Come, Now is the Time to Worship

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.

You are My King (Amazing Love)

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.”

What is this place

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.

This is the Day

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.”

Blessed Assurance

We sang Blessed Assurance as our opening song at church yesterday. Rich four-part a cappella harmonies, the swelling chorus, and the realities of life all combined to make the song a highlight of my entire worship service.

Give me a good hymn or song in a Sunday worship service, and it can carry me through the week. As author Fanny Crosby wrote in 1873, “this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”

We sang Blessed Assurance from the 2020 Voices Together hymnal. I was glad to see guitar chords added. I played the chords, and they work nicely with the tune. The editors changed one word in Crosby’s public domain hymn, which helps the text, I think.

May we rest this week on God’s blessed assurances. I will sing of God’s story in my life, accepting the heavenly delights of good music to give me a “foretaste of glory divine.”

A Sacrifice of Praise Album

Cast Down Your Cares, a song by John Michael Talbot, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder
Holy Spirit Thou Art Welcome, a song written by David Huntsinger and Dottie Rambo, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder
The Lord is Risen, a song by C. P. Mudd, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder
We Will Glorify, a song by Twila Paris, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder
Mary’s Boy Child, by Jester Hairston, recorded and sung by Elwood and Joy Yoder on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986

Working During a Pandemic

I try to light a candle in the darkness whenever I can, even in my work. Perhaps especially in my work. The apostle Peter wrote that we’ve been called out of darkness into God’s wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). So what’s my work, and what’s this light?

My day job is teaching high school students world history and the Bible. Today, I’ll meet 19 bright and eager juniors in AP World History Modern. It’s the most academic driven course I teach, with a national College Board curriculum. In that world history curriculum, I tell stories of saints, missionaries, and those who spoke for the downtrodden and oppressed. Today I’ll tell the story of Bartolome de Las Casas, a 16th-century Dominican friar who worked in the Caribbean, challenging the Spanish government to stop the brutal enslavement of indigenous peoples and slaves.

My work is also to collaborate and work with the faculty at my high school. These are my friends, my cohorts, and colleagues. They encourage me, give me insights, and help me to laugh at kids and life. Recently I was invited to share a Christmas devotional with the entire K-12 faculty and staff at EMS.

This fall, I worked to help bring a little light to a food pantry near Washington, D.C. Capital Christian Fellowship needed more food boxes, and so the National Honor Society students and sponsors, of which I am one, engineered a food drive to fill 80 boxes. It was fun to see them loaded on a pickup truck and driven to the church.

Another element of my ongoing work is to produce a quarterly journal, Shenandoah Mennonite Historian. The next issue features the Show Towel of a young Mennonite bride from Rockingham County, Va., who made a beautiful work of art for her groom to be. The date on the Show Towel is 1826.

My work, flowing out of the apostle Peter’s writing, is to declare the praises of God, who called me out of darkness into his marvelous light.

My work includes writing a Trissels Mennonite Church bicentennial history book. I spoke recently at a Virginia State historical marker sign dedication at Trissels Road and Route 42, Rockingham County, Va. Seventh generation descendants of the earliest Mennonite settlers to the Linville Creek attended the event on a blustery Sunday afternoon in November 2020. The sign, describing Trissels’ bicentennial, marks the first in a series of celebratory events over the next two years.

Rain down your love

For the June 14, 2020, online church service that we attend, I mixed two musical tracks for the congregation. The first song I ever mixed with multiple voices, in this online era, was “Rain Down,” by Jaime Cortez, as found in Sing the Journey songbook, #49. Rain down your love on your people, God of life!

“Rain Down,” from Sing the Journey, #49, with a mix of congregational voices for the June 14, 2020, online service of Zion Mennonite Church, Broadway, Va.