Tag Archives: music

Evensong Selections by Keith & Kristyn Getty Available to Watch, Courtesy of Getty Music & Christianbook.com

In the ancient tradition of Evensong, the church lifts its eyes from a troubled day and turns its heart to face the Lord in worship. The Evensong project by award-winning musicians Keith and Kristyn Getty is an echo of that precious tradition, born from the thoughts and conversations, prayers and songs that fill their home, particularly when the sun goes down. We pray that this special presentation with an exciting selection from the Evensong concert will help you feel the peace of Christ wherever you are.

Click here to access. https://www.revelationmedia.com/evensong/RM13498/

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Top recommendations for churches — and church members — in 2016

When I write about churches I visit, I am really visiting congregations or assemblies of people. They may or may not meet in a dedicated building. For Christians, the biblical term for church is taken from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” When people refer to their churches, often they’re referring to a specific building, but my columns tend to focus on churches as a congregation made up of its members, including leaders — and this column is no exception.

In this year’s top 10 list, I’m offering  recommendations that can strengthen and maintain strong Christian congregations. But they’re not only for church leaders: Individual church members must also take responsibility for their congregations. Leaders alone cannot achieve what their church’s members are not willing to tackle.

Resolve to attend church regularly

Attendance patterns for Alaska churches are some of the lowest in the U.S. Regular church attendance has strong physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

Study the Bible and its origins

Regular, personal Bible study has significant benefit for believers. Don’t depend on what your minister feeds you. I highly recommend studying Bible origins and translations. Several readable scholarly study books might help: Bruce Metzger’s “The Bible in Translation,” Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” and just published, Robert Hutchison’s “Searching for Jesus” will add to your confidence level in scripture.

Measure, discuss and confront loud music at your church

Many smartphone apps provide the ability to measure the loudness of music in your church. Loud music can damage your hearing and your family’s through repeated exposure. In many churches music is played at 100-105 decibels. My highest reading this past year was 117 decibels. A papercovering 43 studies of hearing loss published by McGill Journal of Medicine demonstrates how preventable it is. It’s foolish for churches to promote physical, mental and spiritual health but create hearing damage. Be proactive and communicate with your church leadership. Your church’s sound people and worship team must understand the gravity of this issue.

Be part of the greeting solution

Why support missions halfway around the world and be dismissive of the stranger who is visiting your church? Be friendly. Introduce yourself to strangers and welcome them. You’d do the same in your home, wouldn’t you? Church is your spiritual home. The number-one reason church guests vow to never return to a particular church is that they are made to feel unwelcome. Every church should adopt the 10-foot rule — meaning every member should be encouraged to welcome those within a 10-foot radius.

Learn about and observe the concept of Sabbath

Christians, for the most part, observe a day of worship limited to a few hours on Saturday or Sunday. A quick read of the Bible reveals Sabbath to be a 24-hour cessation of work. Its intent is for a physical, mental and spiritual R&R. Devoting only a few hours to the observance of Sabbath cheats you of the benefits God gave us at creation, and underlined in the 10 commandments. “Sabbath” by Dan Allender, “Mudhouse Sabbath” by Lauren Winner and “Sabbath Keeping” by Lynne Baab are excellent books about the benefits of reserving a day a week to worship, rest and restore.

Support community needs with direct action

Many Christians in our community avoid helping others. Evangelical churches here often ignore helping the poor, sick, needy and downtrodden. Appeals are often made to support world evangelism and missions, but the greatest mission field is here in Alaska. It is hypocritical to think otherwise. Roman Catholic, Orthodox and liturgical churches regularly care for and support community-wide needs. Why this divide exists puzzles me. The Bible says “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Use group study to replace dying Sunday schools

A distinct national trend has developed about Sunday schools — they’re dying. Some churches have replaced them with small groups that meet at various times during the week or sometimes on Sunday. A tendency of many groups is to read and discuss various “flavor-of-the-month” spiritual books rather than to delve into the Bible, digesting it and learning from it. Don’t neglect the Bible for these types of groups. Be courageous and form your own Bible reading and study group instead. Radical church transformations can occur.

Be comfortable inviting someone to worship or study with you

It’s a wonderful thing to sing about the “good news” of Christ, and be effusive over his presence in your life. If this is true, then share it with someone who may not have a connection with Christ or may possibly be unfulfilled in their current church experience. Offer to personally study with them or accompany you to a meaningful service at your place of worship.

Give back financially

Christians believe a key response to the value of the gift they’ve received merits a heart response in giving. Scripture tells us “God loves a cheerful giver.” If you believe your church is spending too much on overhead and not enough on the “good news” of spreading the gospel, get involved. Ask to be included in discussions of church finances.

Pray more, complain less

Prayer is one of the healthiest things you can do. A recent Psychology Today article listed five benefits of prayer. National polling data indicates that more than half of us pray every day, and more than 75 percent believe prayer is important to our daily lives. Prayer is not posture. One can pray anywhere and everywhere. Very few pastors talk about prayer in their sermons. It should be stressed.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Are we really through with religion in Anchorage?

The other night I visited a local church for a music extravaganza where I was taken aback by statements I heard about religion. The onstage announcer said several times they didn’t follow religion, but were driven by Jesus Christ. And all the people said amen, vociferously shouting their approval. I know many of those present came from churches organized around strong religious principles. It started my thinking about what religion really is. Most dictionary definitions of religion are stated along these lines: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” It was interesting that many songs sung that night expressed those same thoughts. Maybe it’s a problem of whipped up enthusiasm for a false idea, or liking to hear the sound of one’s own voice. What do you think?

Many of the faith traditions represented in this interfaith gathering fall under the umbrella of religion and religious traditions. Some of them are extremely strict and unyielding regarding the issues swirling in religion today. Oops, there’s that word again.

In a recent Odyssey Networks article by Jaime Clark-Soles, a New Testament professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, raised similar questions. First, she noticed the ignorance and intolerance of other religions around the world, then suggested readers Google this phrase — “Christians protest mosques.” I was shocked by the flood of news stories about anti-Muslim protests, primarily in the U.S.

Dr. Clark-Soles then posed these questions. “Is it possible to fully embrace my religious tradition, to be able to articulate eloquently what is distinctive and true, and holy and meaningful, and beautiful and life-giving and even genius about it without denigrating or playing off of another one? Does my tradition have to be superior to another in order to be true, holy, meaningful, etc.? Does it have to be the only one that conveys what is true, holy, meaningful, etc.? Do we have to compete, or can we cooperate?”

What I heard the other night was a case for exceptionalism, accompanied by 100-decibel music that left my ears ringing.

I see this dialogue play in our community in other ways, ways that involve dignity, charity and human rights. The latest Pew Research released this week, “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious,” another cut of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, which goes into depth regarding the evolution of religious faith here in the U.S. found people of faith are slightly more accepting of LGBT adherence, but are declining to self-identify with specific religions. The rise of the “nones,” atheists and those not identifying with any specific religion is attributed to the influence of millennials and dying of older generations. However, researchers found “a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape. … Among the roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults who do claim a religion, there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment. Indeed, by some conventional measures, religiously affiliated Americans are, on average, even more devout than they were a few years ago.”

Absolute certain belief in God showed a major drop from 71 percent to 63 percent from 2008 to 2014. The “silent generation” and baby boomers are in the 70th percentile while millennials are only in the 50th percentile in this measure. Part of the millennial position may be due to the narcissistic tag they’ve inherited. A recent Time magazine article expanded this theme. “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health; 58 percent more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982. They’re so convinced of their own greatness that the National Study of Youth and Religion found the guiding morality of 60 percent of millennials in any situation is that they’ll just be able to feel what’s right.”

Contrary to the outburst against religion I described at the beginning of this column, the Pew survey indicates two-thirds of religiously affiliated adults say religion is “very important” in their lives, and one-quarter of them also say religion is “somewhat important” in their lives.

There has also been no decline in religiously affiliated adults who say they pray daily, 65 percent in 2008 and 66 percent in 2014. Attendance at religious services shows little change as well with 2007 weekly attendance at 46 percent and 2014 weekly attendance at 45 percent. Christians as a subset showed 66 percent in 2007 and 68 percent in 2014.

By most measures — importance of religion in their life, frequency of prayer, frequency of religious service attendance, and belief in God or a universal spirit — analysis of the data shows the “nones” are becoming more secular.

Finally, study data clearly shows most Americans see organized religion as a force for good in American society. In fact, 89 percent of adults indicate churches and other religious institutions “bring people together and strengthen community bonds,” while 87 percent say they “play an important role in helping the poor and needy,” and 75 percent say they “protect and strengthen morality in society.”

I believe the outburst against religion was misplaced and ill-timed. We’ve a long way to go in Anchorage before taking such strong stands against religion. One of the purposes of this column is to expose the community to the multifaceted ways belief is expressed in our community. More cooperation and less dissension ensures the strength of our community through the practice of religion.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Faith community giving offers local help during the holidays – 12/13/14

In my last column, I mentioned the outrageous sums people spend to celebrate Christmas by extravagant giving to one another, especially children, as well as alternative fundraising efforts by our faith community. Today’s column features fresh updates and reader comments about giving, plus some brief Advent music thoughts.

Advent Music Miscues

Advent began on Nov. 30 and many churches, including mainlines, began singing Christmas carols, just as the commercial radio stations commenced broadcasting them too. Traditionally, Advent is considered a mini-Lent, a symbolic period of hopeful watching and waiting for Jesus’ birth. Under this tradition, hymnody is restrained and songs such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” and “O Come, Divine Messiah,” are used. Unfortunately, many churches unabashedly burst into carol singing as if Christmas had already arrived, echoing the offensive commercial push that makes Christmas happen from before Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. Part of what makes the Christmas season unique, religiously, is observing a period of looking and longing for the Messiah. To make it an accomplished fact seems to play into the hands of commercialism. Ultimately, by Christmas Eve, many are sick and tired of the sacred and secular Christmas music of the season.

Readers Voice Advent Concerns

One reader comments, “While I have donated years of cash payroll deductions to support charitable organizations, I don’t think it helps our children learn the life lessons of charity. My girls baked cookies, turkeys, vegetables, etc., to take to the shelter. The joy and excitement they felt was real, the handshakes and smiles of homeless patrons was real.”

I recall my parents taking their four children to hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins, and church events to actively participate in sharing the joys of Advent with those in need. Toys were minor considerations. Our real needs and those of others were paramount.

Giving Updates

Last Sunday I attended four events in our faith community, three of which I mentioned in last week’s column.

Baxter Road Bible Church Service

I like this Bible-based church, and its friendly members. Rev. Bob Mather’s message on Sunday dwelt on the key themes of Christmas. As he observed, “It’s all about surrender.” When the offering was taken, Mather noted this was the fourth year all December offerings would be given directly to charity. BRBC confidently believes this year will push them up over $250,000 given over the past four years.

Mitzvah Mall

Attending the Mitzvah Mall was more fun than writing about it. Congregation Beth Sholom opened their synagogue from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday to 24 local nonprofit organizations with primary interests in our area. The few exceptions were Malawi Children’s Village and Helping Hand for Nepal, locally based but outwardly oriented. Nothing was sold. Donations were given, many in the names of others, to fund these organizations. I peeked at some of the checks being written and they were substantial. It was a crazy good time seeing the vibrant energy flowing from this event. Over $15,000 was given to these organizations in those 3 hours. I checked out every nonprofit and discovered some new to me. One great idea I learned was the concept of Tzedakah money. Each week the Jewish youth bring this Tzedakah (charity) money to Religious School where it is pooled. When Mitzvah Mall rolls around, the money is split up and given back to individual youth as Mitzvah Bucks which they spend for those organizations where they believe the money will do the most good. Congregation Beth Sholom transfers the money to those organizations, and is also willing to talk about their Tzedakah program with other faith organizations that might want to start their own youth giving initiatives. What a wonderful energizing way to involve the youth in giving to charity!

First Presbyterian Church Alternative Gift Market

Arriving at First Presbyterian Church Sunday afternoon, just as they were closing, I had an opportunity to observe this new event. Approximately 10 “vendors” were there with holiday gift items. Bean’s Café was there with soups and coffee as was the Downtown Soup Kitchen. The Apparent Project had well-crafted handmade Haitian items for sale. The group’s purpose is to help parents take care of their kids, avoiding relinquishment and abandonment. I’m sure this event will grow next holiday season.

First and Samoan United Methodist Church free community dinner

These two congregations provided a tasty dinner for all called “A Place at the Table.” Served buffet style in the fellowship room of First United Methodist Church, many meals were gladly enjoyed, a great number by homeless and street people. It was a meaningful event for me personally as I met two delightful members with separate personal missions, which you’ll read about later.

Downtown Soup Kitchen connection

As a result of last week’s article, Sherrie Laurie, executive director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen, introduced her organization to me. This remarkable organization provides daily soup meals, showers, and clothing to many underserved residents of Anchorage. For years, ChangePoint and City Church have provided heavy lifting for this great organization, a load now being shared by 27 congregations in our faith community. BP, ConocoPhillips, and the Boy Scouts of America are also huge supporters of Downtown Soup Kitchen, as are hundreds of volunteers. In their beautiful new facility, they feed 350-500 people daily, provide showers for 400 people per month, do more than 300 loads of laundry, and distribute more than 700 pieces of clothing. All of this is supported by more than 1,800 monthly volunteer hours. Currently they’re distributing about 350 backpacks, purchased for $20 by individual donors who then fill them appropriately with supplies for men or women. For a truly worthy cause, I suggest putting Downtown Soup Kitchen on your giving list.

Personally, I’m cheered by this faith community outpouring for those in need. Clearly, I’ve not covered all local projects and fundraising but I’m rewarded to mention these and have a personal opportunity to be a part of giving to these worthy organizations. Keep those stories coming in directly to churchvisits@gmail.com so they can be included in future columns.

 

Guest Post: Why Theology Matters to Musicians

Readers of Church Visits blog know I comment often about music as entertainment, loud music, and music that is theologically unsound. Pastors should know better than surrender their pulpits for lengthy times, often longer than the sermon, to worship leaders who have scant knowledge of the theological suitability or unsuitability of the lyrics and music they are presenting.

I recently came across a wonderful blog post written by well-known musician Bob Kauflin, a composer, and arranger of music that is theologically sound. Used with his permission, the post below was written by Bob Kauflin and taken from Worship Matters.

Why Theology Matters to Musicians
When Christian musicians get together, we tend to assume we all have our theology down and we can focus on honing our chops, discovering new gear, and improving our techniques and methodologies. Or maybe we think that theology isn’t that important. Whatever the reason, I wanted to make clear that even at the Christian Musician Summit, theology matters.

Theology is literally the “study of God,” particularly as he has revealed himself in Scripture. It includes not only studying the Bible, but understanding how the different parts of the Bible fit together. Christian musicians need to know theology. But before I explain why, here are four potential objections people might have.[img_assist|nid=163445|title=Objections|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=326|height=490]

1. People just argue about theology.
Yes. Partly because we’re sinful. But mostly because there are some truths that are worth defending and fighting for. Even dying for.

2. Theology just makes life complicated.
It depends on what you mean by complicated. If you think that knowing how to play your instrument makes it complicated, then yes, theology makes life complicated. Theology doesn’t make life complicated. It actually makes life simpler. It protects us from reading verses out of context or reading only our favorite passages. Theology tells us what words like glory, gospel, salvation, and love mean. Theology helps us understand what we’re actually doing every Sunday. What complicates life is not theology but ignorance of theology.

3. Studying theology makes people proud.
It shouldn’t. The better we know God, the humbler we should be. The more we should realize that what we know will always be dwarfed by what we don’t know.

4. We’ll never know it all anyway.
Just because we can’t know everything about God, doesn’t mean we can’t know some things truly. God has revealed himself to us in his word and given us his Spirit so that we can know him.[img_assist|nid=163444|title=Three Reasons|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=197]

Here are three reasons why theology should matter to Christian musicians.

1. You’re already a theologian.
Every Christian, musical or otherwise, is already a theologian. The question is, are you a good theologian or a bad one? We’re good theologians if what we say and think about God lines up with what Scripture says and affirms. We’re bad theologians if our view of God is vague, or if we think God doesn’t really mind sin, or is we see Jesus as a good example and not a Savior, or if we our god is too small to overcome evil or too big to care about us.

2. God reveals himself primarily through words, not music.
Because we’ve encountered God profoundly during times of musical worship, we can wrongly start assuming that words restrict the Spirit, while music enables us to experience God in fresh and powerful ways. If God had wanted us to know him primarily through music, the Bible would be a soundtrack, not a book. Music affects and helps us in many ways, but it doesn’t replace truth about God. By itself, music can never help us understand the meaning of God’s self-existence, the nature of the Incarnation, or Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Simply put, truth outlasts tunes.

3. Being good theologians makes us better musicians.
Theology teaches us what music is meant to do.
Theology teaches us that worship is more than music.
Theology teaches us that Jesus is better than music.