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Archive for the ‘Hymns’ Category

At my son’s church recently, the words to this hymn were projected on the screen while the pianist played the tuned. I wanted to sing it, but the reflection of words and music while I held the cup was intense and instructive.

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
‘Tis the long-expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
By His Son, God now has spoken
Tis the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear him groaning,
Was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress;
Many hands were raised to wound him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on him their hope have built.

Thomas Kelly, Psalms and Hymns, 1802

The tune is wholly appropriate for the words: The Cyber Hymnal 6349. Stricken, smitten, and afflicted | Hymnary.org, a dirge tune if there ever was one. God made a most terrible event on a dark day (Matthew 27:45) into a glorious rescue mission (Acts 2:22-39).

“Here may view its nature rightly” struck me with considerable force. We play around with our little white lies and fleshly indulgences, but my sin caused the Savior’s cruel death. And then on the heels of this hard and convicting news is the strong hope and confidence we have in “Christ, the Rock of our salvation.”

Seeing how sinful, low, and helpless we are exalts the greatness of His mercy and grace all the more. We should dwell on the utter sinfulness of our sin only long enough to repent of it and see the height of salvation to which we run for refuge, comfort, and power for living.

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The following hymn caused me to think of several others, or at least phrases within them. In verse one of “Be Thou My Vision” it concludes “Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.” And of that presence of God I may say, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” Therefore, “Abide With Me” in the evening and night terrors, during the day, and death’s door. The hymn writers put word to our need for God’s presence in our lives for peace and really, sanity.

Some hymns fade and are forgotten for reasons of musicality. They just don’t have a memorable tune or the tune doesn’t go with the tone or meaning of the lyrics. (1) Other hymn lyrics don’t resound with the worshipers’ heart cries. I came across the following old hymn from 1820, by John Keble, that may have slightly stilted language. But as I read musingly, it gave me comfort and conviction. (2)

Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear,
It is not night if Thou be near;
Oh, may no earthborn cloud arise
To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes.


When the soft dews of kindly sleep
My wearied eyelids gently steep,
Be my last thought, how sweet to rest
Forever on my Savior’s breast.


Abide with me from morn till eve,
For without Thee I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh,
For without Thee I dare not die.


If some poor wand’ring child of Thine
Has spurned today the voice divine,
Now, Lord, the gracious work begin;
Let him no more lie down in sin.


Watch by the sick, enrich the poor
With blessings from Thy boundless store;
Be every mourner’s sleep tonight,
Like infants’ slumbers, pure and right.

Come near and bless us when we wake,
Ere through the world our way we take,
Till in the ocean of Thy love
We lose ourselves in Heav’n above. (4)

I am drawn in to the words by the calling upon God for peace and nearness at all times of day. It gives time of day detail to the plea of the hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour”. It causes me to want to add other verses that call on God’s presence in other daily activities like mealtime and work hours and evening reflection. The third verse requesting God to abide most poignantly reminds me of my need of Him whether to live or to die. I can do neither without Him. Verses four and five feel like the petitioner is pleading with God for the fallen brother in Christ, the sick, poor, and mourner just before retiring for the night. And then he prays for God to bless him in the coming day in verse six. It is a good reflection on our need and desire for God and the protection and peace of His presence.

  1. In my opinion, the tune commonly used for this hymn, Hursley, is well suited to the ideas conveyed. The only problem is that this long meter (8.8.8.8.) song is used used in another hymn I already knew, and several others besides.
  2. As I mused upon the effect this hymn had upon me, it caused me to consider what a hymn is for. Comfort, conviction, joy, thanksgiving (3), worship, and review and better recall of truth come to mind. All of these should be encapsulated in worship, but in the list I was thinking of worship in terms of attributing worth to God for His character and works. I think this probably should be a blog entry unto itself.
  3. Cool! A footnote within a footnote. I learned recently that there is no Hebrew equivalent of thanksgiving. Rather, the translators were interpreting the praise given to God for His benefits as thanking Him.
  4. Sources for understanding this sacred poem/hymn better:
  1. Sun of my soul, Thou Savior Dear
  2. Sun of My Soul, Thou Saviour Dear Hymn and Story : John Keble, 1792-1866 (christianmusicandhymns.com)
  3. Evening Poem by John Keble – Poem Hunter
  4. Sun of My Soul (hymntime.com)

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Listen closely! The heavenly messengers melodically announcing ‘High praise for the weightiness of the freshly arrived sovereign.’

You know that as “Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the Newborn King!” My interpretation of the excellent poetry of Charles Wesley is pedantic but also calls attention to the meaning of the phrase. This hymn of the season is my favorite. I like it so much because of its dense theology. There is nothing trivial or lightly thought out about it and it demands thought to understand which raises high praise for God’s work in Christ on our behalf.

It had been my intention to discuss the “dense theology” of this beloved hymn, which I will do at another time. This morning as I contemplated its meaning other praise came to my mind. It is not so dense in content but it is of some value I hope:

Oh, that more praise were lifted up
That more souls of salvation’s cup
Would drink and raise their voice in song
Harmonize with heavenly throng

For God is worthy of all praise
Loud shouts and quiet voice we raise
That more may know His holiness
And live for Him in righteousness

A God transcendent above all
Yet stoops to save us from the Fall
His Son in flesh to recue man
Christ’s death brought life, a gracious plan

Creating all was just a start
Sustaining it in every part
Reversing corruption of sin
Those who trust Him, He now calls kin

We see His goodness in this life
Not despite but in midst of strife
We by His Spirit overcome
Submit to His rule and kingdom

All things His power and beauty show
The heavens and all things that grow
Design complex and delicate
Ever studied, how intricate

His Word reveals all we must know
To serve Him well and in Him grow
His peace and joy will through us flow
The world His praise and glory show

All our worship to God should be
From a heart that has been set free
In spirit and truth ever praise
His name and works forever raise

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It is time for a seasonal entry. I start off with a little “bah-humbug”, but hang with me, because is is short.

I have long been disturbed by the a phrase in the third verse of the Advent hymn, “Joy to the World”:

“No more let sins and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground.”

As if we could prevent these problems or as if they will be quelled this side of His second advent. And yet, by the power of the Spirit, we can and should reduce sins (1 Corinthians 10:13), and that will reduce sorrow (Proverbs 13:15). But deceivers will go from bad to worse (2 Timothy 3:13) and the world problems will increase (Matthew 24:7-8). The post-millennial view (1) that things will improve until Christ’s return just does not fit Scripture (Matthew 24-25 and many others). Thorns, both literal and spiritual, will increase. (Isaiah 51:6, Jude 1:14-15)

So how do I sing this verse? In times past I have hummed this line, but I realized last evening that the majority of this hymn is about the Second Advent. Consider Psalm 98 from which Isaac Watts is said the have been inspired to write the hymn. It concludes, “For He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” (verse 9) Yes, we received our King with the Magi as vanguard, in our hearts individually as believers, and intermittently in various societies, but the level of fulfillment of His reign herein sung about occurs during the time of the Second Advent.

That being the case, I will sing this song with renewed and greater joy this season because celebration of the First Advent should always point to the Second.

“Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.” (2)

  1. 3 Views on the Millennial Kingdom | Christopher L. Scott3 Views on the Millennial Kingdom – Christopher L. Scott (christopherscottblog.com)
  2. Isaac Watts, 1739

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While preparing to lead two songs for Sunday worship, I was drawn to the words and odd tune*, by Western standards, of the first song, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”. The three verses translated and frequently used in English hymnbooks of the nine originally written by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius in the late 4th century focus on Christ’s eternality and the praise due to Him. My meditation focused on the first verse:

“Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!”

The concept of begotten of the Father is indeed a mystery. Mothers bear children and fathers beget children, but Christ was not created, so what does it mean? Afterall, this idea is used by the skeptics and cults to deny His divinity and eternality, both of which Scriptures clearly teach. I sought out commentary and interpretation but most importantly related Scripture passages. I discovered two ways in which Jesus Christ is “the only begotten” of the Father.

In the story about Abraham being commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac, God uses the term only son when He commands the act and after He prevents him.** As it says in Hebrews 11:17-18, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” (Hebrews 11:17-18 NASB1995) How was Isaac his only begotten son when he had an older son, Ishmael? Verse 18 gives the answer: “In Isaac…” In other words, Isaac had a special relationship with his father. We are brothers and sisters who are in Christ by faith in Him. Therefore, since Christ is our older brother (Hebrews 2:11), God the Father has many children also. But there is little doubt that Christ has a special relationship with the Father since He is the second person of the Godhead. So the first reason Christ is the only begotten is the uniqueness of His relationship to the Father.

Jesus says something in John 8:42 that has long bothered me because I didn’t know why He seemingly repeats Himself. Does He repeat for emphasis, because that was a cultural way of focusing the hearers’ attention, or because it really isn’t repetition? “Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.”” As I considered this turn of words, I considered that “proceeded forth” is a good definition for begotten. In eternity past, and therefore not marked by time, Jesus proceeded forth from the Father. This is not a moment of production but of introduction as God, being one in substance with the Father. Having “come from” God is the act of having “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7) I think that Jesus was declaring to these unbelieving Pharisees that He was both God and Man- God by way of “proceeded forth” and Man by way of “have come from”. The second way in which He is the only begotten of the Father is proceeding forth from the Father and revealing “His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father” when “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Jesus is Eternal God, revealed in the flesh. As “Alpha and Omega” He is the “Source” of all things and the “Ending” point of all that ever will be. To Him be praise and glory!

*It was written as plainsong, which means that it has no meter.

**Genesis 22

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Happy is fun. Happy is cheery. Happy makes friends. Happy is temporary. Happy is situational. Happy is temporal. I want to pursue joy, the kind given by the Spirit of God. Joy draws from things unseen. Joy exists in times of stress. Joy exists in confidence and repose of spirit. Joy heals the spirit and encourages others. Joy gives testimony to the presence and work of God.

But I experience joy in fits and starts at best. How do I get from here to there?

Peace with God, no condemnation in Christ Jesus, and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise am I. If ever a person had reason for joy in the midst of the added relative safety and security, then it would be me. But the nagging struggles and regrets with strained relationships, slipping health, tenuous finances, and undesired direction draw my attention.

I must plead for the grace of discipline to focus on those truths of excellence and good repute (Philippians 4:8).

“The joy of the Lord is my strength” Nehemiah 8:10) is a command which begins “Do not be grieved,…”. I need to take up this weapon of strength. It seems to me that joy, a fruit of the Spirit, is an ancillary accessory to the girding belt of truth in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:14). To state the case more plainly, focus on truth brings joy despite circumstances. And though commanded, joy cannot be manufactured as happiness may occasional be.

This command to be joyous must be placed in the context of the other commands like it. The command was given during a feast to God in which God commanded rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:14-15). There were other required assemblies (e.g. Deuteronomy 16:8) in which God called the people to solemn assemblies and holy convocations in which they were commanded to humble themselves (Leviticus 23:26-32). Sorrow and grieving over sin are necessary emotions and attitudes as a part of repentance.

But joy springs up from doing what is right after repentance (e.g. Nehemiah 8:17-18) or in gratitude for blessings (Deuteronomy 16:15). Paul, in a passage about upholding his ministry, lists many hardships contrasted with blessings. Among them is “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10). And in the next chapter he says that he is “overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” (7:4) And Paul commands, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) There is no contradiction in hardship and repentance for sin being mixed in with joy.

Why then do I still have fits and starts of joy? I think that a verse of the hymn, “Trust and Obey”, helps me here:

“But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
For the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey”*

When I seek my own way for whatever reason- fear, neglect, pride- I grieve the Holy Spirit who indwells me. He does not leave me, but He does allow me to feel the pain of distance from Him. And certainly His fruits are not being manifest in me going about my own way. I, we, are so self-oriented, that I fear we don’t even realize how much we proceed apart from Him.

So, joy is the fruit of the Spirit, a gift, a perspective on circumstances, a discipline, a strong weapon against temptation, a reaction to truth, and a strong testimony to God’s work in the midst of difficulty. May you and I pursue it by choosing God’s way over our own.**

*Written by John Henry Sammis, 1887.

**I have mulled over the subject of this blog entry for nearly a month. I feel that it is woefully incomplete and that I fall far short of what it says, but I feel a real need to encourage the pursuit of joy in God for the furtherance of my own spiritual life and yours, dear reader.

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“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. ” (Galatians 5:1)

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:12)

What is liberty? How do we obtain it? How do we live in (or by) it? Many lengthy treatises have been written on this subject but a simple, functional definition is frequently beyond our grasp. I began to think on liberty after considering a line in the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”, by Fredrick Faber: “There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.” In order to understand the meaning intended by this line you must understand kindness, justice, and liberty, not from a humanist standpoint, as we frequently do with liberty, but from God’s viewpoint.

A short article on Christian liberty I found online had a succinct discussion and concise conclusion: “The ultimate goal for the Christian should be to glorify God, edify fellow believers, and have a good reputation before unbelievers.” (https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-liberty.html) This sentence confirms what I had heard to be a simple statement of what Christian liberty (and therefore any real liberty) is: Liberty is the freedom to do what is right.

In order to stand firm in that liberty we need to stay out of two miry, hazardous ditches: legalism and license. We best keep our eyes fixed ahead on Jesus and the liberty trail He has blazed rather than fearing or obsessing over the ditches on either side of us. We must be aware of them, wary of them, and wise to them, but if we obey the voice of God as He guides us, we need not fret over them.

So how do I run the right wheel of liberty merrily along without being tracked into the icy waters of the ditch legalism? I love the hymn that says, “Free from the Law, oh, happy condition, Jesus hath bled and there is remission; Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall, Christ hath redeemed us once for all.” As the Scripture says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us…” (Galatians 3:13). That curse was death demanded by the righteousness of God proclaimed by the Law. In fact, “we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6) There it is! The Spirit gives us the power and freedom to do what is right. The statutes of the Law for the Christian were abolished in Christ, but not the moral law, the ten commandments. Instead, we are now enabled to do what is right- blessed liberty!

Many friends reading this blog will not have trouble with the aforementioned ditch. So how do I run a true course with the left wheel of liberty and avoid sliding off into the ditch license? Again I refer to this old hymn: “Children of God- oh, glorious calling, Surely His grace will keep us from falling; Passing from death to life at His call, Blessed salvation once for all.” I see three Scripture based answers to the license danger in this hymn verse: 1) His grace keeps us from falling (2 Corinthians 12:9), 2) The glory of our calling in Christ gives us purpose and worth to resist mere license (Romans 6:1-4), and 3) We are being fitted for heaven which brings great hope and focus (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). 

So the “standing firm” of the initial verse of this blog entry means walking in liberty without tracking or sliding into the ditches. When you “Consider yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:11) you guard on the one side and “So speak and so act as those judged by the law of liberty,” (James 2:12) in defense of the other. Tracking in liberty is not looking at the worrisome waves on either side, but keeping full view of the Savior out in front of us. And He even knows our frailty and extends a hand to catch us up when we call for help. (Matthew 14:28-33)

We extend this liberty to others in the natural realm through governance, community involvement, church unity, and family togetherness, so that they may come to see true liberty in the spiritual realm through the two great commandments: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40), and thus be saved to eternal joy and peace. Happy Independence Day!

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Frances Havergal wrote the following poem for New Year greeting cards in 1874, which later became a hymn:

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.

It is a time to reflect on the past, take stock of the present, and aspire to a better future. Much if not most of life is beyond our control, but she clearly pleads God’s provision, not for an easy time, but for a fruitful time in belief and service to God. I ask that my Christian brothers and sisters be blessed with just what this poem requests, “another year for Thee”.

There are other of my friends and readers who do not yet know God through His Son, Jesus Christ. I plead with God to choose you in this new year to be His child. Though He is the one who chooses, in some mysterious and yet simple way we must choose Him as He enables us to. The offer is there; knowledge of God and life eternal awaits. Trust Jesus to take away the guilt of your offenses against God by the sacrifice He made on the cross. It is not a complex choice, but it is a definite one. Do not reject Him for some misguided sense of fairness:

“Give us fairness,” said many voices.
“You don’t want fair,” he said,
“For then we would all be dead.”

Grace that will set you free,
Mercy to pardon, can’t you see?
You have no other choices.

And why would we all be dead? “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) There is the same sentence with the bad news, death, is the good news, eternal life. 

May your New Year be blessed with the knowledge of God and joy in serving Him.

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The sky was so blue you would have thought we were out West. The day was just barely long sleeves cool in the shade and balmy in the sun. With the low humidity rock friction was good. The wall pictured has very obvious ripple marks which were probably laid down during the Flood in loose sand, lithified then tipped. It is the type of climb that is challenging because of the small holds rather than the need for significant strength. It is not really that hard since it is on a positive slope, but you never quite feel like you are secure because the holds are small. I would not attempt to lead it for that reason. For me this has been a year of recovering from injury, so climbing at all is amazing and climbing decently is even better. I picked my way up this climb and completed it in one try. By contrast, on a later climb I struggled with strength moves up half way and then the holds became so small I didn’t even know what to reach for next. I was totally shut down. I find climbing to be both exhilarating and humbling. I always enjoy the conversation with my climbing partner, who is a growing, young believer in Christ, an avid outdoor enthusiast, and an intelligent engineer.

Noel Rap BF

Rappelling after a climb. Deep blue skies!

sunny mushroom2

In the moss of my backyard

The trees in my backyard usually sustain moss green until the heat and shade of June, but this year it has remained green even until late October. As I write it is raining hard yet again. The miniature scene above shows a recent mushroom popping up through the moss into a spot of sunlight even as leaves begin to fall off of the willow oak. I don’t remember seeing this type of mushroom before with the yellow rim. It was bright yellow when the fruiting body first began to open. I readily understand the attraction of bonsai scenes. The small detail of lush greenery is fascinating and beautiful. 

I am so thankful for eyes to see dark blue skies, ripple marks on rock, moss and mushrooms and all. The Creation is only a dim shadow of the beauty of our God and one day we who belong to Him will see Him.

Frederick Faber says it well in his hymn “My God How Wonderful Thou Art”:

“How beautiful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity!…

Only to sit and think of God—
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the name—
Earth has no higher bliss!.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on Thee!”

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains