Should We Stop Singing “Is He Worthy?”

I don’t spend a lot of time on social media.

Unless I am replying to a few comments from my own posts, I usually try to limit myself to posting once a day, and every few days I will take a look at some posts from other people.

But one day about 6 years ago, I randomly went to the Facebook page of a friend that I don’t talk to often because I was curious to see what was going on in his world.

His most recent post was a stunningly simple but beautiful video of a new song that most people had not yet heard.

Mesmerized, I watched the video over and over again.

As a videographer, I sat there analyzing and reanalyzing the amazing scene that was shot in a single take, but I couldn’t help but also revel in the wholesome music that sounded like it was pulled straight out of Scripture.

Eventually, I stopped long enough to send the video to a few of my friends, and they all agreed that it was a great song that they had never heard before that moment.

It wasn’t long before the rest of the Christian world heard about the song, especially after it was popularized by a well-known singer. But my favourite rendition is still the original one, and I still go back once in a while to admire the videography of that first public release.

I have no claim to fame for the song, and it was my friend who posted it for me to see, but I was definitely one of the first few to know about it before it became popular.

Since then I have taught it to my church family and led several groups of people in singing it outside of my church.

Every time I sing it, I envision myself being transported into the heavenly throne room as described in Revelation 4-5.

“Is He Worthy? Is He Worthy? He is! He is!”

Ancient ScrollBetween the back-and-forth nature of the song that appeals to our biblical understanding of God, the emphasis on all three Persons of the Trinity, or the reminder that God has done everything that could be done to draw the world back into an eternal relationship with Himself, I thought that Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive did a masterful job of arranging this song.

So many people have said similar things about how this song has pointed them to Christ and reminded them that God will make all things new again someday because of what Christ has done for us.

Never had I heard a single negative thing about this song’s content…

Until this week.

The Character of the Singer

Someone came to me because I led this song at a recent event, and they wanted to talk to me about it.

I will not name the person because it doesn’t matter who it was, and I will do my best to give an accurate representation of what they said since it was in no way intended to be disparaging. They came to me in a good spirit and out of a desire to be helpful, so I want to respond in a like manner.

They began, “Did you know that this song is by Chris Tomlin?”

I responded, “He sang it, but it’s not his song.”

“Yeah, he has sung a lot of people’s songs.”

As for what else he said about Chris Tomlin, I will not repeat that part of the conversation here.

Some people really like Chris Tomlin. Personally, I don’t share that same sentiment.

But regardless of my opinion on him, from time to time, I have sung songs that Chris Tomlin has sung and even written. Whether or not it was right or not for me to do that is not the point of this post, and with greater context and understanding of those specific songs, you would be welcome to be the judge of my actions.

But as for the song “Is He Worthy,” I cannot and will not judge that song based on the person and character of Chris Tomlin anymore than I would judge a portion of Scripture based on the character of Ravi Zacharias.

No, I’m not comparing Tomlin and Zacharias. But Zacharias quoted Scripture, and it now appears that he was not the godly man of high character that everyone thought him to be. But that does not mean that the Scripture that he quoted is untrustworthy.

Likewise, just because Chris Tomlin sings a certain song that someone else wrote, does not mean that song is a bad song. I think that you should judge each song based on its inherent message and authorial intent.

Scripture is different because we should accept it as true even if we don’t understand it. Music written by humans requires a little more scrutiny.

But having gone over “Is He Worthy” multiple times, I do not believe that Peterson and Shive had evil intent, and I believe the message of the song is biblical and sound.

Hence, I am not telling you what this friend said about Chris Tomlin, and I am not making an appeal to the person of Tomlin one way or another because it is not a song that he wrote.

He merely popularized a version of it that I think is inferior to the original (now you know how I truly feel).

The Content of the Song

As for the content of the song itself, this concerned person said that “Is He Worthy” is a bad song (he may have used a harsher adjective, but I can’t remember for sure, and I don’t want to misrepresent him) because it fosters emotions of doubt within us.

He said that the song asks questions over and over again that we already know the answers to, so we shouldn’t be asking them in the first place. Asking those questions causes us to doubt what we already know to be true.

To be fair, I can kind of see what he meant. Although he didn’t mention this example, perhaps he recalls the serpent’s questions to Eve in Genesis 3 that were intended to plant seeds of doubt.

In my opinion, that would be the best example of doubt-inducing questions in the Bible.

He did admit that even though the song asks a lot of questions, it answers all of them immediately. If you know the song, you know this to be true. Every single question is answered immediately or within just a few seconds by a satisfactory, biblical response.

But he said that if you read through the complete text and do the math, it asks more questions than it gives answers, so ultimately the song ends with more questions than answers, causing us subconsciously to start to doubt.

He said that if Jesus had been present when we sang that song, He would not have been happy with us singing it because of the questions that we were asking in the song. Jesus would not want us to ask those questions and doubt who He is.

This was the first time I had ever been confronted with this perspective, and I never would have imagined that this would be the song that someone would use to talk about doubting God!

But I also want to be objective and reasonable and listen to what other people have to say instead of just sticking with my own opinion.

We are all different and come from different backgrounds, and we should always be sensitive to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others.

So when he asked me what I thought about his perspective, I said, “Well, I know that there are times in the Bible where questions are asked and answers are given, so I would have to study it some more and see what happened each of those times. Were the questions intended to cause doubt, or were they answered immediately, or was there a purpose for asking them? I would have to take a look at it some more and see what I find.”

Listen, understand, and do my research. Then if I feel that a defense is necessary, I can do so when I am finished. But I wanted to respect and honour him, his time, and his concern instead of jumping to conclusions on a song that I love so much.

The Questions in the Song

Since I already addressed his first concern (that Chris Tomlin sang the song), I will focus here on the second issue that he raised concerning the worthiness of the song because of the numerous questions that it poses.

The immediate context of the song is Revelation 4-5, and I make a habit of reading a portion of that Scripture almost every time I lead the song.

Revelation 5:2-3 says, “Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.”

The angel asks the question, and the answer returns painfully silent. You can almost feel the universe crying in agony, “What? No one?!” Well, at least in John’s limited understanding.

In verse 4, he says, “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it.”

Now, if those few verses don’t instill a little doubt in you, I don’t know what does.

But then one of the elders comforts him in verse 5: “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”

A question and an almost immediate answer. But there was still enough space between the question and answer for John to weep. This is quite interesting because John knew Jesus and should have known that He was worthy! Perhaps he just didn’t know what all was required for someone to be eligible to open the scroll?

Okay, back to the song. “Is He Worthy” doesn’t echo this question in Revelation 5:2 word for word, but the premise of the song is the same.

Rather than asking, “Who is worthy,” the song instead anticipates that we already know the answer. So it asks, “Is He Worthy,” to which we reply, “He is.”

Is this difference in the wording of the question enough to warrant a negative reaction to the question of “Is He Worthy?”

I personally don’t think so because the parallel with Revelation 5:2 seems extremely obvious to me.

But lest I focus too much on that singular question that is repeated throughout the song, let’s now turn our attention to the other questions in the song.

“Do you feel the world is broken?”

This question is simply about the state of our world and is a fair question to ask. Nothing about this question casts any doubt on the person or character or work of God.

Yes, I do indeed feel that the world is broken. This is not how God designed it.

“Do you feel the shadows deepen?”

Once again, this question does not cast any doubt on God. If anything, it casts doubt on the efforts of man to make the world a better place because we are failing miserably.

Yes, I do feel the shadows deepen. This world is dark and ugly.

“But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?”

This is actually a question that probes the extent of our Bible knowledge. Do we only know that the world is broken and dark, or have we also learned what the Bible says about God overcoming the darkness? The structure of this question is unique because it communicates a ray of hope with the sole purpose of alleviating any doubts that we may be harboring.

“Good news! In case you didn’t already know, the light will defeat the darkness! Are you convinced of this?”

Yes, I am.

“Do you wish that you could see it all made new?”

This is a genuine, good-natured question, especially for those of us who really love the world and all that it offers us right now. Are we content with this world the way it is?

Nah. I want to “see it all made new.” Thanks for asking.

Next set of questions.

“Is all creation groaning?”

Definitely not a question that would instill doubt but perhaps even a check on our consciousness to see if we are only wrapped up in the beauty of the world or if we also recognize the truth of Romans 8:20-22.

I’ve traveled around this world and seen a lot. Yes, it’s groaning. I don’t doubt that at all.

“Is a new creation coming?”

Okay, why would we ask this question? Maybe we’re doubting that God will recreate the world? Or, perhaps many of our churches haven’t actually educated people about the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1), and we all think that after this world is destroyed we will live eternally in heaven?

Based on the illiteracy of many Christians when it comes to the future eternal realms, I think this question could might cause some people to stop and say, “Wait, is that really a thing?”

That would be a good thing.

“Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst?”

This is another good, thought-provoking topic that we do not broach often, so I think we should talk about it. Will the glory of God be the light amongst us?

Yes, in the absence of the sun, yes, God’s glory will be our light. Rather than doubting that fact, this question causes me to stop and reconsider the significance of that truth.

“Is it good that we remind ourselves of this?”

Your answer to that question, I suppose, would be altered by your opinion of the song. If you think these are bad questions, maybe these questions are not helpful reminders for you.

But if you think the questions are good, yes, these rhetorical questions cause you to remember what you’ve learned and perhaps strengthen your faith.

Up until now, none of these questions should cause us to doubt who God is or what he has done. Do you disagree?

At this point in the song, the chorus begins and asks several questions.

“Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole? Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?”

Straight from Revelation 5:2, right? As mentioned earlier, the question is slightly reframed, but it has the same effect.

The main difference is that by saying “is anyone worthy” rather than “who is worthy,” we are emphasizing that there is only one possible answer because of the standard unworthiness of the rest of us.

The chorus precedes to immediately recognize the Jesus of Revelation 5 as the answer to each of those questions.

Onto the last set of questions in the third stanza.

“Does the Father truly love us?”

This question sounds similar to those found in Psalm 10:1, 42:9, 44:24, 74:10, etc. Was it wrong for those questions in the Psalms to be asked? No, as long as they knew the answer and clung to that answer as truth.

I would say that the same thing happens here in this song, especially since the answer comes immediately.

What about the song, “I Stand Amazed,” where it says that I “wonder how he could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean”?

Isn’t it an amazing thing that God truly loves us?

Perhaps we should look at our sinfulness more often in the light of God’s holiness and ask ourselves, “Wait, does God truly love me?”

Rather than doubting this truth, perhaps we would gain an ever greater appreciation for just how much he loves us!

“Does the Spirit move among us?”

Some people may not know the answer to this question because we downplay the Holy Spirit so much. Perhaps we should also ask this question more often so that we are motivated to find the biblical answer?

“And does Jesus our Messiah hold forever those he loves?”

I can see how this question would be one that Satan could use to cause us to doubt: “Does Jesus really hold you forever?”

But then again, the wording of “Jesus our Messiah” acknowledges that Jesus is the one who delivers us, and Satan would not describe Jesus as the Messiah.

Some people already struggle with doubts about their eternal security, so if this song causes them to doubt further that Christ holds them forever, I hope they would confidently respond with everyone else, “He does!”

“Does our God intend to dwell again with us?”

If you already answered affirmatively to the questions about the light overcoming the darkness and the Father loving us, this one is a no-brainer.

No doubt, yes, God intends to dwell with us.

The Nature of the Questions

Do we see these types of questions in other places of Scripture outside of the Psalms?

Yes, in fact, we do.

Rhetorical questions are found many times in Scripture. But rather than look at all of them, I specifically want to see how God uses rhetorical questions.

We see the first instance in Genesis 3:9. After Adam and Eve sinned and tried to hide, God said, “Where are you?”

Was God trying to make them doubt that he knew where they were? Obviously not. They were now fallen human beings, but they were still smart. They knew that God knew where they were.

God then asks in Genesis 3:11, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

Did God want them to doubt that they were naked or that they had sinned? Again, no.

These rhetorical questions did not cause them to doubt the truth of the questions. Rather, the questions emphasized what they already knew to be true. But now they had to vocalize these truths rather than just internalizing them.

In Job 38-39, we see one of the most powerful series of rhetorical questions in the Bible. Like the waters of the deep that burst open in Genesis 7, God pours out a flood of questions upon Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its measurements? Or who shut in the sea with doors? Who has put wisdom in the mind? Who can number the clouds by wisdom?”

On and on he goes, barely giving Job time to think about the answer before moving onto the next question.

The end result? Job wasn’t doubting God!

No, Job rightly responded, “Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4).

God never intended for Job to doubt him by asking all of those questions. He intended for Job to recognize more fully that God was who he already knew God to be!

In fact, on the contrary, he asked Job all of these questions because Job had started to doubt the character of God.

I think we have plenty of biblical proof that rhetorical questions can and should be used to remind ourselves of who God is. This does not dishonour God.


When someone asks me questions about the very essence of God, my initial response should be a defensive one, not one of doubt.

I ask people in my congregation all the time, “Is God good?” I don’t ever hesitate to ask that question because maybe someone will think, “Wait, is he good? Now I don’t know.”

No, I ask that question because I know that if they are truly saved, their response will be, “Of course he is good!” I am appealing to the intellect in such a way that a person will instantly respond with what they believe, not simply quote verbatim what someone else has told them to say.

So, based on my reading of Scripture and the questions contained therein, I am confident that “Is He Worthy” is a good song. Indeed, it is worthy of being used to worship God.

If, by asking the questions contained in the song, I start to doubt Jesus Christ rather than seeing the parallel with Revelation 5:2, I am no worse than John who wept rather than recognizing Jesus as the answer to the question.

Furthermore, if I start to doubt Jesus Christ because of these questions, shouldn’t the rest of the song be the reassurance I need that my doubts are unfounded?

If, at the conclusion of the song, I still doubt that Jesus Christ is worthy, how weak was my faith going into the song?

Honestly, the more I dissect this song, the more I’m convinced that the rhetorical questions in this song are a powerful way of drawing me back to the God I already know and emblazoning those truths deeper in my mind.

These truths about God should already be internalized, and the rhetorical nature of the song should encourage me now to vocalize what I know along with everyone else.

Now, for a completely different perspective on the original music video itself, you might find this post by Andrew Peterson thought-provoking.

Let me know what you think! Lay aside your biases and make an honest evaluation of this song. Do you think this is a good song or not, and why?

“He Lives” Has Poor Theology

Empty TombAs Easter approaches, churches are preparing their musical selections for their Sunday services.

Many of them will probably sing Alfred Ackley’s popular song, “He Lives,” without putting much thought into the theology that the hymn promotes.

I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

But as for me and my house, that song is on our banned list.

To be fair, I agree with most of the tenets of the song. But the part that I disagree with is so fundamental to the message of the song that I have to throw out the whole thing.

The first stanza begins by saying, “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.” This is wholly unbiblical.

Here are three reasons this is incorrect:

1. Ascension of Jesus Christ
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples over a period of forty days before ascending into heaven (Acts 1:3). The ascension of Jesus is a fundamental aspect of Christian belief, affirming His exaltation and reign as Lord and Savior at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 1:9-11; Ephesians 1:20-21). As such, Jesus is not physically present on earth in the same way He was during His earthly ministry.

2. Presence of the Holy Spirit
While Jesus is no longer physically present on earth, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to dwell within believers (John 14:16-17). Through the Holy Spirit, believers experience the presence of God in their lives, guiding, empowering, and transforming them to live according to His teachings (Romans 8:9-11; Galatians 2:20).

3. Body of Jesus Christ
In the absence of the physical presence of Christ, the Bible refers to the congregation of believers as the body of Christ here on earth. Christ is depicted as the head of the body, and the church derives its direction, purpose, and vitality from Him (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). As the head, Christ exercises authority over the body, nourishing and sustaining it, and guiding it in accordance with His will. The church is entrusted with the mission of continuing the work of Christ on earth, proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples, and demonstrating God’s love and compassion to the world (Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:20).

Based on all of this biblical evidence, how confusing is it, especially to people who are still young in their faith, to exclaim triumphantly that Jesus is “in the world today”?

He Is Not HereHe is not here! He is risen, and now he sits at the right hand of the throne of God (Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1). Christ does, however, continue to work in the world through the Holy Spirit and the congregation of the saved.

Continuing on, the chorus of the hymn declares, “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.”

While personal experience can indeed play a role in one’s faith journey, it should not be the sole or primary basis for belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

1. Subjectivity vs. Objectivity
Personal experiences, feelings, and perceptions can vary widely among individuals and are inherently subjective. While they may provide comfort and assurance to believers, they do not provide objective evidence for the truth of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical event with objective implications, supported by eyewitness testimony, historical documents, and archaeological evidence.

2. Reliability of Experience
Personal experiences can be influenced by various factors such as emotions, biases, cultural background, and psychological state. While experiences of God’s presence or spiritual encounters can be meaningful and transformative, they are not always reliable indicators of truth. Moreover, individuals from different religious traditions may claim similar experiences, leading to conflicting interpretations of truth. Therefore, personal experiences should be critically examined in light of Scripture and the broader Christian tradition.

While personal experiences can be meaningful and significant in the Christian faith journey, they should be grounded in the objective reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the teachings of Scripture.

If “you ask me how I know he lives,” my answer echoes the simple truth of another well-known song: “The Bible tells me so.”

Jesus does not live in my heart, but the Holy Spirit does (on behalf of the Godhead).

Yes, Jesus lives! Not because I feel like it, and not because he takes care of me.

He lives because He arose again, just like he said he would, and I know all of this because the Bible says so.

Hymn Story: In the Garden

If you attend a classic “singspiration” at a church gathering or the funeral of an older person, the odds of you singing or hearing this song are pretty high.

At least in my experience. Along with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” this one seems to rank up there as one of the all-time favourites for people from the middle of the 20th century.

Flowers in the Garden

“I Come to the Garden Alone,” also known as “In the Garden,” is a hymn with lyrics written by American songwriter C. Austin Miles in 1912. The hymn is based on an experience Miles claimed to have had in his garden while reflecting on the biblical account of Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Christ in the garden near the tomb.

Interestingly, I also find that many people are unaware of the song’s connection to Jesus’ resurrection and his appearance to Mary of Magdala. They latch onto the personal nature of the song as they think about God’s abiding presence with them, but they don’t know that the song originated from someone’s literal meeting with Jesus in a garden while he was still on Earth.

According to Miles, he was inspired to write the hymn after reading the Gospel of John, specifically the passage about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus on the morning of His resurrection (John 20:11-18). In this account, Mary goes to the tomb and, finding it empty, encounters Jesus, whom she initially mistakes for the gardener. It’s at this point that Jesus reveals Himself to her, saying her name, and Mary responds, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Miles was deeply moved by the idea of a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus, akin to the relationship between the gardener and the visitor in the garden. This inspired him to write the lyrics to “I Come to the Garden Alone” as a reflection on the joy of communing with Christ in a quiet and solitary place, similar to the garden setting in the biblical narrative.

The hymn has resonated with many over the years for its emphasis on the personal connection with Jesus and the sense of peace and communion found in spending time alone with Him.

But more significantly, its lyrics speak to the profound experience of encountering the risen Christ in the garden. Oh, what a day that must have been! I would love to hear Mary’s first-hand account of it someday.

By the way, C. Austin Miles wrote and contributed to several Christian songs. Did you know that he wrote a hymn entitled, “In the Upper Room” (1898)? Perhaps we’ll take a look at that song in a future post.

Hymn Story: Joy to the World

“And heaven ‘n nature sing! And heaven ‘n nature sing!”

Is anything more indicative that Christmas season has arrived than that familiar chorus wafting triumphantly through the air?

Ironically, the basis for these words is separated from the events of the nativity by over 2000 years.

Joy to the World“Joy to the World” as a hymn that reflects on the universal joy that should accompany the coming of the Lord, drawing inspiration from Psalm 98. The lyrics of the song were penned by Englishman Isaac Watts, a prolific hymn writer. The “Father of English Hymnody” published the lyrics in 1719 as part of his collection of hymns titled “The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.”

Ironically, just as “Joy to the World” is not actually a Christmas song, Psalm 98 is not actually attributed to David.

The specific inspiration for the hymn came from verses 4-9 of Psalm 98. These verses express the joy of all creation at the second coming of the Lord. Watts adapted and paraphrased the psalmic text to create the lyrics that we now erroneously associate with Christ’s first advent.

A closer look at the Psalms shows us that Psalms 96 and 97 are thematically tied to Psalm 98, each of them celebrating the Messiah’s rule over the entire world. As we know (and as Watts knew) from the New Testament, Jesus did not rule over the whole earth during his first coming.

In another twist of misunderstandings, the musical setting commonly used for “Joy to the World” is attributed to the German composer George Frideric Handel. However,  the melody was likely adapted by Lowell Mason in the 19th century from themes found in Handel’s works, thus lending to the misattribution to the “Messiah’s” composer.

I love to sing “Joy to the World,” and I love to play it and hear it played. Its lively and awe-inspiring melody, combined with the exuberant lyrics, has made it a timeless and festive addition to Christmas celebrations around the world.

Personally, I am not opposed to its inclusion during the Christmas season, but I think it should always be placed in its proper context.

Just as we remind people that Santa Claus doesn’t actually deliver gifts on Christmas Eve, we should never sing or play “Joy to the World” without reminding people that it’s not a song about Christ’s birth.

Misappropriated theology is bad theology, and if we sing or play this hymn unaware of its true message, we communicate misinformation and confusion about what really happened when Christ came to earth the first time.

Here’s an idea: Read Psalm 98 together before singing the song so that Scripture can breathe even more life into Watts’ lyrics!

Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Whose?

“Please join me in standing as we all worship together this morning!” You’ve heard that phrase before. Well, if you’ve attended a church that sings on Sunday morning, you’ve probably heard it.

If you are born again and on your way to heaven, and if you participate in a local church, you probably think of Sunday morning services as a time of corporate worship…and you should! Scripture clearly indicates that God wants his children to do that.

CrossBut have you thought about the fact that not everyone at a Sunday morning service is a believer, and therefore they cannot participate in worshiping God? I hope you have unbelievers on Sunday morning! If not, you need to go find some.

However, unsaved individuals cannot worship God. John 4:24 says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Until the Holy Spirit indwells you, you cannot worship God in spirit and truth!

That being said, do we ever think about the impact that our music has on the unbelievers in our services?

Earlier this week I was talking to a retired pastor who brought up this topic. He mentioned the classic hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” The song starts, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” For many of us, this song holds great truth! But for the unbeliever, it means nothing.

Are we making people liars when we sing this song together?

Especially when we get to the chorus, we sing, “This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.” But for the unsaved person, this is not their story and this is not their song! They are not praising our Savior all the day long (and often, neither are we).

This is just one example, and there are many other songs with similar truths. So, what does this mean for us? Perhaps we need to put more thought into our song selection for our corporate worship times, and perhaps we need to publicly preface these songs: “This song contains a great truth about the reality of salvation for everyone who is saved. But if you’re here today and have never accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, the message of this song does not apply to you until you have made that decision.”

There is also a debate about whether or not music can be used evangelistically or as a way to draw unbelievers to a church. That’s not a topic I will address right now, but it’s closely tied to the subject at hand.

Let’s put more thought into the songs we sing!

Why Your Church Should Have Handbells- Part 4

In the second post of this series, I talked about the teamwork that is involved in playing handbells. Teamwork and unity are two things that every church should constantly work on, and handbells are a great way to teach those concepts.

On the other hand, handbells are also great for teaching people to play independently. In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul likened the church to the human body: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5-6).

One of the big issues plaguing churches today is the lack of involvement by so many of the church members. Imagine a handbell choir of 11 people, but only 4 show up for rehearsal!

Sadly, that’s the state of many churches in our world.

When you play in a full handbell ensemble, very rarely will you ever play something by yourself that could stand on its own if everyone else was taken away. So you’re essentially learning to play a series of sounds that make little or no sense. They seem insignificant.

But once you put everyone together, each playing their small, insignificant parts, you suddenly get something big and beautiful and potentially amazing.

The key is to have each person play their individual part really well. You definitely notice when someone is missing or if they are playing their part incorrectly!

This lesson is important for church members to learn. When they serve in the church, they may be asked to do something that seems small and insignificant. But it takes a whole body of believers, each doing their job well, to grow the body of Christ.

You can preach this from the pulpit and teach it in small groups, but handbells are a great way to illustrate the principle in a way that people will understand.

Hymn Story: What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Who do you turn to during difficult times? Where do you run when the earth shakes? Where do you sail when the storms blow?

A few days ago at a pastor’s retreat, we sang several songs about the love and faithfulness of God. Ministry is all about relationships, and many of those relationships bring more pain than they do joy.

But there is one relationship we can always rely on to provide us hope, comfort, and encouragement, and that relationship is so beautifully expressed by Joseph Scriven in the song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

This was one of our last songs at the retreat, and before we sang it, our song leader shared the story behind the well-known hymn.

Joseph ScrivenBorn in 1819 in Ireland, Joseph Scriven was known as a hard-working, generous man. He loved serving others.  He graduated from Trinity College in Dublin at the age of 24, and in 1844 he had plans to get married.

The night before his wedding, however, tragedy struck, and his fiance accidentally drowned. A year later, Scriven left Ireland and settled in Ontario, Canada.

There he met a woman named Eliza Rice, and they were engaged to be married. But a few weeks before the wedding, Miss Rice came down with an illness that no one could diagnose, and shortly thereafter she too died.

Scriven decided to sell his possessions and live a life of celibacy, finding comfort in the only Friend who would never leave him.

A few years later, Scriven heard that his mother was sick, but he did not have the means necessary to make the trip back home to care for her.

So he wrote her a letter containing these words: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”

It is not known exactly how the words ended up in print, but somehow someone got hold of the words and had them published.

Scriven himself died at age 66 when he drowned in a lake during a time of deep depression in his life.

Even when we follow God and trust him, we will experience trials. We will have our share of “sins and griefs” that are an inevitable result of living in a fallen world.

But what an amazing friend we have in Jesus.

I need this reminder every day.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Why Your Church Should Have Handbells- Part 3

This last Sunday at Lighthouse Baptist, we finally started reading music. After spending the first three weeks practicing only two techniques (ringing and damping), I decided that the ensembles were ready for the next challenge.

Boy, was it a challenge! The adults and teens all have a moderate to advanced knowledge of music and can read notes…or so we thought. It took us a few minutes to play our first scale on the printed page, but we finally figured it out.

Handbell MusicWe spent rest of the rehearsal practicing basic scales and some chords, all in the key of C major. We had a lot of fun, and almost all the mistakes were things that we could laugh about together.

At the end of the rehearsal, I shared James 1:2-4 with them: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Now, James probably didn’t have music rehearsals in mind when he wrote that passage, but it was enough of a trial for us to remind us that we need to keep working hard while remaining patient. Eventually, we will play some beautiful music together, but until then, we must wait and work and strive to improve.

As for the children’s rehearsal- that was a different story. Almost none of them have prior experience reading music, so we get to start from the beginning with them as they learn to ring together. By the end of the rehearsal we successfully played two scales an octave apart simultaneously…in both directions!

This brings me to my next reason for having a church handbell ministry. You can use it to teach people how to read and play music! That seems like a no-brainer, but perhaps we don’t realize just how much of a blessing this can be to the church.

Music lessons generally are not cheap, especially if they are good ones. Outside of the United States, there are some countries where music lessons in general are scarce. But here in our church we are using handbells to give people free music lessons every week.

Because of the unique nature of handbells and how each person only has a piece of the melody (as discussed in my last post), those who already have a musical background have the opportunity to expand their knowledge base.

For those who do not know how to read and play music, they get to learn something new, and perhaps later they can build on this knowledge by learning to sing or play other instruments.

So there you go! Reason #3 for starting a handbell ministry in your church 🙂

Why Your Church Should Have Handbells- Part 2

Playing the piano is easy, right? Well, okay, maybe not, especially after you watch a virtuoso masterfully pull a classical piece out of the instrument.

Of course your answer to that question depends on your experience at the ivory keys. If you have spent many years developing your abilities on the piano, yeah, you might say it’s easy. But if you don’t even know how pick out a tune one note at a time, you might say it’s extremely difficult.

How about this, try lining up a dozen people at the piano and giving them each only 2-4 keys, no more, no less. Now play a song. Even Mozart and Haydn and Bach would struggle to do that!

It’s much easier to play the piano when both of your hands are controlling handfuls of notes at a time than when you have to share it with several other people and only play a few notes at a time.

Handbell DuetOne of the beautiful things about handbells is the amount of teamwork it requires. It’s the relative equivalent of lining up several people at a piano and giving them each a few keys to plays.

It’s not like an orchestra because in an orchestra you usually have other instruments that can cover up for your mistakes. But a handbell ensemble usually features about a dozen or so soloists who must all play their individual notes at the right time in the right way (oh, and it’s important to play the right notes).

The teamwork aspect is one of my favourite things about handbells. As ringers progress, they can also challenge themselves further by playing in smaller groups.

In a quartet one ringer might be responsible for 5-10 bells, and in a duet a ringer might be responsible for up to 20 bells…or more! Yet a great amount of teamwork is required to fit in with the other ringers at any given time during the song.

Teamwork is extremely important in a local church. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 both compare the church to the human body, describing the church as the body of Christ: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5).

Every believer in the body of Christ has abilities that aid the overall ministry of the church, and no two people are alike in what they are able to accomplish. So they must all work together, doing what they do well, so that the body of Christ grows.

One way to teach teamwork in the church is with handbells. It works for children, it works for teens, and it works for adults. Not to mention that it provides a great opportunity for building relationships across ages as people of different levels in life ring together.

Hymn Story: Come, Thou Almighty King

Great Britain OlympicsAs the national anthem played and the gold medalist stood there proudly looking at their nation’s flag, I thought, “What?! For real?!”

Okay, so I’m familiar with the “Star Spangled Banner,” and I know the first two words of the Canadian national anthem, but other than that, I’m quite ignorant of all the other countries.

So when I heard “God Save the King/Queen” being played, I thought it was ironic that America has a distinctly patriotic song to that same tune. I thought, “How typical of us to take a patriotic song from Mother England and put our own words to it so that it communicates the exact opposite message.”

Whenever we hear a tune without words, we immediately associate it with whatever lyrics we learned to that melody. But there are actually many tunes that have more than one set of lyrics associated with them.

What many people don’t realize is that melodies often have their own name unassociated with the song to which they are played. For example, “Holy, Holy, Holy” is sung to a tune called “Nicaea.” So if you hear the tune to this popular trinitarian song without any words, you’re not actually listening to “Holy, Holy, Holy”- you’re listening to “Nicaea.”

“Hyferdol” is a popular tune in many hymnals, probably best known as the tune for “Our Great Savior.” But if you play it in December, it suddenly becomes a Christmas tune with the words “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

CrownOkay, now on to the point of this post. Did you know that “Come Thou Almighty King” was once sung to the same tune as “God Save the King”?

This year I’ve decided to study as many hymn stories as possible just for fun, and this is one of my favourites so far.

Nobody knows who penned the words. It once appeared in a pamphlet alongside a Charles Wesley hymn, but no definitive evidence attributes this other song to Wesley.

Regardless of its origin, there is a story about this hymn that seems quite plausible. During America’s struggle for independence, there was a certain day when some British soldiers entered a worship service at a colonial church.

The soldiers commanded the church to sing, “God Save the King.” In a show of submission and clever rebellion, the people sang, “Come, Thou Almighty King” to the same tune of England’s well-known anthem.

It was almost as if the people said, “We have no king but God!”

As the story goes, the soldiers left without doing any harm to the people.

Who is your king? Does your king reside on earth or in heaven?

Here are a couple YouTube videos for your listening pleasure. The first video contains the tune that we associate with the hymn, and the second one is the UK National Anthem.

Try singing the hymn to tune in the second video and imagine what it might have been like to be part of that small congregation 300 years ago that stood up the king’s men.