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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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Let There Be Peace On Earth

There are some songs that I hate to love.

What do I mean by that?  They are songs I love.  I grew up with them.  I memorized them I sang them with passion.   The people in my church love them.   They are songs that raise the human spirit.  They touch our hearts.  They make us feel warm and fuzzy.  They inspire us.  The music is pleasant and dynamic.

But I HATE THEM.  They are egocentric.  They are theologically anemic at best and downright errant, heretical, or blasphemous at worst.  Yet, because they are ingrained in our church culture, undiscerning people are filled with false doctrines.

So I hate them; I hate it that I love them.  
This song should not be sung in church.


*****

Here’s one that rears its ugly head every few years.  It was performed at the 9-11 memorial service a few years ago and this year the world thrilled over it once again at the ungodly display of a man in Washington who thinks He is god, hosting another man (the Pope) from South America who thinks He is god, to bring about worldwide peace and love among heathens who don’t care about God.


Let There Be Peace On Earth is a BAD hymn.  It is liberation theology.  It anticipates the glorious end of the earth when all people will live in love and drink Coca-Cola while they "teach the world to sing in perfect harmony."

It deifies mankind.  The premise of the song doesn’t begin with God; it begins with me.  This heavenly peace on earth is achievable because, if every one of us will just dedicate ourselves to the goal, we can make it happen. 

It smacks of universalism.  I hate to break this to you but, God is NOT the father of all men and we are NOT all brothers.  God is the Father of His elect and Satan is the father and god of everyone else.  So, as a Christian, as much as I might try, I cannot walk together in perfect harmony with unbelievers.

And what about this peace?  Is this peace really meant to be?  What does that even mean?  Who meant it to be?  Was it God?  If so, then why don’t we have it?  Maybe God is impotent and we have to do His work for Him.  If we don’t do it, it won’t be done.

This song is classified as a Christmas song, perhaps because of the phrase “peace on earth.”  But when the angel appeared to the Shepherds and declared “peace on earth; goodwill toward men,” he wasn’t just mouthing a mushy Hallmark sentiment.  He was declaring that, with the advent of the Messiah (God’s goodwill toward men),  we can now be at peace with God.  That peace was achieved at Calvary; it is a done deal and that is evidenced by the fact that God doesn't just kill us all but, instead, has provided a way for some to be reconciled to Him.  And someday, Jesus Christ will return, take his throne, and rule over all the earth for 1000 years of peace.  He will do it; we cannot.  And, no matter how hard He tries, neither can King Obama.

This is a lousy Christmas Carol and a terrible, unbiblical Christian hymn but, other than that, it is a really great song.  Please, can somebody write some better lyrics?  Until then, let's keep it out of our churches.






A Tribute to the Music and Faith of John W. Peterson



JESUS IS COMING AGAIN

One of John W. Peterson’s earliest songs was inspired by a promise made at the beginning of World War Two.  When General Douglas MacArthur was forced by Japanese soldiers, to retreat and leave the Philippine Islands, he made a promise to the American troops; he said, “I’ll be back!”

(No, wait, that was Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

Gen. MacArthur said, “I will return!”

For a time, it looked like the General would not be able to keep that promise but he did.  He returned just as he said he would.  That incident reminded Petersen of the promise Jesus made to His disciples; ”I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

It is popular, today, among many Christians, to doubt Him but Jesus’ promise holds much more assurance and certainty than MacArthur’s ever could.  JESUS IS COMING AGAIN!
 *****


IT TOOK A MIRACLE
 
John W. Peterson was a fighter pilot who made night time flights over the Burma “Hump” to deliver supplies into China during the war. 
 
About those long, dangerous flights, he said, “It always seemed that the Lord was very near. Often, while observing the rugged terrain below and the glories of the heavens above, I was overwhelmed by the power of God and the glory of His creation.  Then the thought gripped me that the same God who created this universe with its never-ending wonders was the God who loved me and sent His only begotten Son to take my place on the cross.  I was overwhelmed by His power and love, and the words of a new song (IT TOOK A MIRACLE) began to form in my heart."
 *****


HEAVEN CAME DOWN
In 1961, while leading the singing at a Bible conference, John made opportunities for some of the people to share their testimonies.  One feeble, elderly gentleman slowly rose to speak. 

According to John, the man’s countenance had a warm pleasant glow.  When he told the people about how he came to faith in Jesus Christ, he said, “…it was like HEAVEN CAME DOWN and glory filled my soul.”

John made a quick note of his comment and, by the end of the week, he had written the words and music to the song, HEAVEN CAME DOWN.

*****

SO SEND I YOU

Shortly after His resurrection, Jesus’ disciples were hiding together in fear of the Jews.  Jesus appeared to them and showed them His wounds as reminders of the terrible persecution He had just suffered.

Then He said to them, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

That passage in chapter 20 of John’s gospel is the context for the song, SO SEND I YOU.  It has been called the finest missionary hymn of the twentieth century.  It vividly describes the kinds of sacrifices made and persecutions suffered by multitudes of Christ’s servants at home and on the mission fields throughout Church history.

The lyrics were written by Margaret Clarkson, but the music was composed by her friend, John W. Petersen.
 *****


O GLORIOUS LOVE

If you ever sang in a church choir during the latter part of the 20th century, you are probably familiar with the works of John W. Peterson.

As the president of Singspiration Music Company, he compiled several hymnals, he composed the words and music for over 1,000 gospel songs, and he wrote over 30, easy to sing, Christmas and Easter cantatas.  Of all John W. Peterson’s songs, O GLORIOUS LOVE is my favorite.  It is a simple worship song with a majestic feel that reminds us of God’s great love for us. 

In my darkness Jesus found me;
Touched my eyes and made me see;
Broke sin’s chains that long had bound me;
Gave me life and liberty!

(Refrain)
Oh, glorious love of Christ my Lord divine,
That made Him stoop to save a soul like mine.
Through all my days, and then in heaven above,
My song will silence never, I'll worship Him forever,
And praise Him for His glorious love.

Oh, amazing truth to ponder;
He whom angel hosts attend,
Lord of Heaven, God’s Son, what wonder;
He became the sinner’s friend!

“…God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8

*****


SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY

John Petersen collaborated with a friend, Alfred Smith, to write a song which has a humorous origin.  Smith was sharing a letter he had received from a descendant of the hymn writer, Philip Bliss.

When Phillip was a very young boy, he had a crush on his young teacher, Miss Murphy.  The children were memorizing the 23rd Psalm.  Phillip hadn’t yet learned to read, so he memorized it by rote but he got some of the words confused.  

Children sometimes do that.  For example, I have a friend who grew up thinking the congregation in his church were always singing, “Lead On, O Kinky Turtle.”

Well, when it came Phillip’s turn to recite the Psalm, he ended it with the line, “Surely good Miss Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life!”

After they finished laughing about that story, they sat down to work and in just one day, they wrote SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

*PRAISE, MY SOUL, THE KING OF HEAVEN

One of the things I have noticed is that many of the greatest hymns of our faith have been authored by godly men and women who have been tested through extreme sufferings, losses, and persecutions.  And yet God has used them as testimonies to His goodness.
 
The Reverend, Mr. Henry Lyte, was one of them.   He was a frail, and sickly man who suffered most of his life with chronic asthma and tuberculosis.  Yet his friends described him as “strong in faith and spirit.” 

At the age of twenty-five years, he had just entered the ministry when a close friend and fellow clergyman died because of a serious illness.  That experience changed Henry.  He said, “the death of my friend, who died happy in the thought that there was One who would atone for his delinquencies” made me study my Bible and preach in another manner than I had previously done.”

In 1834 Henry published an obscure collection of 280 hymns that he had written called, The Spirit of the Psalms.  They were not strict paraphrases but they were all loosely inspired by the Psalms.
 
His classic hymn, "Abide With Me," was the best known of his works for over 100 years, until Queen Elizabeth married the Duke of Edinburgh.
  
The Queen had chosen one of Henry’s obscure Psalms to be sung at her wedding ceremony.  That single event on November 20, 1947 (which was also the 100th anniversary of Henry Lyte’s death) caught the attention of the whole world and Henry’s hymn was instantly popularized for use at weddings and funerals for decades.  PRAISE, MY SOUL, THE KING OF HEAVEN has probably begun more ceremonies than any other hymn in the English language.

The hymn is a free paraphrase of Psalm 103.  It is a declaration of the Goodness of God.   The author mentions several benefits of God’s grace but I think the most stunning line in the entire hymn, is in the first stanza.  It summarizes God’s goodness in just four amazing words: 
“Ransomed, Healed, Restored, Forgiven.”
 
And therein is the Gospel; God’s Good News.  

As sinners, we owed a debt that we could not pay.   The payment for our redemption was made by the Son of Man who "gave His life a ransom for many."  

Jesus paid a debt He did not owe.  And for all who have been ransomed, the disease of sin that results in spiritual death has been cured.  We have been made whole.  All our sins have been forgiven.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His Holy Name!
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
“Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
“Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
“Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”  (Psa. 103:1-5)


God is Good and this Hymn urges us to do now, what we will be doing in eternity; “PRAISE, MY SOUL, THE KING OF HEAVEN.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

*NAME OF ALL MAJESTY

I don’t usually look for doctrinal fights on purpose but, occasionally, they just come and find me.
 
I bumped into a man one day who had been a regular attender at my church but then, he just stopped coming.  When I asked where he had been and he said, “Oh, I’m not into church.  I love God and I talk to Jesus every day.  But you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”

I couldn’t ignore that; I tried to convince him of the importance of the regular gathering of believers for worship and fellowship.   But after a quite lengthy exchange, His response was, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

I reminded him that my arguments were not my own opinions but they were, in fact, scriptural and that his disagreement was not with me but with God.

That’s when he got a little uppity and said, “SHOW ME IN THE BIBLE WHERE IT SAYS I HAVE TO…” (Now you can fill in the blank on this one; it doesn’t really matter how people end that sentence.  Usually, when a person deflects to that kind of “show me” demand, his real problem is a rejection of the Word of God.  It’s a classic, foolish, non-argument that began in the garden when the serpent tempted Eve with her own words; he asked, “Did God really say 'don’t touch that fruit?'”  But I digress.)

I continued to try to convince my friend with scripture.   My arguments were biblical and true but I lost the debate when he stripped me of nearly 70% of my authoritative ammunition and set a boundary around the debate with one idiotic statement.  He said, “…and don’t give me any of that Old Testament stuff either; we are in New Testament times.”

When someone rejects God’s revelation, any supporting arguments we may have, on any subject, are reduced to just personal opinions.  He had me right where he wanted me - on an equal playing field in an emotional arena of subjectivity and personal preferences.   That’s when I knew there was no more point in continuing; the fight was over.

There is an inseverable relationship between the Living Word of God and the written Word of God; you cannot love Jesus and hate His Word.  

This person, who claimed to love God, had just revealed his real problem; he was unwilling to recognize or submit to the authority of God’s Word. 

Jesus once scolded His disciples when He asked them, “… why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?”  (Lk. 6:46)

Then He compared a person who hears His Words and does not listen, to a fool whose faith is built on a shaky foundation. 

In the hymn, NAME OF ALL MAJESTY, our God is identified as the Immortal, Eternal King of the Ages.  He is attributed with incomparable Splendor and Dignity.  He is our Sovereign Master and our Savior.  And, in the midst of all those superlative titles, attributes, and descriptors, is this stunning reminder; He has all Power and Authority; Jesus is Lord! 

This hymn was partially inspired by David’s prayer of praise to God, “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever.  Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty;
“For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all.  Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all.   In Your hand is power and might;  In Your hand, it is to make great and to give strength to all.
  
“Now, therefore, our God, we thank You And praise Your glorious Name.”  (1 Chron. 29:11-13)


NAME OF ALL MAJESTY

Name of all majesty, fathomless mystery,
King of the ages by angels adored;
Pow'r and authority, splendor and dignity,
Bow to His mastery, Jesus Is Lord!

Child of our destiny, God from eternity,
Love of the Father on sinners outpoured;
See now what God has done sending His only Son,
Christ the beloved One, Jesus is Lord.

Saviour of Calvary, costliest victory,
Darkness defeated and Eden restored;
Born as a man to die, nailed to a cross on high,
Cold in the grave to lie, Jesus is Lord!

Source of all sovereignty, light, immortality,
Life everlasting and heaven assured;
So, with the ransomed, we praise Him eternally,
Christ in His majesty, Jesus is Lord!

Timothy Dudley-Smith
Words © 1984 Hope Publishing Company

Sunday, June 4, 2017

*WHITER THAN SNOW

Redemption is a “once for all” transaction where a sinner is washed in the blood of the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins.  But in this world, we will do things and go places that will stain our hands and feet so we need regular and frequent cleansing to keep us in fellowship with the Lord.  He is holy and He commands us to be holy. 

If you were a child in the 1950s and 1960s, you probably remember Fizzies.  They were little, colored seltzer tablets that we would drop into a glass of water and then watch them fizz up.  When the tablets were completely dissolved, they turned plain tap water into tasty, carbonated soft drinks.  They came in seven flavors: grape, orange, cherry, lemon-lime, strawberry, cola and, my favorite, root beer.   By the early 1960s, Fizzies were more popular than Kool-Aid.

One day, when I was about 8 years old, my Mom left me at home with my grandfather.  It was a summer day and I wanted a Fizzie soft drink so I asked him if I could go to the market and get some.  He said no!

Well, I pouted about that for a while until I found some coins on my mom’s nightstand.  So, I took a quarter (that was equivalent to about $2.50 today).  I sneaked off down the street to the market and I bought some root beer Fizzies.  It sure tasted good.

When my mother got home from work, she found the Fizzies wrappers in the trash can and asked me how I got them.  I told her Grandpa gave me the money.   She didn't question me anymore and I thought I got away with that, but I really didn’t.  She knew that I lied to her.  Even though she never said anything else about it, I knew she was disappointed with me (I could tell by the silent treatment) and I carried the guilt of that sin for a long time.

Finally, after several days, I confessed; I lied to her, I took her money, and I disobeyed my Grandfather.  That’s when she forgave me, she smiled and hugged me, she told me she loved me, and our relationship was restored.

That heavy, guilty feeling, I had, is called conviction. That’s the way the Spirit of God works in our lives.  He is like a mother with eyes in the back of her head; she sees everything, and she knows what you did and she will make your life miserable until you are sorry and corrected.

When we sin, the Holy Spirit relentlessly chases and chastens us until we are grieved so much that we are brought to a place of confession and repentance.
  
And that work of the Spirit, in us, is evidence of true salvation.  It is one way a believer can know that he is saved.  If you are not miserable about your sin; if you can ignore the pleas from other Christians, to stop, and if you can quench or silence the Spirit and continue to sin, it is possible that you may not have the Spirit of God in you and there is good reason to question the reality of your salvation. 
   
When David sinned, he felt that same guilty feeling of conviction and he recorded his confession and repentance for us in Psalm 51 which was the inspiration for James Nicholson’s hymn, WHITER THAN SNOW. 

In the Psalm, we see that David is deeply troubled by his sin.  He knew that there would be no forgiveness from God without his confession and so, he is pleading with the Lord, “Have mercy upon me, O God, Blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against You, and You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.”

Then, after admitting his sin, David asks God for His forgiveness and a restoration of their fellowship, Wash me, and I shall be WHITER THAN SNOW."