This is My Story
“This is my story, this is my song” – Fannie Crosby
“We recite the story;
We proclaim the story;
We sing the story;
We are called to live out the story.”
– Robert Webber
This is one of my stories. It is a true story. It is not easy to put in writing.
I Dig Hymns
I wasn’t always into church music, especially Contemporary Christian music. If anything, in the context of worship, I dug hymns. I was into God and praising and glorifying Him but music was just a tool to do this. It was part of my Sunday worship routine. I sang hymns in church and I listened to popular secular music when I was home. I separated the two musical worlds and I was happy.
My world has since changed.
I started playing guitar somewhere around age 14. But once a job, a house, a marriage and a child came, the guitar playing stopped. At some point in my mid to late forties, God shook me from my musical slumber by using a Synodical instrument known as “Parish Assistance”. After all, He gave me a gift that I was not using to His glory.
In retrospect, our congregation was floundering, at least in terms of growth and that bugged us. I wouldn’t have said it this way back then, but that’s what was happening and that’s what caused us to reach out for assistance. Among other things, one recommendation (from Parish Assistance) was to try some contemporary music. Some what? Good Heavens!
The word went out looking for anyone who knew anything about Christian Contemporary music. I did not respond because I knew absolutely nothing. Zilch. Zed. The Bagel. Hymns –yes, contemporary Christian music – no. But God can work in mysterious ways. He used someone else in our congregation, who knew that I was a closet guitarist. I had long since lost my fingertip calluses but as most musicians can attest, I did not forget how to play.
Sign, Signs, Everywhere a Sign
“Faith means trusting in advance what will make sense only in reverse” – Philip Yancy
Looking, back, I can now see God’s handiwork throughout my church life. Too bad I didn’t realize it when it was happening right before my very eyes. Doesn’t this always seem to be the case?
The First Sign – Who are these Musicians?
So, two guitarists took on the task of accompanying a pilot contemporary worship service. And in this first service I received what I can only refer to as a “sign”. As I was playing, I heard other instruments carrying the song along. Piano, drums and bass. It was so real to me; a sign only for me; a confidence booster; a reminder of His presence, a gift and a blessing. My over active imagination no doubt, but perhaps manipulated by the Creator.
The Second Sign – Welcome Ruth!
At some point, guitarist number two left the congregation and I was alone to lead worship with an acoustic guitar. It was scary and I didn’t do a very good job. There were a lot of prayers for an accomplished keyboard player gifted in contemporary music. Very quickly thereafter Ruth enters. A music teacher, a vocal coach, and a gifted keyboard player who came to us from the “Sure Foundation” Mission church in New York City. She had been transferred to CT to work as a music teacher in Granby Middle school. Guess where I live. Granby, CT; a sleepy farm town with more horses, cows, llamas, goats and chickens than people, and, 40 minutes from our church. No one relocates to CT to work in Granby! But God pieced this odd coincidence together. The first thing Ruth told me was that she was not an organist and that she enjoys playing contemporary music. Hello sign number two and welcome to Messiah Ruth.
What if Church Rocked?
I still remember exactly the first time that I played a song with Ruth. We were singing “Forever” by Chris Tomlin. I stand while I play guitar and I am located right next to her as she is seated at the keyboards. I was amazed when I looked down at her and I vividly remember two things that I had never seen in my 5 decades of attending church. Namely, she was singing into her mic with vigor as she was playing and the entire keyboard was moving around as she hammered on the keys. She sang and played with such passion, focus and intensity. I wasn’t brought up this way. Could this really be church?
After the service, a member approached and said “I really enjoyed that song Forever. Where did the lyrics come from?” My answer – “Psalm 136.”
The Third Sign – Songbooks!
We desperately needed songbooks but had no budget. Out of nowhere comes a memorial donation. A member’s relative passes, happens to have been a guitarist, and requested that her memorials be used towards church music. But we are still short, and two retired ladies in the congregation approach me and say “We love hymns and we always will, we’ve been singing the same hymns for over 60 years, but we see a passion in you and we want to pay whatever your shortfall is.” What an awesome display of Christian love. So, song books arrive. The third sign. More prayers answered.
The Forth Sign – Off to Appleton We Go!
I get real close to our Pastor. It’s that Pastor/Worship Leader relationship that I posted about a few weeks ago. He in fact encouraged me to start this BLOG. But shortly thereafter He takes a Call to serve a congregation in Appleton, WI. Incredibly, I get a business trip to be in Appleton WI on the very Sunday of his Installation service so that I could be at a manufacturer in the area for a Monday morning meeting. My first and only trip to WI, let alone to Appleton. Coincidence? Perhaps not. It could be the Master Weaver. Again.
There were a few stumbling blocks along the way but God provided and we have been growing ever since. From about 50 attendees per Sunday when this all started to a bustling 100+ right now. We have had to expand our worship sanctuary, have had to order additional contemporary songbooks on two different occasions, and have had to order additional sanctuary seating to accommodate the growth. I know that this growth is not due to the start-up of the monthly blended service. It’s in fact probably more accurate to say that we have grown in spite of my fumbling efforts. Make no mistake, the primary instrument that God used in our church for growth, has been our Pastor working through Word and Sacrament and staying faithful to that Word. It is the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not me, never was, and never will be. I am just grateful to be a part of his ministry team.
It’s Not Me!
Everything that has happened of significance to shape our worship of Him has been His doing. He just used me and people around me to accomplish His means.
He meant for us to reach out to Parish Assistance.
He meant for Parish Assistance to shake us up.
He meant for me to be nominated and to start strumming again.
He meant for me to hear other instrumentalists when they obviously weren’t there.
He meant to bring a keyboard player into our midst.
These signs may all seem minor or just coincidence to you.
They do not to me.
I lived through them.
I prayed through them.
I’ve sensed God’s prodding and blessings through them.
I continue to experience it.
I BLOG about it.
This is my testimonial.
This was my start.
This is my story.
This I believe.
There are no Accidents
Every single thing in history is interlaced in a million infinite number of ways. I do not have the wherewithal or the wisdom to make these decisions or to alter the course of history as God has done throughout my life. God overrules everything. He alone is sovereign. Nothing happens by accident and very seldom do we get the tiniest glimpse of how He is working in our lives for the good of those who love Him.
I am blessed.
I have seen.
I have felt His power.
I have seen Him move.
God is changing my life.
His love is not abstract to me.
It is real.
It is influential.
It is operative in my life.
God chose me.
I did not choose Him.
God persists to love me despite my pushing Him away.
I am thankful for my Savior
Who continues to bless me though I do not deserve it
for my church which I do not deserve
for my Pastor who I do not deserve
for my family who I do not deserve
for my friends who I do not deserve
and to my Synod who I do not deserve.
To Him alone be the glory. Amen.
- Contemporary Christian Music As Outreach! (sjbrown58.wordpress.com)