WHEATON, IL -- Many of us have used small talk to establish rapport in social situations where we've shared the Gospel. An art in itself, small talk is widely used in job interviews, on dates, while shopping, and in business meetings. Acts 17:17& 28 records where the apostle Paul used his cultural knowledge as a springboard to the Gospel, speaking daily in the synagogues and Public Square, and by quoting poets of the day.

…I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. [1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NLT]

Two chief areas of seeking common ground are music and sports…cultural aspects so prevalent in today's culture that they often provide open doors to sharing the truth of God. Music is especially notable in that it is so pervasive.

As a youngster, I became interested in many types of music once I began listening to the radio. As a teen, I began buying and collecting records, and following my favorite songs on the charts. In college, I pursued a career in the media, eventually working in radio and television, and for a time in the music industry.

Not surprisingly, music played a part in my becoming a Christian. Unaware that I was a nominal Christian, I thought, perhaps, that if I attended church and "lived a good life," my ticket to heaven was assured. I was unaware that my good works and intentions were insufficient. I learned that salvation came only by grace and that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That relationship began after an invitation to a seeker service at Calvary Chapel, San Diego, featuring former secular rocker, Richie Furay. Before becoming a Christian, he had been a member of three prominent secular rock bands, Buffalo Springfield, the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, and Poco.

From then on, my listening habits changed. As I experienced the joy of growing as a new Christian, I avoided listening to secular music, wanting to drink in as many praise songs and hymns as I could. When I returned to some of the older tunes, I found that prolonged listening tended to drain my spirit. Nevertheless, I wanted to discern the content. Some of what I heard was disturbing and some contained nuggets of truth. Many tunes seemed innocent and neutral, like cotton candy…a little couldn't hurt, but a daily diet of it would lead to malnutrition. I found that many songs painted excellent pictures of Biblical truths.

I have grown to realize that God's Word is so pervasive, and His truth so potent, that it has value, even when it is embedded in a secular setting. Soon, the germ of the idea for the book began to grow.

Among the many references to music in the Bible, there are songs of praise, worship, woe, victory and defeat. God once used what I like to call an instant oldie as a promise, a prophecy, and an indictment of Israel's rebellion [see Deuteronomy 31:19-21]. God warned Moses that once Israel entered the Promised Land, they would eventually begin to worship foreign gods and turn from Him. To emphasize His words, God instructed Moses to teach the song to Joshua and have it read throughout generations as a witness against them.

Since World War II, thousands of songs have entered the public consciousness. Although much mainstream music is measured by sales and popularity, that doesn't mean those songs must soar up the charts to have value.

Popular songs are short slices of life and, because they may contain a bit of truth, are often useful for spiritual illustrations. Even tunes that contain untruths can help point us to the truth. So, instead of ignoring the subject and huddling out of the mainstream, we, like the apostle Paul, can discern it and make it a useful spiritual tool.

I began to compile a listing of songs from recent years and, when Tyndale House published my book, The Complete Book of Pop Music Wit & Wisdom, 200 songs from pop, rock ‘n roll, rhythm & blues, jazz and country were highlighted for devotional applications. Due to space limitations, two abbreviated examples follow here. The book goes into more detail on each song, covering lyrics, artist history and spiritual applications.