Category: Christian music


I felt so much better on Sunday morning after getting a good night’s sleep.  I found out that all of England was in a celebratory mood, because England’s national soccer team (more properly their “football team,” since we were in Europe) had just defeated Germany 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier that evening while we slept.  In soccer, 5-1 is a major beating, and this win had come against a historical rival on their home turf, in Munich.  England’s Michael Owen recorded a hat trick (three goals in one game), which is cause for celebration in ice hockey but truly a rarity in soccer.

We got breakfast in the hotel’s cafeteria.  I got there a bit late asked the woman at the cafeteria line for some scrambled eggs, and she responded with something I didn’t understand.  I repeated myself, and she repeated herself a few times, until finally she gave up and served me some scrambled eggs.  Finally, one of my classmates explained that she had been trying to tell me that the hot breakfast items weren’t included in our room fee and I’d have to pay for them.  I had the money to pay, so it was no problem, but I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to decipher her accent.  It was strangely ironic that during the course of our whole trip, the only time I couldn’t understand someone speaking English, it had happened not in France, Germany, or Italy, but in England.

We attended a morning service at All Souls Church, an Evangelical Anglican church in London.  According to Wikipedia, the building has stood since 1823 and survived damage during World War II.  The church itself has withstood a trend in 20th-century Christianity (in America as well as in Europe) to focus on preaching about what humans should do to improve our lives rather than what Jesus Christ has done to save us from the penalty for our sins.  Influential evangelical leader John Stott, who passed away just a few months ago at the age of 90, ministered and worshipped at All Souls Church for most of his life.

I found the service very encouraging.  As we sang the hymns and worship songs and read the Lord’s Prayer, I thought about my family, who would be going to church back home in Ohio in a few hours.  They were probably praying for me, and I could pray for them.  We were on opposite sides of the ocean, but we were loved by the same God.  All the years I had been going to church in the U.S., there had been believers in England and other countries, in every continent, meeting to worship God.

The sermon that morning was from Zephaniah 3, which I’m having a hard time summing up because so much is in it.  It’s a message from God to Jerusalem, the capital city of his covenant people Israel.  At the start, God declares “woe” upon the city because its leaders– the rulers, prophets and priests– are preying on the weak and leading the people to disobey God.  The preacher was quite bold in talking about leaders within the church in Britain who were leading people astray.  (He made the point that God’s message in this passage is directed towards those who consider themselves very religious– not people who don’t go to church.)

God promises to be the righteous judge that those disobedient leaders were not; he will pour out his anger on those who deserve it.  Which is bad news for me, because I too have disobeyed God, and I’m sure I’ve led other people to disobey him, even if it was just by watching how I behaved.  But that is why we need a Savior.  As impossible as it may seem, our hope is to turn to that same God who promises to punish sin.  God tells the city that “the remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord.”

The second half of the chapter is as joyful and tender as the first half is severe:  “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!  The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.”  God promises his people “I will bring you home.”  How can this be, if being a righteous judge requires him to punish the city?  It is only possible because God poured out that judgment on his own perfect Son, who willingly took the punishment we all deserved in order to save us.

Sorry; that got a bit long– I told you it was hard to summarize briefly.  I’m not sure I did it justice.  One of my favorite souveniers from the trip is a recording of that sermon.  I really wanted to share it with my parents, but the group was getting ready to leave, so I did something I don’t like to do and asked a stranger where I could get sermon tapes.  At first the elderly man didn’t understand what I was saying, but after I repeated myself, he said, “Oh, TYPES!” (pronouncing the “A” like a “Y”) and pointed me in the right direction.

That afternoon, we visited the British Museum.  I stuck close to Dr. B. and took digital photos of each artifact according to his instructions, using a notepad to record the identity of each object.  I wish I could give more detail about the things we saw there, because they were really neat, but the museum visits have blended together a bit in my mind, and so I can’t remember which things I saw in which museum.  The British Museum had artifacts from Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, some of which were old when Zephaniah was still alive.

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We sang one of my favorite hymns in church yesterday, “How Firm a Foundation.”

This hymn has been a comfort to me whenever I have been struggling with doubt and need to be reminded of God’s promises.  The wonderful thing about it is that for most of the hymn, the “speaker” is not you– it is actually God!

Do you ever feel uncertain of your own faith in God, or unsure of whether you love him?  Even if you do, you can still sing this song at the top of your lungs, because it’s about God’s love for his people, not their love for him.  And that never changes and is never in doubt.

Apparently, it’s not known who wrote the words to this song, but they did a good job grounding it in what the Bible says (which is essential; it’s very dangerous to put words in God’s mouth otherwise!)

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus hath fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”

This song helps me to stop thinking about myself and picture things from God’s point of view.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”

Much Afraid

Jars of Clay - Much Afraid

Sometimes I can become frustrated with myself when it seems like I’m not making progress in my life, or not “growing up” the way I expected.  But other times I am reminded that I really have grown in a lot of ways over time.

I recently bought an old Jars of Clay album, Much Afraid (released in 1997), and I’ve really been enjoying listening to the songs I remember from years ago.  I’ve been playing the album in the car, on headphones as I work around the house– I’m listening to it right now, in fact!

I’m not that great at reviewing music, so I’m not sure if I can come up with the right words to describe what I like about the album– it’s mostly the sound of the music.  I think a lot of the songs in this album have some relatively creative chord progressions, which makes it fun to try playing them on the guitar.  (Eventually, I did get tired of playing 3- and 4-chord songs!)

In some of the songs, the guitar is accompanied by soothing strings; in others, by jazzy keyboard riffs.  Several of them make excellent use of vocal harmony.  Then you have the pensive lyrics.  A lot of them I haven’t figured out the meaning of, but it’s as if the music and the words together give me a very blurry image of what the song is about.  Does that happen for anyone else with their favorite music?  These are some of my favorite songs on the album:

  • “Fade To Grey” — I think this song could describe the moment just before God reaches in and saves someone; the voice in the song is a person who can see that they are trapped and alone, and they want to be free– maybe– they’re still scared and wavering, and they aren’t even sure if God will or can help them.  The wonderful truth is that Jesus answers prayers from people in that situation.
  • “Crazy Times” — This is one I haven’t figured out, except that it’s about someone whose life is crazy, and they don’t like it, but they’re not willing to do what it will take to address the problem.  And it has a solo in the middle that would be fun to be good enough to play.  : )
  • “Frail” — A meditation on the singer’s human frailty.  I love how this song is carried by a haunting chord progression that goes for at least a minute before the singer comes in with almost a whisper.
  • “Portrait Of An Apology” — This has to be my favorite song on the album– I only have the faintest idea of it being about someone revealing their heart to a close friend using the metaphor of a painting, and finding that the picture of their heart is shriveled and dry.  “But I remember it much redder, and I remember it much brighter,” he says.  But he still hopes that his friend will stay with him.
  • “Truce” — OK; I’m afraid I don’t understand this one at all; I just like it.  I made a custom Guitar Hero chart for it.

Let me try to get back to the original point of my post.  : )  I bought the album and am enjoying it for a couple of reasons.  One is that it is nostalgic for me to hear these songs I remember from about the time I graduated from high school; it’s like returning to a comfortable room.  Another is that I enjoy the music (though I’m not all that good at explaining why.)  I think the fact that I am enjoying the album shows a way that I have changed since it first came out– I would go so far as to say that I have grown.

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Okay; this is my third post about a specific cognitive theory of autism, a theory that attempts to explain the outward signs of autism as the results of something different about the autistic person’s brain or mind.

The weak central coherence theory was first advanced by German-born psychologist Uta Frith of University College London in the late 1980s.  She describes weak central coherence as “an information processing style” that tends to process “details at the expense of global meaning.”  Put another way, autistic people are very good at noticing details, but we struggle with seeing the “big picture”– we might see every tree but miss the forest.

Incidentally, here’s a link to a presentation by Frith on various Cognitive Theories of Autism.  It’s been one of my most helpful sources for this series of posts.

The funny thing is that, while the name of this theory of autism refers to a weakness, the most clear evidence of it is seen in a person’s strengths at tasks that depend on being detail oriented.

Frith’s video gives several examples of visual tests that seem to indicate that this focus on details is an area of strength in people with autism and Asperger’s.

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He is risen!

I love singing about Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for all who trust in him.

This Easter, Paul’s words to the church at Corinth are especially on my mind:

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  For since by a man came death, by a man also came resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

I am so thankful for that promise.

I thought I’d share some of my favorite Easter songs– I plan to be listening to or singing them today!

Low in the Grave He Lay Robert Lowry and W. Howard Doane

This hymn is really fun to sing.  The first part of each verse, about Jesus lying in the tomb, is very slow and introspective, and then all of a sudden it goes into this fast, energetic refrain with the different singing parts doing all sorts of embellishments:

Up from the grave He arose!

With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.

He arose a Victor from the dark domain,

And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.

He arose!  He arose!  Hallelujah, Christ arose!

Arise, My LoveNewsong

This was one of my favorite songs as a child.  It simply tells the story of the resurrection.  The group Newsong always did a great job with the harmony when they belted out the chorus, which imagines what God the Father said to his Son that morning.  The lyrics are inspired by Song of Solomon 2:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:55:

Arise, my love!  Arise, my love!

The grave no longer has a hold on you.

No more death sting, no more suffering,

Arise, arise, my love!

Easter SongKeith Green

Hear the bells ringing; they’re singing that you can be born again!

Hear the bells ringing; they’re singing Christ is risen from the dead!

Just a joyful song.  The group GLAD recorded a wonderful a capella version of this song that I love to listen to.

He Was HeardMichael Card

This song, based on the book of Hebrews, especially 12:1-2, speaks a message of great hope gleaned from in-depth study of the Bible, as a lot of Michael Card’s songs do.  It helped to answer a question I once had about the resurrection– I knew that Jesus’ death on the cross was significant in that it paid for my sins, but then why do we treat His resurrection as even more significant?  I can’t quote just part of this song– got to quote it all!

In the days of old, the priest would come with a lifeless sacrifice,

While the crowd in anxious silence would wait outside.

As he entered in the temple, they only hoped he would be heard,

God would give them a tomorrow, and the priest would stay alive.

Their only chance, their only hope– would he be heard?

The only way they might be saved– would he be heard?

.

In the fullness of the promised time, the final Priest did come,

And He offered up a living Sacrifice.

Now we His children wait for Him with hope and joyful praise,

For we know that God has heard Him, for we know that He was raised.

He offered tearful prayers, and He was heard.

He offered up His life, and He was heard.

.

So let us fix our eyes upon the Priest whom God did hear.

For the joy that was before Him, He overcame the fear.

For once and all He paid the cost, enduring all the shame,

Taking up the cruel cross, ignoring all the pain.

Love Crucified Arose – Michael Card

This is one of Michael Card’s earliest and most poetic songs.  It has a lot of beautiful images in it.

Love crucified arose

The Risen One in splendor

Jehovah’s sole defender

Has won the victory

.

Love crucified arose

And the grave became a place of hope,

For the heart that sin and sorrow broke

Is beating once again.

Wow.

Was It a Morning Like This? – sung by Sandi Patty

This was another song I loved as a child whenever I heard it.  It always made me feel a sense of excitement and wonder.  It also has a tune that’s hard to stop singing!

Here’s a video of it. (Only watch if you don’t mind 80s Christian music!)  ; )

Christ the Lord Is Risen Today Charles Wesley

One of the things that makes Easter hymns seem so special is probably that you usually only sing them once a year.  But I’ve always thought that you could sing this one any time, as the title is still true about any day you sing it on.

It has a neat, unique tune that is great to sing.  But I also love to think about the words:

Soar we now where Christ hath led,

Following our exalted Head.

Made like Him, like Him we rise.

Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.

Happy Easter, everyone!