A few months ago, I had the privilege of putting together a college-wide prayer and praise night. In the midst of studies and essays and assignments, it was good to set aside an evening to pray, sing, read scripture, and enjoy God’s presence among His gathered people.
The theme of this year’s worship night was “Remember”. We split the night into two halves – in the first hour, we took time to remember God’s mercy to us in Christ. In the second hour, we shifted focus to remember God’s mission for the nations to know Christ.
I really enjoyed worshipping together during the first hour, which was led so well by Ellen, James, Chris and Kristy from the ReachOut 2019 band. It was a treat to move from praise to prayer so seamlessly and freely throughout the first half. We were served by contributions from students and lecturers as each helped us to remember and reflect on different aspects of God’s mercy to us in Jesus.
I led the Badminton Road band for the second hour – our first and last live performance together! A personal highlight was guitaring alongside Rob Smith and Jack Batchen, two incredibly gifted electric guitarists! Thanks to Jeremiah Liew, a friend of ours, we managed to capture some of the night on video as well.
If you’re interested, here’s the setlist from the night, including a Spotify playlist Ellen put together, and some video from the 2nd half.
Part 1 – Remember God’s mercy in Christ
Welcome & Prayer: an invitation to prefer one another and “let all things be done for building up”
You can also see what we did in 2018 as well here. While I won’t be at college in 2020, I hope there’ll continue to be opportunities for the college community to gather and respond to everything they’ve learned in praise and prayer!
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 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!
Recently a friend asked me if there were any good congregational songs that specifically focus on global missions. In God’s timing, the music team at SMBC have just finished serving at our biennial Missions Conference. (The theme was “A Heart for the Lost”, we were challenged with six talks by Tim Chester from the book of Isaiah, and cross-cultural workers and mobilisers from restricted countries shared their experiences living and serving among unreached people groups.)
We’ve been hearing song recommendations from other places too. For example, in our home church one of our pastors has also been introducing songs to help us reflect on world mission, alongside the prayer updates we receive. We’re about to commission a new family this Sunday as they seek to share Christ with the Warlpiri people in Central Australia.
I’ve also been reflecting on how, as John Piper puts it, “missions exist because worship doesn’t”. In one sense, we sing praises, longing for others around the world to join in. Also, in one of Tim Chester’s talks, we were reminded that the cross is worth the nations (Isaiah 49:6), and it’s too small a thing to be concerned only about our own people, church or area. The cross of Christ deserves the nations.
So here’s a couple of songs that help to remind us of our purpose in God’s mission.
Facing A Task Unfinished (We Go To All The World) – Frank Houghton, Keith & Kristyn Getty
Frank Houghton wrote this hymn (originally titled “A hymn for the forward movement”) for an annual gathering of China Inland Mission (now OMF) missionaries. Keith Getty comments:
“Frank Houghton understood this and in response to great turmoil in China, turned to writing hymns to encourage those who were witnessing martyrdom around them. ‘Facing a Task Unfinished’ provided inspiration to a generation of missionaries when it was first written, and it urges us on still, even as we also live amid persecution and martyrdom, both at home and around the world today. Into these situations the call of Christ and His Kingdom is our only hope. His gospel is the window of light pouring into the darkened corners of this world. He is the good news we must sing and bring.”
The Gettys updated the hymn with a simple chorus:
We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord
Rob Smith (Theology and Music Ministry Lecturer at SMBC, Emu Music songwriter) wrote this song as part of SMBC’s Centenary commemorations in 2016. It’s fairly easy to pick up, and has several challenging lines:
Martyrs and missionaries answering your call
Ready to sacrifice giving up all
We are yours
Trusting in Jesus despising the shame
There is salvation in no other name
We are yours
Ransomed to serve
As we long for our Saviour’s return
The last verse even includes a mention of Ezekiel 36:22 as we declare: “Not for our sakes but the sake of Your holy name”.
Across the Streets – Mike Begbie, Rob Smith, Troy Munns
Mike Begbie is a former SMBC and Moore College student who co-wrote this song with Rob Smith and Troy Munns. I like the clear challenge in the words, and how it grounds a call to go “across the streets” and “across the oceans” in the heart of the Father and his desire that all of the nations be saved. There’s a mix of the triumphant and simple: “We will go”, with the acknowledgement that “Though fearful and trembling, we go remembering the gospel is mighty to save.”
My favourite is part is where the bridge paints a picture of God’s Harvest:
The time has come lift up your eyes
The harvest fields are shining shining
The time has come let us arise
For Heaven’s judge is soon returning
The song is rhythmically driven and consistently off the beat, so you’ll have to work hard at making your arrangement not sound like an out-of-control polka (Mike has a tutorial video here).
May the Peoples Praise You – Keith & Kristyn Getty
Here’s another excellent one by the Gettys. I like how the motivation for mission here is not guilt or achievement, but God’s ownership of us and a growing mercy for those who haven’t heard the gospel:
All the earth is Yours and all within
Each harvest is Your own
And from Your hand we give to You
To make Christ known
May the seeds of mercy grow in us
For those who have not heard
May songs of praise build lives of grace
To spread Your Word
The chorus is catchy too, and a reflection on Psalm 67:4:
May the peoples praise You
Let the nations be glad
All Your blessing comes
That we may praise
May praise the Name of Jesus
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of organising a praise and prayer evening for our bible college community. It all started with a fireside conversation: “Wouldn’t it be great to come together for singing and prayer?”
We’re incredibly blessed at college to spend hours and hours drinking from a firehose of theology, missions, languages and ministry training. Also, God seems to have given us a range of gifted musicians, poets, artists and songwriters at present. So it seemed fitting to set aside a few hours to respond to God’s greatness: both in who he reveals Himself to be, and in how He saves us through Christ.
So on the 28th August, we had a room full of students and families, young and old, all worshipping God in song, prayer and reading His Word. The theme of the night, “Greater Than We Can Imagine”, came from Psalm 145:
“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
– Psalm 145:3-7, NIV
I had the job of picking songs for the night, while my fellow music coordinators Luke and Alastair prepared the rest of the program and arranged the space beautifully. I really appreciated how varied the contributions were from everyone, and how there was a real freedom to enjoy God together and to delight in His Word, and to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord…” (Eph 5:19)
If you’re interested, here’s a recap of what we did together on the night. We sang a variety of songs from a range of sources including Sovereign Grace Music, Stuart Townend, Indelible Grace, CityAlight, Hillsong, and even a few homegrown offerings from SMBC songwriters.
Part 1 – The God Who is Greater Than We Can Imagine
Welcome & Prayer: an invitation to prefer one another and “let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor 14:26)
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.