The great composer Johann Sebastian Bach said, “The aim and final reason of all music is none else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.” Our church is blessed to have gifted singers and skillful instrumentalists who participate in our ministry week after week. It is our goal to present music that glorifies God and edifies the saints who worship with us.  Soli Deo Gloria.

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16).

Hymns of the Month

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

This is the second of five reflections on worship for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Above the entrance to the Cathedral of the Ozarks at JBU are the words, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,” – “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As members of the choir, Raquel and I have sung these words hundreds of times. The words of this song offer the picture of God as a protector to those under attack. “A Mighty Fortress” was a theme-song for the early protestants who were not only under attack from the Roman church, but also under threat from the plague. And the picture of God as our mighty fortress continues to be a comfort to Christians who need a divine Helper amid the floods of life.

Martin Luther drew these words of resolute faith from both the Old and New Testament, but the song starts with a paraphrase of Psalm 46. The English words that we sing are a translation from German, but the connection to Psalm 46 is still unmistakable.

The Psalm starts…
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.

Luther wrote…
A mighty fortress is our God.
A bulwark never failing.
A bulwark is a defensive wall with a broad top and a walkway where one could look down on the enemy from relative safety.

The Psalm continues…
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;

Luther wrote…
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
In other words, God is prevailing over many life-threatening events, such as the plague in Germany.

Later in the Psalm we read…
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.

Luther wrote…
For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe
One little word shall fell him.

They didn’t have YouTube when we were in college, but I did find a video of a JBU choir singing, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Sola Scriptura – A Song for Illumination

This is the first of five reflections on worship for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

As we study the theology of the reformation, Brad and I thought it would be interesting to also explore how the reformation affected the worship service. As Brad pointed out last week, one of the rally cries of the reformation was “After darkness, light.” Light is a common metaphor for the scriptures. This comes from Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Translating the scriptures from Latin into the common language was the tipping point in making the light of scripture more accessible to the people. However, as less than 20% of the people could read3, the pubic reading of scripture during the service was a crucial part of getting scripture into people’s hearts and minds. Additionally, the scriptures needed to be explained to the people, which led to a greater emphasis on the preaching of the Word. Songs and prayers were also used to reinforce the teaching of scripture.

One type of prayer that was used exclusively to emphasize the importance of scripture was a prayer for illumination. These prayers were “offered before the reading and proclaiming of the scripture2.” These prayers sought “the illumination of the Holy Spirit to make us receptive to the life-giving Word, which comes through the scripture2.” Today, we’re going to sing a modern-day prayer of illumination, “Speak, O Lord.4” As we sing, pray that the Lord would open our eyes, light our paths, teach and revive us according to His word.

1. Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

2. PC-USA Book of Common Worship

3. Our World in Data – Literacy

4. Getty Music – Speak, O Lord – The Story Behind the Song

For the Beauty of the Earth

Our Hymn of Grateful Praise

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

This refrain anchors the song in the Thanksgiving season. After each verse reminds us of another instance of God’s goodness, the refrain reminds us that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. We are thankful for Him and we are thankful to Him.

Folliott Peirpoint’s original refrain was more fitting for a communion service than a Thanksgiving service.

Christ, our God, to Thee we raise,
This our Sacrifice of praise.

The Cambridge teacher and poet originally published the hymn in a collection of communion hymns. The “Sacrifice of praise” is a reference to Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

A Litany of Praise
Each verse in this hymn enumerates another aspect of God’s grace. The first verse highlights His work as the creator and sustainer of all things. We only need to look to nature to see His love for us.

God is also the King of the Ages, the sovereign over every nation from past to present. He rules both the day and the night and we can trust Him with every moment.

In the garden, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” He designed families so that we would not have to be alone. Christ also sets His chosen ones in His Church where they can find fellowship and a family of believers.

The Church itself is a reason to be thankful this season. I’m sure that there are many examples that come to mind of the faithful teaching and discipleship ministries of our local Church. The Church also provides opportunity for corporate worship and prayer and serves as a home base for all kinds of ministries in the community and around the world.

And for Christ, Himself, we are also thankful. It is through His sacrifice that we have forgiveness for our sins. We read in Galatians 4:4-5 that, “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,  so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” And the Angels that announced Christ’s birth gave glory to God in the highest and proclaimed peace on Earth among men with whom He is pleased.

Psalm 92:1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.” Consider singing this song as a part of your Thanksgiving celebration this year.

This is the arrangement that the choir sang…
Keveren – SATB Sheet Music – For the Beauty of the Earth

Rutter has a good arrangement also…
Rutter – SATB Sheet Music- For the Beauty
CD – City Of London Sinfonia and The Cambridge Singers

Behold, Our God

Rhetorical Comfort
Sometimes, the best way to make a point is to ask a question. That’s what is happening in Isaiah 40. “To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?” says the Holy One. This is just one in the long litany of rhetorical questions that point to God’s omni-attributes. He created all things, is all-knowing, ever-present and all-powerful.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice
and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing
and meaningless.

It was the nations that were of concern to Israel in Isaiah 40. Isaiah had just prophesied the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity of Israel after Hezekiah foolishly showed the Babylonian delegation all of his treasure in chapter 39. But the Lord did not leave Israel without hope. He promised an end to Jerusalem’s warfare in this chapter that begins with “Comfort, O comfort my people.” Several Messianic promises are made. “The glory of the Lord will be revealed.” “Behold, the Lord God will come with might.” “He will tend His flock like a shepherd.” Babylon would not rule Jerusalem forever.

Israel’s comfort was made sure because it was guaranteed by the omni-God presented in the second part of the chapter. But it was not enough for God to save Israel from the literal Babylon. God was not just concerned with His people’s freedom from political influence. God was concerned with the hearts of his people. The prophesy of comfort would not be fully fulfilled until the issue of sin was addressed. His promised Shepherd would tend the flock by offering Himself as a sacrifice for their sins. God’s own Messiah took on Himself the sins of the world and rose again in victory and is now waiting for His enemies to be made His footstool.

Can we take any comfort from this passage on which this song is based? Let me answer that question with another question.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord,
the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.

Those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Two Brothers, a Sister and a Friend
Meghan, Jonathan and Ryan Baird are all siblings from Pasadena, California and have a band named West Coast Revival. They collaborated on this song with their friend and author, Stephen Altorgge.

You can find free sheet music and CDs for sale, on the Sovereign Grace site… Behold Our God.

Jesus Lives, and So Shall I

Five Lessons from the Resurrection
Christian Gellert was the son of a Lutheran minister who studied theology and seemed bound for the ministry himself. However, his poor health redirected his path toward academia and Gellert became a professor of poetry and rhetoric in Leipzig, Germany. Many famous poets flourished under his tutelage including Goethe and Lessing. Gellert’s moral character and attention to his students made him a favorite not only in the school, but also in the larger community. His poetry enjoyed popularity despite its didactic nature. In “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I” we have five lessons on the resurrection from a loving and well respected teacher.

Lesson 1 – Jesus Lives, and So Shall I
John 14:19 – After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.

Corinthians 15:54-57 – O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? …thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lesson 2 – Ever Living, Ever Reigning
2 Timothy 2:12 – If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;

Lesson 3 – Ever to His Glory Living
Philippians 1:6 – For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Lesson 4 – Naught from Him My Heart Can Sever
Romans 8:38-39 – For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lesson 5 – Courage, Then, My Soul
James 1:12 – Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

ZUVERSICHT – Confidence
The title of the tune is the same as the last line of every verse. JESUS MEINE ZUVERSICHT is the original German for “Jesus is my hope and trust.” A direct translation for Zuversicht into English is “confidence.” No doubt, it was easier to rhyme with “hope and trust” than with “confidence” and both translations carry similar meaning. However, the strong conviction and German straight-forwardness in the phrase “Jesus is my confidence” fits well with phrases like, “God has promised – be it must” and “Thou shalt find thy hopes were just.”

Psalm 71:4-5 – Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,
Out of the grasp of the wrongdoer and ruthless man,
For You are my hope;
O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth.