Delta Spirit’s About to Do Something Cool… I just know it!

Delta Spirit,

one of my favorite rock bands,

is releasing their 4th album, Into The Wide, on 9-9-14, and I can’t wait! They’re giving 1 song away on Noisetrade right now, plus their debut EP, which is always a go-to at our house for lawn-mowing, spring cleaning, and workout soundtracks.  Check it out!

Rain For Roots Does It Again!

By “does it again,” I of course mean “help shape our children’s minds while simultaneously blowing ours.”

Tonight after EV, our 2 1/2 year old, practiced her catechism questions, we sang two of her favorite songs for approximately the bazillionth and bazillionth-and-a-half time, respectively, and then I came and sat down at the computer with Graham (our 7 month old) and started listening to “Open Our Eyes” while typing with Graham in my lap, and let’s just put his initial thoughts on the album this way:

Before the song started, he was crying.  When the music began, he stopped crying–instantly.  Now that Flo Paris is telling us about the wise and foolish builders, he’s nearly got his sock pulled off, and he’s doing his version of singing and bobbing his enormous head–it’s, needless to say, an utter joy to experience.

Since “Big Stories for Little Ones,” my wife and I have been hoping we’d hear more from Rain for Roots for our little ones, because, as I said of that first album, kids’ music that’s enjoyable for parents, too, is just so hard to come by.  The Kingdom of Heaven is Like This certainly lives up to expectations for listenability.  True story: I’ve already listened to it on my way to work, and will again tomorrow!

If you’re anything like me, then the content of the songs we teach our kids matters a lot, too–even more than the music.  This album is all about Jesus’ parables on the Kingdom of Heaven, and I can’t wait until EV starts singing these songs and letting their eternal truth sink into her little mind and heart.

Last thing: the digital album download includes simple chord charts and lyrics for each song; so YAHTZEE! Even if you don’t play music for a living, just a basic knowledge of how to play a guitar will have you leading your kids in terrific songs about the Kingdom of Heaven in no time!  Here’s where you ought to go right now to pick it up: rainforroots.bandcamp.com

Free Music!

Hey there! Thanks for visiting wesshelnutt.com!

As a consolation for finding my site with nothing new on it in a whole year, you can have my band’s EP for free!  Check it out over at http://www.passingshadowsband.com

Happy listening,

w

Christ & Communication

Redeeming Eloquence for the Glory of God

You can stream or download the audio version of this sermon, presented to Christ Family Church on 5.27.12, by clicking here.

Eloquence: a style of speaking or writing that is intrinsically pleasing. Eloquence seeks a powerful verbal impact through an artistic, surprising, provocative, or aesthetically pleasing application of language.

There are right & wrong ways to use eloquence.

Wrong ways:

  1. Anti-oratory
  2. Over-eloquence

Right ways:

  1. Self-humiliation
  2. Christ-exaltation

Before we can speak about eloquence, we must discuss the building-blocks of eloquence: words…
The Gospel as it relates to words: (Special thanks to Justin Taylor and Tim Keller for these points)

    1. God has holy standards for how we are to speak & listen to words
      1. (Matthew 12:36-37) “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
      2. (Ephesians 4:29) “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
    2. Outside the completion of our sanctification, we won’t fully live up to God’s holy standard regarding the use of words.
      1. (James 3:8) “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
    3. Jesus fulfilled what humanity failed to do: His words were perfect words, without sin.  By His substitutionary death, His words became ours, & the punishment for our words  (indeed, for all of our failings) became His.
      1. (Hebrews 4:15) Jesus is our great High Priest, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
      2. (2 Corinthians 5:21) “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
    4. Our day-by-day failure to use our words properly comes from a functional rejection of Christ, the Word.
      1. If we accept that God has given us words for His purpose, then when we reject the purpose of words through the way we use them, it proves that we have rejected the giver of the words, as well.
        1. If Nathan gave me a mint-condition, 1965 Gibson J-45, & I turned it into a wall-clock, it would not only prove that I didn’t care much for the gift, but that I didn’t have any regard to the purpose of the giver.  The same is certainly true of the way we use words.

Language/words are God’s.  He used them 1st, He has a specific purpose for words (which is not primarily to make our lives more convenient), and we are always borrowing from Him when we use words. So, if we find that we habitually misuse His gift of language, we can know something about ourselves.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45)

So, when our words get us into trouble, it’s only ever secondarily because of our minds–whether that be our poor vocabulary, inferior diction, or total disregard for proper grammar–the trouble in communication is primarily a concern of the heart.  Our words get us into trouble because our hearts crave anything but Jesus!

“I am my greatest communication problem.  The greatest difficulty, the greatest danger, and the everyday traps of communication that we all fall into exist inside of me, not outside of me.” – Paul David Tripp

Our words are tools, and those tools always serve the king of their kingdom.

    1. If I am that king, then it’s a pretty small kingdom–as small as my own mundane life.  And those words will die with the kingdom.
    2. If God is the King, the words serve an eternal kingdom and fulfill the purpose for which God’s grace of words to us was given.

“You know nothing about the kingdom of God unless you understand that it is a kingdom of love. When you are filled with the glory of that love, when your heart is taken up by the mystery of that love, when what daily fills your heart is deep and worshipful gratitude for the miracle of divine love, then your words begin to be words of love, words of service, words of grace, words of encouragement, words of peace, and words that heal.” – Paul David Tripp

So, if we find our words serving us, and not Christ, hurting others, and not helping, tearing down instead of building up, or propelled by anything other than love, then we can be assured, we need Jesus to repair, not our tongues, but our hearts!

If that’s you, then pray to Him now, where you are, “I am Yours, Lord! Save me!”  There is no greater joy than to be His–redeemed by His blood and secure forever! Do not let such an opportunity pass you by, because we are not guaranteed another moment.

Confess your sins to God, turn from them, and believe that Christ has been crucified on your behalf–substituting the righteous for the unrighteous–and He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, interceding on behalf of His children.

Make no mistake, one word meant for the harm of another person, one word meant to bring attention to you, rather than to Jesus, is an offense against an eternal God, and is therefore deserving of eternal punishment–do not delay in turning from the disastrous course of rebellion and to the delightful path of His grace!

Words are a matter of the heart.

As a reminder, Eloquence is a style of speaking or writing that is intrinsically pleasing. Eloquence seeks a powerful verbal impact through an artistic, surprising, provocative, or aesthetically pleasing application of language.

Let’s look at our text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-31

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Pay special attention to verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Sin is, by nature, anti-social.  It works itself out through our use of eloquence by alienating our hearers from our message in primarily 2 ways:

1.  Anti-oratory

  1. Eloquence can either be, as John Piper said, “high eloquence” or “low eloquence.” Our words can be either distractingly over people’s heads, or distractingly dressed-down, messy, or profane.

(Ephesians 4:29) “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

    1. Anti-oratory is an application of these types of words or word styles which is aimed at harming either the message or the hearer (or, in many cases, the reader).
    2. While dulling the clarity of the idea conveyed, either by intentional misuse of language or by habitual neglect of one of God’s greatest physical gifts–our brains, anti-oratory portrays the speaker as crude and careless, and the scope of this way of communicating spans from grammar to vocabulary all the way to posture. Being in the deep south, I’m guessing that I won’t have to belabor this point, because I’m sure most of us have heard our mother’s say, “watch your mouth!” and we know exactly what I’m talking about when I say “distractingly dressed-down, messy, profane–anti-oratory use of language!”
    3. But, because a lot of you are probably, in your minds, replaying worn out recordings of southern preachers rattling off a list of sins that include “drinkin’, smokin’, cussin’, and hanging out with people who do…” Let me take a moment to say something:
      1. All language is necessarily socially-defined.  That is to say, words are culturally-generated symbols that convey ideas, and, just like different cultures use different words to describe the same ideas, different cultures also use the same words to describe different ideas.
      2. Profanity is a great example: I work with a lot with International Students, and, let me tell you, if I wasn’t aware of the cultural fluidity of the meaning of words, I could have gotten my feathers ruffled more than a time or two!
        1. They regularly use words in their homes, with and to their parents, that, had I pronounced when I was a kid, I would have spent 4 hours with a bar of soap in my mouth, and I would have been standing up, because my back side would have been waaaay too sore to sit on! But they can use that language, because in their cultures, the words convey different meanings and emotions.
        2. Just because a person speaks “English,” that doesn’t mean that their words mean the same thing as yours or mine, and vice versa!  There’s no such thing as a universally-defined cuss-word.  There’s a grey area in our speech that permits us to use the words that best communicate our ideas to our intended audience.
        3. Now, a word of caution: while some words that are considered “bad words” are really just generally impolite, there are some words which, in our culture, are intended only to hurt, and not to build up–condemning, judgmental, ungodly words, as well as graphically sexual words that bring to mind terrible ideas.  There’s no place for words like that in a Christian dialogue.
        4. But don’t miss the point! The biblical principle of Ephesians 4:29 is that wholesome communication must not be reduced to a certain set of words. The biblical standard is the intention of the heart.
        5. Furthermore, our calling, as Christians, goes way beyond what is culturally acceptable, and love always willingly sacrifices our own rights (including the right to a vocabulary) in order that we might give grace to others.
        6. So if you can use a word, any word, in a way that gives grace to your audience, then do it.  If not, don’t.

2.  Over-eloquence

  1. There is a great temptation among those who can speak well to use this gift in such a way as to elevate themselves.

This was the case of a certain group whom Paul was addressing in our text: 1 Cor. 1. (The Sophists)

The Sophists used eloquence and style of speaking as a goal in itself–as an intrinsic end.

Denis Donoghue wrote a book called “On Eloquence,” and he defined eloquence much the way the Sophists would have:   “Eloquence is a style of speaking or writing that is intrinsically pleasing without any reference to other aims.”

    1. We’ve already charged that Christians’ speech is to be propelled by love of God and love of others.  Since love was defined for us in the act of the crucifixion of Jesus, we know that our use of words will always be a misuse if it does not come from a desire to see God magnified and others served–regardless of merit or potential reciprocation of our love.
      1. 2 Corinthians 5:15 ~ Sin causes us to live for ourselves instead of others, but Christ died to free us from living for ourselves!
    2. The Corinthians had bought into the Sophists’ idea that eloquence was an end in itself, and they were aligning themselves within the Church with their favorite preachers!

(1 Corinthians 1:10-12) “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

Paul’s opponents had mocked him as lacking eloquence (2 Corinthians 10:10)

Acts 18:24 tells us that Apollos was very eloquent in speech & that he was from Alexandria, which is where Philo had worked.  Philo was a tremendous front-runner of the Sophist movement, and there was, history tells us, a strong infiltration of Sophists in the education-system of Alexandria.  Apollos, no doubt, spoke like a Sophist!  He was slick-tongued, and very enjoyable to listen to.

That doesn’t mean he was a false-teacher, just that he was a clever wordsmith, and people were gravitating to him based on the way he spoke, rather than judging him primarily on the content of his speech.

They were doing the same thing to Paul, and to Cephas.  Paul rebuked them for caring more about the way that the gospel was presented than the gospel itself!

  1. The trap the Sophists had fallen into was that they were seeking their own glory as their chief end.  Their message wasn’t “Emmanuel, God is with us;” their message was “ME!” and not me with you, but me over you–better than you, smarter than you, and unreachable by you!

“Pride-sustaining, self-exalting use of words for a show of human wisdom is incompatible with finding your life and your glory in the cross of Christ.” – John Piper

Paul didn’t try to dress up the gospel to make it easier to understand or easier to swallow.  He spoke plainly about Christ crucified, and expected the Holy Spirit to do the work of conviction, regeneration, and sanctification.  He fully understood that his words were only a conduit of God’s grace, and that there was no point in him to try to persuade or trick people into believing.

The snare of over-eloquence has its roots in the same sin–the sin of pride and of self-worship–as ethnocentrism, the common human problem of refusing to empathize and assuming that my way is the best way, my culture is the best culture, everybody else should just learn to be like me, and they’ll be better. It’s the sin that led to the holocaust; it led to America’s abhorrent brand of slavery, and it leads to modern-day racism and hate-crimes every day!

I struggle so much with this sin, and I HATE IT! and this study has made me even more aware of my problem, even this week, even in writing these very words!

It’s one of the most pervasive of sins for me and for us, because it has infected us so subtly and deeply–into the very fiber of our identity!  We actually believe that we’re better than others at this or that, and so we act and speak so as to try to persuade others to believe it, too!

It is the darkest of demonic lies, and if we’re to give grace with our words, we have to cut the head off of this serpent living in our hearts!  *Remember that communication problems are heart problems.*

I HATE the number of times I had to plead for forgiveness and grace in writing this very sermon because I chose words that were “the best words to describe the idea,” rather than the best words for you to understand the idea!

The sin of self-worship worked out in over-eloquence had us teach English to whole tribes of native Americans, give them “Christian names,” and rob them of their cultural identity in the name of evangelizing the people-group, rather than “becoming all things to all people,” learning their culture and their language, and preaching the gospel to them in their words!

It is just as stupid to try to convert lost Russians by preaching to them in English as it is for me to insist that all of our online dialogue be qualified by the utmost care for the preservation of classical grammar-rules!

So what if it’s the official rule of the English language!  If people don’t understand my eloquence, then I may as well be speaking to them in Klingon!  Their ignorance of the gospel is an infinitely greater hazard than their ignorance of how to use a Thesaurus!

In north Georgia, this means that most of us need to familiarize ourselves with Spanish; so that we can speak words of grace to our neighbors, rather than allow our laziness to all but ensure their eternal damnation.

It means that some of you who have gifted minds for understanding language should take courses to become experts in speaking exotic languages that don’t yet have a translation of the Bible, in order that God’s lost sheep in other parts of the world might hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in words that resonate with them and be saved!

It means that others of us learn to use the language of our day, the way people best comprehend it, and in the method they best connect with, in order to cross the cultural barriers of age and technology and inject truth, love, and grace into their lives.

Did you know that Ruth Cantrell has an email address?  The oldest woman in our congregation is an email-fiend!  If she can use the internet to encourage the members of this congregation, then you can learn to use Facebook for the glory of God, and not just to build imaginary kingdoms, or gather and disseminate the latest gossip!

I’m willing to admit that I’m not the best example of what redeeming the internet looks like–not by any stretch!  I have put my digital foot in my proverbial mouth countless times after tweeting or blogging something, however truthful the words, that was harmful to my brothers or my sisters, but I’m trying to do better–I’m trying to use the tools of our day to communicate words of grace to people in their language and by their cultural means, and you should too.

A refusal to meet people where they are is absolute selfishness; it’s the opposite of love, it’s blatant sinfulness, and it is not at all following the model of Christ.

Right Ways to Judge Our Use of Eloquence:

1.  Self-humiliation

(1 Corinthians 1:26-29) “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

God’s design in the cross and in election is that “no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Ask yourself:
Do my words feed boasting?
Do they come from an ego in search of exaltation through clever speech?

2.  Christ-exaltation

(1 Corinthians 1:30-31) “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

God’s design in the cross, in election, and in regeneration is that all boasting be in Him!

Ask yourself:
Do my words exalt Christ, especially Him crucified on my behalf?

So, can we use eloquence in a way that glorifies God or should it just be altogether avoided? Yes–certainly we can!

The Bible is full of eloquence!

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak,
and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teaching drop as the rain,
my speech distill as the dew,
like gentle rain upon the tender grass,
and like showers upon the herb.
For I will proclaim the name of the LORD;
ascribe greatness to our God!
(Deuteronomy 32:1-3)

Proverbs 15:23, 25:11, 26:7, & Colossians 3:17 actually encourage & command us to speak well–to give thought to the timing, appropriateness, and potential impact of our words–and to make every one of them an honor to the name of Christ!

We must accept, if we are to be true to Scripture, that God is absolutely sovereign over all things, and yet, He chooses to use human means to accomplish His will.  He certainly doesn’t need our eloquence, but He can and does use us to accomplish His ends.

If we use eloquence properly, we can hope, at least, for 5 positive, God-glorifying outcomes, knowing full-well that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts, regenerates, and sanctifies, and that He may, at any time, and in spite of our eloquence, or lack thereof, intersect our dialogue and work in the life of our audience.

5 Potential Positive Outcomes of Christian Eloquence:

(I stole these from John Piper, and since I already know I won’t have time to fully develop them as part of the sermon, I’ll let you do most of the digestion.  That’s why most of these points are raw quotations from his & Justin Taylor’s book “The Power of Words and the Wonder of God” which I heartily commend).

  1. Keeping Interest
  2. Gaining Sympathy
  3. Awakening Sensitivity
  4. Speaking Memorably
  5. Increasing Power

Keeping Interest:

Matthew 26:41

    1. We need to help people’s physical weakness!
      If the Word is a spring of life, then eloquence is a well-paved, beautifully-adorned road through the spring’s garden that not only leads to the water, but beckons travelers to drink!
    2. My presentation of truth has no bearing on the reality of that truth, but whether you hear it is, in very large part, a factor of how well I present it.

John Piper – “Artistic, surprising, provocative, or aesthetically pleasing language choices (that is, eloquence) may keep people awake and focused because they find it interesting or unusual or pleasing for reasons they cannot articulate. When the disciples fell asleep in Gethsemane, Jesus said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). We need to help people’s weaknesses.

This is not conversion or even conviction or sanctification, but it is a serious means to those ends. Sleeping people or distracted people do not hear the Word, and faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word. Therefore, eloquence is like a good night’s sleep. It won’t save your soul, but it might keep you awake to hear the Word, which can save your soul. So a person’s style may keep you interested and awake to the same end.”

Gaining Sympathy

  1. If everyone, as John Acuff says, “has a rock in their hand,” made of all their cultural and experiential baggage–a rock they intend to clobber you with the moment you begin to act like they expect you to act, as a factor of whatever stereotype that rock represents, then eloquent language can take that rock out of their hand–disarm them–and it has the ability to replace that rock, or boredom, anger, resentment, and suspicion, with respect, attraction, interest, and concentration.

John Piper – “Artistic, surprising, provocative, or aesthetically pleasing language may bring an adversarial mind into greater sympathy with the speaker. If the language is interesting and fresh enough, obstacles may be overcome—boredom, anger, resentment, suspicion—and replaced with respect and attraction and interest and concentration. These are not conversion or conviction or sanctification, but they don’t drive a person farther away like boredom does. They may in fact draw a person so close to the light that Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

For example, [consider]… George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin for a moment. Whitefield’s eloquence overwhelmed Franklin. He did not think Whitefield was a sham. He admired him. He became one of Whitefield’s closest friends. Whitefield biographer Harry Stout says, “Franklin allowed himself to be drawn out on the subject of personal religiosity with Whitefield as with no one else, finding in Whitefield a listener he could trust—if not agree with.” Therefore, Whitefield could speak to Franklin about Christ as no one else could. He explained to Franklin with a smile: “I must have something of Christ in all my letters.” Who knows how close Whitefield came to winning Franklin to the faith—and all this because Whitefield’s eloquence overcame Franklin’s disdain for the Revival.”

Awakening Sensitivity

Eloquence may not bring about regeneration, but as a means to that end, it may awaken the emotional and intellectual sensitivities for more serious and beautiful things.

John Piper – “Fresh, surprising, provocative, aesthetically pleasing speech may have an awakening effect on a person’s mind and heart that is short of regeneration but still important as an awakening of emotional and intellectual sensitivity for more serious and beautiful things. If a poetic turn of phrase can cause people to notice the magnificence of the sun, their next step might be to see that the heavens are telling the glory of God (Ps. 19:1), and then they might confess Christ as the great sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2).

Is that not why David, the great poet of Israel, first says, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1), and then says, “In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” (Ps.19:4–5)? Why compare the rising sun to a bridegroom and a runner? To help the dull mind awaken to the joyful beauty of the rising sun in the hopes that this natural kind of awakening might lead to the spiritual sight that nature is all about the glory of God.”

Speaking Memorably

John Piper – “Certain kinds of eloquence—cadence, parallelism, meter, rhyme, assonance, consonance [& alliteration & brevity]—may not only interest and awaken the heart but increase that impact by making what is said memorable, that is, more easy to remember or memorize.”

Increasing Power

  1. John Piper – “The attempt to craft striking and beautiful language makes it possible that the beauty of eloquence can join with the beauty of truth and increase the power of your words. When we take care to create a beautiful way of speaking or writing about something beautiful, the eloquence—the beauty of the form—reflects and honors the beauty of the subject and so honors the truth.”
  2. There is a synergistic power in combining beautiful presentation with beautiful truth.

(That’s why fajitas taste so good!)

All of our senses are telling us, “This food is going to be good!”  We hear it, smell it, it’s bright and exciting to look at, when it gets to the table, the waiter drops a shot of tequila on it and lights it on fire! (What’s more exciting than your food being on fire?!)  We’ve become so engrossed in the experience of being served the food, that we are able to most fully appreciate its flavor because our attention has already been drawn to the excellence of the cuisine before we taste it.

People who cannot yet see the beauty of Christ should receive in our language both a witness to His beauty and an invitation to behold it with us.  They should, in effect, hear us say, “The beauty of my words is [a] shadow. Christ, who created and sustains and mercifully accepts imperfect beauty, is the substance. Turn to him. Go to him.” (Piper)

And that is the calling for each of us as we fix our attention, once again, on Christ, crucified on our behalf, becoming sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Turn to Him. Go to Him!

Good Music for Kids, Seriously.

Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones.

Do I like this album?  Double exclamation point–YES!!  (Get it, along with all the chord chars here.)

From now on, “Rain for Roots” will be my first response when people ask me what we listen to with our daughter–a mighty big claim, since my old answer to that question was Matthew Perryman Jones, Wilco, Derek Trucks, Sufjan Stevens, Radiohead… I hope you get my drift. My 9 month old, E.V., already has a very refined palate for music, and we want to keep it that way; so the quality of the music Liz and I serve up for her really matters to us. [I dropped a picture of her at the bottom of this review because she’s just so stinkin’ cute.] We want her to grow up with an appreciation for truly appreciable art–discerning ears, eyes, mind, and heart. We also, even more than that, want to inundate her, saturate her, and envelope her with truth, that she might abide in it. Herein lies the problem, or so we thought: music is, we think, probably the best way to teach children anything mysterious or complex, but 99% of the music we’ve found that’s produced for people who can’t read yet also sounds like music written by people who can’t read. That’s a major problem. Or, it was before Rain for Roots.

Now, we can add an album to our “good kids’ music” playlist so that Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame’s Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies won’t be so lonely in there–we can throw out all that other music whose style and sound, I’m convinced, is actually what makes mom’s go crazy, and give a hearty “welcome aboard” to the ever-so-talented ladies who have produced Big Stories for Little Ones as we invite them to join us in our living rooms, nurseries, and car rides. Since downloading it earlier this morning, I’ve already listened to the album 6 times in my office, and I love it! I’m so excited about sharing it with Liz and E.V. this evening!

This is the epitome of God-honoring, Christ-exalting art.

Let’s talk about content.

The songs are adaptations of poems from Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Hug-A-Bible. Just like The Jesus Storybook Bible, Hug-A-Bible keeps Christ as the central figure of the Biblical Narrative. We get to follow God’s work from creation, to The Flood, to the stories of Moses, David, and Daniel, to, finally, Jesus’s birth, life, love, death, and resurrection! It’s a brilliant way to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and His might, and the wonders that He has done.” (Psalm 78:4)

Now to composition.

The music of Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones was written by Sandra McCracken, Ellie Holcomb, Flo Paris, and Katy Bowser. These were some of my favorite songwriters before Rain for Roots came to town, and the synergy produced by their collaboration shows the strength of their talents in full force. Andi Ashworth of Art House America said it best of the album, “This is music of the highest quality–lyrics that beautifully tell the stories of the truest truths of the universe and wonderfully strong, memorable, gorgeously sung and produced melodies.  I am a huge fan of the Rain For Roots women and grateful for their collaboration in creating this excellent, artful, tender, and joy-filled music.”

You simply will not find a better children’s album, and, I imagine, that’s the way things will stay until Rain for Roots releases another one.

 

Thanks for reading,

w

 

Now, for a cute picture of E.V.: Rain for Root’s soon-to-be smallest, biggest fan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice For Church Music Leaders

I recently had the honor of answering a few questions for a music student doing a class project. I guess it was one of those “a-day-in-the-life” kinds of projects on so-called “worship leaders.” I don’t personally appreciate the implications associated with calling the music leader a worship leader, unless that’s what you want to call all of the elders in your church; reducing worship to simply music and singing is tantamount to neutering a word which represents the primary concept for which humanity was created. Maybe someday I’ll write about this and other words that the church has high-jacked and derailed in the last century… but I do digress!

I happily obliged to answer my friend’s questions, nonetheless. (To be honest, I was quite flattered to have been asked.) one of the questions was:

What would your advice be for a new worship pastor/leader?

I suppose I’ve read enough books and failed enough times to have some insight in this area; so I thought about it and gave him the following responses. I hope that my experiences can be applied by a few more souls working out similar callings as I’m offering my thoughts in this format. If you have more advice to give, please say so in the comments–we’re all in this together!

Here was my response:

  • Read, memorize, meditate on, and study your Bible… a lot.
  • Know the Psalms – they’re the originals, and if the content of our music doesn’t look like the Psalms, we’ve made a desperate departure from orthodoxy in our profession.
  • Practice.
  • Practice.
  • Practice.  (If we can’t play an instrument, sing, lead a band, lead the congregation, and keep a constant gaze on the majesty of Christ, then we have no business doing any of the first 4 things in that list. The only way to become more skilled at our craft is to practice, and the only way to skillfully and properly lead our congregation in singing praises to God together is to be so musically equipped that we can play and sing almost automatically while we simultaneously praise God inwardly and petition Him for grace on behalf of our congregation.)
  • Follow Matt Papa on Twitter.
  • Choose songs based, primarily, on these criteria:
    • Content – the people of God want to sing songs that say something true about Him.  If our songs are shallow, our people will be, too.
    • Singability – choose arrangements that are simple in meter and range so that the vast majority of the congregation will be able to sing along with you.  If they can’t sing the songs with you, you’re not leading, you’re preforming.
  • Be a Christian first, a Husband second, a Father third, a Pastor fourth, and an Artist fifth.
    • On the bit about being an artist, if your arrangements and compositions are crap, what does that say about how you value the God the art is supposedly about, to, or for?  Seriously, if you’re going to do something, do it well, or don’t do it at all! (Col. 3:23, 1 Cor. 10:31) God takes no pleasure in our half-hearted attempts.  A good artist marvels at his reality and invites others to join him; so don’t ever be distracting in your artistic expressions–don’t let your drummer or lead guitarist be distracting, either–but do, by all means, reject the status quo in order to call people to a higher experience of the reality of the truth of God.
    • Get outside of common ways of doing songs, and come up with artistic arrangements that your congregation will connect with.  Don’t ever break content or singability to do this.
  • Don’t just listen to music labeled as “Christian.” Most of it could be easily described in ways that would get me in trouble–suffice it to say that most of it is terrible, just plain bad.  Besides that, there’s no such thing as “Christian music.”  Anytime someone uses the word “Christian” to describe something other than a person, they’re just trying to sell you something.  People can be “Christians” because Christ was a person.  T-shirts, peppermints, records, and movies can’t be “Christian,” because they don’t have eternal souls, and they can’t be sanctified–made “like Christ.” Christ isn’t going to marry a bunch of bad art on the Last Day; He’s going to marry the Church! He didn’t come to save language or tradition or an over-marketed brand of watered-down-gospel & cheese-ridden music; He came to save sinners!  There’s a bunch of great art out there that will never get played on any radio station, much less one that’s “safe for the whole family.”  Take your cues as to what good, quality music is like from people who are better at music than you, rather than from what people who are worse at music than you are willing to buy.
  • Pay attention!  The Holy Spirit is at work all around us, in us, and even through us!  Learning to recognize His activity and respond/join in is what will ultimately make your ministry the most fulfilling and God-honoring; it’s what will make you the most satisfied minister you’ll ever know.

Here are a few more I thought you might enjoy.

23. What books have you read that might be good for worship leaders?

“George Müller of Bristol” by AT Pierson, “Worship Matters” by Bob Kauflin, “Valley of Vision” by Arthur G Bennet, “Men of Whom the World Was Not Worthy” by John Piper, “The Confessions” by Augustine of Hippo, and “Life In The Spirit” by AW Tozer

27. How would you describe a normal set for worship?

Ideally: God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, gospel-centered, deep, true, moving, exciting, folk-y, and at the top of everyone’s lungs!

Thanks for tuning in!
w

EDIT:

Since posting, I’ve already received some excellent feedback!  Check out these videos of some guys I greatly respect talking about this subject.

Music That Matters.

Good afternoon!  I’ve been in the process of tearing my blog down and rebuilding it into my new website platform; so there hasn’t been much to see here at wesshelnutt.com, as of late.  I’m breaking radio silence (or, I guess, Internet-silence) to bring you this message, though, because it’s just too timely to wait.  In the future, you’ll be able to read stuff like this from me under a section dedicated to art and culture.
 

Before we get started, check this out: The Sound of Silence

(You can buy it here on iTunes: http://bit.ly/xLV8X4)

The only thing better than Jenny & Tyler’s cover of “The Sound of Silence” would be a whole album of Simon & Garfunkel covers by Jenny & Tyler! Seriously, imagine what they would do with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or “Mrs. Robinson.” [Pause for imagination…]

To top off the greatness that is this recording, all the proceeds are going to International Justice Mission. So buying this song makes your ears happy AND fights human trafficking, and that, my friends, is precisely why I love these artists; that’s why you should love them, and that’s why we should support them. If the Church is going to reclaim art and redeem it for the glory of God, then what Jenny & Tyler Somers are doing with “The Sound of Silence” is exemplary leadership. We desperately need skillfully-crafted art–initiated, authored, sponsored, and promoted by Christians–which moves people to a greater appreciation of God and to joining Him in His redemptive action in the world.

The kind of arrangement and production that went into this cover makes me particularly excited about their upcoming album!  After digging into three of their new songs (which you can get, along with ALL of Jenny & Tyler’s last album “Faint Not,” FOR FREE right here: http://noisetrade.com/jennyandtyler), I’m thinking this album, reportedly releasing in the near future, will likely be one of those listen-to-it-over-and-over kinds of records.  If you combine the epic arrangement we’ve come to appreciate in everything these two touch with the beautiful, deep, moving lyrics of these new songs, and then add in some expectant hope inaugurated by the masterful musicianship and smart instrumentation of “The Sound of Silence,” the next record that Jenny & Tyler release will likely be a game-changer for them and a must-have for everyone who appreciates quality art by and for Christians.

Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Buy “The Sound of Silence” to help end human trafficking.
  2. Repost, Tweet, or ‘Like’ my review of “The Sound of Silence” (here or on iTunes), rate the song, &/or write your own review.
  3. Download “Faint Not (full album) + 3 New Songs” COMPLETELY FOR FREE!
  4. Tell EVERYONE you know about Jenny & Tyler’s terrific art and ministry!

Thanks for sharing your lunch break with me today! Until next time,

w

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