Monday, December 7, 2015

Joy to the World!

When Isaac Watts was young, his father was imprisoned for noncomformist views (he would not support the established Church of England).  Isaac always remembered his father's courage to stand up for what he believed was right.  In his teenage years, Isaac started to desire that people would sing with more fervency.  Tired of hearing him complaining, his dad challenged Isaac to write something better.  He wrote his first hymn, which was called Behold the Glories of the Lamb, at age 14!  At age 33 he published a collection of hymns and spiritual songs.  Many of his hymns were his reinvention of some of the psalms as he believed David would have written them.  

Today I chose to focus on Isaac Watts' famous Christmas hymn, "Joy To The World", which is meant to reflect the ideas from Psalm 98.   

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Psalm 98:1-3 says, "Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!  His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.  The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.  He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.  All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."
The Lord's salvation was made known and his righteousness revealed in the birth of His Son Jesus Christ!  God is faithful today as He was in the days of the Psalmist.  All the ends of the earth would be both heaven and nature, as Isaac Watts stated in the hymn - all pointing to and praising God!

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

Psalm 98:4-6 "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!  Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!  With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
These verses command not only men, but all the earth to sing praises to the Lord, just as Isaac Watts says here, to let men employ songs, while nature repeats the sounding joy of Jesus!

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Psalm 98:7-8 continue to command praise to God from nature: "Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it!  Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together ..."  
This may not so clearly match up with Isaac Watts' verse, but when I picture the sea roaring, rivers clapping their hands and hills singing for joy, these are things that would drive away sorrows, and thorns would be no more.  John 1:5 says, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  The coming of Christ brings salavation and light as far as the curse is found!

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Psalm 98:9 finishes this way: "... before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.  He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity."  
God does rule the world with truth and grace, which proves the glories of His righteousness among the nations!  His wondrous love is made known in the revelation of His Son Jesus!  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

It Is Well With My Soul

It is Well With My Soul was written in 1873 by Horatio G. Spafford.  He and his family lived in Chicago and survived the tragic Chicago Fire of 1871, then in 1873 his wife and daughters were traveling on a boat to England when their boat was struck by another and sunk.  His wife survived, but his three daughters perished in the shipwreck.  Although the exact date is not certain, it is believed that Spafford wrote this hymn as he sailed to England to be reunited with his grieving wife.  This man had dealt with much tragedy in a short period of time, yet he still knew peace from God and could say, "It is well with my soul!"

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul. 

         Refrain: It is well with my soul,
                     It is well, it is well with my soul.

Philippians 4:7 (Amplified version) says, "And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours]."  This peace that Spafford speaks of is the peace of God.  It is steady even through a sea of sorrows.  The presence of this peace doesn't necessarily mean happiness, but a knowledge that our God is in control and His will is perfect.  It is well with my soul because I know these truths!

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
 Christ understands the buiffets, temptations, and trials of Satan.  The account of Jesus being tempted by Satan can be found in Matthew 4:1-11.  He overcame Satan then, and He fully defeated Satan when He died on the cross and rose again!  As I've heard said many times, "Have you read the end of the book?  We win!"  The battle is already won by Christ, but He still regards us in our helpless tempted state and loves us so much!  What a sweet, sweet God we serve!
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! 
My sin, not in part but the whole,  
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It truly is glorious when we realize that our sins were nailed to the cross with our Savior! He has paid the price and because of that truth I will praise the Lord all my days! He has paid the price for me.  
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
These two verses were new to me but I love them! I had a conversation with someone recently about how in heaven there is constant praise being sung to God and yet it never gets boring! It's so hard to comprehend what that will be like, but I long for the day when (as this hymn continues to say later) my faith shall be sight and I will know and understand this because I will be there with the Lord.  Until that day, I will continue to seek and serve the Lord here on earth, knowing as the next verse say, that my goal and final end is not the grave. It is to be in the presence of Christ!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.
Even though this day has not yet come, it is well with my soul, for my Lord is good and speaks peace and comfort to me here. Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace, by John Newton is one of the most well known and most loved hymns of the Christian faith.  It was number 1 on the first two lists of traditional hymns I found in a google search.  I love the movie Amazing Grace which tells you some of the story, but you can also read it on many websites (here for example). John Newton was a slave trader before he was saved. He had some prior knowledge of God from his youth, but came to know God through offering a desperate prayer for help when his ship was caught in a storm. Knowing the writer's past helps me to understand the true meaning of the words he penned. These are his original verses to this hymn (according to at least two websites, the one I cited previously and this one).

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine

This verse which we typically add to his verses was actually added by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Toms Cabin, according to my web searches and was originally from the hymn Jerusalem, My Happy Home.

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.

And here and here are two cool acapella versions of this hymn for you to enjoy :)

I'm going to go through the hymn and find scriptures that pertain to the parts that stand out to me.

Hymn Verse 1:
The first line says "How sweet the sound". To me this means that the thought of God's grace is sweet to us, like the sound of a rescuer coming when we are distressed, the sound of birds singing after a long winter, or like Isaiah 52:7 which says "how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news."
Also in this verse, John Newton refers to himself as a wretch. Miriam Webster defines this as: a miserable, despicable, or vile person. This is quite a contrast to the sweetness of God's grace, but that makes His grace sweeter still! I think it is easy to get tripped up by phrases like this. Our current culture is very self focused and teaches us that we should always be looking out for what is best for us because we are awesome and we deserve the best. This is false. We are nothing when compared to our Creator! No matter what our sin is - whether it is slave trading like John Newton, or lying, or theivery - sin separates us from God. I am a wretch too, because I am sinful. God is perfect and He chooses to love me! This is a very humbling thought!  

Verse 2: Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." We have no grounds to boast in our salvation because of our works. Our salvation is a gift! It is not our own doing. I think John Newton understood this when he said, "How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed". We don't have to have the time to rack up lots of good works to be saved. He was saved the hour he first believed and the fact that he had been living in sin made the contrast beautiful. God loves us where we are. He does call us to a life that honors him, so we must not continue living in sin, but God saves us regardless of our sin when we truly place our trust and our faith in Him. Newton said, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved" I think by this line he was referring to a healthy fear of God and then relief in knowing security in God. 1 Samuel 12:24 says, "Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart, for consider what great things He has done for you." Proverbs 3:7 says, "Fear the Lord and turn away from evil" This fear is not the same as being afraid of heights, or afraid of murderers, etc. This fear is not being frightened, so much as it is having respect and reverence. I have traveled to the mountains a few times - both the Rockies and the Smokies. Every time I have gone with a great desire to see a bear! I am also very scared of bears. The time we went camping in the Rockies I was all paranoid that a bear was going to come ravage our campsite and kill (or at least mutilate) us all. It didn't happen, thankfully! I think this is a similar (although on a different scale) to our fear of God. I want to see a bear because I'm fascinated by them. I admire their strength and their drive to protect their young, or their territory, but I have a healthy fear of them. If I came face to face with one I wouldn't assume I could win that fight! I know better than that. This is different than my fear of a murderer. I have no desire to see one - even at a distance. I want to avoid them at all costs. Someone who is afraid of heights probably has no desire to climb a telephone pole or to go bungee jumping. But our fear of the Lord drives us to Him because we know His strength and power, but we also know His love and His protection of us, His children. We know He wins the fight with Satan in the end and we choose to be on God's side.

Verse 3: Our experience with God strengthens our faith. Because God had brought John Newton through many dangers, toils, and snares, he knew that He would bring Him home in the end. Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful".
Verse 4 speaks of God guarding us in this life and our hope of the good He has promised us in Him. Psalm 3:3 says, "But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head." He gives us strength and courage to face today.

Verse 5: This verse goes beyond what the previous verse says and expounds on what the good God has promised us is. "Within the veil" means when we see God with unveiled face in His glory in Heaven. Then and only then can we have pure, unaffected joy and peace in Christ! Revelation 21:4 says, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

Verse 6: This sweet verse expresses John Newton's joy in knowing that God is the only true eternal hope. Everything that we have on this earth will pass away, even the sun which we trust to come out every day, will be gone, but God will be ours forever, and we will be His forever. The verse that we typically sing as the closing to this hymn, though from a different author, expresses this same joy in knowing an eternity with God.

I was very blessed in reading through this hymn and examining it closer. It is sometimes hard to grasp the truth in the words of a hymn we sing so often.

My goal for this study is to awaken in myself a greater appreciation for the hymns I personally know and love, but also the hymns which I have often overlooked as if they are just overplayed. They are probably overplayed and popularized because someone had a great love for the truths they express and I pray that God opens my eyes to see those truths. Please comment if you have any suggestions for which hymn I should study next!