Praise Ye the Lord, Exalt His Name

Praise ye the Lord, exalt His Name,
While in His holy courts ye wait,
Ye saints, that to His house belong,
Or stand attending at His gate.

Praise ye the Lord, the Lord is good;
To praise His Name is sweet employ:
Israel He chose of old, and still
His church is His peculiar joy.

The Lord himself will judge His saints;
He treats His servants as His friends;
And when He hears their sore complaints,
Repents the sorrows that He sends.

Through every age the Lord declares
His Name, and breaks th’ oppressor’s rod
He gives His suffering servants rest,
And will be known th’ Almighty God.

Bless ye the Lord, who taste His love,
People and priest, exalt His Name:
Amongst His saints He ever dwells;
His church is His Jerusalem.

-Isaac Watts, Psalm 135, The Psalms of David, 1719.

What Must We Leave Behind?

by Kevin DeYoung

What must we leave behind if we are to follow Christ?

The simplest answer is that we must leave behind idolatry. That’s the very first commandment—you shall have no other gods before me. They don’t have to be obvious representations of the divine; they don’t have to be stone or wood or marble. There are all sorts of gods: education, athletics, marriage, choice, power, self-expression, beauty, achievement. Whatever you give your whole life for, there’s your idol.

If only I had ______ then I would be happy.

If only I had ______ I’d be worth something.

If only I had ______ I could truly live a fulfilled life.

Whatever you put in the blank, that’s your god. That’s what you are living for. That’s what you worship. Marriage may be in your blank, or your dream job, or better parents, or better kids, or fewer pounds, or more influence. Many of these are good desires, but they must not be ultimate. They are not meant to be gods.

What might a Jerusalem Council like the one in Acts 15 say to us? What might God be requiring us to give up as disciples of Christ? What might a Spirit-inspired council say to the hard-charging corporate guy who sees everything and everyone as a means for his advancement? What might it say to the woman obsessed with beauty and status, living from tabloid to tabloid, from gossip to gossip? What about the college student who lives for the party scene? Or the “good” college student, who thinks he has to get good grades and go to grad school?

This may all seem like normal life, but it is not normal Christian life. Remember, worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.

Christians are not going to look like everyone else. They are not going to do what everybody else does. They will stand out. It’s hard to carry a cross without leaving some baggage behind.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/12/18/what-must-you-leave-behind/

Modern Worship: Good Hockey or Bad Painting?

by Shaun Groves

Songwriting is a craft. As in any craft – ice skating, painting, public speaking, cooking – there are best practices that border on being rules.

These standards sometimes define the craft. For instance, if an ice skater glides into the spotlight carrying a stick and hitting a puck she’s no longer ice skating but playing some form of hockey.

At other times these best practices determine what is “good” or “bad” craftsmanship. Painting without regard for composition, for example, may still be called “painting” but it is also likely to be called “bad” painting.

The university I visited last week asked me to teach a class on songwriting. They didn’t, however, tell me the students would be worship music majors. As I taught what little I know about the craft, the students kindly rebutted: “But what about when Chris Tomlin…”

The frontrunners in worship music do not adhere to most of the best practices that have long defined the songwriting craft. So is what they do even songwriting? Is it bad songwriting? Or is it a new thing altogether, defined by a set of best practices all its own?

I’m not passing judgment – just making the observation and asking questions that may only seem important to me and my nerdy songwriting friends.

So, for the three of you still reading? Here are just a few of the songwriting practices worship writers are routinely ignoring.

WHAT A BRIDGE IS FOR

We all know what a verse and chorus are but what about a bridge? It’s the part that happens (usually) only once in the song. In a pop song it almost always comes after the second chorus. It’s purpose? To say something new, to bring a new angle lyrically and musically. But not so in modern worship songs.

In modern congregational music the bridge is so often one or two lines repeated several times. They are more about creating a musical emotional “moment” than they are about contributing any new concept lyrically.

(A song doesn’t have to have a bridge, by the way, but when it does there’s a standard for how it should function.)

Piano

SUPPORT THE HOOK

The hook of a song is often the title, and usually a word or short phrase tied closely to the main idea of the song. It’s also the one piece of lyric a listener is most likely to walk away remembering. It’s usually the centerpiece of the chorus. And the verse lyrics lead the listener to the hook.

A good example is Katy Perry’s song “Firework.” The hook is “firework”. Look at how the first verse of the song begins very generally and then slowly becomes more specific, centering in on imagery related to “firework”. This is called supporting the hook. She begins by describing a broad feeling, then attaches that feeling to the metaphor of “firework” with related words like “spark,” “ignite,” “shine,” and “4th of July.”

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
Six feet under screams, but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there’s still a chance for you
‘Cause there’s a spark in you?

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

And here’s the chorus with the hook at the forefront.

‘Cause baby, you’re a firework
Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth
Make ‘em go, oh, oh, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Katy supported the hook well: That verse couldn’t be a verse in any other song. It has to be paired with that hook: “firework.”

Now look at the hit worship song “Stronger” by Hillsong. The hook is “stronger.” Here’s the first verse.

There is love that came for us
Humbled to a sinner’s cross
You broke my shame and sinfuless
You rose again victorious

Faithfulness none can deny
Through the storm and through the fire
There is truth that sets me free
Jesus Christ who lives in me

And here’s the chorus.

You are stronger you are stronger
Sin is broken, you have saved me
It is written, Christ is risen
Jesus you are Lord of all

The hook is supported so poorly that this first verse could just as easily be paired with the chorus of “How Great Is Our God” or “Mighty To Save.” When a hook isn’t well supported a song becomes so general it’s generic. Speaking of being a bit too general…

guitar cases

MORE DETAIL IS MORE UNIVERSAL

Patty Griffin is a great writer in part because when she describes a scene I feel like I’m there. When she introduces a character? I can see them in my mind’s eye. Just enough detail – not too much – anchors a song’s message (and every song has one) in the real world. And that makes it universal – more appealing/relatable to any human living in the real world.

But today’s worship songs talk about God and the writer’s experience with Him in so little detail that she could just as well be talking about her boyfriend or anyone admirable or beloved. A few of the often used generic descriptions of God are “good”, “majestic”, “great”, “loving”, “merciful.” And they’re all true! The Bible says so!

But the Bible says so with specificity – within a large detailed story made up of smaller detailed stories that take place in the real (ancient) world. It tells us exactly what is unique about the goodness, majesty, greatness, love and mercy of our God. It tells us why, how, to whom and when He is good, majestic, etc. And so the God of the Bible is anchored in real life and portrayed as a Person so unique that He cannot possibly be mistaken for your boyfriend…or anyone else.

Gibson-J45-deluxe

AVOID CLICHES

A songwriter cannot say something new, but she can something old in a new way. Pick any song that’s stood for generations and read the lyric. Odds are it doesn’t contain a single line that had been heard verbatim before. But worship music?

Here’s the chorus to chart-topping worship song “I Lift My Hands” by one of our best: Chris Tomlin.

I lift my hands to believe again
You are my refuge, You are my strength
As I pour out my heart
These things, I remember
You are faithful, God, forever

Biblical? Sure. These words are almost entirely copied and pasted from scripture – the Psalms, to be exact.

Only in the writing of worship songs is such constant copying and pasting and pasting and pasting again not looked down upon.

Rhyming-dictionary

WHY ARE THE RULES DIFFERENT FOR WORSHIP WRITING?

I have a theory. I think worship writers have parted with standard songwriting practices because they’re creating with the live experience in mind. So their priorities are much different from those of a traditional songwriter.

Participation, for instance, is a top priority for the worship music experience. To ensure our participation on Sunday morning, lyrics and melodies and song forms are simplified to the point that standard practices are broken.

Because when we participate we want to feel something too, writers and producers give us a lot of long-building crescendos, emotive guitar swells, drum breaks, and other production techniques that stir our emotions during the live experience. And they don’t put as much effort into crafting lyrics, which tend to be thought of (right or wrong) as tools best suited for eliciting thought rather than emotion.

We don’t want a great song. We want a great experience. And that’s what worship writers are giving us.

This is either resulting in good hockey or bad painting. I don’t pretend to know which. What do you think?

http://shaungroves.com/2013/01/modern-worship-music-good-or-bad/

O For A Heart (Hymn Of Dedication)

By Keith Getty / Margaret Becker

O for a heart to serve my God
A heart that’s ever broken to His will
Oh for a heart to serve my God my King
A heart that’s ever delighting Him

Oh that I would be made pure
That I would strive to love Him more
That every work of my hands
Would accomplish all His plans
So that He would be glorified

That I would place no other above
That I would die to lift high my God
That every gift I enjoy
Would always be employed
In the service of my faithful Lord

-Keith Getty & Margaret Becker, Copyright © 2002 Thankyou Music/ Modern M Music/CopyCare https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/new-irish-hymns-4-hymns-for/id559746680

Thou Whom My Soul Admires Above

Thou Whom my soul admires above
All earthly joy and earthly love,
Tell me, dear Shepherd, let me know,
Where do Thy sweetest pastures grow?

Where is the shadow of that rock
That from the sun defends Thy flock?
Fain would I feed among Thy sheep
Among them rest, among them sleep.

Why should Thy bride appear like one
That turns aside to paths unknown?
My constant feet would never rove,
Would never seek another love.

The footsteps of Thy flock I see;
Thy sweetest pastures here they be;
A wondrous feast thy love prepares,
Bought with Thy wounds, and groans, and tears.

His dearest flesh He makes my food,
And bids me drink His richest blood:
Here to these hills my soul will come,
Till my Beloved lead me home.

-Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707.

A Debtor to Mercy Alone

A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which his goodness began,
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from his love.

My name from the palms of his hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heav’n.

-Augustus Toplady

Through Every Age, Eternal God

Through every age, eternal God,
Thou art our rest, our safe abode;
High was Thy throne ere Heav’n was made,
Or earth Thy humble footstool laid.

Long hadst Thou reigned ere time began,
Or dust was fashioned to a man;
And long Thy kingdom shall endure
When earth and time shall be no more.

But man, weak man, is born to die,
Made up of guilt and vanity;
Thy dreadful sentence, Lord, was just,
Return, ye sinners, to your dust.

A thousand of our years amount
Scarce to a day in Thine account;
Like yesterday’s departed light,
Or the last watch of ending night.

Death, like an overflowing stream,
Sweeps us away; our life’s a dream,
An empty tale, a morning flower,
Cut down and withered in an hour.

Our age to seventy years is set;
How short the time! how frail the state!
And if to eighty we arrive,
We rather sigh and groan than live.

But O how oft Thy wrath appears,
And cuts off our expected years!
Thy wrath awakes our humble dread;
We fear the power that strikes us dead.

Teach us, O Lord, how frail is man;
And kindly lengthen out our span,
Till a wise care of piety
Fit us to die, and dwell with Thee.

-Isaac Watts, Psalm 90, The Psalms of David, 1719.

When We Get Small and God Gets Big

by Jared C. Wilson

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms . . .
– Deuteronomy 33:27

I am sorry for the lack of posting in a long while. Life and ministry have occupied most of my time, and I am sad to report to those who don’t follow me on Twitter that our church is undergoing yet more challenges from the beast called cancer. In the last 6 months we lost our friends Anne and Richard. Our friends Daisy and Jerry are said to be fighting on the final fronts. And so is our friend Natalie. Can I tell you a bit about her?

Natalie is one of our deaconesses. I say “is” even though she tried to resign and we wouldn’t accept. It didn’t seem right. One of my first memories of Natalie was at a funeral, actually, one of the first of the many I have officiated in my five years in Middletown. I don’t even remember who it was for — it was not a church member but a townsperson — and I was doing my normal introverted, new pastor on the job thing, being young and shy and scared hanging out in the kitchen at the fire hall. Natalie comes walking in. “What are you doing in here? Go out there and meet people.”

Excuse me? Who does this lady think she is?

One of my best critics and greatest friends, actually. As I’ve thought over our friendship the last few weeks, it occurs to me that Natalie is the person from the church I talk with the most. Several times a week we exchange emails. We volunteer together at the local food shelf. When I have to meet with a woman alone at the church, Natalie is the one who will come and hang out in the room next door. Natalie is the one who, when she’s at the table, I know things will get done. When she says something is doable, dangit, it’s doable. Natalie went from my shrewdest challenger to my fiercest supporter and encourager.

On Easter Sunday a friend said, “Natalie, your eyes look yellow.” She went to the doctor that Monday, where they did blood work. Tuesday they called and said “Go to the ER.” She was in the hospital over a week. They found problems with the bile duct, but in that process, also, pancreatic cancer, which, they say, nobody survives. But they also created all kinds of complications in the bile duct procedures which left her feeble and wounded. Talk of air building up, of bile building up, of perforated this and that. And even if that stuff could be fixed, there was still the cancer, which again they say, nobody survives.

Natalie refused treatment. She could not endure any more surgeries. Every thing the doctors did only created three more things to do. She wasn’t going to fool with all that.

She’s at a friend’s home now in Middletown, and hospice has taken over. They gave her a few days to two weeks to live. That was 11 days ago. She’s in a lot of pain. We all hope the perforations and the air and the bile and all that is getting sorted internally, by the body’s great design or God’s great miraculous way. But there’s still that cancer untreated. And nobody, they say, survives that.

I’ve been reading Scripture to her. She asked for Revelation — with its whores and dragons and plagues and beheadings — and for Ecclesiastes — with its vanities and meaninglessnesses and chasings of the wind. This tells you something about Natalie.

I said, “Why Revelation?,” as I’m reading Jesus’ letters to the churches. “This is what I have against you!” he declares over and over.
She said, “He’s not talking to me!”
True enough.
I said, “Why Ecclesiastes?”
She said, “Because I see that having a bunch of stuff and money and fame doesn’t do anything. It tells me I didn’t waste my life.”

Some people tell Natalie they are mad at God about this. She gets mad about their getting mad. “God’s the reason we have anything in the first place.”

Yesterday she pointed to the collection of cards she’s received. “I almost wish you’d take them all away,” she said.
“Why?”
“Because they go on and on about how great I am and how I’ve done all these wonderful things for them. And they don’t know how selfish I am. Anything good I’ve done wasn’t me.”

Her kids are grown. They are all here, even her son who lives in Sweden. He says, “Wouldn’t it be something if of all the things the doctors got terribly wrong, it was also this diagnosis about the bile and the air? Maybe, if she starts feeling better, she will change her mind about fighting the cancer.”

But, they keep saying, nobody survives pancreatic cancer.

Natalie was upset the other day that she didn’t know when she was gonna go. “They said ‘a few days to two weeks’ eleven days ago. Now they won’t tell me how long I have.” She pauses, eyes closed. “God knows.”

I don’t know when Natalie will go. I don’t know when I will go. None of us knows the when, really. I could go before her. Any of us could.

I preached on Psalm 1 at a conference last weekend, and this line from verse 6 strikes me: “the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” There is nothing more precious than to be known by God, all our days and all our ways.

It has been difficult watching Natalie, a fit, healthy, thin giant of a woman, shrink down in body and energy. And yet, one thing I have learned over the course of our church’s afflictions is that when a saint’s body gives way, their spirit builds up. They get smaller, and God gets bigger, as if their passing is itself a foretaste of the day Christ will put all things in subjection under his feet. And we are not annihilated on that day but redeemed, resurrected, restored. When we die, we get smaller and God gets bigger, that he might be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).

The day before Richard died, I stood in his bedroom while he lay in his deathbed. Another bed had been pressed up against it, where his wife slept by his side in the night. I was told I could speak to him, although Richard was not conscious, heavily sedated. Because of that other bed parallel to his own, I could not sit near him. I had to actually lay down next to him. So I did. While his sister and aunt watched, I crawled basically into bed with him, lying on my side to face him, and we laid there, inches from each other, while I looked into his thin face. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open. I could feel and smell his breath, slow and labored on my own face. I said to him, “Richard, God loves you and approves of you.” (These were the words the Spirit spoke to my heart in my moment of gospel wakefulness years ago.) “Richard, the Lord is proud of you and ready to welcome you because of your faith in him.” Then I said something that has been a meaningful exhortation to me ever since Ray Ortlund said it to me over plates of enchiladas at Cancun Mexican Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. “You are a mighty man of God.”

The words sounded weird given our intimate, vulnerable, tender positions.

In the ordinary, in the mundane, in the boredom. In the throes of suffering, in the pangs and numbness of depression, in the threats to life and safety. Christ is all.

Richard passed early the next morning. His body finally gave way to the brokenness and the curse. Few people survive brain tumors. And yet — he did. He really and truly did. Thinking of him standing in the presence of God in great glory, presented blameless by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, he was swallowed up into the divine kingdom in which he was already seated with Christ, into the very God in which he was already hidden. Richard was — is — more than a conqueror.

Jesus looks right into the eyes of Lazarus’ sobbing sister and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live. Do you believe this?”

I do. I really do, by God’s grace.
So does Natalie. Nobody survives pancreatic cancer, “they” say. But the blood of Christ speaks a better word. Natalie will survive.

Everyone who is in Christ will survive — prevail, even.

He must increase, but I must decrease.
– John 3:30

-Jared C. Wilson,

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/gospeldrivenchurch/2014/05/20/when-we-get-small-and-god-gets-big/

Preserve Me, Lord

Preserve me, Lord, in time of need;
For succor to Thy throne I flee,
But have no merits there to plead:
My goodness cannot reach to Thee.

Oft have my heart and tongue confessed
How empty and how poor I am;
My praise can never make Thee blessed,
Nor add new glories to Thy Name.

Yet, Lord, Thy saints on earth may reap
Some profit by the good we do;
These are the company I keep,
These are the choicest friends I know.

Let others choose the songs of mirth
To give a relish to their wine;
I love the men of heav’nly birth,
Whose thoughts and language are divine.

-Isaac Watts, Psalm 16, The Psalms of David, 1719.