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Archive for the ‘Sunday Hymns’ Category

Women have contributed some of the greatest hymns of the Church.  In our circles, many would be able to name Fanny J. Crosby as a writer of many familiar hymns—and rightly so. Look at this short list of some of her songs that are still sung in churches that sing hymns:

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

Blessed Assurance

A Wonderful Savior

I Am Thine, O Lord

Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home

Safe In the Arms of Jesus

Tell Me the Story of Jesus

To God Be the Glory

But there are many lesser-known women who have given God’s people great hymns.  One of my favorite hymns since my college years is The Sands of Time, a hymn written by Anne Ross Cousin.  

Mrs. Cousin was born in 1824 in Scotland as the only child of Dr. David Cordell, who had served at the Battle of Waterloo.  She married a Presbyterian minister named William Cousin, had six children with him, and wrote many hymns to be used in the services conducted by her husband.

The Sands of Time was written in 1854 and, according to Mrs. Cousin, was inspired by the dying words of Samuel Rutherford, one of the highest regarded and prolific religious figures in Scotland during the early 19th century. The epitaph on his tomb includes the words “Acquainted with Immanuel’s song.”  Cousin composed a poem of nineteen stanzas around the idea of Immanuel’s land, using this prophetic name for Jesus as the central motif.  The lyrics were set to the music of a French tune by Chretien D’Urhan and arranged by Edward Rimbault in 1867 into the hymn, usually with only four or five verses, with which we are familiar.

Here is a beautiful rendition of the song on Youtube you will enjoy hearing:

 

The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of Heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for—the fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

O Christ, He is the fountain, the deep, sweet well of love!
The streams of earth I’ve tasted more deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

The King there in His beauty, without a veil is seen:
It were a well spent journey, though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army, doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory—glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

With mercy and with judgment my web of time He wove,
And aye, the dews of sorrow were lustered with His love;
I’ll bless the hand that guided, I’ll bless the heart that planned
When throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

O I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved’s mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”
I stand upon His merit—I know no other stand,
Not even where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

If you would like to read all nineteen verses of the original poem, you can find it at this site.

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Harding acapellaI was thinking today about the promotional video that I saw at Camp Deer Run back in 1965. Then, just as today, all of the Christian colleges sent recruiters to camps to plant the seeds for later enrollment in the campers.  I actually never went to camp as a camper, but during the summers of my junior and senior years of high school,  I worked as a counselor for the ten-year-old boys at camp—so the college recruiters were very interested in me.

The tagline for the Harding promotional then was “Harding Sings.”  I don’t think that would play well today, but then, it worked—at least on me.  I’ll never forget the first day in chapel at Harding when Dr. Ken Davis led the 1200 students in morning hymns.

I had grown up in big churches and had sung in high school choir, but this singing experience was instantly transforming!  We sang in chapel, we sang at evening devotionals around the Lily Pond, we sang as we traveled, we sang at club meetings—we sang every song in the songbook—literally!

But occasionally, the Harding A Capella Chorus would sing in chapel or hold an on-campus concert, and these concerts lifted your soul.  Of all the choir pieces, hymns, and spirituals that they sang, this was by far my favorite.

You’ll recognize it as the Prayer of St. Francis, although he did not have anything to do with writing it. The words first appear in this form in the 20th century.  It has been recorded and sung in myriad versions and melodies.  I have loved it in the following version composed by Michael Janrick Rivera, however, and although it is not a professional recording, I thought you might enjoy hearing it also, sung by the Harding Honors Choir in 2009.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVlfHuoGFAI

Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.

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O store gudThe chorus was probably the most popular extra-curricular activity during my high school years at Fort Worth Christian.  Almost every student was in chorus, although only 40 could perform at any one time.

One of the reasons so many were in chorus was because we did lots of short trips to churches to present programs. We would present our program in area churches every Wednesday night and often on Sunday nights!  During the intermission in our program, the president of the school would speak about the advantages of Christian education and then pass the collection plate. I suspect what the students really liked was that when the bus returned to the school in the evening, we would all hold hands and sing Bless Be the Tie—a great time to hold hands with your new girlfriend!

At the conclusion of almost all of our programs, we would take requests from the audience.. We had a menu of around fifty hymns and songs that we were prepared to sing upon request.  A few of the songs on the menu were ALWAYS selected, such as My God and I, There Is A Balm in Gilead, and Just A Closer Walk With Thee, but I suspect that the one most often selected was How Great Thou Art.

That was the early 60s.  On April 17, 2013, George Beverly Shea died at the age of 104. He was the one who popularized How Great Thou Art in the United States in the early 50s, when he sang it as a theme for the Billy Graham Crusades.

But while he may be the single person most associated with this hymn, the hymn itself has as many people and diverse stories connected with it as it has versions and verses.

The original hymn was composed by Carl Gustav Boberg in Sweden in 1885 . O Store Gud originally had nine verses. One version of its origin talks about walking in nature, getting caught in a storm, and then watching the storm pass and thinking about the greatness of God.

Another version is that it was a paraphrase of Psalm 8 which was used in the underground church in Sweden during a time of persecution of Baptists and Mission Friends in the late 1800s.

I don’t see any reason why there can’t be a version where both of these hold true.

The hymn was first published in Sweden, but then traveled to Germany where it was translated into Wie Gross Bist Du or identified by the first words Du Grosser Gott, and as in Sweden became very popular.

From Germany it went to Russia. The Russian version is what a British Methodist missionary Stuart K Hines heard on a mission trip in Ukraine in 1931, who then translated, perhaps better said, paraphrased the meaning of the German/Russian translation into English, into what we today know as How Great Thou Art.

Hines also felt free to add new verses to the song. The story of the third verse goes like this according to one source:

It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine, this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.

 

The story of the fourth verse is equally as moving, although occurring seventeen years later. Hines was working among Russian refugees in England after World War II. In one particular camp where they only found two professing Christians, one of them told him this story:

One man to whom they were ministering told them an amazing story: he had been separated from his wife at the very end of the war, and had not seen her since. At the time they were separated, his wife was a Christian, but he was not, but he had since been converted. His deep desire was to find his wife so they could at last share their faith together. But he told the Hines that he did not think he would ever see his wife on earth again. Instead he was longing for the day when they would meet in heaven, and could share in the Life Eternal there. These words again inspired Hine, and they became the basis for his fourth and final verse to ‘How Great Thou Art’:

I first remember singing the song in the woods surrounding  Camp Deer Run in East Texas, but later in many beautiful natural settings around the world; I’ve sung the third verse in communion settings—quietly, reverently—and I’ve stood up to sing the fourth verse loudly with joyful anticipation of the resurrection.

It took Swedish Christians, German Christians, Russian Christians, and British Christians to give us today the song we love—a great lesson in community—a great lesson about God.

For God so loved the world . . . .

 

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Peter Paul And Mary  1965I was driving home from Oklahoma last night and listening to my Peter, Paul and Mary playlist, and in one of their medleys they sang We Shall Overcome. Of course, they have a history with that song as do many of us who lived during the turbulent 60s. Even today, listening to it stirs deep, sometimes unnamed emotions in me like very few songs.

The origin of the song is disputed.  For many years the root of the song was attributed to Charles Albert Tindley’s gospel song I’ll Overcome Someday , first published in 1901. Tindley was a well-known pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and wrote over forty other published gospel songs. He is best remembered for his very quotable lyrics such as these from I’ll Overcome Someday:

The world is one great battlefield
With forces all arrayed.
If in my heart I do not yield,
I’ll overcome some day

If you accept this starting point, then there is evidence that the song—or a version of it became popular quite early among labor union workers, but disappeared from the gospel world.

Other strong evidence points to Louise Shropshire’s gospel hymn If My Jesus Wills as the original version. She was an African American Baptist choir director who apparently knew personally some key African American artists in the civil rights movement.

The simplicity of both the lyrics and the melody—as well as the emotional context that continues to make it a song of protest and of hope—certainly come down to us today from the protest singers of the late 50s and early 60s.

What you may not know is the President Lyndon B. Johnson is also credited with extending the impact of this gospel hymn when he used the phrase “we shall overcome” in his address to Congress on March 15, 1965, after the nation had seen the pictures of attacks of civil rights demonstrators during the Selma to Montgomery marches.

But if you associate the song with any one historical figure from that time, you probably have never forgotten how Martin Luther King used the hymn to encourage and rally those who would stand up with him.

On Sunday, March 31, 1968, just hours before his assassination, King quoted the lyrics of We Shall Overcome in his final sermon in Memphis.  His words from his famous sermon delivered at Temple Israel in Hollywood, California, will give you the sense of how he used these words:

We shall overcome. We shall overcome. Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right; “no lie can live forever”. We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right; “truth crushed to earth will rise again”. We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right:.

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the then unknown
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day. And in the words of prophecy, every valley shall be exalted. And every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This will be a great day. This will be a marvelous hour. And at that moment—figuratively speaking in biblical words—the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy

As our nation finishes a month set aside to remember Black History and a day to remember Dr. King, it seemed fitting to me on this Sunday morning to remember a hymn that belongs to all who believe that this world is a broken place where people whom God loves still oppress and abuse other children of God.  The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 8:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship  . . . .

And notice that the apostle used the communal we in his writing, just as apparently the original words to this hymn were changed from I will overcome  to We shall overcome.  It’s not so much about the individual as about the congregation!

So, finally, again the words of Paul from which this hymn sprang:

Galatians 6:9 – And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

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A_Charge_to_Keep

A Charge To Keep (W.H.D. Koerner) hung in President Bush’s office during his presidency.

Recently Sherrylee and I visited the new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Of the thirteen official libraries, we have visited all of them except the Hoover and the Eisenhower libraries, which we hope to see soon to complete our quest.

Without exception these libraries and museums are amazing! They tell the story of men who have served their country in the highest office of the land in war and peace, in glory and in shame, but all with a strong commitment to what they believed to be for the common good of the nation.  Regardless of whether history has proven them correct or whether you personally were a supporter of that particular president, you leave each library with greater respect for the man and a new perspective on the history that they shaped.

About a year ago, we visited the George H. W. Bush library in College Station, Texas, and one of the very obvious directions of the museum was to show Bush #41 as a man raised in a family of faith and who with wife Barbara attempted to rear their children in faith.  I had not known that about Mr. Bush, but was deeply impressed with how overtly this message was presented in the story of his life.

In a different way, I found the same to be true of #43, not so much in the biographical section of the museum, but just as explicitly.

Almost all of the presidential museums have a replica of the Oval Office in the White House as it was during that particular president’s term of office, but the replica in the Bush 43 library is the only one where visitors are allowed to sit behind the desk and actually walk around; one is only allowed to peer into all of the others.

The Oval offices have replica pictures on the walls, replica furniture that the former president had used and even replica family pictures and mementoes.  Here is where I was both surprised and impressed in George W’s library.  Behind his desk on a credenza sat a replica of his personal Bible for every visitor to notice. In addition, sitting not far from his desk on a spot that he might pass every day of his presidency sat a small, simply framed copy of A Charge To Keep I Have by Charles Wesley.

A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
Who gave His Son my soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.

 The first two stanzas apparently spoke to President Bush. Not only is “A Charge To Keep” one of the themes of his library, but you might remember that it is also the title of his book released in 1999.

Both Wesley and Bush take the title words to this hymn from Leviticus 8:35, where Moses delivered to Aaron and his sons the final instructions from the Lord on the establishment of the wilderness Tent of Meeting (tabernacle) and the sacrifices: and keep the charge of the Lord, that ye die not; for so I am commanded.”

I appreciate very much the decision President Bush made to demonstrate his faith in these small ways in his library. Not everyone is charged with being president—or high priest—or any prominent position where we are watched by masses of people, but we are all charged  as Paul charged Timothy in his first letter to him:

This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, . . .that you fight the good fight . . . .(1:18)

Wesley’s admonitions in this great hymn will help us:Arm me with jealous care/As in Thy sight to live,” and “Help me to watch and pray,/And on Thyself rely.”

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I don’t really know how generally well-known Be With Me, Lord is—or was!  This beautiful prayer hymn was a standard hymn in the churches I grew up in, often used as a closing song/prayer, but I remember it best from smaller group devotionals.

We sometimes played with the words and turned the singular pronoun me into us in order to express greater fellowship in the community—something I sometimes miss in the most individualistic praise music of today.

LO SandersonL.O. Sanderson (1901-1992), one of the great hymnists to come out of the Restoration Movement, wrote this particular hymn in 1934. In his autobiographical sketch The Lord Has Been Mindful of Me, he describes in his own words how this hymn was the result of providential circumstances:

“Be With Me, Lord” is perhaps my most popular hymn. In Springfield, in 1934, I was working on my first hymnal for the Gospel Advocate Co. At about 2 a.m. one Tuesday a melody came to mind. I found it difficult to get rid of it. So I stopped and wrote it down, lest I forget. Even then, I kept seeing or sensing the harmony, which bothered my work; so I turned and wrote it out completely. It is a rare meter – 11 notes in a phrase, 10 in the next, 11 in the third, and again 10 in the fourth. I couldn’t come up with or find words to fit it. About eight days passed when I received a letter from Thomas O. Chisholm, who had long written words for me. He wrote that he had retired on the same night I was working, and a theme for a poem seemed to command his attention. Finally after midnight of that same Tuesday, he got up and wrote out the poem. He was sending it to me to see what I thought of it. It was an exact fit for my music. I bought the poem, and the twain have been together since.

Life had not been easy for Sanderson. He was born and raised in a log house in Arkansas. His parents were musical, but they could afford no instruments. Sanderson was gifted, so he began school at age 4 and was in the 4th grade by age 6.

He finished what schooling was available before he was old enough to quit school—probably at about 11 years old because that is when he says his father “put me on my own,” meaning at least he had to buy his own clothes and earn the money for any further schooling.

He began picking cotton so he could afford to attend music normal schools, and by the age of 15, he was certified to teach his own singing school clinics. No doubt Sanderson had often experienced the dependency expressed in the opening stanza of this hymn, and therefore quickly identified with the words given him by T. O. Chisholm .

Be with me, Lord — I cannot live without Thee,
I dare not try to take one step alone,
I cannot bear the loads of life, unaided,
I need Thy strength to lean myself upon.

The second stanza is a more physical description of the “loads of life” and how dangerous those loads can be.

Be with me, Lord, and then if dangers threaten,
If storms of trial burst above my head,
If lashing seas leap ev’rywhere about me,
They cannot harm, or make my heart afraid.

We do know about storms and crashing lightening bursting above our heads—or tornadoes dropping out of clouds—but we are much less familiar with “lashing seas.”

The events to which I now relate those words are the Asian tsunamis, those mortifying pictures of the sea crashing through the man-made barriers and sweeping away homes and cars and people!

Did you see The Impossible (2012) starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, the based-on reality story of a family swept apart in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami?  The calm peaceful scene on the beach followed by instant, unexpected, and total devastation—those can make your heart afraid!

Be with me, Lord! No other gift or blessing
Thou couldst bestow could with this one compare —
A constant sense of Thy abiding presence,
Where’er I am, to feel that Thou art near.

“A constant sense of Thy abiding presence”—that’s the difference between those swept away by fear and those who lose their fears in faith!  No wonder His Presence is the incomparable gift!

And then we always sang the last stanza very quietly:

Be with me, Lord, when loneliness o’ertakes me,
When I must weep amid the fires of pain,
And when shall come the hour of  my departure
For worlds unknown, O Lord, be with me then.

I always thought the last stanza was a little disjointed—but I understand it better now.

As a teenager and young adult, I didn’t understand how loneliness and pain had anything to do with “the hour of my departure.”  Forty or fifty years later, I have seen the loneliness that creeps up on you as you grow older. I’ve seen friends who have lost their spouses-their best friends. I’ve watched the  row of “ widow ladies”  at church slowly grow shorter and shorter until only one  remains. I’ve returned to familiar places where the history of your life has happened in detail, only to discover that it has all been replaced with new and shiny –and you feel like very little of you is left there.

Loneliness and the accompanying pain are perhaps some of the fiercest storms that “burst above my head.”

The last two phrases are the prayerful expression of confidence that we are not left alone—that our last hour will not be our loneliest; rather, our last hour will deliver us from the “constant sense of Thy abiding presence” to be supplanted by the  comforting Presence itself!

Be with us, Lord.

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Sunday mornings I seem to find myself humming hymns as I make the coffee, take a walk, and start getting dressed for church.  Maybe it’s the new year, maybe it’s the time of life, or maybe it’s just God’s Spirit, but I woke this morning with the old hymn Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand in my head.

Our older son Philip was not an easy baby to put to bed. It seems like we would spend hours rocking and patting and singing quietly to him to coax him to give up and go to sleep.  We had the usual repertoire of lullabies that parents our age knew, but because we had to have LOTS of songs, we often slipped into some of the older, quieter hymns from our childhood.

One of Philip’s favorites from those old songs was Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand. The chorus almost  pulsates with the emphasis on each word, and even baby Philip quite quickly picked up the refrain and would start singing it with us—much to our chagrin, since we were trying to get him to go to sleep! But it was sweet as well.

Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand was written by F.L. Eiland, a 19th century pioneer of church music in the Restoration Movement.  He not only wrote many hymns himself, but he, along with others, published hymnals and started  Southern Development Normal in Waco, Texas, a school for educating those who would learn more about music.  You can find out more about him at http://www.therestorationmovement.com/eiland.htm .

I have always loved the song because in music and lyrics, it speaks truth about God’s faithfulness, especially His steadfast love!

Time is filled with swift transition! If the days were short in the 19th century, imagine how much shorter they feel to us in the 21st century! Our electronic calendars delete the days, weeks, months, and years of our lives with very short keystrokes!  Fifty-year-old neighborhoods are knocked down for new houses, five-year-old Ipods are throwaway toys for our grandchildren as we move on to Ipads. You realize one day that everyone in your favorite old movie is dead now!  Naught of earth unmoved can stand!

Trust in Him who will not leave you, /Whatsoever years may bring, /If by earthly friends forsaken/ Still more closely to Him cling.

Sherrylee and I were driving the other day and talking about how many of the people with whom we were closest twenty-five years ago are now not part of our lives any more. One or two have died, some have moved—actually we moved away—some have changed, some are divorced and remarried, and a few just don’t like us anymore!

The emphasis on relationships and community that postmodernism has reintroduced to us is absolutely wonderful and certainly more godly than an every-man-for-himself society, but we are foolish if our faith is in relationships with people instead of God! Only God will never leave you!

When your journey is completed . . . I could never remember the third verse because the tradition in our church was always to sing only the first, second, and last verses. Life has a last verse too and it comes so quickly that you wonder if you haven’t skipped a verse or two in life as well.  Brevity makes it even more  important to sing the last verse well!

Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God’s unchanging hand! 

Next time you see one of those cute pictures of an old couple, or a dad and his daughter, or a baby and its grandmother holding hands, let it remind you of God holding your hand. And don’t be afraid of all those changes and transitions and new chapters and abridgements—because He will never let go!

Hold to His hand, to God’s unchanging hand!  Let that pulsating refrain be your heartbeat –and you’ll sleep better every night of your life.

 

 

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