My Passion

SUMMARISED ENTHUSIASM

(These headings are amplified more fully in the Expanded Enthusiasm that follows)

I am enthusiastic for congregational singing, at a time when performance singing ~ live, or on DVD, CD or IPod ~ is taking over. The songs I write are primarily for singing together in Church or at events.... for Fellowship Singing.

Biblical Content is essential for the songs I write. Most of them are referenced to Scripture.

Sound Theology permeates my songs, for I am eager to synthesize God's truth in a systematic way that will build up strong, mature Christians.

Vertical Singing lifts our Praise and Worship to God (Psalm 100, Acts 16:25). Horizontal Singing embeds God's Word in our hearts and minds (Deuteronomy 31:19, Psalm 1, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). I am passionate for both dimensions of song, especially the Horizontal dimension, all the more because this has been largely overlooked by the Contemporary Worship Songs movement.

Songs must be Singable, with melodies and rhythms that are easily learned. I like to use existing tunes, both sacred and secular; and where new tunes are used, I aim to make them congregation-friendly.

A wide range of Themes are found in my repertoire. Many of the songs were born out of messages preached from God's Word. I aim to cover the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Reality and Relevance are important to me. I use down-to-earth language, and there are songs suited to most aspects of Christian living, as well as issues facing believers in the world ~ politics, suffering, abortion, poverty, etc.

I'm committed to Depth of Meaning in my lyrics, especially because so many popular Christian songs are shallow and trivial. I will not allow myself to add to their number, but insist that even my simplest songs convey valuable meaning.

Most of my songs use Rhythm and Rhyme, rather than blank verse, so that the song may stick in the memory grooves of the mind.

Crafting songs, seeking excellence of expression and matching the spoken rhythm of language to the music ~ these drive me to work and re-work songs, always seeking to improve them.

These songs can assist in developing Integrated Worship Services, in which there is a designed flow beginning with the Vertical and moving seamlessly into the Horizontal dimensions. This flow embraces many permutations of a wide, imaginative range of ingredients, such as Praise, Prayer, Confession, Testimonies, Offering, Scripture, Preaching etc. The Spirit leads the planning of the Integrated Worship Service in a way that enriches the whole experience, bring glory to God and maturing God's people in holy living.

Most of these songs are Hymns. I deplore the stereotyping of hymns as boring and out-of-date. Songs with a hymn-structure have many advantages, and if sung with understanding and emotion, can lift the soul to new heights and fuel us for serving Jesus Christ. I have also re-cycled some older hymns in contemporary language.



EXPANDED ENTHUSIASM

I toast the joy of singing together the songs of the Christian Faith ~ traditional and contemporary. And I believe God enjoys them even more! I want to encourage more of this, in an age when Singing has become for many a spectator activity. Something done by professionals with top-rate equipment on the stage. Performance.

The Church needs a revival of 'Fellowship Singing' ~ the congregational sing-along of "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs". Exuberant songs, meditative songs. Songs that lift us into the presence of God the Father, that express our love for Jesus Christ, and that encourage one another in the Holy Spirit. Songs that embed the Scriptures in the heart.

This collection of my Songs and Hymns is a contribution to making this happen.

THE CRITERIA I AIM FOR IN WRITING THESE SONGS

Biblical Content. "Make sure that the songs we sing are biblically biblical: faithful to the whole sweep of Scripture, and not just 'from Scripture'." (Richard Simpkin).

I tuned in, searching for a Christian station on my radio, and found myself in the middle of a beautiful worship song that expressed the believer's joy in being near to the One we love, to sense His touch and know His presence. The song then expressed the desire to spend the night together in bed. Oops, this was not the Christian radio station I was looking for. Moving the dial slightly, I then heard the reassuring words of a Scripture reading. Reflecting on this, I realised how some of the more sentimental worship songs had become indistinguishable from the love-songs of the world.

We need songs that name Jesus as the One we love and worship. Songs that are rich in the content of Scripture.

Some of the songs I most enjoyed writing are those where the content of Scripture, true to context, is paraphrased into song. Most of my songs are referenced to Scripture. I compiled a Scriptural Index to make it easy to find a hymn or a line in a song that fits with a passage from the Bible. (Preachers will find this useful.) It is Biblical content that distinguishes a Christian song from any other song.

Sound Theology. 'Theology' is simply the synthesized thinking of Christians who know God and are saturated with an understanding of the Bible. They write these thoughts down in a systematic way ~ thoughts about the nature of God, sin and salvation, the Christian life, the world we live in, the present and the future. We all think theologically, whether we realise it or not. My hymns and songs try to reflect sound, biblical theology. Some of them wrestle with profound theological topics.

A glance through the 'Contents" pages will show the many theological categories that are covered in the range of my songs. I consciously aim to cover as many biblical and theological themes as possible. Many of my songs were written specifically to re-enforce a sermon on a biblical or theological theme, especially when I could not readily find a ready-made song for the occasion.

Vertical and Horizontal Singing. Most contemporary Christian songs sung in our churches are Vertical "Worship" songs. When we sing songs that address God in our Praise and Worship, we sing Vertical songs. Some of the Psalms vividly express this: e.g. 10, 17, 18, 34, 42, 51, 55 and many more.

The Horizontal dimension of Singing the Word is also found in the Psalms: e.g. 1, 2, 23, 24, 37, 66, 78, 91, 105 and many more. But very few contemporary Christian songs embrace this horizontal dimension. Yet this is the dimension that is stressed in the only two New Testament Scriptures that tell us how to sing in Church: Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16. The former is in the context of "Be filled with the Spirit" (I call this the Charismatic version!) The second is in the context of "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (The Reformed version!). They both emphasise that our singing should be sung "to one another", that is, horizontally.

Seriously, my passion is to see both "Spirit" and "Word" singing used in every church service, right across the breadth of our theological diversity.

Both Scriptures urge us to "speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs." These three terms reflect the wide range of musical genre we may use in Fellowship Singing. Ideally, every service should include singing from all three genre. I try to vary the genre of my own compositions. (I want to grow in this area, so I invite any Christian musician-composers with gifts in contemporary song genre writing to contact me with a view to possible collaboration.)

Horizontal songs are one of God's most effective means of teaching Scripture and Theology. During his last years, Moses preached a series of sermons aimed to entrenching God's Word in the hearts of the upcoming generation. Knowing that his sermons would easily be forgotten, God finally told him: "Write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me". (Deuteronomy 31:19)

Musical repetition embeds God's truth into our minds. People learn much of their theology from the songs they sing in church. The shallow lyrics of so many popular songs, sung over and over, lead to a shallow Christianity. Many lyrics say little of any significance.

This fuels my passion for Singing the Word. For songs that will embed God's Word and a healthy biblical theology, into the deep consciousness of the congregation. Songs that will form our lives to please Jesus Christ. That's a worthwhile passion!

Singable Songs. Because these songs are written to be sung together in Church, I try to make them easily singable. If a congregation or youth group which has never sung it before, cannot learn it in three attempts, then it has failed me meet my "Singability" criterion. I avoid using tunes that are complicated.

Many church pianists find it difficult to play some of the contemporary songs in today's compilations. Instead, electronic keyboards simply thump out the chord accompaniments written for guitars. Songs for 'Fellowship Singing' need simple music scores. Accomplished musicians can embellish these. Those who sing them should not have to squeeze many syllables into a few notes of music. Nor have long gaps between lines. The rhythm should be easy on the ear, and easy on the voice.

For these reasons, most of my songs are written to existing tunes that are, or have been, popular. Popular melodies are popular because they are catchy, and easy to sing. I use Christian hymn-tunes and secular song-tunes.

Some complain about the use of secular tunes, because they feel their worldly associations override the meaning of the sacred lyrics being sung. I defend my use of them by appealing to Scripture itself: David used the tunes of popular songs of his day when he wrote some of his Psalms (see the superscripts to Psalms 9, 22 and 56 for example ~ the tune "Do not destroy" was so good he wrote at least three psalms to this tune.) Luther, Wesley and Booth sometimes used secular tunes for their hymns. In time, the secular association is replaced by the sacred association. "Conversion" of tunes is as valid as conversion of sinners! As Cliff Richard asks: "Why should the devil have all the best music?"

An increasing number of my songs now have new tunes, composed by Hazel Hudson, a gifted musician living in the United Kingdom. In some cases I have written the tunes, and she has arranged and harmonised them. I am grateful to God for this collaboration. Seldom does one person have both the gift of lyric-writing and the gift of musical expertise. God planned His Church that we should need each other's gifts in order to serve Him with excellence (1 Corinthians 12).

A Wide Range of Themes. I share the apostolic passion for "declaring the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). So in my pastoral preaching I have shunned the temptation to ride a hobby-horse. I attempted, over a period of time, to cover all the major doctrines of the Bible, and expound a wide range of Scriptures, from both Old and New Testaments. Having adopted the pattern of "Integrated Worship" (see below), I often struggled to find a hymn that would mesh with the message I was preaching from God's Word. Usually I would find a new song forming in my mind, with words that underlined God's Word for that day. After crafting it, I would try it out on my patient congregation. In this way many of my songs were born, and usually survived the congregational test. The range of themes widened.

The Contents Index of 44 Themes is far, far wider in its scope than that of most contemporary song-compilations, and even most church hymnals. (It is based on, and expanded from, the Contents Index of my favourite hymn-book, Hymns for Today's Church, Hodder and Stoughton 1982, 1987). Just as the Scriptures cover the whole written revelation God has given us, so our singing must also embrace the breadth of this revelation. Most of the Topics have at least one hymn or song in this compilation. I warm to the challenge of writing a song on a theme that other songs do not address. I continually look for gaps to be filled with Christian song.

Reality and Relevance. These are goals in both my preaching and song-writing. I shy away from theoretical Christianity, for instance, saying or singing the deception that living the Christian Life is always happy, without worries. Some of my songs struggle with the real paradoxes and contradictions we find in following Jesus. After all, isn't that what many Psalms do? In doing this, I will use real, everyday language, avoiding sanctimonious cliches.

The themes must be relevant to today's world. In the songs that follow are themes of Hunger, Poverty, Racism, Xenophobia, Rainbow Nation democracy, Church and State relations, Guidance in decision-making. Some songs deal with contemporary issues in Cross-cultural Missions, Evangelising the Post-Modern mind-set, Labour-relations, Abortion, Persecution of Christians, Suffering, HIV-Aids, Abuse. I try to consciously resist re-hashing phrases that had meaning for a previous generation, but sound strange to contemporary ears.

Depth of Meaning in Lyrics. Superficial and trivial lyrics nauseate me. Some lyrics are pure nonsense, using meaningless metaphors, like the line that goes "It's living water we desire to flood our hearts with holy fire", (from "Looks like tonight the sky is heavy" by Martin Smith and Stuart Garrard.) and "Over the mountains and the sea Your river runs with love for me" (Ditto, Martin Smith (c) 1994 Curious Music). Yet millions sing these songs without realising that they are making fools of themselves. Such dumbing down fuels my passion to invest every line of each song with helpful meaning. I want to restore godly respect for the average Christian's intelligence.

God is a God of excellence, who deserves richness, fullness and depth of content. We are to sing in the Spirit and sing with the mind (1 Corinthians 14:15). I try to avoid cliches, outdated language, trivial expressions and superficial concepts.

Rhythm and Rhyme. I buck the modern trend of blank, rhymeless verse, that lacks consistent metrical rhythm. Rather I exert myself in the discipline of using rhyme and metre for most of my work. I do so because there is a deep inner satisfaction in singing rhyming lyrics to regular rhythms. These encourage the song to stick in the memory grooves of the mind. I find a Rhyming Dictionary and Thesaurus invaluable in finding the right words to match rhyme and rhythm.

Crafting a Song. I aim for excellence. Most of these songs are worked and re-worked for a long time before they are finalised in print in this compilation. And even these must always be open to improvement.

Crafting Song-lyrics is a skill that takes a lifetime of learning. It is seen in the search for words of poetic meaning. It is seen in the intention that the rhythm of the spoken sentence should be matched by the rhythm of the sung line. Trochaic rhythms, which start on the strong beat, do not go well with iambic music, which starts on the off-beat, and vice versa. I don't always succeed, but I do always try.

Wherever possible I try to use words in their natural word-order, and not in the convolutions that many song-writers tangle in as they search for rhyming lines. I try to avoid the mundane, and search for new ways and creative metaphors to express meaning. I am enthusiastic for appropriately fresh expressions.


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