Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Take Ownership

Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to Yahweh.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in the heavens.
We have transgressed and have rebelled; you have not pardoned.
You have covered with anger and pursued us; you have killed, you have not pitied.
You have covered yourself with a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through.
You have made us an off-scouring and refuse in the middle of the peoples.
All our enemies have opened their mouth wide against us.
Fear and the pit have come on us, devastation and destruction.
My eye runs down with streams of water, for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
My eye pours down, and doesn’t cease, without any intermission,
Until Yahweh look down, and see from heaven.
— Lamentations 3:40-50 WEB

The Book of Lamentations, thought to be authored by the prophet Jeremiah, is a collection of lamentations on the destruction of Jerusalem and the capture, enslavement and exile of its people. Following these events, many wondered how God could have done these things to His chosen people.
But in this passage, the writer explains that it is not God who is ultimately responsible for these events, but the people themselves. God had given instruction to the people on how to live. But the people and their leadership ignored God. They did not do so all at once, but gradually, a little at a time, to the point where their transgressions did not seem as such to them. But they transgressed none the less.
When the destruction and the enslavement finally came, the people wondered, “How could God do this to us?” But the writer responds, “How could we have done this to ourselves?” The writer calls for self-examination. He calls for the people to take ownership of what has happened to them, to search themselves, and to turn back to God.

As we look to a new year, let us also take ownership of our lives. Let us acknowledge that God loves us and wants the best for us, but we do not always do what is best for ourselves. Let us prayerfully examine and try our ways. Let us ask God to help us recognize the sin, the bad, the things He knows are not the best for us. Let us welcome the pruning process with praise and thanks, knowing that the end will be better than the start. And whatever the outcome, let us remember that God loves us and is with us always.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Prayers for Comfort in Affliction

Psalm 34:18 - Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have crushed spirit. (WEB).

File:Clasped hands.jpg

David's words are still true today. And they are so needed today in light of the many who are afflicted, suffering from storm and from violence.

Dear Father, You taught us in Your Word that You do not willingly afflict or grieve us. Look with pity on the sorrow of these who are suffering. Remember them in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with Your goodness, lift Your face upon them, and give them peace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Remembering Those Who Have Gone Before

Cloud Shielding The Sun
Cloud Shielding the Sun, by Lynn Greyling

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 - But we don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, so that you don’t grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left to the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (WEB).

Dear Father, we remember our bothers and sisters who have gone on before us. We thank you for giving them to us, to know and to love as companions on our earthly pilgrimage. In Your great love and compassion, console us who mourn for these. Give us faith to see in death the gateway to eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our own course on this earth, until, by Your call, we are reunited with them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Morning Has Broken

Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
John 1:1 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (WEB).

Eleanor Farjeon (1881 - 1965) grew up in the literary and dramatic circles of London, the daughter of novelist Benjamin Farjeon. Eleanor began her professional carrier in her teens on the operatic stage. Later, she had great success in writing and eventually published about 80 works in all. She wrote books for children and books adults, but she especially loved writing for children.

Around 1930, editor Percy Dearmer was preparing a hymn collection and asked Eleanor to contribute a hymn for children. In his request, Dearmer had two specific requirements. First, the song had to give thanks for each new day. Second, the text had to be set to a Scottish tune known as "Bunessan", which had first appeared in print in 1900 and had already been paired with Mary MacDonald's Christmas carol, "Child in the Manger". With these requirements, Eleanor created a lilting hymn that linked the creation stories of Genesis 1 and John 1, and reminded the singer that each new day was a gift from God. The text praised God for the sights and sounds of the new day and compared each dawn to the very first day in the Garden of Eden. The hymn first published in 1931, as part of Dearmer's second edition of Songs of Praise.
Morning has broken
like the first morning,
blackbird has spoken
like the first bird.
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for the springing
fresh from the Word!

Sweet the rain's new fall
sunlit from heaven,
like the first dewfall
on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness
of the wet garden,
sprung in completeness
where his feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight!
Mine is the morning
born of the one light
Eden saw play!
Praise with elation,
praise every morning,
God's recreation
of the new day!


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Psalm 46:1-3 - God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we won’t be afraid, though the earth changes, though the mountains are shaken into the heart of the seas; though its waters roar and are troubled, though the mountains tremble with their swelling. (WEB)

Martin Luther (1483 - 1546), a German professor of theology, composer, priest, and former monk, came to reject several teachings and practices of the Late Medieval Catholic Church. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. Luther proposed an academic discussion of the power and usefulness of indulgences in his Ninety-Five Theses of 1517, which he posted on the door of Wittenberg's Castle. This act began years of trial and persecution for Luther. His refusal to retract all of his writings, at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521, resulted in Luther's excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor. Luther continually faced threats against his life and his freedom. And Luther knew that other reformers had been persecuted and burned at the stake. But Luther put his trust in God and in Scripture passages such as Psalm 46.

In 1529, Luther wrote his hymn based upon Psalm 46, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"). It has been called the one hymn that most symbolizes the Protestant Reformation. In the hymn, Luther proclaims his confidence in God and rallies all Christians to war against evil. It is said that those persecuted and martyred for their convictions during the Reformation sang these words.

The hymn has been translated from German into nearly every language, and there are said to be over eighty English translations alone. The version most used in the United States is the translation published in 1853 by Frederic Henry Hedge (1805 - 1890). The first line of this hymn is inscribed on Luther's tomb at Wittenberg.

A Might Fortress Is Our God
German text by Martin Luther, 1529.
English translation by Frederic H. Hedge, 1853.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever

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Monday, February 15, 2016

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

Jeremiah 10:12-13 - He has made the earth by his power, he has established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding has he stretched out the heavens: when he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; he makes lightnings for the rain, and brings the wind out of his treasuries. (WEB).

"I Sing the Mighty Power of God" was written by Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748). Since the early twentieth century, the text has normally been paired a tune sometimes called Forest Green, a traditional English melody arranged in 1906 by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1958).

The hymn was originally included in a hymnal written for children, where it was entitled "Praise for Creation and Providence". Isaac Watts loved children. In 1715 he published the collection entitled Divine and Moral Songs for Children. In the preface, Watts wrote, "Children of high and low degree, of the Church of England or Dissenters, baptized in infancy or not, may all join together in these songs. And as I have endeavored to sink the language to the level of a child’s understanding . . . to profit all, if possible, and offend none." At the time of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther instructed his followers to sing hymns. However, the reformer John Calvin only allowed the singing of versified, or paraphrased, Scripture. By the time of Isaac Watts, the singing of psalms had become dull and lifeless. When Watts was 19 years old, he complained to his father about this. His father then challenged him to write something better. Watts then proceeded to write hundreds of hymns. In spite of being called "flights of fancy" by his contemporaries, and causing dissention in churches, Watts’ hymns are still sung and loved today. Instead of paraphrasing Scripture, "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" compiles imagery from multiple passages: the story of Creation, Genesis 1; Psalm 19:1-3; Psalm 95:3-6, the creation hymn, Psalm 104, and Jeremiah 10:12-13.

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise,
[or I sing th’almighty power of God…]
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command, and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Martin Luther and the Healing Power of Music

Religious reformer Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 – February 18, 1546) was the author of many hymns and chorales that remain the foundation of Protestant church music. It is said that without Luther, there could have been no Bach.

Martin Luther in 1533, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

In his later years, Luther suffered many ailments, including Ménière's disease, vertigo, fainting, tinnitus, and a cataract in one eye. Luther saw these as the efforts of Satan to prevent Luther from doing his important work.

Often when Luther was at work in his study, he felt that Satan was perturbing him. Once he had been locked inside for some time, not even demanding food, when Lucas Edenberger, preceptor of Duke Ernst of Saxony, arrived with some musicians to visit Luther. When he did not answer their knocking on the door, Edenberger looked through the keyhole and saw Luther lying on the floor unconscious, his arms outstretched. Edenberger broke open the door, lifted Luther up in his arms and, together with his companions, began to sing. Luther regained consciousness slowly, his melancholy departed and before long he began to sing with them. He then asked Lucas and his companions to visit him often and never to let themselves be turned away no matter what Luther was doing; for Luther believed that the Satanic influences and sadness left him as soon as he heard music.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Eternal Father, Strong to Save

In 1860, a teacher wrote a poem for a student. The teacher was William Whiting (1825 - 1878), originally from Kensington, England. Whiting was then the master of Winchester College Choristers' School in Hampshire. One of his students was about to sail to the United States and Whiting gave him a prayer, in written form, asking the Eternal Father to protect him, as well as all others who were in peril on the see. The text soon became more widely known and the following year, 1861, Anglican clergyman John B. Dykes (1823 - 1876) composed a tune to accompany the words. Dykes called his tune "Melita," an archaic term for Malta, an ancient island seafaring nation which was a colony of the British Empire and the site of a shipwreck which included among the passengers the Apostle Paul (Acts 27-28).

This beautiful hymn is traditionally associated with the Royal Navy, the Corps of the Royal Marines, the Royal Air Force, and the British Army, as well as the navies of the British commonwealth. In the United States, the hymn is associated with the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Marine Corps.

Each verse of the original text has references to particular biblical events. The first verse refers to God forbidding the waters to flood the earth as described in Psalm 104. The second verse refers to Jesus' miracles of stilling a storm and walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. The third verse references the Holy Spirit's role in the creation of the earth in the Book of Genesis. And the final verse is a reference to Psalm 107.

Over time, the hymn text has been altered by various parties for various reasons. One alteration was made to include more references to travel on land. And some alterations were made to add more modes of transportation, including in the air, and in outer space.

Here is the original text.

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

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!

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!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.


To learn more, visit these links.

Friday, February 12, 2016

This Is My Father's World

A 1919 publication of "This is My Father's World." The arrangement is in the public domain.

When Syracuse, New York minister Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858 - 1901) lived in the city of Lockport, he took frequent walks along the Niagara Escarpment to enjoy the overlook's panoramic vista of upstate New York scenery and Lake Ontario. Before leaving for his walks, Babcock would tell his wife he was "going out to see the Father's world". Shortly after his death in 1901, Mrs. Babcock published a compilation of her husband's writings, entitled Thoughts for Every-Day Living, that contained the poem "My Father's World." The original poem contained sixteen stanzas of four lines each. In 1915, Franklin L. Sheppard chose only three verses of the sixteen when he set Babcock's poem to music to a tune entitled "Terra Beata" (Latin for "Blessed Earth"). Scripture references in the original poem include Psalm 33:5 "He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love." and Psalm 50:12 "For the world is mine, and all that is it."

My Father's World
Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858 - 1901)

This is my Father's world. On the day of its wondrous birth
The stars of light in phalanx bright, Sang out in Heavenly mirth.

This is my Father's world. E'en yet to my listening ears
All nature sings, and around me rings, The music of the spheres

This is my Father's world. I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas, His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world. The birds that their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, Declare their Maker's praise.

This is my Father's world. He shines in all that's fair.
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world. From His eternal throne,
He watch doth keep when I'm asleep, And I am not alone.

This is my Father's world. Dreaming, I see His face.
I open my eyes, and in glad surprise, Cry, "TIle Lord is in this place."

This is my Father's world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze, God makes His glory known.

This is my Father's world. Among the mountains drear,
'Mid rending rocks and earthquake shocks, The still, small voice I hear.

This is my Father's world. From the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His only Son, Came-a pledge of deathless love.

This is my Father's world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod, No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father's world. His love has filled my breast,
I am reconciled, I am His child, My soul has found His rest.

This is my Father's world. A wanderer I may roam,
Whate'er my lot, it matters not, My heart is still at home.

This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget
That tho' the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father's world. The battle is not done.
Jesus who died shall be satisfied, And earth and Heaven be one.

This is my Father's world. Should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is Kinglet the Heavens ring, God reignslet the earth be glad.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How Can I Keep from Singing

On August 7, 1868, The New York Observer published a poem attributed to 'Pauline T." and entitled "Always Rejoicing." The poem beautifully recounted the authors reasoning that, since Jesus Christ was Lord of all, even in the brightest and darkest moments of her life, how could she keep from singing.

The next year, 1869, the words were published in the song book, Bright Jewels for the Sunday School. The accompanying music was composed by American Baptist minister and professor of literature, Robert Wadsworth Lowry (1826 -1899). Since that time, this haunting combination of words and music have frequently, and erroneously, been cited as a traditional Quaker hymn. This song has resonated with many and become quite popular, though it is not widely sung in congregational worship. Popular music performers have even recorded the song with some lyric variations.


My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?


To learn more, visit these links.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Ephesians 1:1 - Saints and Faithful

Ephesians 1:1 - Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus. (WEB)

The "saints" and the "faithful" were the Apostle Paul's way of describing a church. But what does it mean to be a saint? And what does Paul mean by "the faithful?"

Paul uses the Greek word hagios (pronounced "HAG-ee-os"), meaning set apart, holy, or sacred. At it's core, the word signifies separation. There is one special kind of separation which makes a person a saint, and that is separation to God, for His uses, in obedience to His commandment, that He may employ the believer as He wills.

In God's church there is no aristocracy of sanctity. Nor is a saint a designation of rank. All of God's children are His saints. And down among all the troubles and difficulties and busyness of our daily work, we may live saintly lives. For the one condition of being holy is that we should know whose we are and whom we serve, and we can carry the consciousness of belonging to Him into every corner of the poorest, most crowded, and most distracted life, recognizing His presence and seeking to do His will.

In the Old Testament, those things which were holy, or set apart, were ceremonially placed on the altar and consumed there in the fire of a divine love. The odor of the consumption was a pleasing fragrance to God. God's pleasure came not from the physical smoke, but from the sacrifice fulfilling God's command to be set apart. So we are to be laid upon the divine altar. We have been accepted and have received the atonement for our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And we, too, are to be consecrated to His service and, touched by the fire which He sends down, we are to be changed into a sweet odor acceptable to Him.

Paul also uses the Greek word pistos (pronounced "pis-TOS"), meaning trustworthy, faithful, or believing. The only way by which we come to realize that we belong to God, and to yield ourselves in glad surrender to His uses, is by humble faith in Jesus Christ. Our sanctification follows on our faith. It is when we believe and trust in Jesus Christ that all the great motives begin to show in our life and heart, which deliver us from our selfishness, which bind us to God, which make it a joy to do anything for His service, which kindle in our hearts the flame of fruit-bearing and consecrating and transforming love. Our holiness and our sanctification are built upon the foundation of our faith, upon our trusting in Jesus Christ, for everything.

And so. We, as His church, are to be the faithful--trusting and believing--and the saints--holy and set apart to God. May we be so by His grace. Amen.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Deuteronomy 31:6 - Be Courageous. God is With You!

Deuteronomy 31:6 - "Be strong and courageous, don't be afraid, nor be scared of them: for Yahweh your God, he it is who does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you." (WEB).

Shortly before his death, Moses gathered the Israelites in the land of Moab and prepared them for the next steps in their journey. Led by Joshua, the son of Nun, the people would enter the land promised by God and conquer the Canaanites. Moses reminded the people of the victories that God had already given them and assured the people that God would continue to be with them and make them victorious. But Moses charged the people that they should stay mindful of God's assurance. They should therefore be strong and courageous.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, The phrase "be courageous" is the Greek verb transliterated as andrizó, and meaning "act like a man" or "play the man." It's not certain the origin of this usage. Perhaps it is a reference to the ideal man, or the ideal woman, who would fully possess and demonstrate all of the virtues, including courage. Whatever the origin, this word is used in a similar fashion in the surrounding passage and also at the beginning of the book of Joshua, in which God reminds Joshua to "be strong and courageous." The Apostle Paul may have been familiar with the Septuagint and may have been thinking of these passages when he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, because he used the same Greek root word for courage.

Watch! Stand firm in the faith! Be courageous! Be strong! - 1 Corinthians 16:13 WEB

Moses told the people and Joshua to be strong in their faith in God. God would not fail them or forsake them. God would not leave them to themselves, but would be always present with them to assist and make them successful in their undertakings. God repeated this promise to Joshua in Joshua 1:5. This promise, though made at that time to Israel and to Joshua, yet belongs to all who believe in and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. And the writer of the letter to the Hebrews must have reflected on these two passages when he reminded his readers of the changelessness of Jesus Christ.

Be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he has said, "I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you." - Hebrews 13:5 WEB

Whatever our battles, be they physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, personal, professional, financial, and more, God is with us. God will never leave us. So take courage. Be strong!


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Psalm 118:24 - This is the Day. Rejoice!

This is the day that Yahweh has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it! -- Psalm 118:24 WEB

A few meanings are given to this verse. The most well known is the simple truth that each day is a gift from God and we should rejoice and be glad in that gift. The other meanings go deeper.

Psalm 118 is one the six psalms (113-118) which compose the Jewish prayer of praise and thanksgiving known as the Hallel. The Hallel is recited during many Jewish festivals, including Pesach (Passover), Sukkot (Feast of Booths), Shavuot (Festival of Weeks), and Hanukkah (Festival of Lights). Psalm 118 is considered one of the messianic psalms, or one of the psalms that look to the coming of the Messiah, who will deliver God's people. In this light, verse 24 alludes to the earlier portion of the psalm in which the triumph of the Messiah is described. This triumph is a day for which the Lord God has long prepared and a day in which the delivered should rejoice and be glad. For the followers of Jesus Christ, the meaning has a greater significance because that day of triumph has come. Death has been defeated and Jesus Christ is Lord.

And so in all of these things, this is the day that our Lord God has made. And we surely will rejoice and be glad in it!