Posted by: rcottrill | January 17, 2018

God of Our Fathers, Known of Old

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Joseph Rudyard Kipling (b. Dec. 30, 1865; d. Jan. 18, 1936)
Music: Melita, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The tune Melita is also used with the Naval Hymn, Eternal Father, Strong to Save.

World empires have their day, one brief day, only to vanish away, leaving the stage for yet another. Crumbling buildings and monuments, artifacts representing domestic life or long forgotten wars, fragments of their influence on language and culture, these things may remain, but the dominating presence of the regime is no more.

Who remembers the battle of the Teutoburg Forest, in AD 9–beyond students of European history? Yet it’s one of the most significant engagements ever fought. Three mighty legions of Rome moved north in an attempt to capture and control the area east of the Rhine River. But they were ambushed and destroyed by Germanic resistance fighters.

It was Rome’s greatest defeat, and ended Caesar’s dream of conquering Germany. Yet even the exact location of the epic battle was uncertain until, after years of work, British army officer Major Tony Clunn rediscovered it, writing up the fascinating story of his search in The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions, published in 2005. (Recommended, if you love history.)

Back around 553 BC, the prophet Daniel prophesied about coming world empires, from his own time, all the way to the end of human history. So accurate is the Lord’s revelation through him that skeptics have concluded it must have come from some unknown author long after Daniel’s time. But the eternal God is able to view all history in advance. He says:

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (Isa. 46:9-10).

Four great world empires are described by the prophet:

¤ Babylon (ruling in Daniel’s own era)
¤ Medo-Persia
¤ Greece
¤ Rome
(A gap of many centuries in which we now live)
¤ A resurgent Roman Empire–as allied European powers–in the last days

In chapter 2 of the book, the four are portrayed as parts of the gigantic image of a man. In chapter 7 they’re described as a succession of wild beasts. Perhaps, the first of portrayal is man’s aggrandized view of himself, while the second is more God’s perspective. In the end, human powers will give way to the messianic kingdom, when Christ returns (Isa. 9:6-7; Lk. 1:31-33), and His reign will never cease.

Meantime, other empires have come and gone. Before the Second World War, the British Empire had spread across the world. This was much celebrated during the long rule of Queen Victoria. And for the Jubilee celebration of her sixtieth year on the throne in 1897, British author Rudyard Kipling was asked to write a poem.

He struggled with ideas for a long time, finally deciding to shut himself in a room until it was finished. Looking over the various failed attempts to come up with something, he was struck by one phrase he’d written, and decided to build his poem around that. The phrase was, “Lest we forget.”

The result is a sobering work called simply Recessional. It was later set to music, thus becoming a hymn. It’s a product of its own time, speaking to a people that were proud of their conquests and their place in the world. But we sense the somber mood in the title. A “recessional” is music played when clergy, choir and congregation are leaving a church (as world empires eventually leave the world’s stage).

Whether or not the author saw the departure of the British Empire from its dominating position, Kipling was anxious for the British people to remember that power comes from a sovereign God, and He can also take it away.

The stirring hymn says, in part:

CH-1) God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine–
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget–lest we forget!

CH-2) The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget–lest we forget!

CH-3) Far called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget–lest we forget!

Questions:
1) What message is there in these words for powerful nations in our own day?

2) Do you see the beginning of biblical signs that the Lord’s return is near? (If so, what are they?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | January 15, 2018

No Other Plea

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (b. June 28, 1851; d. Apr. 24, 1920)
Music: Landås, by André Ernest Modeste Grétry (b. Feb. 8, 1741; d. Sept. 24,1813); arranged by William James Kirkpatrick (b. Feb. 27, 1838; d. Sept. 20, 1921)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This hymn is sometimes named after the first line, My Faith Has Found a Resting Place.

It must be exceedingly stressful to experience an earthquake. Our son Jim and his family live in Mexico City, where he and his wife Shari are missionaries. When a recent quake hit their area, he said the fridge was literally dancing across the floor. But other than jars falling off the shelves, and other minor damage, they came through it safely.

We get used to the ground (or the floors of our home) being steady and stable under our feet. When they’re suddenly not, it can be frightening. When I was a boy, we moved to a new house. And that evening I decided to go out and look at the backyard. It was quite dark, so I’m not sure what I expected to see. And suddenly the ground seemed to drop from beneath me and I fell, and slid, down a three-metre (10-foot) embankment to the edge of a small creek. No harm done, but it certainly scared me!

And another example: In our area, winter brings a number of recreational opportunities on lakes and ponds. Skating, hockey, snowmobiling, and ice fishing are popular. But until there has been a sufficient period of really cold weather, the ice is too thin, and venturing out on it can be dangerous. Again, we need to have a firm foundation underneath us.

The Bible has things to say about foundations, in both the physical and spiritual sense. Think first of the physical creation. God is the Maker of it all (Isa. 51:13). But the dominating philosophy in secular society is based on the theory of evolution. Evolutionists say all that we see around us, the intricate beauty of a flower, the wonder of the flight of a humming bird, the glory of the stars above, all that and more, simply came about by chance, out of nothing, over billions of years.

The evidence disproving this nonsense is there for anyone willing to consider it (Rom. 1:20). But reject God, and there are no reasonable answers to the question of origins. Then “they do not know, nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are unstable” (Ps. 82:5). And, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3). An understanding of the natural world must begin with the first four words of the Bible: “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1). He’s Foundation of it all.

And in the spiritual realm, “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6). The foundation of our salvation is the work of Christ on the cross. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (I Jn. 5:13).

The Bible gives us certitude both regarding the created realm, and the subject of our soul’s salvation. It also gives us foundational teaching about daily living, and tells us how to please God (Ps. 119:105). And the physical and spiritual are intertwined. If everything just happened to come into existence by chance, then where do we look for consistent moral guidance? Each one’s opinion is as good as another. On the other hand, the One who created us has marked out a path for us.

“The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’” (II Tim. 2:19).

In 1891, prolific hymn writer Eliza Edmunds Hewitt published a song called No Other Plea that fits our theme. It speaks of what we are depending on as the foundation, not only of our lives now, but for all eternity. So many are trusting to money, job, or other things for “security,” when these can so easily let them down.

CH-1) My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

CH-2) Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him,
He’ll never cast me out.

CH-3) My heart is leaning on the Word,
The living Word of God,
Salvation by my Saviour’s name,
Salvation through His blood.

Questions:
1) Can you list a few inadequate things that some trust in as a foundation to build their lives upon?

2) Why is the Lord and His Word a far better foundation than these?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | January 10, 2018

Come Home, Come Home

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Ellen Maria Huntington Gates (b. Aug. 12, 1835; d. Aug. 22, 1920)
Music: William Howard Doane (b. Feb. 3, 1832; d. Dec. 23, 1915)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: American poet Ellen Gates was from a wealthy family, being the sister of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. She wrote a number of hymns. This one, with its haunting and repeated phrase, “Come home,” predates by five years a more familiar song using the same refrain, Will Thompson’s Softly and Tenderly.

The story Jesus told about a prodigal son, reckless and wasteful of his inheritance, is one of the best known of the Lord’s parables. Perhaps it particularly touches our hearts because we can identify with the actions of the young man personally, or we know someone like him.

The story is found in Luke 15:11-32, and the context is important. The Jewish leaders of the day were critical of Christ because, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them” (vs. 2). In their self righteous pride they felt it beneath their dignity to associate with anyone they saw as morally inferior. They even classed Jesus among those they thought were “sinners” (Jn. 9:10). That was not true of course (I Pet. 2:22), but they were wrong in a couple of other ways.

First, they were blind to their own spiritual need. Their skin-deep religiosity masked a deep-dyed sinfulness. In a scathing critique (Matt. 23:13-36) the Lord Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs” and a “brood of vipers”! They were spiritually needy, but refused to recognize it.

Second, that is just what those they were labeling “sinners” were doing. Realizing their sinfulness and spiritual need, they were coming to Christ for help. They “drew near to hear Him” (Lk. 15:1), and many even became His followers (Mk. 2:15). On another occasion, when He received the same criticism, the Lord responded:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Lk. 5:31).

The one we call the prodigal son seems to have felt the restrictions of his father’s house were cramping his style. He was anxious to leave home, be on his own, and have a good time. He therefore asked his father to give him his inheritance right way, rather than waiting until his dad died. The father in the story granted his request (Lk. 15:11-12).

In a few days, the young man took off for “a far country,” away from his father’s care, and there he “wasted [squandered] his possessions with prodigal living” (vs. 13). It was a wild ride, and likely he attracted many companions ready to enjoy his partying. But when the money was gone, he was suddenly alone, and he took a job feeding some pigs (repulsive work for a Jew). He was so hungry he would gladly have eaten pig feed, but “no one gave him anything” (vs. 14-16).

All of a sudden home began to look pretty good to that young man. He was even willing to be taken on as a servant there, rather than being recognized as a son (vs. 17-19). But for his part, the father seems to have been longing and hoping for his son’s return. The fact that he saw him coming “a great way off” (vs. 20) suggests that, day by day, he was watching for him.

Do you see the parallel with the “sinners” described earlier. The son realized his foolishness and longed for his father’s house–on any terms. And just like the father, the Lord Jesus has compassion on wayward sinners, joyfully welcoming those who come to Him and trust in Him (cf. vs. 22-24).

In 1875 Ellen Gates published a gospel song called The Prodigal Child (or sometimes simply Come Home, Come Home, the first line). The song was used with great effect by soloist Ira Sankey in Dwight Moody’s evangelistic meetings (see the story in the Cyber Hymnal link). It touchingly voices the thoughts and prayers of the father, and thus represents the heart of our heavenly Father who longs for sinners to repent and turn to Him in faith. (Note how, in stanza 2, “we,” and in 4, concerned “friends” are pictured as watching with the Lord, hoping and praying for the sinner to come to Him.)

CH-1) Come home! come home!
You are weary at heart,
For the way has been dark,
And so lonely and wild.
O prodigal child!
Come home! oh come home!

Come home!
Come, oh come home!

CH-2) Come home! come home!
For we watch and we wait,
And we stand at the gate,
While the shadows are piled.
O prodigal child!
Come home! oh come home!

CH-3) Come home! come home!
From the sorrow and blame,
From the sin and the shame,
And the tempter that smiled,
O prodigal child!
Come home! oh come home!

CH-4) Come home! come home!
There is bread and to spare,
And a warm welcome there,
Then, to friends reconciled,
O prodigal child!
Come home! oh come home!

Questions:
1) Do you know of someone who has broken fellowship with his or her family? (Is there any way you could help to restore harmony?)

2) Have you yourself have become estranged from your family? (If so, is there any way you can work to restore fellowship?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | January 8, 2018

Jesus Calls Us

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (b. April ___, 1818; d. Oct. 12, 1895)
Music: Galilee (or Jude), by William Herbert Jude (b. September ___, 1851; d. Aug. 8, 1922)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Though we usually think of Cecil as a man’s name, Cecil Frances Alexander was a woman. The wife of a prominent Irish clergyman, she was also a hymn writer of note, giving us such songs as All Things Bright and Beautiful, and There Is a Green Hill Far Away.

Mrs. Alexander’s church followed the liturgical calendar, in which November 30th is St. Andrew’s Day, and in 1852 she wrote a hymn inspired by the Lord’s call to discipleship of Andrew and his brother Peter. “He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matt. 4:18-19). The stanza speaking of “Saint Andrew” is sometimes omitted today, to make the hymn more widely useful. Other hymnals replace the words “Saint Andrew” with “the Apostles.”

The telephone has now been around for about one hundred and forty years. Building on the work of others before him, Scottish-Canadian Alexander Graham Bell invented the first practical model in 1876. Later, American inventor Thomas Edison made significant improvements.

The appearance of these instruments has changed radically over the years. The earliest oddly shaped devices might not even be recognized as such today. Later, the telephone was housed in a rather large wooden box fastened to the wall. Then, wall models grew smaller, and table models appeared. The early callers turned a crank to initiate a call. But a numbered rotary dial followed, and held the field for many years.

A new era was launched in 1973, when cordless phones came along. These were replaced by much smaller smart phones, with the iPhone (in 2007) quickly becoming popular. A mechanical dial has now given way to a touch screen. There are newer models all the time, having more features and increasing space for data. Now that phones are small and portable, almost everyone has one in pocket or purse, and public phone booths are a rarity.

The telephone has also developed its own vocabulary over time, new terms to identify new features and functions: call display, call waiting, call blocking, and conference calls. Inventor Bell said that one who answered a call should say, “Ahoy!” an old sailors’ greeting. But it was Edison who popularized our now common “Hello.”

When we speak of making a phone “call” we mean we’re issuing a summons to talk with someone. The summons may be for friendly conversation, or to conduct business of some kind, or to ask for help from the one at the other end of the line (e.g. a 911 call).

In the Bible, some form of the word “call” is used more than eight hundred times. Relevant to the hymn we’ll consider now is Christ’s call to discipleship.

“He saw…James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him” (Matt. 4:21-22).

Notice that in following Christ, something else was left behind. Not that they had to forsake something sinful or disreputable. They were fishermen, working at a good and useful trade. But becoming a follower of Christ called for a reordering of their priorities. The disciples were what we could call learner-servants. They entered into training, both to learn from Christ and to engage in serving Him. After He returned to heaven, about three years later, they would become His representatives on earth, calling others to follow Him (Matt. 28:18-20).

The point of Alexander’s hymn is that we too are called to be learner-servants, with new priorities to define our lives.

CH-1) Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”

CH-2) As of old Saint Andrew heard it
By the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
Leaving all for Jesus’ sake.

CH-3) Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”

CH-5) Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
Saviour, may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all.

Questions:
1) Since the Lord does not (usually, at least) communicate with us in an audible voice, how can we determine whether God is truly calling us to do a particular thing?

2) Does a clear lack of good results definitely prove a person was not called of God to do what he/she did? (Explain why.)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | January 5, 2018

IF

See 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Pastors and church leaders who have gone contemporary in their church music sometimes say, “But I love the old hymns…” I’m not sure what they mean by that. Perhaps, in actual practice, like the Ephesian Christians, they have “left [their] first love” (Rev. 2:4), because there seems to be little evidence of it in the services of the church

Hymn books may be stashed away in a cupboard, and services often use very few of the old songs. (And when they are used, it’s often only snatches of the original, tortured with a contemporary setting.) These church leaders may be thinking of two or three favourites they remember fondly from their childhood. But a sincere love for the traditional hymns and gospel songs will show itself day by day, and week by week. Here are a few of the ways this affection can reveal itself in the life of a pastor. (Some of them apply to other members of the congregation too.)

If I truly love the traditional hymns and gospel songs of the church…

1) I’ll use them in my personal devotions, and encourage others to do the same. If I never open a hymn book during the week, other than to pick a song or two for a service, then I don’t really love these songs.

2) I’ll see that good books on hymn history are place in the church library, and promoted. There are many of these that could help instill a broader awareness of the songs and their authors.

3) I’ll endeavour to expand my knowledge of our hymnody beyond the few that most people know. About a million have been written since Pentecost, and the Cyber Hymnal currently has over 12,000 available to read and study. (The present site has well over a thousand.)

4) I’ll see that hymns are regularly taught and used in the programs of the church that involve children and youth. The first stanza of many hymns can often stand alone, and be easily taught. (Others can be added later.) And if there’s an interesting story about the author or the writing of the hymn, this will help promote it with the young.

5) I won’t afraid to have music that is different in style and content from the world’s, but rather be glad of the distinction, and see it as spiritually healthy. The Bible calls us to a distinct separation from worldly ways and values. We’re not to sidle up as close as we possibly can to the fire without getting burned (II Cor. 6:14–7:1).

6) I’ll either choose the hymns myself, or guide the service leader in the choice, so that the hymns amplify and enhance my sermon of the day (or follow a particular theme or purpose). This practice will reinforce the basic teaching in the Bible message, and may leave folks singing and humming the truth through the week.

7) I’ll put articles in the weekly bulletin that teach about hymns and their authors. Often, the more we know about these things, the more we’re able to sing with understanding, something God’s Word exhorts us to do (Ps. 47:7; I Cor. 14:15).

8. I’ll have a service, from time to time, featuring the life of a hymn writer and his/her hymns, or hymns gathered around a particular theme (in addition to the obvious service themes of, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter). There is even a book of short dramas that can be used for this called, 52 Hymn Stories Dramatized.

9) I’ll limit the use of contemporary songs, showing the same reticence and caution some now have regarding the old hymns, with a view to helping the congregation feel more of a sense of unity with the historical church. Few in the congregation know much about church history, how we got to where we are. Knowing something of hymns drawn from the centuries since Pentecost will help with this.

10) Before each service I’ll pray not only for the impact of the sermon, but pray that those present will also grasp the meaning of the hymns (chosen for a purpose), sing them with sincerity, and learn from them. My guess is that few pastors and service leaders ever do this. But good hymns teach God’s truth, and God’s Spirit can make all more aware of what they are singing.

11) I’ll see that hymns sung in the services are not overwhelmed by loud accompaniment or a dominating beat. This is a style taken right from the world. The emphasized beat is either intended to be sensual for dancing, or at its extreme it often expresses rage and rebellion. The excessive volume is an attempt to create an overwhelming experience. Christ and the gospel of grace need none of this. In fact, it may be a distraction from the truth welcomed by the devil.

12) I’ll explore the tradition of a capella congregational singing (without instruments), and try to use it, at least once in awhile, encouraging parts singing. This can be very effective if you have enough people to support the singing, without instruments. Songs tend to be sung slower and more thoughtfully when this is done.

13) During the service I (or the service leader) will plan to point out things in the hymns we are about to sing that relate to the theme of the service, or are particularly instructive or a blessing. This should be done, not every time, but frequently. Let’s think about what we sing!

14) When I’m particularly moved by something in a hymn sung, I’ll feel compelled to speak about it in the service, tying it to a biblical truth or principle. Comments can also follow a hymn and remind the congregation of important truths.

15) I’ll occasionally ask (on the spot) for a hymn to be repeated, calling attention to key themes, so that it’s message will be made clearer and remembered better. Done occasionally, with an especially meaningful hymn, this can focus more attention on the words.

16) I’ll occasionally have a time for requests (favourites) to make sure hymns that are loved are used. Perhaps there are old hymns that are especially meaningful to members of the congregation–ones that haven’t been used for years. And if you think the person won’t mind, ask why it’s a favourite (or ask if the individual has a particular stanza that’s meaningful to them).

17) I will quote hymns in my sermons often (including ones used earlier in the service). This should be done regularly, if not every time. Many hymn texts make a wonderful way to emphasize the truth being taught.

18) I will tell relevant stories of how they were written, or stories about the authors in my sermons. These make fine sermon illustrations. Often, when preaching, I’ll tell the story of what is planned to be the closing hymn.

19) I’ll schedule occasional Hymn Sings and perhaps invite those from other churches to join us for those. (I’ve led these over the years, and they can be great times of fellowship.)

20) As I have opportunity, I’ll encourage Bible colleges to have courses on hymnology, and teach the students a significant number of the old hymns. This may be a hard sell, but it’s worth it to make the effort. To graduate pastoral students who have as little awareness of our hymnody as when they entered the school, that is a tragedy!

21) I’d check out the Wordwise Hymns link from time to time, especially 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing. A few of the ideas have been given above, but there are many more things you can try.

Please don’t tell me you “love” the old hymns if none of the above is ever true of you. All of these things and more can help to build a love for our traditional sacred music in a congregation, for their greater spiritual enrichment. Doing nothing will leave God’s people in ignorance of this great heritage. Don’t let that happen.

Posted by: rcottrill | January 3, 2018

I Am Amazed

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Alfred Henry Ackley (b. Jan. 21, 1887; d. July 3, 1960)
Music: Bentley DeForest Ackley (b. Sept. 27, 1872; d. Sept. 3, 1958)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Alfred Ackley)
The Cyber Hymnal (Alfred Ackley)
Hymnary.org

Note: Alfred Ackley trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and was a master of the cello. After theological training, he became a Presbyterian pastor, and also assisted evangelist Billy Sunday for a time. He wrote about 1500 songs, including the popular He Lives! His older brother, Bentley, was an organist and pianist, and wrote the music for many gospel songs. The present song is sometimes entitled simply Amazed.

And a further word about Ralph Hunter, the man mentioned in the story below. He sang in my father’s quartet, and dad described him as the greatest natural tenor he’d even known, able to reach high notes with the full-chested richness of a baritone. He sang in our church many times, and in our home, as well as on local radio. But Ralph was a very humble man. Asked to sing at a huge rally at Madison Square Garden, in New York City, he declined, feeling he wasn’t good enough.

Magicians are amazing! From large stage productions in which, perhaps, an elephant appears out of nowhere, and disappears again, to more intimate table magic, with coins and cards and other small objects, it brings one surprise after another, for the enjoyment of those watching.

Some magicians are famous for focusing on a particular kind of magic. Harry Houdini made a specialty of escapes, from handcuffs, locked safes, straight jackets, and more. He also worked to unmask fake spirit mediums, saving many people from being defrauded by them. For The Great Cardini (real name, Richard Valentine Pitchford) it was the manipulation of playing cards at which he excelled–possibly becoming the best ever. (An “amazing” example of his work is on YouTube, where he’s ably assisted by his wife.)

To be amazed is to be greatly surprised, astonished, astounded, and filled with wonder. Conjurors and tricksters can certainly cause such a response. But so can real life situations. Gazing through a hospital nursery window at my newborn son did it for me. It was an intense emotional experience.

In Bible times, the words and works of Christ, the Son of God, amazed the multitudes. They were astonished [amazed] at His teaching (Matt. 22:31-33). And there was a similar reaction when He stilled the stormy Sea of Galilee (Mk. 6:51), when He healed the sick (Lk. 5:24-26), when He cast out demons from oppressed individuals (Matt. 12:22-23), and when He raised the dead (Mk. 5:35, 41-42).

For us, today, the most amazing wonder of all is surely that God could love us so much, guilty sinners as we all are (Rom. 3:23), and send His Son to die on a cross, thereby paying the penalty for our sins. By His death and resurrection, Christ made available the forgiveness of sin and eternal life, for all who would trust in Him. The Scriptures are clear about it. “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3).

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15).

In 1932 gospel song writer Alfred Henry Ackley produced the text of a song he called, simply, Amazed. His brother, Bentley DeForest Ackley provided the tune. The song celebrates the wonderful love and amazing grace of God, His great salvation, and His eternal blessings. One time when this hymn was sung relates to my own family.

Back in the 1930’s and early 40’s, the International Harvester plant, in Hamilton, Ontario, was turning out farm equipment. But as war loomed, they dialed back the farm business and turned out components for weapons of war. During that time, my cousin Jack was hired to work there. It was his first job, and he was filled with anxiety as he reported for duty.

The reason was young Jack was a sincere Christian, and he wondered how the tough and often profane labourers would react to that. But, as he entered the plant that day, from far above him, he heard the powerful tenor voice of a family friend, Ralph Hunter, singing. And what he sang was the Ackley’s song. Jack says, when he heard it, it was as though the Lord said to him, “Everything will be all right; I’m right here with you.”

1) I am amazed that God could ever love me,
So full of sin, so covered o’er with shame;
Make me to walk with Him who is above me,
Cleansed by the pow’r of His redeeming name.

I am amazed that God would ever save me,
Naught but the cross could take away my sin;
Through faith in Christ, eternal life He gave me,
Now He abides forevermore within.

3) I am amazed that God should grant salvation,
To such as I and all who heed His word;
Eternal life to ev’ry land and nation,
This is the wondrous message we have heard.

Questions:
1) In your view, what is the most “amazing” thing about God’s salvation?

2) When was the last time you talked with a stranger about the Lord, or your Christian faith?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Alfred Ackley)
The Cyber Hymnal (Alfred Ackley)
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | January 1, 2018

Standing at the Portal

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Frances Ridley Havergal (b. Dec. 14, 1836; d. June 3, 1879)
Music: St. Alban (Haydn), by Franz Josef Haydn (b. Mar. 31, 1732; d. May 31, 1809)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Frances Havergal, a pastor’s daughter, had a brilliant mind and a passionate heart for Christ. Though they never met, and there was an ocean between them, Havergal was a friend and correspondent of Fanny Crosby in America. Though Frances Havergal died at the age of forty-three, she left us a treasure of great hymns, such as: Lord, Speak to Me; Take My Life and Let It Be; Like a River Glorious; and Who Is on the Lord’s Side? A second New Year’s hymn she wrote is Another Year Is Dawning.

For the present song, here are a couple of alternatives as to the tune used: St. Gertrude, to which we sing Onward, Christian Soldiers; or Wye Valley, to which we sing Like a River Glorious (but in this case omitting the refrain).

On this blog we’ve considered many different words and phrases, some from our traditional hymns, and some from the Bible. The word this time is “portal.” It means a door, or gate, a point of entry or exit. The door of our house is a portal, serving as both a way in and a way out.

But let’s think of the word in a more abstract way. Taking a new job is a kind of portal. It’s a doorway to both new opportunities and perhaps new temptations. Marriage is a portal too, an entry point into a new life. The birth of a child is another, the beginning of parenthood. And when children grow up and move on, parents must enter a new “empty nest” lifestyle.

There are individual portals associated with age. A baby learns to walk, and talk, and his or her life changes forever. Then there’s entering school and, years later, graduation. And things such as learning to drive, a first job, dating, and so on, all represent moving on to something new. So does retirement, or the death of a spouse, later on. There are still connections with what came before, but those things aren’t the centre of attention they once were.

We can think of the new year in the same way. In a sense, January 1st follows December 31st as just another day. But, the beginning of January has long been recognized as special, even in pre-Christian Rome. In the Roman Empire the day was dedicated to Janus, god of gateways and beginnings–in other words, a portal through which the old is left behind to a degree, and individuals face new events and circumstances. Some of these are unknown as of now, or seen only in a misty outline.

Columnist Walter Winchell once said, “The same thing happened today that happened yesterday, only to different people.” It’s a neat aphorism, but not entirely true. You may have broken your leg yesterday, or received an inheritance of ten thousand dollars, and I may have one or the other happen to me today, but the possible choices and challenges we each face, because of who we are, and our unique experience, may lead us in quite different directions.

For Christians, there’s another dimension to be considered on New Year’s Day–and every day. We need to evaluate our walk with the Lord through past days, and set goals for the future aimed at our spiritual development, and our further service for Christ. In a hymn, Henry Burton wrote, “Live for self, you live in vain; live for Christ, you live again.” And missionary C. T. Studd, wrote in a poem, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

For the believer, there are two constants to encourage us, as we enter the portal of a new year.

¤ One is the assurance of the Lord’s presence with us (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5), offering daily grace and mercy to sustain us (Heb. 4:15-16).

¤ The other is His wonderful Word to guide us. “The entrance of Your words gives light,” says the psalmist (Ps. 119:130). “Your word is a lamp to my feed and a light to my path” (vs. 105).

These blessings are the theme of this fine New Year’s hymn by Frances Havergal.

CH-1) Standing at the portal
Of the opening year,
Words of comfort meet us,
Hushing every fear;
Spoken through the silence
By our Saviour’s voice,
Tender, strong and faithful,
Making us rejoice.

Onward, then, and fear not,
Children of the day;
For His Word shall never,
Never pass away.

CH-2) “I, the Lord, am with thee,
Be thou not afraid;
I will help and strengthen
Be thou not dismayed.
Yea, I will uphold thee
With My own right hand;
Thou art called and chosen
In My sight to stand.”

CH-3) For the year before us,
O what rich supplies!
For the poor and needy
Living streams shall rise;
For the sad and sinful
Shall His grace abound;
For the faint and feeble
Perfect strength be found.

Questions:
1) Have you ever made a “New Year’s resolution”? (How did that work out?)

2) What are some basic things Christians should resolve to do (or improve on) in the future?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | December 29, 2017

We Thank Thee, Lord, for This Fair Earth

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: George Edward Lynch Cotton (b. Oct. 29, 1813; d. Oct. 6, 1866)
Music: Ernan, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: George Cotton was an English clergyman who is known for one hymn only. He was appointed bishop of Calcutta, India, at the age of fifty-three, but he never reached his post. He was drowned while disembarking from his ship.

Charles Dickens’ historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, was published in 1859. It deals with events surrounding the French Revolution, more than a century before the author’s time, and with the effect of that violent upheaval on characters living in two major cities of the day, London and Paris.

The story tells us about Sydney Carton, an English lawyer, who is a depressed and cynical alcoholic, though he shines, later in the book, in an act of self sacrifice that saves the life of another man, Charles Darnay. (Carton speaks the oft quoted words, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.”) A third character, Lucie Mannette, is called in the tale “the golden thread,” because her love and her actions tie the other two characters together.

Though not ranked among the best of Dickens’ novels, it’s still a work of genius, highlighting the themes of noble sacrifice and, what was a particular passion of the author’s, the need for social justice. It gives us a look at two different worlds, how they are intertwined, and how the characters live in each, and are affected by each.

The Christian, too, is a citizen of two cities, in fact of two different worlds. We have, in a real sense, dual citizenship. Paul was able to say, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city” (Acts 21:39) and, at the same time, tell the Philippian believers, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).

A major difference is that the characters in A Tale of Two Cities were able to travel back and forth between London and Paris, but that is not so for us. We learn something about the heavenly kingdom in the Scriptures, and we look forward to being there, but for the present we are firmly grounded on planet earth.

Yet the eternal kingdom has an influence over us. We are to espouse its values, and live as those who will one day take up residence there. The Lord Jesus told His hearers to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20), and “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (vs. 33). Since believers will one day go to live with Him there, “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I Jn. 3:3).

We must, of course, consider our allegiance to earthly rulers, and live within the boundaries of earthly laws, and the Bible exhorts us to do that. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1).

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men–as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (I Pet. 2:13-17).

But where there is a significant conflict between man’s laws and God’s, the Christian has needs to consider his allegiance to a higher Authority. When forbidden to preach the gospel, Peter and the other apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and they were willing to suffer for that choice.

“When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42).

Cotton’s hymn, published in 1856, is We Thank Thee, Lord, for This Fair Earth. It provides a gentle reminder that, though there are many things on earth that are “fair,” we must never lose sight of God’s kingdom, and should live with spiritual and eternal values in view.

CH-1) We thank Thee, Lord, for this fair earth,
The glittering sky, the silver sea;
For all their beauty, all their worth,
Their light and glory, come from Thee.

CH-2) Thine are the flowers that clothe the ground,
The trees that wave their arms above,
The hills that gird our dwellings round,
As Thou dost gird Thine own with love.

CH-3) Yet teach us still how far more fair,
More glorious, Father, in Thy sight,
Is one pure deed, one holy prayer,
One heart that owns Thy Spirit’s might.

CH-4) So while we gaze with thoughtful eye
On all the gifts Thy love has given,
Help us in Thee to live and die,
By Thee to rise from earth to heav’n.

Questions:
1) How can we keep a balance between enjoying the things of this earth and keeping our eyes on eternity and its values?

2) What experience recently reminded you of the need to live by spiritual and eternal values, rather than those of this world?

Links:

Posted by: rcottrill | December 27, 2017

Thy Way, Not Mine, O Lord

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Horatius Bonar (b. Dec. 19, 1808; d. July 31, 1889)
Music: St. Cecilia (or Hayne), by Leighton George Hayne (b. Feb. 28, 1836; d. Mar. 3, 1883)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns Horatius Bonar born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Most of Pastor Bonar’s hymns were written for the Sunday School. In the worship services of the church, only the Psalms were used. Near the end of his life, when Bonar tried introducing a couple of his hymns in a service, two church leaders walked out, in indignation.

This hymn originally had seven four-line stanzas. But in some hymnals the second one is dropped so the rest can be combined into three eight-line stanzas, with a tune to match.

We have a number of ways to raise the question: Who’s in charge? Who’s the boss? Who’s in command? Who is supposed to give direction here? Or we could ask who gives the orders, or who has the final say. The query might arise from a desire to get key information or assistance. But it can also be meant to discover an explanation for a chaotic situation, or to pin the blame for wrongdoing.

Sometimes we see a dog straining at the leash and virtually dragging its owner down the street. We may joke, “It looks like the dog is taking his owner for a walk!” Who’s in charge there? With a lack of proper training, the dog has learned he can do as he pleases.

Or watch scene unfold in the mall. A child sees some expensive toy, points at it and says, loudly, “I want that!” And when mom tries to hush him, and explain why it’s not a good idea, the boy throws a screaming fit. To hush the noise and avoid embarrassment, the beleaguered mother may give in, and throw the item in her cart. Who’s in charge there?

Many of us have seen situations where popularity, power, or money has enabled an individual to have undue influence on government, in the courts and, yes, even in a church. Churches are made up of fallible people, and can sometimes make a decision on the basis of wrong priorities.

In the Bible, the issue of who’s in control comes up many times.

It did for Adam and Eve. God had provided a beautiful garden for their habitation, and a wonderful variety of food to eat. But the fruit of one particular tree was forbidden, the Lord warned that to eat it would bring death (Gen. 2:17). Satan, disguised as a serpent, said it wasn’t so (3:4). That, in fact, the Lord was holding out on them. By eating it they could become god-like and wise (3:5). They decided they were in charge of their destiny, not God, and ate. We’ve been suffering from their rebellion ever since!

The prophet Jonah provides another example. God commanded him to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and preach against their wickedness (Jon. 1:1-2). But Jonah reasoned that if, perchance, the people repented and God spared them, they would continue to be a threat to Israel. He concluded the Lord must have made a mistake, and he booked passage on a ship going in the opposite direction (vs. 3).

The Lord got Jonah’s attention by means of a giant sea creature (Jon. 1:17), and he concluded that God was in charge after all. He went to Nineveh and did as the Lord had commanded (Jon. 3:1-4). The Assyrian people did repent, and God spared them. But it was only a stay of execution. They later returned to their evil ways. The prophet Nahum predicted their doom a century later, and it came.

It’s only as we recognize God’s sovereign right to rule over our lives that we are pointed toward a better destiny. A day of accounting is coming (Ecc. 12: 13-14; II Cor. 5:10). Faith and obedience toward God are not a hindrance to a fulfilling life, but the very path to it.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him [as Lord of your life], and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).

The present hymn about submitting to the will of God comes from Scottish pastor Horatius Bonar. His answer to God’s question, “Who’s in charge of your life?” would be, “You are, Lord.”

CH-1) Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be!
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.

CH-2) Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy rest.

CH-3) I dare not choose my lot;
I would not, if I might;
Choose Thou for me, my God,
So I shall walk aright.

CH-6) Choose Thou for me my friends,
My sickness or my health;
Choose Thou my cares for me
My poverty or wealth.

CH-7) Not mine, not mine the choice
In things or great or small;
Be Thou my guide, my strength
My wisdom, and my all.

Questions:
1) What are some of the possible problems when we try to go our own way, not God’s way?

2) What are some things the Lord can teach us through the trials and difficulties of life?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns Horatius Bonar born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | December 25, 2017

Unto Us a Boy Is Born

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: author unknown; translated by Percy Dearmer (b. Feb. 27, 1867; d. May 29, 1936)
Music: Lasst Uns Alle (Let Us All) Gesangbuch (Hymnal), Ander Teil (Dresden, Germany: 1632)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Percy Dearmer)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Dearmer was an English clergyman who also edited books of hymns and wrote some songs himself. He became the canon of Westminster Abbey.

“The Alpha and the Omega” (in the first line of the last stanza) are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The title is used four times of the Lord, in the book of Revelation. It indicates that all things begin and end with Him (Rev. 22:12-13; cf. Rom. 11:36.)–rather like us saying, in English, He is the A to Z. For some strange reason, Dearmer rendered the title “Omega and Alpha.” This is neither accurate to Scripture, logical, or musically suited to the tune. I have corrected it below.

Christmas morning can be an exciting time. When I was a small boy, Grandma Cottrill would come to stay with us over Christmas and, in the morning, we all gathered around the tree, under which some brightly wrapped presents had mysteriously appeared overnight.

And if your tradition was like ours, there were also stocking hanging there, bulging strangely. They usually came first, and yielded a number of fascinating things, some of them good to eat. But what about the hidden mysteries under the tree? Was that special something we were hoping for really there?

I suppose I was like a lot of little boys, struggling to be grateful for things I needed, while almost bursting with excited anticipation for what I dearly wanted. Socks and underwear may have been practical, but they could hardly compare, in my mind, with a gleaming toy!

There’s another struggle we have–perhaps even as adults. It’s experiencing the truth of the words of the Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). For some, that seems to come more easily than for others. But Christmas is about giving, not getting. And learning the joy of giving is a wonderful experience.

Sometimes, it’s even more exciting to give anonymously, and not have a name tag attached to what’s given, identifying us. And what if we had to make some sacrifice in order to share that gift. A sacrifice that we perhaps couldn’t–or wouldn’t–tell others about. Just to know we’ve been a blessing or a help to someone else can be very satisfying.

The fantasies and fun of the season have their place. But the true Christmas story is about the most glorious Gift ever given. It’s just what we needed. And, when we’re enlightened regarding the nature of the Gift, we see it is just what we wanted all along. Isaiah predicted the arrival of the Gift, saying, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [meaning God with us]” (Isa. 7:14). And Immanuel was given an earthly name, “Jesus”, even before He was born (Matt. 1:21; Lk. 1:31).

Notice the words I’ve italicized in what follows. They show plainly who the Gift is for. It was intended for you and for me.

“He [Jesus] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest [revealed] in these last times for you” (I Pet. 1:20). “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa. 9:6). “There is born to you this day…a Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord” (Lk. 2).

And of His cross, Jesus said:

“My body…[is] broken for you” (Cor. 11:24). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9). “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15).

Which brings us to simple a carol about six centuries old. It was written in German, and translated in the early twentieth century by Percy Dearmer.

CH-1) Unto us a Boy is born,
King of all creation:
Came He to world forlorn,
Lord of every nation.

CH-2) Cradled in a stall was He
’Midst the cows and asses;
But the very beasts could see
He all men surpasses.

CH-4) Now may Mary’s Son, who came
Long ago to love us,
Lead us all with hearts aflame
To the joys above us.

CH-5) Alpha and Omega He!
Let the organ thunder,
While the choir with peals of glee
Rends the air asunder.

Questions:
1) What is the most wonderful gift you ever received (other than salvation through Christ)?

2) What is the most blessed and delightful giving experience you ever had?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Percy Dearmer)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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