Dancing Before the Lord with Wild Abandonment

Contributed by A. Merril Smoak, Jr., Dean of Jubilee College of Music, Olivet University

 If you Google the adjective “abandoned” you will find two definitions:

  1. having been deserted or cast off – “an abandoned car
  2. unrestrained; uninhibited – “a wild, abandoned dance

This article will reflect on the second definition as it relates to the Old Testament story of King David recorded in 2 Samuel, chapter 6.

The phrase “a wild, abandoned dance” immediately reminds us of the story of King David dancing before the Lord as the Ark of the Covenant is brought into the ancient city of Jerusalem.  His dancing before the Lord can certainly be described as “unrestrained” and “uninhibited.”   This celebration event is recorded in chapter 6 of 2 Samuel.  Here are the key verses:

          5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, …

          14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while        he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of  trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

         21 David said to Michal, “… I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

This was a joyous event that demanded a huge celebration. The Ark of God, the box overlaid with gold that contained the original Ten Commandment stone tablets, was being brought into David’s city Jerusalem.  King David led the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the celebration by dancing before the Lord “with all his might.”  This phrase “with all his might” suggests that the King was “unrestrained” and “uninhibited” in his dance before the Lord.  It was a “wild, abandoned dance.” 

That David was not intimidated or worried about what others thought of his dancing is reflected in his response to the criticism by Saul’s daughter Michal.  Notice his twofold response to Michal’s criticism:

  1. It was before the Lord” and “I will celebrate before the Lord
  2. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own   eyes.

His dancing was worship directed to God during this time of celebration.  He was not concerned with what others thought about his worship actions.  Reflecting on this story worship leader Matt Redman shares these thoughts:

Going back to that day in Jerusalem, the dancing King David was totally consumed with God and unaware of himself.  He didn’t care who was watching or what they might think. He was an adoring heart, worshipping with all his might.

That’s what King David’s frenzied dancing was all about.  It wasn’t a show; nor was it just adrenaline or hype.  It was an overflow of the abundance of love for God that was in his heart.[1]

Amen!

But we must also remember that King David was leading in worship.  His wild abandoned dance before the Lord was an example for others to follow. Are you a worship leader?  Do you lead a group of people in singing praises to God?  Please remember that people are watching and hopefully following your worship actions.

Will our worship this coming Sunday be an overflow of the abundance of love for God that is in our hearts?[2]  Maybe we should follow David’s example and think about these adjectives as we prepare for worship this coming Sunday:

         unrestrained & uninhibited – “a wild, abandoned dance

 May all of our worship be like this “with all our might.”

[1] Redman, Matt, The Unquenchable Worshipper:  Coming Back to the Heart of Worship (Ventura:  Regal Books, 2001), 47.

[2] Ibid.

Abandoned Hymns Bring New Life to Our Christian Worship Music

Contributed by A. Merril Smoak, Jr., Dean of Jubilee College of Music, Olivet University

If you Google the adjective “abandoned” you will find two definitions:

  1. having been deserted or cast off – “an abandoned car
  2. unrestrained; uninhibited – “a wild, abandoned dance

This article will examine the first definition of “abandoned” as it relates to hymns, praise choruses, and contemporary praise & worship music. A second article will examine the second definition of “abandoned” as it relates to the Old Testament story of King David found in 2 Samuel, chapter 6.

In thinking about the word “abandoned” in relation to our Christian hymns I wrote these words back in 1988:

Growing numbers of our congregations are abandoning the hymnal and singing only praise choruses; others use a combination of both. Are these praise choruses merely a passing fad, or are some of them destined to become a part of our hymnic repertoire?[1]

Yes, during the 1970’s and 1980’s there was a growing trend in worship music to “abandon” and “cast off” the use of traditional hymns and replace them with praise choruses and the emerging contemporary praise & worship songs.  This trend was both good and unfortunate.  In a good way praise choruses such as “Seek Ye First” (1972), “Jesus, Name Above All Names” (1974), “Glorify Thy Name” (1976), and “In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified” (1978) ushered in a refreshing musical change for the youth and young adults that were becoming Christians.  Accompanied by acoustic guitars these simple praise choruses were often based upon scripture and were easy to learn.  In the 1980’s the praise & worship movement got its start with familiar worship songs such as “Majesty” (1981), “How Majestic Is Your Name” (1981), and culminated in 1989 with “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.”  These new praise & worship songs were also a refreshing musical change that helped us re-focus our attention on the importance of worship.  This change continued into the 1990’s with popular contemporary praise & worship songs such as “Shout to the Lord” (1994).  Unfortunately, in many places of worship, our rich treasury of traditional hymns and gospel hymns were abandoned for the new praise choruses and contemporary worship music.  It was even suggested in some locations that your church would not grow if you did not replace hymn singing with these new worship songs.

In reality, hymns were never totally abandoned.  Some churches in the 1980’s and 1990’s continued to sing only hymns while some churches blended together the singing of hymns, praise choruses, and contemporary praise & worship songs.  But a change was coming that would breathe new life into abandoned hymns.  Contemporary worship leaders such as David Crowder and Chris Tomlin began to arrange and record hymns in the new contemporary praise & worship musical style.  Here are some examples:

“Come Thou Fount”

David Crower, “All I Can Say” album (1999)

  “The Wonderful Cross (When I survey the wondrous cross)”

Chris Tomlin, “The Noise We Make” album (2001)

 “All Creatures of Our God and King”

David Crowder, “Can You Hear Us? album (2002)

  “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”

Chris Tomlin, “See the Morning” album (2006)

These hymns were revived with new chords, musical refrains (bridges), and worship band accompaniment.  Today one of the most popular and often sung revived hymns is Edward Mote’s (1797-1874) early 19th-century hymn “My hope is built on nothing less” also known by the title “The Solid Rock”:

         “Cornerstone (My hope is built on nothing less)”

Hillsong Worship, “Cornerstone” album (2012)

 Unfortunately, the praise choruses of the 1970’s and the early praise & worship songs of the 1980’s have largely passed from common use in today’s worship services.  Although, these worship songs are very much remembered and cherished by the Baby Boomer generation.  There is one praise & worship song from the 1980’s that Christians around the world are still singing today:  “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High”[2] published by Maranatha Music in 1989 has not been abandoned.  I believe that this worship song has not been cast off because the lyrics clearly state the Gospel story of Jesus, our Lord and Savior:

  You came from heaven to earth to show the way,

From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay,

From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky,

Lord I lift Your name on high.[3] 

Amen!

Here is another reality.  There is no need to “abandon” or “cast off” traditional hymns, praise choruses, or contemporary praise & worship songs for new types and styles of worship songs that will be written in the future.  As worship leaders today we have the joy and opportunity to choose the best of these worship song genres and lead our people in lifting the Lord’s name on high.  May we sing with “unrestrained” and “uninhibited” abandonment to our Lord!    

Lord I lift Your name on high,

Lord I love to sing Your praises,

I’m so glad You’re in my life,

I’m so glad You came to save us.[4]

[1] Smoak, Jr., A. Merril, “From the Gospel hymn to the Praise Chorus:  Considerations for the New Baptist Hymnal,” Southern Baptist Music Journal, Volume, 5, 1988.

[2] Founds, Rick, Lord, I Lift Your Name on High, Maranatha Music, 1989.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

The Hymn Amazing Grace: New Testament Language Based Upon Old Testament Scripture

Contributed by Dr. A. Merril Smoak, Jr., Dean, Jubilee College of Music

In his hymn Amazing grace! how sweet the sound John Newton used several New Testament sounding words and phrases to describe his Christian salvation experience:

         Amazing grace! how sweet the sound         [stanza one]

         That saved a wretch like me!

         How precious did that grace appear          [stanza two]

         The hour I first believed.

         ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,    [stanza three]

         And grace will lead me home.

It is a little known fact that this well-know Christian hymn is actually based upon Old Testament scripture verses, specifically 1 Chronicles chapter 17, verses 16 and 17.  This is a good reminder for worship leaders and Christian song writers today.  Our new contemporary praise and worship songs must be based upon scriptures found in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound was written and first published in 1779 by British pastor and former slave ship captain John Newton (1725-1807).  While serving at the church in Olney England  Newton and his friend William Cowper (1731-1800) published a hymn collection entitled OLNEY  HYMNS, IN THREE BOOKS.  Amazing grace! how sweet the sound is hymn number 41 in this collection.  In the Preface to OLNEY HYMNS Newton makes this statement concerning the arrangement of the hymns in the collection:

These hymns are distributed in three Books.  In the first I have classed those which are formed upon select passages of Scripture, and placed them in the order of the Books of the Old and New Testament.

In OLNEY HYMNS the original six stanzas of Amazing grace! how sweet the sound were placed in “BOOK I.  ON SELECTED PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE” with the heading:

I. CHRONICLES

XLI.  Faith’s review and expectations.

Chap.  xvii.  16.  17.

Thus the words of John Newton’s famous hymn are based upon scripture verses found in First Chronicles, chapter 17, verses 16 and 17.  It is interesting to ponder what Newton had in mind when he chose the words of king David’s prayer found in 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 to describe his Christian salvation experience in his hymn Amazing grace! how sweet the sound:

16 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? 17 And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree, O Lord God.

In chapter 17 of 1 Chronicles the prophet Nathan tells David that God will not allow him to build a permanent house for the ark of the covenant that has been dwelling in a tent.  Instead God has chosen one of David’s sons to build a house for the ark of the covenant.  Nathan explains to David what will happen in verses 11-12:

11 And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.

The immediate result of this prophecy is that David’s son Solomon will build a temple in Jerusalem that will house the ark.  But more importantly Nathan’s words hint that the coming Messiah, King Jesus, will be from David’s lineage:  “I will establish his throne forever.” (verse 12).   Unknowingly David also hints at the coming of Jesus through his family line in verse 17:  “and You have also spoke of Your servant’s house for a great while to come.”  

Yes, David was disappointed that he would not be allowed to build the temple.  But in verses 16 and 17 he wonderfully proclaims his faith and trust in the God who has chosen him to be king in Israel.  Through David’s seed God’s forever house, Jesus, will be established.  With this Old Testament story in mind John Newton also writes about his faith and trust in the God who has chosen him to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ through preaching and hymn writing:

         Amazing grace!  (how sweet the sound)

         That sav’d a wretch like me!

         I once was lost, but now am found,

         Was blind, but now I see.

Both David and John Newton were men who struggled to consistently walk in God’s ways.  Both men were sinners who were saved by God’s amazing grace.  The sixth and final stanza of the hymn Amazing grace! how sweet the sound is a fitting epitaph for remembering both of these men who experienced God’s amazing grace:

         The earth will soon dissolve like snow,

         The sun forbear to shine;

         But God, who called me [David & John Newton] here below,

         Will be forever mine.

May each of us also experience and know God’s amazing grace!

Singing a New Song: Instructions from the Psalms

Several times in the Psalms we find the admonition to “sing a new song.” As worship leaders and church musicians this should immediately get our attention. We are always looking for a new song to learn and then teach to our congregations. Let’s examine these references to “singing a new song” found in the songbook of the ancient Hebrews.

Psalm 33:3
Sing to him [God] a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

Psalm 96:1
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth!

Psalm 98:1
Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
     for he has done marvelous things!

Psalm 144:9
I will sing a new song to you, O God;
    upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you [God],

Psalm 149:1
Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the godly!

Here are 10 things we learn about music and worship from examining these verses:

  • Sing! Throughout the Psalms we find references to singing. God has created human beings with the physical ability to sing. With our own bodies we create music. We call this singing.
  • These verses teach us that our singing is to have a purposeful direction. We are to sing directly to the LORD. Our physical cognitive process (our minds) enable us to lift our singing voices up to God as praise and worship.
  • We are directed to sing a “new song” to the LORD. What does this mean? We will discuss this in detail below.
  • Musical instruments are a part of singing a new song to the LORD.
  • Loud shouts of joy are a part of singing a new song to the LORD.
  • “All the earth” is to sing to the LORD. This includes humans and all of God’s creation (rivers, mountains, tress, etc.).
  • We sing to the LORD because “he has done marvelous things!”
  • Instrumentalists play their instruments and make music to the LORD.
  • Singing a new song to the LORD is synonymous with praising the LORD.
  • We are to sing a new song to the LORD with other people who love the LORD. We do this each Sunday morning when we come together to worship the LORD.

Now, what does it mean to “sing a new song?” Here are four suggestions to consider:

  • Yes, obviously it can mean to write new words and compose new melodies to form a brand new song. This has happened throughout Christian history and it must continue today. We always need new songs of praise and worship to express our love for God, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The writer of Lamentations helps us with this understanding:
    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
              his mercies never come to an end;
     they are new every morning;
         great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
  • It could also simply mean that the words and music are new to the singers. The singers have found a song that was previously written and it is new to them. This happens all the time. As Christians we have a rich heritage of hymns and songs that have been written in the past by persons who have loved the LORD. Let’s keep on looking for that one special song to express our love for the LORD.
  • Non-Christians and new Believers could all of a sudden decide to sing the songs of Yahweh. Yes! This is wonderful! Non-Christians are being prompted by the Holy Spirit to become believers in Jesus. As they experience singing new songs about God’s love for them they will soon become followers of Jesus. New Believers must sing new songs about forgiveness of sins and the joy of their salvation because of Jesus’ death on the cross. This reminds us of the reference to singing a new song in John’s Revelation:
    And they sang a new song, saying,
    Worthy are you to take the scroll
         and to open its seals,
    for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
         from every tribe and language and people and nation,
         (Revelation 5:9)
  • Here is one last possibility about the meaning of singing a new song. There are many worship songs that we have been singing for many years. The words and melody are very familiar. Then, all of a sudden while singing one of these songs a particular word or phrase jumps out at us with a fresh, new understanding. We are now singing this familiar song as a new song. This reminds us of Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth:
    What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind [understanding] also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind [understanding] also. 
         (1 Corinthians 14:15)

There is one more reference to singing a new song in the Psalms.

Psalm 40:3
He put a new song in my mouth,
     a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
     and put their trust in the Lord.

This is amazing! God himself puts a new song in our mouths and we lift this new song back to God as a new song of praise! AND (!) because of this new song many people will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in the LORD! The singing of this new song will lead to new Believers!

Amen! Let’s continue to lift new songs unto the LORD!

– Dr. Merril Smoak

Jubilee College of Music San Francisco Held Quarterly Recital

Jubilee College of Music San Francisco held its quarterly recital just before Christmas break. Thirteen students and their instructor Alice Kubo performed piano music by Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and other famous composers. 

Notable pieces included Alleluia by W.A. Mozart; Finale by Johannes Brahms; Autumn by Antonio Vivaldi; Harmony of the Angels Op.100, No 21; Polka Op.29, No 14 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and My Heart Will Go On by James Horner. 

The music students’ performances included a piano and drum duet.  Instructor Alice Kubo contributed to the recital by performing Sonata In E-Flat Major, Op. 81a. The audience enjoyed the music’s variety of dramatic, dynamic, and rhythmic contrasts. The evening was an impressive showcase of JCM’s Fall quarter piano course.

Always Singing – A Note from Dr. Merril Smoak about Music & Worship

Christians Musicians Are Always Giving Thanks

Christian musicians are always looking for scripture verses that mention music and singing.  These verses guide us in our song selection and deepen our understanding of how to lead others in worship.  In the New Testament, we find two examples of these selected Bible verses:  Ephesians 5:15-20 and Colossians 3:15-17.  These two well-known passages mention the familiar “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” of the first century Christian church.  These verses are singularly important because they teach us that singing was an important part of early Christian worship. 

Yes, singing is an important part of our Sunday worship, but as we read and study Ephesians 5:15-20 and Colossians 3:15-17 other themes emerge that must impact our worship leadership.  Note these phrases:

         “always giving thanks”       Ephesians 5:20

         “And be thankful”               Colossians 3:15

         “with gratitude”                  Colossians 3:16

         “giving thanks”                   Colossians 3:17

In these verses Paul reminds us of the link between singing and giving thanks that was already established in the Old Testament:

         “It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
         to sing praises to your name, O Most High”          Psalm 92:1

As we sing together during times of worship we are giving thanks.  As we pray we are giving thanks.  As Christians, we live a life of everyday giving thanks to God for his blessings, mercy, and grace.  We continually give thanks to God for his Son Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Thanks be to God!

Let’s take a closer look at Paul’s teachings on “giving thanks” in these verses from Ephesians and Colossians.  Here is Ephesians 5:19-20

        “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Notice that the phrase “always giving thanks” is a continuation of the sentence “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”  In verse 20 Paul answers three questions:           

To whom do we give thanks?         “to God”

For what do we give thanks?          “for everything”

How do we give thanks?                “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”

We give thanks to God for everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!  Amen!

Here is Colossians 3:16b-17

       “…singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Again Paul links “singing” with “gratitude” (giving thanks).  He then reminds us that our spoken words and our actions are all to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus as we give thanks to God through Jesus.

On November 25 of this year, we will celebrate a national holiday called Thanksgiving Day.  As Christians, we understand that setting aside one day per year to give thanks is certainly not enough!  Every moment of every day we give thanks to God for our very breath and our new life in Christ Jesus.

Here are the words to one of my favorite closing worship songs:

         Giving thanks, giving thanks,
         To God through Christ our Lord.
         Giving thanks, giving thanks,
         To God through Christ our Lord.

Christian musicians and worship leaders always remember to live a life of daily giving thanks as you prepare to lead your people in worship by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Thanks be to God!

Jubilee College of Music Dean Encourages Students to be Spirit-Filled Musicians

Students at Jubilee College of Music, JCM, recently held an online meeting with the dean of the school Dr. Merril Smoak. Though students were not able to take in-person classes for several quarters, the meeting united their hearts together once again as they came to share the word of God and receive encouragement.

Dr. Smoak opened the meeting by greeting students from Riverside, San Francisco, and St. Louis campuses. He gave a short lecture about music in the Old Testament. Reading three scriptures from 1 Samuel 10:5-7, 2 Kings 3:9-19, and 2 Chronicles 5:11:14, Dr. Smoak explained how music was used in worship.

Music is a way to connect the spirit of God, deliver a message from God, and give praise and thanks to the Lord. Looking at 120 music ministers in 2 Chronicles, students could imagine how big and significant music was in the worship service in that era. Dr. Smoak encouraged students to be filled by the Holy Spirit to develop our worship music in the Church today.

The gathering ended with Dr. Smoak’s closing prayer. JCM hopes to organize all-student meetings with the Dean regularly to better acquaint students and unite well.

Jubilee College of Music Conducting Class Improves Choral Ensemble Leadership

The conducting class offered by Jubilee College of Music this Winter trains music students to be excellent choir directors.

Conducting is a body language that indicates musicians how to perform the music together. It is an essential technique for all music ministers because the choral ensemble has an important role in church worship.

The class so far focused on postures. The foundations of right and left hand techniques show consistent beating patterns in steady tempos, give clear cues for entry, phrasing, tempo changing, and dynamics. The study will extend to understanding music, preparing scores, leading rehearsals, and more.

Though students may be limited in applying their skills in actual ensemble rehearsals due to the pandemic, the use of digital media during class helps fill in the gap in practicing.

Jubilee Music Student to Present Graduation Concert in October

The graduation concert is the most important requirement of the Master of Arts in Music program at Jubilee College of Music (JCM). Graduate students typically spend the very last three quarters of their study preparing for it. In the Fall quarter, senior student Joy Song will be ready to present her graduation concert.

Joy shared the biblical inspiration of her “Trust God’s Love Firmly” concert, which is in Psalm 95:1-2, “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”

“In this worship concert, I wish to help believers of Jesus recall their journey of faith – the moment they met God for the first time and how amazing it was to return to God’s family. For those who have doubts and weaknesses in faith, they may be able to put their trust in God’s faithfulness once again if they recover this first heart,” Joy said.

As the Fall quarter had just started, Joy ran a rehearsal for the singers sectional. The one-hour practice covered several songs with melodies and harmonizing. In the following weeks, the guitarist and drummer will join to form the full worship band. The team will be practicing weekly under Joy’s direction until the graduation concert, which is scheduled to be held on October 11.

JCM prays for the success of Joy’s worship team and for the “Trust God’s Love Firmly” concert to be a great witness of our Lord Savior Jesus Christ.

Music Students Demonstrate Worship Leadership and Guitar Skills

Music students at Jubilee College of Music, JCM, gave a musical presentation on stage at Riverside campus to conclude the Spring quarter.

JCM’s Guitar Performance and Worship Leadership class conducted the performances as its final exam.

The presentation opened up with participant Jerry Park’s guitar solo followed by student performance selections of praise songs, guitar, and singing. After the individual performances, the band ensemble also presented two popular praise songs of “Who you say I am” by Hillsong and “Way Maker” by Sinach.

Course instructor Jerry Park shared that it was amazing that all the students could prepare well and performed on time despite the lack of time due to the lockdown situation. “I give thanks to God for all the achievement we could have in these classes,” said Park.

The presentations were performed with a strictly limited number of audience while applying safety precautions such as social distancing and mask requirements. There were no group singing or choirs but only individual performance, which was filmed for online broadcasting.