"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:18-19)

"How do you pick the songs for Sunday worship?"

This question has come to me in a number of forms over the course of ministry. After all, it is my prerogative as Music Pastor to discern which songs we as a congregation will sing to God and to one another each Lord's Day. A few of the big filters include biblical fidelity, sing-ability and style. Beyond these there are also a number of covert considerations that influence song selection. Occasionally these characteristics are intentionally sought after, such as a specific theme (i.e., suffering, the Trinity, anticipation for Christ's return, etc). But even these biblically orthodox subjects aren't equal in every song. Some may accuse me of splitting hairs on this matter, but as one who is responsible for putting words into other people's mouths, these considerations strike me as far from flippant.

One significant difference that can advance or axe a song is its approach to describing God's love. The love of God is a central theme in much of Christian worship, so how could any song be disqualified if it speaks of such a truth? Simply put, by describing God's love devoid of its manifestation. One example among many possible songs is How He Loves by John Mark McMillan:

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of
These afflictions eclipsed by glory
I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me
Oh how He loves us so, Oh how He loves us, How He loves us so

Aside from some ambiguities, these lines do in fact praise God for His love. However, the problem (and great irony) is that it never gets around to answering how He loves. The author describes God's love ("love is like this") but does not display it ("love did this"). In this song God is jealous, but why? His affections are great, but how does He show them? He loves us so, but HOW so? (In fairness, the second verse gets a little closer with "Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes", but the ambiguity remains, and begs the question of what and how redemption is secured.)

Don't misunderstand me - poetry does have its place on this subject. After all, the hymn The Love of God uses poetic devices to help us picture God's love. What it doesn't do, however, is stop at similitudes. To do so would obscure God's love, not exalt it. Instead, it identifies a manifestation ("God gave His Son") which is the ultimate evidence of God's love. In this way, the evidence of love is so perfect that it becomes love's very definition.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)

In order to fully demonstrate the love of God, the apostle John includes the evidence of said love, not once but twice in the same statement! Namely, the sending of His only Son. It is an echo of Christ's own words (John 3:16, 15:13) and Paul's (Romans 5:8, 8:31ff, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 5:2). The apostles and Jesus Himself are in agreement that in order to fully encapsulate the love of God, one must arrive at the cross. Again, the evidence becomes the definition. Christ is the love of God.

Why then do so many songs avoid Christ on the cross when speaking of the love of God? I suspect it has much to do with the ever-decreasing acknowledgment of sin in the culture at large. Unfortunately, this has seeped into the church as well. Where there is no recognition of sin there is no confession of sin, and therefore no sacrifice needed for sin. If our songs avoid sin, before long our songs of God's love make little or no mention of Christ's sacrifice on behalf of sinners. Soon we're left singing of God's love as if it were innately known by all Christians, as if God had not acted by choosing a sinful people, redeeming a sinful people, and restoring a sinful people. But He has done all these things, and the best of the best worship songs have kept that central. They keep His love and its manifestation - Christ - inseparable.

Is this distinction the splitting of hairs? I sincerely hope not. A sampling of the songs we sing at ABEFC should confirm the priority we place on Christ getting the glory He deserves:

I Stand Amazed (How Marvelous)
The Love of God
In Christ Alone
O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
And Can It Be
How Deep the Father's Love For Us
Come Thou Fount
Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Glorious Christ
Here Is Love

His Mercy Is More is our next addition to this list and a reminder that God's love is much, much bigger than our sin. As it should, it affirms that He sent His Son as the payment, who gave His life as the cost for the debt we could not afford. Now to that we can heartily agree "oh how He loves!"

VERSE 1
What love could remember no wrongs we have done?
Omniscient, all-knowing, He counts not their sum
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

CHORUS
Praise the Lord! His mercy is more!
Stronger than darkness, new every morn
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

VERSE 2
What patience would wait as we constantly roam?
What Father so tender is calling us home?
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

(CHORUS)

VERSE 3
What riches of kindness He lavished on us
His blood was the payment, His life was the cost
We stood 'neath a debt we could never afford
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

(CHORUS)

Words & Music by Matt Boswell & Matt Papa © 2016 Messenger Hymns, Love Your Enemies Publishing (Admin. by: Music Services, Inc.)