, and the food supply is never ending (just in case someone drops in unannounced . . . which they always do!). Mommom is the most hospitable woman that I've ever seen and that has been passed down to her daughters and granddaughters. The Bible talks about hospitality:

Rom 12:13
Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.
1Tmothyi 3:2
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
Titus 1:8
But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;
1Peter 4:9
Use hospitality one to another without grudging.

Being hospitable is obviously a good thing and a fruit of being a Christian. I am so blessed to have Christian and Reformed grandparents. I think that one of the most important lessons that I have learned from them, though, IS hospitality. There are just always people at their house, always people just showing up, and always there is coffee in the pot (you might not want to actually drink it though--no telling how long it's been around!). Thankfully, the hospitality bug was passed down to my mother. People come over often and we all love having company (cleaning the house beforehand is another matter!). Oftentimes, people sit around our dinner table on a Sunday afternoon, on our sofas on a Friday or Saturday night, or out on the porch swing or in the pool in the summer. It is such a blessing to fellowship and spend time getting to know people in a context outside of church or work. When you're at our home, you're family. One thing that I miss, though, is people just dropping by. The people in MD just don't do that. I wish they did. So, if ya need something to do . . . just stop by for a cup of coffee--and you KNOW it's always fresh at the Wilcox home!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Urgency of the Word

When you think about it, the free offer of the gospel is an AMAZING thing. It is so simple. I am overwhelmed when I consider the awesomeness of God's salvation plan. During my reading tonight, I came across the verses: "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money,Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price . . . Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." Isaiah 55:1, 6-7. How many other religions have a god who freely offers life to His people? Who is so kind, so loving, and so merciful? None. There is ONE GOD and He is Jehovah. So many people today, though, tend to overemphasize God's love. Yes, God is a loving God. Yes, He calls the weary to Him that He might grant them rest, but . . . The chapter here also says, "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near." What does THAT mean? I think it's rather evident that God may NOT always be found and that He will NOT always be near. This really is striking home to me right now. I think it adds urgency to the message of salvation. When I am with my unconverted friends, family, and coworkers, I need to be more faithful and more diligent to share the Word with them NOW. If I neglect my duties of today, who knows if I will have a tomorrow? Who knows if God will be near tomorrow? I fully understand that it is God who works salvation in a person and that if He has not chosen to save a person then nothing I can say/do will change that, but I have been called to be a light shining in the darkness. People must be told not only of the mercy of God, but also of His wrath that they might see what a future without the nearness of God looks like. Therefore, I pray for the strength be more faithful in sharing the Word and not only the Word, but also the URGENCY of the Word. Seek God, yes, but seek Him NOW. Do not put it off lest your heart be hardened.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dealing with Grief More Biblically

Wow, it's been a while. Oh well . . . surviving midterms was a necessary evil, I suppose.

As I consider where I am in this year in relation to my life last year, I am thankful. While life currently could NOT be called a piece of cake, I am in no way dealing with the kind of emotional issues that plagued me last year. Last year, during this time, I was watching my grandfather die. Seeing him slowly fade between visits, I really struggled. I've always been one to keep my emotions bottled up: to make light of them when asked and to hide them away in some secret place in my heart. As I painfully learned through the events of last year, this is a VERY dangerous thing to do. Early in the summer, I had the most painful five days of my life. A woman I loved took her own life on Thursday, my paternal grandfather died on Sunday, and my maternal grandfather was diagnosed with cancer on Monday. Did I share my grief? Not really. I didn't feel like dealing with people's pity, their sorrowful looks and words, showing my own weakness, or hearing that "Well, God is sovereign . . ." I knew God was sovereign and that did help, but that also didn't take away the grief that consumed me. I see how just how sinful and foolish my actions (or rather lack thereof) were. God means for His people to comfort each other. By stubbornly holding to my own pride, I deprived myself of the love that could have surrounded me. I became somewhat morose, I started gaining weight, and I was very unhappy. While I still struggle with various issues, I am learning to become more open. Containing my grief until it's simmered into bitterness is wrong. I am slowly taking things day by day, praying constantly that God would guide me and help me through my trials, and trusting that God does indeed have plans for a future and a hope for me.

Jeremiah 29:11-14 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity;

Friday, March 7, 2008

Tomorrow, Tomorrow . . .

I attend Bible study with the New Covenant Presbyterian Church college and career group practically every Tuesday night. For the past few weeks, we've been watching John Piper's Battling Unbelief conference series on DVD. Although I must confess that I'm generally EXHAUSTED by the time I get to study and occasionally have to get loving "Er, you're snoozing" pokes from friends, the sermon from two weeks ago really struck home. I'm a thinker. That doesn't mean that I'm some deep thinking genius, it means that I think about things, analyze things in my mind (okay, so maybe I OVERanalyze sometimes), and like to plan ahead. Well, maybe "plan ahead" isn't the best way to put it . . . worry ahead is probably a more accurate term. Regardless of how it's stated, I sometimes worry myself into the future. "How am I going to get through THAT?!?"and "What if I FAIL?!?" and "What if I'm not accepted?" and "What will . . ." As these thoughts swirl through my mind, they get faster and grow larger until I'm in complete panic mode sometimes. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead, but doing so anxiously is WRONG. Piper really emphasized that in his sermon. I learned a lot that night. Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough worries of its own. How will I ever get through tomorrow when I can barely STAND after today? Do not worry, God gives enough grace each morning to get you through the day. As of right now, I CAN'T get through tomorrow. I don't have the strength and God hasn't given it to me. But He will tomorrow. God will never give me more than I can bear. Each day is enough for itself. "Plug away, pray, and get through today" is my motto for today. It will be my motto tomorrow, the next day, and the next--but I'm trying not to think about those now because TODAY is my focus. If I am so worried about tomorrow, then I'm obviously NOT paying enough attention to the work/responsibilities at hand. I must do all I can to honor and glorify God and He has commanded my BEST. Performing at the max requires attention, energy, and thought . . . so does worrying. Personally, I believe that a conscious choice must be made to NOT worry (and that desire is granted by God, of course) and then prayed into my life. If I could take all the emotion and time that I have ever wasted in worry and then apply it to my life now, I'd be like Superwoman with limitless supplies of energy and time (the thing I seem to lack the most these days). That being said, I have a three hour class that begins in thirty minutes and the coffee is calling my name.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Witness in the Workplace

I have found that my new job has "diversified" my world. Now, I work with people from all over the world and come into contact with many who hold to different religious beliefs. I have Muslim and Hindu coworkers who are fast becoming my friends. While I definitely do NOT want to be one of those Christians with a clipboard and spectacles who has an agenda and says, "Hi! I'm here to convert you!" and then checks her duty off her list, I most certainly DO want to be a passionate sharer of the Good News. I can't just do my "Gospel dump" for the day and be done with it; however, living an authentic, unashamed Christian life before my friends and boldly sharing the Word of God is key. While no deep religious discussions have yet come up (and the workplace doesn't offer the best time/place to have such talks), my new friends all know that Erin is DEFINITELY a Christian. Interestingly, my Hindu friend is taking a comparative religion class. Today, she told me that she will have to write a paper comparing/contrasting Christianity and Islam. "I know nothing about either of those! When I write that paper, I know who I will be asking to tell me about Christianity! Erin! You and your friend will tell me!" she said. Wow! What an opportunity THAT will be! For now, I am only able to share little things with all of my coworkers as we chat between students who need attention: I go to church on a regular basis. "Oh, what denomination are you?" Reformed Baptist. "Oh, what's that?" etc. However, just recently I was able to share facts about the Bible, the Puritans, and the doctrine of predestination with someone else . . . "You sure know a lot about predestination and the Puritans." "Yeah, well, I believe like the Puritans and . . ."

As I read in my devotions tonight, God teaches "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11. God has given me these opportunities for a reason. Despite the fact that I may never see any fruit come of my labors, I take comfort in the fact that God's word accomplishes ALL that He wills. Amazing. I'll just keep throwing out seeds on whatever soil comes my way and God will take care of the rest. I don't have to worry about anything beyond doing what He has commanded me to do: sharing the Gospel with a world in desperate need of His love, His mercy, and His grace. Please keep me in prayer as I attempt to be a loving, shining light in dark places. May God give me the proper words to speak, may He grant me boldness and tact, and may He even now be preparing the hearts that He will send my way.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bring the Rain

As I was driving to attend church with some friends a few weeks ago, a song came onto the radio. I listened. I remembered how I was struck by the lyrics when the song first came out and how I prayed them into my life. Upon reflection of my life since then, God truly has "brought the rain" and poured it in bounty upon me. I still struggle sometimes with grief and I do sometimes ask God to show me what it is that He wants me to learn through my trials, but the song reminded me that I prayed for God to bring glory to His name through my life and He is doing just that. As a child, I learned that "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Right now, I'm supposed to be seeking to honor and glorify God in whatever ways possible--even if it means that God will bring tribulation into my life. When I prayed, I was sincere. There is a old hymn that says something like "God oft gives me times of gladness. Shall I grieve if He give seasons too of sadness?" This is so true, yet too easily forgotten. The same God who is allowing suffering in my life is the same God whom I praised during the bountiful and happy times. Will I now turn against Him because He wishes to refine me? No. God is honored and glorified by every season of my life, through my joy and in my pain, and, as Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."

Bring the Rain: (MercyMe)
I can count a million times
People asking me, how I
Can praise You with all that I've gone through?
The question just amazes me.
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You?

Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It's never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord,
My only shelter from the storm.
But instead I draw closer through these times.
So I pray,

Bring me joy, bring me peace.
Bring the chance to be free.
Bring me anything that brings You glory.
And I know there'll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that's what it takes to praise You,
Jesus, bring the rain.

I am yours regardless of the clouds that may
loom above because you are much greater than
my pain. You who made a way for me, suffering
Your destiny. So tell me whats a little rain?
[1st Chorus]

Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God almighty,
Is the Lord God Almighty,
I'm forever singing
[2nd Chorus 2x]

Everybody singing Holy, holy, holy,
You are holy
You are holy [2nd Chorus 2x]