There’s a great song by Ron Kenoly with the line:
Some try to keep Him wrapped in a manger.
Some try to keep Him nailed up on a cross.
Some try to keep Him held down in the cold dark grave,
But He’s coming on a white horse!
Of course, the point is that Jesus isn’t simply some historical figure of the past, but he is very much alive today.
I think we tend to forget that important truth. In fact, if we’re completely honest, I think it makes us a little uncomfortable. We’re much more comfortable thinking of him as a historical figure than as an active, living person who wants to be involved in everything we think and do. If he exists only in the past we can study him, understand him, and box him up.
What an amazing man he was!
He changed the course of history.
The year is 2016. Two thousand and sixteen years from…what? See that? Every day we change the calendar we acknowledge the impact Jesus had on our world.
But here’s the thing: he’s not done.
He’s still alive. He still changes history.
Ok, I’m going to make a transition here. Go with me…
I love the old songs. Really, I do! When I sing the songs I grew up singing in church, I remember those days when my faith was still new. I grow nostalgic about the little church that played such a significant role in my spiritual life. The people who loved me, tolerated me, and influenced me. I am indescribably grateful for them all! It’s good to look back and see how God has worked in the past.
But the church isn’t about nostalgia.
The church is about the living Jesus.
There’s not a thing wrong with loving the old songs. It’s why we have “oldies” radio stations. It’s why the Gaither “Homecoming” concerts are always so well attended. It’s why people still get together and sing “Sacred Harp” music. It’s why I still listen to “big band” music. It’s even why we have symphony orchestras and opera companies. There is great art, and culture from the past represented by all this music. It absolutely should be preserved and enjoyed.
But that’s not the church’s job.
We don’t keep “real” worship alive by singing the old songs. We don’t keep Jesus alive by preserving the preferences and culture of a previous generation. Jesus is alive without our help. Maybe even in spite of it. We cannot keep him contained, and it’s wrong for us to try.
I’ve heard so many folks complain that the church of today is trying too hard to be “relevant.” (You can see the scare quotes when they say it.) They cynically assume that making use of pop music and modern technology is just a marketing ploy, attempting to lure the younger generation.
But, what if God is simply working in the lives of young, 21st century believers (as he has in every previous century) who in turn make use of the forms they know, and the skills they possess, to bring glory to Him? What if he is transforming the hearts of talented people, who then write music that speaks to and for this generation? What if Jesus is using methods and media that were unthinkable a generation ago to build his Kingdom today?
Personally, I’m more skeptical of someone who claims to be a Christ-follower but does his/her best to keep Jesus locked up in musty ritual and tradition than those who acknowledge the fact that Jesus is alive and well, and very much involved in the lives of people today. People for whom “pop culture” is simply culture.
Fifty years ago there were older people of faith who cared about me and my generation and encouraged us. I remember their names. I can hear their voices in my mind. Their lives still echo through my own.
It’s logical to assume that, at the same time, there were others who thought the things we did and the music we liked had no place in the church. They probably complained about our folk music, our noise, and our immaturity. I don’t know that for sure because, honestly, I don’t really remember them. I couldn’t tell you who they were.
So, here’s my question: Fifty years from now, when this generation looks back on their youth, which of those two groups will you be in?
I know which one I want to be in.