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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Friday, March 18, 2016


(Reformation Day is one of the most important days on the church calendar, so for our worship service, I chose some hymns appropriate for the day.)  

It was on Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral and exposed the errors and unbiblical practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  That incident is widely recognized as the initial catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

As it happened, my pastor's sermon for the day would continue his series, “Confronting the Culture,” in which we have been learning that our faith will often bring us to a point where we must make hard decisions or take difficult stands that will cause us trouble.

As I was thinking about his sermon outline, I couldn’t help making the connection between it and the Reformation.

The Gospel is both attractive and repulsive.  It is attractive to those whom God is saving; it is repulsive to the lost.  Whenever or wherever real, Biblical Christianity collides with Government, the culture, or even an apostate church, the result is tribulation or persecution.  There is going to be trouble; that is just the way it is.

In the hymn, HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION, verse 3 says,
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

That reminded me of this interesting analogy:

As they were studying chapter three in the book of Malachi, a group of women came across the verse that says, "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." They wondered what that statement meant about the character and nature of God.

Later that week, one of the women made an appointment to observe a silversmith at work.  He held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot - then she thought again about the verse, that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was necessary to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The smith answered yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire because if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

Then she asked him, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?"  He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's the easy part – it’s when I see my image reflected in it."

There is no question that troubles and trials are both fiery and painful but we can rest assured that God is holding us over the fire to remove the impurities and He is watching until He can see His own image in us.

(Click here for more commentary on this hymn)


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