Archive for April, 2008

Too familiar

I already wrote about this in my private journal, so some of my emotions have already been released. Our pastor–I only use this term for convenience, because he is still in seminary and is not ordained–told my brother and me that he wanted to talk to us. I had my hopes up because I thought that he was taking initiative and was going to talk to us about the ministry and where we were headed. We’ve been so bad in meeting together as a core group, discussing the health of the ministry, our short-term and long-term goals, praying for one another, and just getting closer. Part of it is understandable; he and his wife drive all the way from Escondido every Sunday. One part though that bothered me was most Sundays they would always leave shortly after service because of some errands they had to do. Even if they did have stuff to do, it sucked that they couldn’t stay longer just to hang out. I remember when I was little, all of us at church used to play basketball, go out to eat, or just chill.

So, I thought we would finally have a meeting where we could get away from the narrow-focused tendencies we had started to succumb to. Instead, he told us how he was struggling with whether or not he was actually called to the ministry–called to be a pastor. He didn’t want to lead us if it wasn’t his calling. He said he would step down from his position at the end of May. He repeated several times about how he wouldn’t just leave us out to dry but was looking for someone to replace him and that he would be around, always available by phone or email if we wanted to talk. I felt a tinge of guilt as he said that because I don’t really talk to him during the week. Occasionally an email but for some reason I just don’t confide in him as I would in a close friendship. I know he was genuine and caring in saying he didn’t want to see us without any help.

It hurt, but only because I’ve been through this before. A seminary student takes over, has good intentions of building up the ministry, but finds himself overwhelmed by the responsibility of taking care of these kids, which involves much more than just preparing a sermon every week. The pastor before stayed only 5 months. The pastor before that, maybe a year. The pastor before that, just a few weeks (that was a very strange time). It’s discouraging and so sad. Big churches get bigger and small churches get smaller. Parents in the KM don’t bring their children because their kids would rather go to the churches where all their friends are and where it’s fun. Our church has been in Buena Park since July 2003. The 5th anniversary is fast approaching, and you know what’s kind of sad? Of all the people that were in our church in 2003, only my family and one other person (an elderly woman) have been here since 2003. I mentioned this to my dad and it doesn’t affect him too much because the KM is growing and is stable. But when I think of the EM and how it’s only gotten smaller and smaller in the last 5 years, I start to feel very depressed.

I’m doubly cast down because I think about all the ways I could have done more and tried harder. I am so thankful that God, through the trials, has helped me to depend on Him and grow more mature. The smallest sign encourages me and humbles me. But why for my sake, Lord, is it Your will that the church should remain so pitiful? The gospel should go forth and produce a harvest of righteousness in our community, not remain ignored among the veiled eyes of jaded churchgoers. I feel so helpless and feeble.

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Apathetic, distracted, or smitten

It discourages me so. It is no less of a discouragement for me to see the kids of our church seem apathetic toward the gospel than to find out that a person in KCM got so wasted or stayed out so late Saturday night that they didn’t feel like going to church on Sunday. It is no less of a discouragement to see their drooping heads as they fall asleep during the sermon than to see KCMers act obnoxious and disrespectful toward one another and toward outsiders.

Though the tree should bear no fruit…can I still rejoice? If joy can be found in tears, then yes.

Bad worship songs

This is something that has always been on my mind. I’ve wanted to write about this, especially in a way that will provide more context than what I could give if I were to talk about this in a conversation. The subject is bad worship songs. I hope that no one reading will believe that I am conceited in the way that I pronounce my opinion on this subject, a subject that is dear to the hearts and minds of my fellow believers, especially those in the Korean-American Church. I write from years of reflection and observation, having watched the trends of what is popular in the contemporary P&W (praise and worship) scene. I write after receiving at times less than gracious counsel from a leader on this subject, someone who opposed too rashly any song that had to do with “modern P&W.” I write after seeing so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ uplifted and encouraged by some songs that frankly I cannot sing in good conscience.

So what’s the deal anyway? Songs written by Hillsong United, David Crowder, and Chris Tomlin are immensely popular and beloved in KCM and elsewhere. What could I have against such catchy, moving, energetic, and powerful songs? Let me first say that there are only a few songs that I despise in their entirety, which includes both lyrics and musical accompaniment. There are redeeming qualities in many of the songs that I choose not to sing as they are being played. But the most important component of a worship song is the lyrics. A song with solid lyrics can redeem a simpler and more modest melody. A song with horrible lyrics can never redeem the most moving musical arrangement.

I think many of us swallow what we sing much too quickly. Let me mention some of the characteristics which bother me the most. First, bad songs tend to focus more on us and our actions rather than God and His actions. The Christian’s response should always be grounded and rooted in God’s actions. There is nothing wrong with singing about what we want to do for God. But let both believer and the unbelieving visitor understand that we want to do these things because of what God has already done for us.

We Are Hungry – Passion Worship Band

Lord I want more of You
Living water rain down on me
Lord I need more of You
Living breath of life come and fill me up

We are hungry
We are hungry
We are hungry for more of You
We are thirsty, oh Jesus
We are thirsty for more of You

We sang this yesterday. I can imagine an unbeliever saying after every line: “Why?” Why do you want more of God? Why are you hungry and thirsty? Why do you need more of Him? What is the basis for your desire? One song that is probably the worst when it comes to being only about what we do is the Vineyard song Surrender:

I’m giving You my heart and all that is within
I lay it all down for the sake of You my King
I’m giving you my dreams, I’m laying down my rights
I’m giving up my pride for the promise of new life

And I surrender
All to You, all to You

I’m singing You this song, I’m waiting at the cross
And all the world holds dear, I count it all as loss
For the sake of knowing You for the glory of Your name
To know the lasting joy, even sharing in Your pain

This song at least references Scripture in the second verse (Philippians 3:8), but it is all about me, me, me and what I do, what I promise to do, what I “want” to do. There are two kinds of people who sing and two kinds that don’t sing. There are those who sing the lyrics and want to mean them but show in the coming days that their words were empty; they break their promises. There are people who sing and don’t really want to mean them; they don’t feel like they want to give up everything. Similarly, there are people who don’t sing for that same reason. And then there are people like me who don’t sing because they know that on this side of heaven, in the “not yet,” we can never fulfill the lofty promises that we make here. Give me a song that acknowledges our imperfection (sanctification) and takes joyful refuge in the work of Christ (glorification):

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Moving on, bad songs use language that is much too casual, using terms that remind us of a callow romantic relationship. Great songs use words which convey gospel truths reverently and eloquently. Some examples of not-so-good songs from recent meetings:

Now That You’re Near – Hillsong

I stand before You, Lord
And give You all my praise
Your love is all I need
Jesus, You’re all I need

My life belongs to You
You gave Your life for me
Your grace is all I need
Jesus, You’re all I need

Hold me in Your arms
Never let me go
I want to spend eternity with You

And now that You’re near
Everything is different
Everything’s so different, Lord
And I know I’m not the same
My life You’ve changed
And I want to be with You
I want to be with You

And I will sing for You always
‘Cause in Your presence God is where I want to stay

The language is so casual (“Hold me in Your arms, never let me go, I want to spend eternity with You”) and references to salvation are so vague (“Now that you’re near everything’s so different”).

Beautiful – Vineyard Music USA

I need You like the rain
Come to me and sing again
I long for Your love so much
I’ve wanted Your pure touch

You are beautiful, beautiful
You are beautiful, beautiful
So beautiful, beautiful

I need You to be here
Come to me, I can feel You near
I love You, You are my hope
You love me as Your own

This song is particularly bad. No mention of God, Jesus, or the cross–just “I” and “You.” How is this a worship song to God? It could be me singing it to a girl! I was ashamed that we sang this song.

One more characteristic of bad worship songs that bothers me is ignorance of the weight of God’s glory and holiness. There are songs that say, “Show me Your glory,” echoing the request of Moses on Mount Sinai. But the rest of the lyrics do not support the utter fear and awe we should have should God actually grant that request. Some songs get close to profanity (as in profane, the opposite of sacred) with lines like “I want to see Your face” and “I want to touch You.” What’s up with that? It’s bad enough singing “Hold me in Your arms,” but saying you want to return the favor is a little crazy. Hebrews 12:18-19 says, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.”

Fire Fall Down – Hillsong

Fire fall down
Fire fall down
On us we pray
As we seek
Fire fall down
Fire fall down
On us we pray

The rest of this song is pretty solid, as it is about the cross, about our response, about giving the glory to God. But this bridge bothers me. While fire here can refer to the fire of the Holy Spirit, as on the day of Pentecost, I feel uncomfortable singing about fire to fall down from heaven because I also think of Sodom and Gomorrah and about the fire which consumed Elijah’s burnt offering at the altar and caused all those present to fall down flat on their faces and declare that Yahweh was God (1 Kings 18:36-39). I also think of the phrase “consuming fire,” which shouldn’t stir warm, fuzzy feelings (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Instead of focusing on each song in particular, I also step back and evaluate the worship set as a whole. There are often sets during which we never sing a song that has to do with the cross! It is unbelievable that we would never sing about the life and death of Jesus Christ in a Christian worship service. Also, I think about what an unbeliever who is unfamiliar with Christianity would take away from our time of praise. If all that person hears during the worship time is a bunch of “I love you, I need you, I want you” worship songs and songs about giving our all and surrendering everything to God, he or she would be very confused. To that person, Christianity would seem like a spineless and mushy affair. Some may be drawn to the idea of God as the divine romancer and wooed by the soaring melodies and rhythms, but I think a steady diet of this would lead to a deficient faith, one that forgets God’s sovereignty and transcendence, i.e. how BIG He is.

I’ve spent nearly two hours writing this, and I am tired. I still feel like I haven’t said everything that I wanted to say. Despite this, I hope that I have encouraged those who have read this to be more aware of the lyrics they sing and to take care lest they are lured by mere musical energy. Soli Deo Gloria.