How Firm a Foundation: The Grace to Worship Through Uncertainty

This is the first draft of an article I’m writing for August. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Are there areas that are unclear or could use a tightening up? Do you think the Scriptures I’ve selected are the best possible options. It’s a musical article, so if you’re a non-musician, does it still “speak” to you? More than anything, I want to tell the world about two of the most special people in my life, but I also want to show readers how they can learn as I have from their example. Any and all feedback would be very much appreciated! Thank you!!

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Not every couple can say their first date took place at a gospel singing, but that’s precisely where my grandparents, Boyce and Sybil Lindley, chose to have theirs in the summer of 1955. Perhaps it was chosen because music was what brought them together at a district church meeting where Sybil played the piano, or maybe God knew how vital it would be and chose it as the cornerstone of their relationship. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to say that it worked—so well, in fact, that after only a handful of dates and a brief engagement, they were wed on December 14, 1956.

Throughout their fifty-five years of marriage, they’ve spent countless happy hours in church together, singing, studying, and serving in various roles like church bookkeepers and Sunday school teachers. While they occasionally sought out the role of worship leaders, more times than not, it was a task was appointed to them. My favorite story about their years as musicians happened during their first visit to a new church in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Like most visitors, they sat in the back row with their two daughters, taking in the place and its people, when the pastor welcomed them from the pulpit. He asked, “Ma’am, you don’t happen to play the piano, do you?” The church had been without an accompanist for some time, so you can imagine that my grandmother’s gentle “yes” was met with an exuberant chorus of hallelujahs and amens fit to rival Handel’s Messiah. She played that very Sunday morning, and nearly every service afterwards, until the week they moved.

By the time I came along in the late 70s, our family was full to bursting with music. We sang each Sunday in church (though never the third verse of any hymn for some reason I could never understand), and they often performed songs together as a quartet someone dubbed “The Happy Lindleys” after their favorite group, the Goodman Family. Whether we were riding in the car or sitting together after dinner, we usually sang. Someone would simply start humming, and within a verse or two we were harmonizing together. Granted, we might never have been a threat to the Von Trapp family, but our melodies were genuine, tangible expressions of our joy and thankfulness to God for each other. Singing might have seemed odd to many, but it was—and still remains—as much a part of our genetic make-up as brown eyes, long fingers, and a penchant for peskiness.

Because of their influence, when it came to music, I learned not to discriminate. Traditional hymns, Southern gospel songs, and spirituals all spoke God’s truth to me in ways I could grasp as a child. For instance, I understood Lamentations 3:22-24 because I had experienced “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” I rejoiced in the promise of Psalm 16:8 after learning “I Shall Not Be Moved,” and “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” fixed the truth of Matthew 10:29-31 deeply in my heart. Simply put, I came to know God with a Bible in one hand and a hymnal in the other.

These two wonderful people, who I nicknamed Nonnie and Papaw, have spent their lives walking with the Lord. They’ve been blessed with two happily married daughters and three grandchildren as well as with relatively good health and financial security. They’ll be the first to say there have been more than a few potholes and loose stones in their lives’ road, and they’ve been asked to make sacrifices in trusting obedience. However, each time, God provided, and their faith was increased. Boons like this make praise natural to come by for most people, but when things suddenly turn difficult, preserving the song in one’s heart might become more challenging.

Last year, Papaw believed he’d lost his debit card after cleaning out his wallet. A handful of panicked moments later, he realized the slim piece of plastic was still there—just backwards and upside down. He simply had not recognized it for what it was because of the visual differences. It didn’t look the same in its usual slot and, in his mind, was missing in action. At the time, they chalked it up to vision problems or fatigue, but several weeks later, he couldn’t remember his pin number. As weeks became months, they both began to notice words and phrases he’d known all his life—screwdriver, double play, bookmark—were suddenly gone from his vocabulary, frustratingly just out of his mind’s reach. Multi-step tasks such as making tea became nearly impossible without help, and items that normally called the pantry home started showing up in the linen closet.

Each thing was small, sometimes even comical, but when they were added together, they realized there was growing cause for concern. Naturally, fear and worry filled their hearts, but every time it threatened, they prayed and recited Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Whatever was happening, they reasoned, had been purposed by God for their lives because He had promised them countless times before, “No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent” (Ps. 91:10).

Anyone who has been diagnosed with an illness—be it physical or mental—will admit it’s unsettling. Many feel their bodies have betrayed them or have become inescapable prisons of flesh. For someone like Papaw, who is gentle and easily flustered, when those moments when the words wouldn’t come became more frequent, he was left silently anxious and shaking with frustration. Ever the optimist, Nonnie tried to reassure him with soothing words and kind gestures, but nothing seemed to quiet the apprehension that held him captive. One particularly wearisome Thursday when nothing else would help, Nonnie pulled their tattered maroon copy of the Church of God Hymnbook from the piano bench and began to play. It was all she knew to do. Over the next hour, songs like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “Rock of Ages,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” and “Mansion Over the Hilltop” quietly seeped from the burnished wood, filling their home with comforting and familiar sounds.

As her fingers coaxed “He Hideth My Soul,” a song she’s played countless times, from the instrument, she began to pray for strength, understanding, and, most of all, peace. In time, the words came to Papaw—sometimes easily, sometimes with great difficulty, and oftentimes imperfectly—but they came. She listened as he sweetly stumbled through the second verse, “A wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord. He taketh my burden away. He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved. He giveth me strength as my day” and understood that, despite all outward appearances, God was with them and always had been. They had just been too busy focusing on the uncertain darkness to even begin to look for His light.

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers stated, “Sometimes God puts us through the experience and discipline of darkness to teach us to hear and obey Him. Songbirds are taught to sing in the dark, and God puts us into ‘the shadow of His hand’ until we learn to hear Him” (Isa. 49:2). Now, that is exactly what they’re doing, walking in relative darkness and singing all the way. “Whenever our spiritual cups get dry,” she told me, “we just sing until they’re filled up again.”

Hebrews 12:10-11 tells us that God “disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Their spiritual strength, gained through previous hardships, makes worship possible, and while they are being further refined by this trial, our entire family is reaping spiritual rewards as well. As we watch them lean fully on the Lord for strength and wisdom, we are all coming to see the truth of Job’s declaration, “Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (Job 3:17).

Just like the hymns I cherished as a child, my grandparents’ songs reveal the truth of God’s Word. Their simple melodies have shaped my understanding of His grace and make it real to me in way words alone couldn’t. They wake up each morning, uncertain of the new challenges they’ll face, but they are quick to point out, “Our heavenly Father knows.” Rather than worry, they pray for the measure of strength to help them until they lie down once again and thank God for the continuous supply. Like Job, they pose the rhetorical question, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2:10), letting their song serve as a reply.

Not once have they asked, “Why us?” without immediately following it with, “Why not us?” because their hearts are in tune with God’s. They’ve spent so many years fully immersed in His presence that they speak to Him in song—their groanings are lyrical rather than wordless (Rom. 8:26-27). I feel the same tendency in myself, and I know that the Lord is using them to teach me the libretto of His love. To “put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise” (Ps. 40:3), the same almighty Composer is arranging both the coda of their lives and the second movement of mine.


 

The World Loves Its Own

I read a blog here on WordPress this morning about everyone’s favorite “Booty Shakin’ Believer,” Beyoncé. The author of said blog claimed the following:

…[I]f the goal is to touch the un-churched, I think Beyoncé has the right idea. Sending moral messages via the contemporary art form of the day is like sowing new seeds of life into a community void of a Judeo-Christian worldview. It is like a drink of fresh water in the scorching desert of life.

The statement got my gears to clicking much too quickly for a Monday morning, and the more I chewed on the thought, the more I felt it getting firmly lodged in my craw. Beyoncé apparently prays for her cast and crew before going on stage and did Bible studies when she was younger; however, in my mind, those could just as easily be meaningless gestures as they are meaningful acts of witness. After all, what game winning wide receiver or award winning actress hasn’t uttered the phrase, “First, I’d like to thank God for giving me the talent to…” when giving an acceptance speech?

I look at what someone does as well as the words of her mouth to ascertain her true beliefs. According to Beyoncé in an interview with The Son, a Christian newspaper:

I never mixed Christianity with how I felt [about God]. I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion. Doing right by others and not judging. The thing that keeps me grounded is knowing that I’m always protected and that God is in control of things. Even the name of our group, Destiny’s Child, we got out of the Bible. . . For me it is about the way I carry myself and the way I treat other people. My relationship and how I feel about God and what he does for me is something deeply personal. It’s where I came from. I was brought up in a religious household and that’s very important to me.

Something about this statement sets my teeth on edge. She seems to be saying the right things–God is in control, treat other people well, have a relationship with God. However, it’s the second sentence that sets the alarm bells to ringing. “I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion.”

She’s correct in one way; religion is not God. Being a Baptist doesn’t make me a child of God. My relationship with Him does, my acceptance of God as my Savior and Master of every single aspect of my life. However, she seems to be taking another tack with the idea. For her, it seems to mean that she’s accepted that there is a God and that, by and large, He means for her to live a happy and fulfilled life. Therefore, in return, she must be good to others and “carry herself” a certain way. That sounds closer to the concept of Karma, something associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, or even Sikhism rather than a tenet of Christianity.

The video that garnered the most flack and (in some Christian communities) praise was her hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Many Christians took issue with her attire, her dance moves, and the overall tone of the song. However, others saw it as a ringing (no pun intended) endorsement of marriage before sex and used it to teach their daughters about the value of chastity and the preservation of virginity. However, I’m not going to rehash this old territory.

While searching through her videos on YouTube, I came across one for one of her newest singles, “Run the World (Girls).” Like many of her other videos/songs, it gives me great pause.

In essence, the meaning behind the song is “Women run the world because they have what men want,” meaning, of course, sex. Women can work for their own money, not be dependent on a man, and still make demands of men because all the money in the world can’t replace this one thing men crave. The military/Mad Max overtones of the video coupled with the aggressive dancing and animals on chains reflects the rapacious nature of this new woman who asserts, “My persuasion can build a nation. Endless power, the love we can devour. You’ll do anything for me.”

What is a young girl supposed to think with images like this flashed before her on television and the Internet? She hears someone say, “Beyoncé, oh, she’s a Christian” and sees this same woman dancing seductively and using her sex rather than her mind to get what she wants. What are the two options the girl can assume? 1.) Beyoncé is a Christian and does this, so it must be okay or 2.) Christians say one thing and do another, so I don’t think I want to be one of them. Either assumption is going to send that child down the wrong path, the former a more slippery one to be sure because it has the trappings of righteousness and the mantle of Christianity attached to it.

Later in the interview with The Son, Beyoncé claimed that there’s no double standard regarding her faith and her performing style. She claimed:

I honestly believe [God] wants people to celebrate their bodies so long as you don’t compromise your Christianity in the process.

I am not a Bible thumper who believes all dancing and celebrating are immoral acts; however, I fail to see how videos like “Run the World (Girls)” don’t fall under the “compromising my Christianity” umbrella. I don’t see a Christian who is following the will of God when I watch this video. She is dancing not as David did, to celebrate God’s benevolence and majesty, but to attract fans both male and female who both want her and want to be her.

In James 4:4, James tells the Jewish Diaspora, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” In short, you cannot sing about what the world sings about, dance the way the world dances, and lust after the trappings of the world and also be of God. It’s a classic case of trying to serve two masters, which cannot be done. This is why James continues in verse eight, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded!”

This double-mindedness is what is slowly killing the Christian church in the United States; we are sacrificing our standards in order to bring new Christians into the fold. But what we’re doing is not building up the faith of these new believers; rather, we are watering down our beliefs so as not to offend them. We should be worried less about who we offend and worried more about who we can bring to the Lord that they might be saved.

This is why, in I John 2:15-17, the apostle John warns Christians they must, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” because “[i]f any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This is why I cannot say that Beyoncé is acceptable for young girls to admire. I can tolerate her behavior even less than someone like Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, or P!nk. These women, as far as I know, were not raised in Christian households as Beyoncé claims to have been. Unlike her, they were not brought up hearing the Word of God, well aware of what is expected of a Christian. The fact that she is willing to completely eschew what she knows to be right and pleasing to God in favor of what pleases the world speaks volumes about her faith and her relationship with God. This is not a personal opinion or one formed according to my own tastes. I garnered it from scripture.

In 2 Peter , the apostle Peter warns against compromise and the tarnishing of Christian witness by being too closely aligned with the world and falling prey to what he calls “false teachers.” He writes:

For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire. [Emphasis mine]

If someone is truly saved, he or she has no desire to turn back to the same lifestyle he/she lived before. To know what true freedom from sin and death is only to turn back to its ways and trappings is worse than blind disobedience. The world doesn’t know any better, but a Christian should.

If the Christian church does not stand up to these double standards and tell the world, without hesitation, “This is NOT what it means to be a child of God” and then offer the truth, there’s no hope for us. We’re already so lukewarm and vapid in many congregations that we’re utterly indistinguishable from the “un-churched” so many are worried about.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article about Katy Perry, the performer responsible for “I Kissed a Girl.” Please note that it is posted on a so-called Christian website called “Beliefnet,” a repository of all kinds of “feel good” dogma. Honestly, it’s like a Golden Corral of religions—take what you want from this bar and this one until you find the belief that fits your worldview rather than you conforming to the will of God. The thing has a quiz you can take called the “Belief-O-Matic” if you’re having trouble deciding between faiths. This site makes it blatantly obvious that, to many, Christianity is a choice, one as easily wriggled out of and discarded as a wet bathing suit. And that is not the message we should be proclaiming to the nations.

So to those who think it’s acceptable to support artists who claim to be Christians just because they espouse the faith, I say you’re wrong. We are not meant to be like the world or liked by the world. To be of God means the world will despise you and try to tear you down, not fill your arms with Grammy Awards and platinum records. Jesus never claimed otherwise. Instead, he warned His followers:

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. — (John 15: 18-22)