Posts Tagged ‘hymns’

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.

Read Full Post »

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 . . . .


Read Full Post »

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.



Read Full Post »

This prayer for wisdom and courage have always spoken to me.  It’s a strong hymn, repetitive for emphasis—a strong prayer.

Our prayers often come from our weakness. Falling down in weakness and helplessness is often our prayerful posture—as it should be in the presence of Almighty God, but the God of Grace and God of Glory in this hymn does not leave His people weak and helpless. No, the Almighty God raises His people up in His strength and power, arming them for battle, and leading them with no doubt about the outcome.

This hymn was written by Harry Emerson Fosdick, Jr for the opening of the Riverside Church in Manhattan in 1930. Fosdick’s modernist theology and the socially liberal stance of the Riverside Church are far removed from my own faith and practice, but the desire for a Body of Christ that is strong and unafraid should be the prayer of every Christian.  And that is the dominant spirit of this great hymn.

God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

The Great Depression was ripping apart the social and economic fabric of the United States in 1930.  A decade later, we would be involved in a world war, followed by more war and civil unrest, followed by the world terrorism of our own day. “For the facing of this hour” is relevant regardless of the decade—as is the “living of these days” in the next verse.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

The church of Christ is not just threatened from external foes. In our country, in our day perhaps the third verse is the most important.  “Rich in things and poor in soul,” God’s church turns upon itself in “warring madness.” Every church should pray

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places,
Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces,
In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee.

We forget that failing man is failing God.

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee Whom we adore,
Serving Thee Whom we adore.

My favorite single line is “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.”

If we hide in our church buildings, we have resigned. If we are silent in the face of cultural opposition, we have resigned. If we pretend that there is no evil, we have resigned. If we take no risks, we have resigned.  If we think the Word has no power, we have resigned. If we quit going, we have resigned. If we live as if there is no resurrection, we have resigned. If we do not believe in a victorious Church, we have resigned.

Save us from weak resignation!

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage! 

If those words don’t wake you up on this beautiful Sunday morning . . . .

Read Full Post »

While a student at Harding in the late 60s, Owen Olbricht, director of Campaigns Northeast,  introduced me to the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We sang it often in devotionals, sometimes in parks, and even once on a local TV station.

Yesterday, after receiving some especially good news, Sherrylee started quietly singing this great hymn again—and I joined in. Her voice is much lower than mine, so when she starts a song, her natural pitch leaves me no choice but to sing the tenor to it. Regardless, however, of who sings which part, that particularly hymn has been a special blessing to us at significant moments in our journey for many, many years now.

Great is thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father. . . . Thou changest not. . . .where thou hast been, thou forever wilt be!   If you know our story, you know that Sherrylee and I feel like our mission time in Germany were some of the best and most formative years of our lives, but that made it all the harder when overnight literally we found ourselves on a plane back to the U.S.. We felt like we had been ripped out of home, dreams, church, mission—all those things that give purpose to life. How could things change so quickly, so drastically!

This song reminded us then that God had not changed. He was still in control. He knew where we lived. He knew our pain. He had not abandoned us—nor we Him, so in spite of a traumatic upheaval in our lives, God had not changed and was not far from us.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest . . . join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.  Life has seasons. Our time in Germany was a wonderful time, but so were our twenty-two years in Oklahoma. We had serious doubts about whether Oklahoma was really where we should be! After all, we were missionaries, not Sooners!  But God was faithful and took that season in Oklahoma and shaped that moment into a wonderful place to raise our family, a meaningful ministry with students at Oklahoma Christian, and a place and time for Let’s Start Talking to take root and grow.

And now in the fall and winter season of our life, the mercy and love of God is even more evident. We continue to love deeply the work we have been given; we are surrounded by not only a God-called team of co-workers, but grown, faithful children– and grandkids who are being taught God’s faithfulness every day.  What more could anyone ask for.  God is faithful, full of mercy and love.

Morning by morning new mercies I see! Strength for today . . . The more I learn as I walk along the journey with God, the less I worry about tomorrow—not because there is less uncertainty, not because there is less catastrophe around the corner, but just because I think I’ve learned that God only takes care of us one day at a time! 

It has something to do with the same reason he gave the Israelites only one day’s worth of manna every day (except on the Sabbath). It’s Jesus in the garden praying in spiritual pain for what was going to happen the next day.  It’s Noah not knowing if and when the dove would return!

As Executive Director of LST, I’m often asked about our five-year plan: where do you want LST to be in five years?  Or we sit and talk about how wonderful it would be if the ministry were supported with an endowment, so that we did not live each year hand to mouth like we have for the last thirty-one years!

My personal fear is that sometimes we are trying to build barns and create our own security rather than depending on the Lord day by day. 

Fortunately, the Lord has never given us that kind of security, not personally nor in the ministry—and I keep thinking that maybe day by day, morning by morning, maybe that is supposed to be enough!

If you don’t know this great hymn, find it on YouTube and listen to it and learn it, so that every day of your life, you have these words in your heart and on your lips:

Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O God, My Father!

Read Full Post »

Unlike many of the more stately hymns that I have written about in this Sunday morning series, this popular hymn lacks the majesty of lyric as well as the almost classical melody of previous favorites. Nevertheless, I find myself coming back to this simple hymn often because of the power of simple words and the appropriateness of its common tune.

Frederick Whitfield (1829-1904), the author, was an English clergyman who left over thirty volumes of writings behind at his death. The tune is a simple American ditty; no one really knows when the lyrics and the tune came together, but by the turn of the century, it had appeared in several songbooks and was a favorite of Ira Sankey and Dwight Moody during their revivals.

When Sherrylee and I first came back from Germany and I needed to earn some extra money, a young man working on his Masters degree hired me to translate a very thick 19th century German theological book into English for him. It has been so long ago that I don’t remember the exact name of the book nor its author, but I do remember how much I learned about The Name of God and Jesus.

Not only do you see the great holiness of “The Name” in Old Testament verses like the following, but the power—almost a personification of The Name itself:

Exodus 3:15 – God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.

Exodus 9:16 – But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Exodus 23:21 – Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him

Leviticus 22:32 – Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who made you holy

2 Samuel 7:13 – He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

I Kings 8:17 –My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel.

I Kings 11:36 – I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name.

Psalm 91:14 – “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.”

Daniel 9:19 – Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

Matthew 18:20 – For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

John 14:14 – You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.          

Even our baptism needs the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

There are those who have chosen to no longer close their prayers using Jesus’ name or to call the Name of Jesus at baptism. I am not one of them! They probably are trying innocently to avoid triteness or meaningless ritual, but having been sensitized to the power, the glory, the holiness, and the eternal magnitude of the Name of God-Jesus, I could never approach his throne without The Name.

And that is why I love this hymn and many more that exalt The Name.

There is a name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music in mine ear, the sweetest name on earth.

It tells me of a Savior’s love, who died to set me free;
It tells me of His precious blood, the sinner’s perfect plea.

It tells me what my Father hath in store for eve’ry day,
And tho’ I tread a darksome path, yields sunshine all the way.

It tells of One whose loving heart can feel my deepest woe,
Who in each sorrow bears a part, that none can bear below.

Oh, how I love Jesus, Oh how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus, Because He first loved me

Read Full Post »

The assassination of President Kennedy and all the images associated with it can’t be forgotten by those of us who experienced it.  Just the phrase grassy knoll can only reference one bloody event. Pink dresses and pill box hats or a small boy in his winter coat stepping out of the crowd to salute his slain father–words and images become iconic with the depth of emotion they arouse.

I first remember Eternal Father, Strong To Save from the funeral of President Kennedy. The Navy Band played it as they carried his coffin into the capital building to lie in state. My memory  is that the hymn was played in the processional to Arlington cemetery as well. In fact, I remember no other music—that’s how deep the impact of this hymn was on me at that time.

The music was written by John B. Dykes in 1861, specifically for the words of the original lyrics which were a poem composed by William Whiting in 1860.

Whiting wrote the words on behalf of a student of his who was going to sail to America.  The trip to the United States in 1860 usually took six weeks, but storms and high winds could extend that time to as much as fourteen weeks, in which case food became short and disease became an issue.  And, of course, shipwreck was not rare. From 1847-52, 43 emigrant ships to the U.S. from England wrecked and over 1000 passengers lost their lives.  Whiting’s student must have certainly appreciated the prayer.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

John Dykes named the tune Melita, which is the ancient name for the island of Malta. You will also remember that it is where Paul shipwrecked (Acts 27)—one of the three times (2 Corinthians 11:25), so the connection of the tune to the words is very apparent—as it should be in great hymns.

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

In 1879, Rear Admiral Charles Jackson Train began the tradition of closing the Sunday service at the Naval Academy with the first verse of this hymn. That may be how it has become to be known as The Navy Hymn.  It was also the last song sung at the April 14th Sunday service of the Titanic. Interestingly, the other hymnal melody associated with the Titanic Nearer My God To Thee was also written by Dykes.

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood

Upon the chaos dark and rude

And bid its angry tumult cease,

And give, for wild confusion, peace;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,

For those in peril on the sea!

The sea has always been understood to be a dangerous and scary place. Monsters arose from the sea! Storms rolled inland from the sea!  Those who sailed the seas were considered short-lived!  Just think about the story of Jonah: storms and great fish!  The darkness of the night sea, the raging and thunder of waves—no wonder men were afraid of the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!

Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;

From rock and tempest, fire and foe,

Protect them wheresoe’er they go;

Thus evermore shall rise to Thee

Glad hymns of praise from land and sea

The prayerful protection for those on land and sea petitioned in this hymn has been extended to airmen, astronauts, special combat troops—almost all kinds of combatants—by additional verses written especially for different groups of military personnel.

For those of us who travel a lot, the hymn is of special comfort because when you are on the middle or over the middle of an ocean in the middle of the night, you realize how powerless you are against the forces of nature and how much our lives depend on the grace of God.

And we all are on our own journey, and on all of our journeys we have so little control over reaching our own destinations.  No wonder our souls cry out, “Eternal Father, strong to save . . . oh hear us when we cry to thee!”

Read Full Post »

Some hymns we love because they help us through especially dark times.  O God Our Help In Ages Past is one of those songs for me. Sherrylee and I had a particularly tough stretch years ago, including death of a parent, loss of friends, bitter struggles at church, and more. Every area of our wonderfully blessed life seemed to be in crisis.

When we lived in Oklahoma, I walked to the campus of Oklahoma Christian University to my office almost every morning. It was a quiet ten minutes before the storms of the day. I walked past the houses of other faculty members, across the practice soccer fields, and through the backdoor of the library to the secondary stairs to my office.

Especially in those very painful years, I often prayed as I walked, or just as likely, I sang quietly to myself. One hymn in particular reminds me of those years because I sang all the stanzas over and over again to calm and instruct my soul: O God Our Help In Ages Past .

Most know this hymn by Isaac Watts (1719) to a tune called St. Anne by William Croft. I prefer the simpler melody called St. Leonard. I needed the chant-like melody, fewer notes,  and the quiet ending. That melody carried these words into the brokenness of my spirit in those days.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

God has worked mightily in my life in the past. The mountaintops of my life are His doing, the security of the past is because of Him, so there is no reason to doubt that He is the “hope for years to come.”  In difficult times, we need to be reminded that they have a context, that the darkest days are surrounded on every side by the grace of God.

Beneath the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

I am not the first to face hard times. God’s people have often suffered—sometimes for the very reason they are God’s people, so why should I expect to avoid pain? If I had always avoided pain, then I would have never learned that His arm is not too short to help, not just to help, but to secure our defense!

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

We are not talking about a new God of our own invention.  We are not depending on an untested or unproven God. We are depending on the God who created the universe from everlasting to everlasting—who never changes. We are depending in the hour of our deepest need, not just on a God who is awesome, but on the Almighty, Everlasting God !

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

If I forget, I start trying to get God to work on my schedule. I need relief now, I want it all to stop now. I needed then to be reminded that God has a different clock. My clock is like the plastic toys we give to small children, little toys that seem real to them but don’t give the real time.  It’s an important moment to give up our toys to depend on Him who creates time.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

And I too will be borne away someday. My momentous crisis of today will be nothing at all. Today’s pain that is so real will be a curious diary entry to some great-grandchild that can’t figure out which of the old pictures is of you cause you forgot to write on the back.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

Certainly, the eternal context and the temporal perspective spoke to me as I walked in pain to work each morning during those years, but, as I think back on those days, I think it was the “O God” that calmed me the most.  Just singing  “O God”  brought me into the shadow of His throne where I could find help and hope—and an eternal home.

Psalm 90: 1,2,12

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom.


Read Full Post »

The critics of contemporary Christian music often make the claim that it is too individualistic, that is, individual relationships to God seem to have greater mention than communal, or that more of the songs focus on Me than on Him or They or Us.

You who feel that way will be shocked to learn which hymn—probably one of your favorites—was the first to be caught up in this kind of controversy.

At the turn of the 18th century, most Protestants were still singing the Psalms or the slightly more modern paraphrases of Scripture.  In 1701, Isaac Watts wrote a communion hymn, which he first titled Crucifixion To The World By The Cross of Christ.  We know this hymn today as When I Survey The Wondrous Cross, still used among us as a communion hymn and considered one of the best hymns ever written.  Charles Wesley is reported to have said that he would have sacrificed all of his own hymns freely if he could have written this one.

Nevertheless, this hymn stirred up controversy because it is the first known hymn to be written in first person.  To sing from one’s own heart about one’s own feelings and one’s own relationship to the cross and one’s own Savior was much too personal, too individualistic for Christians of that time.

Times and people have not changed much, have they!  But, neither has our amazement when we look on “the wondrous cross.”

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

In our fellowship, this was the moment when the voices quieted, and we paused between each phrase—“His head…His hands….his feet”– to realize the crucifixion moment.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

The following stanza is original, but even Watts suggested it might be omitted, so most of us will find it unfamiliar.

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

With almost sudden volume, this last stanza would burst forth like the resurrection—from our own death and burial to new life, with renewed recognition of what the Cross demands in our—no, in MY life!

It’s very personal, isn’t it!

Read Full Post »

The word story is a key word to understanding the post modernist generation.  Earlier generations had other words. I think the word for my generation was journey; everybody was on a journey and everything was a journey.

But journeys have given way to stories now.  Now everyone has their own story and life is a narrative. Your witness is your story; your upbringing is your story; your history is your story. Preaching has moved from exegesis or exhortation to story telling.

The King James Bible (1611) uses the word story only in two obscure passages in 2 Chronicles. The American Standard Version (1901) never uses the word story  in this way, but The Message ( 2002) uses the word story  161 times! 

Hymns are a place where the generations meet around the word story, not necessarily in the great anthems, but in some of the more populist hymns of the 19th century.  Here are some that you will probably recognize

Tell Me the Old, Old Story (1866) with lyrics by Katherine Hankey.

Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.

Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.

Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner whom Jesus came to save.
Tell me the story always, if you would really be,
In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.

Tell me the same old story when you have cause to fear
That this world’s empty glory is costing me too dear.
Yes, and when that world’s glory is dawning on my soul,
Tell me the old, old story: “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.”


Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.

Interestingly enough, she also wrote the words to I Love To Tell the Story.  “I love to tell the story of unseen things above . . . .pretty post modern—except for the word above!

Then there is Tell Me The Story of Jesus, written by Fanny Crosby around 1880:

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard

But one of my favorite hymns from my childhood which still occasionally surfaces is the rousing, almost dramatic  O Listen To Our Wondrous Story, sometimes titled What Did He Do?.  The words were written by James Gray around 1903, but, in this instance, the marriage of the words with the music by William Owen, a worker in the slate quarries of Wales in the mid-1800s, was what really made the hymn work.

I especially loved the antiphonal chorus, where the women sing, “Who saved us from eternal loss?” and before they even finish the question, the men are responding with the certain answer, “Who but the Son upon the Cross!”   As we most often sang it, the first questions were sung softly, with each succeeding question and answer a little louder, until the final triumphant response was full volume.

The final verse makes the question of story very personal: Will you surrender to the Savior, to his scepter humbly bow?   So journey and story meet in the certainty of Jesus and His Cross and the necessary response that it requires from me!

I love this song still:

O listen to our wondrous story,
Counted once among the lost;
Yet One came down from Heaven’s glory,
Saving us at awful cost!

No angel could His place have taken,
Highest of the high though he;
The loved One on the cross forsaken,
Was One of the Godhead three!

And yet this wondrous tale proceedeth,
Stirring heart and tongue aflame!
As our High Priest in Heav’n He pleadeth,
And Christ Jesus is His Name!

Will you surrender to this Savior?
To His scepter humbly bow?
You, too, shall come to know His favor,
He will save you, save you now.


Who saved us from eternal loss?
Who but God’s Son upon the cross?
What did He do?
He died for you!
Where is He now?
In heaven interceding!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: