Enjoying the Journey
Dr. Johnny Pope is the pastor of Christchurch Baptist Fellowship in Houston, Texas. His Spirit-filled preaching has always been a tremendous help to me. It is full of Scriptural substance that makes you think and stirs your heart. Brother Johnny has been a friend and encourager. I believe you will be helped by his writing.
Music is important. Far more important than we realize. All music takes us somewhere. When I hear orchestras play, my mind goes to The Chicago Symphony led by the late Sir George Solti. This is where my wife and I spent delightful evenings in our courtship and early marriage. I would also say, my mind also goes to the days when our kids played in their respective symphonies in high school. When I hear the distinctive sound of Bluegrass, I am back outside Branson, Missouri where Grandpa and Grandma Wright lived for many years. It was here that our kids turned their violins into fiddles and the contra bass into the “doghouse” bass under the guiding hands of Grandpa Wright playing his Martin Herringbone. Play the great hymns of the faith and I’m a little boy in church learning to love, worship and serve the Lord our God. Sing a ballad of the land, gunfighters, and trains and I’m back under the tree at a family reunion among the Popes. Music has the gift of transport. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you will go!” As I write these words I have music in the background. Most every time I write I have music playing. I know of other authors who do the same, which encourages me. But there is a reason. I want all my concentration to be focused, and I use the music to maintain the mode of inspiration. If I am writing something exciting, I like bombastic music. If I am writing something that is melancholy, I have soft strings or a lone solo piano.
I enjoyed reading the biography of Dr. T.T. Shields, called the Spurgeon of Canada. He was born and reared for the first years of his life in Bristol, England. His father and many ancestors were preachers. His grandfather was a very well respected evangelical Anglican preacher, his father became a Primitive Methodist, and later Dr. Shields embraced the Baptists. (You might say the family kept improving on their faith until they found perfection of doctrine). Although he was a Baptist, he never lost the formality and style of worship that he learned as a lad in the Anglican cathedral and cathedral school he attended. Years later Dr. Shields was walking through the great cathedral with a minister friend of his. His biographer said, “The organist was playing several of the old stately hymns of the faith. The building reverberated with the soul-stirring tunes that are common property of all Christendom. As they emerged from the 800-year-old cathedral, Dr. Shields turned to his companion and pointedly said, “Now you know why I hate jazz!” As I read this statement, I understood it not to be critical as much as constructively saying, “I don’t want anything to take me away from where I am with God.” What he was saying is that this music takes him closer.
Music can take you to the land of love! When a man and a woman fall in love, music often provides a soundtrack of their relationship. When Barbara and I married our pastor’s wife sang a song with the phrase, “Here’s our life, through the good and bad of life.” When I hear that song, I am reminded of our love and joint dedication to Christ. A oldest daughter Heather and her husband Jared have sung a song entitled, Together. It begins by saying, “Before the world began our union was His plan. Our lonely days are gone; together we’ll be one.” The chorus goes on to say, “And we’ll go on together, walk together, and with your hand in mine, we’ll stand the test of time, bound by a love from God…And we’ll stay together, pray together, yielding our lives into His hands of love.” This speaks so strongly of love and commitment to each other and to God.
Music can take you to meaningful of worship. “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:30). Nine different times the Bible speaks of the new song. We are commanded to sing this new song unto the Lord: “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” (Psalm 98:1). Then we are commended to sing this song together: “Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints” (Psalm 149:1).
As I travel throughout our country preaching, I hear music in worship. I should say in some instances it is only an attempt to worship. Lately I have been to some meetings where I knew the Christians to be very sincere in their love to God and their goal was to bring the potential worshippers into an atmosphere that was opening the way to hear from the Lord. But as musicians began to play, I was not transported to where I needed to be. As the guitar ripped, the drums pounded, and the singers whaled, I wasn’t the kid in church getting ready to hear the preacher. I was transported indeed. I was a teen-ager who was not allowed to go to the dance, having been reared in an old-fashioned Baptist congregation. But I remember one occasion I was walking across Florida Southern College and for the first time in my life I heard a live band. I got closer and closer until I was blown away at the door. I remember I could only make out a few words, but the sound said it all. As bodies swayed sensuously to the music, I was anywhere but where God wanted me to be. Oh it was exciting, it was fun, but it was also taking me down “Flesh Street” not “Hallelujah Avenue.” The only relief and good conscious came when I walked away from the door.
Who are we trying to kid? I know much of the music in today’s worship is exciting, fun, but I am afraid much of it is also sensual. We must guard our music. We may pretend we are getting close to God, but we may be closer the nightclub. Feelings can betray us. The Bible says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God…” (I John 4:1). We wonder why morality is lacking and church members are falling away. I am not blaming the music for taking us there, because in truth many are already there; the music is only a soundtrack depicting where we are. We need music to stir us on to God, not just make us feel good.
Let me say we do not have to sacrifice excitement in order to have worshipful music; we can have both. Nothing is more exciting than singing songs that tell of the greatness of God and His work among His children.
Part 2 of this guest post by Dr. Johnny Pope will be published next week. Subscribe at scottpauley.org/blog to receive these articles in your email.