Worship & Spiritual Maturity

Last week, I presented a session at ACU on Worship & Spiritual Maturity called “I Shall Not Be Moved…”
There’s so much important material on this subject…the importance of participation as it relates to spiritual formation & maturity…how singing shapes and forms us not only spiritually, but physically…the witness of that singing to the world.  Maybe I’ll have more on this later, but just to tease those who will actually read this, here’s a critical reminder: only when we fully invest in worship as participants/performers, can we expect to fully mature and be formed in worship. (Maybe that’s why we have so much immaturity in the Church? Folks just come hoping to get something out of it or check their religious box instead of giving heart, soul, mind and strength back to God?)
Here are a few excerpts…maybe more to come.
We are commanded to sing…it’s not a suggestion. No, God Doesn’t care about whether or not your tenor is perfect or if you know the alto line or not…or really whether or not you can match pitch. But he wants to know your heart wants to praise him. People are watching you when you worship or when you don’t. #dontbeaspectator #getinvolved
Far too often, we’ve bred a culture of worshippers who view worship as a spectator sport; and that’s an unfortunate comparison, because we’ve seen them “spectate” at their favorite sports team games and they’re far more into that game than they are into the “game,” (if you’ll allow the metaphor) of worship. It’s time for us to remember we’re not called to be worship spectators. God is the spectator…the audience. We are the performers, seeking to honor and offer something to God-the ultimate audience. #DontBeASpectator #getinvolved #worshipquips
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Build Your Kingdom Here

I posted a few days ago about the theology of the songs we sing about Heaven…I also talk about the upward trend we’re seeing in worship music to include a broader, kingdom theme.  One  of those groups that are giving voice to kingdom songs are the great Northern Irish “family” band called Rend Collective Experiment.

One of the many songs that the church around the world has taken into its musical vocabulary from Rend is their wonderful modern hymn “Build Your Kingdom Here.”  I was swapping messages with another US church leader just this morning about this wonderful song and how its such a dichotomy from the old heaven tunes…with their poor theology of Kingdom & Heaven…This songs empowers the church to realize God has placed us in an incredible position to be his ambassadors…”his hope…” on the front lines of his kingdom building, making life on earth as it is in heaven.  I hope this song blesses you as much as it’s blessed me and the churches I’ve served over the last few years.

Build Your Kingdom Here
Rend Collective Experiment, © 2011 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your Church
And we need Your power
In us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captive hearts released
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause
We are Your church
And we pray revive
This earth (We’re prayin’ for revival)

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray (Change the atmosphere)

Unleash Your kingdom’s power
Reaching the near and far
No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ
We are Your church
Oh, and we are the hope
On earth

Build Your Kingdom Here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

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“Law of Love and Gospel of Peace”

Last Christmas, I wrote this post amidst a sea of unrest, politically and otherwise.  In light of recent tragic events, especially in Orlando, I’m reposting it here today.

There has been a lot of swirling conversation going on around me, both physically and virtually, about what has gone on in the world around us these last few weeks…Syria, San Bernardino, Jerry Falwell…and on and on.  It was so much that today, I’d had enough and I needed a moment to just sit, be, listen and be quiet…in the quiet, I was overcome by the lyrics of one of the world’s most beloved Christmas Carols…and I had to write a bit about it.  I’ll come back to the other verses and the backstory of this wonderful Adolphe Adam carol, Cantique de Noel, on another day.

[And I will return to my series of posts on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” later this week.  But for a moment today, amidst the hatred, vitriolic speech, harsh judgment and language found in my Facebook feed and in other social and news media, I paused today just to breathe in and claim the lyrics of a Christmas Carol that so many love…but I’m afraid have sung too glibly over the years.]

The third verse of “Oh Holy Night” speaks of a world in which those who claim to follow Jesus are living out he calls all of his followers to in his subversive Gospel.

That Gospel is deeply rooted in Love of God and Love of Others…and so many claim the first part of that Call…the part about loving God.  But the back half…well, I’m afraid some have given Christ a bad name in how we’ve lived that out in recent days, weeks and months…that love of “others” is not one we can or should place provisions or privileges on…it’s an unconditional love for all of our brothers and sisters…Cantique-002


“Truly He taught us
to love one another;
His law is Love
and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break,
for the slave is our brother,
And in his name
all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy
in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise
his Holy name!”


Come, Lord Jesus!

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Songs & Theology–Heaven Songs

This is a post that Corey Trevathan (Coreytrevathan.com) shared over at his blog last week…I thought I’d share it here for your reading pleasure.

PREFACE: This is a post I began to write over a year ago…the subject matter of songs and theology is one that has long weighed heavily on my mind and heart.  But particularly the subject of heaven-songs…these songs are very dear to all of us.  We’ve grown up singing them, we associate family and other memories with their melodies…they are a part of who we are.  So, I offer this preface before I get into what is sure to make us all think and perhaps, make us a little uncomfortable.

My friend and colleague Corey Trevathan says something that has really resonated with me over the last year.  “If we believe what we say we believe, it changes everything.”  What a powerful thought.  I’d like to take that a step further… “If we believe what we sing we believe, then it changes everything.”  Our faith is one we’ve sung for years.  While we might not immediately think about it, many of us have learned what we believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and other core beliefs because we’ve sung them in church all of our lives.  Unfortunately, that’s not always a healthy thing.  In fact, when it comes to the subject of Heaven, a very delicate subject indeed, we’ve done ourselves, God and Heaven a great disservice with the theology we’ve been singing for a number of years.  Now I know that few subjects within the theological realm are so sentimental, so deep, and yet contain, or may even be founded on what some might consider to be faulty or pre-conceived notions.  Tie such a subject as heaven with the emotionalism and sentimentality of music, the universal language, and you have quite a combination.  But it is just this combination, heaven and songs about heaven that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time.

While I remember a number of songs from my childhood, one particularly goofy one comes to mind on this very topic. It’s one of those songs where each voice part had their own independent line.  We all loved it because it was entertaining, had a fun bass part (after all, songs with fun bass lines need not worry about bad theology, right?), and it was “difficult,” different…unlike what we sang “in big church.” The lyrics were:

“Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace.  I wanna see my savior’s face, heaven is a wonderful place-wanna go there…” (O.A. Lambert, © 1958 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

I want to key in on that word “place.” When we think of heaven, we often tend to think of it as a noun; a place… a destination to which the “saved” can go after death… the target destination and goal of our lives. The more I think about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven as presented in scripture, I’m not sure that’s the best definition.  Consider a couple of scriptures…

The kingdom has come near to you…
Matthew 3:2 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Luke 17:21  Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Revelation 21:1-4 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

The way these scriptures present the Kingdom– the rule and reign of God, to use a fancy “-ology” word, eschatology, is quite a departure from the way it’s been presented in a portion of this vast tradition of hymns and gospel music over the last 125 years, especially within those songs written in the shadow of the great depression and our formerly, primarily agrarian society. These songs have shaped generations of thinking a certain way about heaven being a place.  And I understand why they wrote them that way. Many of those songs were written during a time when the only hope people had was to tie their hope to a place other than earth. All they wanted to think about (imagine Grapes of Wrath) was another place that was different from where they found themselves in that particular moment in time.  So heaven, in the way songwriters painted it based on proof-texting scripture, became a place to long for as opposed to God’s reign and an in-breaking, already present, but not yet fully realized, kingdom.

Over the last year, two colleagues have taken a helpful and thoughtful approach to thinking about heaven as a place in their teaching series; Corey Trevathan and Dusty Rush at Campus Church in Atlanta.  Recently at Riverside, where I’m blessed to be serving currently, Corey began leading us through a series called “The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…”   In it, we will think, study, and pray through the Kingdom of Heaven Parables, and will be challenged to think through the reality of the Kingdom of God as already present, but not yet fully realized.  (That last phrase is a nod to my dear friend Doug Peters, with whom I worked for 10 years in Arlington…so much of my theology was formed by our friendship, and his preaching…)

To help illustrate, I want to think through some of our older hymns. Who knows, this may be the beginning of a series of posts where we’ll work through these and a few more hymns exploring the “good, bad and ugly” theology we sometimes sing, often unknowingly.  If we sing what we believe, and what we sing helps form what we believe, than this is critically important.

When We All Get to Heaven
This hymn by Eliza Hewitt is much loved well beyond Churches of Christ.  The first half is pretty poor theologically…the second half shows signs of improvement, though, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of practicing our singing and shouting here on Earth.

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace.
In the mansions bright and blessed
He’ll prepare for us a place.

When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

And here’s a verse we don’t typically see in restoration hymnals…
Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold

This World is Not My Home
This song has received a lot of “play” beyond Churches of Christ. However, it should be noted that while there is some ambiguity on its authorship, the words and music are attributed to arguably one the most popular writers to come out of Churches of Christ, Albert E. Brumley.  He also authored “I’ll Fly Away” and many other songs about heaven.

1. This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

2. They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am and weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

3. I have a loving Savior up in gloryland,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

4. Just up in gloryland, we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

O Lord, You know I have no friend like You,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Home of the Soul
This song is written by James Rowe with music by famous hymn writer, Samuel Beazley, who touched a number of other Heaven Songs such as (Jesus Paid It All-the one with the awkward, fast, peppy tune, The Beckoning Lights of Home, Crossing the Bar, After the Midnight…).  The place of heaven as the ultimate trophy at the end of life’s participation?  I think that’s a little different from the picture Jesus describes…

If for the prize we have striven,
After our labors are o’er,
Rest to our souls will be given,
On the eternal shore.


Home of the soul, beautiful home,
There we shall rest, never to roam;
Free from all care, happy and bright,
Jesus is there, He is the light!
Oft, in the storm, lonely are we,
Sighing for home, longing for Thee,
Beautiful home of the ransomed,
Beside the crystal sea.

Yes, a sweet rest is remaining
For the true children of God,
Where there will be no complaining,
Never a chastening rod.

Soon, the bright homeland adorning,
We shall behold the glad dawn;
Lean on the Lord till the morning,
Trust till the night is gone.

When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder
Words and Music by James M. Black…this song has an interesting back story.  Mr. Black, a Methodist Sunday School teacher in Pennsylvania, was calling roll one day for a meeting of the youth.  When a particular child supposedly named Bessie, who was the daughter of a local famous town drunk didn’t show up, he was disappointed.  He’s believed to have made a comment to the effect of Well, I trust when the roll is called up yonder, she’ll be there.”  It was sung in the Grammy winning movie of 1941, Sergeant York.

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.


When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.

On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share;
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.


Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Mansion Over the Hilltop
This is perhaps my least favorite song of all time.  How presumptive and arrogant of us to “demand” our mansions while talking about what we’re merely satisfied with on earth.  There’s a LOT wrong with this song…but hey, even Elvis recorded it…so it must be ok, right?  Still under copyright, but written by Ira Stanphill in 1949, this song sits at the top of many lists of “favorites” (and I’ve got some interesting data about people’s favorites that I’ll share later.)

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged I’m heaven bound
I’m but a pilgrim in search of the city
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

The bottom line for me is this: While many of these songs hold near and dear places in our minds and hearts, we live in a different time and place.  For many, the imagery of these songs is no longer relevant.  More than that, the theology is poor.  We must sing songs that foster a theologically informed perspective on the kingdom of God that’s more aligned with scripture and echoes the call of Jesus that we be on the “front lines” of his in-breaking kingdom on this earth.  We are the Body of Christ; called to make life on earth more like it is in heaven.

Thankfully, there is musical and hymnological help on the way.  Today, we find ourselves in the middle of a pendulum swing in the church’s music.  I’m increasingly thankful that we’re recovering the meaning and image of kingdom in the songs of the church.  I’m thankful for writers like Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Bob Kauflin, Randy Gill, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townsend, Rend Collective, Steve Fee, Brett & Kristian Stanfill, Kevin Twit, Sandra McCracken and many more who are helping shift our focus from thinking about heaven as a “Wonderful place” to which we someday might go, to being about the business of bringing about heaven on earth in the present.  There are any number of these wonderful new pieces being written with a more theologically-informed perspective on the kingdom, but I want to share with you a personal favorite written by my friend Randy Gill.  The imagery, the melody, everything about this song is right.  It’s the kind of Kingdom I want my daughter singing about when God’s people gather to worship.

My hope and prayer is that songs like this one will fill our hearts and fill our churches…and that we’ll be a part of a kingdom that sings about bringing about life on earth as it is in heaven.  My prayer is that we’ll believe what we sing…and that we’ll all be changed.  “Thy Kingdom Come…”

We will see the holy city come descending like a Bride
With the Lamb of glory seated on his throne
A new earth and a new heaven with its gates thrown open wide
When the King of Zion comes to claim his own.

Till your kingdom comes in power
Saints and angels shout amen
Father, we will be your kingdom, be your kingdom until then

Then the son will raise a scepter filled with righteousness sand peace,
Saying there is no more sorrow no more night.
And the chains will all be broken no more hunger, no disease.
Only when the darkness turns to light.

Let us be a holy nation known for Justice and for grace.
Let our love and mercy testify for you
We will share the hope of Jesus until all will see his face
When the perfect comes and all will be made new

Till your kingdom comes in power
Saints and angels shout amen
Father, we will be your kingdom, be your kingdom until then
Till you gather all your children in the New Jerusalem
Father we will be your kingdom, be your kingdom until then.

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Your Kingdom Come…

In a forthcoming post, I’ll share the first of several expositions on the theology of the songs we sing…the good, the bad and the ugly.

In my first post, a post that’s been marinating for over a year and a post I wrote as a guest author today over at CoreyTrevathan.com, the blog of my friend and colleauge and preacher for the Riverside Church, Corey Trevathan, I talk about the bad theology we find in many of our songs about heaven…many of which stem from a warped understanding of the Kingdom of God.  (

But I also talk about a few good ones, songs that serve as models for how we should shape the theology we sing.  A great hymn that I didn’t mention by is “Our Father in Heaven” by my friend and accomplished composer, worship practitioner, all around brilliant musician Eric Wyse.  This video was captured by another friend (Brandon Scott Thomas) last evening at the convocation of the Webber Institute for Worship Studies down in Florida.

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Come, Emmanuel #3

Christmas has turned into one of the busiest, most frantic times of year, hasn’t it?  How far this holiday has come from the most humble of origins.

Amidst concerts, travel, all of our planning, Christmas service preparations, parties  Christmas shopping, two broken cars, the last 2 weeks, at least for us have been filled with “strife!”  I know, that may be a stretch for such a definition…but it sure seems as if we’ve been immersed in anything but peace on earth…because we’re so consumed with ourselves, after all, we’re the consumer!

This November-December, I participated in several performances of Handel’s messiah…and each time, we sang those storied words that echo the voices of the prophets, anticipating the coming Messiah.

“And his name shall be called: Wonderful…Counselor…Mighty God…Everlasting Father…the Prince of Peace.”  Our world…We…I desperately need the Prince of Peace.  Because only that can bring us back to the true meaning of a baby, humbly born into a broken world that can change everything and spread the blessing of Emmanuel, God with us now,  “Far as the curse is found.”

I want to close 2015 with these closing words of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  These are a portion of my prayer as this year melds into a new one filled with new expectations and endless hope.

Oh come, desire of nations,

Bind all peoples in one heart and mind

Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease…

Fill the whole world with heavens peace

May God richly bless you in 2016!  Keep Reading…keep commenting…

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Come, Emmanuel (#2)

As the anticipation, the “Watching and waiting, looking above” continues, we move (backward) to the first verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Perhaps, this is the most poignant of this hymns litany of verses, with its begging and pleading for Messiah to come…little did they know just what that Messiah would look like.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O, Israel.

O-Come-EmmanuelAs I stated in last week’s blog, each verses gives us a glimpse into a different prophecy, a different Name identified in scripture.  “Emmanuel” meaning “God is With Us” (or even better translated “God is With us Now”, we know well from the prophecy of Isaiah which is reiterated in Matthew & Luke’s account of the                                                                            birth narrative. (Is. 7:14, Mt 1:23)

Musically speaking, this hymn, and namely this opening verse and its significance is inextricably tied to its role in the great “O” Antiphons.  Hymnologist J.R. Watson provides a context for the antiphons included on the second page after the hymn in the most recent printing of the United Methodist Hymnal: “The antiphons, sometimes called the ‘O antiphons’ or ‘The Great O’s’, were designated to concentrate the mind on the coming Christmas, enriching the meaning of the Incarnation with a complex series of references from the Old and New Testaments.”

Each antiphon begins as follows:

O Sapentia (Wisdom)
O Adonai
(Hebrew word for God)
O Radix Jesse
(stem or root of Jesse)
O Clavis David
(key of David)
O Oriens
O Rex genitium
(King of the Gentiles)
O Emmanuel

If one were to look at the first letter of the second word of these titles, each with verses translated by John Mason Neale in various hymnals of our time, you’d find an acrostic, SARCORE.  When spelled backwards, and this is where the interesting-ness continues, you get “ero cras,” which in the Latin means “I will be present tomorrow.” Every one of the Latin titles anticipating the coming Messiah, Jesus are from the Old Testament except “Emmanuel,” which is found both in Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23, as mentioned above. Matthew quotes Isaiah virtually verbatim—“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel”—with the exception that Matthew adds the phrase: “which being interpreted is, God with us.”

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O, Israel.

I love the longing in the words of this prayer…like Israel amidst it’s waiting for liberation…like those in the 400-year period of silence, waiting for Messiah to come…we too are longing, waiting to be ransomed out of this earthly captivity.  So we wait…but we rejoice, because, like the writer who penned the “rejoice” chorus, we know how the story ends.  Messiah did come…and will come again. IN the meantime, “Maranatha…Lord, come quickly…and thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

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Come, Emmanuel! (#1)

No sooner had the thanksgiving dressing been put away to become a late-afternoon football snack than the Christmas decor began to make its grand entrance from almost a years worth of being stored away!

Isn’t this story so true in many of our homes?  Seems like some folks
have been ready to unleash Burl Ives, Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller and Jose Feliciano since mid August…but alas, we can hold them off no longer.  For the season of anticipating Christmas is finally here…the Advent of Christ is upon us according to the Christian Calendar.

Maybe it is the weather of the last few days (both at home and in Chicago), but I’ve been thinking about the lyrics of one of my favorite Christmas hymns which guides us through the advent story so well…and does so with such a potent lyrical connection for us today that I really can’t wait to start singing it.

The words find their origins as early as the mid-late 12th century and were translated (or believed to be translated) by John Mason Neale around 1851.


Libera Me

The music finds its origin in the Libera Me, from the funeral mass of the Catholic Mass.  It was called Veni Emmanuel as early as the late 15th century when it was paired with the ancient text by a group of Fransiscan Nuns.  It’s scriptural connection, throughout each verse we know and those left out of modern hymnody, is obvious.  We see Isaiah 7:14 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. The Rod of Jesse refers to Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse;” Jesse was, of course, the father of David, second king of Israel. Day-Spring comes from Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, in Luke 1:78: “The dayspring from on high has visited us.” “Thou Key of David” is in Isaiah 22:22: “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder,” which in turn refers to Isaiah 9:6: “The government shall be upon His shoulder.”  I’ll explore each other verse throughout this Advent season…



O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

However, in light of the world’s recent events, terror and tragedy, and tragedy in the loss of family and friends in my own life in recent weeks, I find myself praying this prayer from one of the latter verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Indeed…come, Emmanuel.  Bring light & hope into our gloomy darkness!


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We Gather Together…and other Pre-Meal Customs

Each of us have our own special family customs and traditions…be it when you have your thanksgiving meal, driving to see the lights on Christmas Eve, on and on the list could go…My hunch is that for every one of us, there are also different customs for how mealtime begins.


I’ve come to appreciate those occasions when I’ve been gathered with friends around the meal table to sing a blessing over our food and our fellowship.  Maybe you have a song or songs that you sing prior to your meal, but one that I’ve sung around the table on a few different occasions (and that was number 1a in the hymnal of my youth) was originally titled “Prayer of Thanksgiving.”  Though it’s largely fallen out of circulation in my hymnological experience, “We Gather Together” has long been considered a hymn invoking and celebrating the blessing of God.

0351=351“We Gather Together” [Find the rest of the story here]
Anonymous 17th-c
entury Dutch, translated by Theodore Baker

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.”

In many hymnals, “We gather together” appears as a Thanksgiving hymn. Perhaps this is because of the opening line and the idea that God is with us regardless of our circumstances. However, the hymn speaks more about God’s providence throughout life’s trial and experience.

This hymn is a late 16th-century expression of celebration of freedom by The Netherlands from Spanish oppression. Like many older hymns, it found its way to North American hymnody through a rather circuitous route.

“It was first published in Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck (1626), a collection by Adrianus Valerius in Haarlem. Austrian Edward Kremser (1838-1914) included it in Sechs Altniederländische Volkslieder (Six Old Netherlands Folksongs) in 1877 for his men’s chorus, all six anonymous songs taken from the Valerius collection 250 years earlier.

According to hymnal editor Carlton Young, the performance of these tunes led to their popularity and the inclusion in many hymnals.
The story extends to the U.S. through Theodore Baker (1851-1934), a New York-born musicologist who studied in Leipzig and authored the famous Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Baker translated the hymn from German for an anthem entitled “Prayer for Thanksgiving” published in 1894. It is from Baker that the hymn gets its traditional Thanksgiving connection.

Some of the political overtones in this hymn faithfully translated by Baker are apparent. Hymnologist Albert Bailey suggests that the phrase, “The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,” is an allusion to the persecution of the Catholic Church under the policies of Spain. Thousands had been massacred and hundreds of homes burned by the Spanish in 1576 during the siege of Antwerp.

In stanza two, the writer states, “so from the beginning the fight we were winning,” stressing that Protestants had always been assured of winning the cause. The truce of 1609 proved that the Lord “wast at our side.”

The final stanza is a series of petitions—

“ …pray that thou still our defender will be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!”

This is an eschatological stanza. The ultimate battle has not been won and will not be won until all battles cease.

An interesting sidebar was that Baker’s anthem inspired another hymn.

A young Julia Cady Cory (1882-1963) heard this text in 1902 at her church, Brick Presbyterian in New York City. Cory’s “We praise thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator” is a more general hymn of praise and thanksgiving that also uses the Dutch tune KREMSER. Cory’s hymn did not include any reference to nationalism, making it a more general ecumenical hymn of thanksgiving.

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A Heart Full of Thanks

My heart is overwhelmingly full of memories today…from fresh, new memories like cuddling with Mackenzie in my arms while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, eating Mamaw’s lemon and/or chocolate pies (which my sister has thankfully mastered), making dressing with Nana (that’s Turkey, Sage and Ham Dressing, mind you), hunting with Bapaw and eating Thanksgiving at the kettle in Junction, snowy Chicago mornings with Meghan & her family, Thanksgiving with a view of the bog in Hilton Head with Mackenzie’s Great Grandma Ginny, my parents coaxing me that the puréed onions and celery wouldn’t ruin the dressing (and I made them this morning, Derald and Lesa)…memories of dear friends like Brent who’ve made the world a little brighter by their “Jesus Light…” and friends in places like Atlanta and new friends in Coppell with our Riverside family.

I could go on and on.  Suffice it to say that on this 2015 Thanksgiving day, never has the Psalmist’s worshipful refrain in Psalm 118, the very refrain of the People of Israel been as true to me as it is today.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.”  (Psalm 118)

I’m mindful of one of my favorite hymns today…with wonderful verses to express just how deep and broad our thanksgiving is.

Folliot S. Pierpoint and Conrad Kocher (Tune: Dix) have penned it so well (and it was even used in the 1994 Academy Award winning film, Little Women)

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.


Lord of all, to Thee we raise,*
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.


For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight.


For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.


For Thy Church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.


For the martyrs’ crown of light,
For Thy prophets’ eagle eye,
For Thy bold confessors’ might,
For the lips of infancy.


For Thy virgins’ robes of snow,
For Thy maiden mother mild,
For Thyself, with hearts aglow,
Jesu, Victim undefiled.


For each perfect gift of Thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of Heaven.


May we all be grateful to this degree…and beyond today!
Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours!

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Music’s Power to Evoke Hope & Peace

Today is one of those days where so many in the brotherhood of humanity are looking to lean into something…something that will offer a glimmer of hope and a vision of a day when peace will abide.  Music has, time and time again over the course of history, spoken into such situations…and today is no different.  In the wake of such a terrible tragedy as we’re seeing unfold in the events in Paris, France over the last 24 hours, I am reminded of a piece I did with my choir in Atlanta during my first year there.

1910504 (1)The origins of this poem are found in the origins of war…inscribed on a World War II Concentration camp wall, attributed to a  child, composer Z. Randall Stroope  has sewn together the fragments from what was written on a wall in 1943 in Cologne, Germany.  Today, I’m leaning into these words…a piece called “Inscription of Hope.”

“I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love
even when there’s no one there

And I believe in God
even when He is silent
I believe through any trial
there is always a way.

But sometimes in this suffering
and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter
to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me saying
‘hold on my child’

I’ll give you hope
I’ll give you strength
Just stay a little while
I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining

And I believe in love
even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God
even when He is silent

I believe through any trial
There is always a way

May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace.”

We long for the day when no person will ever again have to scrawl out a message of hope on hell’s dark wall – but instead, from a place of realized hope and bright sunshine.

Psalm 34:14, 18
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it..The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.


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The Power of Song (#1)

Time after time, day after day, we experience music’s power in our lives.  Sunday after Sunday, music has that same type of power.  But how often do we claim it’s power (and the source of that power)?  How often have we become desensitized to music’s power?

I love this statement from The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada​

We believe that the holy act of singing together:
heals brokenness…
shapes faith…
transforms lives…
renews peace.

Any of you have an instance where you’ve experienced, first-hand, the power of song like this statement describes?  Would love for you to leave a comment and tell that story here!

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We Are A Moment…We Are A Vapor…

As I prepared to lead worship this morning, I found myself thinking about my dear friend, Brent who is now with our heavenly father.  For almost 9 years, I had close interaction with B every Sunday morning (and Sunday night as we co-led Small Groups)…for many of those Sundays, he was my slide man…needless to say, we were very, very close.  The hymn that has him on my mind is one he embodied, and more than that, he embodied the truth it is fashioned out of.

This morning, we planned to sing Lynn DeShazo’s & Gary Sadler’s wonderful modern hymn Be Unto Your Name.  If indeed worship on earth is preparation for our eternal worship around the throne, than these words should help us anticipate what is to come and what we’re supposed to be living for…and I believe worship very much helps us accomplish bringing about “life on earth as it is in heaven…”

The writers craft their lyric based on these words from James 4
13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

12191019_10208177895031693_2796738148264634593_nIf we trust in God, then we should have no problem following these meaningful verses with the very powerful chorus that follows.  May these lyrics continually transform us…and B?

It makes me long for heaven a lot more with each passing day.

Verse 1: We are a moment, You are forever
Lord of the Ages, God before time
We are a vapor, You are eternal
Love everlasting, reigning on high

Verse 2: We are the broken, You are the healer
Jesus, Redeemer, mighty to save
You are the love song we’ll sing forever
Bowing before You, blessing Your name

Chorus: Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain
Highest praises, honor and glory
Be unto Your name, be unto Your name

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A New Day Has Dawned: An Update from the Bulls’ Pen

Well, a lot has happened since I last posted here in the blogosphere.


Riverside Church of Christ Coppell, TX

As of July 12, we are back in Texas where I’ve joined the wonderful team at the Riverside Church as their Worship/Music Minister.  After three years with some very special people in Atlanta, God has called us back to the DFW Metroplex where I am serving once again in a full-time ministry role in Coppell…we live in Lewisville and could not be more excited about the road ahead…God’s preferred future for us!

While we miss my students and our friends from Atlanta (and have stayed in touch with our closest friends there on a regular basis), God has showered us with wonderful new friends and a wonderful church family and the ability to be so wonderfully close to long-time friends and our families (well, some of our family) here in Texas.  One of those unexpected blessings is in my friend, and new preacher of the Riverside Church, Corey Trevathan being here along with his wonderful family.  (You can read his blog here.)

A week ago last night, October 29, the world lost one of its best men…and I lost a role model, mentor, friend, and colleague from my years at North Davis in Arlington (and was blessed to remain close to until his untimely passing).  I will somehow find a way to memorialize him at a later date (here’s a great link to a beautifully penned tribute from my friend (and a former member of the junior high small group we led back in the day, Kevin Bain)).  Brent, you’ll be sorely missed…you already are.  You made me a better man, you made the world a better place…with every word and action you ever offered, you put in a good word for Jesus…

In our current sermon series at Riverside, Corey is challenging us to call God by name…so, I’ve added his name in the place of his title in this text as it adds a particular meaning for me in this place and time…I’m leaning into this passage from the book of Lamentations right now as we grieve…
Lamentations 3:19-26 (ESV)
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases;[b]
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Yahweh is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of Yahweh.


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Back to the Heart of Worship…

Worship music is ever-in-transition.  Always has been, always will be.
We often talk of those “old” hymns that have been incredibly formative in our religious upbringing or discipleship journeys.  For every church-going believer (and even some not-yet-believers), there is probably some hymn which has been meaningful at some point in their lives.  We punctuate our lives with them…weddings, funerals, with lots of “routine” Sundays in between.

But, if you’re like me, there was a point when you were “Exposed” (makes it sound like some contagious illness or airborne disease, doesn’t it?) to something new…something fresh, something different than the “hymns” you sang in church or heard in church in days gone by.

downloadAs I listened to the new Passion record a few weeks ago, I was taken aback when, after I had put it on shuffle for a while, a simple chorus of Matt Redman’s older tune “Heart of Worship” came on in the midst of a sea of new (some of it really nice) worship music.
“I’m coming back to the heart of worship…
Where it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it.
                                                When it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.”

Even though I’ve known it for years and went through a phase at ACU where I was leading it quite often in our Wednesday night service at So. Hills, it’s simplicity struck me as so powerful…and even though it was not the song I most poignantly remember as a “game changer” in my view of  what worship music looked, sounded and “felt” like, it sent me back to a litany of times and places where some “new songs” really took me to a deeper level.  I’ll probably be flooded with a list of memories and songs after I hit publish…and I may come back to that at a later date…

The simplicity of the sound, the form, the lyric…all just reminded me of what’s so important about what we communicate in the songs we sing in worship.  I think what was at the core of an entire movement of new worship music, and to some degree, still remains at the core, was a desire of worship writers to go back to what was of “first importance,” to borrow Paul’s words.  As a dear friend & brother of mine often says we must “keep the main thing, the main thing,” in the realm of what worship is most about.  And for many of these writers?  That’s exactly what they were and are doing.  Going back to what is primary, foundational… and that is the fact that worship isn’t about us.  And I don’t know about you, but I constantly need to be reminded, especially in worship, that it’s not about me.  May we all go back to the heart of worship.

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Lead, Kindly Light

leadkindlylightOne of my prayer tools (and it is a serendipitous blessing of helping my poor piano-keyboard skills at the same time) is sitting down and leafing through old hymns and hymnals at the piano.  It reminds me of great music and great hymn-texts of the past and present.  I recently sat down to play-pray and came across a relatively forgotten hymn.  It’s not one I ever remember being sung and I know that I have never led it in church…sure, it’s words are antiquated and challenging; it’s one that’s never sung anymore and probably would be considered “difficult” for churches to sing these days.  But it remains a powerful prayer…a prayer we all need.

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My Favorite Heaven Song is…

In preparation for my next post, I want to do a brief “survey” here.

Leave a comment telling me what your favorite “heaven” song is and why.  Tomorrow’s post is called “Heaven is a wonderful ‘place'” where I’ll follow up on a great message I heard on Sunday from our pastor at Campus Church here in Atlanta.  Leave a comment!

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Vivaldi Gloria @ GACS

Here’s a link to our recent performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria.  This is our GACS Choir, Orchestra, String Faculty, Guest Artists and our guest choir from Hoffman Estates HS outside of Chicago.  This is the first half of that performance.  I couldn’t be more proud our our collaboration, our hard work, and the significant musical moment that this is in GACS’ musical history.  

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There Has to Be A Song

As I said in yesterday’s post, music is everywhere around me.  In some sense, my life has its own soundtrack, constantly playing in the background of my imagination. There’s ALWAYS a song there.  Singing is everywhere in my life…and it’s everywhere around us.  I shudder to think about what my life and what the world would be like without music.  With that thought in mind, Robert Benson (the same Benson of the famed Brentwood-Benson music company) and composer Andrea Ramsey collaborated on a very popular and powerful setting of Benson’s text “There Has to Be A Song…”  One of my choirs is singing this for our upcoming spring concert…and it’s powerful and true for what I believe about the power of song.  Is there a time when music has served a powerful role in your life?  Leave a comment…I’d love to hear when, where and what made that music so powerful for you.

There Has to Be A Song (Robert Benson & Andrea Ramsey)

There are too many dark nights
Too many trouble some days.
Too many wearisome miles.
There has to be, there has to be a song

There has to be a song to make you burdens bearable
There has to be a song to make our hopes believable
To transform our triumphs into praise There has to be, there has to be a song.

Somewhere, Somewhere down deep in a forgotten corner of each man’s heart
To release the chains of past defeats
There has to be, there has to be a song.

Like a cool clear drink of water
Like the gentle warmth of sunshine
Like the tender love of a child
There has to be, there has to be a song.

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Look & sing like you believe it…

Singing is (more or less), my life…either in the choir, listening to the choir, conducting or rehearsing the choir; or maybe is singing in church, or leading the singing in church…in some form or fashion, my life is full of singing.  We sing at many occasions; sad ones, happy ones, celebratory ones, educational ones…singing is there.  (Tomorrow, I’ll post one of my favorite poems about song…)  But why do we sing?  Well, for one reason, it gives voice to what we believe…or at least it should.

I heard a quote a number of years ago while working in a conducting workshop.  The quote was from the great American Choral Conductor, Roger Wagner.  He said “Look and sound like you believe what you sing…”  He goes on to talk about the importance of language, diction, energy, facial communication, and how if you don’t look and sound like you believe what you sing, no one will want to watch or let alone, sing with you.

While he’s very much speaking of music in the realm of performance, I think there is absolutely something to be gained here for those of us abide in the realm of congregational worship as well.  Specifically for us in Churches of Christ…Whether you find yourself a leader in a church who uses a solo worship or song leader or in a church that uses a praise/worship team (Stealth or stage variety), we have a responsibility to draw the congregation into participation.  This comes directly from our energy, our face, our demeanor, and conveying that we wholeheartedly believe the words we’re asking people to sing with us.  Do you lead and sing in such a way that conveys that you believe the words you’re singing and asking others to sing with you?

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