Tag Archives: worship songs

Thoughts on producing Badminton Road’s first EP

It was nearly a year ago when I had the privilege of leading the band for our College Graduation service. Most of us had sung and played before with each other during chapels and conferences. Apart from serving together at college, we’d have not much in common!

But when we ran through this arrangement of “Crown Him With Many Crowns” for the first time, I had a sense that there was something a bit special about this band. In His kindness, since then we’ve had a year of wonderful opportunities to glorify God’s name and encouraging His people as a college band (Badminton Road).

I’m happy to report that we’re releasing an EP next Friday, 22 November – six songs from our Croydon community. You can pre-order/pre-save on BandCamp, iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and other digital platforms soon. And once exams and our last days of College are over (yay!), we’ll get to work on charts, lyric videos, song stories, and other helpful resources.

There’s all kinds of stories we could share of God’s incredible provision to make this EP happen – from last-minute donations, perfectly timed schedules, grace to solve band disagreements, unexpected ability to sing difficult parts, and non-Christians who watched us depend on God again and again. But for now, I thought I’d share three ways working on this project has impacted me.

1. My heart for God’s glory to fill the earth has grown.

The EP title, Among the Nations, comes from Psalm 96:3 –

“Declare His glory among the nations,
   His marvellous deeds among the peoples,
   for great is the LORD and most worthy of praise…”

Week after week of meeting workers serving in difficult places, near and far, have shown us that others who live out this passion too. And we wanted to encourage them (and ourselves) to press on and persevere in the unfinished work of proclaiming the gospel.

So when Kim, our lead vocalist, suggested we try a multilingual version of Sovereign Grace Music’s “Behold Our God”, I thought it was a bit too hard! But she was right — it’s turned out to be such a great idea! The words are fantastic: you have the amazing truths of Isaiah 40:12-14, the good news of Christ “humbled to the grave” for our sins and “risen now to reign”, and a chorus inviting us to “behold our God, seated on His throne.” So what better way to celebrate that than to bring together friends from different countries and cultures, and to sing these truths in all of our heart languages!

Each of us have a favourite moment on the EP, but I have several from this song:

  • The first line in the bridge reminds me of our friends in Central Asia who sing praises to Jesus softly, for fear of neighbours turning them in to the police. It’s a small way of remembering our persecuted brothers and sisters.
  • We got to feature students from our international community. There’s something amazing about watching your friends praise God in their heart language – whether it’s Japanese, Korean, German, Irish, French Urdu, or even Nepali!
  • We included a duet in Mandarin and Cantonese. With all the unrest and tension tearing China and Hong Kong supporters apart (even in churches and our families), Veronica and I got to briefly display, in song, a taste unity and harmony that’s possible when we glory in Christ Jesus.
  • The final chorus, we just sing in our own languages – to remind one other that our future reality in Christ isn’t monolingual, but far better:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.””

Revelation 7:9-10, NIV

There’s so many other magic moments throughout the EP – I’m so grateful for each singer and instrumentalist who poured their desire for God’s glory to fill the earth into each take, each strum, each line, each sample. May it move us to serve the Lord in whatever way we can to see His Kingdom advance!

2. My appreciation for working in intercultural teams has increased.

It quickly became apparent early on that we weren’t capable enough to do everything on our own. We so needed the Spirit’s help! Thankfully, we’ve had an amazing team of supporters praying for us and encouraging us since the project began. Whether it’s the team from Sovereign Grace (Bob, Bekah, Grace) who have reviewed translations, sorted licensing issues and shared words of encouragement, or the SMBC alumni musician community – Nick Freestone (whose song features on the album), Trevor Hodge, Brian Leung and others, we’ve seen first-hand how any work for Christ can’t happen on one person’s steam.

We saw God’s kindness in our team of contributors too. We were all different people – some introverted, some extroverted; with different communication styles, gifts and preferences. We like different food, have different upbringings. But with this project we got a chance to negotiate differences and serve with what we had in common in mind: our love for the gospel, God’s Word, and our brothers and sisters. We still had our distinctions and disagreements, but they weren’t as important.

3. I’m learning that we serve to be replaced.

It’s humbling and thrilling to think that we’re not the first musicians to have graced the steps of Benson Barnett House. From the barbershop quartets of the 50’s and 60’s, to the Music Conferences in the early 2000s, to worship songwriters such as Rob Smith, Trevor Hodge and Alanna Glover, there have been plenty of graduates singing and writing for the sake of His holy name.

We hope Badminton Road follows this rich heritage by providing a new avenue for creating and sharing music that glorifies God, and encourages our family in Christ in Croydon, Catalonia and beyond. But we don’t want to presume our longevity – God determines when our contributions are helpful, and when it’s time for us to fade away and others to do a better job than us. (Besides, it’s hard to stay together as a band when we’re all leaving for different countries in a few weeks’ time!)

We’ve come to go – and so our College’s Centenary Song, written by Rob Smith, reminds us of our main purpose:

We will declare your glory among the nations
We will proclaim your greatness in every land
Until the trumpet sounds and all the earth resounds
With the praises of the Lamb!
We will declare your glory among the nations
We will proclaim your mercy from shore to shore
‘Til every knee shall bow and every tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord
Jesus Christ is Lord

We Will Declare Your Glory” by Rob Smith

I’m thankful to God for this opportunity to make this album with Rob Smith, Kim Patterson, Jack Batchen, Matt Williams, Jacob Oh, Jotham Booker, Luke Padgett and the many, many others near and far who have contributed their time and treasures. And I’m excited that you’ll all get to hear it in just a week’s time!

Until 22 November, you can pre-order Among the Nations on Bandcamp for $7 or more and download 2 songs now – with all proceeds going towards the College’s 100-for-100 Scholarship Fund.

Soli Deo Gloria – may His glory fill the earth!

Reflections on the modern hymn In Christ Alone

(This article was first published in the NZ Baptist Magazine website: http://www.baptistmag.org.nz/discipleship/in-christ-alone/).


When was the last time you remember singing about God’s wrath? If the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” is in your playlist, then it was probably more recently that you realised.

“In Christ Alone” was the first hymn that writers Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty produced together, and to this day, it remains their most well known. Since its release in 2001, “In Christ Alone” has been referred to as “surely the worship song of the century so far.” The song has been covered by scores of artists including Owl City, David Archuleta, and Natalie Grant, and has been translated into several different languages.

 

The hymn takes a linear approach in unfolding the gospel narrative (the life, death, and resurrection of Christ). The first verse introduces Christ as solid ground, a cornerstone that we can find safety and refuge in. In the same way that stonemasons in biblical times relied on the precise placement of a cornerstone to set the foundation for every other stone, Christ promises to be “a cornerstone chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6) that we can rest every triumph and tragedy upon.

The second verse invites us to gaze at the wonder of the incarnation—the fullness of God in human form—before zooming into the life and death of Jesus. Despised and rejected by the people he came to save, the Messiah willingly poured himself out during the drama of the cross, where gruesome death and sacrificial love satisfied God’s righteous anger that our sins deserve (Romans 3:21-26, Romans 5:9).

The third verse begins with gloom of the tomb, but gives way to unabashed celebration of the risen Christ. The melody climaxes alongside triumphant news: Jesus is alive, victorious over death! We can now have the confidence to claim him as our own! The resurrection proves that sin’s death grip no longer remains: “…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Powerful stories demand a response. In the final verse, we are invited to sing our reaction to the good news of Jesus. His unmatched power provides assurance that guilt need not plague us, death need not scare us, and hell can never take us: there simply is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). With King Jesus in command of our destiny, we stand with confidence, awaiting the day we finally meet him face-to-face.

Just as a diamond’s brilliance and sparkle depends on the number and placement of its many facets, God’s beauty shines most brightly in light of his many facets. In 2013, one of these aspects came under scrutiny when the American Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song voted to exclude “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal, in light of the words in verse two, which speak about God’s wrath being satisfied. The decision attracted media interest and sparked a firestorm of controversy. There was much wrath about God’s wrath: some criticised the hymn writers for not allowing a change to the lyrics, while others accused the hymn committee of holding an unbiblical view of God.

Talk about God’s wrath brings unsettling images to the minds of 21st century Kiwis. We rightly reject caricatures of God having the uncontrollable anger of Jake “The Muss” from Once Were Warriors, or spewing forth hateful words at protest marches. Yet God’s wrath—revealed in the Bible—means God was willing to confront the cancer of sin hollowing out his beloved image-bearers, and Christ was willing to absorb the consequences of this cancer in our place. Without it, God’s love becomes saccharine and ill-equipped to respond to the horrors of human sin; whether anti-Semitic violence, or our own Samaritan blind spots; whether selfish exploitation of workers, or our own self-absorbed materialism.

That’s why when we sing about the wrath of God, we actually sing about ourselves: sinners in need of the rescue that Jesus willingly offers on the cross. To minimise any one of God’s attributes from our vocabulary is to rob ourselves of the full brilliance of God’s beauty, and to make Christ’s sacrifice less costly.

“In Christ Alone” depicts a God not made in our own image, but as he presents himself in the Biblical story: beyond us yet with us; holy yet gracious; angry yet loving; just yet merciful. And all of it is worth singing about.

 

Video: Only Your Blood is Enough (Ukulele Cover)

Missed church with HBC yesterday due to being on lockdown from opthalmic shingles. I feel fine but the doctor (and Cheryl) both suggest not infecting other unsuspecting people with the chicken pox virus

So instead of gathered worship, we sang a few hymns and I read some Valley of Vision, then worked out this song for our family hymnal.

Sojourn Music’s Neil Robins wrote the words and music, and it’s adapted from Isaac Watt’s Psalm 51 Part 2 From Sojourn’s “Over the Grave” album.

From the Sojourn Music blog:

Neil Robins, who also produced, sang and played a variety of instruments on Over The Grave, wrote “Only Your Blood Is Enough,” adapted from “Psalm 51, Part 2″ by Isaac Watts [you can read the original here]… It’s a fun song to sing, with a bridge that gives both guys and gals a cool part to sing — something we don’t often do with songs in Sojourn. Beyond that, it’s simply a great, meaty song about the cross of Christ — only His blood is enough to cover our sin. As Mike Cosper told Sojourn’s Dominic Gratto, in an interview for our quarterly news journal Travelogue:

“I don’t have a favorite song (on the album) but I have a favorite lyric. It’s from the song “Only Your Blood Is Enough.” The lyric is, “no bleeding bird, no bleeding beast, no hyssop branch, no priest, no running brook, no flood, no sea can wash away this stain from me.” It comes from Psalm 51 where the psalmist says that if God had desired a sacrifice, He would have brought it.

When we were recording that song, I told Neil that, because of the way the song is mixed, it would make a great pop song. Apart from the lyrics about a “bleeding bird” and “bleeding beast,” I could really see Christian radio stations picking it up — but they don’t want to play songs about bleeding beasts. It’s a little too graphic for them, but I think it communicates a really powerful message.

I also like how this song draws out the ideas that King David originally wrote (original and actual sin, atonement from God Himself, regeneration of the heart). Not many worship songs help point out the futility of our own sacrifices, and Psalm 51’s words (though a bit gross sounding to our ears, bleeding beasts etc.) drive home the point that it’s only God’s own blood that can pay for my sins. Played it down at F (from G, which is a bit high for me)

Lyrics:

I am ashamed, conceived in sin, I’ve always been.
Born in a world where Adam’s fall corrupts us.
Rooted is the seed of death in life’s first breath.
The law demands a perfect heart, but I’m defiled in every part

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
Only Your blood is enough to cover me

All this guilt disturbs my peace; I find no release.
Who will save me from my crime? I’m helpless.
Behold, I fall before Your face in need of grace.
So speak to me in a gentle voice, for in Your mercies I rejoice.

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
Only Your blood is enough to cover me

Lord, create my heart anew (Father, come and make us wise)
Only You are pure and true (Lead us away from our demise)
Lord, You are the remedy (For only your blood can set us free)

For only Your blood can set us free; only Your blood can set us free

No bleeding bird, no bleeding beast
No hyssop branch, no priest,
No running brook, no flood, no sea
Can wash away this stain from me

For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin
For only Your blood is enough to cover me

Words by Isaac Watts and Neil Robins
Music by Neil Robins, 2009

If you’re interested, this is Sojourn’s much more polished recording:

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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Video: Jesus Your Blood and Righteousness

Loved singing this arrangement by Ruth Buchanan when we were at YLC (now called Equip Conference).

Strangely enough, after searching everywhere, we couldn’t find a recording of it, nor any sheet music to help.

So we made our own – just me and a guitar (and Cheryl humming in the background).

 

Hopefully it’ll be useful for others too.

I’ve also created a chord chart here: Jesus Your Blood And Righteousness [Ruth Buchanan] – D

Verse 1
Jesus, your blood and righteousness,
my beauty are, my glorious dress;
Mid flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
with joy shall I lift up my head;
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Verse 2
Bold shall I stand in that great day,
and none condemn me, try who may;
Fully absolved, through Christ I am,
from sin and fear, from guilt and shame;
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

Verse 3
This stainless robe its beauty wears,
when all else fades in passing years,
no age can change its glorious hue,
the robe of Christ is ever new;
The robe of Christ is ever new.

Verse 4
When from the dust of death I arise,
to claim my home beyond the skies;
Then this shall be my only plea,
that Jesus died and lives for me;
That Jesus died and lives for me.

Verse 5
So shall the dead now hear your voice,
let those once lost in sin rejoice;
Their beauty this, their glorious dress,
Jesus, your blood and righteousness;
Jesus, your blood and righteousness;
Jesus, your blood and righteousness.

Words by Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf
Arrangement by Ruth Buchanan
Copyright 1996 AFES.

First recorded on “Crowding the Gates” (http://sub.afes.org.au/_product/view-product?id=935aa23a8feda696a4370104c161bf17)

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(p.s.: for a list of all the songs we sang at the 2013 YLC conference, I made a list here).