Emotion, Music, & Worship

27 Mar

At the behest of Hans Googer, of hansgooger.com, I have been tasked with a new blog post based on an idea I had a couple months back. “Time for your quarterly blog post, Evan.” Apparently, he is not wrong. I miss the ol’ blog, and I wish I gave it more time, but it’s hard. But today, you get a new blog post from yours truly! For all the folks who wondered when I might blog about stuff and things again, this one’s for you!

The post idea started with this video:

Music & Emotion

For those that don’t know it or didn’t want to click it to watch it (Come on! Really? It’s one minute!), it is a father talking to his son who is sitting in the back seat moved to tears listening to “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera playing on the radio. He is four years old. The dad asks the son if he wants him to change the station, and the son says “no.” He just wants to sit back, listen, and cry. Again, he is four years old! Obviously, it’s really sweet and cute, and it went viral about 2 months ago and has had over 3 million views to date.

As soon as I saw it, I got the idea to write about it, because to me it is such powerful testimony to the role music can play in drawing out an emotional response. Most of us intrinsically know that music does that, at least to a degree, but we often don’t really think about it day to day, and it doesn’t (usually) affect us to the degree we see with this sweet little guy in the video. Is he moved by the tragedy in the lyrics? “Say something! I’m giving up on you!” Is he moved by the minor chord progression and swelling strings? Is he moved by Christina Aguilera’s perfect harmony? All of the above? Hard to know. He is four years old. I taught a class of over a dozen four-year-olds at a preschool for a few summers, and let me tell you, this type of emotional intelligence is not typical for the age. But he is clearly, unmistakably touched by a song meant convey sadness.

So music absolutely serves as a vehicle for emotions. Sometimes, these emotions are already present and the music just pulls them to the forefront. Sometimes, the song might actually be powerful enough to change our current “emotional climate,” so to speak. In this case, it is probably not drawing out a feeling that is already present, but the song is changing the way someone was feeling and overtaking his or her emotional state.

Obviously, this makes me think about music as a worship leader and how it is used to help convey how we think and feel as a church in relationship to who God is and what He has done for us. What role should emotion play in worship?


Emotion & Worship

I remember growing up in a church that transitioned from traditional hymns to more contemporary band-driven style in my formative years as a young believer. Youth conferences and camps had these intensely emotional altar calls on the last night where people would trust Christ or “rededicate their lives” to Christ. There would always be weeping at the apparent conviction we students were feeling. I also remember my youth pastor saying, “Worship shouldn’t just be emotional. It should be spiritual.” I totally understand what he was getting at, and I agree. At the time, however, I was probably not the hearing the “just” in that statement. Rather, I was hearing, “Worship shouldn’t be emotional. It should be spiritual.”

As a young believer and budding worship leader, however, this set up a false dichotomy in my head that took me awhile to sort out. I was under the impression that stirring up emotion was fruitless. We needed worship in Spirit and in Truth right? So, be careful you aren’t just getting people excited or happy or sad. That’s not what real worship is. After all Jesus said:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
(Matthew 15:7-9 ESV)

Anyone who knows what that verse is actually saying knows that it is the opposite of how I was taking it. John Piper does a great job of expanding on it further in an audio clip here. His point is that emotions and worship are intrinsically linked. You can’t have authentic worship and be unmoved emotionally. “Feeling” is not the point of worship, but if you aren’t feeling, then how are you worshiping? How can you be exhibiting spiritual affection without emotion? This is what Jesus is saying as he quotes Isaiah. He is after our hearts, not our intellectual assent. Not our verbal affirmation. He wants us to feel in our hearts deep affection for him.

If you talk to my wife, she will attest that one of my best times of private devotion for me is mowing the grass and putting on Andrew Peterson on my iPod and weeping and sniffling–partly because of the grass clippings and pollen, I promise–but also because the music and lyrics of his songs move me and stir my affections for Christ!


Mowing on Holy Ground

Music, Emotion, and Worship

For me, whether it’s mowing the yard and weeping at Andrew Peterson songs, hearing Louis C.K. talk about how he had to pull his car over and weep at the end of Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” when it came on the radio, or watching this four year old boy weep to “Say Something” in the back seat, they all are telling me the same thing about how important music is to us emotionally. In corporate worship, the reason God has prescribed music as one of the ways in which he has us worship him is precisely because how it serves to draw out our emotions. In His Word he gave us examples of songs of praise sung by important bible characters as well as an entire book in the Psalms.

Now, as I said earlier, music can help draw out existing emotions already present but not near the surface. For my money, this should be what happens in corporate worship in most cases. For us as believers, we already have within us the truth of the gospel, and the corresponding emotional responses to it are already there, but our hearts may not be brimming with gratitude, lament, remorse, joy, etc. Music just helps it begin bubble up.

This past Sunday, we sang the awesome All Sons and Daughters song “Great Are You Lord” and I read a passage from Ezekeil 37:4-10, from which the song draws it’s inspiration. In this case, the song had already been drawing out emotions, then the Word of God was read to illuminate the lyrics of the bridge, which we then sang. It was powerful.

Here music as well as scripture was drawing out that emotional and spiritual response and serving as a vehicle for that response. So music as a means of worship when it is used in conjunction with the word of God to draw out emotion is an amazing thing. I am thankful everyday to God for the blessing of music. This world needs it. It is a gracious gift from the Lord.

Final Thoughts and Warnings

Obviously, music is not the only prescribed method of worship, and it can be overemphasized depending on the tradition of faith. It is important to remember that emotions can be false too. One can simply like music and let the feelings songs elicit be an end unto themselves. That’s not worship. I can go to a Coldplay concert and do that (and have)! As Derek Webb wrote in one of his songs, “I Don’t Want the Spirit, I Want the Kick Drum.” I take his point to be similar to mine. I am concerned as the “praise and worship music” era matures that people will confuse the means of worship with the definition of worship. Music is not worship. Emotion is not worship, but emotion is necessary for worship. Music is a means to draw out emotion, and by all accounts, a biblical one. We just need to keep things in their proper place of understanding, and we need to be careful that music doesn’t become something more than a means. It can’t be the object in and of itself, nor can the emotions it stirs. The object behind all of it is the praise and honor of God.

To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.



Why You Should Come To “JOY” – The Chapel’s Christmas Celebration

12 Dec

Christmas is now less than two weeks away. And I for one cannot believe how quickly it has come! For many of us, the season is one of the busiest times of the year. For me the time has flown in part due to preparation for our Chapel’s Christmas Program, a night of celebration called JOY… More on that in a minute!

This busyness tends to go with the season. We often hear complaints about missing the “true meaning” of Christmas (read: Jesus) because the holiday has been hijacked by a lot of secular traditions–spending time with family, throwing parties, giving gifts, eating tons of food, etc. Not untrue. Christmas has a lot more associated with it as a holiday than just a celebration of the birth of Jesus. There are many reasons for that, but there is one that many may not consider…

History Lesson

In the western world, our current secular take on Christmas owes much of its rise to prominence to one man: Charles Dickens, author of the beloved classic A Christmas Carol. Here is what I mean: Dickens, who was a known critic of religion, wished to reimagine and redefine the spirit of Christmas around positive secular (or not uniquely Christian) themes like family, giving to the needy (Dickens was also a huge social activist regarding the state of poverty and the plight of impoverished children working in factories), festive merrymaking, and appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. His goal was to make Christmas accessible to all as well as raise a level of nostalgia for a traditional old English Christmas, which was being threatened by the industrial revolution. It worked too. His values, now imortalized through countless adaptations (the work is in the public domain), play a huge role in society’s understanding of the “true” meaning of Christmas.

A Christmas Carol

And we all know the story of his novella. If you have never read it, you have seen it in one version or another, from the definitive 1951 film version, Disney’s cartoon with Mickey and Ducktales’ Scrooge McDuck, the Muppet one, or the most recent CG interpretation featuring a motion-captured Jimmy Carrey as its protagonist. Each depicts the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a joyless, horrible man with no love for his fellow man, no desire to share any of his immense wealth or spend time with his family. If ever there was a man who did not know how to appreciate life and its simple pleasures, it is the character of Scrooge. We all know what happens. He is visited by three ghosts who magically show him his past present and future, with each journey slowly softening his heart until Scrooge sees the error of ways and emerges a changed man.

And let's not forget the Bill Murray's classic "Scrooged." A favorite.

And let’s not forget the Bill Murray’s classic “Scrooged.” A personal favorite.

The Truth

I *love* this story. I will pretty much watch any version. Liam has probably watched the Mickey version half a dozen times already this year. When things settle down tomorrow after rehearsals, I am planning on watching a new version on Amazon Prime with Patric Stewart as Scrooge. Can’t wait!

Here is why I love it: Scrooge completely transforms. Though Dickens was not a Christian, he portrays well a crucial part of the Christian’s journey–transformation at a heart level, which brings about repentance. But it is not just repentance as in a change in behavior. It is motivated by newfound joy that he has realized the truth and can now live in that reality! Dickens’ surprisingly Judeo-Christian values are instilled into his character basically by a supernatural experience that uniquely changes his heart. So, while Dickens clearly wrote a secular Christmas story, glimpses of God’s truth still appear.

Joy of Every Longing Heart

This past Sunday, we shared with our congregation one of the songs from our upcoming Christmas event called “Joy of Every Longing Heart.” I want to reiterate what I said then. Those of us who have trusted Christ have seen the truth; the truth that our hearts are all empty and are longing to be filled with something. Hope… peace… joy! We know this world is broken. It doesn’t work the way it should, and our own lives reveal it to be true. But we have found the answer. We have found hope, peace, and joy in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ! And by his grace, we have been transformed to live in a new reality.

Here is the sticking point though: We forget. We miss it. We lose the joy. We are like the man James warns us about who sees his face in the mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24). We’ve heard the truth, but our attitudes and actions don’t reflect it. I am there too. My life doesn’t look the way it should. I wanna be like Scrooge at the end of the story. Compassionate. Giving. Joyful. Sometimes I am more like how he is at the beginning. Often I am like Scrooge in the middle. Torn between the truth and the way I want to live my life.

Music helps me. I think it helps a lot of us. God’s word helps me. I know it can help all of us who struggle to find the joy. Make no mistake though, whether you feel joyful or not, there is much to celebrate when it comes to Christmas. The stories are true. They really did happen. Jesus came for us! He rescued us! He made us whole. So the Chapel Worship Staff, our teams, and the choir have created a way for us to respond.

So lets be joyful.

Hope to see you there

Hope to see you there



Great Perspective on the Eve All Hallows’ (VIDEO)

30 Oct

Great poem on the historical angle of Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve).

Campus Worship Set 7/28/13

29 Jul

Figured I would tweet the setlists, but also start blogging them again.

This week I was out at the Campus location, my old stomping ground, filling in for Drew, who is in Haiti right now with one of our teams. Coincidentally, Hans was also out there with me, so the Campus got the Oaks experience this week, which was, I am sure, a change of pace (hopefully a welcome one).

It was great to be back over there! It had been almost a year. We finished out our Acts Series that we have been doing since last August. It has been something like 40 weeks in the book of Acts, so it has been wild ride. Hans did a great job summing things up for us.

Here are the songs we sang. You can also click HERE for our order of worship.

Opening Song: “Holy Spirit” by Brian and Katie Torwalt
You can download it here.

Came To My Rescue by Joel Davies, Marty Sampson, and Dylan Thomas
Download it here.

God of the Redeemed by Claire McClure, Paul McClure, and Jeremy Riddle
Download it here.

The Stand by Joel Houston
Download it here.


Pacific Rim: A Short Review

28 Jul


I really liked it.

Here is what a buddy said: “Will it have good robot fights? Yes. Will it have a good story? Probably not.”

He is not entirely wrong. You need to know what you are gonna get with a film like Pacific Rim. Given that the source material is about giant human piloted robots fighting giant monsters called Kaiju from another dimension (that enter our world through a rift at the bottom of the pacific ocean–hence the title), you kinda need to go in remembering that it ain’t trying to be shakespeare.

That said, it is directed by GDT of Pan’s Labyrinth fame, and this dude can create cool monsters and, as it turns out, great robots. Where the film shines is the outstanding scenes where monsters and robots just duke it out. The film moves through its thin plot with a straight face, but you just know that the filmmakers were giggling as they made their characters who wear these complicated suits and interact with all these interactive 3D displays reach down and press a button that simply says “SWORD.” Genius. What’s more, the script has lines the character say lines like “Activate elbow rocket!” with complete earnestness. It is like the script was written by a 10-year old, and I mean that in the best possible way! Your inner 10-year-old boy will just be grinning ear to ear during these scenes.

This film has some half-baked ideas that get lost in the shuffle, some bad dialogue and wooden acting for sure. Still, it managed to deliver a really fun experience at the movies. I usually don’t tell people to spring for the 3D, but I really enjoyed it in this film. It worked well with all the action, which is why you see a movie like this.

I will also say that financially, this film hasn’t done great in the US, but it is doing very well overseas, particularly in Asain markets (no surprise there–they invented this subgenre). Still, I think Americans are in for a treat if they can make it to the theater. I highly recommend folks see this one. It is worth it to see it on the big screen for the sheer spectacle of it all.

Here is the “elbow rocket” scene I mentioned.


If you don’t think that’s:

a. hilarious
b. awesome
c. really well done CG
d. all of the above

Then you probably won’t like this movie. If you answered a, b, c, or you are like me and answered d, you need to see this film before it leaves theaters!



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