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, December 26, 2016

The Low-Budget, Christmas Program for Small Churches. (an original poem by Ralph Petersen)



No pushing, shoving for a seat; 
No drummer boy to keep the beat.

No snow machines, no snowball fights; 
No decibels, no blinding lights.

No jingle bells, no one-horse sleigh; 
No little baby in the hay.

We sang no frozen Disney song; 
Somehow that would seem so wrong.

No Santa Claus and no fake snow; 
No folderol, no dance, no show,

All we had was Scripture reading; 
interspersed with carol singing.


We prayed, and praised the One who came; 
To live and die and rise again.


an original poem by Ralph M. Petersen

*AS, WITH GLADNESS, MEN OF OLD

AS, WITH GLADNESS, MEN OF OLD  was written by William Dix in 1860. He had been bed bound with a serious illness for a long time.  One evening he got the idea for this hymn and he began to form the line on note paper. The following year, his finished song was published in a small collection of his own works, which had a very limited circulation. From there it made its way into more popular collections, and today it has become known throughout the world.

I mentioned in another post, that many of our Christmas traditions are biblically inaccurate or they are based on fantasies or legends.  Some of those legends have to do with the kings or wise men.  Our traditions assume there were three because of the three gifts mentioned in scripture; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And the wise men have even been given names, Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar—but those are not found anywhere in Scripture.

And we don't know that they were kings.  The Bible calls them Magi.  They were pagan priests who were considered, wise men (possibly astrologers) and they would have held powerful political positions in their Eastern countries.  The unfounded assumption that they were kings comes from Isaiah’s prophecy, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3). 

Another tradition Is that they visited Jesus in His manger bed at the time of His birth.  But Scripture indicates otherwise; "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him." Matt. 2:10-11

Bible scholars believe that He must have been about two years old by the time the magi arrived.

In this song, Dix took that traditional departure from biblical accuracy where, in two phrases, he pictures the wise men at the manger.  That, however, doesn't diminish the theology or the value of this hymn; it just creates an unnecessary distraction.  For that reason, some authors have suggested a couple appropriate changes to those phrases, which we will use, for the sake of accuracy.  

There are two words that repeat several times --"As" and "So.” When you see the word, AS, you should look for the word, SO.  They are coupled to make comparisons between the recorded actions of the wise men and the appropriate applications for to us today.  In other words, as they did, So should we. 

In the first stanza, we see that the wise men were led to the Savior by the light of His star.   SO, like them, we also should be led to Him by the light of His Gospel; the Word of God.

In stanza 2, we see the wise men making their long, hurried journey to worship the Son of God.  SO, like them, we also should run to Him for mercy and joyfully worship Him because He Is Worthy.

In stanza 3, the wise men gave costly gifts to Jesus.  SO, like them, we also should present ourselves, pure and holy, to Him.

There is a fifth verse that has been omitted from the text in some hymnbook.  I think that is unfortunate because it is a great song of praise and a joyful proclamation of our hope.  Here it is printed below:

In that glorious city bright, 
None shall need created light.
You, its Light, its Joy, its Crown; 
You, its Sun which goes not down.
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

Monday, December 19, 2016

*THAT BEAUTIFUL NAME (aka "I Know of a Name")

What would you think if you received a birth announcement from a friend or relative, and all it said was, “Our baby arrived today; his name is Jack?”
 
Birth announcements contain information:
Name _______________ Sex ____________
Date and time of birth _________ 
Location of birth _______________ 
Names of parents and siblings ____________

In other words, all the important facts but then there are always dozens of additional questions because people want more details; like how much does he weigh?  How long is she?  Who does he look like?  And most of them are silly questions anyway because, by the time those babies arrive home from the hospital, their weight and length will probably already have changed. And besides, almost all newborn babies look like Winston Churchill.  The reality is that there is not much about newborn babies that can be told except for those few bits of statistical information.

This past week I took some time to read, again, in chronological order, all the Bible passages about the birth of Jesus.  One thing that became glaringly evident was that so much of what we think we know about His birth is just speculation, tradition, and sometimes fantasy.  It is not revealed in Scripture.

For example, we don’t know that Jesus was born in a stable.  We don’t know if the messengers God sent were winged beings wearing bright white robes or if they appeared as men.  And we don’t know the date or the year of Jesus' birth.

When God sent the announcement of the birth of His Son, He only provided very limited and specific information to a few unnamed shepherds.  His announcement was brief; “… there is born to you this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And that was followed by two sentences to inform them of how they would know when they found Him; “… And this will be the sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

THAT’S IT! No other information was given in the announcement. That’s all God deemed necessary for them to know.   The baby was born “this day” (the day they heard the announcement).  He was born in the City of David.  He was declared, by God, to be the Savior.  And finally, He was identified; This baby is Christ the Lord.

And so, any other information that God has revealed about the birth of His Son, we can read in the pages of scripture.  We know that the angel told Joseph that he should call His NAME Jesus because He would save His people from their sins.

And we know that the angel also told Mary to NAME Him Jesus.

And we know from the prophet, Isaiah, that they would call His NAME Emmanuel, which means, God with us.

From these short passages, there can be no question; the NAME of this baby is the most important information in God’s birth announcement.  The NAME, Jesus  (Yeshua), means "Yahweh is Salvation."   

And for further amplification, the angel also revealed to Mary the reason for His NAME, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” 

He is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  The Name God gave His Son reveals His deity. This child is God in human flesh and He was born to die. 


THAT BEAUTIFUL NAME.  That wonderful Name; That matchless name is Jesus.


I know of a Name,
A beautiful Name,
That angels brought down to earth;
They whispered it low,
One night long ago,
To a maiden of lowly birth.


I know of a Name,
A beautiful Name,
That unto a Babe was given;
The stars glittered bright,
Throughout that glad night,
And angels praised God in Heav'n.


The One of that Name,
My Savior became,
My Savior of Calvary.
My sins nailed Him there;
My burdens He bare.
He suffered all this for me.


I love that blest Name,
that wonderful Name,
Made higher than all in Heav'n;
'Twas whispered, I know,
In my heart long ago.
To Jesus my life I've giv’n.

(chorus)
That beautiful Name,
That beautiful Name,
From sin has power to free us!
That beautiful Name,
That wonderful Name,
That matchless Name is Jesus!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

*DOWN FROM HIS GLORY

DOWN FROM HIS GLORY is a song we usually only hear performed as a solo, mainly because of its wide range.  It is sung to the familiar tune of Edwardo Di Capua's, “’O Sole Mio.”  Or, if you are an Elvis Presley fan, you will recognize the melody of “It’s Now Or Never.”
 
I was surprised to discover that this song is not as contemporary as I thought.  It was written nearly 100 yrs. Ago, by William Booth-Clibborn, the grandson of William Booth who founded the Salvation Army.

The song begins with the glorious mystery we sometimes call the Humiliation of Christ.  It is the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ as is explained in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi,”...although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, (or held on to) but (He) emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”  

Think about that.  That little baby in the crib is God in human flesh and it is improper to consider His entrance into the world without understanding His purpose in coming.

What the shepherds saw that night, was the Sovereign King of Creation wrapped in filthy rags and lying in a dirty feeding trough.  He is the Righteous One of the Universe who opens His arms wide to wicked, sinful men. He is The Giver of Life, the One who IS Life, and He was born to die.  The One who made the Law; the One whose Word IS the Law, and the only One who ever kept the Law; the Judge of the world came to offer complete pardon and mercy to undeserving men. The Highest was utterly humiliated.  In Him, poverty becomes riches, tears become joy, death becomes life, trash becomes treasures, and sinners become saints.

The Christmas story, by itself, is incomplete.  In fact, it is meaningless and irrelevant without the Easter story. Paul’s revelation continues, “…Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 

Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived a perfect and sinless life, died a horrible death on the cross, was buried and then, three days later He rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures. That is the message of the Gospel.  Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and perfectly satisfied God’s righteous justice.  Someone has summarized it like this: “I owed a debt I could not pay; He paid a debt He did not owe.”

In the third stanza, the writer makes a personal proclamation, “And Now I know Thou Art the Great I Am.” 

Because of who Christ is, and because of what He has done for us, He is worthy of our praise and worship.  And so, each stanza ends with this song of praise:

“O how I love Him!  How I adore Him! 
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all.
The Great Creator became my Savior,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him!”

Monday, December 5, 2016

*HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:8-14)

Did you know that Christmas didn’t become a federal holiday in the United States until 1870?   And it was twenty years later, in 1890, that the state of Virginia declared Christmas to be a state holiday.

Did you know that in 1822 the United States Postal Service petitioned to outlaw the delivery of Christmas cards?   They complained that the overwhelming seasonal mail put an unusual strain on their resources and manpower. 

Did you know that from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was completely outlawed in Boston, and those who chose to break that law were fined for celebrating it?

And did you know that in 1649, under the leadership of, the famous, Oliver Cromwell, the singing of Christmas carols was banned in England by the Puritan Parliament?  Consequently, Christmas hymns and carols were scarce between the late 17th and the early 18th Century in England.  

Charles Wesley’s HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING was one of the few Christmas carols written during that period.  Soon after Cromwell died in 1658, the monarchy was restored, and the former prohibition of the singing of Christmas carols was abandoned.   Wesley’s carol and many other hymns and carols about the birth of Jesus began to appear.

HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING is one of our most popular Christmas carols today.  It was even heard in two classic American movies; “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” 

But did you know that the carol is completely different today than it was originally written?  Both Wesley’s words and tune have been changed.

The first line of the hymn originally read, “Hark! how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings.”  Welkin is an old English word that means “vault of heaven.”


In 1753, George Whitefield, a famous English preacher, rewrote the first line of the carol into the modern version, “Hark! the herald angels sing — Glory to the newborn King!”

Unlike many other carols, the song is remarkably deep and rich in doctrine. However, what this song had in lyrics, it greatly lacked in melody.  Whitefield thought a livelier tune would better serve the text, but Wesley insisted that it be sung to a slow, somber and boring religious tune.  They argued bitterly, about the song, for years.

The current melody for this carol was composed by Mendelssohn for a cantata he wrote in 1840.  The cantata was originally written to commemorate Johann Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press. Mendelssohn strictly warned that his composition was to only be used in a purely secular manner.

However, in 1856, long after both Wesley and Mendelssohn were dead, Dr. William Cummings ignored both of their wishes and joined the lyrics by Wesley with Mendelssohn’s composition.  And that is the carol we sing today. 

If you read through the lyrics carefully, you’ll notice that the carol makes a full proclamation of the gospel.  Most hymnbooks only feature three verses of the song, but there is an important fourth verse that, I think, should not be ignored.   It says:

Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness now efface:
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam, from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.