Worship Song Highlight: "This Is Our God"

“This is Our God” was inspired by the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.). The music and words were written by Neil DeGraide, Doug Plank, Dave Fournier, Zach Jones, and George Romanacce of Sovereign Grace Music. Sovereign Grace released the song on their album “Sooner Count the Stars: Worshiping the Triune God” in 2015. 

“This is Our God” is one of several contemporary worship songs based on one of the creeds. The other two most popular songs based on the creeds are “We Believe,” which was recorded and made famous by the Newsboys, and “This I Believe (The Creed)” by Hillsong Worship. “We Believe” was written by Matthew Hooper, Richie Fike, and Travis Ryan, and it was wildly popular for several years after its release in 2013. “This I Believe” was written by Ben Fielding and Matt Crocker, released in 2014, and has remained pretty popular since then.

All three songs are great and scratched an itch in the contemporary worship music corpus. We needed songs based on the creeds! All three are sing-able and congregationally accessible. “We Believe” is awesome for a congregation in its use of plural pronouns. It is loosely paraphrased from the Apostle’s Creed. “This I Believe” is a closer paraphrase to the Apostle’s Creed, and I really, really like it. “This is Our God” very closely paraphrases the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed has more language about the Trinity and the Holy Spirit than the Apostle’s Creed.

I like “This is Our God” the best for several reasons. First of all, it is a sing-able fast song with deep theology. Finding a sing-able fast song with deep theology is like finding a sushi-eating hockey fan in Farmersville, Texas. When you find one, you befriend them. (I know because I am friends with all three of those such people in our community). Also, I like how easy it was for our band to learn. The song fit thematically with our current series on the Trinity. Finally, I really appreciate Sovereign Grace Music and their ministry. They may be lesser known, but they write fantastic music (and I may have a little bit of a bent towards indie/alternative/hipster/lesser known bands).

Since I get to pick the music for our church, I picked “This is Our God.” Had someone else been in charge, they might have picked “This I Believe,” for our church, and that would have been fine too.

Here is a link to Sovereign Grace Music’s page for “This is Our God.” It has an audio sample, lyrics, and charts for the song. https://sovereigngracemusic.org/music/songs/this-is-our-god/

Here is a video on YouTube of the song: Video.

Worship Band Questionnaire Analysis

About a month ago I made a questionnaire to help me prepare for presenting at this summer’s Alleluia Conference at Baylor. I wanted to ask friends and acquaintances questions about what new songs they are singing and what technology they use for worship.

The response was outstanding! I emailed the survey to several friends who filled it out. I also got responses from Twitter, the Facebook Group “The Baptist Review,” and the Facebook Group “Liturgy Fellowship.” In the end I received 36 responses from churches in at least 10 different states, Canada, and Scotland. WAY COOL! So this is by no means an authoritative research study. The responses simply represent some of my real life friends and online peeps.

Here is the spreadsheet that includes all responses to all questions: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1i_UsTayp1AJATKkbWSj6AuZM5RRpbUADvcn825BBIJc/edit?usp=sharing

Here’s some overview analysis of the questionnaire:

1. Songs Written Since 2015 Sung By the Most Churches (in descending order) *The first two songs had 10 churches, and the final ones at the bottom had at least 2 churches

O Praise the Name (Anastasis) -Hillsong

Living Hope -Phil Wickham

His Mercy is More -Matt Boswell, Matt Papa

What a Beautiful Name -Hillsong

Build My Life -Patt Barrett/Housefires/Passion

Death Was Arrested -North Point InsideOut

O Come To the Altar -Elevation Worship

The lion and the lamb -Bethel/Leeland Mooring

Who You Say I Am -Hillsong

No Longer Slaves -Bethel

Christ is Mine Forevermore -City Alight

Is He Worthy? -Andrew Peterson

O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer -Sovereign Grace Worship

Do It Again -Elevation Worship

King of My Heart -John Mark McMillan/Bethel

Resurrecting -Elevation Worship

He Will Hold Me Fast -Matt Merker/Gettys

Only a Holy God -City Alight

Reckless Love -Bethel/Cory Asbury

All Glory Be to Christ -Dustin Kensrue

Facing a Task Unfinished -Keith & Kristyn Getty

Come Behold the Wondrdous Mystery -Matt Boswell,Matt Papa,Michael Bleeker

This is Our God -Sovereign Grace Worship

Grace -City Alight

My Victory -Crowder

Rejoice -Dustin Kensrue

Jesus is Alive -City Alight

2. Presentation Software

23 churches use ProPresenter, followed by three that use Media Shout, three that use Easy Worship, and two that use Proclaim. My own church uses Proclaim. I have used ProPresenter in the past as well. I find both to be really good.

3. Worship Planning Software

27 out of 36 churches use Planning Center Online to plan worship.

4. In-Ear Monitors

17 Churches that responded use in-ear monitors. The most popular options were the Aviom system (7 ) and the Behringer (6) in-ear monitors that work with the Behringer X32 sound board.

Worship Song Highlight: "Do It Again"

“Do It Again” is one of the most popular songs written by Elevation Worship. Some of their other titles include “O Come to the Altar” and “Resurrecting.” Elevation Worship is a ministry of Elevation Church, a multi-site church based out of North Carolina and pastored by Steven Furtick. “Do It Again” was co-written by Pastor Steven along with Chris Brown, Mack Brock, and none other than Matt Redman. You can listen to it on YouTube here.

This song is very meaningful to me personally, and I pray it will be meaningful to you as well. Think about this: 

When was the last time you experienced God answer a prayer and work a miracle? 

Off the top of my head, I can think of four huge instancesin my life that I can point back to and remember God answering a prayer in a miraculous way. The most recent was last year when he brought my grandfather, Herbert Cheesman (AKA “Papa Herb”), to faith in Christ. 

Although Papa Herb was baptized as a young teen in San Antonio, Texas, he fell away from faith after serving in the Army in the Korean War and then attending the University of Texas. He spent the majority of his 83 years as a skeptical agnostic. He was never antagonistic towards Christianity, though, and he was supportive of my dad going into ministry, and then later, me going into ministry. I was convicted in 2013 of his need for salvation and began to pray fervently for him. Over the course of time, I would ask him about the nature of his faith and doubts and outlook on life and the afterlife. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017, and I began to call him regularly and tell him I was praying for him.

Then in April of 2018, I was in San Antonio for a conference and we had a very poignant visit in his living room. Meg, Claire, and I had been planning on seeing him on Sunday afternoon. On Saturday night, he had a big scare and had to go to the Emergency Room. He returned home on oxygen, and we visited him in that weakened and scared state. The timing of this could not have been a coincidence! I asked him where he was with Jesus. He said he had believed as a teen, but then doubted, and now he was somewhere in the middle. I encouraged him that if he was open to it, he should pray, “Jesus, help me to believe.” He then prayed aloud with tears, “Jesus, help me to have faith.”

Well, his condition worsened. In late July, our little family drove down to San Antonio again to see him for what we knew would be the last time. On Saturday, July, 28, with my parents also there, Papa Herb told us in very simple words that he had come to faith. My dad read several scriptures to him, and then we asked him where he was with the Lord and what he was thinking. His response was, “I’ve really been thinking about what James and I discussed. All my life before now, I felt nothing. But now I am just believing.” He passed away on July 31, and I KNOW that he is in Heaven now.

As I drove back and forth to San Antonio that week for his funeral planning and services, I played “Do It Again” on repeat in my car. God delights to bring people from death to life! He delights to answer his children’s prayers! I was in awe of how he had “moved the mountain” of my grandfather’s skeptic heart and saved him!

This song is a fun song to play and sing, and I think the chorus resonates with just about every Christian:

“Your promise still stands, great is your faithfulness, faithfulness,

I’m still in your hands, this is my confidence, you’ve never failed me yet.”

But unless you are an actively praying believer, this song won’t mean that much to you. Furthermore, you have to be praying for things that only God can do!Most Christians are good about praying for daily needs, and rightly so. Yet I find that sometimes my prayer list is filled with things like, “Help me with this, that, and help this person with this and that.” We should always be praying “mountain-moving” prayers! So I encourage you, as you think about this song, start filling your prayer list with things like:

-God, save this person!

-God, make a way in this seemingly impossible situation!

-God, change the course of this nation!

-God, set apart someone I know as a laborer to the unreached!

I hope you will sing this song and then pray like Isaiah does in Isaiah 64:1-4:

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence-

As when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil- to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.”

 

Musical Notes:

Sonically, a lot of Elevation Worship’s music is similar to other modern groups like Hillsong, Bethel, and Passion. However, I find their best songs have a narrower melodic range and easily sing-able and catchy melodies. (For example, “Do It Again” is contained within an octave and a step and does not strain a congregation if sung in the key of G or lower. We sing it in F). Furthermore, the lyrical content is gospel centered and biblical. That’s always best, right???!!! Truthfulness to the Bible should be the standard for lyrics, but unfortunately many modern songs fall short.

Worship Song Highlight: "Holy Spirit, Have Your Way in My Life"

            A little over a year ago, my wife said something along the lines of, “You need to write an upbeat Holy Spirit song that the kids will like and is not heretical.” Haha! I agreed with her assessment of the need. Think about it: how many songs, or even hymns, do you know specifically about the Holy Spirit? With how many of them are you 100% comfortable and excited? All the songs I know of are either theologically questionable/shallow or slow and  contemplative musically and haven’t connected with wide audiences.

            Soon thereafter, our pastor, Bart Barber, announced that we were going to be preaching through the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel teaches a great deal about the Holy Spirit, so I decided it would present a great opportunity to introduce a new Holy Spirit song to our congregation. I started working on the song during a songwriting retreat last October and polished it with the help of several people in the subsequent months.

            The focus of the song is the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. I attempted to convey two main points: 1) The Holy Spirit dwells inside believers and will never leave 2) His power works with in us. Along the way, I threw in as much biblical teaching about the Holy Spirit as seemed to fit in this one 4-minute song. Below I will share the lyrics, along with the scriptural passages underlying them.

Verse 1

Living Water                                                      John 4:14

Indwelling Presence                                          John 7:38-39

You are the Spirit of God                     

You're our Helper                                               John 14:16

Sent from the Father                                         John 14:26

You are the Spirit of God

Verse 2

Jesus sent You                                                  John 14:26

To help us remember

All the things He taught

We will listen                                                     1 John 4:1-6

To Your Holy Whisper                                       1 Kings 19:12

Oh help us Spirit of God

Chorus

Your power is unfathomable                            Luke 24:49, Ephesians 1:19-20

You've sealed us and You'll never let go         Ephesians 1:13, John 10:28

Holy Spirit have Your way in my life                Galatians 5:16-26

You lead us blowing like the wind                   John 3:8

We'll follow no longer slaves to sin                 Romans 6, Romans 8:2, John 8:34-36

Holy Spirit have Your way in my life              

Verse 3

You are with us                                                  Romans 8:11

You never leave us                                            Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20          

You guide us every day                                    John 16:13

Holy Spirit                                                           

Help us listen

And walk according to Your way                     Romans 8:4

Bridge

We did not receive                                             (This whole section follows

The spirit of slavery or fear                               Romans 8:15-17 very closely)

But the spirit of adoption as sons

And now we draw near

You bear witness to us

That we are the children of God

Since we are children

We're heirs of the kingdom

And co-heirs with Jesus the Son

 

The song has a fast groove and a catchy melody. Our church has responded quite enthusiastically to it and is singing it better and better each week. The Bible has a lot more to say about the Holy Spirit, and therefore more songs need to be written. For example, this song does not include an in depth look at the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, or the work of the Spirit in convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. However, I still hope this song may be a blessing to you, and I hope it encourages you to think about the Holy Spirit’s work in your life as you follow the Spirit’s leading and rejoice in the Spirit, as you also rejoice in the Father and the Son!

Here is a link to a demo recording on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/james-cheesman-tx/holy-spirit-have-your-way-in-my-life

I want to thank my wife, Meg Cheesman, friend, Art Wellborn, and pastor, Bart Barber, for their valuable input on this song. Also, I want to thank my daughter, Claire, for requesting her mom to play the song on repeat so she can dance to it every day (I’m not sure if dancing is allowed or not since this is uncharted territory- a song about the Holy Spirit written by a Baptist!)

Worship Song Highlight: "For the Cause"

We’re going to start singing “For the Cause” at FBC Farmersville on Sunday, May 6th. It was written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, and Stuart Townend and released on their latest full-length studio album, “Facing a Task Unfinished,” in 2016. This album features many songs about missions, including the title track. Yet whereas “Facing a Task Unfinished,” is convicting and rather soul-piercing, “For the Cause” is joyful and upbeat. I am very glad our church will know both!

The first thing that captures your attention about this song is the opening “world beat,” followed by a sweet lead line played on the sitar. That’s right! The sitar. It can be played on any number of instruments, though, if you don’t happen to have George Harrison in your worship band. Also, personally I find the song really fun to play! 

The theology of the song is crystal clear. The first two verses talk about the call of Christ to give our lives as an offering and to go joyfully sowing the seeds of the gospel. The chorus, which is spoken in the first person plural, is a statement of mission. Several scripture references automatically come to mind as you sing it:

“Christ we proclaim (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

The Name above every name (Philippians 2:9)

For all creation (Mark 16:15)

Ev’ry nation (Matthew 28:19)

God’s salvation

Through the Son!” (John 3:17)

 The third and fourth verse give praise to Jesus who endured the cross and conquered death to give life and liberty to those who believe. Then the final verse, which is my favorite, is scripture directly from Philippians 1:21 and Luke 9:23:

“Let it be my life’s refrain:

To live is Christ, to die is gain;

Deny myself, take up my cross

And follow the Son.”

I want our church to memorize this last verse, because it contains these two great verses from the Bible and connects them to our mission. 

You can listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHuLOdZdqs8

You can buy the track or resources here: https://www.gettymusic.com/for-the-cause/

*Post-script: The song was dedicated to Southeaster Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, Danny Akin.

"Breath of Heaven" Christmas Musical

Next Sunday at First Baptist Church Farmersville, we will be presenting the Christmas musical “Breath of Heaven.” I am very excited about this year’s musical for a couple of reasons. First of all, I am excited about the high level of participation. We presented an open invitation for all members of the congregation in the youth group or older to come and sing in the Christmas choir. Although we have done this in the past, this year we have more youth singing than ever before. We also have several adults who are singing in choir for the first time in their lives! Additionally, there are more instrumentalists involved in the orchestra than the previous two years. We have trumpets, trombones, flutes, an alto sax, clarinet, timpani, auxiliary percussion, and a full rhythm section.

Secondly, I am very excited about the musical selections. “Breath of Heaven” is from the Ready to Sing series, and was arranged by Russell Mauldin. Russell Mauldin and his team of writers wrote four original pieces in this musical, and Mauldin also arranged some classic carols and songs. The pieces I am most excited about are “Breath of Heaven” (for which the musical is named), “Welcome To Our World,” and “At the Feet of Jesus with O Holy Night.”

“Breath of Heaven” was made famous by Amy Grant. I would consider it a Contemporary Christian Christmas classic. The opening piano line leads into a hauntingly beautiful melody sung from the perspective of Mary. It certainly captures the wonder of Christmas, as Mary sings about having to place her trust in God to guide her through the difficult journey she faced.

“Welcome to Our World” is another modern Christmas song that I would consider a classic. Chris Rice wrote the song in 1995 and first released it on the album “Deep Enough to Dream” in 1997. In typical Chris Rice fashion, each verse is carefully and poetically composed. Verse 4 and 5 almost bring me to tears every time I hear them:

 

“Fragile fingers sent to heal us,

tender brow prepared for thorn,

tiny heart whose blood will save us,

unto us is born.

 

So wrap our injured flesh around You,

breath our air and walk our sod.

Rob our sin and make us holy,

perfect Son of God.

Perfect Son of God,

welcome to our world.”

 

“At the Feet of Jesus with O Holy Night” is an original song composed by Sue C. Smith and David Moffitt and arranged by Mauldin. I love that it is the final song in the musical, because it is all about worship and adoration. The song connects the idea of the wise men giving gifts to the way we are compelled to give our lives to Jesus. He is the only one worthy of our praise and honor, and so we long to give him everything that we are as an act of worship!

I pray you will come to hear the musical this Sunday if you live in Farmersville! Brother Bart (who is singing in the choir!) will be preaching a gospel message and giving an invitation, so it is a great opportunity to invite friends and family as well.

Worship Song Highlight: "Prepare Him Room"

Starting this Sunday, we will be singing “Prepare Him Room” every Sunday throughout the Advent and Christmas season at FBC Farmersville. “Prepare Him Room” was written by Rebecca Elliott and Dave Fournier of Sovereign Grace Music, the same group who wrote “Behold Our God” and “Come Praise and Glorify.” It was released in 2014 on the Christmas album Prepare Him Room. I put this near the top of the list of best congregational worship songs for Advent/Christmas written in the 2000s, and it is one of my personal favorites.

 

The whole song echoes the theme of Psalm 24:7,

“Lift up your heads, O gates!

And be lifted up, O ancient doors,

That the King of glory may come in.”

 

Thus the chorus is a simple call to worship based on that refrain,

“Prepare Him Room,

Prepare Him Room.

Let the King of glory enter in.”

 

What a wonderful prayer upon which to meditate and sing! The message is perfect for the Advent season. Advent helps us to be grateful for Jesus Christ’s first coming and reminds us to serve him as we eagerly await his second coming.

 Verse 1 talks about the mystery of the gospel unfolding as Christ was born. Verse 2 praises Jesus for being God with us, for fulfilling the promises and prophecies, for bringing light, for teaching the words of life, and for ushering in the kingdom of God. Verse 3 is my favorite verse. It says:

“Oh, our hearts, as busy as Bethlehem
Hear Him knock, don’t say there’s no room in the inn
Through the cradle, cross, and grave
See the love of God displayed
Now He’s risen and He reigns
Praise the Name above all names!”

I love how the lyrics call us out for being too busy. We often get so caught up in the flurry of the season that we miss out on the peace Jesus brings and the blessing of spending time with him in personal and corporate worship. Jesus loves us so much, and it would be a shame for us to miss out on what he would say to us this Christmas because our hearts are too anxious, busy, or distracted by lesser things.

You can listen to the song here.

Musically, I love the harmonies, especially the major 7th chords (which are AWESOME, hint hint Phyllis Tanner!)

You can find resources and buy the song, or buy the entire, fantastically wonderful album, here: http://sovereigngracemusic.org/music/songs/prepare-him-room/

Worship Song Highlight: "What a Beautiful Name"

NOTE: On May 8, 2019, CCLI made a post regarding top 5 questions they receive. One of the most frequent questions they receive is, “Can we change the lyrics of a song to more accurately reflect our theology?” The answer was, “No.” Up untili May 8, 2019, I had received conflicting advice concerning this issue. Yet they made it very clear that you must get the author’s permission to change lyrics, otherwise you violate the composer’s copyright.

I humbly recant and apologize!!! To anyone who read my blog previously and decided to change the lyrics in “What a Beautiful Name,” or any other song, please do what I am going to do and change course. From now on when we sing this song, we will just change up the order and omit verse 2. We will probably sing it like this: Chorus 1, Verse 1, Chorus 2, Bridge, Chorus 3. It is legal, according to CCLI, to switch up the order of a worship song.

Again, I feel very foolish. I am so sorry!

———————

ORIGINAL POST:

It has been some time since I have posted a Worship Song Highlight blog. I plan to write about a couple other songs we have been singing at First Baptist Church of Farmersville, namely “His Mercy is More” and “Come Praise and Glorify.” Yet I feel it is important to write about “What a Beautiful Name,” because although this is a beloved new song for many, it has been criticized by others. We are going to start singing it this Sunday, so I hope to explain some of the theology behind the song before our church starts singing it regularly.

“What a Beautiful Name” is the latest hit by Hillsong, the worship song giants that also brought you “Shout to the Lord” back in the Zschech days and, more recently, “Stronger,” “Mighty to Save,” “Forever Reign,” and “Oceans.” The chorus is very easy to sing. The melody stays the same each time, but the words change slightly from chorus to chorus. The first chorus says, “What a beautiful name it is, What a beautiful name it is, The name of Jesus Christ, my King.” The second chorus says, “What a wonderful name it is,” and the third chorus says, “What a powerful name it is.”

The verses and bridge contain truths about Jesus and praise for who he is. The first verse is based on some ideas from John 1, Colossians 1, and Ephesians 1. It first states, “You were the Word at the beginning, One with God, the Lord most high.” You can certainly hear how this reflects John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The next two lines of the verse say, “Your hidden glory in creation, now revealed in You, our Christ.” This echoes Colossians 1:15-20 and makes the point that even though God’s glory was revealed in creation, Christ revealed the “fullness of God” (Col. 1:19) and the “mystery of his will” (Eph. 1:9).

The bridge contains statement after statement of Jesus’ victory through the cross, resurrection, and ascension:

“Death could not hold You

The veil tore before You

You silenced the boast of sin and grave

The heavens are roaring the

Praise of Your glory

For You are raised to life again

 

You have no rival, You have no equal

Now and forever God, You reign

Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory

Yours is the Name above all names”

 

So if all of this is good theology, why has the song been criticized? Well, the specific lyrics in question are in verse 2:

“You didn’t want heaven without us,

So Jesus, You brought heaven down.

My sin was great, Your love was greater,

What could separate us now?”

The well-respected and oft-wise John Piper wrote a blog about these lyrics, questioning if they imply that God was lonely in heaven without us. You can read that blog here: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/when-worship-lyrics-miss-the-mark

He helpfully points out how we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that God needs us and that it was out of a feeling of emptiness he sent Jesus to save and reconcile us to himself. While I agree with him that we should be careful about this false theology, I don’t believe it was the songwriters’ intent in the lyric. In fact, Ben Fielding, one of the co-authors of the song posted a blog about the scriptural basis for the song. You can read his comments here: https://hillsong.com/collected/blog/2017/05/scriptural-inspiration-behind-the-lyrics-of-what-a-beautiful-name/#.WcFnP62ZNBw

I didn’t get the same impression as John Piper did when I first heard this song, and I actually love what Ben Fielding has to say about the lyric. However, the last thing I want to do is confuse anyone in our church or have us sing something that is misleading. Therefore, we will probably not sing verse 2.

Honestly, I couldn’t throw out the entire song due to one line because I think the song is already meaningful to many of our people. We sang this song in French in Montreal on a mission trip on July 30th. That same morning back in Farmersville, one of our choir members, Amanda, sang this song as a solo. That same morning at church our Guatemala mission trip team was sharing about their trip. I later found out they sang this song together in Guatemala at a crucial time in the week. I believe God orchestrated all these things. For these reasons, this song already has a special place in my heart, even before we start to use it congregationally at FBC Farmersville.

Here is a YouTube recording of the song.

Here are the lyrics in French.

 

Post-Script: Should we even sing Hillsong songs???

Many people have criticized Hillsong Worship in recent years for various reasons. Some evangelicals have argued we should not sing any of their music. Let me say these things in response:

1)    Some say we shouldn’t sing their songs because some of their pastors have preached prosperity gospel type messages. I would say that although I do not agree with the message of the prosperity gospel, I have never picked up on any such theology in their worship music.

2)    Some say we shouldn’t sing their songs because of their charismatic theology. I would say that we should not sing songs written by anybody which contain theology with which we disagree (ie. charismatic theology, prosperity gospel, etc.). Yet we should be able to sing songs that have great theology, even if we disagree with some of the author’s theology. (Case in point: “God of Grace and God of Glory” was written by the liberal pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick).

3)    Some people don’t like Hillsong just because they are popular. I like what Greg Scheer once said: “Well, you don’t see anybody writing hate blogs about my music because apparently I’m not popular enough!” The same is true of me. I have yet to encounter anyone warning Christians not to sing my songs, haha!

4)    I am always open to being corrected by the Word and by the Holy Spirit. Currently, however, I see no reason why a church should feel hesitant to sing a song just because it was produced by Hillsong Worship.

Mrs. E & Mrs. S.

Philippians 4:2-3 is a super important passage, and I can't say I know of any other musical settings about it!!! I hope you are encouraged or convicted or whatever the Holy Spirit wants you to be as you listen to the song. The lyrics are below the video:


Philippians four verses two and three
Tells the story of Euodia and Syntyche
Two ladies the Apostle Paul asked to agree
As co-laborers in the Lord.
Many times like them do we fight,
Never conceding another is right!
And all the while we tend to lose sight
Of what matters the most.
Why don't we agree
That He who we seek
Can do more than we
Could imagine?
If side by side,
We strive and we strive
To proclaim the gospel
Of our Savior.
Mrs. E & Mrs. S,
Can't you see you're making a mess,
When you are called to repent and confess,
And agree in the Lord?
Our unity is based on more
Than which president we voted for
Or what color's best for the carpet floor
Of the sanctuary.
Well Euodia and Syntyche
I realize it can be tricky
To determine what is really worth
Contending for
But petty disputes about pragmatics
About worship styles, clothes styles, and church politics,
Should never divide the body of Christ
If we stand on His Word.

Worship Song Highlight: "Above Every Name"

"Above Every Name" is my newest worship song. The chorus first came to me on the morning of December 14th. Then, the majority of the song was written while Meg, Claire, and I were visiting Meg's family in Canada over Christmas. I was inspired to write this song by meditating on Philippians 2. Our pastor at First Baptist Church Farmersville, Bart Barber, challenged me several months ago to write some new hymns based on the book of Philippians.  He is currently preaching through Philippians at our church and will also participate in the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Pastor's Conference, during which twelve different pastors will preach through the entire book.

The lyrics of "Above Every Name" have two main features. First, while they are written ABOUT Christ, they are sung TO Christ. In other words, the song is Christology sung TO Christ. A friend told me this was "intimate and profound." I hope so! Second, the lyrics tell the story of Christ's humiliation and exaltation.

ABOUT CHRIST/TO CHRIST

The lyrics are written ABOUT Christ, and are meant to teach. Classic Hymnody often teaches deep truths. We believers have often learned our theology through the hymns we sing. I didn't want this song to be shallow; I wanted it to have that same teaching power. So what Christology does this song teach?

 The first pre-chorus says, 

"Though You remained one with Your Father, You became human to be one with us. Because You descended, Jesus, You ended the enmity that kept Your presence from us." 

The incarnation is a paradox in so many ways. Jesus, the Son, became a man on earth while God the Father remained in Heaven. Yet Jesus did not give up his divinity or his unity with the Father when he became a man. Jesus remained homoousios (of the same substance) as the Father. Just ask Athanasius, who taught this against the heretic Arius. Furthermore, Jesus came to be human so he could be like us and pay the sin-debt man owed to God. Hebrews 2:17 says, "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."

This song is also sung TO Christ. If the strength of hymnody is its teaching power, then its weakness is lack of first person language which connects the worshiper vertically to God. Now, there are a great many hymns written in the first person that encourage vertical worship. However, the imbalance of too many impersonal hymns is part of what has caused so many contemporary praise and worship songs today to be written in the first person. This is all an issue of balance. We need songs that contain deep doctrine about God and are vertically addressed to God. We need songs that teach us and songs that allow us to tell God how much we adore Him. I attempted to do both of these things in one song.

HUMILIATION/EXALTATION

The second feature of the lyrics is that they go through the story of Christ's humiliation and exaltation, which is one of the key themes of the Philippians 2:5-11 hymn. The first verse speaks about Christ giving up his royalty and coming down to the earth. Christ descended to the earth, and just kept going down. If you think about it, he is the ultimate champion in the spiritual limbo contest ("How low can you go?”). He came to earth; he was a baby; his family was poor; he lived in a small town; before he died, he was arrested; he was mocked; he was stripped and beaten; he was killed in the most humiliating and painful way the Romans killed anybody.

He accepted this humiliation with complete obedience. Then, after three days in the grave, he rose again and began his ascension back to the top. The second pre-chorus says of Jesus' comeback:

"Though you were buried, the grave could not hold You, Three days later, You rose again. Then You ascended to Your throne in Heaven, Victorious Savior, Defeater of sin."

Now Jesus reigns above every name. Now we give him praise above every name. The act that the world thought was his demise is what gives rise to his glory and renown. Christ saved us when he came "Humbly to serve, humbly to die." That is why he is now lifted high!

Further Info

There are two demos of the song: "Radio Mix Demo" and "Worship Band Mix Demo" available on SoundCloud. You can download a chord chart and a piano/vocal chart on my Worship Songs page.

Fun fact: My girls were a big help to me in writing this song. Claire sat on my lap and critiqued the song while I was working on it at the Yamaha piano in Nana and Papa's living room in Pugwash. Meg was the first person to listen to the song in its entirety, and she helped refine the lyrics at the end of Pre-Chorus 1. We changed them from "the enmity barring salvation from us" to "the enmity that kept salvation from us."

Songs of Mercy & Justice in the Wake of Tragedy

This week our nation has experienced more tragedies. Both Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot by police, and both incidences were caught on camera, allowing for everyone to witness what happened. These men were victims. The black community is outraged. Much of the nation is outraged. The church should be outraged at the systemic racism and injustice that still pervades our society, These systemic problems are, at least in part, to blame for such incidences occurring far too frequently.  

Others have written far more eloquently than I can about this. I would direct your attention to Russell Moore's article here. Dr. Moore helpfully points out that sin is the root cause of these tragedies. Sin has a systemic side and a personal side, and the church needs to call out sin for what it is, whether it is systemic or personal, or both. Micah 6:8 says, *"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." 

In humility, those who love Christ, should stand up for justice and mercy. Anytime something awful happens, such as the death of an Alton Sterling or a Philando Castile, I am driven to prayer. One of the ways my prayers are shaped is through music. I just want to share a few songs that might aid others in praying for justice and mercy in the wake of horrific tragedies.

1. "Does Your Heart Break" by The Brilliance

This is a truly gut-wrenching song. The verses are taken from two stories of tragedy. The first verse is about the children who went hungry and died because of the fall of Jerusalem. The second verse is about Eric Garner, the black New Yorker who was choked to death by a police officer in December of 2014. The chorus is perhaps the most gut-wrenching part of the song, though, as it asks of God, "Does your heart break?" This is either a rhetorical question or one of the most intensely serious questions anyone can ask of God... and even if you have a firm belief in God's love and think it is a rhetorical question, tragedy can really make you ponder the severity and yearning in the query.

In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, people ask all the time, "God, where are you?" "How long will you be far off from us?" "How long will you sit and do nothing?" "Are we not your people? Do you love us?" I often skip past those questions, because I am focused on the New Testament perspective of the promises being fulfilled and God's love being poured out through Christ.... yet those questions have their place. As I was reading Isaiah 64:12 this morning, I realized that God can take it when we pray things like: "God, I know you are loving. But are you seeing this???? Please do something..."

If you want to hear more thoughts about this, I did preach a sermon on Matthew 11 recently, and would be happy to send you a link to the recording. Part of the lyrics for the chorus of this song are taken from Matthew 11.

2. "Kyrie Eleison" by Keith & Kristyn Getty

This song is much more upbeat, but the lyrics are still profound. It is written for corporate worship by some of the greatest hymn-writers living today (if not the greatest), which makes it especially useful for the church. We need to be singing songs like this that call us to prayer and action.

The refrain of the song uses an ancient church text: "Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison," meaning "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy." Growing up as a Baptist, I used to think singing "kyrie eleison," was only for Catholics or some other group of non-fervent-New-Testament-believing Christians. I don't think so anymore. Although, for some, repeating "Christ have mercy," over and over again has turned into meaningless ritual for personal confession, the prayer itself is very meaningful. Its use is not limited to personal confession of sin. We can also pray it corporately or on behalf of someone else. In fact, sometimes in the wake of tragedy we have no words. No words come to mind that can really fit the situation. In such situations, I find that "Christ, have mercy," (or "Even so, come Lord Jesus," which I will talk about next) is the best thing to pray.

There are other great settings of this text. Here is one by The Brilliance: "Prayers of the People." 

3. "Even So Come" by Chris Tomlin, Jess Cates, and Jason Ingram (as made famous by Kristian Stanfill and Passion)

I was so excited when I discovered such a profoundly biblical song written and recorded by a mainstream CCM/worship artist. This song comes from the early church's cry of, "Maranatha!" ("Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!"-Revelation 22:20). Creation is groaning for Christ to come again. Our hearts groan for his return and our redemption. Our hearts groan all the more in the wake of tragedy, because we know he is going to fix this mess and take away all sin, tears, mourning, and death. I am currently planning on teaching this song to our congregation this fall.


It seems like there are more and more tragedies occurring each and every day (just think: Ferguson, Charleston, Paris, Orlando). We the church have the responsibility, the opportunity, and the privilege to be the ones offering hope. We can pray for justice and we can walk humbly and we can love mercy and seek all these things in Jesus' name.

*There is a great song based on Micah 6:8 called "You Have Shown Us."

Worship Song Highlight: "Christ is Risen"

On Sunday, the choir and I introduced “Christ is Risen” to the congregation at First Baptist Church of Farmersville. “Christ is Risen” was written in 2009 by Matt Maher and Mia Fieldes, and released on Maher’s 2009 album “Alive Again.” “Christ is Risen” has been one of my favorite worship songs since I introduced it to the congregation at First Baptist Church Marlin, Texas, in 2011. You can listen to the song on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IExdrZGQVeI

Matt Maher was born in the same province as my wife: Newfoundland, Canada. He later moved to Arizona with his family and studied jazz piano at Arizona State University. Rich Mullins helped disciple Maher early on in his Christian walk and connected him with some other Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) artists. Today, Maher is one of the leading songwriters in CCM, and has co-written with basically everyone, including Chris Tomlin, David Crower, Matt Redman, Jason Ingram, Kari Jobe, and Michael W. Smith. Some of his other well-known songs include "Your Grace is Enough," "Lord I Need You," and "All the People Said Amen." For "Christ is Risen," Maher teamed up with Mia Fieldes, who was on the Hillsong worship team for ten years before moving to Nashville, Tennessee.

There are several reasons why I think this is a great congregational worship song. The opening piano riff always captures my attention. I love playing and singing the song. I also find the pairing of the words and the way the music epically builds in the bridge to be one of the most satisfying combinations of text and music in contemporary worship music. Yet I think the greatest strength of this song is its central theme: “Christ is risen from the dead.”

The resurrection is the key tenet of the Christian faith. We should sing about it, not just on Easter, but all year long. “Christ is Risen” is a great song for any week of the year, because it highlights several effects of the resurrection that we should celebrate.

 

1.     Because of the resurrection, we can have freedom from sin, new life, and release from guilt and shame.

These words from the first verse are reminiscent of Hebrew 12:1-2:

“Let no one caught in sin remain

Inside the lie of inward shame

But fix our eyes upon the cross and

Run to Him who showed great love.”

Ephesians 5:14 says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." The chorus paraphrases this scripture by saying,            

"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death

Come awake, come awake, come and rise up from the grave.”

 

2.     Because of the resurrection, death has been defeated.

Both the chorus and bridge dwell on this idea. The chorus says, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death.” The bridge quotes Hosea 13:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:55 with the lines, “O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory?” Truly, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54) because of the work of Christ.

 

3.     Jesus proved that He is ruler of the universe by His resurrection.

The second verse in particular talks about Jesus’ power, how He overcame all obstacles to fulfill the Father’s plan, and how He is now reigning:

“Beneath the weight of all our sin,

You bowed to none but heaven’s will.

No scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown,

No burden great can hold You down.

In strength You reign.

Forever let Your church proclaim.”

 

4.   Because of the resurrection, we can be one with God again. We can fellowship with Him, which is His greatest desire, and our greatest joy.                 

The second half of the chorus states, "Christ is risen from the dead, We are one with Him again." Jesus prayed for all believers to be one with each other, one with Him, and one with the Father in His high priestly prayer. In John 17:21, Jesus prayed, "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Furthermore, reconciliation or restoration is one of the key themes of the atonement. In 2 Corinthians 5:18, Paul talks about the ministry of reconciliation: "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."

 

One mark of a great worship song is that it contains concise, memorable statements about theology. With a few carefully chosen words, “Christ is Risen” reminds us of many significant scriptures. In other words, it is "portable theology." If you don't already know and love this song, I hope that you will come to do so.

Worship Song Highlight: "Speak, O Lord"

Like the last worship song highlight I wrote (which discussed Rend Collective’s Build Your Kingdom Here), this blog post features a song with roots in Northern Ireland. The modern hymn “Speak, O Lord,” was cowritten by Keith Getty, who hails from Northern Ireland, and Stuart Townend, who is from West Yorkshire, UK. Keith and Kristyn Getty recorded this song on their album “In Christ Alone” in 2006. Notably, the title track from that album was the first song that Getty and Townend cowrote and is the most widely sung hymn written in this century.

Getty and Townend wrote Speak, O Lord” to open a service, precede the sermon, or follow the sermon. I have used it most often in worship as the song immediately before the sermon. Getty said that he envisioned the hymn as a “prayer of illumination,” similar to what was spoken in numerous liturgies of old. Townend wanted the song to stir believers to heed the word just spoken when departing from worship. Aspects of the text make it very suitable to sing both in preparation for the sermon and as a response after the sermon.

As I sing this song, I am reminded of the story of young Samuel in the temple. After hearing God call several times, Samuel responded, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10). In other places throughout the Bible, the writers pray for help to perceive the Lord’s voice through his Word and be taught from it. For example, Psalm 119:8 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”

When singing this hymn, the entire congregation can pray together for God to speak and for our ears and eyes to be open to learn from Him. We also have the opportunity to sing about the power of God’s Word to transform, strengthen, convict, and build up the church. Some of my favorite lines come from the third verse, which states, “Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds,” echoing Romans 12:2. Later it says, “And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises, and by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us,” echoing 2 Corinthians 5:7.

The fact is that every time the church is gathered, the Bible is opened, and the Word is preached, God is speaking to His people. His goal is to reveal His will to us so that we may live for His glory. The question is: what is our goal when we hear the Word? “Speak, O Lord,” is a prayer for those who earnestly desire to be hearers and doers of the Word, and who seek to be transformed through the power of Christ to live for His glory.

Here is a YouTube link to the Getty recording of “Speak, O Lord”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubRlJj8xkds

Here is an interview about the song from the Worship Together.com New Song Café: http://www.gettymusic.com/hymns-speakolord.aspx

Worship Song Highlight: "Build Your Kingdom Here"

For some time now, Rend Collective (formerly Rend Collective Experiment) has been one of my favorite modern worship bands. Hailing from Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland, this folk/indie group came together in a truly organic fashion as a spiritual and musical community. Rend Collective had already written several excellent worship songs before they released their hit album "Campfire" in 2013. Perhaps their most well-known and frequently sung worship song is "Build Your Kingdom Here," which was originally recorded on "Homemade Worship by Handmade People" (2012) before being re-recorded in complete folk fashion on the "Campfire" album.

I am so excited to introduce "Build Your Kingdom Here" to the congregation of First Baptist Church of Farmersville this Sunday, July 5th, 2015. "Build Your Kingdom Here" is a corporate prayer set to an infectious melody with an energetic, driving folk beat. It would be worth listening to in your car and playing on your guitar at home purely for the musical enjoyment. Yet most importantly, the music is paired with incredibly profound, meaningful, and timely lyrics, making it valuable for use in the church's worship.

The song is filled with expressions from Jesus' teaching and parables about the kingdom of God. The chorus itself is derived from the Lord's Prayer, in which Jesus taught the disciples to pray, "Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven" (Matt. 6:10, ESV). Verse two takes Jesus' command in Matthew 6:33 ("Seek first the kingdom of God") and turns it into a declaration of faith ("we seek your kingdom first"). Verse two also says, "To see the captive hearts released; the hurt, the sick, the poor at peace," alluding to Luke 4:18-19, in which Jesus publicly announces his ministry by reading from Isaiah 61. There is also mention of the "kingdom seed," which refers to the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32).

By using these scriptures as the basis for a prayer song, the overarching theme of the song is the advancement of God's reign in Christ through the church. It is clear in the Bible that God's ongoing and ever-increasing reign is fundamentally important. Scripture teaches that God's reign is "already" and "not yet," which creates a tension that is difficult for us to balance and comprehend. Sometimes Christian hymnody has stressed the "not yet" part of God's kingdom through songs about the "sweet by and by" and "going home to Jordan." However, there is a real need to sing about God's present reign, and "Build Your Kingdom Here" is perhaps the best song I can think of addressing that need for the modern church.

One final note about this song is that it has encouraged me to engage in both domestic and international missions. A line in the chorus says, "Win this nation back." Tomorrow we are singing this in church, and I can't imagine a better thought for us on July 4th weekend than that we want to see Christ win our nation for him. Yet I've also heard a church alter the lyrics and sing, "Win the nations back." When I was visiting the Church at Brook Hills on David Platt's penultimate Sunday as pastor, the congregation sang that altered version, and it really struck me as a prayer that is just as important. We want to see Christ win our nation back, and ultimately, we want to see all nations come to him.

Jesus gave the church the mission of expanding his reign on earth until he returns. Christ hasn't returned yet, so the mission is still ongoing. We are to keep asking him to build his kingdom here, and we are to keep reminding each other that we are the hope for the earth because of Christ in us. I hope this song captures our attention and encourages us to pray all the more, "Come set your rule and reign in our hearts again . . . build your kingdom here."

Here is a music video of the song, complete with the band members playing various folk instruments, including the 'jingling johnny': "Build Your Kingdom Here" music video.

Worship Song Highlight: "Behold Our God"

The past two weeks at FBC Farmersville, we have introduced a congregational song called "Behold Our God" by Sovereign Grace Music. Many in our congregation have responded well to this song and have asked me who wrote it and if they could purchase it on iTunes. The song is available on two albums. The original track was recorded on the album "Risen" and is available here. The song was also recorded on a compilation album of covers of Sovereign Grace songs and is available here.

"Behold Our God" is by Jonathan Baird, Meghan Baird, Ryan Baird, and Stephen Altrogge of Sovereign Grace Music, a group of musicians dedicated to "encouraging biblically informed, heartfelt, Spirit-empowered singing in the church." Much of the song lyrics are paraphrased from Isaiah 40:

"Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him..." (Is. 40:10, ESV)

"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span... Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Who did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?" (vv. 12-14)

"To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?" (v. 18)

Not only do the lyrics paraphrase Isaiah 40, but in Isaac Watts fashion, they also present Jesus, the Messiah, as the LORD God of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks. The combination of Old Testament and New Testament in this worship song create a powerful declaration of our faith in the Trinitarian God. When the gathered church sings this song, we declare that we adore our God, who is "Jesus, Savior, risen now to reign." 

Sovereign Grace Music is affiliated with the Sovereign Grace network of churches and is directed by Bob Kauflin, author of Worship Matters.

Sing About the Gospel

            This month, I have enjoyed some extra time to think and reflect on many things. I just graduated from Southwestern Baptist Seminary with a degree in church music and am in transition between music ministry positions, so I have naturally spent many hours pondering worship music, my calling, my preferences, and my philosophy. Really, I reflect on these things all the time.

            Although I relish studying and discussing the nuances of theology and worship, I desire to explain some of my most fundamental beliefs about church music in this blog. In doing so, my hope is that those who know me from places like Grace Baptist Church in Fort Worth will find these words in agreement with my practices as a worship leader and in everyday life. I also hope that my new church family at First Baptist Church in Farmersville, TX, will be encouraged and come to know a little bit more about what I believe.

            Most of those who know me know that I don't have a worship music style preference. I don't take a side in any contemporary vs. traditional debates because I actually prefer using both. Furthermore, I believe Christians shouldn't be known by the style of music they sing, but by what they sing about. Christians should sing about the gospel. I'll talk more about this later, but whether a church sings more songs by Isaac Watts or Chris Tomlin doesn't matter, as long as they're singing the best songs which most clearly proclaim and celebrate the gospel. Our selection of worship songs should take into serious consideration the principles that worship is a response to the gospel, is a reminder of the gospel, and is a proclamation of the gospel.

            First of all, worship is a response to the gospel. In Romans 12:1, Paul says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (ESV). He is teaching that our sacrifice of worship is a response to God's mercy. We worship and we live for Christ because of his mercy and through his mercy. We do not initiate this sacrifice. Christ initiated our worship by his sacrifice, and when we sing, we respond out of an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

            Secondly, worship should be a reminder of the gospel. The author of Hebrews exhorts us not to "neglect meeting together" (Heb 10:25, ESV), but to encourage one another to love and good deeds. Therefore, everything about corporate worship, from the structure and flow of the service, to the songs selected, to the preaching, should inspire us to live according to the gospel. As for song selection, Paul says in Colossians 3:16 to "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (NASB). The most highly recommended worship songs according to the Bible are those which are filled with Scripture, and consequently, brimming with the gospel.

            By the way, the gospel isn't just for non-believers. Believers need to be reminded of the gospel daily. Many believers don't remind themselves of the gospel as much as they should, and as a result, worship on Sunday morning may be one of the few times during the week they are reminded of the glorious grace of the gospel. Two of my favorite writers, Bob Kauflin (author of Worship Matters) and Bryan Chapell (author of Christ-Centered Worship) both assert that we should sing about the gospel to remind ourselves and each other of its significance.

            Finally, worship should be a proclamation of the gospel. Hebrews 13:15 says, "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess to His name" (NASB). Different translations use different words for the action of our lips, including "confess," "profess," "acknowledge," and "give thanks." The point, however, is the same. When we worship Christ, we are proclaiming to each other and to the world that Christ is our Lord and Savior.

            These types of principles are what guide my selection of worship songs more than anything else. I greatly prefer songs which declare the attributes and acts of God, tell the gospel story, confess our need for Christ, and praise God in response to his marvelous grace and forgiveness. There are other criteria for selecting songs as well, but I think the text is the most important. So that is why I can love a hymn such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," (Isaac Watts) as much as I love the worship song, "Christ is Risen" (Matt Maher). There are a thousand lesser things to sing about in this world, but I want my church to sing about the gospel.

Worship Songs: Select the Best

There are so many worship songs out there! How do you pick which ones to sing? What criteria should be considered when picking worship songs?

I'm presenting a breakout session this Friday, April 10th, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for the Student Praise Band attendees at the Youth Lab conference about this very topic. Please read my thoughts, and if you have a few minutes, rate some worship songs using my 24 point system and share your ratings and opinions!

It is very easy to simply select songs with which you are familiar or you like a lot! However, just because you "know" a song or you really "like" it, doesn't mean it is the best song for you to sing in public worship with your Bible study group, youth group, or at your Sunday morning church service. I am going to describe six criteria which you should consider when choosing songs.

Text Criteria-

1. Theology 

Key question: "Is this text a faithful expression of biblical truth?"

                a. Is it true to Scripture b. Is it theologically precise? c. Is it gospel-centered?

2. Craftsmanship

                a. Does the text make sense? b. Positively: are the lyrics creative, fresh, timeless? Do they rhyme well? Exhibit poetic strength? c. Negatively: are the lyrics distracting, controversial, or hokey?

3. Appropriateness (mainly a textual criteria, although also a musical criteria)

                a. Does the song express your church's theology? #1 example: Many contemporary Christian songs express Charismatic/Pentecostal theology. This is fine if that fits your church, but be careful if it does not. b. Is the text written for corporate worship? Is it reverent? (even celebratory, upbeat songs should have a certain amount of reverence) 

Musical Criteria-

1. Singability

                a. Range -Is it too high for normal people to be able to sing? -If so, consider changing to a lower key. b. Melody -Does it have awkward skips, or nice and easy steps and skips? c. Rhythm -Is it too syncopated or irregular to be easily grasped?  d. Is it congregational or soloistic?

2. Accessibility

                a. Would your youth group or congregation want to sing it? b. There is a difference between immediacy and accessibility, because sometimes you have to learn to enjoy good things, ie. vegetables, hymns.

3. Craftsmanship

                a. Melody b. Harmony c. Interest d. Fit (Does the music fit the text in mood and syllabic stress?) "The primary purpose of music in the worship context is to express right affections to the Lord as we hear and respond to truth." (Dr. Scott Aniol, SWBTS)


Using a four-point rating system for each of the six criterion, you can rate songs on a 24-point scale. 

4- Excellent      3- Good      2- Fair      1- Poor

Obviously, your ratings of songs will still be somewhat subjective. Yet I think this system, or at least an awareness of these criteria, could be helpful for students or adults who must select worship songs. 

Now, I'm interested in hearing your opinions about a few songs. Let's say you were choosing between three fairly well-known contemporary songs focused on salvation/the work of Christ/salvation to introduce to your youth group or congregation. How would you rate these songs? Which would you choose to introduce? Please tell me your ratings on the 24 point scale for one or all of the following songs:

"At the Cross" (Love Ran Red) -Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jonas Myrin, Matt Armstrong, Matt Redman

"Man of Sorrows" -Brooke Ligertwood and Matt Crocker of Hillsong

"Mercy" -Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

 

Lecrae's "Outsiders" and Jay-Z's "Holy Grail": An Accidental Comparison

Warning: Jay-Z's music is very explicit. I do not endorse his music. This "accidental comparison" is a humbly offered cultural analysis comparing two songs with similar music but completely opposite worldviews.

I know I am two months behind the times, but last week I started listening to Christian rapper Lecrae's newest album Anomaly. As I listened to the first track, "Outsiders," I couldn't help but recognize the similarities between it and Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake's song, "Holy Grail."

The similarities include:

  • Both songs are the first tracks on their respective albums, which both debuted at No. 1 overall on the Billboard 200 chart
  • Both songs are in d minor and feature a prominent piano introduction
  • The intro for "Outsiders" is 1'05" which is just slightly shorter than the 1'19" intro for "Holy Grail"
  • After the opening singing section, the rapper enters
  • Both songs are essentially a declaration of identity in spite of criticism or hardship

The fact that the songs sound similar (listen to both if you want to see for yourself), AND have a similar theme is incredibly interesting. Jay-Z is rapping about his love/hate relationship with his fans, but how he is going to keep rapping despite all the negative things he has to face. I think he finds his identity grounded in his rap and his money. In Lecrae's rap, he talks about how living out his Christian faith, especially in the midst of the hip-hop industry, has caused him to become an "outsider." He would definitely assert that his identity is grounded in Christ.

I don't know how intentional the similarities were on Lecrae's part (because his song came second). However, I do know that he is very deliberate and thoughtful about his art. If you want to read more about his goal as a rapper, check out this insightful blog he wrote in 2012: http://reachrecords.com/blog/post/Church-Clothes-Purpose-Passion-Progression

I welcome any thoughts or discussion regarding this comparison. I may be completely off in claiming there are any similarities in the music and theme of the lyrics. However, I think that both men, like every human, deal with the struggle for identity. They fleshed out their individual struggles in these respective songs in similar, yet completely different ways.

Background on Augustine's Conversion (October 17 premier)

           Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) was one of the most influential theologians in all of history. He helped articulate the doctrine of original sin, and his influential writings, including City of God and Confessions, are still read widely today. An order of monks was named after him, a type of grass prevalent in South Texas is called "St. Augustine grass," and several different philosophies and theologies are described as being "Augustinian."

            St. Augustine's testimony is a powerfully encouraging story. I suggest reading his auto-biography, Confessions, in which he not only shares his testimony, but also articulately describes spiritual realities we all experience. Augustine's Confessions has a way of speaking to people because it so raw. He tells the story of how God called him out of a life of unrepentant sin and into a life of beautiful holiness. The account of his garden conversion is particularly gripping. As far as I know, this story has never been set to music in a major work.

            I used texts straight from Henry Chadwick's English translation of Confessions in my work, Augustine's Conversion. The six movements follow the narrative and seek to musically express the life change process which Augustine underwent. The following is a chart describing each movement:

          The message of Augustine's Conversion is a relevant message for all times, but it seems particularly important to emphasize in our day and age. The message is that sin is real, it keeps people in darkness, but there is light and salvation available in Jesus Christ. We all struggle with sin and need a Savior. This message is also echoed in the other pieces in my recital program, including metrical psalm settings of Psalm 30 and Psalm 32, my arrangement of "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed," a new piece entitled, "Heir of Endless Love," which is adapted from a prayer entitled, "The Precious Blood," from the Valley of Vision puritan prayers book, and my original worship song, "You Sought Me."

            I am so excited to premier Augustine's Conversion! All are invited to the recital on Friday, October 17th, at 7:30 pm at Reynolds Recital Hall in the Cowden Music Building on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

New Writing Project: Metrical Psalms

Inspired by studying early American church music, a new semester of composition lessons, and the challenge of a friend to write a choral piece utilizing a metrical psalm setting, I set out to write my first metrical psalm setting.

For those who don't know, a metrical psalm setting is when a Psalm is paraphrased and set into poetry which follows a rhyme and syllable scheme in such a way that it can be sung. 

The most famous metrical psalm tune is the OLD 100TH, which is the tune we commonly use for singing the doxology.  Metrical Psalms are similar to hymns, and utilize the same meters. Thus if you find a metrical psalm text, you could potentially sing it to a tune you know, such as NEW BRITAIN ("Amazing Grace") or NETTLETON ("Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.")

It is also interesting to note that some modern worship song writers have used hymnic structure and syllabic structure when writing songs you may never have equated with hymnody or psalmody. My favorite example is "Love Shines" by Aaron Ivey of the Austin Stone Church. The verses in the song are in common meter.

I decided to write my first metrical psalm text from Psalm 32. I used Common Meter, with the syllable structure of 8.6.8.6. Thus this text could be sung to many tunes, including AZMON ("O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing"), the tune for "Amazing Grace," the melody of the verses of "Love Shines," or the new tune I composed for this text which is not yet named. The text is as follows:

1 Blessed is the one whose deadly wrongs are completely forgiv'n,

the one for whom the blood of Christ was shed to cover sin.

2 Blessed is the one whom God no more looks down upon in wrath,

the one who through the Holy Spir't now walks the truthful path.

3 When I kept silent all day long,  my bones wasted away,

though I was quiet outwardly, I groaned inward all day.

4 For day and night I felt heavy  your hand upon my back,

it was as if the summer's heat all of my strength had sapped.

5 Then I confessed my sin to you  and my iniquity,

and as I exposed all my guilt, you heard and forgave me.

6 Thus let all godly ones pray to you while you may be found,

then when the mighty waters rise you'll keep them safe and sound.

7 You are my shelt'ring, hiding place when troubles do abound,

You sing to me deliverance songs, and guard me all around.

8 I will instruct and counsel you,  and teach you the right way,

Only do not be like the mule, who is slow to obey.

9 So many are the woes of those wicked and evil men,

but God shows his unfailing love to them who trust in him.

10 Rejoice with glad and upright hearts, the name of Jesus praise!

Sing gratefully, you righteous ones, our loudest anthem raise!