Good Week on Long Island

Long Island City
Image by jlwelsh via Flickr

I had the privilege of being on Long Island this past week, participating in preaching and teaching at Trinity Lutheran, then participating and reporting at the East Region convention. Good weather, good friends, and informative.

On Saturday I taught at Trinity Lutheran focusing on two texts. First, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NAS)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.

So we comfort others with the same comfort which we have received from God. This opens our eyes to ministry that we may have overlooked. We examined the implications of such a changed perspective, relative to reaching out to those not in our midst. Good discussion.

Second, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:2 (NAS):

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

He notes four-generation reproduction, whether pastors specifically or disciples in a more general way. That is, our life as Christians is not “me alone,” even though our environment may scream that it is. Thus, as we grow through receiving the Word and Sacrament, we see who God has placed in our lives so that we can disciple them. In fact, it means discipling in such a way that the person will after some time (1-2 years) begin discipling someone else.

On Sunday I preached on 1 Peter 2:2-10. What is our identity in Christ? As receivers of God’s mercy, we then also are called “new born children” who crave milk (the Word) so that we grow. We also are living stones “being built together.” I noted that stones never get to choose where they belong in the building, but when placed by the master mason, the stone is fitted exactly where needed. And finally we proclaim what God has done and is doing, “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

In the coffee and donuts (well, bagels!) time afterward, there was even an opportunity for me to put into practice what I had taught on Saturday. God’s timing is always surprising and amazing.

The Region convention was small in attendance, but good fellowship. Pastor Frank Hays, our Presiding Pastor, preached a solid and memorable sermon on “giants and grasshoppers,” based on Numbers 13. We had the privilege of hearing Rev.Dr. David Benke (President, Atlantic District, LCMS), Rev. Dr. Johnson Rethinasamy (ethnic ministries, LI, LCMS), and Chaplain Stephen Unger (Stonybrook, LI and NYC Police and FBI Chaplain). Thanks to everyone for their presence, speaking, and encouragement.

Is there a gap in Christian music — In practice?

Availability of songs does not mean that they are used in worship. Part 1 focused on the availability of songs and hymns. I think this is where worship leaders and pastors miss an opportunity to minister in a specific way to people. Do our song and hymn choices provide the fullness of musical expression, whether contemporary or traditional). That is, while our liturgical format brings along the congregation where everyone may be, the songs/hymns also have to explore the fullness of the congregational experience (i.e. the Psalms experiences).


This has implications for traditional and contemporary expressions, maybe in different ways or choices. For traditional songs, sometimes the lament comes through a combination of words and music, often in minor key. Consider this one, while not in a minor key, still brings forth the true hope in the midst of trial. Written by Paul Gerhardt, here is the first verse:

Commit thou all thy griefs
And ways into His hands,
To His sure truth and tender care,
Who heaven and earth commands.

“Lauxmann calls [this] ‘the most comforting of all the hymns that have resounded on Paulus Gerhardt’s golden lyre, sweeter to many souls than honey and the honey-comb.’ It soon spread over Germany. It was sung in 1743, when the foundation-stones were laid of the first Lutheran church in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], and again at the open ing service.”

In the realm of a perceived gap in use of contemporary music lamentis frequently the target. A friend (thanks, Kathy) shared this link with me to show that such music is indeed available. “Blessing” by Laura Story:

Laura Story, “Blessing”

See her background on this song:

Is this usable for a service? Yes, indeed. Is this the only appropriate song or explanation for lament? No, but it does present another side of the Christian life that needs attention in both traditional and contemporary music — in practice. How many of us are there?


For the traditional music choices, sometimes the joy theme is limited to a particular style. Yet, even here the choices are available; are we using them? Consider the options for “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” written in the 6th century. Verse 1:

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.

Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest

Now listen to three possible melodies:

Note that each has a unique place within hymnody and can be used appropriately.

For contemporary music, while there is much available on joy, I think some selectivity is necessary. Just because a song expresses joy, does not ensure that it is a doctrinally appropriate (this goes for contemporary and traditional selections). One example is “Center of My Heart” ( In some ways this is an acceptable song, but notice who the primary pronouns refer to (“I, me”). And there is a problem with Law and Gospel distinctions relative to the Christian life.

Now to take another example, look at (and listen to) “King of Israel.”
(scroll down to see words and play music)

It expresses joy with a contemporary sound and contemporary lyrics. This song can fit within a Lutheran context easily.


This is by no means complete (nor intended to be). Rather, I hope that it gives us pause as we consider not only the availability of appropriate songs/hymns but also with discernment, using as wider a spectrum of music as possible.

And here is one delightful Orthodox Easter song that combines new and old.

There is one other factor for another post: sing-ability of song choices.

Hermeneutics tonight

Looking at the key theme: The Christocentricity of the Scriptures: The Kingdom of God and Biblical Eschatology as Key.

That means that we interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. Thus, when Christ comes the first time he is the in-principle fulfillment of the Old Testament (breaking in from the future).

Christ Fulfills all the Old Testament in-principleThe attached file shows this (see James Voelz, What Does This Mean?, p. 251).

Even more it means that we understanding everything backward from its final eschatological fulfillment.

Interpreting from the Future

1 Peter 2:2-10

Identity of a People

In light of yesterday’s non-event, many people are looking for another way to minimize or discount the Christian faith. Peter understood that was a similar circumstance in which the first century Christians lived. What does it mean to be the people of God?

Humble (“you were not a people”)

Babes who needed to grow in their faith and trust in God

Stones, which God is building up

God’s own special possession

Proclaimers of God’s wondrous acts of deliverance

Peter points them to the foundation of their faith, hope, and future, namely Jesus Christ who is the cornerstone. He, too, was rejected, despised, and abandoned, but he overcame all that stood between God and humans: sin, death, and the devil. He did it for us. And we are now the people of God. Not a bad identity!

Rough start to a trip

I fly to NYC tomorrow, week of preaching, teaching, meeting, etc. I enjoy these trips. But yesterday as I came in from mowing the lawn, I stood up too fast in the garage and cut the top of my head. The pain was instantaneous (as usual), but this time it was more.

The swelling started and my entire head has hurt for two days. Even now just to lay a cool clothe on it hurts. In my seventh decade, this is the worst I have hurt my head. Does this mean I am reverting to childhood, again, early???

This could be an interesting trip. I just hope it doesn’t cause me any more trouble.

Is there a Gap in Christian Music? (Part 1)

Notice that I have rephrased the question from last week. Thanks to my friend, Dustin, I stepped back to the point where I wanted to be with this inquiry; that is, I wanted to assess the status of Christian music in churches, not just contemporary music. The previous question could be misunderstood and biased toward one position.

So it is either ask two questions or rephrase the original. Is there a gap in contemporary Christian music? This is relative to whether contemporary music can express lament and sorrow as part of the full range of Christian faith and experience. The corresponding question also needs to be asked: Is there a gap in traditional music? This is relative to whether traditional hymnody can express the joyousness of the Christian faith.

So we can look at the question from two perspectives: availability and use. Note that I will mention songs/hymns by title because some people may be unfamiliar with them. While some might want to question my choices, keep in mind that these are for illustrative purposes only.

1. Is there a gap in Christian music — availability?

By this question the focus is on the fact of music actually available. Yes, there are contemporary Christian writers who have provided solid lyrics and music to cover the gamut of Christian experience. As Dustin noted,

Lament has been a part of CCM for nearly 20 years, from Twila Paris, to Chris Tomlin, to Casting Crowns to John Michael Talbot and Michael Card. Each has had multiple albus with lament as a major key. Card has three and two books — one of them A Sacred Sorrow is mandatory reading in both my pastoral care and my worship classes. Even Michael W Smith has addressed it — very publicly. Even some of Keith Green and Larry Norman’s songs in the 70’s and 80’s were lament.

So, we find the rendition of Psalm 51, “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” and Psalm 119, “Thy Word.”

Paul Gerhardt, 17th century hymn writer

For traditional music, one of the hallmarks is its wealth of songs/hymns expressing the lament. “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153, and Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676) comes to mind, as does“Lord Jesus, Think of Me” (Synesius of Cyrene, c. 370-414).

What strikes me in the above paragraphs is that the Church throughout the ages has benefited by those who could express such sorrow, yet hope in the midst of disaster. It is not a traditional or contemporary issue, it is a Christian issue because it is the Christian faith experienced in the lives of those confessing the faith.

The corresponding question is whether there are gaps in expressing the joy of the faith. For contemporary music, this seems to be the major emphasis. Some great songs of joy have been written the past 30 years; consider: “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise” (Heb. 13:15) “Blow the Trumpet in Zion,” etc. Obviously some of the great hymns do exactly that as well: “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” (Latin carol from 14th century, and one stanza by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788) and “Now Thank We All Our God.”

One positive development is the merging of the two groups, lyrics from a traditional hymn have been put to different melodies with contemporary focus and instruments. Likewise, traditional hymns have been the basis for new lyrics. Another area not mentioned is the Messianic music that combines traditional and contemporary elements in a unique blend.

Norte Fijo is a contemporary Christian music group formed by a group of Puerto Ricans

So, we find that there are indeed a wide variety of songs and styles for both contemporary and traditional worship. The second question addresses the more practical issue. Do churches, pastors, worship leaders actually provide that range of musical expressions?

The Gap in Contemporary Christian Music

I have been wanting to post on this topic for a long time. Interestingly, Joy addressed this in a recent post . While I am traveling I cannot post my full thoughts, but her post gives us pause to consider what the real gap is in contemporary Christian music. Stay tuned.

Just for clarification, what Joy writes about is her experience of the choices of contemporary Christian worship, not whether there are appropriate songs (like laments) within the realm of contemporary Christian music. That will be part of my next post. To look at the gap in terms of music (is there a gap?) and in terms of experience (why the gap?)