He was Bruised for our Transgressions

I have been complicating pain more than unusual lately, perhaps more than I  have ever contemplated this unavoidable aspect of life on planet earth. This is due to watching my father endure terminal cancer. To  be fair, I readily admit that my father’s type of cancer, though terminal without divine intervention, is not particularly associated with pain, so I should be clear from the outset in stating that I am using pain in a broad sense (e.g., the pain of being robbed of any sense of independence, the pain of not being able to enjoy retirement, the pain of not being able to do any of those trips you had  hoped to do, the pain of realizing you won’t be able to see your grandchildren grow up, the pain of realizing a good portion of your grandchildren won’t know you, the pain of watching your wife serve you with great difficulty though with a consistent positive spirit, the pain of not being able to care for your wife). Although pure physical pain has not been a prominent aspect of dad’s difficult journey, he  recently fell face forward, which was I am sure quite  painful, though he is not able to remember what  happened nor  has he communicated a great deal regarding  the incident.

Of course some of  my contemplations on pain extend to other  family members, particularly my mother, and some are selfish. In fact the manner in which the whole journey affects me ranges from frustration to deep emotional pain. This past July 4th weekend, 2014, is more on the frustration side. A bit of context is required to fully communicate these melancholy reflections (keep reading–it gets indescribably more hopeful below). Over 30 years ago my father started a rich tradition that has been repeated  each Christmas: the Woodward family shrimp boil, which always includes the Trolios (mom’s sister’s family.)  Not knowing how much time we have left with Dad, we decided to do one more boil this past Friday. It was a last minute plan and woodward.nola was zipping up I-55 when we found out that Dad had fallen face first and was not responding verbally. He was rushed to the hospital where we met mom. And  yes, it was very difficult to see this  precious man with a huge protrusion emanating above his left eye. Mom decided that we should go forward with the shrimp boil while she sat at the hospital for most of the day Friday keeping watch over Dad, but needless to say this was not exactly the celebration we had  in mind.

For those who have  walked with someone they hold dear through the  valley of the shadow of death, you understand there is a certain deep and heavy fog that you learn to breath when in the presence  of the dear one  who is decaying. To be honest, it feels like a suffocating reality, and I actually get breaks from the reality with two brothers who are faithfully seeking to provide assistance to mom; particularly the youngest but quickly aging Charlie is bearing a good bit of the responsibility of helping mom–Charlie lives just a few miles from Mom and Dad. Mom lives constantly in this reality.

I was beginning to emerge from this latest round of the fog of death this morning as I engaged in corporate worship. Then, at some point after the Supper as my wife Michelle was leading the congregation in “Worthy Is the Lamb” a chin raising idea emerged within my innermost being. Perhaps it had been read earlier in the service but  the painfully descriptive phrase referring to the Suffering Servant was prominent in my mind: “He was bruised for our transgressions.” My thoughts were partially turned to Dad–for those who knew him (forgive me for referring to him in past tense as he is now a shell of the man we knew) the process feels so unjust–he was indeed so seemingly innocent. Of course, we know–those who know him best know that he is not actually innocent in a theological sense but he is a model of one who truly pursued holiness and selflessness, which go hand and hand.

I was reminded by the Great Teacher in that moment that my Lord Jesus was bruised and passionately as I would defend my father’s honor, I know that in reality the Messiah was infinitely innocent and was bruised in a magnitude of injustice that is incomprehensible. I am reticent to admit that seeing one who sought so earnestly to look like Jesus endure and endure and endure brings our Lord’s reality to more vivid color. I am reticent to admit this truism because the words should leap off the pages of the Word embraced in their fullness through faith, but perhaps there is a certain comprehending that comes only through living.

I also realized in this same moment the greater reality only Our Lord is capable of bringing to fruition: Only our Lord could rise above the injustice of death for the truly innocent, only our Lord could despise the inevitable decay of flesh, and only our Lord is capable of being Christus Victus, Christ the  Victor over death.

There are many many things to live for as we see our father diminish: there is a rich family legacy, which Dad has exponentially increased through my rose colored glasses; there are the lives of these precious grandchildren to celebrate and press to excellence; there is the  fruit of changed lives and the fruit of life changers. But what makes all of this possible and what gives these good things an enduring quality or at least the sparkle of the eternal . . . yes, you know the chorus: “He’s the Lily of the Valley, the bright and Morning Start, He’s the fairest of 10000 to my soul.”

History Through Worship: 20th Century

Tonight, April 10, 2014, the NOBTS Church Music Division will present “History through Worship.” The theme for this year’s concert is the “Twentieth Century.” The path of Western music certainly splintered upon its entry into the twentieth century. Within the category of art music two basic philosophies emerged.1 Some composers pursued the path of intellectual possibilities. For example, Shoenberg’s serial approach to pitch was an experiment in structural conception with little concern for the comfort of the listener. Conversely, other composers such as Stravinsky emphasized music that appeals to raw human emotions with works such as Rite of Spring.Eventually, Copeland become the leader of the Stravinsky camp, and the featured piece this evening, Rite of Spring, clearly falls into the Stravinsky/Copeland camp.2

The Requiem is certainly more diatonic than much of art music written in the 20th century. Furthermore, some 20th century composers found more fruitful territory by revisiting salient historical gestures than by experimenting with new sounds or ways of organizing sound. For example, the piece by Duruflécould be described at least in certain sections as Neo-Medieval. Kaye notes the “rhythm and flow” of chant as a primary feature in the overall construction of the piece.3 Yet the piece also has a clear twentieth century sound. For example, a section of the Kyrie is quite chromatic, and other sections include hyper-chromatic tertian harmonies as well as some use of quartel harmonies.4

However, the more important issue is how Duruflé uses these various colors in a relatively palatable manner to communicate hope in the context of a Requiem. Nineteenth-century composers were fascinated with the Requiem as a theological framework begging for weighty artistic material, and this trend continued into the 20th century. Duruflé’s setting, though not as weighty in comparison to other offerings from both the 19th and 20th centuries, carries an intimacy and worshipful atmosphere that is certainly reflective of the appropriate theological range of emotions one would expect for contemplations on death.

Another composer of note in this evening’s program is John Rutter. Rutter is perhaps the most celebrated and performed choral composer of the latter half of the twentieh century. Much of his much music is already considered enduring among the vast amount of choral music written between 1950 and the present.

Finally, the concert will feature a black gospel piece. Among the two general philosophies on twentieth music reviewed above, Duke Ellington’s purported “if it sounds good it is good” clearly fits in the early 20th century Stravinsky camp. And in a parallel sense, many Evangelical churches have adopted a philosophy on musical style that seeks to reflect the community of believers as long as worldly influence is held in check. The NOBTS Church Music Division celebrates both seminal historic works that have defined the musical culture of the church for 2000 years and  incarnational worship that defines our churches in the 21st century: Christocentric praise with cultural considerations.

       1 Tim Koch, Lecture on the evolution of 20th century, (lecture presented at the University of Southern Mississippi in the 1999 summer semester), Hattiesburg, MS.

2  “The Unanswered Question,” YouTube, last modified December 5, 2013, accessed April 9, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3HLqCHO08s; Bernstein offers an expanded review of these basic philosophies in a series of lectures that can be found on Youtube.

       3 Nicholas Kaye, “Durufle, Maurice,” in Oxford Music Online, ed. Deane Root et. al,accessed April 8, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grovemusic/08407q=durufle&search=quick&pos=2&_start=1#S08407.

       4 Luigi Zannenelli, An Introduction to Non-Functional 20th Century Harmony: A Manual, unpublished textbook, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg; this celebrated composer’s unpublished class notes for the class, 20th Century Harmony, included four categories: hyperchromatic tertian, quartal, twelve-tone, and polychordal.





Reflections on authentic night of gospel worship in New Orleans

There are certain full circle moments in one’s life that emerge with no foresight or planning. The NOBTS Seminarians had the great privilege tonight to sing with the Zion Harmonizers, a legendary New Orleans Gospel group, celebrating their 75th anniversary. We also had the great privilege of singing with about 40 men from Franklin Avenue to celebrate this joyous occasion. Most of my friends and students know that I am a native of New Orleans so I have always had a certain appreciation for this style of music. But being from New Orleans is not enough to put one in the place of being part of an event like we shared tonight. In fact, one who’s roots go back to rural Alabama on my dad’s side and rural MS on my mom’s side in MS hardly qualify me to be a gospel expert. And yet in God’s sovereignty I am a son of this incredible city. And being invited to share in this particularly event had nothing to do with wise planning by the conductor of Seminarians, yours truly. God used an extraordinary series of events that connected us to the producers of the event.

What many of us from New Orleans would love for people to know is there is a remnant of faith here. Yes, an ark of Saints who have endured and continue to endure many challenges in our city as we seek to be salt and light. In New Orleans taking a Puritan path would lead to very little success in terms of people coming to faith. Instead, what I like to call incarnational worship raises a sweet smell before the Lord when offered with sincerity, and the lost in our city see and hear that there is a deeper joy available in Christ that exceed the joy of getting a coconut at Zulu and life imperishable that sustains one through the darkest of tragedies unlike the fleeting moments of existential bliss when dancing to second line (one of my favorite things to do by the way). What probably affected me the most tonight–and their were, trust me on this, some awesome sounds literally coming out of the Joy Theater tonight, but what affected me the most was seeing the Franklin Avenue Men sing “I will Sing Hallelujah” with all their Heart Soul and Might before the Lord. I looked into the eyes of these men and realized that these Parthenons of faith in our community are surely burdened by the spiritual condition of their children, and grandchildren, and yet when they say, “I Will Sing Hallelujah” with a joyous shout, their thoughts are totally on the solution maker and not the problems or the burdens of this life. Praise be to God for their faith, and may we who live in this community of faith continue to support our brothers in Christ who are quite literally in the trenches. And may I close with a glimpse of heavenly song with the attached video clip. The men in this video singing “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More” represent various cultures in our own country and 5 continents. Keep living for Jesus and singing His praises and we will one day lay our burdens down:

My Heart is Stirred by a Noble Theme

Well, it’s that time of year again in the NOBTS music division–we are working feverishly at preparing a night of worship that is entitled Crescent City Praise. This concert of worship will be presented Thursday evening, February 13, on the NOBTS campus. We’ve had a great week sitting under the leadership of Dr. Paul Clark, the TN Baptist Director of Music and Worship Ministries.

Dr. Clark challenged us from night one to move beyond laboriously trudging through notes toward expressions of worship through timeless anthem texts. As we seek to achieve that goal I was reminded in Psalms today that sometimes we are surprised with the passion of a strong theological theme as we do our spiritual routines. David says in Psalm 45 that “his heart is stirred by a noble theme as [he] recite[s] [his] verses for the king.” What we see here is that while the psalm writer is doing his due diligence to accomplish the task set before him, namely reciting verses for the king, he allows his heart to be stirred by noble themes.

What are noble themes? Noble themes are the timeless ideas we find in abundance in Psalms and throughout scripture; nobles themes are pillars upon which we can set our lives and ministries. As we move through the necessary disciplines of life, whether that be our daily devotion or learning  a bunch of notes for a night of worship, may we allow ourselves to be stirred by the noble themes that emerge ultimately in sacred text. Then our souls will be singing long after the final downbeat.

We hope you can join us in singing of the most noble theme of all, Jesus Saves! tomorrow night at CC Praise, Leavell Chapel, NOBTS campus, 7 PM, featuring student choir and community, student and community orchestra, and children’s and youth choirs.

Counter-cultural Movement in Worship

Ken Myers is certainly leading a counter-cultural charge in the area of worship, and I would say this movement is gaining a fair amount of steam. Although I certainly have  no issue and would even celebrate those who wish to worship in a traditional manner, I think we need to careful in how we determine which activities will be deemed “real” or “pure” worship. For a quick review and clip of Ken’s perspective, check out  the following link to SWBTS’s worship journal: Artistic Theologian.

The Christmas Feast: a Type of Love Feast

Could the Christmas feast be a modern version of the love feast? First I should briefly explain the historical background of the love feast. In the early church days, love feasts were a regular part of the Christian community.  The feast was a gathering of Christians over a meal, rejoicing in their oneness in Christ. Specifically the feast carries the idea that because Christ reigns, we are at peace with Him and with one another. It is even possible that the earliest love feasts were connected to the supper.

But is the idea of rejoicing through a community feast really new in the first century. The Old Testament reveals various times when a feast was used to celebrate the goodness of God and His desire to care for creation. In fact, Nehemiah explains that faith is actually required to recognize that when we come face to face with God’s holiness, he wants us to accept the forgiveness He wishes to offer and celebrate life with Him. Note that in Nehemiah 8: 8-12, this strategic leader in Israel, along with Ezra and the Levites, explained to the people that they should rejoice in the Lord when being confronted by the Law. Of course, it was natural for the Israelites to be overwhelmed with grief over their sins after hearing God’s Word read, but the leaders insist that God wants them to accept His forgiveness and rejoice as they feast together, remembering to help  provide for the poor of the community as well. Thus, it actually requires faith to feast with rejoicing with the Christian body.

But I know some of you are thinking, “I’ll grant you feasting under the ordained festivals outlined in the Word of God, but to extend the concept to rejoicing for this Christianized pagan holiday is a bit generous.” To answer that legitimate inquiry, I will defer to the great evangelical preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon.[1] On December 23, 1860, Spurgeon rightly, in my view, justified the Christian father providing a feast of rejoicing for his family, ultimately praising God as the giver of all good things.[2] So dads I implore you and myself to lead with a spirit of rejoicing this week. We are the worship leaders in our homes, and we reflect the provision and generosity of our Father by wishing the best over those whom God has given us to provide. There is perhaps no more poignant time to do this than during the Christmas feast(s), as we say with a clear conscious because of the blood of Christ: “We are forgiven and blessed beyond imagination. We rejoice now, merely glimpsing that great feast, which we will share with the eternal family of God one day in heaven.”

Stay tuned for part 2 of The Christmas Feast: a Type of Love Feast as I will be sharing a specific New Orleans feast tradition my father started about 35 years ago.

[1] Spurgeon, C. H., A Merry Christmas, A sermon delivered on December 23, 1860 at the New Park Street Pulpit: http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols7-9/chs352.pdf.

[2] By referencing fathers as providers, I in no way wish to diminish the godly sacrifice of our wives; rather, I wish to uphold the traditional role of the patriarch in a culture that wishes to undermine to the biblical principle of a father who is to be the picture of the Father.


Pluralism versus All Nations and Tongues Under the Lordship of Christ

I was first exposed to pluralism as a music education major in the 90’s in South Mississippi. The concept emerged in textbooks that referred to the now familiar American identity as a tossed salad rather than a melting pot. Particularly as an artist in higher education through the late 90’s and early 2000’s, world music and multiculturalism were constant themes. I actually took a world music class from a world-renown Balinese specialist at Florida State University in the early 2000’s. I was exposed to Gamelan, Hindi music, and expert Japanese fluting at that time. Later, during my Georgia era (I like to tell people I am cosmopolitan if you’re only talking about the SouthJ), I noted the abundance of cultural arrangements being sung by GA highschool choirs at the Georgia Music Educators State Convention each year.

I can honestly say that I am a fan of world music and multicultural perspectives in art after over 10 years of exposure. Often as evangelicals we find ourselves caught in the trap of only arguing against something (e.g., Pluralism) rather than making a distinctive Christian mark on the worldview landscape. As observed in Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer, in 1935 it was quite bold to say that all cultures should be treated with dignity and welcomed to the family of God, including local fellowships. The battle that Bonhoeffer and other  Western Christian thinkers began,  namely demanding and encouraging the  love of all cultures within and outside of the church, has been largely won in American churches.

Although fighting for the dignity of all world cultures will always be a battle in certain circles of hate, a much grander challenge among current competing worldview perspectives is that of finding the narrow path of a distinctively Christian response to Pluralism. Namely, the most compassionate and appropriate treatment of all cultures is found only under the Lordship of Christ. Realizing my last statement would be viewed as dogmatic by the world, let me follow it by insisting that there is no lack of free expression of culture within this Christian distinctive. But my mere words could hardly compel the skeptic, and I am convinced that in many cases Christian art representing the cultures of the world serves as a much stronger apologetic.

With this philosophical framework in mind, it is with great enthusiasm that NOBTS will present All Nations and Tongues at Canal Street Church: A Mosaic Community on November 14 at 7 PM. The concert will feature sacred and folk songs representing the  Chinese, Czechoslovakian, Jewish, Latino, South African, and Japanese cultures and  will be presented by the NOBTS Seminary Chorus and NOBTS Children’s and Youth Choirs. Canal Street Church is an intentional choice of setting as one of the most exciting new church starts in the New Orleans area. This is a church that is expressing the love of Christ for all the cultures of the world in tangible ways on a daily and weekly basis. Come celebrate the Lord of Creation with us in the heart of one of the most culturally rich cities in the world.


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