Sunday’s Hymn

This will be January 2010’s Hymn of the Month at Cornerstone Free Church. It’s a beautiful hymn and we love to sing it.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Isaiah 6:3

By: Reginald Heber, 1783–1826

Tune: Nicaea

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!

God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore Thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,

Who wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! tho’ the darkness hide Thee,

Tho’ the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;

Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,

Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

All Thy works shall praise Thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea;

Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!

God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!


Disagreeing With Tozer is Treacherous Ground

I realize that I’m treading on thin ice here (and trust, it’s April in Minnesota and even though it’s snowing today [I blame Al Gore]; the ice is certainly thin). Disagreeing with one like A.W. Tozer is indeed treacherous. Yet, in a daily devotion I receive in my email each day, this is a portion of what came today:

Then said I: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.” –Jeremiah 1:6

To be articulate at certain times we are compelled to fall back upon “Oh!” or “O!”–a primitive exclamatory sound that is hardly a word at all and that scarcely admits of a definition….

In theology there is no “Oh!” and this is a significant if not ominous thing. Theology seeks to reduce what may be known of God to intellectual terms, and as long as the intellect can comprehend it can find words to express itself. When God Himself appears before the mind, awesome, vast and incomprehensible, then the mind sinks into silence and the heart cries out “O Lord God!” There is the difference between theological knowledge and spiritual experience, the difference between knowing God by hearsay and knowing Him by acquaintance. And the difference is not verbal merely; it is real and serious and vital.

I think I know what he means here: theology CAN become something of a head-only proposition so that when you come across some magnificent truth of the Lord God, there is no “Oh!” and a worshiping of the One True God. I think that’s what he means.

This is where I disagree with Tozer. While acknowledging that theology can become a merely intellectual activity, it does not have to become that and Tozer makes it sound like all theology is that way. I, if you’re going to use the terms of “spiritual experience” like Tozer does in this quote, have frequently found myself going “Oh!” in the reading of great theology. In fact, if it’s truly great theology, then it’s nearly impossible not to stop and go “Oh!”

Most people, and even most pastors, would say that theology is “boring.” And if it’s systematic theology, then it’s defintely a Lunesta© moment. But if it’s worshipful systematics you’re looking for, then there are few better than Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Few have ever incorporated worship with theology in book form. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So, while Tozer is correct that there are times when our head just doesn’t kick our hearts into the proper frame of worship and awe, I find it quite easy to do. Keep your heart in tune with your mind, seek to know more and more about God and you will indeed find yourself going:



Comment Replies and Worship Music

I received a comment on a blog entry from January. In that entry, I’d mentioned a chorus sung at a church I visited. The chorus: Jesus, Be the Center (I hope that was the clear title) left me quite a bit foggy in the head about what it was trying to say. A anonymous commenter thought I needed to “open up my theological boundaries” a bit since it was clear to him or her that “you are the wind in my sails” was pointing to God empowering everything I do.

Well, that was the problem… it wasn’t clear. When Bette Midler sings, “You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings” I think I get it, but not being a student of poetry, I have to work a bit harder at these things. Plus, in this kind of secular pop song, if I miss the intended meaning, so what? But if I’m worshiping my Creator, I’m convinced from Scripture that not just any old thing will do.

I have three main criteria I use in choosing hymns, choruses and songs at our church:

1. Direct Scriptural quotations: always the best; can’t go wrong using God’s Word directly.

Example: I’ve begun introducing Psalm singing to our church. Using the Trinity Psalter, we’ll sing directly the words of Scripture. Other examples might include, “The Lord Is My Shepherd” from Psalm 23; Greater Is He That Is In Me from 1 JOhn 4.4; 1 Peter 5.8 and Acts 2.2; or, “Worthy is the Lamb, directly from Revelation 5.12.

2. Strong Scriptural allusions: not a direct quote, but the reference is so strong, if you’re familiar with Scripture, you know where the thought is from

Example: In the Christmas hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” there are strong allusions, pointing us right to Scripture without directly quoting from Scripture: “glory to the newborn kind (Luke 2.14); “late in time” (Galatians 4.4, the fullness of time); “offspring of a virgin’s womb” (Isaiah 7.14; Matthew 1.23)

Bad example: using the same genre, Christmas hymns, here’s a bad example – “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”. Beautiful phrases, heart-warming story, but no clear allusions to Scripture. Some will take exception to this, but I think it’s because this is a Christmas song that we’ll work even harder to make the connections that really aren’t there without all this hard work.

3. Scriptural formulations: doctrinal expressions, or personal experiences based upon Scripture, not simply personal warm fuzzy feelings.

Example: “Rock of Ages”, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

Bad example: “In the Garden” which seems to be a tremendous evangelical favorite, but is so sappy, syrupy sweet with no quotation or allusion that I marvel at it’s popularity, except we’re driven far too much by our experiences and not by God’s Word. I only allow this song to be sung at the request of a family for a funeral.

Here are just a few other examples from each category:

Scripture Quotations: “Seek Ye First” (Matt. 6.33; 7.7; Deut. 8.3b); “Behold, What Manner of Love” (John 15.15); “The Cares Chorus” (1 Peter 5.7); and “Create In Me a Clean Heart” (Psalm 51.10-11).

Scriptural Allusions: “His Name is Wonderful”; “Jesus, Name Above All Names”; bad examples – “Cause Me to Come” and “Isn’t He?”

Scriptural Formulations: good examples – “Lord, I Life Your Name on High” and “Thou, O Lord, Art Exalted”; bad examples – “Spirit Song” and “Praise You, Father”

I won’t get into the music end of this matter; my one driving criterium there is that it be singable (okay, perhaps also that you find yourself singing it later or humming it to yourself later and knowing how to put most of the words to it; there are becoming way too many choruses that are simply unsingable by a congregation and that, I fear, is part of the cost of our churches losing their hymnody).

I don’t know if this will stir things up; that’s not my intent. I simply wanted to reply to one brother’s/sister’s comments.

Hoping to Worship Well in the New Year

On the first Sunday of this new year, we (my family & I) attended another church. For some, this would seem an unusual way to begin, but for me, the pastor of a church, it’s a very infrequent occurrence. Since I take the week off between Christmas and New Years, I always have opportunity to check out other churches on that first Sunday of a new year.

One of the choruses sung during the service was “Be The Center.” Michael Frye is the author; Vineyard is the publisher. Here are the lyrics:

Jesus, be the center, be the source, be my light, Jesus.
Chorus: Be the fire in my heart, be the wind in my sails, be the reason I live, Jesus, Jesus.
Jesus, be the center, be my hope, be my song, Jesus.
Jesus, be my vision, be my path, be my guide.
Chorus: Be the fire in my heart, be the wind in my sails, be the reason I live, Jesus, Jesus.

This song was new to me, so I simply listened while the worship team sang (I think the congregation of over 1,000 was singing, but the amplification was so loud in this auditorium you could not hear others singing, even those immediately behind me). The tune was nondescript, kind of a lilting melody that would never stick in one’s mind to find yourself humming unconsciously later on in the day.

Some of the phrases don’t bother me. I mean, Jesus Himself calls Himself the light of the world. However, I’m really wondering what was going on in the writer’s mind when he wrote, “be the wind in my sails”? I mean really! Where in Scripture would you ever find such a romanticized piece of pap? I was almost expecting Bette Midler to jump out from behind the curtain and sing, “You Are the Wind Beneath Me Wings.”

This particular church has two services: the early service has a full orchestra and features “traditional” music, while the second service is called a “celebration” service featuring contemporary worship music, a full-size praise band and all the trimmings. The thing I wonder about is this: if the second service’s intent is to reach out to the unchurched and the formerly churched, then how in the world are you going to help them see the real Jesus of Scripture with songs such as “Be The Center”? But wait, I think I just answered my own question: “…how in the world are they going to do this…?” In the world, it’s all possible: just name your target, claim a method and gain an audience.

How much better, and worthy, it would be to offer the world a more godly version of hymnody, such as I found on Slice of Laodicea ( today:

Word of God the most high, our sole hope,
eternal day of the earth and heavens
as we break the silence of the peaceful night
divine saviour, look down upon us.

Imbue us with the fire of thy great mercy
so that hell itself will flee at the sound of your voice
disperse the sleep which leads our languishing souls
to stray from the path of righteousness.

O Christ show your favour to your faithful people
who have come together to worship you
receive the praises that they offer up to your immortal glory
and may they come back laden with the gift of your grace.

May God grant me the grace to worship Him in spirit and in truth this new year.