THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG

I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.


Ralph M. Petersen

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Monday, September 25, 2017

TRUSTING JESUS

There’s an old story about a tightrope walker who walked a line across Niagara Falls.  When he reached the other side, he turned around and pushed a wheelbarrow back across.  The crowd cheered and marveled at his ability.  Then he turned to the crowd and asked, “Who believes I can push this across with someone sitting in the wheelbarrow?” 

They all raised their hands.  Then he asked, “Who believes enough to get in the wheelbarrow and go with me?"
All the hands went down and no one would volunteer.

In 1989, for our 20th anniversary, our daughter, Dawn, gave us a gift that we have never forgotten.  She arranged for us to experience the exhilarating thrill of bungee jumping.
When our friends heard about it, some of them thought we were careless, irresponsible, and foolish.  We've all heard stories of fatal accidents.  Shortly after our jumps, a veteran bungee jumper fell several hundred feet to his death when he jumped from a hot air balloon.   He had fastened his own ankle straps and checked his own equipment and when he was confident in all his preparations, he jumped.  He no doubt had great faith but his faith was in his own works; no one had checked to ensure that the other end of his cord was secured to the gondola.
For Kathy and me, jumping from that cage was an act of faith that required a complete commitment but we weren’t afraid.  We had seen others go before us and we had heard their own accounts of their experiences.  Before we entered the cage, the attendants worked, systematically, through a written checklist of procedures to ensure that everything was right.  They selected the properly sized cords that were calculated for our weights.  Then they fastened them to our ankles with primary attachments and secondary attachments as a failsafe.  They passed every inch of the cords through their hands as they visually examined them for flaws, cuts, or breeches.  When they reached the end of the cords, they attached them to the cage with a primary attachment and a secondary backup.  They explained each step of what they were doing as they worked through their checklist.  And every detail of the preparation was carefully executed and double checked by the attendant’s supervisor.
So, the faith we placed in the equipment was not a foolish, ignorant kind of “hope so” faith.   Based on the experiences and testimonies of others, the integrity of the equipment, and the qualifications of the operators, we had substantial assurance for our faith.   
For Christians, saving faith is not a matter of how much or how great our faith is.  People with great faith make deadly commitments all the time.  My own grandmother was one.  She was a practitioner, with great faith in a false religion that is not anchored in Truth.   When she became very ill, she exercised her faith by rejecting needed and available medical attention.  Not only did she die physically, she died in her sins and is condemned to eternal judgment.  
Our salvation is not based on the quantity or greatness of our faith nor is it earned by anything we have done. A Christian's faith is a complete trust in Jesus Christ only.  Saving faith is a “know so” faith because He is reliable, trustworthy, and all-powerful.  
TRUSTING JESUS was written by Edgar Stites put to music by Ira D. Sankey. In the first stanza is this phrase that particularly caught my attention:  "Even when my faith is small, Trusting Jesus, that is all."
He can be trusted in all things.
Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Jn. 6:37-40

Our Savior is able and reliable and His resurrection is proof of His power over sin and death.  If you want to get to the other side, you must “get in the wheelbarrow,” and Trust Jesus only for your salvation.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

PRAISE TO THE LORD, THE ALMIGHTY

Joachim Neander was born in Bremen, Germany in 1650.  In his early years, he lived a riotous and immoral life.  At about age 20, he and a group of his friends decided to attend a Christian service conducted by a visiting preacher.  Their intentions were to heckle and ridicule the pastor for the fun of it.  That didn’t work out the way he intended because he heard the gospel and God saved him that night. 

After his conversion, he was influenced by Philipp Spener who began the Pietist Revival Movement in the Lutheran Churches in Germany. 

Joachim began teaching, writing poetry, and occasionally preaching in the church but, because of his pietistic convictions, there was tension between him and the head minister.  He could not, in good conscience, participate in the dead rituals of the church.  After about two years, he was suspended and spent a lot of time in the surrounding hills and valleys.

The suspension was not long, though; maybe about two weeks. but the gossip that spread, resulted in a local legend that he had become a hermit living in a cave near the river in the valley. 

Joachim wrote about 60 hymns before he died at the early age of 30 years.

After his death, the river was named for him.  The German word for valley or dale, is Thal, so the river’s valley became known as Neander Thal.

About two hundred years later, some dead man’s bones were found in a quarry in the Neander Valley.  Those bones became the famous remains of a mythical early evolutionary man who was named, NeanderThal Man, for the place where his bones were found.

One Commentator, Tim Chaffey, of Answers in Genesis, wrote, “The words, ‘Bitter Irony’ come to my mind when I think of this hymn which is a wonderful reminder to praise God for the tremendous blessings He gives us.  So, where’s the irony?

“Ironically, instead of being remembered as the author of a beloved hymn about the ‘the King of creation,’ Neander’s name will continue to be linked with humanistic beliefs about the origin of man that deny the work of the Creator.

“Perhaps now when you hear about Neanderthal Man, you will remember to PRAISE “THE LORD, THE ALMIGHTY, THE KING OF CREATION” for His marvelous provision and thank Him for faithful servants like Joachim Neander who penned these inspiring words.”

This hymn is loosely based on Psalms 103 and 150.

“Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!

“Praise Him for His mighty acts;
 Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!

“Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;

“Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! 
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!


“Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!”  Ps. 150

Sunday, September 10, 2017

THANKS TO GOD WHOSE WORD WAS SPOKEN (2)

In a sermon he preached, about a year ago, my pastor summarized all biblical theology in two statements:

1.     GOD IS.  That fact is declared in the first four words of the Bible (Genesis 1:1) “In the beginning GOD…”

2.     HE HAS REVEALED HIMSELF.  And that is the rest of the Bible in its entirety.  It’s all about Him.  It’s His revelation of and about Himself to His creation.  Everything we need to know for faith and practice, He has revealed in His written Word.


Can you imagine what it would be like if it were left up to each one of us to discover God through subjective means?  We could never be certain.  But we have His Word.  It is true and it is certain.  The Word of God is our final authority in all matters of faith and practice. 

THANKS TO GOD WHOSE WORD WAS SPOKEN, is a song of thanksgiving to God for His Word.  He has given us everything we need to know about Him.  And He has done it with WORDS.

I was fascinated by the way the author, R. T. Brooks, outlined God’s progressive revelation in the four stanzas of this hymn.  But then,  I was bothered by how he ended each verse with the same phrase; “Praise Him for His OPEN word.”  

In the context of 21st century American Christianity, that word raises a lot of confusion. We have open theism, open marriages, open doctrines, and churches with open memberships.  God’s Word should be open but it is NOT open to interpretation; it means exactly what He intended it to mean.  We are not to approach His Word with the question, “What does this verse mean to me?” but rather, “What did God mean when He spoke it and what does it mean if I had never been born?"

So, I have taken the liberty to change the last phrase in each verse, in order to more clearly identify the mode through which God has Spoken (see lyrics below). 


The first stanza describes the beginning of God’s revelation in His creation (“the deed that made the earth”).  Gen. 1;1 says, “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”  Then, in subsequent verses, we read that in every act of His creation, prior to man, He created with His Spoken Word (“…and God said, ‘Let there be…’ ”)    All creation is an unmistakable testimony of God’s glory. 

The concept that God has spoken in His creation is further expounded in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.  Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world.”

The stanza continues with God calling His people.  Hebrews 1:1 says, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets…” 

That verse is clear, God spoke IN TIME PAST.   And He was precise and deliberate to ensure that His Word was not changed or corrupted.  If any man claimed to be a prophet, and his prophecies did not come to pass, he was executed so that there would be no confusion among God’s people.  

We Praise Him for His SPOKEN Word.


The second stanza is a reference to verse 2 of Hebrews 1, “…(God) has, in these last days spoken to us by His Son.”

John introduced the Son of God with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  And we beheld His Glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Then, in verse 17, John makes this distinction between the Word of prophecy and the Incarnate Word;  “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

We Praise Him for the LIVING Word.


The third stanza takes us to the Scriptures which were given to us by God through the Apostles.  (2 Tim. 3:16-17) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Now we have His complete Word recorded for us. 

We Praise Him for His WRITTEN Word.


Does God still speak to us today?  Yes!

The last stanza tells us that the Spirit speaks to us. 

One of the functions of the indwelling Spirit of God is to teach us and guide us into all Truth.  And He does that with His Word because “His Word is Truth.”  

When we hear or read and meditate on God's Word, the Spirit convicts us of sin and leads us in the way we should live.  And any time we feel that the Holy Spirit is telling us something, it must be tested against or verified with the Written Word of God.  God’s Word never changes and it never contradicts itself because God never changes.

Praise Him for His CHANGELESS Word.


THANKS TO GOD WHOSE WORD WAS SPOKEN

Thanks to God whose Word was spoken,
In the deed that made the earth.
His, the voice that called a nation,
His the fires that tried her worth,
God has spoken, God has spoken;
Praise Him for His open SPOKEN Word.

Thanks to God whose Word incarnate,
Glorified the flesh of man.
Deeds and words and death and rising,
Tell the grace in heaven’s plan.
God has spoken, God has spoken;
Praise Him for His open LIVING Word.

Thanks to God whose Word was written,
In the Bible’s sacred page.
Record of the revelation
Showing God to every age.
God has spoken, God has spoken;
Praise Him for His open WRITTEN Word.

Thanks to God whose Word is answered,
By the Spirit’s voice within.
Here we drink of joy unmeasured,
Life redeemed from death and sin.
God is speaking, God is speaking.
Praise Him for His open CHANGELESS Word.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Tribute To The Music and Faith of Charles Wesley

1.      All Praise To Our Redeeming Lord

There are three aspects of the Christian life that should always be developing in a spiritually healthy Christian.  First, our worship to God; Second, our fellowship with believers; and Third, our ministry to the world.

The Church is not a social club.  Our membership is not based on our like-minded activities.  God places each of us in the Church to enjoy what we all share in common; our salvation in Jesus Christ.  

When we gather together in a local assembly of believers for worship, it is to praise and glorify our Redeemer.
 
ALL PRAISE TO OUR REDEEMING LORD is a picture of Christians assembling together to worship God.

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Rejoice, The Lord Is King

All our Hymns for today were written by Charles Wesley, the youngest brother of John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement.

He wrote more than 6,500 songs, and our hymn book contains 16 of them.

One of the reasons Charles gave, for writing so many songs was to encourage his congregants to sing and be joyful because, in the early days of Methodism, the members faced lots of hardships and persecutions.

This hymn’s title is a command; REJOICE, THE LORD IS KING.  It’s a reference to Phil, 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS and again, I say, REJOICE.”

Whatever difficulties, hardships, or persecutions come our way, we are commanded to be rejoicing always.

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Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

In this hymn, LOVE is pictured as a personification of God.  The first stanza is an unmistakable reference to the Son of God. 

But, in the other stanzas, the Spirit and the Father are also recognized as agents of this divine love in our lives.  God is Love.

As we sing it, we should remember, this song is a prayer asking God to indwell us and fill us with His love. 

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And Can It Be?
                                      

Charles led a very religious life; he received strict and disciplined Bible training at home as a child.  He established “Holy Clubs” in college to promote righteous living among the students.  And after college, he left Europe to serve on the mission field to the American Indians.

But he was NOT born again.  He had no peace or assurance of salvation.  One day, in a meeting with some Moravian Christians, he came to understand that Salvation is by faith alone and Charles Wesley was saved.
   
AND CAN IT BE?  was one of two hymns, he wrote, to describe his conversion.   The hymn starts with a series of introspective questions: 
·        Is Jesus’ blood of any concern to me? 
·        Am I the cause of His pain? 
·        Did I cause His death? 
And then, as though the lights suddenly came on, he asks,
·        What is this amazing love? 
·        How is it that You, my God, should die for ME?”

The whole plan of redemption was decreed by God, the Father, before creation.  And it was secured by our substitute, the Son of God, while we were yet dead in sin.

Verse two tells us that Jesus, in an act of mercy and grace, left the glory that was His and humbled Himself to become a man.  And He suffered a horrible death for the sins of His people.

Verse three describes our miserable, helpless condition; we were bound in sin and spiritual darkness, without hope, until God intervened.  He broke the chains that imprisoned our souls, He shed His Light in our hearts, and He rescued us from the penalty of sin and death.

Finally, verse four is the glorious Good News; “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Rom. 5:8)

There is now, no more condemnation for those who believe.   Our debt is paid.  God’s justice is satisfied.  He imputed His Son’s righteousness to our account and He gave us new life.
 
This hymn should humble us when we realize that there is NOTHING we have done or can do to merit God’s amazing love, forgiveness, and salvation.  “(This) is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  (1 John 4:10)

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Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending

I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that Jesus is coming again.  The bad news is that Jesus is coming again.

The song’s theme comes from Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He comes with clouds; and EVERY eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and all tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.”
(GIF) Rhino's Parachute Landing by trc001 
I hope you don’t miss that.  Every eye shall see Him; not just those who are looking for Him, but those who hate Him as well.   On that Day, there will be great rejoicing and there will also be great wailing.

In LO, HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING, the central theme is the Gospel.  It’s bad news for the wicked.  But for those who are redeemed, we are “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”  (Titus 2:13)

Monday, August 28, 2017

My Job Description in a 34 word alliterated sentence

Selecting, Suitable pSalms, Spiritual Songs, 
and other aSSorted, Scripturally Sound Sacred Strains, 
that Support the Shepherd’s Sermons, for the Singing Saints 
in their Sycophancy of the Sovereign Savior on Sundays 
is my Solemn Service.

Image result for r is for rhinoceros

That's it; that's my job description.

I’m not skilled or trained in the mechanics of choral directing.  This ministry has fallen on me, not because I can; but only because I was available and willing when there was no one else to do it.  So on Sundays, I simply stand in front of the congregation, announce the song selections, and then we sing together.

But that’s really the easy part.  Selecting the music each week takes much more time and effort. On Mondays, I receive the scripture reference and outline of my pastor's sermon for the next Sunday. After I read the text and his outline, I attempt to identify key words or teachings and then I search through the hymnbook to find appropriate music that supports and augments his message.  
If the church has a biblical mandate with clear instructions from God about what we are to do in our worship services(which it has) then, certainly, those instructions must also apply to what we do with our music. 

What instructions do we get for assembling ourselves together?  We come together primarily to be built up in the faith and equipped to do the work of the ministry.  And that comes by way of hearing the Word of God through the vehicle of preaching and teaching.  So then music, being an integral part of our worship service, is not to be performed for our enjoyment or our entertainment.

The use of music in worship was instituted and is ordained by God and He has given much instruction in His Word regarding its use.  Among other things, music should glorify God, edify (or build up) God’s people in the faith, and point others to Christ.  (Hmmm, seems like those objectives are pretty much the same as those given for the ministry of pastor/teacher.)  The Apostle Paul gives this instruction on how the church should conduct itself in wisdom; “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…”Ephesians 5:19-20
The first interesting thing to note is that he tells us that we are to “speak to each other” with our music.  That implies that there is something important and substantial to communicate to each other and we do that with words.  The words are important.  Words mean things.  So, just like the words from the mouth of the preacher, the words we sing and hear in our music are important in our worship. 

The Apostle then goes on to identify three kinds of music that we must use in our worship.  It is not our prerogative to insist that we only like hymns or that we will only use contemporary “praise and worship” choruses.  We have God’s written word of instruction; we are to speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Psalms are the actual words of scripture set to music.  With psalms, God is glorified with His own words sung back to Him; words that speak of His character and nature and all His superlative attributes.  And His words are higher and greater than the very best we could ever compose ourselves so they are the highest and greatest compositions that we can set to music that will focus our attention on Him for His glory. 
Then there are hymns which, by definition, are songs composed by men and primarily used to praise God.  One of the secondary benefits of the use of hymns is that much of our doctrine is written into poetic texts.  That’s a good thing if the doctrine is correct.  But there is a lot of false doctrine in Christian music too, and that is where pastors/shepherds need to be on guard so that the flock is not deceived.  But when the doctrine is correct, much of what we know and believe about our faith can be learned through our music.

Spiritual songs are what we usually think of as choruses and songs that speak of our personal relationship to Christ.  Spiritual songs contain elements of personal testimony as we share, through music, who Jesus is and what He has done for us.

Therein are the elements.  With psalms we glorify God; with hymns, we build each other up in the faith, and with spiritual songs, we point others to Christ.

Someone has said, "If the music doesn't preach to you, then there is no sense in having it."



Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.
Psalm 100:2

Praise Choruses


Sunday, August 27, 2017

CHILDREN'S HYMNS

In his book, “Confronting Contemporary Christian Music,” Dr. H. T. Spence warns, “If we teach our children only by choruses without giving equal weight to the strong, meaty hymns of the faith, we may be spiritually damaging their generation.” 

Much of what we believe is either taught or supported by the songs we sing.  So, it is important that we teach and sing songs that contain correct doctrine. 

What would you think if, one Sunday morning, your music pastor or worship leader had selected only children’s songs for the entire service?

Well, that’s what I did for our church today and you might be surprised at the content.  All these hymns were our originally written for children.  But there is nothing here, that resembles what we have come to expect from modern children’s music.  When we teach songs like “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” we not only our children’s heads with nonsense, we imply that they are too immature for the worship service and should be in Children’s Church where they will be taught at their own level.

Here are the brief introductory statements for the six children’s hymns that are God-centered and rich in doctrinal truth.



STAND UP AND BLESS THE LORD

James Montgomery was the Christian journalist who was imprisoned, twice, in the Castle of York, for speaking out against the oppressive government in England in the late 1700s.

In 1824, he wrote this children’s hymn for the anniversary celebration of the Red Hill Wesleyan Sunday School.

The text was based on Neh. 9:5: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.”

STAND UP AND BLESS THE LORD is a call for God’s people to stand with courage and to boldly speak up and proclaim our faith regardless of the political climate. 
  


I SING THE MIGHTY POWER OF GOD

Isaac Watts wrote over 600 hymns.  He is known as the Father of Modern Hymnody and, like most writers of children’s hymns in earlier generations, he wrote good, substantive, and doctrinally sound words that accomplish what, I believe, Paul intended when he instructed the Church to, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”  Col. 3:16

One of his favorite projects was a collection of songs that he wrote and compiled all together in a hymnbook just for kids.  I SING THE MIGHTY POWER OF GOD, is the most famous of all his children’s hymns and it is one of the greatest hymns of our faith.



NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD

Is it possible be thankful during extremely hard times?  Martin Rinkart was. He was the German pastor who led his community through the Thirty Years War in the 1600s, and then through a great plague, and then through another invasion where the governors impose unbearable taxation on the people.  In one year, nearly 8000 of his parishioners died.

Yet his spirit was never broken.  In the middle of those terrible times of calamities and incredible losses, he wrote a table grace for his own unclothed and undernourished children to use while praising God for all His blessings. 

NOW THANK WE ALL, OUR GOD has become one of our most loved Thanksgiving hymns.



MAY THE MIND OF CHRIST, MY SAVIOR

This children’s song was written by Kate Wilkinson after meditating on Phil. 2:5. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."

To have the mind of Christ is to think His thoughts; to keep His commands; to do His will; to submit to His authority.  The song is a prayer that asks God to help us add these various aspects of the will of Christ to our lives.

There are six stanzas that were intended as daily devotional reminders; one for each day of the week leading up to Sunday.



SAVIOR, LIKE A SHEPHERD LEAD US

We don’t know, for sure, who wrote the words to this hymn but it has been attributed to Dorothy Thrupp. 

It was originally written for children and it first appeared in a children’s hymnal that she compiled in 1836.

In some ways, it is reminiscent of Psalm 23.  SAVIOR, LIKE A SHEPHERD, LEAD US reveals how needy and dependent we are on our Good Shepherd. 

He loves us, He receives us, He cares for us, He leads us, and He protects us.



ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA!  GIVE THANKS TO THE RISEN LORD

This children’s praise song has a simple, easy to sing, melody.   It was intended to be sung responsively, by an adult on each of the five stanzas and by the children on the chorus.

In all its simplicity, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA!  GIVE THANKS TO THE RISEN LORD, is a profound proclamation of the Gospel.  In just a few short lines, it proclaims that Jesus is Lord; He is the King of all creation.  He died on the cross for our sins; we were raised together with Him in newness of life as He rose, triumphantly, from the grave.  He is our Savior.  And He is worthy of our thanks and our praise.