Friday, January 14, 2011

O Light That Knew No Dawn

This year I am highlighting great hymns of the church both past and present. Music has always been a part of the church whether it was in the form of chanting the Psalms or in the grand choirs and organs up to the various instruments used today. God speaks to us through music as well as through the scriptures. I've been asked why I'm doing this. It's because in the great hymns you find the source of all love. God is many things. God is Love. God is Light. God is Just. God is Savior. I don't worship his justness, his light, or even his love. I worship God who is love. I worship God who is light. I worship God who is just. I worship God who is mercy. One of the beauties of these hymns is that we encounter the God who is.... If you want love and to love, the source of that love is God. When you seek first God and his kingdom, he then gives of himself in love. And as James reminds us in his epistle, the result is we love. God comes first. The expression of love in us towards others is the result of our union with him.

As St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila so aptly remind us. All good things come from him who is love and light. The flame we see coming from a log in the fireplace is not the fire. The fire in the log is what produces the flame. And so, as we are filled with Him, we then, in obedience, touch others as he has touched us.

This hymn today speaks not of the love of God but the Light of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus illumines our hearts so that we might know him and in the process we know God. Meditate on this ancient hymn by one of the earliest of writers, Gregory of Nazianzus. It is translated from the Greek and probably was sung in chant form in the early church. Today several tunes can be sung to it. Try singing it to the tune of Rejoice The Lord Is King. The hymn is a statement of profound faith and was part of Gregory's long battles with Arianism, Nestorianism and many other heresies of those times which threatened to destroy the church. Dwell on the meaning of the words. And meet God.

“God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

O Light That Knew No Dawn by Gregory of Nazianzus (325-390)

O Light that knew no dawn,
That shines to endless day,
All things in earth and Heav’n
Are lustered by Thy ray;
No eye can to Thy throne ascend,
Nor mind Thy brightness comprehend.

Thy grace, O Father, give,
That I might serve in fear;
Above all boons, I pray,
Grant me Thy voice to hear;
From sin Thy child in mercy free,
And let me dwell in light with Thee.

That, cleansed from stain of sin,
I may meet homage give;
And pure in heart, behold
Thy beauty while I live;
Clean hands in holy worship raise,
And Thee, O Christ my Savior, praise.

In supplication meek
To Thee I bend the knee;
O Christ, when Thou shalt come,
In love remember me,
And in Thy kingdom, by Thy grace,
Grant me a humble servant’s place.

Thy grace, O Father, give,
I humbly Thee implore;
And let Thy mercy bless
Thy servant more and more.
All grace and glory be to Thee,
From age to age eternally.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

As Pants The Heart

Worship style wars are nothing new. Here is an old hymn of the church that caused a major crisis in some of the churchmen of jolly old England. In the late seventeenth century there was a tradition that had been held for many years which prohibited congregational singing except for translated psalms. This hymn proved to be controversial because of the heated hunter's chase in line 2. It was drew too much on the imagination which was could cause a person to have an emotional experience of a great thirst. (They'd have apoplexy today) God forbid we allow our emotions to mix with rational thinking.

However, the writers simply drew on the scriptural tradition of Ps. 42 and Isaiah 44:3 which talks about how God will pour water on him who is thirsty. (spiritually dry) Jesus spoke of seeking as one who looks for a gift when he said in John 4
"Open your heart for the gift I am bringing,
While you are seeking me, I will be found."

Read the words of this hymn and meditate upon the words. Go slowly and let them sink into you. What is a hart? It's a small deer. I say that because I know many who are not familiar with old English will not immediately pick that up. If you are young, pause from your point and click habits and sit on these words for a while. You will find them rich in theology.

The authors of the old hymns wrote many verses of which only a few ended up in our hymnals. (Check out our popular doxology. You'll be amazed at how many verses were and have been written for it) At the end, listen to the hymn played on a familiar tune. You'll pick up the hymn right away.

As Pants The Hart
by Nathum Tate (1652-1715) & Nicholas Brady (1659-1726)

1. As pants the hart for cooling streams,
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for thee,
And thy refreshing grace.

2. For thee, my God, the living God,
My thirsty soul doth pine;
O when shall I behold thy face,
Thou Majesty divine!

3. Tears are my constant food, while
thus insulting foes upbraid:
"Deluded wretch! Where's now thy God?
And where his promis'd aid?"

4. I sigh when'er my musing thoughts
those happy days present,
When I with troops of pious friends
thy temple did frequent:

5. When I advanc'd with songs of praise
my solemn vows to pay,
And led the joyful sacred throng,
that kept the festal day.

6. Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Trust God, and he'll employ
His aid for thee, and change these sighs
to thankful hymns of joy.

7. My soul's cast down, O God, but thinks
on thee and Sion still:
From Jordan's bank, from Hermon's heights,
and Missar's humbler hill.

8. One trouble calls another on,
and bursting o'er my head,
Fall spouting down, till round my soul
a roaring sea is spread.

9. But when thy presence, Lord of life,
has once dispell'd this storm,
To thee I'll midnight anthems sing,
and all my vows perform.

10. God of my strength, how long shall I,
Like one forgotten, mourn?
Forlorn, forsaken, and exposed
To my oppressor's scorn.

11. My heart is pierd'd, as with a sword,
whilst thus my foes upbraid,
"Vain boaster, where is now thy God?
and where his promis'd aid?"

12. Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Hope still, and thou shalt sing
The praise of him who is thy God,
Thy health's eternal spring.

13. To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The God whom we adore,
Be glory, as it was, is now,
And shall be evermore. Amen.

14. ***orig 1st verse****

15. Like as the hart
doth breathe and bray,
The well-springs to obtain,
So doth my soul desire alway
With Thee, Lord, to remain.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded by St. Bernard of Clairvaux

O Sacred Head Now Wounded
attributed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153

  1. O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
    Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
    O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
    Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.
  2. What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
    Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
    Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
    Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
  3. What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
    For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
    O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
    Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
  4. Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
    Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
    Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
    My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Catholic Doctor was known for his preaching. He was called the "honey tongue doctor". He is remember most perhaps for his sermon series "On The Canticles of Canticles. (Song of Songs) We are more familiar perhaps with it called the Song of Solomon. This was a series of 86 sermons on the first two chapters of the book and the first verse of the third chapter. He's famous for this statement,

"You wish me to tell you why and how God should be loved. My answer is that God himself is the reason he is to be loved."

Friday, January 7, 2011

We Walk By Faith

Great hymns are born from great theology. I've decided to share with you this year some of the great poems of the faith. Many became great hymns. I'll pull from the deep history of the church. Spend time reading the words, meditate upon them, contemplate what they mean. Work through some of the old language and discover the richness that is there. Keep a dictionary by your side if necessary. It's worth the effort.
Today, I present to you:

We Walk By Faith
by Henry Alford 1810-1871
(public domain)

1. We walk by faith, an not by sight:
No gracious words we hear
of him who spoke as none e’er spoke,
but we believe him near.

2. We may not touch his hands and side,
nor follow where he trod;
yet in his promise we rejoice,
and cry, “My Lord and God!”

3. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief,
and may our faith abound;
to call on you when you are near.
and seek where you are found:

4. That when our life of faith is done
in realms of clearer light
We may behold you as you are
in full and endless sight.

5. We walk by faith, and not by sight:
No gracious words we hear
of him who spoke as none e’er spoke,
but we believe him near.

Henry Alford, Anglican English theologian, textual critic and great scholar was also a writer and poet. He also wrote many hymns. His list of hymns apart from the one I highlighted included "Forward Be Our Watchword," "Come, Ye Thankful People Come," and Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Eternal Power

Eternal Power
Isaac Watts 1674-1748

Eternal Power, whose high abode
Becomes the grandeur of a God,
Infinite lengths beyond the bounds
Where stars resolve their little rounds!

The lowest step around Thy seat,
Rises too high for Gabriel’s feet;
In vain the favored angel tries
To reach Thine height with wond’ring eyes.

There while the first archangel sings,
He hides his face behind his wings,
And ranks of shining thrones around
Fall worshiping, and spread the ground.

Lord, what shall earth and ashes do?
We would adore our Maker, too;
From sin and dust to Thee we cry,
The Great, the Holy, and the High.

Earth from afar has heard Thy fame,
And worms have learned to lisp Thy Name;
But, O! the glories of Thy mind
Leave all our soaring thoughts behind.

God is in Heaven, and men below;
Be short our tunes, our words be few;
A solemn reverence checks our songs,
And praise sits silent on our tongues.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Happy New Year 2011

It's a new year and a time for new beginnings. On this new day, let me list for you some of the things I'm happy about.

1. Big News!! The great Baptist preacher John Piper is back in the saddle after a long leave of absence. I love Piper for I feel he is a man of the word who has a heart for Christ and his Living Word. He has posted his thoughts on the Desiring God website. I encourage you to read it.

2. How can I not forget to start with the Grand Daddy of all parades and games, the Rose Parade in Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Game.

3. My next choice will be a bit controversial. Today, across the world, is the Celebration of the Motherhood of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is foreign to most of us Protestants, except perhaps those in the more liturgical churches. This is a day in the celebration of the church year. We tend to downplay Mary's role in the Protestant church. I think this is a bit of a mistake as Mary, in the Gospels is described as "Blessed" for all ages. I personally believe we must honor Mary more than we do.

Here is an interesting review of a book from Ignatius Press regarding Mary in Byzantine Doctrine and Devotion. It is an insight into a church we know very little about.

4. Well, that's a short list of the things I'm thankful for today. I could go on and on, but since my readership is slim to none...I'll stop. But not without mentioning my greatest source of pleasure. My wife Shirley is the joy of my life. God has used her to turn a broken Humpty Dumpty into a man. I owe a lot to her. And then, of course, my Savior Jesus Christ, for whom I worship and adore.

That's it for now. I hope you share some of your favorites.

Happy New Year