Whereby Earth Imitates Heaven

“The psalm blended all voices together, and caused one single fully harmonious chant to arise; young and old, rich and poor, women and men, slaves and free, all sang one single melody… All the inequalities of social life are here banished. Together we make up a single choir in perfect equality of rights and of expression whereby earth imitates heaven.” ~Ignatius, 110 AD

I had the most wonderful weekend singing with God’s children. You can’t believe all the singing.

Friday night and all day Saturday I was blessed to be able to sing praises to our Father with more than two thousand teenagers at WinterFest at the Arlington Convention Center. Over two thousand kids! Singing. Praising. Clapping. Stomping. Dancing. Twirling. Hand motions. Loud. Energetic. Enthusiastic. Singing of the very best kind. True offerings from the soul. Genuine praise and thanksgiving from the heart. The kind of singing that fosters Christian unity. The kind of singing that strengthens Christian bonds. The kind of singing that ushers one directly to the throne room of God.

I’ll bet we sang over a hundred different songs together at WinterFest Friday and Saturday. And not one of them — I promise — was written before 1980.

Sunday night, I was blessed to be able to sing praises to our Father with about two dozen of my Legacy brothers and sisters and another two dozen or so residents of the Sterling House Nursing Home in Richland Hills. As part of the NEXT challenge, our Small Group has teamed up with another to spend an hour with those sweet people at least once a month. About forty of us total Sunday evening. Singing. Praising. Toe tapping. Smiling. Head nodding. Amen-ing. Four part harmonies. Not too fast, not too slow. Just right. Singing of the very best kind. True offerings from the soul. Genuine praise and thanksgiving from the heart. The kind of singing that fosters Christian unity. The kind of singing that strengthens Christian bonds. The kind of singing that ushers one directly to the throne room of God.

I’ll bet we sang 25 different songs together at Sterling House Sunday night. And not one of them — I promise — was written after the Depression.

I want my children to take very seriously the words of Paul in Romans 12: In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. That’s why our girls were right there with Carrie-Anne and me all weekend, with the crazy teenagers at WinterFest and with the sweet old people at Sterling House. I want my kids to see what I see, I want them to feel what I feel, to truly know what I know: that The Old Rugged Cross means as much to that older woman in the wheelchair as You Have Turned (my mourning into dancing, whoop! whoop!) means to that 12-year-old-girl clapping in the aisle. That it is critically important for the younger people to join in the congregational singing of Blessed Assurance and Anywhere with Jesus. And that it is just as important for the older people to join in the congregational singing of Days of Elijah and Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.

Why do the teens at WinterFest smile? Why do they sing? Because they’re expressing themselves to God — they’re declaring his praises and experiencing his grace — in their own style, in their own language, in their native tongue. They are free.

Why do the older people at Sterling House smile? Why do they sing? Same reason.

Now, does it give you joy to encourage a teenager in the faith? Does it bring you godly pleasure to tell a child he is important to you or that she is vital to your church family? Then why don’t you unfold your arms and wipe off that scowl and join them with gusto the next time your worship leader starts Blessed Be Your Name! Or is it only about you?

Teenaged brother or sister in Christ, does it make you feel good to encourage an older person? Does it lift your spirits to tell a senior citizen that she is vital to your church family? That he matters to you? Then why don’t you put down the iPhone and wipe the frown off your face and join them with gusto the next time your worship leader starts How Great Thou Art! Or is it only about you?

A gathering of God’s people all truly giving themselves to God in song really is incredible. But it only imitates heaven when the congregants are giving themselves to each other as well. The greatest joy I received and the greatest blessing I encountered over this wonderful weekend was in watching a couple of people almost twice my age shout out Couldn’t Keep It To Myself Friday night and watching the teens in our Small Groups sing A Wonderful Saviour Sunday night.

Earth really imitating heaven.

Peace,

Allan

4 Comments

  1. Rob's Dad

    Good start – keep peeling the onion on why each group was so into the singing. As you do, consider how much being primarily in their own demographic played into the equation. Consider as well the pace and who was leading in each. Be dispassionate as you assign weights to these factors.

    Might be interesting to see where it leads – it just might pop Leonard.

  2. Whitney's "Old" Youth Minister

    Well said but how soon you forget, Allan. We did sing at least two songs written before 1980, and those were Amazing Grace and It Is Well. I’ve never heard either of those songs sung with such passion and enthusiasm. Just thought I’d throw that out there. 🙂

    I too was at Winterfest pouring my heart out in song with the other 4,000+ teenagers who were there! It was AWESOME! It was so moving to see my new youth group expressing themselves in worship in ways they’ve never tried before. It was our first trip ever, and they were blessed by the worship as well.

    It was especially moving when we sang (and I use the word “we” generously as I was unable to sing) There’s A Stirring. I lead that song at my dad’s funeral and to this day I still cannot sing it without crying. Valerie and Sabrina happen to be sitting a few rows behind me and saw me crying during that song. As soon as the song was over, they rushed over to where I was just to hug me. They know how sweet and precious that song is to me, and I have no doubt they sang out with all their hearts and all their voice before coming to hug my neck and tell me they love me. You’re doing a good job. You are speaking truth, and showing truth, to your family (not only your immediate family, but also your church family) that worship is not about the experience you have, but that it’s about making sure the people around you have the best (maybe even better) experience. Experience probably isn’t the best word for it, but you understand what I’m saying. Valerie knew that song was special to me, and she knew why it was special. By singing out, and then hugging my neck after that song was over told me that she understands the concept that it’s not all about her, but that it’s all about the people around her.

    Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Leave your gift at the alter and go make things right with your brother. Then offer the gift.” How can we truly worship a God of love, peace, and inclusion when we refuse to participate in worship because of spite, hate, or exclusion? It simply is not worship when we’re more concerned about song selection or expression of worship than we are devoting our lives to the service of our God (“our true act of worship” Romans 12).

    I miss you brother! Keep up the good work. Love you.

  3. Allan

    My preaching and pastoring duties at Legacy kept me from participating in Sunday’s WinterFest session. My wife and children were there, though. Of course. I can’t beat out Mike Cope even in my own house.

    They tell me that It Is Well was sung during that Sunday morning service. I missed it. However, you’re right about Amazing Grace. Jeff Walling did lead us in singing that at the end of his presentation on the resonating stories of God’s children. Powerful, yes. The only thing that can possibly account for my forgetting about the awesome illustration with the glasses and the song is that maybe I was still thinking about their use of Bonhoeffer.

  4. Jenn

    I love it. Every bit of it. The old, the new….it’s ALL good in my book!
    When we moved here today Katy, we didn’t know any songs for about 3 weeks….we turned up our Christian radio dial and learned them. Now we find ourselves wanting to go to Jeremy Camp and Casting Crowns concerts. Love it and I know God is loving every bit of the rejoicing in His name…no matter what the song is and how old it is!!

    Thanks for the great post, Allan.

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