What an assignment—to highlight 10 songs from LUYH, the still-new collection of more than 900 psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs! “LUYH” is the affectionate acronym for Lift Up Your Hearts, pronounced like the last two syllables of “Hallelujah.” This songbook, edited by Joyce Borger with Martin Tel and John Witvliet, was published in 2013 by and for the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America (see “Lift Up Your Hearts,” April 2013). Indeed, the publication of LUYH is reason for grateful praise to God.
But how to choose just 10 songs? It’s a bit like asking a parent which is his or her favorite child. I have been blessed by so many songs! Do I concentrate on the differences between this new songbook and the previous hymnal? Choose some old and some new? Focus on those that are currently popular?
In the end, I selected songs arising from Reformed roots, mostly from Christian Reformed and Reformed Church contributors, to celebrate these gifts offered in LUYH to the larger body of Christ. Some may be new to Banner readers, though they are loved in many congregations in and beyond the CRC and RCA. Also included are a few samples from resources increasingly available online, including hymn stories, worship elements, music resources, and more.
“The First Place” #15
A good first song is one based on Colossians 1:15-20 that exalts Christ, the firstborn of all creation who deserves first place in the life of every Christian. The soaring refrain starts out with the phrase “Every inch of this universe belongs to you, O Christ,” bringing to mind the often-quoted words of Abraham Kuyper, the famous Dutch theologian, writer, and statesman who wrote that “every inch” of creation belongs to Christ. Kuyper was very influential in the founding of what eventually became the CRC (see “Conscious Christianity,” Aug. 2014).
Song writer Matthew Westerholm—a pastor, composer, pianist, and educator—is currently working on a Ph.D. in Christian worship and is pastor for worship and music at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
Web resources include a recording, ideas for pairing with “Beautiful Savior,” FlexScores (see sidebar), and this prayer for illumination:
your majesty surpasses all
that your disciples could have imagined.
Your goodness exceeds all that we think or understand.
As your Word is proclaimed today,
open our minds and hearts
to perceive your majesty and goodness more fully
and to respond in joy. Amen.
—Worship Sourcebook, second edition
“We Are People on a Journey” #142
Gregg DeMey, teaching pastor at Elmhurst (Ill.) CRC, wrote about his song: “[It] grew out of a series of retreats called ‘The Deeper Journey,’ a ministry of the Great Lakes Region of the Christian Reformed Church. The text names the increasingly profound ways in which disciples are invited to follow in the footsteps of Jesus: from the road of service; to taking up the cross and relinquishing sin; to receiving the gifts of water and Word, wine and bread; to the final journey to our true country and homeland.”
Web resources include Scripture and confessional references, prayers, a recording, and FlexScores.
“Come, Holy Ghost” #232
Bruce Benedict, chaplain of worship music at Hope College in Holland, Mich., composed a new tune to his own adaptation of this classic 9th-century text still found in many hymnals (see also LUYH 231). “I wrote this hymn,” he said, “while visiting my parents’ home in Virginia shortly after Easter in 2005. I was thumbing through their Methodist hymnal and starting working through the text ‘Come Holy Ghost’ as a potential anthem for Pentecost Sunday coming up. Satisfied with the tune I had written, I shared it with one of my worship leaders at Redeemer Presbyterian (Indianapolis) where I was leading music at the time. Ray Mills quickly composed a chorus to fit my verses. . . . It was so well received that it eventually became a congregational favorite. The song has now gone on to be enjoyed by a number of congregations, colleges, and seminaries in the United States and abroad.”
Web resources include several worship resources, a recording, and FlexScores.
“Be Gracious to Me, Lord” (Psalm 57) #355
Larry Visser composed a tender, lyrical melody for this prayer of lament and hope. The psalm is followed by an optional prayer for times of natural disaster. Since 1999, Larry Visser has been minister of music and organist at LaGrave Avenue CRC in downtown Grand Rapids, where he also regularly plays recitals and leads hymn festivals. His organ and choral compositions are published with GIA Publications and Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc.
Web resources include this reflection on Heidelberg Catechism question and answer 1: “Only when God’s children know that ‘he watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation’ can they sing ‘sleep in peace . . .’ for they know that ‘God’s love shall never cease’” (stanza 2).
“Greet Now the Swiftly Changing Year” #400
This is the only text I’ve chosen that was also in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal. While the tune chosen for 1987 was good, this new tune by Alfred Fedak just sparkles with joy, matching the call to “Rejoice! Rejoice! With thanks embrace another year of grace.”
Al Fedak was a member of the committee that produced Sing! A New Creation—the first bidenominational song collection for the CRC and RCA published by Faith Alive in 2001. A graduate of Hope College, Fedak has been minister of music at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Capitol Hill in Albany, New York, for many years. He has more than 200 choral and organ works in print.
Web resources for this song include FlexScores as well as this reflection: “In the passage of time, the child of God lives with expectancy—for God to renew them and for God to lead them in obedience (Our Song of Hope, stanza 9). Even though time passes and years end swiftly, God is eternally faithful. And so God’s children testify using the words of ‘Our World Belongs to God,’ paragraph 1: ‘As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world—which some seek to control, and others view with despair—we declare with joy and trust: Our world belongs to God!’”
“We Will Extol You, God and King” (Psalm 145) #562
Like #15 and so many contemporary songs, the content of these stanzas is brought home in a memorable refrain, this time responding to God’s call to pass on our faith from generation to generation. I thrill to hear faculty and students joining their voices in this song at Calvin College chapel services. This song was a winner in the 2007 hymn contest for the 150th anniversary of the CRC. It was composed by Greg Scheer, minister of worship at Church of the Servant, Grand Rapids, Mich., and composer of hundreds of songs and arrangements, many published by major publishers.
Web resources include prayers and Scriptural and confessional reflections as well as FlexScores.
“Kyrie”/“Lord, Have Mercy” #633
This simple call-and-response setting of an ancient prayer of confession and lament dates all the way back to the psalms (51:1; 57:1) and to the cries of those seeking healing from Jesus (Matt. 9:27; Luke 17:13). The Greek text is still sung throughout the world. This setting was composed by retired RCA pastor Kathleen Hart Brumm, who has written many hymn texts and children’s songs. It has become a favorite prayer of confession in the bilingual English/Spanish service in my own congregation, with this translation by Calvin Seminary student Roberto (Tito) Venegas:
Kyrie. Kyrie. Señor, ten piedad. Señor, ten piedad.
Christe. Christe. Cristo, ten piedad. Cristo, ten piedad.
Kyrie. Kyrie. Señor, ten piedad. Señor, ten piedad.
Kyrie. Kyrie. Eleison. Eleison.
Web resources include this prayer of confession by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.:
Gracious God, it’s always the same sins. We have sinned the same way over and over, losing our temper, forgetting your grace, silencing our conscience. Like every addict, we have a habit. But you, gracious God, are our higher power, and we need your power this very day, this very hour. Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy upon us. Amen.
“O God, We Kneel Before Your Throne” #680
Composed for the 125th anniversary of Calvin College and Seminary, this song is based on Ephesians 3:14-21. It first appeared as an anthem for choir and congregation with brass and timpani accompaniment. Author Ruth van Baak Griffioen and composer Roy Hopp are both Calvin alumni. Hopp, composer of many choral compositions and hymn tunes, directs the Calvin Seminary Choir. A performance of this song by the Modesto (Calif.) CRC choir and congregation is available at tinyurl.com/ModestoCRC.
Web resources include a recording and a summary of the sermon preached on this text at the anniversary service by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., then president of Calvin Theological Seminary.
“My Only Comfort” #781
Both the treasured question and answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism and the beloved early American tune RESIGNATION come together in this setting by Marlene Veenstra, a member of and former secretary at First CRC, Sioux Center, Iowa. With the help of other members at her church—Dordt College music professors Karen De Mol on the text and Dale Grotenhuis on the harmony—she prepared this poetic rendering so that people could sing this treasured confession communally. This setting became loved in her home church, started to spread, and was also published in Reformed Worship (June 2004).
Web resources include background notes on the Heidelberg Catechism and FlexScores.
“Abana in Heaven” #911
This setting of the Lord’s Prayer is sung by Arabic-speaking Christians throughout the Middle East. A Christian Reformed pastor on a tour visited a Palestinian orphanage for boys in Bethlehem and heard them singing this setting from memory before going to bed. He was so moved he told me about it, but it wasn’t until later that I was able to get a copy of the music from an Egyptian hymnal, which came to us through Anne Zaki. Zaki and her husband, Naji Umran, are Christian Reformed missionaries in Egypt. When singing it at a recent Calvin Worship Symposium, a woman expressed through tears that this was the first time she had ever heard the Arabic language except in a negative context on the news.
Sing this prayer as a gift from and an intercession for our brothers and sisters in Christ in a suffering part of the world. I have been unable to track down any information about the composer from Lebanon. (Note the song number, a coincidental but poignant reminder of a terrible day in 2001.)
Web resources include a recording and FlexScores.
There you have my list. Another month, there might have been different choices, perhaps my favorite songs from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, or my top 10 songs composed since the 1987 Psalter Hymnal—that would also have been interesting.
As you explore LUYH, remember that when we sing these songs, we join our voices with the church of all times and places, united as brothers and sisters in Christ, giving praise to our God who created us to sing.
Online Resources for Songs in LUYH
There is a growing treasure trove of resources available online for pastors, musicians, worship planners and leaders, and anyone interested in exploring the songs in LUYH.
The easiest way to access the information for these 10 songs (and all others in LUYH) is at liftupyourheartshymnal.org. Once there, click on the Songs tab. Then click on the song title or type the name of the hymn in the search box. This takes you to hymnary.org, (an amazing go-to source for stories and information on thousands of other hymns as well.) All but one of the resources there—stories, bios, prayers, reflections, recordings, and more—are available without cost. The exception is “FlexScores,” an extremely helpful resource that offers the opportunity to purchase and print instrumental parts, in any key you choose, to match the instruments you use in your church.
The LUYH website, liftupyourheartshymnal.org, also contains other interesting information regarding the hymnal including hymn stories, FAQs, comparison charts for previous hymnals and ALUYH, permission and copyright information, and more.
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