Remembering the Wars: 100 years since the end of WWI

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 2018 we shall stop to remember once more all those who have fallen in conflict. I like to remember more than just the last century: for all those who have died to conflict; I think of the warfare of the Thirty Years War and remember the great destruction caused by conflict and war. But what makes this year even more special is that it is also marks a hundred years since the end of the First World War.

Why is it important to remember?

The conflict was one of the worst this world has seen, and remembering it is important. The First World War teaches us many lessons, it warns us of the danger of nationalism. It shows the dangers of the glorification of warfare and battles. It demonstrates the futility of war. These lessons are ones we should never forget, for the sake of all.

It’s not a political or national event

Remembering is not only for those killed on ‘our side’ so to speak, but it’s for all, remembering that these were real people – on both sides – who gave their lives for their respective nations. These were individuals who lived lives just like ourselves, had dreams and ambitions, who loved and were loved. Each one had a story, and each one should be remembered in kind. Remembering should never be a political event, but one where we all stop, reflect and be thankful for those who died, who came back, and for the lives we live now.

Remembering should not just be sombre, but joyful

Interestingly, in the years after the First World War, Armistice Day was actually a joyous occasion, people celebrated their lives. Today we mark it with silence and sobriety, and quite rightly as we pause to reflect. At the same time however, remembrance should also be a joyous act – that we have lives to celebrate, lives given to us by a great God, and freedom because of what happened in those dreadful years.

Remembering as a Christian

I think Remembrance Day and all that comes with it is an important act for the church. The Bible often talks about remembering the past, and this day gives us an opportunity to do so. But we should never get involved in the politics of it. May we just remember and give thanks for those who gave so much for us. May we not stop learning from the past, and at the same time, may we not live in the past. It is very easy to start comparing generations and time periods, but that takes away from the point of remembering. Be thankful, be joyful, and be respectful – it is important.

The church should also remember sacrifice.  After all our Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed it all when he died on the cross for us; these men and women sacrificed their lives for peace and for us.

The First World War was meant to end all wars, but it never did. More warfare would follow, and millions of lives would be lost. Warfare does not solve anything, may we pray for peace and love to overflow in our hearts in the present age.

Forgetfulness – Part 2: Missing the bus

Mention ‘The End Times’ to Christians and you will get one of two reactions: a low groan — ‘here we go again’ or a heated all-night debate. I believe this is a large part of our ‘forgetfulness’ problem with regard to the Return of Christ. To cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the end-times are everything; even to greatly-blessed ministers like John MacArthur the focus on his pre-millennialism theory can be OTT. Satan can cause the best of us to read far too much into the — mostly symbolic —numbers in Revelation to find out the date that Jesus clearly states ‘no man, no angel, not even I know’ (Matthew 24:36). Superstitious nonsense that people fall for – even the elect (Matthew 24:24). Revelation is an amazing and joyous book, more about Jesus than anything else; yet our obsession with these matters seems to kill it to the point where it becomes entirely unprofitable. Some people make it seem like the whole gospel itself is hinged on the thousand years or the number of the beast… Where is Jesus? Where is the cross?

Taking a leaf out of Paul’s book

Paul’s advice to both Titus and Timothy (young pastors) was to discourage talk over such matters, that we are never likely to resolve:

“Stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3:9).

“Command certain people not […] to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.” (1 Timothy 1:3-6).

That is not to say that we should not eagerly look into these things and work out our stance on these issues. Yet there is doctrine that is surely so much more important than these things — which can so often be divisive red-herrings and unprovable from Scripture. Instead we should look into what is profitable and honouring to the Lord — how about adoption, your privileges in Christ, the trinity, Jesus’ deity, etc.? — be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and check what your pastor says lines up with Scripture!

What should we do?

All the while we’re squabbling over the finer-points of the End Times in our hermit-holes, people are dropping into hell in their hundreds and thousands, every day. There’s a world dying out there!! For crying out loud brothers and sisters! Let’s get out there with the Gospel before it is too late and Jesus does return. God, in His infinite sovereign mercy has given us a role in the salvation of souls —as ambassadors of Christ  (2 Corinthians 5:20). I fear I, and perhaps others too, will have a lot to answer for on the day of judgement — ‘Why didn’t you warn people? I gave you friends, neighbours, colleagues and family to witness to, I gave you gifts to use for the work of My church; I told you to ask for more of My Spirit and I would give it you. Did I not tell you to go out into all the world and make disciples of all the nations?’

What will we say? What are our excuses now? ‘Oh I’m too busy with life’, ‘I don’t like talking to people’, ‘I’m not gifted in that way’, … There once was an atheist who said that one big reason he does not believe is because, if what the Bible says is true, Christians would be out warning everybody all the time and they’re not… — why believe a book about a man, if His followers don’t even seem to believe it?

The most selfish thing we can possibly do is not to share Jesus. The Casting Crowns song ‘Love you with the truth’ puts it brilliantly. Why has God let the world go on so long, considering His people were ready way back in the first century for His return? It’s because we know exactly when the world will end: when the last soul is saved, when the last of His flock is brought safely into the fold.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

What love!

On the last day, we will be saved ourselves yes, but won’t we miss out on so much more? Daniel 12 (see Matthew 25:21 too), speaking of the End Times, says:

“At that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” [emphasis added] (Daniel 12:1b-3).

The last part is often termed, ‘the soul-winners’ promise.’ Are we soul-winners? When was the last time we pointed someone to Christ? Let’s all cut the lukewarm cold-hearted worldly two-faced ‘Sunday Christianity’ baloney that seems to define us and pray that He will give us a glimpse of Christ, draw us closer to Himself, fill us with His Spirit and give us opportunities to witness of the Messiah. Let’s truly ‘Love our neighbours as ourselves’. What is more important than doing the Good Lord’s work?

A hymn we sung on Sunday encapsulated this brilliantly. I was only going to quote the last verse – but reading it again, I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of it!

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of Christ dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of Christ my Saviour
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

A Reformation In How We Sing!

As you may be aware, congregational worship is something that has really impacted me over the last few years. I have written many articles on the subject, and it’s a topic that really needs attention. I recently read the Getty’s ‘Sing’ book (now also a conference which I highly recommend looking at) which described how we need a reformation in how we sing. That hit me hard…a ‘reformation in how we sing’…have we been doing it that wrong for so long? And as I looked around me, and over a few conversations, I realised we had. Some of us have gone to the contemporary, pop version of church singing  promoting songs which have no meaning in the words, but instead catchy tunes and bands/singers. Some of us have gone reclusive, only singing the hymns of our forefathers and not really engaging with anything that is new – even regarding instruments such as drums and guitars as ‘evil’ and have this weird fixation with the organ and that’s it.

The Church needs a reformation in how we sing. It’s plain and simple, we need to wake up and change. In this article I am going to go through some points on how we change our attitude towards music.

  1. There is a problem and we must acknowledge it. I have a feeling that we are blindly just continuing to do what we do, missing out on the true point of music worship and do not realise that we are missing out on blessing and growth.   We go to church, listen to our favourite songs that we hear on the radio or that we sing every week time and time again, and forget to fall in love with the words all over again. There is a problem: is our worship reverent? Is our worship helpful? Is our worship theological? Does our worship cover different emotions? Etc…These are just some questions we must ask ourselves and our church. Music is so important and I think many of us have got it wrong.
  2. The church has been severely affected by the worship wars that have happened inside her walls. The church has separated into ‘old style’ and ‘new style’ churches; in fact, the biggest divide today is most likely to be found in our style! The thing is, congregational worship isn’t about new or old songs/hymns. It’s about those which are God-honouring, thought-provoking, and those which spur us on to praise even in the storms. What does the Bible say on this? Sing to each other, to encourage one another, to help one another, to learn about God. To ‘sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ to one another. I’m not sure the church fully understands what this is about. Does the music you sing, engage your mind and heart? Does it help the person next to you, or does it just help you emotionally, singing simple things to cheer you up? As I said it’s not about new vs old, it’s not about drums or piano only, it’s about the words we sing.
  3. The church has to figure out the difference between congregational music and ‘home’ music. There’s nothing wrong in liking ‘Good Good Father’, but is it a song to be sung by a congregation? It’s one where we can praise on our own and listen to for sure, but do we learn much from it, or do we help others by singing it? Whilst ‘Bless the Lord oh my Soul’ is one which certainly helps us in a congregation.
  4. We must know the difference in just good music and bad music, and be discerning in our choice.  To be honest, many songs are also just dire – old and new – you listen to them and either the tune is just awful, or the words are just so fluffy that anyone could have written them.
  5. Church is not solely for the young! I never get the point of making music ‘contemporary’ for the sake of its audience. We shouldn’t ever market a church for a particular age group or culture; instead it’s for all, for the old and young. Let us remember to respect and follow our elders, insofar as they follow Christ. I’m not saying young people and young peoples’ ideas are stupid! I wrote an article on the fact that they should have a voice, but they should be very careful how they seek to influence the church.
  6. The church’s music worship should only be as high as the pulpit. We must note the link between music and what is taught. If the church is not taught the word, with a desire for rich theology and doctrine, then its singing will not have depth. Therefore, ministers and those leading worship (bands, worship leaders) have a great responsibility in feeding their congregations the word. Weak/superficial theology will produce weak/superficial worship.
  7. We need more hymn writers in the present! Charles Wesley’s hymns, set to popular tunes of the time, revolutionised Christian singing and hymnody. Look at why he wrote them – to teach, to praise – and when you see his adoration, its breathtaking! We need that today, more hymn writers, using contemporary tunes to convey praise, doctrine and love all in one piece of music.
  8. We need to re-engage with the Pslams.  These were the songs that Christ sang!  The Bible has its own hymn book!  Whether its reading it more in our services or singing hymns based off them, it is something we need to re-engage with, as the Pslams offer so much to the Christian!
  9. We need creativity. We need to have creativity in praise, in worship, in our styles of music. Whether it is hip-hop, rock, metal, folk, orchestral, let us use it all to praise God and worship. People may say, well that happens already, and yes it does to a point, but it has to be gospel-focused and it needs to be theologically-driven to be powerful.
  10. We need to sing in our families. I remember reading the Getty’s book ‘Sing’, where they stated that the Puritans would withdraw communion from the man, if he failed to lead his family in singing at home. Strong, and probably a tad over the top (as the Puritans often were!) but it shows us how important singing was. We should sing at home, with our children, so as they get older, they have strong hymns of faith that will stay with them their entire life.
  11. Finally, we need it to come from the local church. We need to encourage men and women in our churches to write music, to write worship that impacts the local church and people. Worship today is so commercialised, let us just scale it back slightly to the local church. In saying that, there is nothing wrong is popular Christian music! I love the Getty’s and Stuart Townend, they are amazing, but what I mean to say is that we should also encourage the local church to write!

 

I am sure many of you reading this know the hymns of old. If you don’t then look them up, start with the Psalms, check out Isaac Watts, who wrote mainly from them. Check out Charles Wesley, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon. There are so many greats that we should learn from.

I am sure many of you reading this know the new hymns. If you don’t then do check out Kristyn and Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, Matt Boswell and Matt Redman. There are many others, but they are fantastic and should be sung in our churches in the present.

So, here are just a few points. I doubt I do it justice, but there are issues and we need to address them.   If we do, then we as a church will be blessed. The whole point is to bring a stronger theological focus in our worship that covers different themes and emotions and styles. It’s not a debate about instruments or style, but about our focus. A good starting point is the hymns of old, and many churches need to go back to them, whilst for them, discovering the new hymns of the age is also a MUST. Let us see a reformation, let us see this change, for the blessing, for the glory of our Lord and for the praise of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.