The Harmony of Transformed Hearts

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s, The Silmarillion, creation is depicted as an act of divine music-making. [1] There is a great harmony, then disharmony, then the harmony grows louder and louder and finally the harmony of creation emerges victorious. It is a long, lovely meditation on the creation of the world and the harmony God intended, which has been marred by sin, evil, and distortion. Tolkien managed to create a metaphor that is both consistent with the Biblical story of creation (Tolkien was a devout Christian) and in many respects consistent with what the science of his day believed about the creation of the world.

The ancient Chinese felt that the music of an era was an important factor in its growth or decay. Here is one quote that summarizes their view:

Music is the harmony of heaven and earth while rites are the measurement of heaven and earth. Through harmony all things are made known, through measure all things are properly classified. Music comes from heaven, rites are shaped by earthly designs. [2]

Music is important. The Bible is full of references to music. The entire book of Psalms contains poetry, most of which was sung in the worship of the Jewish people. We know that music was a part of Jewish and early Christian worship. Music has always been a part of Christian worship from the early church forward. [3]  Paul quotes early hymns or praise songs on occasion. For example, in Philippians the familiar “Christ Hymn” may originally have been a song early Christians sang:

“In your relationships with one another,

have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God

something to be used to his own advantage;

He made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

From Disharmony to Harmony

Near the beginning of Colossians, Paul describes in detail who Jesus Christ was and what Christ has done for the human race. Christ, Paul says, is the image of the invisible God, the first-born over creation (Colossians 1:15). The fullness of God is present in Jesus (1:19; 2:9-10). By him everything was made and is before all things, and in Christ all things find their proper place (Colossians 1:15-17). Christ is the source of our salvation by his sacrifice on the cross (1:14-23). Jesus is the head of the church (1:18; 2:12ff). Paul goes on to speak of the implications of what he has said: We must put to death all in us that is contrary to the Gospel and to the spiritual wholeness God has for us (3:1-10). Then Paul tells the Colossians (and us) that we must “put on” the new life of Christ. Here is how Paul puts it:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:12-17).

Let us pray: God of peace and wholeness, come into our hearts that we might find that peace that passes all understanding that we can find only in You. In Jesus Name, Amen.

 Eliminating Disharmony

 In The Silmarillion, Tolkien uses musical dissonance for a reality we all experience: There is some disharmony in all of us, a kind of spiritual and moral brokenness that distorts our lives and prevents us from being as healthy, happy, whole, balanced, and harmonious as God intended. It is as if we are a slightly flawed piece of music!

Every pastor observes people who rightly have a kind of anger because of mistreatment they endured as children. As understandable as that anger is, it still impacts their human relationships, their businesses, families, congregations, and the like. Years ago, I was in a leadership relationship with someone with a lot of anger against authority figures because of a damaging childhood. My position required that I be in many meetings with that person. I often came home tired and irritable. I could understand and love the person, but that did not eliminate the relational damage that person occasionally inflicted on others.

Paul urges the Colossians to put away sexual and other immorality, greed, uncontrolled desire, anger, rage, malice, slander, and the like (Colossians 3:1-12). So long as we are dominated by our natural desires and our fallen human nature, we will always be without the peace of Christ. This begins with how we think. Not so long ago, someone was in my office and said something so very important: “Every negative thought has bad consequences.” Every time we allow negativity, anger, prejudice and the like to rule in our hearts and minds, we not only injure our own harmony, but we injure the harmony of the world around us. Therefore, we need to get rid of it. We cannot find harmony we desire if our lives are ruled by immorality, uncontrolled desire, greed, anger, rage, malice and all the rest.

Achieving Harmony

It is not enough to just do away with our negative habits. There is a place in Matthew where Jesus has healed a demon possessed person (See Matthew 12). This healing gives him an opportunity to talk about the Evil One and how he operates. Near the end of the teaching, Jesus makes this observation: When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it goes away. However, it will come back if nothing replaces the darkness and dysfunction. And when it comes, things maybe worse than they were before (Matthew 12:43-45).

In this teaching, Jesus is making a shrewd observation. I’ve had to deal with a lot of people with addictions over the course of my ministry. In many cases, for a short period of time, a person may achieve some kind of sobriety. However, if that person doesn’t achieve a true healing for the addiction, often it returns—sometimes, worse than before. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen people relapse and end up worse than they were before or even die. You see, the demon returned, found the house empty, and walked right in.

This is why Paul tells us that it is not enough to do away with negative spiritual qualities: Once we come to Christ, we still need to put on some new spiritual qualities! It’s like getting dressed for a party. It’s not enough for me to come home and take off my jeans and other clothes before a fancy party. I need to put on a Tuxedo!

Once we’ve taken off judgmentalism, we need to put on compassion. Once we have taken off rudeness, we need to put on kindness. Once we’ve put off pride, we need to put on humility. Once we’ve taken off greed, we need to put on generosity. Once we’ve taken off being irritable, we need to put on patience. Once we’ve taken off being unforgiving, we need to put on forgiveness. And above all, we need to put on love, because it is love that binds together all the virtues (Colossians 3:12).

When we put on these virtues, the spiritual qualities of Christ, Paul tells us that peace begins to rule in our hearts. Paul was a Jew. The Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom.” Shalom is more than the absence of conflict. Shalom is a state when things are in harmony as they should be. Those of us who have been married have experienced arguments in our marriages. And we all know that when the argument is over, and we have made up a kind of peace enters our marriage, as marital harmony is restored. The same thing is true in every area of life. When we get the disharmony out of our life, we gain a kind of harmony. And in that harmony, we can experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control and all of the other fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

Music and the Divine Harmony

At the end of our reading, Paul urges the Colossians to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as the Word of God comes to dwell in their hearts and transforms them. We are to be singers of God’s harmony, not just here but everywhere. Our lives need to become a hymn of worship to God. Nevertheless, if we cannot achieve it here, it is unlikely we will achieve it anywhere.

We are in a series called “Heart of Worship.” There is a lot in the title. Worship is not primarily a matter of what we do. It’s a matter of the heart. The “Heart of Worship” is a heart oriented towards God. The heart of worship is a heart that is filled with the love of Christ, that is the self-giving, self-sacrificial love God showed us when he died for our sins on the cross. The love of God sometimes requires that we give up our own personal preferences in worship in order to serve our fellow church members or others. I can’t say it any nicer, because that is the fact.

I am not musical. When I listen to the radio in the car, which is seldom, I listen to whatever Kathy wants to listen to. If I’m on my own, I usually think or listen to classical music. I was forty years old before I experienced contemporary worship. It wasn’t something I was initially attracted to. When I went to my former church, they had a leading-edge contemporary worship service. For the first time, I was confronted with drums in worship. Because of where I sat during worship, those drums were three feet away from my ears. In the beginning, I really didn’t like it. Over the years, I got to know the drummer well. He was one of the finest drummers in the City of Memphis and a strong Christian. He was a gentle and kind soul. After a while, I wasn’t even aware of the drums. I was aware of my friend who was playing them.

I’ve told the following story more than once of the past few weeks: In my first church, we had a young man with musical ability. He learned to play the piano. Occasionally, we had him play the piano during worship. It wasn’t perfect, but we all liked it. Then, he decided to learn to play the violin. At the beginning, he was pretty bad. If you think drums are hard to listen to in worship, a new violin player is infinitely more difficult! But we had him play many times. Today, this young man is a choir director and church organist who plays the piano, organ, and violin.

In my second church, we had a young man who was majoring in guitar at the University of Memphis. On my first Christmas Eve, at the most traditional midnight communion service, we asked him to play “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Frankly it never occurred to me that he would do it with an electric guitar, but he did! In addition, he was in that stage, which at least one of my children went through, where he liked to play loud, use the guitar pedals a lot and distort the music as much as possible. (I call this the “Jimmy Hendrix stage”.) During this phase it’s been my experience that a lot of grimacing goes on as the guitar is being played by an emerging rock star. I got some complaints after that service. But, I supported what he’d done. He graduated from college, went to one of the most prestigious musical graduate schools in America, and today is a choir director, song writer, a worship leader, in of one of the largest churches in our denomination. To be quite frank, I did not particularly appreciate that first guitar piece I heard him play. But I did love him. I did love his family. And so, I supported what he was doing.

This past week, I addressed the College of Elders on the subject of servant leadership. I shared with them some facts about our culture. We went through some of the differences between the world in which I grew up and a lot of you grew up and post-modern America. I reminded the group that not all of post-modernism is bad. [4]

Musically, our culture has changed dramatically since 1960. Since 1960, a new genre or genres of music that we tend to lump together as “Contemporary Christian music” has emerged. For those of us who can appreciate what is going on, it is unbelievable the volume of Christian music that has been written. Much of it is quite good. It may not be to my taste, but it’s quite good. We old-timers need to remember this, and the younger generation sometimes needs to remember that the Christian musical tradition has created some wonderful music.

Conclusion

One of my favorite novels is The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. [5] My favorite character is the Music Master, who is the protagonist’s mentor. The music master finds young Joseph Knetch, who will become the Master of the Glass Bead Game, as a young lad. He loves and trains the boy. Knetch is a talented musician, but he decides not to become a musician as the Music Master had hoped. Yet, over the years, the music master helps Joseph. Near the end of his life, the Music Master becomes a kind of musical saint, as the music upon which he has meditated all of his life transforms his soul into a silent harmony.

As Christians, this is what God wants for us. He wants us to be transformed by the word of God—that Word that became flesh in Jesus. He wants our worship, our prayers, a reading of the word of God, our music, are singing, everything that we do not just here but in all of our lives to become one great him of praise to the living God.

Amen

Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Jr.R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion Christopher Tolkien, ed (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1977). The first part describes as the creation of Tolkien’s literary universe in which his hooks, including the Lord of the Rings will be set.  The beginning of the Silmarillion describes the creation of the physical universe, the creation of angelic beings, how one of them fell (Melkor, and describes some other characters that appear in the Lord of the Rings, including Gandalf and Sauron. See, http://fourletternerd.com/the-silmarillion-and-the-creation-of-middle-earth/. See also, Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.

[2] William Maim, Encyclopedia Britannica Online, “Chinese Music”  Updated November 16, 2017). www.britannica.com/art/Chinese-music  (Downloaded January 19, 2017).

[3] See, Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013). This excellent book focuses on the way in which the love of God is reflected in creation. Carol Rettew brought this book to my attention this week.

[4] Some of characteristics of postmodernity can be: loss of the transcendent (No God), critical thinking taken to extremes (No Truth), reduction of everything to material powers and human will. (No Transcendent Spirit), deconstructive, revolutionary thinking about society, morals, families, etc. (No Rules), the state and other institutions taking on an importance previously reserved to God (No Human Limits), extreme individualism combined with ethical nihilism. (No Real Community). This is, however, an oversimplification.

[5] Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game (New York, NY: Holt Reinheart and Winston (Picador Press), 1990). In some American translations this book is titled “Magister Ludi” so do not be confused by a different name.

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