River of Life

We enjoyed the Dry River in western Rockingham County, visiting with friends, hiking, and watching the water in the stream.

Some years ago, the Daphna Creek band composed and performed “River of Life,” an original song by the Rockingham County gospel bluegrass band.

“River of Life”

Harmonia Sacra Singing Jan. 1, 2023

The annual Harmonia Sacra singing in the Shenandoah Valley took place on New Year’s day, as it has since 1902. Around two hundred singers attended, from numerous religious groups and twelve states. About twenty song leaders led twenty-four hymns from Joseph Funk’s Harmonia Sacra songbook.

I especially liked the song called Lexington, by William Cowper, 1779: “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings. It is the Lord who rises, with healing in His wings; When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.”

We sang this year at Park View Mennonite Church (pictured), Harrisonburg, Va., since the traditional site, Weavers Mennonite Church, was being renovated.

Come we that love the Lord

Isaac Watts wrote one of the great hymns of the church in the early 1700s, with music added later by Robert Lowry. “Come we that love the Lord” invites singers into worship in energizing and enlivening ways.

I enjoy singing the song in worship because I’ve attended a church named Zion for many years. Our church is situated on a hillside, like the ancient Zion in Israel. Watts wrote that the hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets before we reach the heavenly fields.

The lyrics and tune of this song tend toward a marching effect. We are invited to join in song as we look toward the holy Zion of God’s presence and Spirit, which surrounds us in holiness as we march toward God’s holy hill.

Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry, Watts penned. We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground to fairer worlds on high, the beautiful city of God.

I Owe the Lord a Morning Song

Yesterday we sang Amos Herr’s wonderful hymn that gives praise to God for another day. Written in 1890, editors of the 1902 Church and Sunday School Hymnal used the song, and many major hymnals since have included the song.

I try to arrive at my desk each morning in time to see the sun peek up over the Massanutten Mountain, which I can see from my second-floor study. The sun gives me courage and hope for the new day, for which I give thanks again. It is in mercy that God has lengthened my days.

In the second verse, Amos Herr penned a prayer that God’s Spirit, as the light, directs us in his way. In the third verse, the lyrics invite God to lead in doing His will.

A quartet sang this song in church for us during covid. The beauty of the harmonies, the strong lyrics, and the message in this song makes it a favorite for many. Each new morning, I owe the Lord a morning song.

Wonderful Grace of Jesus

Yesterday I led “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” at our church. What a powerful hymn, expressing basic evangelical convictions about the gospel message in Christ. Haldor Lillenas, the writer of the hymn, about a century ago, understood the effects of sin on one’s life, but he also penned a tune that celebrated the wonderful grace of Jesus.

Christ is the very image of God, the one we are to reflect in our lives. We are called to mediate God’s presence and Spirit to others. Made in God’s image, as expressed in the creation story, we are called to pass on that imageness to others.

When Moses came down the mountain with commandments a second time, in Exodus 34, he seemed to glow with a shining face. Our challenge is to mediate God’s shining face to those around us, declaring the wonderful grace of Jesus.

God’s grace is matchless, deeper than the mighty rolling sea, higher than the mountain, sparkling like a fountain, and broader than the scope of my transgressions. Our call is to reflect the shining presence of the Spirit into the lives of those around us, always aware of the deep and wide efficacy of the grace of God.

Holy, holy, holy

The three-fold praise of God from Isaiah 6:3 became the substance of a great hymn of the church. “Holy, holy, holy,” Reginald Heber wrote in 1826. Well-known and used in many songbooks, the glorious praise of God that comes in three-fold repetition soars toward the heavens.

Heber wrote that our song should rise to God early in the morning. Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed trinity.

I see the pattern of three in many areas of life, in buildings, barns, windows, and elsewhere. Here, the prophet Isaiah, repeated by John the Revelator, is three-fold “holy, holy, holy.”

In Heber’s hymn, Cherubim and seraphim fell before the throne, expressing God’s past, present, and future holiness. Our response can be to extol the righteousness of God, to say that there is none beside him, perfect in power, love, and purity.

Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing

Charles Wesley wrote some amazing songs of praise and worship. I love the soaring lyrics of his 1739 hymn, “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing.” Wesley wrote these timeless phrases a year after his conversion, and he recognized “my great Redeemer’s praise.”

The arrangement of the tune, by a later composer, makes this one of the great hymns of the church. The tune is stately and the lyrics are worthy of insertion in the hymnbooks of many denominations.

“He speaks,” Wesley penned, and those who hear receive new life, those in mourning can rejoice, and the humble poor can believe. The name that charms our fears, the great Methodist hymnodist wrote, is Jesus. His name bids our sorrows cease, and gives life, health, and peace.

Our response can be “Glory to God and praise and love be ever given, by saints below and saints above, the church in earth and heaven.” In spite of the challenges that the church on earth faces with whatever difficulties that come our way, we still have at least one tongue to sing our great Redeemer’s praise.

What Child is This?

In our Advent music service yesterday, an 1871 hymn asked what kind of child is this? Several answers emerged in a set of two songs that we sang. First, this is Christ the King, a most basic assertion of William C. Dix, the author. Also, we sang that this child is the Word made flesh and the King of kings.

In the next hymn, we sang more answers to the question about what kind of child this is. A child of hope is the way John Morison began his 1781 hymn. His name shall be the Prince of peace, the Wonderful, the Counselor, and the great and mighty Lord.

This child, we read in Revelation 3:20, is the one who stands at the door and knocks. This child is the one who conquers, who sends the Spirit to comfort us in our struggles.

A worship scene in Revelation chapter four reveals the heavenly worship setting for praise to the child, the one born in a manger. It is fantastic imagery of a heavenly host in praise to God. To get to that scene of praise, we begin with an affirmation of Christ the King, an answer to the question, “what child is this?”

Joy to the world

Simeon and Anna were prophets who rejoiced when they learned about the birth of Jesus. Simeon had waited many years to hold the baby that Mary and Joseph brought to him. Simeon praised God for bringing “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Israel” (Luke 2:32).

Last evening I joined a group of carolers from church who visited the elderly and shut-ins in our community. At their doorways, standing in the brisk wind, we sang the traditional songs of Christmas, including “Joy to the world.”

This favorite song of the season could have been Anna’s song when she realized that the redemption of Israel had arrived. A godly woman of prayer, fasting, and worship, Anna had dedicated her life to the temple and holy service.

We sing Joy to the world; let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing. Whether in the first century with Simeon and Anna or on a chilly twenty-first century December evening with carolers going house to house, we offer up to the heavens, Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!