Make a Joyful Noise

Beautiful strains of music filled our church building last night as the  York College Concert Choir performed. The fifty plus a capella chorus sang songs of praise that brought tears to my eyes.

I was blessed to once be part of this choir, as were my son and daughter, and Dawn’s son. Next year, our youngest, Emma, will be on their risers. All of this reflection made me think about how important music is in our worship.

In Col. 3:16 it says, “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.” Did you notice the types of songs are differentiated? I believe that’s because all three types of songs feed a different part of our souls. Let’s take a look.

psalms

Psalms: Psalms are scripture, and besides singing the Psalms in the Bible, I think this idea can expand to all scripture. Singing songs based on scripture helps us commit them to memory and recall God’s word when we need it. Many psalms are also songs of praise, and nothing is more important in our worship than praising our Creator.

hymn

Hymns: A hymn is song a praise, but unlike psalms, they were not written under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Hymns are filled with important spiritual truths. We might be singing about the power of God, the joy of our salvation, His amazing grace, or recalling the sacredness of a rugged cross.

Some people think of hymns as “old” songs, but that isn’t true. They are as relevant today as ever. They provide a depth and wisdom. They help put spiritual truths and doctrines into our hearts and minds that we will never forget. They touch us intellectually.

sing

Spiritual Songs: Spiritual songs touch our emotional core. Whether it’s a praise song or needing the Lord, our modern praise songs “move” us. We can express our joy or praise or brokenness through these songs.

The Bible repeatedly encourages us “to sing a new song to the Lord” (Psalm 96:1, Isaiah 42:10, Rev. 5:9, Rev. 14:3). Our God is a God of creativity and He continues to bless His children through creative expression. Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”

By singing all three kinds of songs–psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs–in our worship, music finds its highest purpose. It allows us to glorify our God. Nothing else moves us or lets us express our adoration and thankfulness like music.

And the best thing is that God doesn’t care whether your notes are pure or a little off key. He hears the song in your heart.

Let’s chat now. What’s your favorite hymn or spiritual song? What role does music play in your worship?

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SOMETHING ABOUT THAT NAME

Favorite hymns . . . favorite praise songs . . . For a church musician, it’s like asking a mother which of her children is her favorite! Or asking an author which of her BOOKS is her favorite! A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about my favorite old-time hymn, Victory in Jesus. I could name several more, but that would be a book, not a blog post!

Once I settled down and really thought, it came to me immediately.

There’s Something About That Name.

It’s the song I sang to my babies as I rocked them. It’s the song I turn to when other lyrics escape me, and I just want to dwell on Jesus. His name.

I first remember hearing it when my cousin sang it at church, when it was still a new, “modern” song in the 70’s, and I’ve never let it go. Now it’s in my hymn  book!

Another favorite that I remember segueing into is I Love You, Lord. Then there was God Is So Good, Jesus Loves Me, and various modernizations of hymns – which is a whole ‘nother post that I’d LOVE to get into!

What is the connection between singing from my heart and certain songs that get me “right there?” It’s that intimate, family-relationship I have with Jesus that I wanted, and still want, so desperately to pass on to my children. Dwelling on His name, reiterating over and over that I DO love You, Lord, only draws me closer to the throne of Heaven.

I know that over the course of the last several years there has been a war waging between “traditional” and “contemporary” worship. Funny thing is, worship is simply giving glory to God. It has nothing to do with whether you put a Southern Gospel twang to a song or a modern rap beat to it. It’s whatever draws you to HIM. And more importantly, whatever GLORIFIES HIM, not us. Who knows, in Heaven, maybe souls will discern heavenly choir music in the genre they find glorifies God in their own hearts?

Interesting thought.

Me, I want to hang out with Fanny Crosby, Chris Tomlin, AND the Gaithers when I get to heaven. I mean, imagine it! You think the Gaither Homecoming choir is good? We’ll be in the BEST choir, and all we’ll care about is how much we love Jesus and pointing the glory to HIM!

I call the alto section!

A Little Music is Good for the Soul

I have a confession. I’m not much of a music buff.  Oh, I like good music.  But I’m the last person on the planet any of my friends will ask about a group or an artist, group, or song title, because honestly, I usually can’t answer their question.  I’m just not that into it.

Now, that doesn’t mean I live under a rock.  In fact, I have pretty eclectic music tastes.  They run the gamut from the really hard stuff to country music, and even a little jazz.  About the only thing I won’t listen to is hard-core rap and opera music.  I also listen to both secular and Christian music.

But when it comes to songs that touch my soul, there are a few that I have always loved and a few new ones that fit (or at least have fit) my personal placement in life.

On the side of songs that touch my soul are Go Tell It on the Mountain. Specifically the Dolly Parton version.  I grew up listening to Dolly Parton, and I always imagined that she and I were soul sisters.  I remember very clearly walking the quarter mile gravel drive from the bus stop to the house during the time that my parents owned their farm, singing Dolly songs loudly the whole way.  Go Tell It on the Mountain was always the first song of choice. And the second was her He’s Alive.

Amazing Grace will always be a favorite traditional hymn. But if I’m telling you the whole story, I have always loved it, but there’s a new version that’s only been out a year or two by a popular Christian group that I absolutely adore.  Can’t remember the group, but I could belt out the song, given the chance and someone willing to listen.  That last part might be a bit of a stretch, though, because as we used to say in the hills in Kentucky, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket!

Not being able to carry a tune makes songs like Monster and Rebirth by Skillet great songs for me.  I can sing right along with those songs and they’re loud and screechy enough that no one really notices that I’m off-key. Those songs fit especially well for me when I’m just not feeling like my heart is in the right place.

Happy Plastic People is another favorite (again, I don’t remember the artist/group).  The point of the song is to be who you are instead of a happy, plastic person.  As I have re-discovered who I really am after years of pretending to be someone else, this has become an anthem of sorts for me.  I don’t want to be a pretend person…I much prefer genuine, even if that sometimes makes people uncomfortable.

Discomfort isn’t a problem when I’m listening to the newer version of Jesus Love Me that my husband introduced me to a couple of years ago.  It’s nothing like the version that we learned as kids.  Instead, it’s a jazzy, bluesy, wailing version that’s both very adult, and somewhat soothing. Even better, it lifts my spirits when I can’t seem to remember that no matter where I’ve been or what I’ve done, Jesus loves me.

I’m not the person who has to have music on all the time.  In fact, I spend most of my time in relative quite with no music or television for background noise.  I like the quite. The sounds of the house living around me when I’m the only person home or awake are more soothing to me than most music.  Those sounds, along with the sounds of the family and dogs are my hymns.  They speak to me every day of the love that God has for me.  He loved me enough to forgive me when I wasn’t worthy of forgiveness and he loved me enough to bless me with this family. So, to hear those blessings – to really hear them – is the best melody I could ever be granted the privilege of listening to.

Psalms, Hymns, and Spritual Songs

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father in everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Eph. 5:19

I could name a list of hymns, and for many of us, each one would spark a memory or trigger a chorus. For fun, can you match these first lines to a song? (The answers are at the end.)

1.  Oh, Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands hath made…

2.  When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows rolls

3.  On a hill far away stood an old _____  ______,
The emblem of suffering and shame

4.  I am weak, but Thou art strong
Jesus, keep me from all wrong

5.  ______  ______, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me

If you got them all correct, you may have been raised, like me on a church pew with a hymnal in hand. My father was the song leader and we “practiced” the songs he was going to lead all the way to church every Sunday. Between that and a good memory for songs, I know nearly every verse of most of the songs in our songbook.

Today, the trend in many congregations is to sing more “spiritual songs” or devotional type songs. Our congregation sings spiritual songs, hymns, and scripture songs on a regular basis.

I think there’s a good reason why Paul emphasized all three types of those songs in Ephesians. We need all three types of music in our lives.  When we sing psalms or scripture songs, we are memorizing God’s word. Take it from a long term Bible class teacher, this is a very effective method of memorizing and we all need His word written on our hearts.

Hymns walk us through a story and engage our imagination, intellect, and will. The language is rich and filled with powerful images. They are mini-meditations and challenge us to look at ourselves. Can you sing “All to Jesus I surrender” without asking yourself if you have indeed surrendered everything? Hymns teach solid truths we can hold onto and turn to in times of need.

Spiritual songs touch us on an emotional, passionate level. They feed the spirit, connect us to one another, and provide a fresh awakening.

In the next two weeks, we are focusing on our favorite hymns. After having been raised attending church, singing in college choruses, and listening to countless songs on the radio and cd’s, I decided there was no way I could pick just one favorite hymn. I have too many favorites to count.  So, I’m giving you the answers to the ones above and telling you why I chose them.

How Great Thou Art—This song always gives me chills. My friend Deb and I have sung it together at several funerals. She and I are both sopranos and she sits on the right of the auditorium and I sit on left. The song leader then gets soprano in stereo. But when Deb and I sing that song, we both look at each other in the same spot every time. I love how the music connects us.

It is Well with My Soul—In college, I sang with a girls octet. This is one of the songs we performed. I can still hear Dr. Rhodes, our director, telling us to crescendo just a little on each line of the chorus in order to not go flat. That isn’t as important as remembering Dr. Rhodes and the wonderful Christian example he and my other chorus director, Brother Cox, were. Both talented men were also two of the most humble, Godly men I have ever known.

The Old Rugged Cross—I was blessed to have a Bible teacher named Connie (Mahan) Roundy when I was a pre-teen and young teen. She taught our all girls class and helped me develop lifelong attitudes, goals, and patterns. It was during her years of teaching us that her first husband, Floyd, had a heart attack and died. We sang this song at his funeral.  A few years later, God sent Connie a second wonderful husband, Lloyd. It was a delight to see her fall in love and share the old, old story with him. By the way, Lloyd’s first wife had been named Bonnie. Almost too ironic to believe, isn’t it?

Just a Closer Walk with Thee—As I said earlier, my dad was the song leader for our congregation for many years. Even after he’d given up that particular duty to the younger men, he’d occasionally lead this song. When he sings the words, I can see how much he means them and it makes me tear up every time.

Amazing Grace—According to many, this is the most beloved hymn of all time. If you grew up in the 80’s, your youth group may even have sung it to the Pepsi jingle tune. This song speaks to all of us in its own way. Its profound truths remind us that it is His grace, not our own goodness, that saves.

Still, I have to admit that one of the reasons I love this song is having heard performed by Rodney Britt with the group Acapella in the 90’s. I listened to a lot of Acapella’s albums in the 90’s, and and I added their special children’s cassettes when my kids came along. (No CD;s yet.) The video below is of a slightly older Rodney Britt in a reunion performance with Keith Lancaster at Acafest in 2010. When I used to play the tape in my car of him singing this song, I didn’t just listen to the song, I felt it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Amazing Grace by Rodney Britt (click for video)

VICTORY IN JESUS

My grandmother is a very big reason that I’m the musician that I am, today. This week she’s been very sick. At 90, she had emergency surgery and is doing better than expected, but still very serious. It’s made me think of my favorite hymn, and how much she loves singing and music.

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from Glory.
How He gave His life on Calvary,
To save a wretch like me.
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning.
Then I repented of my sins,
And won the victory!


This is my favorite hymn. Hands down. Not only was it the first song that I learned to sing the alto part in, but it was also one of my grandfather’s favorite hymns. Granny’s being sick made me think of this. In fact, it was sung, as a congregational hymn, at Granddaddy’s funeral in October of 1980. I was 16.

Another song that was sung was Sunshine In My Soul. People are always amazed, and were, then, that the family chose these songs for such a sad occasion.

But it wasn’t.

Oh, I remember crying my heart out. I had spent most of the summer helping to care for my grandmother who had been in an auto accident in which she broke her leg and injured the other, and my grandfather who inexplicably lost half of his vision. That was the beginning of the end, and was just the beginning of a long string of events that could have easily defeated me.

Oh victory in Jesus!
My Savior, forever!
He sought me,
And bought me,
With His redeeming blood!
He loved me ere’ I knew Him,
And all my love is due Him.
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood!

But God had other plans. That summer my boyfriend and I broke up (don’t worry, we got back together and are STILL together), my family went into volunteer missions and we moved 250 miles away, I started in a new high school in November of my Junior year.

But He gave me that song. He gave me my music. It’s what kept me going when I didn’t really know what was going to happen next. I knew God was in control, and with Him laid the victory.

I heard about His healing
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and brought
To me the victory.

On the heels of all this, a verse in Psalms became “my” verse: Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4.

As much as my grandfather loved me, God loves me even more. As much as I hurt when Granny is sick, or when I had to face the fact that I no longer had either of my grandfathers, that they would never see me grow up, marry, have children – as much as that hurt, I knew we had victory, because we’ll have all the time in eternity to make up for LOST time.

I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea
About the angels singing
And the old redemption story
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory!

Thank you, God, for those times that make us KNOW that only YOU are the victory.

What hymn helps bring you back to a place where you can feel God’s presence every time?