Newsletter Archive 2
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THE ASAPH MUSIC LETTER
ENCOURAGING BELIEVERS TO SET AND MAINTAIN A BIBLICAL MUSIC STANDARD
To the chief musician and his choir
Vol. 1--No. 2--January 31, 2002
(Go easy on your eyes. Print this letter for a more enjoyable read.)
“I AM THEIR MUSIC”--To the northeast it was Assyria. To the southeast it was Babylon. To the southwest it was Egypt. All had their eyes on a particular, supposedly impregnable fortress called Jerusalem. In the end it was Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon who claimed the prize and raided the beautiful city, deposing King Zedekiah and killing his sons before putting out his eyes. 586 B.C. was a terrible time in Jerusalem.
Among the true Jewish patriots of that time—though not recognized as such by the king and most of his fellow countrymen—Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, stood strong and faithful as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He, along with his contemporary prophets, shared their word from the Lord about how God’s patience was coming to an end.
At one point (before the fall of Jerusalem) King Zedekiah sent messengers to Jeremiah for them to persuade him to pray to the Lord to show favor to Judah so that Nebuchadnezzar would leave them alone. Like, “Hey, Brother Jeremiah, we realize we haven’t exactly been saints over here in the palace or throughout the kingdom for that matter, but do you suppose you could get the Lord to overlook it just this once and prove it to us by making big, bad Nebuchadnezzar go away?” Jeremiah replied with the word from the Lord: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands…And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.” (Jer. 21:4,5) This was not the message the king wanted to hear, but hear it he did, along with the rest of God’s chosen people, whenever Jeremiah was asked to give a word from the Lord or whenever God sent him specifically to speak His word. Not only did they hear it, but they heard it again, and again, and again. Speaking musically, would you not call this a refrain?
In the Bible the word “music(k)” is used fifteen times and further use of my “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible” tells me all of these times concern sound (music) and usually with the plucking of a stringed instrument. One of these fifteen times, though, takes a slightly different turn—a sarcastic one.
In Lamentations 3:63 we read, “Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.” Do you suppose Jeremiah’s fellow countrymen were tired of hearing that refrain? That word from the Lord which Jeremiah was preaching with a tear in his eye and a cry in his voice for his beloved Jerusalem, had they heard that sermon one too many times? Can’t you hear the Israelites, locked up inside the city walls as Nebuchadnezzar applies the pressure of starvation, “Hey, did you hear the old prophet today? He said that we should surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. At least we would live. He said that that was what the Lord said we should do. And he thinks he’s a loyal Jew! Imagine laying down our arms.” Poor Jeremiah. The true prophet of God, “prophet unto the nations,” was being slighted by the rest of his nation, so it seemed.
The first part of verse 63 about the sitting down and rising up describes for us how Jeremiah’s message was the song they couldn’t get out of their heads. Ever have one of those? Usually a jingle advertising something you shouldn’t have anyway. But not in Jeremiah’s case. His song was from the Lord, to his fellow Jews whom he loved; in Jerusalem, the place he loved, “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:12,13) It didn’t matter. They didn’t want to hear it. They would have none of it. They would have none of him. Jeremiah would have to go. The music has to stop, Jeremiah! He was their music in the evening. He was their music in the morning.
Jeremiah conducted his “musical” message before the people and became the song they would never forget. As we conduct our lives before the lost of our land, are we singing the song they will never forget? As we conduct our lives before our fellow Christians, are we playing the song that will draw them closer to our Lord?
“Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.”
OUR PHILOSOPHY—A BIBLICAL PROFESSION CONCERNING THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF MUSIC (2nd in a Series)—“And they sing...the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” (Revelation 15:3)
“And the singers the sons of Asaph were in their place, according to the commandment of David, and Asaph, and Heman, and Jeduthun the king's seer.” (II Chronicles 35:15a)
“Of the sons of Asaph, the singers were over the business of the house of God.” (Nehemiah 11:22b)
The first step to acquiring a Biblical philosophy of music is to acknowledge that music cannot be considered amoral. The word amoral means "neither moral nor immoral." Without question, music is a form of communication; and just as in speaking or drawing, when communication takes place, there exists the potential for delivery of a moral or immoral message. Individual elements of these forms of communication may be considered amoral, because these elements in and of themselves do not communicate until joined with other elements.
For example, the letters of the alphabet are amoral. However, one can combine certain letters in specific sequences to create curses. On the other hand, these same letters can be used to form words of blessing and encouragement. Similarly, the elements of music (notes, timbres, instruments, etc.) are amoral until they are combined to produce a message. Music (apart from whatever words may be sung to it) has the innate ability to communicate a message all its own to the listener. This message can either enforce or contradict the words.
Musical style, performance techniques, and compositional ingredients all influence the message that is communicated. This message has the power to touch our body, our mind, and our spirit. Music can also have societal associations that the Christian should avoid in order not to be worldly.
How does the Bible define worldliness? First John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Music that communicates any of these three things is worldly. In music, just as in any other form of communication, there exists the potential for a wicked message.
Proponents of "contemporary Christian music" (CCM) vociferously contend that musical styles and performance techniques are only a matter of personal taste. Supporters of this view contend that the lyrics (words) carry the only message: notes, rhythms, styles, artistic techniques, and other elements of music, they say, are amoral. In other words, music alone has no moral or spiritual message, and therefore music can have no influence for either good or evil.
However, the Bible contains so many references to the spiritual influence of music that a denial of the spiritual side of music can be considered tantamount to a denial of Scripture.
In this newsletter, we will examine Bible examples of music with positive spiritual influence. God created music. Colossians 1:16 says, “All things were created by him, and for him.” God created musical instruments. God created at least one angel to be musical (Lucifer). God created man to be musical. God participates in music. All three persons of the Trinity are involved in music. God ordained music to be an integral part of worship in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. Entire families of the priestly tribe of Levi were set apart to practice, perfect, and perform worship music as a full-time profession. Apparently, music (including both vocal and instrumental music) is the only art form encouraged and promoted by the Bible. Can we really be so foolish then, as to believe that God is not concerned with what kind of music we perform, what styles and techniques we use or expose ourselves to?
The first person of the Godhead is God the Father, the Jehovah of the Old Testament. He is the authority figure, the One who makes decisions and sits on the throne of justice and judgment. God the Father is the Judge, whose righteousness demands a perfect sacrifice for sin. God's very presence on Mount Sinai caused the mountain to tremble and created terrible thunder, lightning and smoke to issue forth from the mountain. God the Father is holy and demands that we be holy, even as He is holy.
We have two references in Scripture to show God the Father's participation in music. The first is Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” Can we as mere mortals even come close to comprehending what an awesome thing it would be to hear God the Father sing? What causes God to sing? Consider Luke 15:10: “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” This passage in Luke is often explained by painting a picture of multitudes of cheering angels. However, I believe this joy in the angels’ presence is the singing of God the Father expressing His joy over the sinner who experiences the new birth.
The second reference is Zechariah 9:14, “And the Lord shall be seen over them, and his arrow shall go forth as the lightning: and the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south.” In this passage, it seems that God is using the trumpet more in a military fashion, as in a call to war. One thing is sure, however: when God blows the trumpet, it is not to make an uncertain sound. He most certainly plays with precise rhythm and a recognizable melody. The sounds He produces are meaningful, not just noise.
Jesus, the second person of the godhead, participated in music while He was on earth. The Word, who became flesh and dwelt among men, participated in all normal activities that any human would be involved with, with the exception of anything sinful. Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26: “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” Jesus placed His stamp of approval on the appropriateness and the rightness of singing as an integral part of spiritual worship. Jesus was no hippie rebel, as is so commonly portrayed, but was a man of immense strength, both physically and personally. The Creator-God in human flesh sang a hymn of worship and praise with His disciples at this important Passover.
Revelation 15:3: “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” The phrases "song of Moses" and "the song of the Lamb" seem to imply two things: authorship of the song and/or singing of the song. Without question, God writes music, for He is the One who inspired the writers of the Psalms and other songs in the Bible.
The Holy Spirit influences people to sing as well. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon certain people to accomplish specific tasks or to deliver a particular message. After Jesus ascended back into Heaven, the Holy Spirit began to indwell all believers as the Comforter, as the One who would guide them into all truth, and as the One who convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Ephesians 5:18-20 states, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” One of the results and evidences of being filled with the Holy Spirit, according to the Scriptures, is singing.
We do not have to look far to see that God Himself, in all three persons, is a participant in music, as well as an encourager of holy, Spirit-filled music.
The one individual who had the greatest impact on the music of the Bible was David, “the sweet psalmist of Israel" (II Samuel 23:1). He was a musician from early childhood, and it was said of him in I Samuel 16:18 that he was "cunning in playing" the harp. At least 73 of the psalms in the Book of Psalms can be attributed to David. These psalms provide a glimpse into the heart and life of the "man after God's own heart" and are filled with praise to God for His great mercy, as well as reflect great contrition and humble repentance for sin.
First Samuel 16:23 says, “And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” Notice the three results of David’s music: Saul was refreshed (soul), and was well (physical), and the evil spirit departed (spirit). Music has spiritual power, as well as the ability to affect our minds and our bodies.
Second Chronicles 23:18 states that as king, David established music as an integral part of worship in the temple. Also Jehoiada [the priest] appointed the offices of the house of the Lord by the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of the Lord, to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, as it is written in the Law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained by David. In I Chronicles 15:16, 17 we find, “David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of musick, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy. So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of the sons of Merari their brethren, Ethan the son of Kushaiah.”
Later, at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in II Chronicles 5:13, 14, we find that the glory of the Lord descended into the newly built temple when the singers and instrumentalists were praising Him. At this time, there were 288 music teachers with as many as 200,000 singers and a 4,000-member orchestra! “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.”
Again, when Hezekiah cleansed the temple in his day and began to offer his sacrifices in the temple, the musicians played an important role. Second Chronicles 29:27,28 states, “And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt-offering upon the altar. And when the burnt-offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt-offering was finished.”
Not only was music in the Old Testament used for worship, it had a part in warfare on occasion. In a couple of different instances, such as the overthrow of Jericho, trumpets and other instruments of music were used to bring about the defeat of the enemies of Israel. Notice this unique passage of Scripture found in II Chronicles 20:20-22: “And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth for ever. And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten.” Their songs were not pleas for help, nor were they songs extolling their own prowess. The songs they sang praised the Lord and the beauty of holiness. When the Lord saw that the people were serious about praising Him, He won the victory for them.
Job 38:7: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Hebrew poetry takes one idea and states that idea in two different ways. Therefore, apparently the phrase "sons of God" is equal to "morning stars" in Job. Could this possibly be referring to angels? If so, this is the only passage in Scripture that indicates that angels sing.
Revelation 5:8-14: “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.”
Revelation 14:2,3: “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.”
Music plays a key role in prophecy. No doubt, singing and instrumental music as well will be an integral part of eternity in Heaven. God delights in the songs of His children
20 QUESTIONS (GIVE OR TAKE A FEW)…AN INTERVIEW WITH JEREMY VEGTER—
STEVE: Jeremy Vegter! This is Steve Browning from the Asaph Music Company. How are you doing tonight?
JEREMY: All right.
STEVE: We have The Asaph Music Letter that we send to many of our customers, and I think they would be blessed by an interview with you. First of all, let's find out more about you. How is your wife doing?
JEREMY: My wife is doing much better. If you were to ask her she would say that she has about 80% of her energy back. She still tires out easily, but now she bounces back so much easier than she used to. In fact, she's even begun traveling with me as I go to sing at churches.
STEVE: Oh, that's wonderful. So, does she sing with you often?
JEREMY: As much as she can.
STEVE: That's good. Now, do both of you write music?
JEREMY: No, neither of us really does. “Faithful and True,” the only song we've ever written together, was written during an especially trying time in our few years of marriage. Alisha had already been extremely ill for over a year, the bills were mounting up and both of us were quite discouraged. One morning as I was reading through the Psalms in my devotions, just begging the Lord to help us, I read Psalm 119:73-77; and that passage really spoke to my heart. I immediately began to paraphrase that Scripture passage in poetic form, and my wife, after she saw the text, began humming the tune. David Ledgerwood, one of my colleagues here at Maranatha, did the actual arranging for us.
STEVE: How about that! Okay. You mentioned Maranatha. What is your position there?
JEREMY: I'm an assistant professor in the music and speech departments.
STEVE: How long have you been doing that?
JEREMY: I'm halfway through my sixth year.
STEVE: Okay. Did you graduate from there?
JEREMY: Yes, in 1994.
STEVE: Let's talk about your last name. What's the nationality there?
STEVE: Have you lived in Wisconsin all your life?
JEREMY: No, I was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, up near Green Bay, but we moved around quite a bit when I was younger. We had actually been living in Florida for several years before we moved back to Wisconsin my eighth-grade year.
STEVE: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in music? What's your past experience in music?
JEREMY: As far back as I can remember our family sang together. At first just together at home or in the car, but eventually we sang special numbers as a family in church. Then in high school one of my teachers, Mr. Jim Braughler, encouraged me to pursue music and speech. That was the first I had ever thought about pursuing music in a full-time fashion.
STEVE: Come from a big family?
JEREMY: No, just one younger brother--two years younger than myself.
STEVE: Did you go to a Christian school?
JEREMY: Yes, all my life. I attended Maranatha's academy and then transitioned
right into the college.
STEVE: Do you have any musical mentors or heroes? Who would you say has influenced you most?
JEREMY: Probably the three musicians who influenced me the most are the ones that are now my colleagues--Dr. Monty Budahl, chairman of the fine arts department; Mr. David Ledgerwood, head of the piano department; and Miss Carol Senn, a professor of voice and speech. In each case I saw great ability/talent, but all three individuals were content to use their abilities to serve the Lord and train young people to serve Him. They really are why I am here today.
STEVE: Have they helped you on this CD?
JEREMY: Yes, Mr. Ledgerwood arranged a couple of the numbers and was my accompanistas well. And Dr. Budahl arranged a couple of the numbers.
STEVE: I especially like "I Know a Fount." That has blessed my soul. Is "Faithful and True" your only CD at this time?
STEVE: And you're planning a second with your wife?
JEREMY: Sometime down the road, when she is 100% well, yes. I think it's going to be called "Now Sing We Joyfully" (or something like that) and will be focused on praising God for His great goodness to us.
STEVE: Oh, good.
JEREMY: By the end of this summer, Lord willing, I am planning on producing another CD entitled "Give Me Liberty." The focus will be on Patriotic Liberty as well as Spiritual Liberty (freedom from sin).
STEVE: Sounds great!. Can you tell us how you were saved?
JEREMY: I grew up in a Christian home and so heard the Gospel all of my life. It wasn't until I was in the third grade, however, that I accepted Christ as my personal Savior. I can't remember if there was a message that I had recently heard or not, but I do know the Holy Spirit was working in my heart. I asked my mom if I could get saved. She set me down at our kitchen table, led me through the plan of salvation one more time, and I prayed and asked Christ to forgive me of my sins and be my Lord.
STEVE: Amen. Back to music, how would you define "Christian music"? What makes music Christian?
JEREMY: First and foremost, it must have text that is scripturally based and theologically sound; without that basis, it is useless for ministry. The music must also point the spirit and mind to God, not the flesh (or anything else). For example, I personally can't sing "Oh, how I love Him" to the tune of "O sole mio." The text is good, and the music is good, but all I can think of is Pavarotti swinging his hanky around and popping off the high notes with the greatest of ease!
STEVE: Going along to songwriting, have you done much of that?
JEREMY: No, I haven't. I guess my gifts are more in line with interpreting what others have written rather than writing original music.
STEVE: Well, you do a fine job of that. What leads you to the different songs that you choose, like, for instance, in your album here?
JEREMY: In that one it was all determined by whether they fit the theme: God is faithful, therefore we need to be faithful to Him.
STEVE: And when you're looking for a music publisher--well, let's see, who was it who did yours? Was it something that Maranatha did there?
JEREMY: Maranatha financed the project, and I recorded it down at Bob Jones [University].
STEVE: Is this also on tape?
JEREMY: No, it's not.
STEVE: Will your future ones be on tape and CD?
JEREMY: I think so.
STEVE: How is it selling?
JEREMY: We've sold probably 1,600 or 1,700.
STEVE: Good! Just one or two other things here. One thing that seems to stand out in my mind today as something that is definitely going astray in our churches is the actual performing of a song. How should this be done? Your music director at church asks you to perform a special. How do you go about doing that?
JEREMY: I do whatever I've been working on recently or whatever the Lord might lay on my heart. I also like, whenever possible, to ask the pastor or special speaker what he's speaking on so that I can reinforce his message in word with my message in song. And I think it's important that the effort put into the preparation for this type of ministry be thoughtful and well prepared--not wait until the last minute and then choose whatever I can think of.
STEVE: And then actually performing it--the words, the music--that should tell a specific story or thought rather than make you tap your foot, for instance.
JEREMY: Right. This is what I do when I travel to churches. I've developed a series of Sacred Multimedia Concerts that help the audience to focus in on the truths being taught by the hymns--a focus brought about by the spoken word, the voice in song, and through computer-generated slides. (Sacred Multimedia Concerts are spiritually uplifting programs in which the messages of the songs are effectively interwoven with Scripture passages, inspiring stories of the men and women of God who have faithfully served Him, and slides that visually reinforce the truths being taught. I can't emphasize enough the spiritual focus of these programs. A Sacred Multimedia Concert is not a form of entertainment, but a spiritually uplifting service that is as edifying as it is musically sound.) We've had a really good response from both young and old alike to these Sacred Multimedia Concerts.
STEVE: That sounds good. Have you done this many times?
JEREMY: Over fifty times.
STEVE: You travel quite a bit then?
JEREMY: Yes, we're out several weekends during the school year. And during the summers we usually try to go to a different region of the country. Two summers ago I was in Arizona for about three weeks. Last summer we were in Pennsylvania for about three weeks. In the future, when my wife is totally well, we'll travel a good portion of the summer to churches around the country and, Lord willing, around the world.
STEVE: If someone wanted to get in touch with you about this, should he just call you at home?
JEREMY: He could call me at home (920-261-8367), office (920-206-2352) or email me (jvegter@MBBC.edu).
STEVE: Any children on the way?
JEREMY: Not yet! The only dependent we have is a puppy--a West Highland Terrier named Laddie.
STEVE: Well, Jeremy, it's been a blessing talking to you.
IN THE CD PLAYER… Occasionally on a Sunday or Wednesday evening at the Franklin Road Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, we will be treated to a musical highlight as Jonathan, Timothy (“my fellow Fighting Illini”), Elizabeth and Abigail Stanczak sing one of their repertoire of uplifting songs. One thing you’ll notice right away--these four siblings sing for all they’re worth, and you don’t have to be in the services watching them to know this—you can hear it on their new CD (http://www.asaphmusic.com/description.asp?Item=SOA-0004-CD). Their rendition of “Come, Holy Spirit” by John W. Peterson will move you in a special way, and if you’re in the patriotic spirit (and aren’t we all?), listening to the young ones do “I’m Just a Flag-Waving American” (also by Peterson) will put a lift in your step. Don’t miss this opportunity to add this CD to your collection. Just click on the link above to order yours today.