The first song we sang in worship yesterday morning was “O Worship the King.” I traveled to a remote town on the western Virginia border, near West Virginia, to a small church to preach the morning sermon for them.
We began with the early nineteenth-century lyrics from Robert H. Grant, used countless times in opening worship. And rightly so. The lyrics soar and invite the singer and those in worship to enter into the very presence of God.
God is our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise. Some twenty folks in that small church yesterday morning lifted their voices in praise, surrounded by the hills of western Virginia, nestled back in a little-traveled region of the state.
In our singing, we told of God’s might, we sang of God’s grace, we celebrated God’s bountiful care. Finally, we proclaimed that in God we do trust, nor find Him to fail; God’s mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend!
We are One in the Spirit reminds us that as Christians work together in love, they can change and positively impact the world. Written in the 1960s, I first learned the song in the early 1970s. I chose to lead this wonderful song as a congregational response song following the sermon yesterday.
The new Voices Together hymnal editors decided to publish this favorite tune, which is not included in many songbooks. The refrain is the strong part of the melody, in which we express that in our love, others will know Christ.
These are days of continual discernment. At the church where I lead music occasionally, we meet outside for worship during the pandemic. We are deliberating on when and in what ways we can use our sanctuary again for worship. And I noticed that the new hymnal editors used inclusive language in the third verse, an appropriate exercise of updating terminology for a different era than when Peter Scholtes wrote the lyrics in 1966.
Not only in matters of discernment, which are ongoing in every generation for the church, but in our outreach must Christ be known in our love. The verses of this song are in a minor key, but the transition to the refrain flashes a major chord, indicative of the strength in this song’s assertion that the world will know Christ through our love.
Charles Wesley wrote a grand hymn of praise that expresses Christian affirmation for the love that comes from Christ. “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down; fix in us thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown.”
In the last phrase of the first verse, Wesley identifies the source of Christian love as being in Christ. “Visit us with thy salvation, enter every trembling heart.” In the second verse, Wesley penned an invitation that Christ would breathe His Holy Spirit into every troubled breast.
When Charles Wesley wrote the text for this great church hymn in 1747, my Yoder ancestors had just arrived in colonial Pennsylvania five years earlier. With the promise of Christ’s Spirit in our hearts, Wesley’s hymn conveys hope and courage to travelers and immigrants, like the Yoders and many other immigrants who sailed for Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century.
At my wedding in a small church over forty years ago, my wife and I chose “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” as one of the congregational hymns to be sung by everyone in attendance. We sang in Charles Wesley’s English language, though many of the ancestors of those who attended our wedding spoke German when their ships arrived in the 1700s. In a flourish with the last verse, Wesley invites Love Divine to finish his new creation, true and spotless, changed from glory into glory, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
One of the lasting songs from the Jesus Music era of the 1970s is Cast Down Your Cares, written in 1977 by John Michael Talbot. This song is a simple guitar tune from the 1970s decade of musical change for the church and contemporary Christian music. Cast Down Your Cares continues to inspire and speak today.
Talbot’s lyrics encourage us to lay down our cares, to cast all our cares upon Him who loves us. Talbot encouraged us to take up the cross and so bring light to the nations. We must go, the refrain soars, as a light to the nations, take up the cross and follow where he leads. We must go as a light to the nations, prepared to wear a crown of thorns to bring his peace.
Several years after Talbot wrote Cast Down Your Cares, my wife and I recorded the song in a small studio located in a friend’s home. During the Covid era, I moved the music from a CD to the digital realm and made it more accessible. May we go as a light to the nations and follow where He leads. I hope the tune inspires you as it has me.
At a memorial service I attended recently for a ninety-two-year-old member of our congregation who passed away, his great-grandchildren sang “In the Bulb There is a Flower.” The tune and profound message stick with me long after the service ended.
In her lyrics from 1985, Natalie Sleeth captured the mystery of life and death, of giving up and gaining, of despair and finding hope. “In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
This morning when I rose from my bed, it was still dark outside. By the time I sat at my desk with a cup of coffee to study my morning Sunday school lesson, the sun had begun to peek up over the Massanutten Mountain. The light streamed in my eyes and fully awakened me for the work ahead. It was a glorious moment of rebirth, of the darkness turning to dawn and then day, of the beauty of God’s nature once again revealed.
In the mysteries of our lives, we hope and pray for the darkness to turn to the day. “There’s a song in every silence,” Natalie Sleeth penned, “seeking word and melody.” As the sun rises in the mornings of our lives, we hope and have confidence in God’s sustaining love, “unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
When I pick up my guitar to accompany a worship song, I first tune the instrument. I’ve noticed that accomplished musicians in the audience can hear whether I’ve set the six strings to their proper notation. Tuning is an essential first step in making good music.
This morning in worship, the song leader texted and said he lost his voice. Could I step in and lead a song, he wondered. So this morning, my wife and I will lead the wonderful tune and text by Brian Doerksen from 1998.
“Come, Now is the Time to Worship” is a theological and straightforward song. Come, just as you are to worship. We come in blue jeans and sweaters because we meet outside on the church parking lot during Covid. This song tunes our hearts to God’s and helps us enter into worship.
Willingly we choose to surrender our lives, and willingly our knees will bow. Doerksen wrote in the plural, making this an excellent song for corporate worship. Just as you are–come, before the Lord, and worship. This is a good song, and I’m glad it made it into our new hymnal, which we will sing from today. May God be glorified in the music.
Twenty years ago, Billy James Foote wrote a song with powerful lyrics. You are My King is easy to lead in a group setting and has a durable tune. The phrase “Your spirit is within me” catches my attention every time I hear or sing the song.
As a child of God, the Holy Spirit lives within us. We have God’s very being and presence in our hearts, our lives, and our work. May we affirm that God’s spirit resides in us, giving grace, hope, and love.
In response to God’s amazing love in sending His son to redeem us from sin, we can carry out our work. In response, we sing of God’s amazing love.
I held our newest grandson two days ago, only six hours after the little boy came into the world. God’s spirit resides within him, as each child born in this world carries the image of God. In the song Amazing Love, which I’ve led many times at church with our congregation, one phrase packs a powerful theological affirmation that God’s Spirit resides within us upon birth. And our response is to tell, show, and sing of God’s amazing love. “Oh God, You are our King.”
A great opening hymn for worship expresses confidence that God is near. What is this place brings the reality of God into our midst and declares that God is among us and cares for us when we are gathered together.
Our church meets outside in the parking lot during the pandemic. We sing outside and conduct our worship services on the pavement next to the building. We’ve grown used to this pattern, and many of us like the outdoors for worship each week.
In one of these recent worship services, the phrase “…and know our God is near” impacted me in an assuring way. Despite a global struggle with a virus, conflicts in society and the world, and uncertainty about the future, we rest assured that “our God is near.”
We can be confident in God’s nearness and know that where we meet, whether in a church sanctuary or outside or online, that God is around us and supporting our lives. When we meet, we become a body that lives and breathes Holy Spirit power and courage, and we leave knowing that God is near.
At a large family reunion in Montezuma, Georgia, in early August 2021, my relatives sang, “This is the day that the Lord has made.” Over two hundred attended the reunion, and folks from many walks of life knew the lyrics from memory. My paternal family came from numerous U.S. states and several countries in Central and South America.
“This is the day” first emerged in the late 1960s and since then has become a very familiar Scripture song. I sang it as a teenager in church and youth group in the early 1970s. The song has endless variations for singing and is easy to accompany with a guitar.
During a Saturday morning reunion in the red soil of central Georgia, our family reunion members took time to sing songs and listen to a devotional. The chorister chose “this is the day” for the first of four songs that we offered to the Lord from memory.
I may never forget the rich four-part a capella harmonies, the enthusiasm of hearing soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, and the meaning carried from the ancient psalmist to our time. Three millennia after a poet wrote Psalm 118:24, we Yoders in Montezuma, Georgia, confessed our assurance in God’s love and sustaining grace through the familiar lyrics of “this is the day that the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.”