Tag Archives: music

A Song: “Before All Things (Colossians 1:15-20)”

Our church is enjoying a sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. At the start of the series, it was suggested that the musicians in our midst might want to compose new songs based on the letter. I immediately thought of the “hymn” in Colossians 1:15-20 and decided I’d like to put it to music. This task has proven difficult however, since the passage doesn’t follow the rhythms or rhymes of English poetry, despite being full of other poetic features.

This week I meditated on the passage again (in Greek and English) until I could more or less say it by memory (in English). On Wednesday some musical lines finally started to come, but I wasn’t very impressed. Thursday morning my wife recalled and played Andrew Peterson’s fine arrangement of this passage (“All Things Together“). Hearing Peterson further opened my musical streams and also gave me the idea of beginning each verse with questions. Finally better music started to come, and that day I composed most of this song.

After a couple more days of adaptations and valuable feedback from my family, I am content with the result. Today–the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection–my family and I recorded the song. Special thanks to my daughters for sharing their pleasant voices, which made the song so much better, and to my wife for willingly overseeing lights and camera.

I do not pretend this is great music, but I am happy that it meets my original goals of sticking closely to the biblical text and yet being singable by a congregation. I envision a soloist singing the questions at the start of each verse, with the congregation responding. The rest of each verse could be either sung by the soloist or, with a little practice, by the entire congregation. The chorus and bridge are simple for all to sing.

In writing this song I tried to follow the text of Colossians as closely as possible (using the ESV translation), with minor adjustments to ease the rhythm and retain clarity. I also tried to follow the original structure of this “hymn,” which has two stanzas (1:15-16 and 1:18b-20–the two verses of my song) tied together by several transitional lines (1:17-18a–the chorus of my song). There is an “extra” line in the second stanza of the song that breaks the rhythm–an exclamation that Jesus is preeminent (first) not only in the original creation, but also in the new creation. I saved that line for the bridge of my song.

Here is this passage in Greek. This note was written by me in June 2014, when I first became fascinated with the literary structure of this passage. I knew very little Greek at the time, but I shared it on Facebook with this comment: “Sunday school thoughts: Here, from today’s CLP lesson, is the central ‘Christ poem,’ Colossians 1:15-20–in Greek! Even those of us who don’t know Greek can see something of the poetry of Christ’s firstborn status both as creator and as re-creator.”

Bible students may recall that this passage is sometimes called a “Christ hymn”; it is often praised for its “high Christology.” While it is true that this passage describes Jesus in terms fitting for an anointed king, the word “Christ” itself is conspicuously missing from the passage and its immediate context. Instead, we find the language of sonship: “the Father… delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:12-13). This sonship language ties directly into the firstborn imagery in the hymn.

These observations explain the answers I provided to the opening questions in each verse. Who is the One whom the song discusses? “Jesus, God’s own Son”; “Jesus, the Son of God.” 

Here are the lyrics to the song:


BEFORE ALL THINGS
(Colossians 1:15-20)

Verse 1:
Who is the image of the invisible God?
Jesus, God’s own Son
Who is the firstborn of all creation?
Jesus, God’s own Son

For by him all things were created,
In heaven and on earth,
Visible and invisible.

Whether thrones, dominions, rulers
Or authorities
All were created through him and for him.

Chorus A:
And he is before all things
He is before all things
And all things in him hold together
He is before all things
He is before all things
And he is the head of the body, the church.

Verse 2:
Who is the beginning?
Jesus, the Son of God
Who is the firstborn from the dead?
Jesus, the Son of God

For in him all the fullness
Of God was pleased to dwell
And reconcile through him all to him

By the blood of his cross
Making peace with all
All whether on earth or in heaven.

(Chorus A)

Bridge:
He’s the firstborn of all creation
The firstborn of all creation
That in all things he might be first

And the firstborn from the dead
The firstborn from the dead
That in all things he might be first

You’re the firstborn of all creation
The firstborn of all creation
That in all things you might be first

And you’re the firstborn from the dead
The firstborn from the dead
That in all things you might be first

Chorus B: (2x)
And you are before all things
You are before all things
And all things in you hold together
You are before all things
You are before all things
And you are the head of the body, the church.

You are the head of the body—You’re first!

Optional ending: (Repeat as desired)
Jesus, you are first
In all things you are first
In all things you hold first place of all

Jesus, you are first
We worship you as first
We worship you as first over all

Copyright April 9, 2020 by Dwight Gingrich. To be freely used for nonprofit uses only by the church of Jesus. All other rights reserved.


Is there a passage of Scripture that you have wished was set to music? Do you have any feedback on my efforts here? You may share your thoughts in the comments below.


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Easter Graces in Atlanta

Today was a busy, grace-filled day. Tonight, as darkness settles onto our neighborhood, I feel tired but satisfied. This was truly the Lord’s Day.

This past week was not all easy. We had some difficult conversations with our dear church teammates. Yes, it is possible to hurt people you deeply love. I have done so; have you? I am thankful that, as recipients of God’s grace, we can each give the grace that we each so desperately need. Then yesterday was a difficult day for me. Emotionally drained, I found my mind did not want to focus on the writing assignments before me. Let’s just say it was not my most productive day (though I did enjoy some good times at the piano).

But today.

Today was a day that was better than I deserve. (Aren’t all?) Tomorrow will be another battle. I will need fresh grace. But today was a day where the grace was heaped onto our plates, impossible to miss, sweet to the taste. Let me recount a few of the sweetest morsels.

Today was our turn to host church. The spring Georgia weather has been amazing lately, so we swept the freshly-fallen tree blossoms off the concrete pad just over the stream, and gathered for church in our backyard.

I would love to share a picture of the group that gathered with us today. But it is important to me to honor people’s privacy. So you’ll have to look at me and trust me that this was not just a solo piano session.

The gathering spot was delightful, with birds and stream blending with our voices and sunlight dappling the sanctuary. The blend of friends who gathered was also delightful—if a little raucous at times. Our family of five was there. So was the Smucker family of five. Then about another dozen joined us. Our international student friend was here. So were several adults from a house just down our street—some for the worship time and some for the meal. And so were a whole passel of children from two different houses on our street. (That was the raucous part. The fact that our “sanctuary” was just next to the “gymnasium”—a trampoline—didn’t help. The day’s bouncing started about an hour before our stated “start time,” which didn’t ease setup. But I reminded my wife that Rich Mullins would have been delighted.) At one point during our morning worship Zonya looked around and counted 10 white, 11 black, and one Asian present. Not exactly representative of ratios in our neighborhood, but so much better than if we had each gone our separate ways today.

We sang with piano, we prayed “popcorn praises” (great for children), we read from the Gospels the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we sang a cappella (revealing a lovely singing voice brought by a first-time visiting neighbor), Steve shocked the children by making the “body” of one of his sons “disappear” from a card-table “tomb,” we sang some more, and we marveled over the 1 Corinthians 15 promise of our own resurrection. One person present expressed how glad he was to be celebrating his first Easter. Others learned to answer “Jesus rose from the dead” rather than “we look for Easter eggs” when asked “What is Easter all about?” Some had their hearts strengthened as they identified all too well with Peter while singing “He’s Alive!” (with guitar this time) and then sharing in the Lord’s Table.

Okay, here’s one more, since the only face you can see is Steve’s. Why can’t you see anyone else’s face? Because they are looking for Jesus’ body. They can’t see that, either. That’s because “Jesus” slipped out from under the table and is hiding inside the fireplace. (Note the gymnasium in the upper left corner.)

Lunch was delicious (lovely ham, Dearest!), if a bit of a zoo, what with refilling several hundred cups of tea and lemonade and water—“No, I want tea and lemonade together, with ice”—for about a thousand demanding children who were fighting for turns on the trampoline (or ignoring turns completely) and riding bikes up and down the drive and along the street. But how lovely to include several neighbors whose children have often enjoyed our backyard, but who had not yet been inside our house!

Shortly after lunch several unfamiliar young men appeared out on the street (we were still in the backyard), calling something out to us and apparently looking for, or expecting, trouble. First they ran away, but the second time this happened several of us men wandered out front in their direction. We managed to calm some mutual fears, shake hands, exchange names, and send the hungry visitors off peacefully with plates of leftover lunch. More on this later.

As outdoor cleanup ended and various guests left, my international student friend and I stole off to the piano studio for a little, where we practiced our duet (Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 8) that we are preparing for my upcoming piano recital. He also shared pictures and videos of a “piano club” concert that happened in his home country yesterday—a special event that he helped plan months ago, but then ended up missing thanks to now being in school on the other side of the globe. I find it fascinating and delightful how an English literature major and a math major born poles apart can find such common ground in their shared enjoyment of music. I am already starting to dread the day when our friend will leave Atlanta for the next destination in his educational journey.

Then the house was quiet. Just our family. I settled onto the sofa to relax, and my two youngest girls settled with me—one on top and the other beside, reading us “a scary story—but not too scary” about Horton hearing a Who. (Because “a person’s a person, no matter how small,” including the little ones we help parent in our backyard while trying to share in the Lord’s Table, right?)

But we had not even finished the story when our oldest bounded in with news of an Easter egg hunt that the neighbor children were about to head off to. Well… Easter isn’t really about egg hunts, but we had already shared the real meaning of Easter with these children, so… And they had come to our house, and now if they seemed to be inviting us to join them in their fun…? So I took the girls to go see what was happening. Turns out our van was needed to help carry all the children (10 total) who wanted to go to a nearby park for the hunt. Time there brought more friendship-building conversation with adult neighbors while our children, like a bunch of Energizer Easter bunnies, expended yet more energy.

I’ll skip over the bit about helping my wife accomplish her project of building a birthday gift for one of our daughters to say that part way through that activity yet another neighbor called across the yards to invite our daughters to join her son with his bubble machine. Our oldest drove her bike through the bubbles a few times then headed in the opposite direction to spend more time with the older church-and-Easter-egg-hunt friends from earlier in the day. Our two youngest enjoyed the comparative quiet of chasing bubbles with only one young friend.

Meanwhile, Zonya and I headed a couple houses further down our street to visit yet another house. There was a big family party there, and one of the children from this morning’s church gathering had invited us to drop in there, since it was his house.

That was a strange moment for Zonya and me. It was only one year ago that Zonya and the girls first joined me in our new house. We had not even officially moved in yet, and we knew almost no neighbors. Now, one year later, we were leaving two of our daughters at one neighbor’s house, the other daughter was hanging out with other neighbor friends at another house, and we were walking childless to follow up on an invitation to a third house, all on our block.

Two parts of that little visit stand out. Two, our hostess neighbor insisted on loading our hands with delicious food from their party—chicken and ribs done on her backyard grill, baked beans, macaroni salad, and cake. Mmm. And one, several men mentioned that they had seen our interaction with the young “trouble-makers” on the street earlier that afternoon. It turns out the same young men had been called out to their party, too, prior to meeting us. I was roundly praised (“Are you a pastor?”) for not doing what one of them said he would have done if he hadn’t been wearing a cast, and for defusing the situation by sending them off with food. More on this later.

We returned to the bubble-bursting daughters and invited this neighbor and her son to accomplish the oft-mentioned goal of letting her son jump on our trampoline. This brought more neighbor conversation opportunities for my wife and a chance for me to do a little more trampoline-side Jesus-shaped child training and encouraging. Chances like this aren’t hard to find these days, for some reason.

As Zonya walked this neighbor home, they bumped into a neighbor who lives between us. (She grew up there and is truly a gracious person to have next door.) Turns out this neighbor, too, had witnessed the food giveaway that happened on the street in front of her house. Wow. And to think that it never once crossed my mind that anyone might be watching. What might have happened if I had blown it? God, help us to be faithful in the little opportunities to live like Jesus! (More on this later?)

By this time day was dying in the west, so we retreated into the house that God bought and enjoyed the supper provided by the grandma of one of our regular backyard bikers and jumpers.

If I’m counting correctly, we visited in the yards and/or houses of four households on our block today. People from two of those households showed up at our own place as we hosted church. Plus, we exchanged friendly greetings as we passed a couple more houses on our block. And gave food to several passers-by. Oh, and I forgot the lady biking past this morning who stopped in just as church was about to begin to see if I could fill her bike tire. Yet another opportunity to share names and invite a new friend to join us for church sometime.

If you’ve read this far, you may feel as tired as I do.

I thank God for all the dear people with whom we shared this day. We feel both welcome and useful among our neighbors. I thank God for placing us here in Atlanta, here in West Lake, and right here on this block. I thank God for a day full of opportunities to offer our voices and hands for Jesus. And I thank him for a day when his grace is as sweet as the strawberry shortcake my wife served us last week.

Please pray for us. Tomorrow will be another battle. I have battled discouragement from time to time and expect to face this giant again. My wife needs God’s grace in her heart and on her lips. Our whole church team needs your prayers. But Christ dealt Satan his deathblow on that first Easter weekend, right? Satan is a wounded lion, roaring in anger as he goes down. Christ has the upper hand. May his hand be strong in West Lake! And may every day be the Lord’s Day this week, in your heart and mine.

May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Thank you for listening. If you are a neighbor, or if you are a friend far away, feel free to leave a message in the comments below. We thank God for you.


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Poll: Which Is the Best Hymnal for Mennonites?

Someone gave our little Followers of Jesus Atlanta Church a generous gift for buying hymnals. We are very thankful! Now we have the delightful pleasure of selecting the best hymnal(s) to buy. And you can help us by voting.

So far, the following three-part approach seems wise, enabling us to move forward without forgetting our past:

  1. Choose one book that helps us connect with people in our neighborhood, which is about 95% African American.
  2. Choose another book that reflects our Anabaptist roots.
  3. Use CCLI (a church copyright license service) to legally copy additional songs.

Goal number three requires little discussion. And we have found a hymnal that achieves goal number one superbly: The African American Heritage Hymnal—which, incidentally, includes many classic hymns familiar to most American evangelicals. We are gradually collecting some very affordable used copies.

AAHH

But finding a solution for an Anabaptist hymnal is proving more tricky. Of the four or so hymn books that we and our teammates the Smuckers grew up using most, only one is something that any of us really likes. And it (Great Hymns of the Faith, compiled by John W. Peterson) is not even an Anabaptist hymnal!

(I’m trying to be kind and avoid getting too specific about which hymnals we are less satisfied with, though I can say a couple things. First, we’d rather not have an editor changing too many original lyrics. We’d rather learn classic hymns in their classic versions, leaving editorial discussions as needed for the time of singing, as teachable moments. And second, we find some hymnals have more compelling musical arrangements than others.)

We are not absolutely set on finding a hymnal that is specifically Anabaptist. But there would be some advantages to choosing a hymnal that, for example, teaches our children the best of the hymns that their parents grew up singing. And I would consider it a good thing if this hymnal would intentionally include some of the best of our (admittedly comparatively sparse) Anabaptist hymnody.

Perhaps there is an Anabaptist hymnal that we did not grow up with that would achieve this goal well? Or a non-Anabaptist hymnal that is so strong we should consider it?

Thus, this poll. What do you think is the best hymnal for Mennonites? (Or Anabaptists, if you prefer.) I’ll pre-load this poll widget with some options. Then you can help in four ways:

  1. Vote. (You can vote for more than one if you think two are tie.)
  2. Add more options to the poll.
  3. Defend your preferences in the comments below.
  4. Forward this post to your most musical and insightful friends.

Sorry, I won’t promise that we will go with the winner of this poll. And there are no prizes if we select your suggestion—besides getting to sing from your favorite hymnal when you come visit!

So come on, all ye Mennonites. This is no time to eschew voting. Ya’ll cast your ballots for best hymnal now!

 

Note: Since I can’t embed links in the poll widget, here are Amazon links for each of the hymnals I’ve pre-loaded:

The Mennonite Hymnal

Hymnal: A Worship Book

Church Hymnal

Hymns of the Church

Zion’s Praises

Christian Hymnal

The Christian Hymnary

Church and Sunday School Hymnal


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