The season of Lent in the liturgical calendar of the Christian church is commonly used as a time for fasting, prayer, repentance, and reflecting on God's presence in our lives. My church has put together some resources for Lent and I created this playlist as another option for reflection and prayer during the season. Enjoy!
I'm pleased to announce that Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Songs ended up on a best of 2017 review as "Album of the Year"! Who knew? Honestly, I'm just happy people are listening to and enjoying the album. Emerald Hymns is in good company on this list. You can see the whole list and review over at JeremyHoward.net. Below is our favorite quote from the review. Onwards and upwards in 2018!
Seattle-based Emerald Hymns is the best band you've never heard of. Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs is the first full-length album by the group, and it may very well go down as their magnum opus. I don't want to overstate it, but it is truly that good.
Made a Spotify playlist of some of our favorite Advent and Christmastide songs from some of our favorite artists! Check it out below.
"Be My Treasure" is a song I wrote for my church based on Luke 12:32-35. There aren't many hymns or songs that talk of giving our time and resources to others. When discussing texts to inspire songs for our church, my pastor suggested this passage from Luke. The passage teaches us that the Father's gracious generosity is a great gift and Jesus encourages his followers to give freely and joyfully back to others in this same manner. Our only treasure that will last is in heaven and by singing it, we are reminded and encouraged to share and give what we have while we're on earth.
I sent this scripture to my friend Gabriel St. John who is a gifted writer and asked if he could write lyrics based on it. He sent me back some lyrics and I started writing music to it. We sent drafts back and forth to each other and then to my pastor for some theological feedback. All in all, it was a more collaborative effort than a lot of songs I've written and I'm happy with the result. Musically, I was inspired by bands like The War on Drugs, Rilo Kiley, and Death Cab for Cutie when I started getting the melody and chord progression.
I hope that other churches are able to use this song and that it helps the body of Christ to see Jesus as our ultimate treasure, encouraging us to open our hands and give to others with love.
Pleased to announce that Emerald Hymns has officially joined Gospel Song Records, a wonderful label connected with Tooth & Nail Records in Seattle. Many inspiring and like-minded artists are on this label and we couldn't be happier to join them.
Yesterday was heavy. Putting liturgy and songs together for this Sunday with the #CharleenaLyles story on the mind. Lord have mercy. #SayHerName
Our city is broken, our country is broken, our world is broken. Lord have mercy.
In labor all creation groans
till prejudice shall cease,
Till every race and tribe and tongue
in Christ will live in peace.
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
- Luke 24:50-53
Today is the day we celebrate Christ's ascension, where he departed from earth to be with God in heaven. Though many protestant churches don't pay much attention to this day in the church calendar, people continue to create art inspired by it. Below are links to some old and new music written for the ascension of Christ, including an original from Jess. And go here for more info and resources on the Ascension.
*[This post was written for the Grace Seattle blog, which can be seen here.]
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
For a few thousand years, singing together has been an integral part of the worshipping life in the Christian church. But considering how our way of life and culture has changed over the millennia, why do we continue to gather on Sundays and attempt to unite our voices (however good or bad they sound) in adoration of our Lord? Quite simply: scripture instructs us to. The biblical authors understood and experienced the unique power that singing has in our heads and hearts. In song we’re bound together in melody and harmony as we commune with God, proclaiming the tenets of our faith. Whether you consider yourself a musician or not, singing corporately is a powerful method of spiritual formation that can lead to a deeper understanding of the gospel and how it relates to our lives. Singing helps us bring honor, glory, and thankfulness to the triune God. It gives us words to process the ups and downs of our life with God in a broken and chaotic world, appealing to both our emotions and intellect. So what songs, then, should we sing? Below is a list of guidelines (not exhaustive) that help me as I select songs for the liturgy we use in worship at Grace Seattle:
Our songs should be saturated in the word:
Paul’s instructions to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” is fairly broad. What's the difference between a hymn and a spiritual song? Don’t some hymns use psalm texts? The type/style of song to be sung seems far-reaching, but the goal is to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Therefore, the textual content should be permeated in biblical truth. The great news is, scripture provides much to draw from! In most cases, it should be easy to pinpoint scripture references when analyzing the text of a particular song. This goal keeps worship grounded in God's word and helps to avoid songs that are more self-serving than spiritually edifying.
Our songs should be old AND new:
Our faith is one of deep tradition. If we desire our faith to be passed on from generation to generation, one of the best ways to do so is by passing on songs that have been meaningful in worship beyond our own lifespan. Not only do certain songs connect us to churches around the world who sing the same ones, but they also bind us to generations of believers before us. However, it is also important to “sing to the Lord a new song.” If the Holy Spirit is truly at work in my life and in our congregation, we should feel inspired and encouraged to create new songs that bring glory to God! We should be inspired by the God of creation to create! Many people and churches are creating new songs for corporate worship that speak to their culture in relevant ways and we should be looking for these, while at the same time creating our own.
Our songs should address a broad spectrum of spiritual and emotional needs:
The Psalms are the songbook of the bible and are a perfect guide for the range of topics and emotions that should be addressed when considering song-choice in a worship service. Praise, thanksgiving, lament, terror, supplication, triumph, death, defeat, fear, joy, and awe are all included in the Psalms. Every Sunday, there are people in the congregation who are dealing (often in combination) with these things in their life. It is important to remember that though you can’t choose songs that are perfect for every person in every moment of their life, it’s good to strive for enough variety that congregants find moments where God’s presence is personally felt in their lives. While I may not be struck by grief or lament on a certain Sunday, there are people in the congregation who are and who need to be comforted by a merciful God who understands their pain.
Our songs should be singable:
Simply put: songs should be memorable, in a decent key, arranged in a way where the text is discernible, and sound natural when sung by a large group. These things are all fairly easy to decipher after you’ve sung a particular song a few times in a service. Don’t be afraid to scrap a song. Some simply don’t work for particular congregations; even if you think they’re great. That’s ok. The goal of choosing songs and leading them in worship is to help the congregation (which happens to be a large group of mostly untrained singers) praise God. So make every effort to serve the congregation by choosing songs and keys that work well for your community (whether it’s in your personal best-interest or not). For example, most of the songs we sing at Grace Seattle are in a lower key than I would prefer personally (I have a tenor range, while most males are closer to baritone). To serve the congregation I have to sacrifice quality in my own voice. Choosing songs that have repetitive elements and melodies that move in intuitive ways is important if you want to help people sing confidently and connect with the text. It’s also important to be aware of tempos, rhythms, and pacing, understanding that people need enough space to absorb and know the words they are singing. Ultimately, if you believe that the songs you sing in corporate worship are spiritually formative, they should be songs that stick! One of the greatest joys I have as a music director is hearing stories from congregants about their kids walking around the house singing a hymn that we do in church.
Know what songs we need to sing:
I have discussions with my pastor often about the songs in our church’s canon. The reason we have these discussions is to pinpoint certain themes (theological, liturgical, cultural) that we aren’t addressing enough in our liturgy. These conversations lead me to searching for (or writing) particular songs and texts that address and bring light to aspects of our faith and lives that need more attention in our particular community. Rather than choosing songs that I (we) simply like, I try to choose songs that I (we) need.
Know the songs that fit your community:
Every worshipping community is unique and different. The hope is that your songs and worship reflect that. It’s impossible to do this in a way that is all-encompassing, but it’s important to understand your congregation’s sensitivities and choose songs that will best serve them in worshipping God as authentically as possible. Grace Seattle, for example, will probably never sing “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” even though it is currently one of the most popular worship songs. It just doesn’t fit our community. However, I do feel it’s important to stretch a community outside of it’s comfort zone if you sense it is being limited (or limiting) in a particular way because of the natural sensitivities in the group. There is always room to grow, but you must understand your environment (and pray!) to know how and where to grow.
Singing together as the body of Christ is a great gift and an important part of our spiritual formation as followers of him. This is why I take song-selection for congregations so seriously. So let’s make a joyful noise!
The season of Lent in the liturgical calendar of the Christian church is commonly used as a time for fasting, prayer, repentance, and reflecting on God's presence in our lives. This year, our church (Grace Church Seattle) is being invited to participate in morning and evening prayers to help establish a daily practice of acknowledging and seeking God's presence. This playlist is an additional resource to further reflect and meditate during this Lenten season. Enjoy!