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.

Comfort, Comfort, O My People

Yesterday we sang a powerful Advent hymn with a tune that dates to the Reformation, and lyrics that come from the prophet Isaiah. The hymn inspires hope, comfort, and courage for the days we live in today.

Elizabeth and Zechariah waited for God to break into their world. They lived holy and God-honoring lives, serving while hoping for a child to be born into their home. Finally, after years of waiting, the angel of the Lord visited Zechariah and promised a son.

When John was born, Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoiced in God’s providential care in their lives. We too can rejoice in God’s care and love in our lives today.

I like the phrase in this well-known hymn that “the kingdom now is near.” Whether we wait endlessly like Zechariah and Elizabeth or seek to find common ground for differing voices in our own world today, we can rest assured that God’s kingdom is here and now, and that brings me great comfort.

O Worship the King

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

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.

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

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.

Cast Down Your Cares

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.

Cast Down Your Cares, a song by John Michael Talbot, recorded on “A Sacrifice of Praise” album, 1986, by Joy & Elwood Yoder