As, with Gladness, Men of Old

(A hymn for the feast of Epiphany, January 6th.)

As, with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light –
Leading onward, beaming bright –
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed,
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Christ — its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down!
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

Psalm 102A

Baca
88.888

To this my prayer, O listen, LORD!
And let my cry for help reach you.
In day of grief hide not your face,
Your list’ning ear toward me O bend;
The day I call, your answer send.

For all my days go up in smoke
And like a hearth my bones are burned.
Like grass my heart is crushed and dried;
I daily food forgotten leave;
My skin and bones together cleave.

With sighs and groans my frame resounds;
I’m like a desert pelican
Or like an owl in ruined wastes.
I lie awake as, on the roof
A sparrow stands, alone, aloof.

All day my foes their taunts repeat;
Those filled with anger curse my name.
I food with tears and ashes mix
For you on me in anger frown:
You raise me up to throw me down.

An evening shadow are my days;
Like grass I wither soon away.
But you, Jehovah, sit enthroned!
Forever your memorial
abides through generations all!

The Son of God Goes Forth To War

The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood red banner streams afar:
Who follows in His train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
Triumphant over pain,
Who patient bears his cross below,
He follows in His train.

That martyr first, whose eagle eye
Could pierce beyond the grave;
Who saw his Master in the sky,
And called on Him to save.
Like Him, with pardon on His tongue,
In midst of mortal pain,
He prayed for them that did the wrong:

Who follows in His train?
A glorious band, the chosen few
On whom the Spirit came;
Twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew,
And mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant’s brandished steel,
The lion’s gory mane;
They bowed their heads the death to feel:
Who follows in their train?

A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice,
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of Heav’n,
Through peril, toil and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given,
To follow in their train.

Lent, Day 12: It Is Well With My Soul

This is an appropriate follow-up to yesterday’s post, actually.  If you don’t know the story behind this beautiful hymn, grab a tissue and read about it. I’m totally serious about grabbing a tissue. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul!

Horatio Spafford

Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right

It’s a rare song that contains both well-crafted poetry and beautifully-presented truth.  These lyrics are worthy of your full attention, friends, and I encourage you to read them carefully and rejoice in God whose mysterious will works out for our good!

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth;
And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.
 
Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path:
I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait His day.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew
I’ll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.
 
Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm,
Though many storms may gather,
Now I may know both joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it, all unshrinking.
My God is true; each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall:
And so to Him I leave it all.

– Samuel Rodigast, 1676

The Son of God Goes Forth To War

I just recently was introduced to this song at Community Presbyterian Church’s Reformation Day feast.  I had to quit singing because I was choking back tears.  The subject of martyrdom is SERIOUSLY under-sung in our churches, people.  This one deserves a more regular spot in our rotation.

Get yer Kleenex out before you read this.  Just sayin.

The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar!
Who follows in His train?
Who best can drink His cup of woe,
Triumphant over pain,
Who patient bears his cross below –
He follows in His train.

The martyr first, whose eagle eye
Could pierce beyond the grave;
Who saw his Master in the sky
And called on Him to save.
Like Him, with pardon on His tongue,
In midst of mortal pain,
He prayed for them that did the wrong!
Who follows in His train?

A glorious band, the chosen few
On whom the Spirit came,
Twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew,
And mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant’s brandished steel,
The lion’s gory mane;
They bowed their necks the death to feel:
Who follows in their train?

A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of heav’n,
Through peril, toil and pain;
O God, to us may grace be giv’n
To follow in their train!

– Reginald Heber, 1812

There is A Fountain

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

One of my favorite hymns — this one almost always makes me cry. Little known fact: girls will undoubtedly remember in the movie version of Sense and Sensibility the scene where Marianne is brutally critiquing poor Edward Ferrars’s reading of a poem. We catch the lines: “No voice divine the storm allayed/ no light propitious shone…” The author of that poem, William Cowper, is also the author of “There is a Fountain.”

Cowper battled depression his whole life. I love the fact that, in the midst of his struggles, he wrote such a beautiful hymn that expresses not just his personal hope but the hope of “all the ransomed church of God.”

Seriously? (and a few random notes)

Whoa. I just scrolled down through this page and realized I’ve written almost nothing of theological significance in the last several weeks. Zoinks. It’s probably one of two things: either I am a hopeless sinner blinded the trivialities of daily life, or I spend every day talking about God’s precious word and his sovereignty in human history, teaching third, fourth, and eighth graders about this beautiful, broken world God will one day redeem, and by the time I get home, I’m all theologied out. Or maybe both.

So… there’s a sizable kerfluffle in the blog world over the issue of whether or not Christians should celebrate a particular holiday with supposedly pagan roots. A holiday whose celebration, detractors claim, sends Christians inevitably down an idolatrous spiral of demon-worship. A holiday whose practices are outlawed by chapter and verse in Jeremiah. Pagan worship! Outright idolatry! Animism!

Well, good heavens, you might say! What is this pernicious, godless event that we’ve thoughtlessly allowed into our homes, welcoming with it the very blackest forms of paganism?

It’s not Halloween. It’s Christmas.

No, seriously.

Apparently, Jeremiah 10:2-4 condemns the practice of putting up and decorating Christmas trees. Leaving aside the kinda comical levels of anachronism we’ve got here, let’s not be hasty. Judge for yourself:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

OK. So what we have here is… God telling the people not to put up Christmas trees? Huh. Weird.

Because it seems to me that what’s actually happening is that Jeremiah the prophet is warning Judah that their sin is fixin’ to bring down God’s wrath and judgment, and this passage is part of God’s case against them. It just so happens that last week’s Bible lesson at school was “The Ministry of Jeremiah.” So tell me, third and fourth graders, what was the main sin of Judah that caused God to send judgment on them?

Idolatry.

And why is idolatry not only sinful but also stupid? Because, as Isaiah says, idolaters take a log, carve half of it into a statue they bow down to, and throw the other half onto the fire to make their dinner. Because, Jeremiah reminds them, the idols are mute, they’re nothing, they can’t even move from place to place but have to be carried (10:5). Condemnation of Christmas trees? Ummmm… I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that’s NOT a responsible exegesis of this passage.

There are more legs to their argument (the only birthdays mentioned in the Scriptures are those of pagans whom God struck down so we have no business celebrating Jesus’ birthday, Yule celebrates demonic pagan deities and harkens back to weird druidy times, etc.), and I could pick each one apart, but I just can’t… be bothered. It’s all so silly! Surely there are other things we could focus on, right?

(Incidentally, this is a great example of what one blog I recently read called “The Arithmetic Method” of theology. Thought-provoking article. Check it out.)

So, here are a couple things you could focus on if you felt like it:

1. Listen up, Church. (I’m about to get fired up here, so watch out!) Stop letting Joel and Victoria Osteen off the hook. Stop justifying their heresy. Stop nurturing the notion that they’re merely addled — like that sweet but dim-witted cousin everybody loves while being slightly embarassed about — and get it in your head that they are preaching a different Gospel. Go read Galatians 1:8. (Go ahead, I’ll wait…) The Osteens are inviting a curse on themselves. Stay far, far away from their “ministry” and, if you love your brothers and sisters in Christ, warn them about it too.

2. Open iTunes (or the legal online music acquisition apparatus of your choice) and download the following albums immediately: Shai Linne’s Storiez, Flame’s Our World Redeemed, and LeCrae’s Rebel. Then revel and rejoice in the work God is doing through these warriors of the faith and their bold Gospel preaching.

Take a minute to read this great excerpt, written by Sojourn’s worship pastor Mike Cosper, and then head over to Sojournmusic.com and read the rest, from a three-part installment on the climate of modern worship in churches.

This is the landscape others see from the outside looking in – musicians who almost barely know how to play their instruments, music without roots or traditions, songs without dynamics, services with rock star worship leaders wearing faux-hawks and designer jeans. They look great, they sound okay, but don’t ask them to change keys. Contrast this with the classical traditions of the church, where musicians spend 15-20 years, starting in early childhood, studying music, studying musical performance, working with choirs, orchestras, and various ensembles throughout their educations, and then often continuing through a seminary “church music” education.

Of course, much of this is a caricature. I know many worship leaders and pastors in churches like this who have a deep knowledge of and love for music. I know many worship leaders whose humility guards them from the excesses of rock culture. I know many leaders who have a love of theology, hymnody, and scripture, and whose services reflect that love. But I also believe that this is the unfortunate exception and not the rule.

And the warning cries abound. It’s both redundant and fashionable to sit around and lament how devoid and barren our worship music is today. But what’s the way forward? Pastors have this dual responsibility in North America to be faithful and to be attractional (two forces that are often at odds with one another). And what attracts people to churches today more than the poppy music of contemporary worship?

As with so many places in our culture, we’ve severed the connections with traditions that can help inform, correct, and guard us from mistakes from great to small. While certainly, in the light of God’s sovereignty, we have to say that there is something good afoot in the radical shifts in worship culture in the US, there is also a road ahead so fraught with dangers that without some kind of roots, some kind of theological grounding, some kind of historical connectedness, we will SURELY lose our way.

What I want to ask is who will guide us? What will the reformation of church music education give birth to in twenty years? Will it look different, or will we simply look back in twenty years and laugh at our young foolishness? Worship leaders aren’t the only ones asking these kinds of questions.

Christ Is Risen! Hallelujah!


See What a Morning
Words and Music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2003 Kingsway Thankyou Music

See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the grave-clothes, tomb filled with light,
As the angels announce, “Christ is risen!”
See God’s salvation plan,
Wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

See Mary weeping, “Where is He laid?”
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It’s the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years,
Speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
Will sound till He appears,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow’r and authority!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

O Lord, please do anything but leave me here.
Let me run again, or help me fly, or somehow make it right.
But Lord, please don’t leave me here.
–Rebecca Dennison, Crippled Soul

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!
– Psalm 84:8-12

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
–Psalm 56:8

Theme: Crybaby / A Rantgent

There’s a theme developing here: I am more sentimental than I would care to admit. Or, as I like to phrase it to make myself sound better, “tender-hearted.” Anyway, semantics aside, I was flipping through the Baptist Hymnal. Wait.

Tangent/rant: who put that puppy together? There are some flat-out theologically bankrupt songs in the Baptist Hymnal. “Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart”? If there’s a tempest your voice cannot still… Yeah, because salvation’s really mostly about taking care of the issues you can’t handle on your own. And that’s not the only stinker, even in that section. God bless Ralph Carmichael, but “The Savior is Waiting”? Receive him, and all of your darkness shall end… blech. I want to know when this fixation on “receiving Jesus” and “asking Jesus into your heart” started. Mom or dad, any ideas why folks started using that particular phrasing and it stuck? And you know how people criticize “modern” worship music as being too me-focused? Or trite? How about “Here am I” or “I want to be a Christian” or “I want Jesus to Walk With Me” or, get this, a hymn called “Thanks-living”?

Anyway, rant/tangent (rantgent?) over. I was flipping through the Hymnal and plunking around on my keyboard when I came across these lyrics which brought tears to my eyes (the songs can’t be all bad, statistically):

Unless Your grace had called me
And taught my opening mind,
The world would have enthralled me,
To heavenly glories blind.
My heart knows none above You;
For Your rich grace I thirst!
I know that, if I love You,
You must have loved me first.

Grace Upon Grace

In every station, new trials and troubles
Call for more grace than I can afford.
Where can I go but to my dear Savior
For mercy that pours from boundless stores?

Grace upon grace, every sin repaired,
Every void restored — you will find him there.
In every turning, he will prepare you
With grace upon Grace.

He made a way for the fallen to rise,
Perfect in glory and sacrifice.
In sweet communion my need he supplies;
He saves and keeps and guards my life.

To thee I run now, with great expectation,
To honor you with trust like a child.
My hopes and desires seek a new destination,
And all that you ask, your grace will provide.

Compare. Discuss.

N.B. — Please do not take this (necessarily) as a criticism of contemporary worship music, except in the broadest sense of the word “criticism” — i.e., evaluation. What is good about each? What could use improving? Why? Is there a drawback to the complexity in the older songs? Also, stole the first comparison from John Dekker.

Two Songs With the Same Title But Very Different Purposes…

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity.

– Charles Wesley, 1740.

Jesus, lover of my soul.
Jesus, I will never let You go.
You’ve taken me from the miry clay,
Set my feet upon a rock, and now I know.

I love You, I need You.
Though my world may fall,
I’ll never let You go.
My Savior, my closest friend,
I will worship You until the very end
.

– John Ezzy, Daniel Grul & Steve McPherson, 1992.

And Two Songs With Different Titles But the Same Purpose (Love Songs For Jesus)…

Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned
Majestic sweetness sits enthroned
Upon the Savior’s brow
His head with radiant glories crowned
His lips with grace o’erflow

No mortal can with Him compare
Among the sons of men
Fairer is He than all the fair
Who fill the heavenly train

He saw me plunged in deep distress
And flew to my relief
For me he bore the shameful cross
And carried all my grief

To him I owe my life and breath
And all the joys I have
He makes me triumph over death
And saves me from the grave

- Samuel Stennett

Your Love Is Extravagant
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, (mm-mm) intimate
I find I’m moving to the rhythms of your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Your love is extravagant

Spread wide in the arms of Christ
Is a love that covers sin
No greater love have I ever known
You considered me a friend
Capture my heart again

- Darrell Evans

What a Friend I’ve Found
What a friend I’ve found
Closer than a brother
I have felt your touch
More intimate than lovers
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, friend forever

What a hope I’ve found
More faithful than a mother
It would break my heart
To ever lose each other
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, friend forever

- Martin Smith