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Album review: Songs from the Book of Luke

TGC’s first album, “Songs for the Book of Luke” was released yesterday and is being unashamedly marketed far and wide on the conservative-reformed web as I write this.

Here’s my thoughts after listening to the album:

  • I’m thankful that so many people are captured by a vision to sing “songs about the glory of God and the wonder of redemption”.
  • I like the new-old idea of getting pastor-theologians involved in the songwriting process (for example, “Our Hearts Still Burn”, a meditation on Luke 24, is written by DA Carson)
  • I’m thankful to hear and see so much musical creativity from local churches in the US flow so freely through each song

The words are great and well-thought out (each one is inspired by a different part of the gospel of Luke), and the musicianship on each album is excellent. So if this were an album just to listen to, I’d be over the moon with it.

Yet Ben Peays writes in announcing this album:

After a nation-wide call for entries, more than 200 songs were submitted. Those were narrowed down to this collection of 13 songs, all rooted in the scriptures, all written for local congregations.

And the About the Project blurb states:

 Most of all, we hope that as you listen, as you sing, and as churches consider singing these songs, you’ll be refreshed and reminded once again of the richness of the Book of Luke and the glory of our Savior.

So the stated aim is new songs for congregational use. And because of that, I have some further thoughts on that:

  • The melodies in quite a few of these songs (e.g. “Lift Up Your Head”, “Come to the Feast”, “For Your Sake”) have that singer-songwriter feel to it that make them very easy to listen to, but too sophisticated and for the average churchgoer to pick up easily (the wide vocal range of some of the songs don’t help either). The one exception so far which stuck out as quite singable is “Not in Me” by Eric Schumacher and David Ward, perhaps because of its simple tune and hymn meter.
  • There’s a couple of different genres represented but the songs are mostly based around the alternative/indie paradigm (e.g. “Authority of Christ”, “Our Hearts Still Burn”). Perhaps it’s because the recording band was put together by Sojourn Music. It makes each song great to turn up on my headphones, but it’s hard to envisage how to lead these songs for a church vs. the performance tracks I’m listening to. Also if you’re someone with a strong preference for one musical style, you’ll either love this album or be turned off before the first track is over.
  • I almost wished each song on the album was re-recorded with just a guitar/piano and vocal to get a better sense of how to use them for gathered worship. I know the album comes with lots of reinforcements in the form of sheet music and chord charts. And the “Learn the Song” videos perhaps was how they tried to answer this, but I don’t know if that’s enough to give smaller churches the confidence to try many of these songs (especially once the umpteeth electric guitar vamp blasts through).

 

But let me end with some of the words from “Not in Me”, which is my favourite song from the album (“Our Hearts Still Burn” is my second-favourite). The writers describe it as follows:

What would it sound like for the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 to repent? His prayer begins proclaiming what he has not done, with a list of people he is “not like”. So, repentance must be renouncing such boasts before God. In the end, the repenting Pharisee’s prayer is the same as the tax collector’s. Ultimately, whether for a Pharisee or a tax-collector, there is only one Gospel, one hope of salvation. God shows mercy to sinners, self-righteous or self-loathing, on the basis of Christ crucified and risen. In the end, neither can earn his forgiveness or merit a standing.

We’re both the tax collector and the Pharisee. One moment, we are wallowing in our sin, relenting of any hope due to the greatness of our evil. The next moment, we are boasting of our own righteousness and finding comfort in our external goodness and self-control. We need songs that preach the Gospel to us in and lift us out of the ditches on both sides of the road.

Here’s some of the lyrics:

No list of sins I have not done, no list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like can earn myself a place with you.
O God! Be merciful to me. I am a sinner through and through.
My only hope of righteousness is not in me, but only you

No humble dress, no fervent prayer, no lifted hands no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus’s death.
My weary load was borne by Him And He alone can give me rest.

 

Amen to that!

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y’Ear in Review 2010 and 2011

Summing up 2 years of life on one page isn’t an easy task. But a rain-swept, humid summer’s day in Auckland offers us the chance to share what the last two years of life have been like for us.

Much has happened since the last time William wrote to you. And much more since the earlier years, both painful and precious to reflect on.

In 2010 and 2011, one particular narrative from the Bible has been a remarkably apt allegory for our personal lives.

Through Moses, God spoke to the fledgling band of Israelites who’d just left for a far country:

“…when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (Deut 6:10-13)

 

Our connection to this story is that as Christians, a little like the Israelites, over the past two years we’ve personally been gifted many things we don’t deserve.

The gift of marriage (6 Feb 2010, best day ever), and the chance for us to dance in minefields together

 

The gift of a home (crosslease, 2 bedrooms) full of all good things we didn’t fill, fruit-bearing vines we didn’t plant, and opportunities to practise and grow in hospitality (lit. “love for strangers”).

 

The gift of family – unconditionally loving brothers, sisters, parents, partners, future brothers, and an adorable nephew!

 

The gift of a church family who encourage us and spur us to love and serve our head shepherd, Jesus Christ.

 

The gift of ministry (Cheryl in sound/singing/wherever needed, William in leading gathered worship) – where there’s much joy, growth and refinement in the crucible of service to the Lord and His people.

 

The gift of friends from near and far: Gaithersburg, Howick, Brisbane, Christchurch, Kuching, Alabama and even our neighbours down the road

 

 

The gift of work (Cheryl as a web developer/soon-to-be-household manager, William as a medical writer) – which we get to gladly do as unto the Lord.

 

… and the gift of our own child – being fearfully and wonderfully woven together in Cheryl’s womb as we write this.

 

Even amidst the sadness, corruption and pain that sin and death brought to the world this year (e.g. Japan, Christchurch), for reasons yet to be explained to us, God’s chosen to pour out much grace in our lives. And yet we’ve also met and befriended folks – people who you think surely have little to be thankful for this past year, but yet continue to see new mercies each day.

 

So back to the story.

Just like God’s people in the time of Moses,

we also should take care

lest we forget the Lord

who brings people out of slavery

into great things that we didn’t build, fill, dig, plant, or deserve

who gives to us much to eat and be filled with

and who did not spare even His own Son as the ultimate gift

so that we might be reconciled to God Himself.

 

It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.

And so in response, this coming year may it be the LORD we revere, serve, swear by, and live by.

 

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

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– Cheryl and William