This message was originally given at the beginning of this semester at The Rock, and we thought it would be a useful message to give here as well.

God speaks to me through pop radio.

I’d been having a very stressful week for a number of reasons, most of them revolving around work. (Not a bad stress, it’s a lot of good things happening, just a lot of weight and responsibility that come with such things.) Along with this stress and weight came very powerful… I don’t know how else to put it… spiritual attack.  Mostly in the form of temptation to sin; a very powerful urge to screw up and compromise principles and convictions I hold to be very important.

Then this song started blazing from the radio.

I’ve got another confession to make: I’m your fool
Everyone’s got their chains to break: Holdin’ you
Were you born to resist or be abused?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

and then later in the song

I was too weak to give in, too strong to lose
My heart is under arrest again, but I’ll break loose
My head is giving me life or death, but I can’t choose
I swear I’ll never give in, I refuse
Is someone getting the best ...of you?

And suddenly I had a newfound resolve to resist this temptation and continue the fight.  David Grohl, lead singer of the Foo Fighters, on 105.1 Channel Q, (the Clear Channel pop rock radio station I listen to to keep up with what the kids are listening to these days) brought to mind this passage for me:

James 4:7-8

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

And I repented and resisted. 

Isn’t music and amazing and powerful thing?

Most of us seem to understand this inherently, but to elaborate a bit, let me read to you from a book by Dr. Oliver Sacks - A neurologist and Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, best selling author, and self-described “old jewish atheist.”  The book is brilliant, and I felt that this piece of the preface is a wonderful description of the power and mystery that is music.

From Oliver Sacks Musicophilia - preface.

    ...for virtually all of us, music has great power, whether or not we seek it out or think of ourselves as particularly “musical.”  This propensity to music - this “musicophilia” - shows itself in infancy, is manifest and central in every culture, and probably goes back to the very beginnings of our species.  It may be developed or shaped by the cultures we live in, by the circumstances of life, or by the particular gifts or weaknesses we have as individuals - but it lies so deep in human nature that one is tempted to think of it as innate...

    ...While birdsong has obvious adaptive uses (in courtship, or aggression, or staking out territory, etc.), it is relatively fixed in structure and, to a large extent, hardwired into the avian nervous system (although there are a very few songbirds which seem to improvise, or sing duets).  The ORgigin of human music is less easy to understand.  Darwin himself was evidently puzzled, as he wrote in The Descent of Man: “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man ... they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed.”...

    ...We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one.  This takes many different forms.  All of us (with very few exceptions) can perceive music, perceive tones, timbre, pitch intervals, melodic contours, harmony, and (perhaps most elementally) rhythm.  We integrate all of these and “construct” music in our minds using many different parts of the brain.  And to this largely unconscious structural appreciation of music is added an often intense and profound emotional reaction to music...

    ...Underlying this is the extraordinary tenacity of musical memory, so that much of what is heard during one’s early years may be “engraved” on the brain for the rest of one’s life.  Our auditory systems, our nervous systems, are indeed exquisitely tuned for music.  How much this is due to the intrinsic characteristics of music itself - it’s complex sonic patterns woven in time, its logic, its momentum, its unbreakable sequences, its insistent rhythms and repetitions, the mysterious way in which it embodies emotion and “will” - and how much to special resonances, synchronizations, oscillations, mutual excitations, or feedbacks in the immensely complex, multilevel neural circuitry that underlies musical perception and replay, we do not yet know.”

Evolutionary theorists are baffled by the question of how simple adaptive changes could have given rise to things such as music, higher aesthetic, moral, and intellectual life, and have developed an idea called “exaptation” rather than adaptation, and saying that these things must have “entered the mind by the back stairs.”  That is to say, they have NO idea how these things came to be.  Just a lot of weak and wild haired ideas.

Music is a powerful and mysterious thing.  It is the most powerful mnemonic device (memory device).  It literally changes our emotions and moods.  It is all around us.  My suggestion today is that we must use it wisely.  We must not waste it.

So what to do with it?

I believe God created music to point us to himself.  I admit this to be, at face value, a more wild haired claim than the evolutionists, especially if you don’t believe in God.  Bear with me.  Why do I believe this?  The Bible says so.  A wilder claim still, especially if you don’t believe in the Bible.

Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 1 (vs. 19-20)
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."

Martin Luther - the father of the protestant reformation and a major figure in Christian history put it this way, as only he could.

Foreword to Georg Rhau's Collection,  Symphoniae iucundae

I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God.

The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them.... In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits...

...Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms.

This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.

However, when man's natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift...

...A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.

Martin Luther

“This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.”  What a thought!  This is the most important thing we can do with music.  Notice that there is a God.  God created music to point us to Himself.

How can I, a sane, intelligent, scientific being, hold to this?

History has this strange and irreconcilable fact floating around in it.  That a man named Jesus lived, claimed to be God, and died (historically verifiable fact), and was witnessed after his death, alive and walking around, eating, drinking, talking, touching and being touched!  This is the un-refuted report of hundreds of people.  People who had immense political and religious power at stake, which would be lost if Jesus is who he said he is and did what he said he did, were unable to produce a body or any other scrap of evidence to refute this claim.

Romans 1:18-22
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools...

Psalm 14:1
The fool says in his heart, there is no God.

God’s wrath is coming against mankind for their sin.  Everyone.  All of you.   This sin being the things we’ve done (or failed to do) to each other, to ourselves, both of these ultimately against God, all of us.  This man, Jesus, came to Earth, claimed to be God, and ALSO claimed to offer an escape from this wrath! 

This wrath that’s coming against man was the reason Jesus had to hang on the cross and die.  The bible tells us that this is so that God could offer a way for his wrath to be carried out for your sin, a way for him to punish your sin, and for you to still come out on the other side of that alive! 

He loves you and wants to be with you for eternity and if you’re dead in hell in eternal pain, isolation and anguish, then that can’t be! 

Instead, believe that Jesus is who he said he is (God in a human body!), and did what he said he did (lived a perfect, sinless life, and yet was punished in your place), for you, because you need it!  

If you believe this, you will repent of your sinful ways, (that means, cease your demanding to do life your way on your terms,) and instead trust him enough to do things His way on His, to follow his plan for your life instead of your plan for your life,

You will receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, Jesus’ spirit that will live inside you and direct you, lead you in a life that looks like what Jesus’ life would have looked like in the 21st century, 

And then you will spend eternity in Heaven, in peace and in joy with Jesus, rather than in hell in eternal pain, anguish, and separation from EVERYBODY and EVERYTHING, especially God.

That’s the good news!  There’s more to it.  It’s in this book, this whole book.  And this Good news, this gospel, doesn’t make any sense without the entire rest of this book being true as well.  So what does this all have to do with music?

This book shows that God created music.

The Bible contains over 400 references to singing and 50 direct commands to sing. We're commanded twice in the New Testament to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).   The longest book in the Bible is a book of songs.

We find in some writings of the prophets of the Old Testament that God Himself sings!

The first recorded words of the first man appear to be a song!

Our God is a musical God!  We are musical beings because we are created in his image.

Aside from drawing attention to himself with the existence of music I have four reasons for music that God gives to believers.

God uses music to help people remember His Words to us.

Dr. Oliver Sacks - Musicophelia
“Every culture has songs and rhymes to help children learn the alphabet, numbers, and other lists.  Even as adults we are limited in our ability to memorize series or to hold them in our mind unless we use mnemonic devices or patterns and the most powerful of these devices are rhyme, meter or songs.”

Alzheimer’s patients who can’t remember their children's names but can remember every line to songs they learned as children.

How amazing would it would be to have God’s words floating around inside of your head??  (What are you filling your head with?!)

Deuteronomy 31:19-21
“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel.  For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant.  And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.”

Psalms, and intros to New Testament epistles (and other large chunks inside them) are written in verse.  In the original language, meant to be memorized in song!

This can be difficult for us now, given that we are operating outside of the original languages, but it is not impossible.  Many many songs have been created setting the words of English translations of the Bible to music.  This is also why we have so many other hymns!   Not necessarily word for word scripture, but systematic theological concepts set to music.  That’s how I can remember this beautiful truth:

When satan tempts me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within
upward I look and see him there
who made an end of all my sin

because a sinless savior died
my sinful soul is counted free
for god the just is satisfied
to look on him and pardon me.

But also to go along with the hardship of more-difficult-to-memorize words, is the extreme blessing of heaps of written copies of God’s word in our language all around us!  The Word of God is so easy to get ahold of in this country.

Music helps us to engage emotionally with the truth about God

Music helps us express emotion.   It has been called the “music of the soul.”  Studies have shown that music actually, literally changes our emotions. 

God tells us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Jesus told us that God is seeking worshippers who will worship in “spirit and truth”.  We tend to be beings who either disengage emotionally and only mentally follow through with the motions, or intellectually acknowledge facts about God, or worse, disengage mentally and only fall into some sort of emotionalism.  We are severely warned against both as false worship.

So, when we sing together as a group to God, read the words and think about them.  Then sing them with all your heart, and all your might.  You will look ridiculous, but so will everyone else.

Music unites us.

People sing together in the strangest places: rock concerts, sporting events, birthdays, weddings, funerals. Singing together tends to bind us together. It enables us to spend extended periods of times expressing the same thoughts and passions. And when it comes to the church, it has significant implications.

Scripture doesn't only speak about congregational singing--God can be honored when we sing alone or when soloists sing in the church. But it is clear that the dominant theme of Scripture is believers singing together. Jesus died to redeem a universal choir, and every individual voice matters. We are not called to listen to others sing or to sing by ourselves. We are called to sing together. The question is not, "Do you have a voice?" The question is, "Do you have a song?" If you're redeemed by Christ's cross then you do have a song.

Music is a powerful missionary tool

What better way to be aware of what is on a culture’s mind!?  We are missionaries.  The first thing a missionary does when they move to a new culture is to “shut up and listen!” (To quote Scott Rathje).  They learn the language.  Learn what is on the hearts and minds of the people they are attempting to communicate to.

Music is powerful.  Use it wisely.