Christianity is a relational thing.
I am basically an adequate guitar player, nothing special. I have the guitar my Dad used for most of the time I can rememeber him playing, both at home and occasionally in public performances. Dad was better than me at it. But I have his Alvarez flat-top guit-box with the special leather strap my brother made for him. And I have an Ibanez 12-string that my wife bought for me a few years back. It is as awesome as I thought it would be for all those years I dreamed of having one. And the last guitar I have is a hand-made (one of four like it) original that my Dad crafted from home-made forms and store-bought wood and home crafted tools that look and function just like the ones in the book on guitar-building he read. Dad's craftsmanship rendered a rich, full-bodied classical guitar with a capital Z carved into the end of the keyboard. My Mom has one, my sister another, and my brother has the last of the four. In truth, my brother finished the work that my Dad began but could not finish on my guitar, due to the lung cancer that claimed his physical tent.
I shared all of that to give a glimpse of the kind of musical influences of my family as I was growing up. Still, we attended only non-IM churches of Christ all the time I was growing up. Dad never had a problem with playing hymns and singing them together as a family at home, because it came from the heart as Paul said to do, so maybe that was a good influence that helped me to see things the way I do. We had organs and pianos and guitars and bongos and tambourines and morracas and chimes and even a xither. And my Dad built a harp during the time he was beginning to make guitars, too.
So I finally picked up a guitar in college, 28 years ago, and never - until this last Christmas season - had ever played an instrument in an assembly of the saints. At our Sunday assembly we sang music celebrating the coming of the Word that was made flesh and I preached about the Savior and we closed the service with the congregation singing Silent Night as our sound man and I played guitars and one of our elders played the piano. It was a wonderful time of encouragement and praise and fellowship. And it was the first time I played in an assembly of saints...but probably not the last, Lord willing.
Now I know there are some who will mark me for doing this, perhaps even here, but I do not stand or fall before any of these. I seek only the blessing of my Father in heaven, for He is the only One who can make me to stand in His presence. My heart and my voice accompanied by my guitar and Tim's guitar and Ken's piano and the voices of the congregation with their hearts sang the melody together. Some may struggle to understand this, but I must say that it was one of the most spiritual moments for me. Finally I offered the gift of my Dad and of my own heart to the Lord. No one asked me to give another gift because it wasn't the right one or because it wasn't their gift. No one asked me to offer a different gift at all. All who were there understood that we all offered our gifts to the Lord, and we all took time to encourage one another further before we left that assembly.
And so I wonder ... how many others, like my Dad, have longed to offer the gift they had to the Lord but were told it wasn't the right gift? (Like my Dad was told when he was asked to lead singing but told them he only sang lead when he played his guitar, due to insecurities about his voice.) My Dad's voice was a wonderful, rich baritone voice trained by singing and performing country music whenever he could and wherever he could. And I remember well those times he would play the organ and accompany us as we would sing the songs we had sung that week at church. I remember him calling out the chords as they changed, so I could strum along on his guitar. And I remember wondering if the saints we assembled with had any idea what they were missing when they told my Dad it wasn't acceptable for him to play his guitar in an assembly, or even at a fellowship in someone's home. Dad accepted it with grace, but declined to lead singing without his guitar, because he really never learned how to do that - and no one offered to teach him, either. I barely struggle through leading songs and still do not have the skills to teach someone how to lead a song well - so I could not teach him.
Well, now Dad is asleep in the Lord, waiting to waken to the trumpet's call and rise to live with the Lord forever. And I look forward to the day when Dad and I will pick up guitars together in heaven and sing for Jesus as He listens face to face. What a day that will be!
That's a part of what I mean when I say, "It is a relational thing."