Hope Network Newsletter: What Language Shall I Borrow? (Jan – Jun 1995)

By Matt Dabbs

by Lynn Anderson
January – February, 1995

Get specific with me. How does the 1995 passenger on spinning Spaceship Earth waltz to the ancient Apostle Paul’s lead and “become all things to all men…?” Especially when it comes to worship? Put your finger at the end of this sentence, close your eyes and think. No doubt several ways of worshipping come to mind. “Not really,” you say? Geography does sometimes limit our imagination. Need someone to prime the pump?

Well, then. Now with your eyes wide open, lift your finger and read on I am delighted this month that my Hope Network Newsletter can feature the following lines from Annette McRay. She will color your soul with a rainbow of worship shapes and sounds, drawn from all sorts of settings. Real worship. From real brothers and sisters. In real, but totally dissimilar, settings.

Annette and her husband, Dr. John McRay, have been in Christian leadership for four decades in both local church ministry and academics. Annette has an M. A. from Wheaton and teaches social studies in the public school system. John is a professor of New Testament and Archaeology at Wheaton College Graduate School. Their family represents the best of what most of us only shoot for. To complement their intelligence and excellent academic and professional training, Annette and John are both people of great warmth, tenderness, and compassion. Integrity has always marked their pathway as well, sometimes at great cost to them. Most important of all, the genuineness is validated in the crucible of family relationships that really work. Annette and John enjoy a long and healthy marriage and have reared a loving family of three believing sons, all of whom are Christian leaders. One is a medical missionary, another is a former youth minister now finishing a degree in psychology, and the third is a preacher.

Read on and be blessed. When you finish Annette’s stirring words, read the postscript by John.

Psalms, Hymns, and a Spiritual Song

by Annette McRay

It is the morning of the Lord’s Day and I have begun this day as most other Sundays in the past several years—listening to Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of all kinds as I have prepared to meet the rest of the Lord’s Day. It has become our family custom, whether at home or away, to let the many talented Christian artists of varied musical genres prepare our hearts for collective worship with our brothers and sisters. At times, these quiet moments of opening our hearts to the messages of these musical offerings have seemed to elevate and lift us to heights rarely found in our corporate devotions.

On this particular morning, I have been blessed and challenged by the Easter edition of Wineskins and have felt compelled to put down some of my ponderings. Lynn Anderson’s statement of interest in others’ experiences with worshipful music sent my memory racing over the years, skidding to pauses as special remembrances forced fleeting vignettes into my consciousness, and stopping to savor one particularly poignant moment of praise, then another.

My personal musical tastes are untrained but varied, having been influenced by my odyssey of worship in so many locales. This morning, as usual, the CD player in our cozy little den has been loaded with discs so dissimilar as to puzzle and amuse a critic with more well-honed taste. Prelude and Hymnworks reflect that part of me that belongs in the Wheaton College setting with its fine classical emphasis, Sandi Patti thrills my ecumenical evangelical tastes, and John Michael Talbot brings out that acquired desire for a more reverent liturgical expression.

But there is another side to me that hearkens to my religious roots and a cappella preferences. Ray Walker and the Abilene Christian University Chorus lift my spirits and the newer groups like Hallal bring tears of joy and devotion to my eyes. And I even on occasion love the rousing bluegrass renditions on Smoky Mountain Hymns of the old favorites I remember from my Tennessee childhood.

I know that while all my brothers and sisters may not share my erratic and eclectic musical tastes, there are likely people in any local congregation who are most moved and inspired by any one of these types. This may mean that worship leaders have a large task and a real responsibility to try to minister to everyone in a group.

Over the last 15 years my archaeologist husband and I have in our various travels visited and worshipped in magnificent cathedrals and humble meeting houses of many kinds and been touched by the songs of the devoted ones there. We have removed our shoes in awe of the beauty of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa mosques and noted the reverence of the Muslim worshipers there and in the simple village mosques throughout the Middle East. We have heard the muezzins loudly and rhythmically proclaim from the minarets that there is but one God.

We have separated ourselves with the Jewish men and women as they stood and fervently prayed to the Almighty at the Ha Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. Their chantings have melodically emphasized the oneness of Yahweh (Jehovah) as they have recited the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” We have also visited the varied ethnic neighborhood synagogues throughout the land of Israel and the great cities of the world where Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches of Judaism have congregated to express their devotion to the one God.

Likewise, we have felt our souls lifted with the methodical voices of the Boys’ Choir at Canterbury Cathedral as they beautifully proclaimed, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Our attention has been drawn heavenward by the ornate spires of the world’s best-known Christian houses of worship, such as St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, and the National Cathedral in Washington where the great choirs have filled the lofty chambers with their thunderous exclamations of praise and devotion.

And how well I remember that cold March Sunday afternoon in 1991, when I sat in the balcony of Moscow’s Baptist Church and felt the tears flowing unexpectedly down my cheeks as a thousand evangelical Christians sang their hauntingly beautiful hymns, extolling the grace and majesty of their Lord and mine. Their dedication and affirmation of faith in such trying circumstances left me convicted by my own comparatively frivolous confessions. Did my often loudly and once exclusively pronounced statements of faith and endurance have an underpinning of strength equal to their quiet fidelity?

Of all the worshipful experiences I have observed or participated in, however, my particularly savored remembrance of worship was just such an occasion as that mentioned by Cliff Ganus III in Wineskins: “[A] solo was a text that was important to the presenter … a hymn was a text of praise that was joined by a tune. The hymn was important; the tune was irrelevant.”

In the summer of 1985, while excavating at Herodian near Bethlehem, we worshipped each week with the Jewish Christian Netivyah Congregation (Church of Christ in Jerusalem) led by Joe Shulam, our dear friend and brother since the late 1960s when he was John’s student at David Lipscomb College.

On one particularly warm Sunday evening, we were crowded into the small meeting house with a virtual ethnic smorgasbord of fellow believers. We had sung or hummed along to the exuberant Hebrew choruses with their many Hallelujahs sung in the characteristic minor keys. We had chanted from the Psalms in English as many others did likewise in their daily tongues of Hebrew, Finnish, or some other of the several languages spoken there that night. We had listened as the sermon was simultaneously translated into those same languages, and we could not help noticing one worshiper in particular who had sat so intently and reverently in a corner of the crowded room.

His crown of snow white hair with not a trace of its earlier color and his neatly trimmed silver beard bespoke his advanced age. As he sat erectly on that uncomfortable seat through the lengthy service, his startlingly blue eyes eagerly watched the face of a younger brother who retranslated into Russian the remarks of the visiting English speaker which had been conveyed to him through a Hebrew translator.

Near the end of the service, the translator let it be known that our elderly brother who was a recent immigrant from Russia and spoke only Russian wanted to thank all the people who had ministered to him that evening. He also asked permission to contribute something to the corporate service which had blessed him. He was given that permission and his offering will forever linger in my heart and mind as a very special gift. In a clear and melodic voice he sang the incomprehensible Russian words to the unmistakable melody we love so well, and “How Great Thou Art” took on a new dimension of loveliness.

To use the phrases of Calvin Warpula in his Wineskins article on special music in worship, this brother’s “special music” was done for the “edifying of all present” as he “spoke to all the others” with his “spiritual song.” How thankful I was and am that the modern day church in Jerusalem had a place for the solo praise of this dear old brother who so blessed all of us present.

One Day in Jerusalem

by John McRay

I was uncomfortable, but I am always uncomfortable when riding in one of those pre-World War II buses in Israel’s West Bank, as I have most of the summers during the past 25 years. But an archaeologist doesn’t work in Israel for the comfort of the experience.

The day was hot, as usual. The bus was crowded, as usual. The atmosphere was stifling, as usual, and, as usual, the locals sitting upwind of me, sweating profusely in their long heavy clothing had not been told that Right Guard deodorant works under the left arm too.

We stopped once on the way back from Bethlehem, to pick up a woman with a chicken in her arms. While she struggled to get on board, a man waiting to board as well, tried to push his portable bedstead through one of the back windows of the bus. After some obviously caustic (though to me incomprehensible) words were shouted in Arabic by the driver, the bed was withdrawn and we started moving again. Now, we were blessed with the smell of the chicken added to that of the goat that was standing in the aisle a few feet away. The Holy Land! A wonderfully strange place to be, I thought. I love it!

By the time we reached Suleiman Street in Jerusalem, the one that runs along the northern wall of the Old City, I was pushing my nose out the window to find some fresh air. Just as we passed the Damascus Gate, I saw a sight I shall never forget—two young boys walking down the street, one leading the other, both blind. And I gasped, “The blind leading the blind!” There they were, just as Jesus had said. I had always thought his words were only hypothetical, a story told to illustrate a point. He had said that if the blind lead the blind they will both fall into the ditch, but how would anyone presume to lead another when the leader cannot see where he is going?

My feelings of incredulity were overwhelmed by emotions of pity. Then, as I pondered this page of biblical history which had materialized before my very eyes, I wondered which of these two was deserving of more pity—the one who thought he could lead another without himself possessing the ability to see, or the one who trusted another, as blind as himself, to lead him?

Tragic as this scene was, it is even more lamentable that the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, the meaning he intended to convey by what he said, has so often fallen on deaf ears. The blind have also become deaf. What Jesus meant for us to understand was that we cannot teach others what we do not know. We cannot share with others an understanding which we do not have. We cannot give what we do not possess.

Those of us who do presume to lead the blind must ourselves seek the truth of God with all our hearts, be prepared to sacrifice all selfish ambition, hunger and thirst after righteousness, and practice what we preach. Otherwise, we become blinded by our own arrogance.

James’ words have echoed with excruciating frequency in my ears since I preached my first sermon 43 years ago. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes” (James 3:1-2). And why shouldn’t we be judged with greater strictness, those of us who profess to lead the blind and are blind ourselves?

Paul wrote: “[I]f you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself?” (Romans 2:19-21).

The church is entering an exciting new stage of change and recommitment, unlike anything I have seen in almost a half-century of preaching and teaching. But real change is possible only for those of us who are willing and able to see where we are, where we need to go, and what we must be when we get there. In this exciting but awesome process let us remember that, as always, God requires people of vision to lead his own and the blind cannot lead the blind. May God grant to those who lead, the eyes of Christ, the heart of Christ, and the patience of Christ for his kingdom’s sake.

And may we seriously contemplate the words of a cherished professor at David Lipscomb College, John L. Rainey, who taught Greek to more than one generation of preachers, and who had a maxim for every occasion: “No one is as blind as he who will not see.” Wineskins Magazine

Lynn Anderson

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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