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Still More on Why it Matters What We Sing

By Andrew Sheffield

Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-wrote the Hymnal is a forthcoming book by T. David Gordon, a follow-up to his 2009 book Why Johnny Can’t Preach, which addresses the (detrimental) reshaping of preaching by modern media.  I came across an interview with the author in which he comments on the transformations that occurred in America’s music culture within the past century, and I thought his comments were worth sharing with you:

“In the last 70 years, substantial changes happened to music in American culture:

* music moved from being participatory to passive (folk music, performed by average people, has all but disappeared, and has been replaced by pop music)

* music went from being communal to being, largely, individual (began with the Sony Walkman, [and] music is now heard solitarily)

* because of the commercial interests, pop music has replaced sacred music, classical music, and folk music. For the vast majority of Americans, the only music that SOUNDS like music is pop music, because they are surrounded by it. It is in the “background” when shopping, putting gas in the car, dining in restaurants, on TV and film. So nothing else registers as music. The consequence is that many churches have effectively abandoned the church’s rich history of hymnody for trifling contemporary stuff.”  (emphasis mine)

In relation to these comments, the thought has struck me that much of today’s church music is not actually produced by the church, for the church:  it is produced by producers, for consumers.  In other words, church music has become market-driven (just as much of church practice in other areas).  I don’t mean to condemn free markets; but just as preachers should preach with consideration only for what God has to say to His people—not what will sell well or attract a crowd—so church music should be produced with the sole considerations of how to edify the people of God and how to help them make the praise of God glorious.

This is just one more reason I’m so picky when it comes to the songs we sing.  It’s also yet another reason I gravitate more toward older rather than newer:  because by and large, hymns from the era of Amazing Grace, And Can It Be?, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross were written by the church, for the church—often by pastors for their own congregations to sing.  They became popular because they were used so widely in the church—rather than being used widely in the church because they were popular.  (In the same way, many of the newer songs we use in corporate worship are not necessarily songs you’ll hear on the radio but come from people seeking to edify the local church rather than to sell records.  Not that selling records is wrong, but again, when it comes to corporate worship, market success should never enter our thinking.)

I hope this helps you sharpen your thinking about church music, and I hope it helps you see just a little more clearly my desires for us as a church in the area of singing.

(quote from

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“The Mystery of Preaching” and Why You Should Pray

I recently read an article by Art Katz entitled ‘The Mystery of Preaching[i];’ it is one of the best articles I have read in recent memory.  I had hoped to refer to it in the message about the spiritual apathy in Sardis, but I ran out of time.  This article gave words to things I have only been able to feel but not articulate.  Allow me to quote a paragraph:

Preaching is a struggle and an ultimate challenge every time it is undertaken. One can make many good biblical statements, but that is not the same as communicating the Word as God’s word… It is a mystery, and the whole church needs to have a standard set before it higher than what it has understood, and to realize the patent impossibility [of proclaiming the] Word of God as the Word of God. We dare not come up to the platform, open the Bible, clear our throats, call the congregation to attention, pray a prayer, open our mouths and commence without a terrible sense of foreboding of all of the great weight that falls upon that moment. If it is not the Word of God, there will be a form of death going forth, instead of life. There is no neutrality here. Either it is going to forward the life of God, or there is going to be a numbness and dullness by just hearing something that is ‘merely’ good. We would probably be better off not to hear it at all!  Silence is more to be desired than a mere good sermon, which cannot communicate the Life of God as God’s Word. The result is a deadening of spiritual sensibility.

Perhaps Katz is speaking something akin to what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 – the gospel ministry is to some an “aroma from death to death” and to others “from life to life.”  It was the last line of the paragraph that struck deep within my soul:  SILENCE IS MORE TO BE DESIRED THAN A MERE GOOD SERMON, WHICH CANNOT COMMUNICATE THE LIFE OF GOD AS GOD’S WORD.  THE RESULT IS A DEADENING OF SPIRITUAL SENSIBILITY.  In the past I have said several times from the pulpit that a truth-preaching church is one of the most dangerous places in the world. But if Katz is right, do we dare contemplate the potential ramifications within our own assembly?  The mystery of preaching is why we need to pray.  Pray for your pastors and teachers.  If the Spirit doesn’t empower and animate our proclamations, we are nothing more than sermonators.  And sermonators only kill.

~Pastor Tim

[i]The entire article is found at

Originally appeared in the May, 2010 newsletter

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FCC Security: Child Abductions

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Mt 18:10

Child abductions can happen anywhere at any time.  Each day 2100 missing child reports are filed in the United States.  The majority of kids reported missing have run away from home or there was a miscommunication between child and parent about where they were supposed to be.  The majority of abducted children are abducted by a family member or acquaintance, and approximately 25% by strangers. Nearly two thirds of all children abducted are girls and almost all abductors are men.

It is important to equip our children with the tools they need to stay safe without instilling them with high anxiety.  You should consider the following kidnapping prevention strategies:

  • Teach your children not to accept candy or gifts from strangers and never to get in a stranger’s car.
  • Teach your children to never go anywhere with someone they don’t know and/or with someone who tries to lure them away such as, “Can you help me look for my lost dog?” or, “Do you want to see the cute kittens I have in my car?”
  • Tell him/her to run and scream if a stranger tries to take them somewhere.
  • Tell your children it is okay to say no to a stranger who wants to do something that makes him/her uncomfortable or that they know is wrong.
  • Ensure your children know their name, address, phone number, an emergency contact number, and 911.
  • Teach them to tell you about places or people that make them feel unsafe.
  • Teach them that if a stranger grabs them to shout, “I don’t know you” and to fight back and make as much noise as they can so someone will know they are in trouble.
  • Teach them never to tell a stranger their name or address.
  • Avoid dressing your child in clothes with their name on it as children are more likely to trust adults who know their name.

Hopefully, these give you some ideas and reminders about how to keep our children safe.

And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Mt. 18:5-6

Originally appeared in the April 2010 newsletter.

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Book Review: The Life of Andrew Reed

The Greatest Is Charity: The Life of Andrew Reed, Preacher and Philanthropist

Book by Ian J. Shaw, Published by Evangelical Press, 2005

You probably haven’t heard of Andrew Reed. He wasn’t the most popular preacher in England in his time—that would have been Charles Spurgeon. And he wasn’t the greatest crusader for orphans—that title might have been held by either George Mueller or Charles Dickens. Andrew Reed was just a faithful pastor, but one who accomplished astonishing things. He was a man ahead of his time.

Reed’s first and only pastorate was in a church in the East London slums. After his ordination ceremony Reed wrote in his journal, “The solemnity of the occasion, together with an impression of my own insufficiency, almost overwhelmed me. . . . I am desirous, not merely of beginning well but of running well. Setting out is something, holding out is more. Jesus is sufficient for all things.” And with that affirmation, Reed set out to bring the Gospel to the slums—to give “the most for the most unhappy.”

The Greatest is Charity tells the story of how Reed ran well and held out during his 50 year pastorate. He brought his little church of less than 100 members to an attendance of over 2,000. He established three orphanages, two homes for people with learning disabilities and the first hospice. His church ran a Sunday school for the slum children (an unusual project for the time) and evening schools to teach reading and math to those who were too poor to attend public school.

Reed was far ahead of his time in providing family-like structure in his institutions and in training the staff to consider the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of each person. Everyone who was able to understand was taught the gospel. Reed said, “I have always had their souls in view.” He explained it this way:

Philanthropy is much to me, but theopathy more. The one offers a human motive, the other, a divine. We never rise to the highest, nor are our moralities safe, till we can say, “Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” —Andrew Reed

This book is available through Amazon ($29.00 new) or from the publisher at ($27.00 plus shipping).

Review by Susan Verstraete

Originally appeared in the April 2010 Newsletter

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Cleaning with Sink Reflections

By Deanna Hanson

About 2 years ago, Leah McFarlin introduced me to a book called Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley, the Fly Lady.  It is a book to help with home organization, cleaning, and creating routines to get it all done in a timely matter.  It is a fun and easy to read book.  Here is what Publisher Weekly writes about it:

In her debut book, Cilley, a.k.a. “The FlyLady” to the thousands who log onto her Web site, reaches into the everywoman’s home to help make her housecleaning more fun and her life more organized. Beginning with “Shiny Sink 101,” Cilley explains how a spotless kitchen sink can direct even the most discouraged housekeeper onto the path of well-ordered domesticity. Through several straightforward routines, including the 27 Fling Boogie (the cut-throat practice of quick junk disposal), the Five-Minute Room Rescue (“another step on the road to clutter recovery”) and the Hot Spot Fire Drill (for an area that, like a forest fire, takes over your home), Cilley advises her “FlyBabies” on how to overcome clutter and CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome). Filled with testimonials from online followers, the book aims to help readers establish manageable daily and weekly habits by incorporating spirituality and family into the program. Detailed and direct, this is a guidebook for the stay-at-home or working woman who wants to have it all, including her sanity.

If you are in between books this Spring, I recommend reading this one or at least keeping it in your purse for waiting times at school or appointments.  It has helped me stay organized as well as helped my family with a small routine.  Feel free to ask me more about it when you see me.

Originally posted in the April 2010 Newsletter

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Why it Matters What We Sing

One vital aspect of good songs is that they are skillfully written, both in words and in music.  We as a society tend to value skill less than we value efficiency or expedience; but the Bible clearly values skill—or wisdom—in spite of the extra time and labor it takes to both develop good skills and to employ them.

I can sit down and come up with a few lines of music very quickly; I can do the same with a few lines of verse.  What I cannot do very quickly is cultivate a deep understanding of the Word of God and its application to my life, along with a deep understanding and knowledge of language and poetry and communication and/or a deep understanding of singing and music.  These skill sets are essential for good songwriting, and I always look for the display of these skills in the songs we sing.

There are many, many badly written songs in use by the Western church today.  What does it say about our worship of God when little to no effort, skill, study, and labor go into writing the songs we sing to and about Him?  Colossians 3:16 instructs us to “let the Word of Christ dwell richly” in us, which should result in rich singing, not anything that is poor, unskillful, or lazy.  May our exalted view of God lead us to exalted, skillful, rich worship—the kind of worship of which only He is worthy.

Originally appeared in the April 2010 Newsletter

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Child Safety

Train a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not turn from it.  (Proverbs 22:6)

Safety and security is everyone’s responsibility. The safety and security of our children is one area of utmost importance. While our children are truly a blessing from the Lord, it can pose challenges to protect them. The following are a few examples and reminders of what we as adults and parents should keep in mind:

  • A child running in the hall. This can be hazardous to the child as well as adults who may be tripped or fall in trying to avoid them.  If you’ve ever heard an usher sternly warning kids not to run, this is the reason. Typically, ushers do not speak to a parent of the child but this may be necessary if a warning is not enough.
  • Kids playing on the playground during the service will be asked to return inside and attend the service. Playing on the playground during or after the service without adult supervision can be dangerous as well, with smaller and older children swinging, sliding, etc., and due to darkness during the winter season that can hide someone lurking in the shadows. Actually, whether winter or any other season, this remains a viable threat.  If you have children playing outside, we ask that you please ensure they are supervised.
  • Small children leaving service alone and going to the bathroom, getting a drink etc. While ushers try to keep an eye on such situations, there are times when their attention may be needed elsewhere.  If you have small children who have a need to leave during the service, please ensure they are supervised.
  • Children playing on stacked chairs. Children have been observed climbing on and up stacked chairs (which they undoubtedly consider to be a convenient mountain climbing experience). While exercising these skills is not a bad thing, they need to be accomplished in a much more controlled and safe environment. If you see kids doing this, please ask them to stop. If they are your kids, please provide them the necessary guidance.

Please note that this article is not intended as undue criticism of any parenting skills.  We know kids will be kids and that it is nearly impossible to watch them every second of the day. We do hope that such reminders will help all of us protect the young lives entrusted to us. After all, children are our legacy, our footprint on the world, and pleasing to our heavenly Father.  Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.  (Psalm 127:3)

One final thought, a quote from Robert Fulghum, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

Originally posted in the March 2010 Newsletter

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St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

stpatrickSt. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

Book by Philip Freeman, published by Simon and Schuster, NY 2004

Most of what we think we know about Patrick of Ireland is myth. He did not drive any snakes out of Ireland. He didn’t use a clover to teach the concept of Trinity. His doctrine was nothing like that of the current Catholic church. He was not even Irish.

But we do have access to Patrick’s real story, contained in letters he wrote over 1500 years ago. Philip Freeman has taken these letters, combined them with the history and archeology of the region and has written a spellbinding biography of the early missionary.

Patrick’s story begins with his abduction at age 15 by Irish pirates in the slave trade, who carried him back to their country and sold him to the highest bidder. Patrick ended up working as a shepherd, alone with is thoughts all day long, far from home and friendless. Like Joseph, those who sold him meant it for evil but God meant it for good. Patrick said:

But it was here in Ireland that God first opened my heart, so that—even though it was a late start—I became aware of my failings and began to turn with my whole heart to the Lord my God.

During his six years in slavery, Patrick was able to learn the language and customs of the people of Ireland. He escaped from his captors, returned home and then, to everyone’s amazement, felt the call of God to return to Ireland as a missionary. He led a long and fruitful life mightily used by God. He closes his Confession with these words:

My final prayer is that all of you who believe in God and respect Him—whoever you may be who read this letter that Patrick the unlearned sinner wrote from Ireland—that none of you will ever say that I in my ignorance did anything for God. You must understand—because it is the truth—that it was all the gift of God.

The full text of Confession and Patrick’s other surviving letter have been translated from Latin and are included in the book, available through the Mid-Continent Library system or from for about $11.00 (paperback).

Book review by Susan Verstrate

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Order of Worship

By Tim Juhnke

Being a creature of habit, I am usually not a big fan of change; but change can be good. Some of you might have noticed that we recently made a few alterations to the order of our worship service. Behind these changes are ardent desires that (in the words of our Philosophy of Worship) seek to “present the glory of God in such a way as to provide a framework for the congregation to respond in worship.” Thus, we want to be Biblical and intentional in everything that we do in our corporate gatherings. The following is a brief explanation of the order of our worship service.

The worship service should actually begin before you are seated. When possible, adequate rest is necessary. I know for some this is a huge challenge because they have to work the night before. But in general, the only thing worse than a sleepy Christian in the worship service is a boring preacher leading the worship service! Furthermore, Christians should arrive to church with sins confessed and heartfelt desires to experience God in the communion of saints. You might be surprised how important those prerequisites are! In ancient days the worship service began with the blast of a ram’s horn that aroused the attention of the worshipper. Our services start with a vigorous song of praise that serves as a call to worship for all the church. Sundays are often bustling with activity and warm chatter, but the call to worship signals that our gathering before God as His people is about to begin. After the call to worship, the congregation is seated. What follows is what I call a necessary (but not necessarily) evil: announcements. Announcements take care of family business, but we endeavor to keep them brief. It is after the announcements that our worship service actually begins. In the past, we simply started singing after announcements, but now the worship service will begin with a pastoral prayer and the reading of Scripture. The portion of Scripture read is almost always the portion of Scripture that will be expounded upon in the preaching service. After the reading of Scripture, our corporate worship in song will commence. By placing the Scripture reading at the beginning of the service, it is our hope that your mind and heart will begin to be prepared for the exposition of that Scripture through the songs and prayers and preaching that follow.

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