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, within those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and support the text and the 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 few 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 these commentaries 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.

A complete list of hymns is located on the right side panel.

Ralph M. Petersen

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Monday, June 27, 2016

A Loud Praise Service


(For our worship music, this week, I deviated from my normal routine of just highlighting one hymn.  All the music selections were in the general category of “Praise” hymns, but more specifically, I wanted to emphasize the importance of LOUD congregational singing.  Here are my scripted notes for our worship service.)

(Introduction to the opening hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty)

“… I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was, as it were, of a trumpet talking with me; which said, ‘Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.’

“And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.  …and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts …and they rest not day and night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.’

“(and) The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power:  For Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.’” (from Rev. 4)


(Opening Prayer)
(Introduction to PRAISE HIM! PRAISE HIM!)

In all my 55 years as a Christian, I have never stood behind a pulpit and publicly voiced a disagreement with any of my pastors.  Today is the first time.  Over the past few weeks, we have heard our pastor, on at least three different occasions, say that he will “tone down his loud singing.”

Well, I don’t want him to tone it down; I want to hear (my Pastor) sing.  I want to hear him sing loudly.  In fact, I want to hear all of you singing loudly.  

Some time ago, one of our ladies told me that someone had scolded her for singing too loudly.  And I get it.  One of the consequences of the church growth movement in the last two to three decades has been the performer/spectator attitude in our worship services.  People have become conditioned to sitting and listening to professional worship leaders singing performance music and so, most people just don’t sing anymore like we used to.

I think that’s unfortunate.  As a song leader, I don’t want to be the only person you hear singing every week.  I don’t want to be the center of attention.  I want all our voices joined together in loud praises to our God.  So, please, sing out with enthusiasm and conviction.  We have a great Savior who is worthy of our worship and praise.

Singing is not an option for believers.  It’s not dependent on whether or not we feel like it.  It’s not our prerogative.  Scripture commands us to sing more than 250 times.

Not only does God want us to sing, He wants us to sing LOUD praises to Him.  In the opening verse of Psalm 66 (and others) is what seems to be some kind of production notes.  The note is addressed to the choir director and it identifies the psalm as A Song.   And then the psalm begins with this stanza, – “Make a Joyful Shout to God, All the Earth!  Sing the glory of His Name; Make His praise glorious.”   In this verse, joyful shouting and glorious singing are parallels that are connected poetically as synonymous activities.

And that kind of loud, enthusiastic singing is implied in a phrase in the third stanza of our next hymn; “…heavenly portals LOUD with hosannas ring.”


(Introduction to Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)

“I will… praise You with a harp, Even Your truth, O my God; To You, I will sing praises with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; And my soul, which You have redeemed, my tongue also will utter Your righteousness all day long;” Psalm 71:22-24

“O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.” Psalm 95:1

The writer of this next hymn reminds us that we have many reasons to sing and shout loud praises to God.  It was God who sought us when we were lost.  He rescued us, He redeemed us with the blood of Jesus Christ, and He will keep us.  And His never ending and ever flowing grace and mercy calls us to respond with “songs of loudest praise.” 


(Responsive Reading)

(leader)                  I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart;
                                       I will be glad and rejoice in You.

(congregation)       I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.

(leader)                  You are my God,

(congregation)        And I will praise You.

(leader)                  You are my God,

(congregation)        And I will exalt You.

(leader)                  I have trusted in Your mercy;

(congregation)       My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

(leader)                  I will praise the Name of God with a song,
                                       and will magnify Him with thanksgiving.


(After the sermon, we closed our service with the hymn, "Praise The Savior" with a segue to the praise chorus, "I Sing Praises.")

Monday, June 20, 2016


I overheard a conversation between a couple ladies who were talking about a recent death in their church.  At one point, one of the women said, “I am still angry at Satan for taking the life of my friend.”
That comment surprised me but it shouldn’t have; it revealed a prevalent aberrant belief among many Christians today.  Much of the modern Christian church has created a god who doesn’t exist.  He is a god of our own imaginations; he is fabricated according to our likings.  If you listen carefully, you will hear people talk about him with phrases like, “The god I worship accepts me just the way I am,” or “My god would never condemn anyone to eternal torment in Hell,” or “What kind of a god do you worship who would allow suffering?”   

In other words, we have become accustomed to thinking that God only does good and pleasant things for us and Satan is responsible for all our discomfort, inconvenience, and everything that we don’t like.  And when it comes to salvation, he is described as a god who is cheering for and encouraging sinners to “accept him” or “invite him into their life,” as opposed to the enemy who is also there enticing you away.  In the words of a famous televangelist, “God is voting for you and Satan is voting against you.  It is up to you to cast the deciding vote.”  That really renders your god equal to Satan in their power and influence over your life and it leaves you with more power than either one of them. 

But that is not the God of the Bible.  Our God is Sovereign and all powerful.  He is in control of ALL things; even death.  The theological word for that is Providence.   Eric Landry has explained the Providence of God like this:

"Because God sustains the universe's, moment by moment, existence, nothing comes about independently of His will.  He governs all creatures, and events so that they accomplish what He intends, either by their acting freely (as through human choice) or contingently (as when something happens that did not have to happen) or necessarily (as with the law of gravity).

"Thus God, in ways beyond our understanding, works in and through everything to bring about His good purposes."

There are some sects, in Christianity, that insist on the practice of “Exclusive Psalmody,” or singing Old Testament Psalms ONLY, in their worship services.  Although most Christian denominations reject that, there is some benefit in their rigidity; it prevents the unintended propagation of false doctrine and man-centered worship.  We learn a lot of doctrine from the songs we sing and that can be good.  It can also be dangerous.  The more we learn about the True God, the better we can worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.  In God’s hymnbook, (the Psalms) He has given us a sufficiently balanced revelation of His attributes and His works and they all glorify Him.

We love to sing feel-good praise songs but it is important to sing songs about God’s judgments which also work to humble us and convict us of our pride.  So if we are not deliberate in our congregational worship, those themes will be pretty much non-existent in our regular diet of worship songs.  But there is no question about their presence throughout the Old Testament (especially in the Psalms), and in the New Testament as well.

For example, (Lk. 1:51-55) “He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He hath put down the mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree.  He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.  He hath helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;  As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.”

Or this passage (Rev; 19:1-5) “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God:  For true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand.  And again they said, Alleluia.   And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.  And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshiped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia.  And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him, both small and great.”

These kinds of hymns are direct reminders of God’s mercy toward us.  We will only know and fully appreciate His goodness, grace, and righteousness when we understand the magnitude of our sin that required His great sacrifice.

Psalm 7:11 says, "God is a just judge…"  That means He is morally right. Everything He does is deliberately orchestrated for His good purpose and is all-together righteous.

Or, can also be sung to the tune of GOD OUR FATHER, WE ADORE THEE.)

God is righteous in His doings,
He is perfect in His ways;
Just is He in all His actions,
And He well deserves our praise.
Righteous was His condemnation,
Righteous His requirement;
For the law had deemed us, sinners,
And for judgment, we were meant.

Oh, how blest the love that spared us,
For the law had judged us dead.
God, to meet the righteous judgment,
Passed it on His Son instead.
Hallelujah! Our Redeemer,
Christ, to God, has purchased us;
Now enjoying His redemption,
We become God’s righteousness.

God is holy in His nature,
Holiness is what He is.
In this way He sanctified us,
Makes our nature one with His.
Spreading from our quickened spirit,
He renews each inward part,
Moving into all our being,
Making home in all our heart.

Oh, how blessed is this process!
It’s the Lord’s life-saving way.
It’s our constant, real experience;
It’s our life from day to day.
As we’re minding just the spirit,
Then the mind is life to us,
And the Lord in us is gaining
Transformation marvelous!

Glory is God’s true expression,
All He is, in full, expressed;
Final stage of our redemption,
Bodily made manifest.
Glory is the consummation
Of this life which sanctifies;
Our complete transfiguration
Is the goal which life supplies.

’Tis for this we wait, expecting
To be raptured, glorified.
Then the earth will see God’s fullness;
Christ completely testified.
We fore’er will just express Him,
Nature will rejoice to see
All the sons of God in glory
Manifested finally.

By His mercy, we’re selected,
Ours a glorious destiny.
Not by running, nor by willing,
But through God’s own sovereignty.
Once we were wild olive branches,
Now the root and fat partake,
Grafted in, rejoice together,
Growing for the kingdom’s sake.

As we’re daily in this process
And by life are sanctified,
How we thank Him for the blessing
Of the church life He’s supplied.
Here God is our full enjoyment,
Practical and real to us;
Sons we are, and heirs together,
In the church life, glorious!


Thursday, June 16, 2016


If you’re 55 years or older, you will probably remember the Jesus movement that was spawned in the Southern California hippie drug culture of the 1970s.  And if you remember that, you will probably remember the controversial Christian singer and songwriter who rose to prominence from out of that culture.

Keith Green was born in 1953.   At a very young age, it seemed that he would become a musician.   Music was his passion; he wanted to be a pop-star and he was exceptionally talented.  At age eight, he began to perform in stage musicals.  At age 12, he published his first song and became the youngest member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. That same year he signed a five-year recording contract with Decca Records.

He had a secular Jewish background but, as a child, he was fascinated with reading the New Testament.  The first time Keith ran away from home, he was 15 years old. Even though he was on a fast track to becoming a teenage idol, he never quite achieved that success and by the late 1960s, he began experimenting with drugs and dabbling in various Eastern religions.

He met the woman he would marry, Melody Steiner, another songwriter, in the early 1970s.  That is when his life began to turn around.  She was also of Jewish heritage and had been exploring the teachings of mysticism and Eastern religions.   After they met, they began to explore the Christian faith together.  

At the age of 21, Keith and Melody heard the Truth of the Gospel at a church in the San Fernando Valley, and the Lord saved them.

They never turned back from the Christian faith.  Not only did his life take a radical turn, so did his music.  He was no longer interested in stardom. His songs began to reflect the Joy of knowing Jesus and experiencing His love.   From that time, Keith focused his work, on a series of Christian music projects, including working with the band, Good News.

Keith developed some strong convictions that left him feeling inadequate and undeserving of God’s grace.  And his convictions affected and irritated many of his friends and separated him from most of the others in his industry.  He started holding concerts for free and he questioned how other Christian musicians could, in good conscience, charge for their concerts or make profits from their record sales.

But in the final years of his life, Keith Green, the Firebrand, was tempered by the grace of a loving God.  He met John Dawson, of YWAM, and through that relationship, he began to re-discover the love of Christ.  After striving for years to measure up to God's holiness, and sometimes questioning his own salvation, Keith came to a deeper understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross―both to forgive his sins and to clothe him in His own righteousness.

Keith grew in grace without compromising his beliefs; he reconciled and restored all his relationships, and began to experienced real peace.   He wrote personal letters of apology to those he had offended with this admission:
“I hope you can understand that I am a man of principle, and yet, like a pendulum, I have a tendency to go too far to make a point.  I fear that in the past I have done just that.”  

In 1982 he released his final, and most worship-oriented album of all, Songs for the Shepherd.

One of the songs on that album is THERE IS A REDEEMER.  It was written by his wife, Melody, in the late 1970s during the time she and Keith were starting Last Days Ministry (LDM), an outreach to the drug culture and to unwed teenage mothers; a ministry that is still continuing today.  The song had been set aside, unpublished until she presented it during the production of this last album.

Keith loved the song but wanted to make it longer so, within a few minutes, he had penned this prophetic third and final verse:

When I stand in Glory, 
I will see His face,
And there, I’ll serve my King forever, 
In that holy place.

Just a few months later, at the young age of only 28 years, Keith Green was killed in a small plane crash.  He was standing in Glory, seeing his Father face-to-face.

There is a Redeemer,
Jesus, God's own Son,
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah,
Holy One,

Jesus my Redeemer,
Name above all names,
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah,
Oh, for sinners slain.

When I stand in Glory,
I will see His face,
And there I'll serve my King forever,
In that Holy Place.

Thank you oh my Father,
For giving us Your Son,
And leaving Your Spirit,

'Til the work on Earth is done.


Monday, June 6, 2016


“…So shall My Word go forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:11)

The story of Daniel Webster Whittle is legendary, although, some of it is disputed. Webster, who was named after the famous American politician, became a Major during the Civil War and he was a respected officer and a valiant warrior.   However, when he fell and lost the use of his right arm in battle, he ended up for the duration, in a prisoner-of-war hospital camp. 

To pass the time while he was recovering from his wounds in the hospital, he looked for something to read and found a New Testament.
He was fascinated with the Gospels and, every night in the prison camp, he could be found reading that borrowed copy of the New Testament.  Though the words in the Gospels had their appeal, Major Whittle remained resistant.
Late one night, a guard brought a hospital orderly, and they told him that a dying prisoner wanted someone to come and pray with him.  Whittle shook his head and said, “No, I’m not the one.”

But the men insisted.  They said, “We thought you were a Christian. We’ve seen you reading that Bible every night.”

Whittle felt some sense of compassion for the young dying soldier, so he agreed to go.   As I mentioned above, some of his story is open for debate, but, what took place that night in his encounter with a dying soldier, is indisputable: it was recorded in his journal:

“I dropped on my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine.  In a few broken words, I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed earnestly for the boy.  He became quiet and pressed my hand as I prayed and pleaded God’s promises [the promises I remembered from reading in the Gospels every night.].   When I arose from my knees, the boy took his last breath and died.  A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior, used me to lead him to trust Christ’s precious blood and find pardon.  And I hope to meet that young man in heaven.”

After the war ended, Whittle worked as the treasurer of the Elgin Watch Company in Chicago, but less than ten years later, he left that vocation to enter into full-time evangelistic work, with Dwight D. Moody, where he worked alongside several musicians, including Phillip Bliss and James McGranahan. 
During those years of ministry, he wrote his own collection of over twenty hymns, including, "There Shall Be Showers of Blessings," and “Moment By Moment.”   His daughter, May Moody, also wrote the music for some of his lyrics.

Regarding his decision to devote his life to the Gospel, Whittle said, “While at work, I went into the vault and in the dead silence of the quietest of places I gave my life to my Heavenly Father to use as He would.”

Whittle’s story is a fascinating, real-life demonstration of God’s Sovereignty in His work of salvation.  The Apostle Paul alluded to that Sovereign power when He said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it (the Gospel) is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."  (Rom. 1:16)

And later, in his letter to the Church at Corinth, he said that “Christ had sent him to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”  In other words, if it were possible for people to be saved by his clever speaking abilities, there would be no need of the Gospel.

We should expect nothing less today.   After all, God promised, in Isaiah 55, "So shall My Word go forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it".

Did you catch that?  It is God’s Word that goes out into the world and it never fails to accomplish exactly what He intends.

Major Whittle wasn’t saved by human cleverness or manipulations.  He was just reading the very Words of God.  There was no evangelistic service, no preacher, no worship team, no altar call, and no invitation hymn. 

And that dying soldier was saved the same way; Whittle was at his side and, according to his journal, he was “praying and pleading God’s promises; the very promises that He had read in the Gospels.”

So the Word of God is true and faithful, “…So shall My Word go forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

Whittle and that young soldier were just two dying men who were saved by the power of God’s Gospel; by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone.

Major Daniel Webster Whittle’s testimony is evident in the words of his most recognized hymn, I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED.  In four verses he admits his total ignorance and awe, of God’s amazing grace.  But then he answers all four verses with these assuring words from the Apostle Paul to Timothy, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”