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Can or Should God Be Worshiped Merely by Musical Instruments without the Words or Lyrics?

The breadth of Psalm 98 tells me that God can be and should be worshiped not just with voice or lyrics alone or with voice and instrument combined but also solely with instruments.  Here are the words of the psalm:

1 O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. 2 The LORD hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen. 3 He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. 5 Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. 6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. 7 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 8 Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together 9 Before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.

In v. 1 the psalmist calls on his audience to sing a song to God for worthwhile reasons seen in vv. 2-3 and then at the end of v. 9.  Everyone is called to praise God, Israel and the rest of the world (vv. 3-4).  As we move through here, we can see that God is praised by more than just voice.  For instance, in v. 7 the sea is called upon to roar.   The sea sings to God in that unique way.  And then the floods or streams clap (v. 8a), the hills be joyful together (v. 8b).   This passage isn’t calling on people to find the sea or hills to accompany their voice.  Each of these—voice, instruments, seas, or streams—separately can praise God.

Certain men allegorize these psalms based upon their New Testament priority.  They spiritualize much of the content, leaving the New Testament as the only literal guidebook for worship.  And the New Testament doesn’t mention instruments, so churches shouldn’t use them.  However, in Ephesians 5:19, the term “making melody” (psallo) means “to pluck on a stringed instrument.”  God wants psalms sung, so the psalms are still in play as songs to be sung.  Both singing and making melody are to be presented to the Lord, but what about just the “making melody.”  I believe Psalm 98 would say “yes.”

I would like to see great musical pieces composed and played for God, offered to Him as worship.  It doesn’t have to be the music from a hymn that is sung.  It can be music that on its own will praise the Lord.  Music that communicates within the nature of the Lord can be used to worship Him.  I believe an orchestra even without vocalists can and should play music to God.  A soloist can and should play his instrument to the Lord.  This justifies becoming a great musician for the Lord not just as accompaniment and with only songs that people may know the words.  Great music can and should be written and then played to God.  This would be a worthwhile project of a church.

The New Life — Put On (Colossians 3:12-17)

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Colossians 3:12-17

General – The New Life – Put On

v     Because we are dead, and risen, and Christ IS life:

  • Mortify
  • Put off, put off, put on
  • Put on – no Gnosticism
    • As God’s elect
    • Who are holy and beloved

v     Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

  • Bowels of mercies – affections, feelings
  • Kindness – courteousness
  • Humbleness of mind
  • Meekness
  • Longsuffering

v     Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

  • Forbearing – putting up with others’ idiosyncrasies
  • Forgiving
    • As Christ forgave
    • Forgive and remember no more

v     And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

  • Binds us together
  • If no love, not complete (1 Corinthians 13)

v     And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

  • Peace
    • Psalm 29:11; 37:11; 119:165
    • John 14:27; 16:33
    • Romans 8:6
    • Philippians 4:7 (keep=rule)
  • Rule
    • Govern each aspect of life
    • Referee (preserve order)

v     Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

  • Word dwell richly – abundantly
  • Teaching – power of songs and music
    • Plato – if I can write songs, don’t care who writes laws
    • Corollary – if I can write hymns, don’t care who preaches
  • Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)
  • Spiritual songs
  • Notice focus on word and putting on
    • Vs. 9
    • Vs. 16

v     And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

  • Everything else – in HIS name
    • With thankfulness – it is a privilege (1 Corinthians 10:31)
    • His requirement
    • For His honor
    • With His authority
    • He gets the glory

What to Practice?

September 18, 2008 1 comment

This is a post that I was supposed to write last month.  I finally got to it. Read more…

The Patch Factor

August 29, 2008 31 comments

Before I begin my article, let me take just a moment to commend Kirk Brandenburg for his article.  It was well-written and well thought out, and demonstrated his father’s diligent teaching at home.  Kirk, you are a credit to your dad’s ministry, and I trust that you will continue to be.

That being said, throughout this month’s topic, we have alluded several times to the fact that some consider the piano to be an effeminate instrument.  With apologies to Kirk and others, I am one of those who think that a large number of piano-playing males are effeminate.  In this post, I intend to flesh that thought out a bit, so I hope you will “endure to the end.”

First, I do not believe that there is any such thing as an effeminate instrument.  Piano included.  For crying out loud, the piano is way too heavy to be effeminate.  But I digress.  I would also include the flute, the pennywhistle, the clarinet, and the harp in my list of instruments that are not effeminate.  I will admit that I don’t have a verse on this… my opinion results from a simple observation that I have made.  Instruments are gender neutral.  They are neither male nor female.  Neither masculine nor feminine.

That being said, although I can in no way claim to be a musician (I can’t even play an i-pod), I do think that some instruments are more suitable to women than men, and vice-versa.  But since that is a topic for those more expert in musical instruments than myself (starting with Kermit the Frog), I’ll leave that one alone.  I believe that any instrument can be played by a man (and no, I don’t believe that ‘like a man’ means either poorly or boorishly), and in a manly fashion, and I believe that the sooner we get that idea in our head, the better off we will be. Read more…

Random Thoughts from the Receiving End

I talked to my son about writing something from his perspective.  Here is what he wrote.

Random Thoughts from the Receiving End

Kirk Brandenburg, 17 year old senior at Bethel Christian Academy, El Sobrante, CA

Instrument: Let Them Choose?

Everybody should start with piano. You don’t get to choose piano. It’s an instrument that you can start early (six or seven years old), and it plants your musical life for whatever it may grow to be. Yankee Doodle and I’m a Little Tea Pot are a lot easier to grasp than, “Ok, make your mouth into a tight but not too tight circle then blow with steady air through your lips while they’re buzzing . . . and don’t forget to count.” Piano takes care of counting, reading music (both clefs), and note values; so, when a child has matured enough (nine years and up) to handle another instrument, all the basics are second nature. Having a basic knowledge of the piano is critical for any musician anyway. I am not saying everybody should shoot for concert pianist- just get the basics (two or three years).

Once the basics have been covered, you may want to choose another instrument. It helps a lot when the person playing the instrument chooses the instrument. That way he can look back or be forced to look back at who made the decision. The original plan in my family was for me to play trumpet–we had a trumpet, but I liked the sound (a sound that I was able to strive for) of the trombone better. The original love for the instrument helped me enjoy the instrument; it wasn’t a forced, laborious thing.

Teachers

It is my opinion that you will never be able to reach your pinnacle in music unless you get professional instruction. Of course you must work with what is available to you, but since everyone should be shooting for the pinnacle, if you have the means, get the lessons. Fortunately, my parents have made the means possible for all of their children and have put music in great importance in our home. I can not begin to tell the benefit I have received from about 17 combined years of professional instruction. Professional instruction gets you to that next level.

In the beginning years, you can save a lot of money by choosing a capable teacher that does not have a big price tag. In my first four years of trombone, I was able to get excellent teaching for my level for a lot cheaper than what the price is now.

Three areas come to mind when choosing a teacher: (1) credentials, (2) capability, and (3) character. When the time comes to choose a teacher, do not be afraid to try around. If you don’t think the teacher can do the job, say no. In my early piano years, I had a teacher I was deathly afraid of. I dreaded going to lessons each week, but I never told my parents. One day after the teacher had slapped my hand for playing a wrong note, my dad and mom knew I was dreading it, so we immediately moved to a new teacher. It was such a relief to want to go to lessons; make sure your child is comfortable with the teacher’s personality. You learn so much more.

Practice Time

One thing that I hate to see is wasted practice time. If you took the average student musician’s real practice time compared to his overall “practicing,” you would probably find that at least half of the time is wasted. I was talking to a world renowned brass instrument repairman here in the Bay Area, and he said he would rather hear 15 minutes of solid practice than an hour of goof-off practice. That always stuck with me, and, although I am guilty of wasting practice time, I always strive to get high octane practicing. High octane practicing includes practicing the hard parts (not “practicing” the easy ones over and over), reading/following the teacher’s notes, not moving on until I have it absolutely perfect, and never brainlessly practicing (always striving for something better). I always have to limit myself in practice sessions because I find that I can spend a full hour on my technique exercises (in trombone) alone!

Suffering Through

From a family where every child (4 of them) takes piano and an instrument (trombone for the boy, violin for the three girls), it sounds really, really, really bad at first. Count on it. In fact, if your student is always working on the hard, non polished parts, it almost always sounds bad. In my family, there is an underlying disdain for my trombone practice sessions. My sisters always ask if I am done yet. “Do you think you can practice that when we’re gone?” I tend to repeat (and hopefully perfect) the same technique exercises day after day. Not only can I do a full hours worth of technique exercises, my whole family has the routine memorized, and they often sing it back to me. My trombone playing often must be loud and sounds obnoxious. The same disdain goes for some of the family’s violinists’ practice sessions, but . . . we must suffer through, look like we’re enjoying it, and offer our support. If you decide to have music in your home, be ready to endure very unpleasant sounds.

Guys and Piano

I am a guy and I play piano. I have heard that some people think piano is a feminine instrument, but I strongly disagree. Have you never heard some of the great piano concertos? Beethoven, Tchaikovsky especially? I believe that men have a unique sound on the piano. A sound and style that only they can obtain (I haven’t heard the same unique sound with the flute). I have not only heard this unique sound in my playing compared to the women piano players in our church, but I have heard it in the playing of people like Dr. Thomas Corkish (Pastor, Anchor Baptist Church) and David Ledgerwood (well known hymn arranger). I believe that one of the reasons men sound so girly on the piano is because almost every hymn is arranged girly; men are not even given a chance to make it sound manly. I am so thankful for arrangers like David Ledgerwood and Peter Wright because of the manly arrangements they put out.

Something I also dislike is a women accompanying an all male group. It irks me. I love accompanying our church men’s groups because I can sing (through my playing) in a manly way with the manly song. We recently did an all men’s number in church, and our whole church agreed that it had a special quality.

Extracurricular Music

I have gotten the opportunity to participate in outside-of-church music groups. It is a truly amazing experience. The musical training (especially ensemble training) is unparalleled. I find that when I come back to church everything I play is so much easier, and I know I am able to get a better sound for God. Besides it being good for my training, it is super fun. It gives me another outlet to use my instrument. I cannot describe to you the experience, the emotional lift, that occurs when you come upon an amazing part of music. As you may know, I recently toured Australia and New Zealand with the orchestra I participate in. Our last concert ever as a group was at Avondale Girl’s School in New Zealand. It was a very emotional performance. We knew the music the best we ever had, we knew this was our last performance together as that very group, and our conductor had us in the palm of his hand. We were playing the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, The Pathetique. There is one trombone solo in that symphony (probably the loudest in trombone orchestral literature) that gives me the heebee-jeebees when I play it. The orchestra builds to the climax of the movement, and the trombone solo soars in over the rest of the orchestra; it gives me the goose bumps just thinking about how emotional it is. Some of the orchestra members told me that they cried at these emotional passages, and I admit … my eyes did water. This may all sound weird to you, but emotion is an element that I often see is missing in our church music today. People play their church specials, orchestra parts, etc. like robots. No zeal for the message of the song. Instead of playing with passion just to make beautiful music like I do in the orchestra, I play with passion to communicate a message in church. I learned in the orchestral setting to play with the passion I believe should also be felt in our church music. A heartfelt song is greater praise to God, just like anything we do that is heartfelt is greater praise.

The ensemble experience (especially orchestra) is well worth it. My advice for getting involved in orchestra is to (1) look for the youth symphony of your local professional orchestra or look on the Internet–I know kids who participate in youth orchestras in North Dakota, (2) start early (7th grade)- you work up the chain of advancement. I have now played in a total of four orchestras, and I am trying out for a fifth.

Always Bring It Back to What It Is Really About

The most important thing to do with your instrument is to praise god. Get involved in church music. Our church has a six month schedule for every instrument of every musician in our church. This always keeps me working on something musically for God. Participate in church ministries with your music: nursing home, church orchestra, etc. Always keep in mind why you are playing your instrument. Parents, remind your children why they play. Praising God when you are playing in church should be a given, but if you are playing somewhere else, maybe a secular place, remember who is and should be getting the glory. I make a habit to pray to God before a secular concert or practice that he would receive the praise for what I am about to play. Music is something that we should always have fun with and enjoy, but that must take 2nd place to praising God.

Got Skeels?

August 24, 2008 2 comments

Joey hasn’t been the same, ever since the band leader said it. His little feelies, all mangled and crushed, lie forlorn on the ground. His self-esteem, already needing a stool to mount the flat side of a piece of regular, college-ruled notepaper, now strains to straddle a spaghetti noodle of the angel hair variety. His brow, beaten and bruised, creased with care and worn with worry, resembles a swimming pool on a very windy day. Or perhaps, resembles his bed sheets. That is, before his mother gets around to making it for him.

What, might you ask, has caused Joey such trauma, such trepidation, such total cerebral torture? Well, that is a long story, as you might have guessed, and will take some time to unravel. Feelies are just that way.

In the meantime, Joey continues his daily self-therapy sessions, in his bedroom, alone, with his pillow behind his now nearly twelve-year-old back and his Wii within arm’s reach. His mother rarely disturbs her patient, other than with the ocassional glass of warm milk and plate of chocolate chip cookies. Father has yet to be made aware of his son’s (a.k.a. “my pride and joy”) condition. Joey’s mangled feelies have only been festering for a week so far. Hardly enough time for a man of Joey’s father’s experience to sit up and take note. Besides, he hardly ever visits that end of the house. The TV is clear down in the basement. Read more…

Instrumental in Practicing (part one)

August 21, 2008 3 comments

At about the age of six, I couldn’t wait until I could do dishes. Once old enough to wash them, in very little time, I lost that passion. However, my parents never lost their conviction about my participation, even though Sunday dinner dishes stacked like a bad comb over.

I bring dish washing to your attention because it compares with instrument practice as an example. Kids start out wanting to play, so they practice. In less than a year, the newness wears off and they stop practicing. How can you keep them practicing?

The Philosophy behind the Means for Continuing Practice

Before you ever start choosing instruments or playing them, both parents should have their mind made up about why their children will play. This needs to be a dad and mom thing because it is often too tough for one parent. Both parents have to know why.

I’ve talked to a lot of secularists on this and most who I talk to say that you can’t force a child to play an instrument. They imply that it is wrong to do that. They say that the child must want to play. They tell me that your child must have fun with it, that you don’t want to pressure them. If children don’t want to play, these experts say, they shouldn’t have to. I nod my head to that and smile. Read more…

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