Spiritual Songs & New Songs
In his epistles, Paul speaks of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). His list categorizes three musical types: (1) psalms, which are inspired songs of the covenant, (2) hymns, which are ecclesiastically-shaped doctrinal songs, and (3) spiritual songs, which are distinguished from both. In this context, then, what is meant by “spiritual songs?” To put that question another way, psalms and hymns are also spiritual, so what sets this third category apart from the others?
Apart from Pauline literature, when “song” is used elsewhere in the New Testament, it twice refers to the “new song” of glory (Rev. 5:9, 14:3). In a third instance, the Apostle John does not mention psalms and hymns as Paul does, but uses “song of Moses” and “song of the Lamb,” both of which harken back to the covenant — i.e., the Torah and the Promise-Fulfilling Messiah. While there are a few hymn (υμνος) references (Mt. 26:30; Mk:26; Acts 16:25, 1 Cor. 14:26), “songs” (ωδη) in the New Testament are described with two adjectives: new and spiritual.
In the New Testament, there appears to be a parallel between the “new song” mentioned by John and spiritual songs mentioned by Paul. These are not totally separate from one another. The “new song” of glory is inspired not by human ingenuity, but by the Spirit of God. Likewise, spiritual songs of the Church are not ancient artifacts, but fresh songs that embrace the present and envision the future. In other words, the Spirit inspires both John’s “song” and Paul’s “song.” (It’s not surprising that John would use “new” rather than “spiritual,” considering his theological emphasis upon renewal, as evident by 9 references to “new” in Revelation.)
The Old Testament includes 7 references to “new song.” In every case, new songs celebrate God’s renewing work. From “He put a new song in my mouth” (Ps. 40:3) to “sing to the Lord a new song… all the earth” (Ps. 96:1), these songs express a forward-looking, eschatological dimension. That is to say, new songs reveal an inner longing for renewal that will ultimately come at the end of time. Isaiah’s mention of “new song” makes this especially clear as he calls all of creation to praise (Is. 42:10).
Likewise, the Spirit inspires songs that look ahead to the future. In Scripture, the Spirit points to the eschatological fulfillment of God’s promises. The Prophet Joel depicts the Spirit as marking the end times (e.g., Joel 2), and Paul also describes the Spirit as the seal of the covenant. (For more information, see Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence, chapter 12.) Thus, “Spirit-inspired” songs do not merely celebrate God’s past work, but possess an eschatological dimension as well.
Why does this matter? To begin with, “spiritual songs” should not be limited to a musical style — such as a gospel tune or an ad-libbed chorus. They are expressive songs, bubbling up from within us, and we must not lose sight of their theological function. Spiritual songs reflect the Spirit’s work within us, as we are being sanctified — moving closer and closer to glory. As such, the Holy Spirit inspires us in increasing measure to sing new songs to the Lord.
Reasons to Welcome, Not Ban
25 Reasons Why Christians Should Welcome (Not Ban) Immigrants & Refugees
- God cares for all people, not just those inside a particular national border.
- As Christians, global citizenship trumps national citizenship.
- Christianity affirms that all people have the same value, regardless of their current religion, since all of creation comes from God.
- The Good Samaritan story includes ethnic dimensions: (1) those outside of your ethnicity may surprise you with kindness, and (2) our neighbors include those of other ethnicities.
- The Golden Rule requires it: treat others as you would like to be treated. (If you were endangered, you would want someone to help you.)
- Personal safety is not the ultimate ethic for Christians, while love is.
- Political policies are not divinely insprired and often contradict God’s call for justice.
- Political policies should never be superior to Christ’s commandments.
- “Love your neighbor” is not limited by a country’s border and includes those from other countries.
- Hospitality is an important motif throughout the Bible (e.g., Abraham welcoming the sojourners, Jews welcoming and not welcoming Jesus, the Apostles welcoming Paul, etc.)
- “Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you” includes atheists and those of other religions.
- Religious litmus tests may increase personal safety, while hindering the spread of the gospel.
- Religious litmus tests are inaccurate; after all, some people within our own churches are “faking it” for one reason or another.
- Religious litmus tests work against the gospel, since at one point, you yourself were not a Christian; being banned by Christians would have turned you away from, not towards, the faith.
- Welcoming other religions to your country offers an opportunity for mission without ever leaving your homeland.
- Ignoring human rights issues for the sake of personal safety merely perpetuates the problem.
- Love always involves some degree of risk, so risk itself is not an excuse not to love.
- The innocent, such as children, should not be slaughtered with the guilty.
- Abraham was a sojourning immigrant (in Egypt).
- Joseph was an enslaved immigrant (to Egypt).
- Israel as a nation was an immigrant (in Egypt), poorly mistreated yet protected and rescued by Yahweh.
- Moses was a refugee and immigrant (in Egypt).
- Jesus was a refugee (in Egypt).
- In the Bible, marked by the recurrence of Egypt, the necessity of immigration and the importance of hospitality cannot be ignored. (Lev. 19:33-34)
- Jesus sacrificed His personal safety for the betterment of others, including those outside (Gentiles) of His own ethnicity (Jewish).
Luke & Poverty
“Blessed are the poor.” – Luke
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” – Matthew
In my own life, I have recognized that my reading of Luke has varied depending on life circumstances.
When I have been poor, I have found extreme comfort in seeing “poor” without qualification — a reminder that God remembers me in my physical poverty. And when my economic condition has been better, my reading moves towards Matthew’s “poor in spirit,” meaning that I focus more on spiritual poverty. I mention that because as we read Luke (whether in poverty or affluence), we need to be aware that our economic “lens” may influence our reading of the text.
So in the times of life when you have abundance, remember that others, such as those in impoverished countries, are reading Luke differently than you. That’s not to say that their exegesis is better or worse. It’s a reminder to always see the rawness of Luke’s gospel — keeping in mind that poverty is not merely about a lack of means, but a lack of well-being.
In other words, poverty affects people holistically, since poverty often results from economic enslavement to a person or a system. So at the end of the day, poverty is not so much about possessions, but powerlessness. It is easy to lose hope when overwhelmed with poverty, but into that hopelessness, Luke speaks a powerful word: “Blessed are the poor.”
The “Rightness” of Sports
Play the game right. We all agree on that.
But what does it mean to play the “right” way anyways?
We face a dilemma when a player is expected to win — and then that same player departs to a better team to win. Most recently, people across the country felt outrage when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State, a move that inspired feelings of anger, distrust, and envy. But why?
And then we cheer for losers and underdogs. Whether an elderly Kobe, a cheap Dirk, a non-jumping Duncan, or a booed Porziņģis — we want athletes not to take shortcuts, but to win the right way. We prefer the “good” storyline rather than the bad one, and we turn on players who sign for money or who team up with other superstars.
As crazy as it sounds, we recognize that faithfulness counts in sports — maybe even as much as winning does. If we’re honest, we know that our team might not win in the end, so at the very least, we want players to stick together and to stay with us. We want players to be as faithful to us as we are to them. For after all, the average fan would rather lose with loveables than win with thugs.
Whatever side we take, Durant’s choices demonstrate that ethical obligations do not exclude sports. Old-fashioned ideals such as faithfulness, trustworthiness, and kindness apply to professional athletes, just as to everyone else. At the end of the day, fans want athletes to represent them not only in terms of geography, but in terms of character.
In the eyes of loyal fans, Kevin Durant broke a promise. And that is what fans despise the most. Win or lose, no one wants to be betrayed, and no one wants to be left behind. That’s not to say that Durant did in fact break a promise; after all, he fulfilled his contract, and he has the legal right to move on. But to many basketball fans, what matters is that it felt like a broken promise.
End results only matter for so much. Veteran fans know that championships are few and far between. As decades pass, we learn that “doing things right” involves more than winning. When we look to the courts and fields, we hope our athletes represent our ideals, not merely add numbers to a scoreboard. As fans, we can still cheer after losses, as long as we believe in the character of our athletes.
More than anything else, sports of an insight into passion, drive, and character. No matter how bad a team may be, we are drawn to cheer for athletes who battle despite the odds — for those who fight on behalf of the people who love them. And that is how you do things right.
Synthesizer & Spirit
In response to Bob Kauflin’s recent post about synthesizers in worship, I agree with much of what he says (nearly everything), including the call for silence, variety, and Spirit dependence. Those are crucially important points, and I couldn’t agree more.
In my perspective, some further nuancing might be helpful in the article. Of course, the Spirit can work through physical means — just as He can work through other means. After all, we are embodied beings and certain sound waves affect us in different ways.
Too much cowbell would make us laugh. There’s nothing inherently spiritual or anti-spiritual about a cowbell, but culturally, we’ve associated cowbell with humor (e.g., SNL). Likewise, loud kick drum tends to be associated with dancing (or for others, headaches). These associations in themselves are not wrong.
As far as ambient pads go, in much of Western culture, that particular sound has been associated with contemplation, peace, and spirit. Like the sounds mentioned above, there is nothing moral or amoral about that in itself. In fact, synth sounds are used in contexts outside of worship (such as commercials) to communicate these same ideas.
For that reason, rather than comparing ambient pads to manipulation, I would compare it to the use of language. If culture uses certain metaphors (whether linguistic or not), then those metaphors can serve as vehicles of communication.
Again, I think Bob is awesome (a role model and a favorite!), and I agree with so much in his post. In my view, however, a bit more nuancing would be helpful, particularly some of the positive uses and/or more emphasis upon the fact that the Spirit not only uses spiritual means, but natural means. The Spirit’s activity is above and beyond our physical processes, of course, but neither is He absent from those processes.
How Should We Read Revelation?
To begin with, I acknowledge (and would encourage others to acknowledge) the complexity of Revelation. Amidst the varieties of interpretations, the worst in my mind would be the kind that oversimplifies and overlooks the complexities of Revelation. If we claim to understand every image or symbol without any qualification, then maybe our hubris is preceding our exegesis.
That being said, neither do I think that Revelation is beyond comprehension for the average reader — especially the average reader in the time of the Apostle John. He was not writing a “code book” with codes that could only be deciphered by religious elites in a closed room. Nor was he writing a book that a single individual in the 21st century would “decode” somehow. Neither of those options fit with the biblical version of Christianity that I know, and they sound more like gnosticism than orthodoxy.
Based on those underlying principles, my primary approach to Revelation is to ask, “What was John communicating to his original audience?” before asking, “What does this say about the future?” Of course, the two questions are interrelated, but the if we limit ourselves to future questions, then John’s text would have been nearly useless to his contemporaries. Thus, questions of the “present day” (i.e., John’s day) should remain at the fore as we read what John was saying about the future.
This leads me to read Revelation as thus: How do these texts encourage, correct, or instruct believers in light of John’s vision of the future? Or in other words, how does the apocalypse affect readers in a personal, practical, and proximate way? In answering those questions, I see Revelation as presenting the following argument: Eagerly anticipate the Coming King because certain and decisive victory awaits His faithful ones.
While there are warning passages throughout the book, the overall message is one of confidence and encouragement. No one — not the Jews, not the Romans, not the Babylonians, not Satan himself — can defeat the King of all Kings. By looking to the end, believers can be confident, avoiding temptation and remaining strong in the present age — even in the face of brutal enemies and potential martyrdom.
Thoughts on the Sabbath
- The Sabbath is one of the The Commandments. In my view, this sets the Sabbath apart from ceremonial and civil law, since it is placed within the context of moral law. Because we would affirm all of the other 10, we should be extremely careful about tossing it out.
- Within the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is set aside not merely as a day, but as a statement of our individual and communal trust in Yahweh. Sabbath is more than a 24-hour time period. It is a statement or proclamation that we can rest in God as He provides for our needs. In the original context — where survival depended upon the thin thread of animals and crops — not working one day was a shocking state tent of trust.
- While we might doubt whether we need to observe the Sabbath today, the origin of the Sabbath resides within the nature and work of God. If God needed to rest after creation, and if we ar made in His image, and if the commandments reflect not merely a decree but His nature, then we would be compelled to observe Sabbath rest.
- When Jesus spoke of the Sabbath, we must carefully determine whether He was abolishing the Sabbath (rendering it null) or whether He was redefining the Sabbath (or more accurately clarifying the original meaning of the Sabbath). In my view, Jesus is not abolishing, but fulfilling the Sabbath in Himself.
- Some might say that Jesus’ fulfillment of the Sabbath makes it void or unnecessary for us; I take the position that our worship practices, of which the Sabbath would be included, were never intended as an end in themselves, but to point us to Christ.
- Ultimately, Jesus teaches that the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. In my interpretation, this means that the Sabbath is intended to be life-giving, not burdensome. Jesus blasts wide open our concept of the Sabbath, so that it’s not merely about sitting in church all day, but far broader than that.
- In constrast to legalistic views, such as the Orthodox Jewish prohibition of cooking or driving on the Sabbath, Christians are liberated to experience all of God’s life giving peace and restoration, in whatever form that may be. As it says in Colossians 1, all things were made by, through, and for Jesus Christ, so all of creation is opened up to us, even if that means walking around town, teaching, picking grain, helping those in need, and so forth.
Literature and Preaching
One of my former students at Moody Bible Institute recently asked me how reading literature can improve preaching. More specifically, the student recognized the importance of reading, but was not sure where to begin. This was my brief response in case it is helpful to anyone else with a similar question.
Great question and thanks for asking.
In general, I would say a mixture of different kinds of literature would be good. Maybe pick up an anthology of poetry, an anthology of short stories, along with a classic novel. (For example, check out Best American Short Stories or something like Good Poems from Garrison Keillor.) In addition to being enjoyable in their own right (which is important to keep in mind), here are some ways that the different kinds of literature can help with preaching:
- Poetry can help develop your vocabulary, your use of imagery, and your sense of rhythm and sound.
- Short stories can show you how to concisely develop a narrative. (Sermon illustrations usually need to be shorter than short stories, but the principles are similar.)
- Novels can help you notice and develop major themes and motifs, as well as show how to develop characters within narrative preaching.
Mostly focus on the classics and/or contemporary authors recognized in literary journals. However, also keep in mind some more popular works (something that I don’t do as much as I should), but keep in mind that people in church are reading things like The Shack or Harry Potter, so it can be helpful to know what they are reading. Those are not always the best books ever written, but they can help you contextualize. They resonate with people for a reason, so it can be good to figure out why that is the case.
In regards to poetry, I would recommend people like Wendell Berry, Scott Cairns, and Billy Collins. Watch out for bad contemporary poetry. You might also check out Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Chrisitan Poetry. You may not agree the theology of every single poem, but it offers a lot to think about, and that can be worthwhile.
Love in Victory & Defeat
Christians, love in victory and in defeat.
When looking at situations throughout history and around the world, we know that Christians are not defeated by governments or political movements. Christians are not defeated by fire (Nero), policy (Mao Zedong), poverty (Indian castes), expulsion (Columbian tribes), terrorism (al-Shabaab), kindnappings (Boko Haram), or beheadings (ISIS). Oddly enough, Christians are not even defeated by crucifixion.
Even still, if you feel defeated by recent events, keep in mind that in every situation (not only situations of our choosing), Christ taught us to love God and to love our neighbors. Those are not conditional, but unconditional commandments — and are even more applicable in times of uncertainty, challenge, and confusion. So no matter how you feel, remember that we serve a resurrected King, and in His Kingdom, true love never waivers.
The Community of Church
One of the often neglected benefits of the Church is her people.
We tend to see the worst of Christians in movies and sitcoms, but of the hundreds of Christians I am blessed to know, I am continually amazed by the compassion that I find. Take a bunch of sinners, put them in a room together, and you’ll be amazed by what God can do with them.
As I reflect upon the church, it is saddening that people live without it — not merely the experience of worshiping a Holy God, but the experience of knowing His people. And I’m not just talking about people to hang with, but people to hurt with — people who will shelter, feed, and comfort in the midst of life’s worst moments. After all, the church is not a building of wood or stone, but a people of flesh and blood.
If you haven’t experienced the life within a church, or if it’s been a while, send me a message. I’d be glad to help you find a local church in your area.
6 Reasons Why Pete Carroll Made the Right Call
I’m not a football expert. My only play calling happens in Madden football, but here are six reasons why Pete Carroll made the right call:
1. During the 2014-15 season, Marshawn Lynch was only 1 for 5 in TD runs from the one yard line. Lynch was more likely to fail than succeed.
2. Seattle wasted a timeout early, which meant that they would have needed to pass at least once in that four-down sequence. Passing early in the sequence early could have surprised the defense.
3. Vince Wilfork, at 325 pounds and a five-time All Pro, made running up the gut risky. Failing on 2nd down run would force a timeout and a pass on 3rd down to stop the clock (to ensure the possibility of four downs). This would set up the defense on 3rd down to defend the pass.
4. Out of 109 passes from the 1-yard line in the 2014-15 season, there 66 touchdowns and only 1 interception (the one by Butler in the Super Bowl). Passing meant more than a 60% chance of success, compared to only 20% with Lynch running the ball.
5. A “wasted play” increased the chance of keeping Brady off the field. Because the Patriots did not take a timeout, the wasted play needed to be a pass because the Seahawks only had one timeout. Running out of time was still a concern.
6. A pick and slant is a very safe play; there is little risk of a sack and wasting more clock. Only a magical play could stop the Seahawks. Butler did what less than 1% of other players have done this season.
Criticizing Pete Carroll, in retrospect, only undermines the incredible play made by Malcolm Butler. Fewer plays are more impressive, and play call criticism distracts from an unforgettable moment in NFL history.
I’m struck that commentators still fail to add a disclaimer — distinguishing between news and speculation. The real story here is us — namely, the nature of poor news coverage and the desire to skewer someone as soon as possible.
Whether this was accidental, willful ignorance, or purposeful, we as the public simply don’t know. In any case, there are far more possibilities than commentators would have us think.
My guess, and only a guess, is simply that no one checked the air pressure at all — just like we don’t empirically test balls in other sports.
Many merely assumed that everything was okay. If that’s the case, then ethically, negligence has always been considered a lesser offense than conspiracy.
There was a safe assumption (because few honestly cared), and according to Brady, the balls were randomly selected out of a bag. This process was described by Drew Bledsoe (Brady’s predecessor and former rival) during an interview today, and there’d be no reason to stop this process of random selection. The QB reaches in a bag and selects the ones he likes; no NFL quarterback has an air pressure gauge in his back pocket to test each football. He assumes.
Again, that’s not to excuse anyone — merely to remind us that the media is not exactly known for being perfect. In the meantime, we might guess, but we should hold back judgment. Maybe my guess is way off, but at least I label it as a guess. We should demand that reporters do the same.
Brady & Belichick
Regarding Brady and Belichick, my thought is that they were “willfully ignorant.” That still leaves them culpable to some degree, of course, but it allows them to honestly say that “I did not know.” For some reason, the reporters did not push that point harder. The “process” of preparing the footballs was still quite vague, even at the end of the press conference.
Brady said he selected the footballs out of a grouping. Of course, he’s not testing PSI (no one would expect that), but if there were 20 footballs, he could easily select the 12.5, 12.0, 11.5, or 11.0 ones. He would “not know” in a sense; he just knew that he selected ones that felt right. After months, the ball boy would never need to be told; he would simply know that deflated ones made his boss happy. It would seem that strange number — 11 out of 12 — would confirm this. No one was explicitly told to deflate them, but by “defined chance,” Brady happened to select the lower PSI balls from the group.
Brady may have been honest during the press conference. After all, he played better in the second half with the inflated balls, so maybe he didn’t notice during the activity of the game. I would normally be suspicious, but if the referees did not notice, then the difference is pretty subtle. He may have planned his willful ignorance before the game, but really, no one pressed him about that.
I’m surprised the referees haven’t been grilled more. It’d probably be too risky to deflate them on the sidelines, so my guess is that the “football checker” was also negligent. But who could blame him? It’s such an unexpected thing to happen that he probably just checked them by hand.
That’s a lot of speculation, but willful ignorance is a way to “tell the truth” and “ignorantly” cross the line.
What makes Jesus unique from all other teachers or prophets? According to Mark, John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews, here is a brief list to start:
- He created the world, preexistent before creation. (John 1:1-14; Colossians 1:15-19)
- He lived a sinless life, fulfilling every obligation of the Law. (Hebrews 4:14-15)
- He suffered for sinners, taking holy wrath upon Himself. (Romans 5:9)
- He made peace with God, mediating between God and man. (Romans 5:1)
- He rose from the dead, defeating both evil and death (Mark 16:1-13; John 20:1-10; 1 Corinthians 15:57)
- He reigns with absolute authority, interceding as our eternal high priest. (Romans 8:34)
- He indwells the hearts of His people, comforting and assuring them. (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 13:5)
- He will come again, welcoming His people into His presence for eternity. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)
- He is God, who alone fulfilled all of God’s promises. (John 1:1-18; 2 Corinthians 1:20)
Lessons from 370
In the aftermath of the Flight 370 crash, news outlets and culture at large have been captivated by the story. Given the rapid developments of world news and the short attention span of 24-7 news channels, it is all the more surprising that channels like CNN have focused (roughly 90-95%) on this story for roughly three weeks. Meanwhile, discussions regarding Russia and Crimea were mentioned for “just a second” (in the words of one CNN anchor) prior to returning back to Flight 370.
In light of this immense amount of attention, we can draw some observations that teach us about humanity. What follows are several reasons why this story has been so captivating:
- We wonder about the future. Many of us fly, and we worry about our safety. We are partly captivated for selfish reasons — evident by the fact that most of our attention has been on the plane rather than the victims. This is most evident when news anchors use the word “exciting” when describing finding debris and/or wreckage.
- We recognize (yet doubt) the limitations of technology. Part of our fascination results from the disbelief that cell phones, satellites, and radar cannot give us an immediate answer. We find it hard to believe that part of the world is beyond our knowledge.
- We feel loss with fellow human beings. Despite the fact that we probably do not know anyone on board, we sympathize with those who are hurting. Seeing family members wail over their loved ones resonates deep within us.
- We believe that humanity will rise. People want a resolution (e.g., finding debris being called “hope”) to be assured that humanity will overcome our pain and our ignorance. We may have lost 239 lives, but our investigation may save hundreds of lives in the future.