Jesus First!

Randy sent me his sermon thesis summed up in just two sentences: “Jesus must be first; nothing may come before Him.”  So when it came to songs, the first thing that popped in my head were songs that encourage us to follow and walk with Him.  There’s no better way to follow Him!

1. Not a Step Without Jesus

It’s interesting to read the lyrics of a song and try and put yourself in the shoes of the lyricist.  What was Ira Brister going through when he wrote this song?  The line that strikes me the most when thinking of his life is “though I often am tempted to leave Him.”  It could be easy for us to think ‘why would someone ever leave Jesus?’  But I don’t think that’s what he was saying.  When we choose to sin, we are straying from Jesus’ will for our lives.  In that sense, we leave Him often.  But praise God He’s always waiting for our return.

2. Stepping in the Light

This hymn always has just a little bit of contention attached to it.  I have heard some people make the argument (as well as read on the Internet) that they’re not comfortable with the opening phrase of “trying to walk in the steps of the Savior.”  They argue the the word “trying” is too passive.  However, I would argue that Eliza Hewitt was just being honest by using the word “trying,” indicating that she may not always be successful, as none of us are.  Not only that, take into account that she had a spinal malady and was a shut-in for much of her life, that puts a whole new meaning into “trying to walk.”  I’m so glad she didn’t just use her time as a shut-in to sit idly but instead wrote words to this and numerous other songs.

3. Each Step I Take

Would you believe this song was written by a nineteen year old?  That is shocking both musically and lyrically.  Lyrically, the words show someone with great faith at such a young age.  From the standpoint of the music, this song is one of the most harmonically rich songs in our hymnal.  Most songs we sing tend to stick to the diatonic scale (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So La Ti), limiting to just 7 notes.  But this song makes great use of the chromatic scale (Do, Do sharp, Re, Re sharp, etc…), which expands the choices to 12 notes.  That provides for a rich sound.  See if you can hear those chromatic steps.  (Hint: listen to the melody on the phrases “loving hand” and “higher ground.”)

4. Follow Me

When we’re feeling down or sorry for ourselves, one of the best ways we can put things in perspective is by looking at what others have gone through.  There is no shortage of people who have suffered much greater than I have.  That is exactly what this song accomplishes.  In verse 1, Ira Stanphill finds himself complaining how he is being treated by others.  Jesus answers by reminding Him how He was mistreated on the road to Calvary. (Just like the last song used the chromatic scale, listen for it in this song in the alto part.)

5. Lord, Take Control

This is one of those songs that you better think hard BEFORE you sing it.  “My heart, my mind, my body, my soul, I give to You–take control!”  If we’re honest, we don’t always like to relinquish control of all those things.  If that’s the case for you, let this song be a prayer that you would learn how to relinquish control to Him each and every day.

6. In Christ Alone

It’s hard to believe this song is over 15 years old when it’s still in the top 20 most used songs in the church in the United States.  This song fits our theme of “Jesus First!” because if we place our hope in Christ alone, not only will He be first, He will be our only hope.  (As He should be!)

7. El Shaddai

What truly motivates someone to put God first is when we can see how He puts us first.  This song tells the story of how God had a plan from the very beginning, saving Abraham’s son Isaac, leading the Israelites out of Egpyt, all the way to the death of Jesus.  When we realize that, our response is to “praise and lift You high, El Shaddai.”

8. Who Will Follow Jesus?

Remember how I said earlier that Eliza Hewitt wrote numerous songs in her lifetime?  (She was the one who wrote “Stepping in the Light.”)  Here is another one of her works!  What a great message for us to leave with: “I am on the Lord’s side; Master, here am I.”

In Him,
Aaron Shotts



Not a Step Without Jesus (1,2,3)

Stepping in the Light (1,2,3)


Each Step I Take (1,3)

Follow Me (1,2,3)


Lord, Take Control

In Christ Alone (1,2,3,4)



El Shaddai

Who Will Follow Jesus? (1,2)

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I’m Weak, He’s Strong (6-10-2018)

One of the best ways we can spread Christianity is to share our weaknesses.  This can be counter-intuitive to us as humans.  We like to put on our mask, pretend we don’t have problems or sin in our life, and show that side of us to the world.  But when we share our struggles with others, that allows others to see how Christ has changed our lives.  I hope our songs this week remind you where your strength comes from, despite your weakness.

1. One Step at a Time

I just recently learned this song, but it’s actually an old standard.  It’s a peppy song, so it’s a great start for our worship this week.  It reminds us that while we have struggles in this life, if we take one step at a time with God, our faith and hope grow stronger!

2. Cornerstone

It’s hard to believe that this song is 7 years old now.  It’s currently in the top 100 songs being sung in churches across America.  Its message of Christ being the cornerstone of our lives is a wonderful reminder of His strength in our lives.

3. When My Love to Christ Grows Weak

When it comes to songs that confess our weakness, this song is the epitome of that sentiment.  That’s exactly the message that John Wreford conveys in his lyrics to this song.  I love how his imagery takes us to a time when Christ felt weak–in the garden of Gethsemane.  What a wonderful reminder that Christ struggled just as we did.

4. Jesus Loves Me

I love seeing the look on the faces of children when we sing this song in church.  They can be off in their own little world, but they light up when they hear this one.  We adults would do well to follow their example.  How much would our lives change if we remembered each and every day how much He loves us?

5. You Are My All in All

Dennis Jernigan’s music has been sung widely in churches since the early 1990’s.  This one is by far his most popular.  The message has resonated with people around the world.  The verses contrast our weakness with Christ’s strength in many different ways.  It also shows the brilliance of Dennis’ songwriting that the verses can be sung as a counterpart with the chorus.

6. Hear Me When I Call

It’s always a joy to lead Tillit Teddlie songs at congregations in Texas.  I almost always have someone come up to me afterward and talk about how they knew him, or were even baptized by him.  Brother Teddlie wrote this song in 1962 when he was 77 years old.  (He was still several years from the end of his life as he lived to the age 102!)  In this song, we can hear a man who recognized his need for God due to his own weaknesses.

7. My God is Singing Over Me

By request, we’ll be singing a song that we learned at our Wednesday night singing last week.  I hope it’s a blessing to you to know that even though we are weak, God “is a mighty savior.  He will take delight in you with gladness.  With his love, he will calm all your fears.  He will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17)

In Him,
Aaron Shotts



One Step at a Time



When My Love to Christ Grows Weak


Jesus Loves Me

You Are My All in All



Hear Me When I Call

My God is Singing Over Me

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Stand! (4-22-2018)

This Sunday’s sermon is titled “Will You Stand in the Breach?”  Picking a theme for our songs was a no-brainer!  There are many songs that have “stand” in the title or feature the word stand, although there are less contemporary songs that fit this theme than you might think.  (Our “newest” song in this set list was written in 1994.)  As always, in order to fit more songs, we’ll have a couple great medleys.

1. Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus

This is a great anthem to begin our worship.  The lyrics were inspired by Dudley Tyng, a preacher who spoke out against slavery.  On his deathbed, his words were “Stand up for Jesus, and tell my brethren of the ministry to stand up for Jesus.”  George Duffield attended Dudley’s funeral and was deeply stirred by his dying sentiment.  He wrote these words as a poem, and they were later put to music.

2. Standing on the Promises

We can flow right into this song, as it is written in the same key as the last.  Much like the last song, this song was also born out of someone being on their death bed.  Russell Kelso Carter had been resisting the advice of physicians, and broke down to the point of nearly dying.  He knew he had not been living his life for the Lord, and felt reluctant to ask for healing.  After some reflection, he did pray for healing and offered his life in service to God.  He was healed and went about the Lord’s work, including writing this song.

3. I Stand Amazed

This song only mentions the word “stand” once, but the song has reasons to “stand amazed” throughout.  We will sing the first verse and the fourth verse, which reminds us of what Jesus went through at Calvary.  That will serve as a great segue into our next song.

4. I Stand in Awe

This song (which can be sung in the same key as the last song) continues the thought of being amazed by standing in awe.  This is actually a great lead-in to communion when you use the lesser known second verse: “You are beautiful beyond description, yet God crushed You for my sin.  In agony and deep affliction, cut off that I might enter in.  Who can grasp such tender compassion, who can fathom this mercy so free?  You are beautiful beyond description, Lamb of God, who died for me.”

5. Where No One Stands Alone

All of our songs focus on our standing with God.  This is the one song that really puts the focus on standing with our brothers and sisters.  That’s an important concept to remember.  Life is hard sometimes, and there are times when we don’t feel strong enough to stand on our own, or we may feel alone as if we’re the only one standing.  This song is a great reminder that no one stands alone!

6. Firm Foundation

Nancy Gordon and Jamie Harvill had come close to having a song they wrote together recorded by a Nashville artist.  When it ended up not getting recorded, they called each other and admitted they had placed their hope in a song and not in God.  The conversation that followed is what turned into “Firm Foundation.”

7. Take My Hand, Precious Lord

Traditionally, this song gets associated with funerals.  It is true that Thomas Dorsey wrote these words after losing his wife and infant son.  However, I hate for this song to be put in such a box.  The lyrics that talk about life being almost gone and near the end can be taken in many different ways.  At times, we all feel beaten down in life like we can’t stand anymore, but all we have to do is ask God to take our hand and help us stand.  (Interesting side note: I just discovered that the tune to this song is a derivative of “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone.”  All these years singing this song and I never made that association!)

8. Hilltops of Glory

We continue to stand in faith in this life in hopes of the place we will stand in the future: Hilltops of Gloryland!

In Him,
Aaron Shotts



Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus (1,3,4)

Standing on the Promises (3,4)


I Stand Amazed (1,4)

I Stand in Awe


Where No One Stands Alone (1)

Firm Foundation

SCRIPTURE READING – Ezekiel 22:29-30


Take My Hand, Precious Lord

Hilltops of Glory (1)

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Silence in Worship (3-26-2017)

When it comes to worship leading, the area that seems to be my strong point is song selection.  There are numerous factors that go into picking just the right worship set.  1) Picking songs that fit together thematically.  2) Picking songs that people will be excited to sing.  (“God’s Wonderful People” could fit a sermon on family perfectly, but I probably wouldn’t use it.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say they love to sing that song!)  3) Picking a good mix of fast and slow, old and new.  4) Arranging these songs in an order that makes sense emotionally, typically beginning and ending with uptempo songs.

Why do I bring all this up?  Well, this week I’m NOT following all of my criteria.  Our sermon this week is on silence.  Silence is something that many times we tend to avoid in society.  We turn the TV on to fall asleep to.  We put our earbuds in during a walk/jog outside.  But silence can be a good thing.  To accentuate that point, I thought it was necessary for me to stick to the theme.  As you can imagine, most songs that are related to this topic tend to have a more slow, reflective feel.  In fact, some of our songs will have moments of silence in them!

1. Master the Tempest is Raging

The words to this song can certainly have dual meaning.  Is it telling the story of Jesus calming the stormy sea?  Or is it a metaphor for Jesus calming the “storms” in our life?  I’d say the answer is both, and I think Mary Baker (the lyricist) would agree.  Mary lost her brother when she was only 42 years old, so I imagine he couldn’t have been too much older.  It was devastating to her.  Writing the words to this song helped her find peace through Christ.

2. Be Still and Know

Our scripture reading for our sermon includes Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  This song helps reinforce that verse in song.

3. The Lord is in His Holy Temple

This song also comes directly from scripture.  Habakkuk 2:20, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

4. Christ, We Do All Adore Thee

It has been 3 years since I led this song on a Sunday morning.  The reason I so rarely lead it is not because I don’t like it; on the contrary, I like the song, but I feel that we don’t do the song justice.  The words provide such a deep level of adoration for God; paired with the music, it should truly cause our hearts to bow before Him.  The music even calls for a moment of silence before the last line of the song, which is why this came to mind for our theme this week.

5. Night, with Ebon Pinion

If there was ever a time when Christ felt alone, it must have been the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was such a difficult time for Him that an angel came to strengthen Him.  This song poetically depicts the scene in phrases that some may have difficulty understanding.  (What exactly is ebon pinion?)  This video explains.

6. Tis Midnight, and On Olive’s Brow

One of my favorite communion hymns, this song also talks about Jesus being alone in the garden.  It amazes me that musically this song is written in a major key, yet it is still able to depict such sorrow.

7. Highly Exalted

After the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was led to be crucified.  Scripture even refers to the silence in this part of His life.  Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

8. Have You Seen Jesus My Lord?

There is something about being out in nature that causes us to be silent and enjoy the view around us.  That was the imagery that came to mind with this song.  Imagine standing by the ocean, listening to the waves crash.  When we stop long enough in moments like that to be silent, we will no doubt experience God.

9. Take Time to Be Holy

The second verse of this song references how important it is to take time to be silent with God.  The world is rushing around, but we should spend time alone with God to keep us from feeling rushed with the rest of the world.

10. Still

I’d say there’s not much for me to say on this song.  I think the title alone says it all!

11. My God is Singing Over Me

One more reason to be silent and listen: God is singing over you!  What is He saying?  What is His plan for your life?  Be sure to take the time to listen as you go about your week.

In Him,
Aaron Shotts

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Scripture Songs – Part 2 (3-12-2017)

Last August, we had a Sunday where our entire worship set consisted of songs that had lyrics directly from scripture.  This Sunday, our sermon is on the importance of reading our Bible.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to do all scripture songs again.  We’re not even going to have to repeat any from last August–yes, there are that many scripture songs!  I hope the words to these songs stay in your heart, thus helping you to remember scripture while having some wonderful music to sing it with.

1. Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah (Psalm 148)

What better place is there to seek words out of the Bible for music than the book of Psalms?  William Kirkpatrick took Psalm 148 and set it to a triumphant tune that we’re still singing over 100 years later.  The refrain to this song is taken from the end of Psalm 148, which could suggest that William only meant for it to be sung after singing all three verses.

2. Unto Thee, O Lord (Psalm 25:1-7)

The Maranatha Music Company has given us many scripture songs and many songs that we would probably categorize as “devotional” songs.  During the 70’s and 80’s, they were churning out a slew of songs that became popular, such as “Humble Thyself,” “Glorify Thy Name,” “Seek Ye First,” and “I Love You, Lord,” to name a few.  This one, written by Charles Monroe, takes the words of King David in Psalm 25 and creates an upbeat, yet earnest plea to God for His direction.

3. As the Deer (Psalm 42:1)

This song was also published by Maranatha Music.  Technically, only the first line of the song is taken directly from scripture.  The sentiment of the entire song still expresses a desire for God, just as Psalm 42 does.  Martin Nystrom wrote this song on the 19th day of a fast, so there’s no doubt his soul was desiring to be filled with God during that time.

4. As the Deer Thirsts (Psalm 42:1-2,4)

It’s amazing how the same words can have such a different feel simply by changing the music.  While the last song was in a major key, this one is in minor.  As a result, when the song reaches the chorus, the words “And I pour out my soul” reflect a yearning that is deep and profound.  This is no doubt what Dennis Jernigan was feeling when he wrote it, as he has experienced deep and profound yearning for God in his life.  You can read his story here.

5. Send Your Light (Psalm 43)

Sometimes when we pray to God, our emotions are all over the map.  That would appear to be the case in Psalm 43.  In one breath he is praising God, but in the next, He is admitting how downcast he feels.  The composer of this song, Gary Pendergrass, went through a similar roller coaster of emotion.  His son was in ICU in a coma.  It was during that time that he finally understood the emotions of the Psalmist and was able to complete this song.  (Happy ending to the story: his son came out of the coma and is doing well!)

6. Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

This song, by Randy Gill, is another four part song.  Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this song originated within our brotherhood, just as the last song did.  We do quite well at songs with four parts given that we sing four part harmony.  The only downside is that it can be difficult to reflect on the words to the parts you’re not singing.  I hope you’ll use these videos as a chance to really take a look at the words to each part and see how beautifully they depict scripture.

7. Thy Word (Psalm 119:105)

Our scripture reading before the lesson includes this verse, so it felt fitting to sing this song before our sermon.  With words by Amy Grant and music by Michael W. Smith, this is arguably their most popular collaboration.

8. Had It Not Been the Lord (Psalm 124)

If I had to pick a favorite from our set list this week, it would probably be this one.  (I always have trouble deciding favorites.)  It’s always eye opening to stop and think about where our lives would be without God.  It’s even more sobering to think of the times when I was ready to give up, but He wouldn’t give up on me.  Keep that in mind as you sing the words “Blessed be the Lord who would not give us up!”  It will give it a whole new meaning for you personally.

9. I Will Call Upon the Lord (Psalm 18:3,46)

We end with these words of King David put to music by Michael O’Shields.  May all these songs cause you to call on the Lord through scripture and song.  Keep reading your Bible, keep singing, and tune in to God!

In Him,
Aaron Shotts

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CR Sunday (2-19-2017)

Celebrate Recovery is a ministry that is near and dear to my heart.  I’ve seen the way it changes lives, including my own.  Celebrate Recovery Rockwall is celebrating its 4 year anniversary on February 24.  To promote the event, we’re having “CR Sunday” to coincide.  All our songs this week are some of our favorites to sing on Friday nights at our meetings.

1. My Life is in You, Lord

Believe it or not, this has been our opening song every Friday for the last 4 years at CR.  It reminds us that our identity is rooted in Him!

2. One Thing Remains

A common misconception about CR is that it is mainly for people who deal with drugs and alcohol.  The truth is that less than one-third of those who attend deal with those issues.  CR is for any type of hurt, habit, or hang-up.  And the wonderful news is that God’s love can heal ANY problem in this life because it “never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out.”

3. Cornerstone

The last song ends on an unresolved chord, and for good reason.  (If God’s love never runs out, then it makes sense to leave the listener hanging.)  But for those who don’t like ending with that feeling, we’ll flow right into this song using the same key.  Because God’s love never fails us, why shouldn’t we make Him the Cornerstone of our lives?

4. He Gave His Life

This is another song which reminds us of God’s love.  I John 3:16 states “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”  Gary Miller put that thought to music and came up with this beautiful song.  It’s become one of my favorites.

5. A Mighty Fortress

Christy Nockels, co-author of this song, had this to say about writing it: “The idea and the heart around “A Mighty Fortress” is just that…to renew our minds of who God is and then respond with all eyes and hearts set on Him. We live in a cold, unpredictable world, but it is wonderfully alarming and freeing to sing Truth when all around us is crumbling. This song proclaims that we have protection and take refuge in God and His kingdom is an unshakable kingdom, one in which we will someday reign victorious because of Christ!”

6. Shout Hallelujah

Just as we open with the song every week at CR, we close with one of two songs (alternated every other week).  One of them is this one, written by Randy Gill.  We come to Celebrate Recovery to do exactly that: celebrate!  We celebrate not what we have done, but what God has done in our lives.

7. All to Us

Isaiah 28:16 states, “Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’”  This verse helped inspire this anthem written for the church.

8. At the Name of Jesus

As I mentioned earlier, we rotate our closing song between “Shout Hallelujah” and this song, also written by Randy Gill.  It’s always fun when visitors come to CR and hear acapella singing for the first time.  This song demonstrates great harmony, response and echo between the men and women, and solid Biblical truth, of course.

In Him,
Aaron Shotts

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Clean, Whole, Healed (2-12-2017)

If we’re honest with ourselves, we can look at our lives and see what a mess we make of them.  But then God comes in and does something wonderful.  He cleans house, makes us whole again, and heals us.  Not only that, He arms us with the armor of God to help protect us in this battle.  What an awesome, loving God!

1. Soldiers of Christ Arise

Anyone who knows me is aware that most of my favorite songs are contemporary songs.  This old hymn, however, would make my list.  Charles Wesley wrote the words to this song  around 1740.  Because of its military references and call to arms, it became known as “The Christian bugle blast.”  That would be a fitting title, given the tenors musically sound a call to arms in the first line of the song!

2. Heaven Came Down

John W. Peterson was listening to a man tell about his conversion and becoming a Christian.  The man stated that “It seemed like heaven came down and glory filled my soul.”  John knew it would make a great song.  Clearly he was right, as we’re still singing the song over 50 years later.

3. He Touched Me

Bill Gaither was traveling around with a colleague who was speaking at evangelism meetings.  Bill’s friend noted how much the word “touch” was in the Gospel.  Jesus touched people to heal them, as well as touching people’s lives.  Bill took that word and ran with it.

4. Give Thanks

This is the last song in this medley of 3 songs.  After reflecting on how our lives have changed and how He has touched our lives, what else can we do but say thanks?  We’ll be singing an arrangement of the song which includes the line “And now let the sick say ‘I am whole.'”

5. Create in Me a Clean Heart

One of the best places to go for lyrics is scripture.  Keith Green took David’s words from Psalm 51 and created a wonderful lament that the church has sung worldwide.

6. You Alone Can Rescue

“Who, O Lord, could save themselves, their own soul could heal?”  The answer, of course, is no one!  This song has become a favorite of mine, partially because of the songwriting team.  It was written by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin, the duo who wrote “10,000 Reasons.”

7. Our God

We continue our emphasis on healing with this song.  If God can create light in the darkness, if He can change water into wine, if He can make beauty out of ashes, what can He do in your life?

8. Flawless

What happens after God makes us clean, whole, and healed?  We become flawless!  We sing this song as a hybrid of the old hymn “At the Cross (Alas and Did My Savior Bleed)” with the chorus to the MercyMe song “Flawless.”

9. The Battle Belongs to the Lord

As we leave this place reminded of how God restores us, and how He equips us, let’s not forget that this battle is His!

In Him,
Aaron Shotts

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