“The most significant thing that the disciple community could do to begin to recover a robust and maturing doctrine of creation is to recover the practice of worship that praises the Father, the Son, and the Spirit and participates in the dialectic of the kingdom. To bring these two together— worship and the doctrine of creation— would be a quest with little expectation of success, except that it is always by grace that God judges and renews God’s people. When we have ‘services of celebration’ and Sunday morning gatherings that are largely evangelistically focused, to recover the practice of worship requires a change of mind (repentance) in many parts of the church.

Often our ‘worship’ has no clear Trinitarian grammar and thus fails to bring us into the presence of the one God— Father, Son, and Spirit. Likewise, our worship receives little guidance from theological convictions and thus is shaped not by the praise of God but by congregational politics and preferences. Along with these failings, we often think of ‘worship’ as a means of getting us through the next week in this fallen world rather than as participation in the redemption of creation and anticipation of the telos of the new creation. Too often we simply accept the way things are and look to ‘worship’ to help us manage with the way things are.

Worship of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit should bring us into that most real world of God’s redemption of creation so that our lives are continually transformed. This aspiration may be realized only by the gracious work of God. To know God and to be known by God in transformative ways are what gathers us to be the disciple community from first to last.”

Wilson, Jonathan R.. God’s Good World : Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation. Grand Rapids, US: Baker Academic, 2014.

A Song in My Heart

Thou Art Worthy (Rev.4:11) and I Offer My Life to You

Thou Art Worthy

Thou art worthy Thou art worthy
Thou art worthy O Lord
To receive glory glory and honor
Glory and honor and pow’r

For Thou hast created
Hast all things created
For Thou hast created all things
And for Thy pleasure they are created
Thou art worthy O Lord

For the Church, the Road to the Future Leads Through the Past

Robert Webber on our disconnect with our roots.


“One of the major reasons why the church has fallen prey to a cultural accommodation is that is has become disconnected from its roots in Scripture, the ancient church and in its heritage through the centuries. This failure of the church to keep faith with its own origins and history is in and of itself a matter of cultural accommodation. For we live in a society that has lost its own heritage. We now drift in a sea of pluralism and relativism with little sense of our past.

If it is true that the road to the future lies in the past, it is also true that when the past has been lost or neglected there is no certain future. We are at that point now in Western culture, not only in the broad cultural sense but also in the church which has increasingly followed the lead of culture and lost its connection to the Christian past.”


Featured Worship Song: Oh Praise (The Only One)

Death and hell call him Victorious!Here’s the line that grabbed me:

Death and hell call Him victorious….

What a great thought.
What a triumphant declaration!

I’m always on the lookout for songs that lift the heart in praise and help us to think theologically. That’s a a hard recipe to get right every time. Let’s face it, not every song is going to be an “In Christ Alone.” The needle may ping more toward doxology or doctrine in a given song, but as long as it’s looking to land between the two, I’m interested. Michael FarrenKrissy Nordhoff and Riley Erin have given us a lovely and moving hymn in Oh Praise (The Only One). The song is very congregation friendly – singable, decent key, etc.. and calls us to praise while reminding us that our praise is rooted in the redemptive work of Christ. I’m looking forward to sharing it with our congregation this month.  It does have the obligatory (these days) “whoaaah whoaaah” section which you keep or let go depending on your aversion to things whoawoey. Lyrics are below along with a video of a live session that really invites you to worship along.  This week the We Are Worship website is offering free downloads of the sheet music and mp3 so go get it now.

There is no greater truth than this
There is no stronger love we know
God Himself comes down to live
And make a sinner’s heart his throne

There is no deeper peace than this
No other kindness can compare
He clothes us in His righteousness
Forever free, forever heirs

Oh praise the only One
Who shines brighter than ten thousand suns
Death and hell call Him victorious
Praise Him
Oh praise the One true King
Lift it loud till earth and heaven ring
Every crown we down at His feet
Praise Him

There is no sweeter joy than this
There is no stronger hope we hold
We are His forever more
Safe, secure by Christ alone

There is no sound that’s like the song
That rises up from grateful saints
We once were lost but now we’re found
One with Him, we bear His name

recording courtesy of CentricWorship

Copyright © 2015 Integrity’s Alleluia! Music/SESAC & Farren Love and War/SESAC & Centricity Music Publishing

CCLI Number: 7030890

“Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.”
D.A. Carson, Worship by the Book


D.A. Carson
Worship By the Book (Zondervan , 2010)

The Center of Worship – Robert Webber

Ancient Future Worship by Robert WebberSo if you want a definition of ancient-future worship, it is this: the common tradition of the church’s worship in Word, Table, and song, practiced faithfully and communicated clearly in every context of the world. What stands at the very center of worship is Word and sacrament, through which God’s vision for the world is proclaimed and enacted. What contextualizes this worship more than anything else is its music. Music is the vehicle that communicates worship in the language of the people. Music is also the vehicle of our personal response to the story of God’s work in history. We also proclaim God’s story in hymn and song, but nowhere in Scripture or in the history of the church have hymns and songs ever been held as a replacement for Word and Table. Word and Table remain the God-ordained way to remember God’s saving deeds in history and anticipate his final triumph over death and all that is evil. So if you want to do ancient-future worship, learn God’s story and do it in Word and Table and use hymns and songs for responses not only from the great treasury of the church through the centuries but also from music that is current.

Robert E. Webber. Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (p. 168). Kindle Edition.


Oceans: Lyrics for the Persecuted Church

Note: This is a suggestion for personal worship only. Please consider and adhere to CCLI guidelines in relation to public worship services.
Use these lyrics in place of the bridge in the song Oceans. Turn that personal statement of faith into intercession for the persecuted church.

“Open wide the gates of glory for the dying
For the saints who have been faithful
in the dark days of their trial.

Show your mercy to the hungry and the frightened
Scatter all those who love violence
Show the nations you are mighty”

– Sung in place of the bridge in the song “Oceans.”

Lyric changes used for blog purposes only, with permission from Hillsong Music Publishing.
For official lyrics please go to www.hillsongmusic.com


Songs in the Face of Martyrdom


As I was preparing to lead worship last week, I asked a question on Facebook:

“What songs does the church sing tomorrow in the face of martyrdom? Answer the question, don’t pontificate.”

I was actually quite surprised at the number of responses and by the content of some of them.  For me, the question was quite serious. Faced with the slaughter of Christians in Iraq, including the beheading of children, how does the church sing? And, if we do, what do we sing?

Looking over the suggestions made by many friends, it was clear to me that the church in America doesn’t have a very deep bench when it comes to persecution and martyrdom. Musician Bob Bennett  made the suggestion of Martyr Song by Erick Nelson that appears on the classic album by Erick and Michelle Pillar called “The Misfit.”   It’s a powerful song of hope that actually sings about the martyrs of the early church but could apply to today as well.  Still, there aren’t many like that.  P.J Hudson nailed it when he made this comment:

“Songs are a reflection of culture. America does not have any songs appropriate for martyrdom because America does not have martyrdom taking place within its own borders. The answer to this question can be found with God’s psalmists who are hiding from their predators in the middle east and north Africa.”

What songs do those psalmists sing? What words do they use? How do they approach their dangerous surroundings or approaching death? I plan to explore that for a future post.

The suggestions offered told me that the church has four primary types of songs in the face of tragedy and trial:

1) Songs of Sovereignty – songs that remind us that God is in control and always worthy of our worship.

Crown Him With Many Crowns
Holy Holy Holy
A Mighty Fortress
This is My Father’s World
God Moves in a Mysterious Way
The Church’s One Foundation
The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Ghost Ship)
Even in Sorrow (Slater Armstrong)

2) Songs of Comfort – note: most of these are largely self-referential and sung in the first person. I found most of these lacking in helping us to weep with those weep. It would take an able worship leader to help people sing these as intercessory prayer for others as opposed to having them simply turn inward towards our own trials.

Be Still My Soul
Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.
Jesus Loves Me
It is Well
Blessed Be Your Name (Redman)
God of Angel Armies
O Heart Bereaved And Lonely
When My Heart is Torn Asunder (Wickham)
The King of Love My Shepherd Is

3) Songs of Commitment – a renewal of our own commitment in the face of trails and the sacrifice of others.

Make my Life a Prayer
Blessed Be Your Name (Redman)
I Shall Not Want – Audrey Assad
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
O Love that Will Not Let Me Go
Rise Up O Men of God

3) Songs of Battle – songs of warfare against the prince of darkness.

The Battle Belongs to the Lord
Onward Christian Soldiers
Lead On O King Eternal
Note: these are songs about battle, being ready for battle, going into battle, etc… What you don’t find are actual attacks against the principalities and powers. We are told to resist, to tear down strongholds, to wage war. How would that be addressed in song?  I’d like to hear your suggestions.

As for last Sunday, what songs did we end up singing? Here’s the list with key verses from each:

1) A Mighty Fortress
And tho’ this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thru us
The prince of darkness grim
We tremble not for him
His rage we can endure
For lo his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

That word above all earthly pow’rs
No thanks to them abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Thru Him who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever

2) Hope of the Nations (Brian Doerksen)

Jesus hope of the nations
Jesus comfort for all who mourn
You are the source of heaven’s hope on earth
Jesus light in the darkness
Jesus truth in each circumstance
You are the source of heaven’s light on earth

3) Your Name (Andy Bromley)

Your name higher than them all
Holy One of God the Lord of lords, Your name.
Your name, Heaven’s only Son
High and lifted up forevermore, Your name
And the nations bow, And their kingdoms fall
Every king and priest, Every prince and lord
Falling to their knees, Will acknowledge You
We will lift our voice in praise
Honour Your name

4) Oceans – Almost didn’t do this one. It was a song of faith in the midst of trial but was lacking that cry for others I was looking for. So my wife and I rewrote the bridge and this is what we sang Sunday:

Open wide the gates of glory for the dying
For the saints who have been faithful
in the dark days of their trial.

Show your mercy to the hungry and the frightened
Scatter all those who love violence
Show the nations you are mighty

5) The Church’s One Foundation – This was our communion hymn.

Though with a scornful wonder, Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping;  Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never perish, Her dear Lord to defend
To guide, sustain and cherish, is with her to the end
Though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale
Against a foe or traitor, She ever shall prevail

Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore;
‘Til, with the vision glorious, Her longing eyes are blessed,
And the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

Does Your Worship Prepare People to Die?

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

– Colossians 3:16

church cemetaryAugustine told us that the “law of prayer is the law of belief.”  In other words, what touches the heart is what tends to be remembered and treasured. In our day we could easily say that the law of song is the law of belief. I have many volumes of systematic theology on my shelves. Few of those will ever be read by the average believer, and not one line in any of those books will be remembered more than the lyrics of beloved hymns.  If music is a vital means of imparting spiritual truth to the hearts of God’s people, then it’s important we present as full a spectrum of theology as possible. That includes the reality of death.

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” – Hebrews 9:27

We all face the inevitability of it. Sometimes we’re reminded by the sudden and shocking departure of a loved one, or their slow descent into the shadows of death through disease. Sometimes the descent is our own. What about our young men and women in the military, or our police and rescue squads that place themselves in harms way? What about their families who face the threat with them?  How do we prepare our people to view death through the prism of hope and not despair? In part, we sing about it.

Songs about death don’t fall into the category of “happy-clappy,” and so they are often avoided. But the Scriptures don’t avoid it and neither should we. We must be preparing people to die, not simply react to death when it comes. We sing songs about facing trials and difficulties with faith. Why? Simply as a reaction? No! We sing those worship songs because they prepare the heart and fortify faith for the trials we surely will face. I’m grateful for two “re-tuned” hymns I have found genuinely full of faith in the face of death. These hymns I have used for funerals but, I have also used them in our worship service.They are not maudlin or cheesy, but instead rich in metaphor and truth. They also bring the hope we have in the face of death straight to our hearts and minds. Songs of hope help us live in the power of faith in future grace.

I’m going to share the lyrics to both songs here along with the links to where the sheet music can be obtained. Are there other songs about death you could suggest that might provide the same hope and truth?

It is Not Death to Die – Bob Kauflin

Original Words by Henri Malan (1787-1864), Translated by George Bethune (1847), Music, Chorus, and Alternate Words by Bob Kauflin. Sovereign Grace Music

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

© 2008 Integrity’s Praise! Music/Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Lyrics, chord charts, piano and string scores.

Good Night by Matthew Smith

I journey forth rejoicing
From this dark vale of tears
To heavenly joy and freedom
From earthly bonds and fears
Where Christ our Lord shall gather
All His redeemed again,
His kingdom to inherit–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

Why thus so sadly weeping
Beloved ones of my heart?
The Lord is good and gracious
Though now He bids us part
Oft have we met in gladness
And we shall meet again
All sorrow left behind us–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

I go to see His glory
Whom we have loved below
I go, the blessed angels
The holy saints to know.
Our lovely ones departed
I go to find again
And wait for you to join us–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

I hear the Savior calling–
The joyful hour has come
The angel-guards are ready
To guide me to our home
Where Christ our Lord shall gather
All His redeemed again,
His kingdom to inherit–
Goodnight, goodnight till then

from Watch The Rising Day, released 17 August 2010

©2010 Detuned Radio Music
Written by Matthew S. Smith
Based in part on a hymn text by an unknown German writer, translated by Jane Borthwick

Find sheet music for Matthew Smith’s songs here.