All You Works of God Bless the Lord

This Thursday is the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  Although this is a civil occasion and not an observance on the Christian calendar, our church will be holding a Thanksgiving service on Wednesday night.  I really see a Thanksgiving service as a First Article celebration. For those of you who don’t speak catechism, this means that on Thanksgiving we give thanks to our heavenly Father who provides us with everything we need to support this body and life.  We should really be doing this everyday throughout the year, but this occasion provides a great opportunity to do so.

One of our hymns will be All You Works of God, Bless the Lord, a hymn that is new to my congregation but really catchy and fun to sing.  The hymn has the unique distinction of being  Ancient-Roman Catholic-Contemporary Lutheran- and Jamaican.  Perhaps that sentence requires some explanation. The text of the hymn is a paraphrase of the Song of the Three Young Men, which has often been included in the book of Daniel, as Daniel 3:26-90.  The authenticity of this text, along with other books called the “Deuterocanonical” books, or the “Apocryphal books”, have been called into question throughout history.  These writings include 1st and 2nd Macabees (the story of Hanukah), Tobias, and others.  They were included in the ancient Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible, but not Jerome’s Latin version of the bible called the Vulgate. At the reformation, these books were not considered to be Scripture by the Protestants and I would guess that many Protestants today do not even know they exist. These writings continue to be included in many Roman Catholic bibles to this day, and so we often think of them as “Roman Catholic”.  However, a few years ago, contemporary Lutheran hymn-writer named Stephen Starke wrote a paraphrase of part of the “Song of Three Young Men” called “All You Works of God Bless the Lord”.  I don’t know if Starke found the tune, but it was placed together with a Jamaican tune and now we have the Ancient-Roman Catholic-Contemporary Lutheran- Jamaican hymn.

Like I mentioned above, the text of the “Song of Three Young Men” is included in Daniel chapter 3 in the story often called “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” (although their proper Hebrew names were Mishael, Hananiah, and Azariah).  The three young men are thrown into a fire for refusing to bow down and worship an image of the king.  As they are thrown into the fire, Azariah prays a powerful prayer admitting that Israel deserves to be in exile for their sins.  He also prays to God to accept their sacrifice of a contrite heart since the temple has been destroyed.  The young men are thrown into the fire and God sends an angel to rescue them.  They then praise God, while still in the fire, with the following song:


Then the three, as out of one mouth, praised, glorified, and blessed, God in the furnace, saying,

29: Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

30: And blessed is thy glorious and holy name: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

31: Blessed art thou in the temple of thine holy glory: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.

32: Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

33: Blessed art thou on the glorious throne of thy kingdom: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.

34: Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven: and above all to be praised and glorified for ever.

35: O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise and exalt him above all for ever,

36: O ye heavens, bless ye the Lord : praise and exalt him above all for ever. 37: O ye angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

38: O all ye waters that be above the heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

39: O all ye powers of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

40: O ye sun and moon, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

41: O ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

42: O every shower and dew, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

43: O all ye winds, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever,

44: O ye fire and heat, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

45: O ye winter and summer, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

46: 0 ye dews and storms of snow, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

47: O ye nights and days, bless ye the Lord: bless and exalt him above all for ever.

48: O ye light and darkness, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

49: O ye ice and cold, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

50: O ye frost and snow, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

51: O ye lightnings and clouds, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

52: O let the earth bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

53: O ye mountains and little hills, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

54: O all ye things that grow in the earth, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

55: O ye mountains, bless ye the Lord: Praise and exalt him above all for ever.

56: O ye seas and rivers, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

57: O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

58: O all ye fowls of the air, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

59: O all ye beasts and cattle, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

60: O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

61: O Israel, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

62: O ye priests of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

63: O ye servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

64: O ye spirits and souls of the righteous, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

65: O ye holy and humble men of heart, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

66: O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever: far he hath delivered us from hell, and saved us from the hand of death, and delivered us out of the midst of the furnace and burning flame: even out of the midst of the fire hath he delivered us.

67: O give thanks unto the Lord, because he is gracious: for his mercy endureth for ever.

68: O all ye that worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, praise him, and give him thanks: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Whether or not the three young men ever spoke these words, it is a meaningful song of praise and thanksgiving.  They are overjoyed that even under captivity and persecution, God heard their prayer and delivered them from the burning flame. They call upon all creation to join them in their song.

Our paraphrase of the song for our Thanksgiving service really focuses on the part of the song that calls upon all creation to come and bless the Lord (verses 35-65).  It fits very well with this week, as we thank our God for creating all things and providing us with all we need.  Here’s the text of the hymn:


All you works of God, bless the Lord!

All you angels, now bless the Lord;

Come, you heavens and pow’rs that be,

Praise the Lord and His majesty:

Refrain (after each stanza)

Raise your voices high, praise and magnify,

All you works of God, bless the Lord!

Raise your voices high, praise and magnify,

All you works of God, bless the Lord!

Sing, you sun and you moon above,

Stars of heaven, now sing His love;

Dew and showers, you winds that blow,

Heat and fire, you ice and snow:

Frost of winter with song so cold,

Dews of summer, your song unfold;

Light and darkness, you day and night,

Clouds and thunder, you lightnings bright:

Hills and mountains, now sing His worth,

All you green things that grow on earth;

Seas and rivers, you springs and wells,

Beasts and cattle, you birds and whales:

Come, humanity, sing along,

Sing, you people of God, a song;

Priests and servants, your Lord now bless,

Join, you spirits and souls at rest:

Bless the Lord, all you pure of heart;

All you humble, His praise impart;

God the Father and Son adore,

Bless the Spirit forevermore!


Have a great thanksgiving.



A Story for the Lutheran Church

The Traditionalist Evangelical


Jason Smith grew up as a good evangelical. He accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior, became active in his church, and was an expert on determining God’s Will for his life.  The church where he began his relationship with Jesus and spent his formative years was Mission Hills Community Church, a large, family-friendly, relevant community of Jesus-followers. His years at this wonderful community of Jesus-followers had taught him what to expect in the evangelical church and how what they did reflected what they believed. He even got to know his dynamic, relevant pastor and learned a thing or two about useful leadership skills.

Jason finished high school and enrolled in a local community college, unsure of what exactly God had in store for his life.  He did discern, however, that God wanted him to move away from home and experience new things, so he moved to a neighboring state and enrolled at a four year university.  During his first week of classes, he looked up the nearest community church online and headed out for the worship experience on Sunday morning.

The local church was called Woodland Heights Community Church and from the outside it looked like any other relevant church. The building and parking lot were new, there was a cool church sign that made trendy graphics, and the people in the parking lot looked young and relevant.  Once inside he found the visitor’s desk, behind which sat a helpful woman in her 20’s, and inquired where the college-age worship experience was held.

“College-age worship experience? What kind of experience?”

“ The worship experience for young adults, college students, people like me.”

“What kind of experience are you looking for?”

“WORSHIP experience! The service!”

The young lady’s eyes lit up. “Oh, the Divine Service!” she said, “It’s held in the sanctuary starting in 10 minutes. You’re just in time.”

Jason thought to himself that this must have something to do with the current teaching series. Perhaps they were currently teaching on dealing with difficult people. Still, it was an odd way to treat a newcomer, especially since they had no way of knowing if he was yet a fully-devoted Christ- follower.

He began looking for this thing called a sanctuary. The idea of a sanctuary was really very quaint; perhaps it was a coffee-house venue based on the style of an old sanctuary, maybe with a little bit of antique stained glass right behind the barista.

He soon found the sanctuary venue and entered.  It was apparent to him from the moment he entered that this was not the main venue for the young adult crowd. There were people his age here, but there were also young families with children, teenagers, baby-boomers, and (gasp!) old people.   There was no coffee bar, and most of the people were already seated. He didn’t want to deal with the welcome desk again, so he decided to just have a seat and stick it out.

He had a seat and looked up at the stage. The screen at the front said, “Welcome to the Divine Service at Woodland Heights.”  Jason surmised that the earlier confusion at the desk was all because this service was called the divine service and it took place in the sanctuary venue.  He was very curious how the service was going to start, as the band was not set up on the stage, and there was only a keyboard at the front.

It turned out that all the music was to be led by the keyboard, using an old organ setting.  The songs themselves were filled with dead religious language and some of them sounded quite old.  The congregation sang them well enough, but only a few people raised their hands, and it seemed most of the people were not really worshipping at all.  The pastor’s message did contain practical, relevant teaching for his life, but the rest of the service was completely dead and religious.  The songs and prayers were in a form of Christianese he knew could never be authentic.

The next week Jason looked online for a more authentic community church, but he found that the area where he now lived was a stronghold of denominationalism.  These churches all had belief statements on their websites about their “doctrine”.  Some of them even adhered to creeds. He worshipped by himself for a few weeks, but finally decided to give Woodland Heights another chance.

This time he came prepared. He arrived at the church 30 minutes earlier, found the youth pastor, and asked about alternative worship options. The youth pastor proceeded to ask Jason to join him for the divine service, but Jason asked again for the alternative. The youth pastor then said something quite shocking, “Oh, we worship together as a Christian community here at Woodland Heights.”

After enduring another hour of dead worship, Jason found the head teaching pastor, Pastor Mike, and asked for some of his time. The pastor invited Jason to join his family for lunch and afterwards they came back to the pastor’s office, which he liked to call his study, and sat down to talk.

Pastor Mike knew exactly what Jason was feeling, “I’m guessing that worship here at Woodland Heights is unlike anything you’ve experience before”, he said.

“Yes, that’s right, but it’s not weird to me because it’s new, it’s weird to me because it’s old and dead and religious”.

“And what about worship here seems dead and religious to you?”

“Everything. Why do you use old songs that are so full of jargon? Why do you use old prayers? And where is the praise band? Were they fired? Are they on vacation?”

“Praise bands and improvised prayers,”, Pastor Mike replied, “are things that you would traditionally see in worship, but we at Woodland Heights made the decision two months ago to move to what we call more theological worship”

“Theological worship?”

“Yes, when you look at different churches and denominations, non-denominational community churches have been pretty good at attracting people, and we have nothing against that, but we’ve struggled with teaching our theology.  Looking at different denominations, we’ve decided that the Lutheran church does the best job of placing a high emphasis on their theology. Their worship experiences focus on teaching, from beginning to end.  Traditional evangelical music is inspiring, but it does not teach the faith. The new songs we’re doing at Woodland Heights do teach the faith from a biblical perspective.”

“But we’re not Lutheran” said Jason.

“No, and we don’t teach Lutheran doctrine. We do, however, use their style of doing church. We have freedom to do that.”

It was at this point that Jason noticed the book on the pastor’s desk; it was titled Lutheran style, evangelical substance.   He didn’t respond to Pastor Mike, but gave him a blank, confused stare.

Pastor Mike handed Jason a big blue book and said, “This is the songbook where we’ve been getting our worship songs.  CCLI and the Christian music industry are fine if you’re into that sort of thing, but we don’t see why we can’t use diverse resources.”

Jason took the big blue book home. It was called Lutheran Worship. It contained prayers (which all seemed to be in a stiff, archaic language), old songs, and these things called divine service settings. One of the service settings looks familiar, as he remembered singing a song called, “This is the Feast” in worship on Sunday. He also noticed that many of the pages had been torn out, some verses of songs had been crossed out, and an occasional word was removed with white-out and replaced with another.   He emailed Pastor Mike and asked about the deletions. Pastor Mike said in his reply that they remove songs that explicitly teach something false, but keep everything else. It seemed to Jason that the whole approach and philosophy behind this old blue book was the problem, not the occasional word and song that could be crossed out or deleted.

Things would get worse and worse at Woodland Heights over the next few years. This new way of doing church affected not only the Sunday morning worship experiences, but infiltrated every area of the congregation’s life. The youth group regularly attended Lutheran hymn festivals.  The Sunday school used materials from Concordia Publishing House, the Lutheran publisher.  Most people in the congregation listened to Lutheran radio. It seemed that the only real experience of Jesus was limited to the act of accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.  He even heard a youth talk about regularly receiving sacraments during her testimony after receiving Jesus into her heart.   The small group ministry was replaced by teaching and Vespers at the church.  The worship screen was taken down and they began singing hymns directly from their Lutheran Worship hymnals. An electronic organ was purchased and the pastor, who now called himself Pastor Anderson, started wearing vestments.

Despite all of this, the congregation complained. Some of them visited the local Lutheran church and discovered that they had a real pipe organ, used a new hymnal called Lutheran Service Book, had a choir that sat in the balcony, and even chanted the liturgy.  Jason went to this Lutheran church with friends from Woodland Heights one Sunday.  He sat through the service with patience, only mumbling something at the end about the uninteresting, uninspiring music and dead religious language.  Some Woodland Heights members began leaving for the Lutheran church. Some even joined the Anglican Church.

At the end of his four years of school, Jason felt called by God to return home and get back to Mission Hills. Things at Mission Hills had changed too, but as a larger church they were able to offer what they called a “traditional evangelical” service for people like him.  The worship band had to maneuver around the organ, and the worshippers had to read the song lyrics from a printed sheet, but at least it was better than Woodland Heights.

Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending

This week’s hymn study is not something we’re singing at our church this week, in fact, it’s not even in our hymn repertoire. However, last week my wife asked me when I was going to write about her favorite hymn, so this week I feel that I absolutely must write about the hymn, “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”.  It really is a wonderful hymn, and it fits perfectly into this time of the church year.

The hymn as we have it in Lutheran Service Book is biblically rich and describes the second coming of Christ. It describes both the unspeakable joy of the Christian and the indescribable sorrow of the unbeliever. Most of all, though, the hymn focuses on our savior, Jesus Christ.

Stanza 1

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,

Once for ev’ry sinner slain;

Thousand, thousand saints attending

Swell the triumph of His train:

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Christ the Lord returns to reign.

It is worth noting that the original second line reads, “Once for favored sinners slain”. The hymn’s author, Charles Wesley, favored Calvin’s idea of limited atonement, which is to say that Jesus only died for those whom God predestined to believe. The committee for Lutheran Service Book wisely changed the line to “Once for ev’ry sinner slain;” which is more in line with true Scriptural teaching, as it says in Romans 5:18-19

18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

This first stanza is a beautiful stanza of joy. I love the imagery of thousands of saints coming with Christ and singing “Alleluia” as He returns.

Stanza 2

Ev’ry eye shall now behold Him

Robed in glorious majesty;

Those who set at naught and sold Him,

Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,

Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,

Shall their true Messiah see.

These first two stanzas are clearly based on teaching from Revelation 1:7

7Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

Throughout the Scriptures, the coming Day of the Lord is described as something that will be horrifying for the wicked. Malachi chapter 4 describes it this way,

1“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

Amos 5 puts it this way

8Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why would you have the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, and not light,
19 as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

For the wicked, the coming of the Lord is something to fear, but for those who are made righteous by Christ (see the Romans passage above) the day will be the greatest  day of joy, as the next two stanzas will show.

Stanza 3

Those dear tokens of His passion

Still His dazzling body bears,

Cause of endless exultation

To His ransomed worshippers.

With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture,

Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Does Jesus’ body still bear the marks of His passion (his betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and death) even after the resurrection? It was those marks of His passion that convinced Thomas, as it says in John 20

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Not only does Jesus’ body retain the marks of the crucifixion, but He is praised in the worship of heaven in Revelation as the one who was slain. From Revelation 5:

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

We will gaze with rapture on those scars, knowing that the Lamb has redeemed us to be His people forever.

Stanza 4

Yea, amen, let all adore Thee,

High on Thine eternal throne;

Savior, take the pow’r and glory,

Claim the kingdom for Thine own.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou shalt reign, and Thou alone!

We will dwell forever in the kingdom of our Savior and join in the worship of heaven. Revelation 5 continues with these words,

11Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!