1350) Joy to the World

 Image result for isaac watts

   A young teenager once complained to his father, a minister, that most of the hymns they sang in church were boring to him because they were too far behind the times.  His father put an end to his son’s complaints by saying, “If you think you can write better hymns, then let’s see you try.”  The boy was a brilliant student and enjoyed challenges, so he decided he would attempt it.  Looking through his Bible for ideas, he read Revelations 5:9 which said, “And they sang a new song.”  That settled it for him.  He would try writing some new songs, starting with one based on that verse.  He wrote out some words, found a melody to go with it, and his father introduced it to the congregation the very next Sunday.  The people liked it so much they asked for another one the next Sunday, and then the Sunday after that, and so on.  For 222 consecutive weeks that teen-age boy wrote a new hymn for Sunday worship.  

     The hymn-writing began in the year 1689, and that teenager was Isaac Watts.  He continued to write hymns throughout his life.  He wrote over 750 hymns, many of which by now have become old and stale, just like the music the young Isaac objected to.  Tastes do change over the years.  But many of Watts’ hymns remain popular and are still used today, such as “Jesus Shall Reign,” “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  He has been recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody.”  

     Later in life Watts turned to another task, metrical translations of the Psalms with a distinctly Christian perspective.  At the age of 45, he sat under a favorite tree on the estate where he lived and penned the now famous words of “Joy to the World.”  His 1719 hymnal, Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, included the words under his original title for the poetry: “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”

     As part of his effort to bring New Testament meanings to the Old Testament psalms, Watts based “Joy to the World” on the last half of Psalm 98: “Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth… Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (vs. 4, 8).

     Psalm 98 celebrates God’s protection and restoration of his chosen people.  Watts’ carol rejoices in the same, as it expresses praise for the salvation that began when God became man.  Both the psalm and the hymn also look ahead, to Christ coming again to reign: “He will judge the world with righteousness” (v. 9).

     “Joy to the World” includes references to other Bible verses as well, including Gen. 3:17, Rom. 5:20, and Luke 2:10.  And despite its lack of reference to Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men, or the manger, it has become one of the most loved Christmas carols.  As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

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PSALM 98:

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 his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.

Genesis 3:17  —  To Adam God said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  (see verse three of “Joy to the World”)

Luke 2:10  —   And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

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JOY TO THE WORLD

Text:  Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

1. 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 nature sing.

2. Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy.

3. 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 the curse is found.

4. 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 of his love.

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Watts wanted to bring hymns up to date, so I think he would approve of this up-to-date version of his famous hymns by a cappella group Pentatonix:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Xo64Q2ucQ8

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1205) God Moves in a Mysterious Way

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     In 1773, English poet and hymn-writer William Cowper experienced a nervous breakdown.  He struggled with mental illness and despondency all his life, and now his mind was telling him that he was condemned to hell for all of eternity.  In his mental sickness he thought God was telling him to take his own life, so he called a taxi and asked to be taken to the Thames River where he intended to end it all.  A thick fog fell about them that evening and the taxi driver drove about lost until he finally stopped to allow Cowper out.  When Cowper stepped out of the taxi he found himself standing at his own doorstep.  He believed God had sent the fog to spare him. Sometime later he wrote the hymn that contains the phrase so often used by Christians today who seek to understand the ways of God:  God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.

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Isaiah 55:8-9  —  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Ecclesiastes 11:5  —  As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

I Corinthians 1:25  —  The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

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GOD MOVES IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY by William Cowper  (1731-1800); listen at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0AgENR1FhM

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain.
God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.

God moves in a mysterious way that’s often not my own.
His wisdom guides each path I take, His mercy leads me home.
Help me to trust when I don’t understand
Grant me the peace of resting in your plan.

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

1172) Great is Thy Faithfulness

By Bob Kauflin, September 22, 2010 blog at:  www.worshipmatters.com

     The story behind “Great is Thy Faithfulness” should encourage every Christian who thinks of their life as ordinary.  There’s no tragic story (think “It Is Well” by Horatio Spafford) associated with this hymn.  It’s just the fruit of a faithful man with a simple faith in a faithful God.

     Thomas Chisholm, who sometimes described himself as “just an old shoe,” was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866.  He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health.  He spent the majority of the rest of his life as a life insurance agent in New Jersey.  He died in 1960 at the age of 93.  During his life he wrote over 1200 poems, most of which no one will ever hear.

Thomas Obediah Chisholm  (1866-1960)

     But back in 1923, at the “beyond his prime” age of 57, Thomas Chisholm sent a few of his poems to William Runyan at the Hope Publishing Company.  One of them was “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” based on Lamentations 3:22-23:  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

     Runyan was particularly moved by “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and sought to set it to a melody that would reflect the response of wonder and gratefulness to God’s faithfulness conveyed in the lyrics.  Apparently, he succeeded.

     The song quickly became a favorite at Moody Bible Institute, and later George Beverly Shea sang it at Billy Graham crusades.  Now it’s known all over the world and has been used to encourage millions of Christians to trust in a faithful God.

     When Chisholm was 75, he wrote in a letter:  “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now.  But I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

     The hymn has three verses and a chorus.  Verse 1 speaks of God’s faithfulness revealed in His Word, and is adapted from James 1:17:  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

     Verse 2 tells us of God’s faithfulness revealed in creation.  The seasons, the sun, moon, and stars all continue on their courses perfectly, orderly, quietly— guided by God’s faithful hand, without any help from us.

     Verse 3 reminds us of God’s faithfulness revealed in our lives.  He pardons all our sins, fills us with his peace, assures us of his presence, gives us strength, hope, and blessings too numerous to count!

     Whatever challenge, trials, or disappointments you might be facing right now, this hymn reminds us that God’s promises are true, that He never changes, that His compassions never fail, and that His faithfulness to us in Christ Jesus is more than good— it’s GREAT!

     God doesn’t need incredibly gifted or wildly famous people to proclaim those truths from his Word.

     Just faithful ones.

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Lamentations 3:19-26  —  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

James 1:17  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Matthew 25:21  —  (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

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GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS; performed on ‘The Voice’ competition by 2015 winner Jordan Smith:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm-KsLytcW0

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Refrain:  Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.  Refrain

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!  Refrain

1154) Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

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II Kings 2:11-12a  —  As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father!  My father!  The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”  And Elisha saw him no more.

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     The above picture was in a Bible story book I had as a child, The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor.  I still have that book, and I knew that picture would be there, and I knew just what it would look like, so vivid is my memory of how this dramatic story struck me even as a child.  This is a great story, for children and adults.  We all want to go to heaven, but we know what has to come between our lives right now and the life to come in heaven.  Death must come to us before we pass from this place unto the next, and we know that the dying process can be pretty awful.  But in this story Elijah gets a free pass, and a free ride, directly from this world and this life into heaven.  Who wouldn’t be interested in that?  That was a blessing not even Jesus received.

     What’s more, look at what Elijah is riding in– a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire.  “How did that work?,” I remember wondering as a child as I stared at that picture.  How do you sit on fire?  Why didn’t Elijah get burned?  The answer is simple, of course.  God can make anything happen– even a child knows that, and I can remember coming to that conclusion even then.  But that doesn’t make the story any less dramatic.  A fiery chariot and a free and direct ride to heaven.  Wonderful!

      All of that makes this story perfect for an African-American spiritual.  The African slaves in this country were drawn to the Christian faith of their masters.  On the one hand, this is not what you would expect.  Why would a people want to embrace the religion of those who captured them like animals, enslaved, and oppressed them?  On the other hand, the Christian faith offered hope and comfort to the downtrodden slaves.  There is at the center of the Christian faith the promise of a better life to come.  Many generations of slaves in this country had no chance of a better life here on this earth.  The promise of heaven gave them something to look forward to with hope.  Not only that, but the Bible contains many stories of the weak overcoming the strong.  The boy David was victorious over the giant warrior Goliath.  Gideon, with only three hundred men, defeated an army of many thousand.  The early Christians stood firm and courageous against the might of the Roman Empire, and in the end, conquered it.  Best of all, by the miracles of God, Moses led the Hebrew slaves to freedom from the Egyptians.

     Not only did the slaves love to hear these stories, they also loved to sing them.  Few could read or write, but they could tell stories and they could sing.  In the midst of their misery, God had given them something to sing about, and out of that dark chapter in American history came some terrific hymns.  A Good Friday tradition in many churches is to sing that most favorite all spirituals, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”  “Let My People Go,” tells the story of the escape of the Hebrew slaves from the bondage of Egypt.  The children’s song “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” blends an image from an Old Testament story with the call to faith in Jesus.  There are many more.

     Elijah’s ride in the chariot of fire has all elements needed for a great spiritual.  First of all, it is a vivid image.  Second, it is about Elijah, an Old Testament favorite, one who stood up against the powers of oppression both in government and the religious establishment.  Elijah stood up to King Ahab, and, he defeated the 400 priest of Baal in a showdown on Mt. Carmel.  Elijah, like the slaves, was small and powerless, but with God’s help, he was able to overcome everything.  And then, most of all, this story is about going to heaven, one of the favorite themes of the old spirituals.  

     The slaves found strength in singing about their miseries, as in the song “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”  Someone once said that spirituals are ‘pain set to music.’  But the old spirituals not only sang about their troubles, they also sang of their hope, and their hope was of that better life to come, with Jesus, in heaven.  That is where Elijah was going, and that was where they wanted to go when their cotton-picking days of slavery days were done.  When they sang about death, the songs were not morbid, but full of hope.  So in this song, one of the most popular of all African-American spirituals, even though they were singing about their dying day, the word death is not even mentioned.  Rather, it’s all about going home; “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.”

     Elijah’s chariot in this story becomes a symbol for death.  Elijah was carried up alive, and that was too much to hope for; but in death God would send another sort of chariot, just for me.  After a life of hardship and pain, that would indeed be sweet.  “Swing Low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home,” goes the refrain.  The verses are also wonderful:  “If you get there before I do… tell all my friends I’m coming too… The brightest day that ever I saw… (was) when Jesus washed my sins away… I’m sometimes up, I’m sometimes down but still my soul feels heavenly bound… swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.

     Some hymns have profound and powerful theological messages.  We learn the content of the faith as we sing them.  The spirituals have much simpler lyrics, but in these songs, the power lies in the images created.  “Coming for to carry me home” is an image that can give comfort as one faces death.  We’re not just working ourselves to death until the undertaker comes to put us six feet under.  No, when this life of trouble is over it will be Jesus coming to get us and carry us home.  Beautiful!

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Swing Low, Sweet Chariot sung by Paul Robeson (1898-1976):

Another one by Paul Robeson; Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.  Tremendous!:

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John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said),  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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Almighty God, whose love never fails, and who can turn the shadow of death into daybreak; help us to receive your Word with believing hearts, so that, hearing the promises in Scripture, we may have hope and be lifted out of darkness into the light and peace of your presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Presbyterian hymnal

1153) Blessed Assurance

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915), blind rescue mission worker

Phoebe Knapp  (1839-1908), wife of one of the founders and second president of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

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     Fanny Crosby and Phoebe Knapp lived on opposite sides of the track and were of very different dispositions.  Fanny Crosby lost her sight as an infant, lived in the slums of Manhattan, and worked with the poor in a rescue mission house.  Phoebe Knapp was born to wealth and lived in luxury.  Fanny Crosby did not care for attention, and even objected when she was in the congregation and a pastor wanted to point her out as the writer of a hymn they were about to sing.  Phoebe Knapp lived extravagantly, dressing and acting in ways that made everyone notice her, and she loved the attention.  

     But these two women who lived such different lives, were good friends.  One day Phoebe told Fanny she worked up a little tune on her piano and wanted to play it for her.  Pheobe played it a few times, and then Fanny said “That sounds to me like blessed assurance.”  Within a few minutes Miss Crosby wrote down the three verses and chorus that have become so well known.  It was published in 1873.  Dwight Moody, the most famous evangelist the time, heard it and liked it.  He started using it in his revival meetings, and a new American favorite was born: “Blessed Assurance.”

     Of the over 8,000 hymns Fanny Crosby wrote, “Blessed Assurance” has remained one of her most cherished.  This hymn was so well loved by Crosby herself that she chose the first verse for the inscription on her gravestone.

BLESSED ASSURANCE

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. 

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
  Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
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Blessed Assurance performed by Alan Jackson:
And by CeCe Winans at the Kennedy Center, honoring Cicely Tyson:

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I John 5:13  —   I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Hebrews 11:1  —  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I Timothy 3;13  —  Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 10:22a  —  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.

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 You, O Lord, will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

Give me the faith to have such trust in you, O Lord, now and forever,
    for you are my everlasting rock.

–Prayer based on Isaiah 26:3-4

1026) Johnny Cash’s Mother’s Hymn Book

     Johnny Cash (1932-2003) recorded almost one-hundred albums in his long career.  Of all those many albums, he said his favorite was the last one he did, released just a few months before he died.  None of his best-known songs are on this album, none of the songs in that album were written by him, and there is no band behind him.  It is just Johnny Cash, now an old man with his voice not quite what it used to be, playing his guitar, and singing fifteen of his favorite old Gospel hymns.  The name of the album is My Mother’s Hymnbook, and it contains some of the first songs he heard as a child.  His mother, Carrie, would play these songs on her guitar and her piano, and sing them to her children.  The tunes led to Johnny Cash’s love of music and career; the words became the foundation of his faith.

     The name of Johnny Cash’s mother’s hymnbook was Heavenly Highway Hymns.  When she died in 1991, he got that old book— and it became one of his favorites.  He was almost sixty years old, and was starting to think about the end of this life and what was in store for him in the next life.  He returned again to those hymns, and those words of the faith that were instilled in him so many years before.  

     The focus of many of these hymns is on the life to come; hence, the title, Heavenly Highway Hymns.  These songs about about how to get on and stay on that road.

Carrie Carter (1904-1991)

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Johnny Cash, in the booklet that comes with the album My Mother’s Hymnbook:

     My mother had an old book called Heavenly Highway Hymns.  She used to sit and play those songs in it– old church songs, country gospel songs, dozens of them– all the way through, over and over in her lifetime.  My mother loved that book.  It’s mine now, and its kind of dog-eared and ragged, a little bit like I am, and I love that book too.  So when I started picking out songs for an album of my favorite church and gospel songs, I went to my mother’s hymn book, and I found the ones I wanted to record.

     The songs in that old book mean more to me than I can tell you, so I’ll just sing ’em, me and my guitar; simple, no adornment, knowing that God loves music and that music brings hope for a better tomorrow.  You asked me to pick my favorite album I’ve ever made and this is it, My Mother’s Hymn Book.  On that album I nailed it.  That was me.  Me and the guitar, and that’s all there was in it and all there was to it.  I’m so glad that I got that done.  

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More from the booklet, by album producer Rick Rubin:

     Its early morning in Hendersonville, Tennessee, July 2003.  Johnny Cash smiles as they wheel him through the front door and onto the porch.  He’s dressed all in black– black button-up shirt, black trousers, smart black shoes and socks, the odd black strand still visible in his wispy white hair…

     When I ask him if there’s anything in particular he’d like to talk about, he answers without hesitation, “I want to talk about My Mother’s Hymn Book.”  It’s an album he’s fiercely proud of– his favorite, he says, of anything he’s done.  These are songs that his mother Carrie taught him when he was a small boy living in their small cabin on a New Deal farm in Dyess, Arkansas, singing and playing them to him on her Sears Roebuck catalog guitar.  “They’re powerful songs,” he says, “They are my magic to take me through the dark places.”  They are songs he would sing to keep the terrors at bay as a frightened five-year-old walking home in the darkness, through the flat, black land, after working in the cotton fields.  Or when his father had one of his violent rages.  Or when, as a broken-hearted 12-year-old, he watched the coffin holding his beloved brother Jack lowered into the ground.

     He sang songs associated with good times too.  “My mother had always taught me that music was a joyful thing.”  And the songs ultimately gave him his career.  If Carrie had not taught him these hymn book songs, encouraged him to sing them and told him that his talent was a “gift from God” and he should not toss it away, he would likely not be here today, on the front porch of this big, beautiful house with guitars, country music trophies, and rock music awards.

     A short way off from here, in what Johnny calls his “compound,” there’s a cabin that reminds him of the one where he grew up.  Here, more than six decades after his mother first sang and played him these songs, Johnny sang and played them back to her.  The recording session was as intimate and personal as it sounds. Apart from Cash’s longtime friend and engineer David Ferguson, who sat quietly behind the board, it was simply Johnny and his guitar…

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More Johnny Cash quotes from the booklet:

“You know, I had my years in the wilderness, when the demons crawled up my back.  That was when the drugs started, but they’ve gone away now.  I don’t know how they went away, but they did.  And they don’t come back anymore.  I finally had to accept it, you know, that God thought I was something worth saving, so who was I to say, “You’re wrong?”  I had to accept it and go along with it, and so that’s what I did.”

“These are songs about hope for a better tomorrow, the hope that there’s got to be a better life than this, awaiting us with Jesus Christ.  God to me has always been a friend that I can call on, that was always there, ready to listen, and it was always my fault if I didn’t call on him enough.  I guess I might be a C-minus Christian, but I am one.”

“Even though the dark times, I always felt like I was bound for the Promised Land, especially singing these songs.  They take you to the Promised Land.”

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And one quote by Martin Luther:

“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.  The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.”

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Johnny Cash sings “I Am a Pilgrim” from his mother’s hymnbook:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00_c1SwPUjk

And also, “Where We’ll Never Grow Old”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9Q6uo5hOhc

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Psalm 96:1  —  Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.  Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

Psalm 33:3  —  Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Psalm 71:17-18  —  Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

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Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

–Charlotte Elliot  (1789-1871)

980) Bodies and Spirits (2/2)

     (…continued)  It is no wonder that down through the ages one of the main items on the agenda for philosophy and religion has been this whole area of the relationship between the spirit and the flesh.  Plato gave birth to the whole study of philosophy with the thought that you could think your way out of your body, transcending all the limits of the flesh by high and lofty thoughts.  Buddha followed a similar path, adding a religious flavor to the whole thing.  For Buddha, nirvana became a heaven in your mind, a mind lifted far above the concerns and needs of the weak flesh.  However, I would still bet that when Plato or Buddha stubbed their toe real hard, it was back to thinking about the body and nothing else.  Injuries and illnesses can turn the body into a prison.  But in some religions and philosophies the body is nothing but a prison, and only the spirit matters.

     The Bible itself has much to say about this.  For example, Galatians, 5:17 says, “The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh; they are in conflict with each other, and so you end up not doing what you want to do.”  This may even be one reason why people come to church.  We want to be controlled less by our lower nature and desires, and more receptive to and motivated by our higher, spiritual nature.

     Oddly enough, this all has something to do with Christmas.  In fact, it goes to the very heart of the Christmas message.  After all, when John in his Gospel wanted to describe what it means that Jesus came to earth, he began by referring to Jesus as ‘the Word.’  He began his Gospel by saying ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.’  That is some deep theology, expressing some highly spiritual concerns.  When you think of God, you are thinking in primarily spiritual terms, right?  John would agree, saying that God is a Spirit and Jesus was God in this mysterious, profound, spiritual Word, — that was there with God from the beginning, and was God.

     But then John goes on to say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Became flesh!  Plato, Buddha, the New Agers, and the Scientologists all want to escape the flesh and get into something new and better and different.  But God becomes flesh, born in the usual messy way, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a manger.  God, while fully aware of all the problems and pains we get into because of our flesh, still likes the stuff.   He created it, after all, and in Jesus, God himself took on that frail, frail flesh.  And Jesus was tempted by that flesh; ‘Turn these stones into bread,’ the devil said to him when his body was hungry.  But Jesus resisted all temptation and remained sinless.  Jesus, however, did not escape that other curse upon flesh, the curse of pain and death.  As you well know, he suffered and endured that to its fullest measure.  God, in Jesus, sanctifies the flesh, makes holy the body, and proclaims the message that salvation is not attained by escaping the body, but in rising from the dead with a new and glorified body for all eternity.  Plato and Buddha didn’t think of that, and if they had, they would not have been able to pull it off.  But God could, and chose to do so by first of all, taking on this body, this flesh; and in then, in himself, suffering all that would involve.  That is what it means to say that God was in that manger.  God in human flesh.

     Then on the night before he died, and just a few weeks before he would return to his heavenly home, Jesus gave the disciples something to remember him by.  It would be a specific ritual with specific words to say:  “This is my Body, given for you– do this in remembrance of me…’’  And why?  “For the forgiveness of sins,” he said.  In this world our bodies will tempt us, torment us, and grieve us to no end.  But the body is not the problem.  This flesh is God’s good gift.  Sin is the problem, and in looking to Jesus, we receive both the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the body; a new, solid, and no longer frail body, perfected and eternal, made to live forever in God’s home.

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Listen to Where We’ll Never Grow Old, sung by Johnny Cash on the album My Mother’s Hymn Book:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OinMWY7IymA

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Lyrics to Where We’ll Never Grow Old; words and music by James C. Moore (1888-1962):

I have heard of a land on the far away strand,
’Tis a beautiful home of the soul;
Built by Jesus on high, where we never shall die,
’Tis a land where we’ll never grow old.

Refrain

Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old;
Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old.

In that beautiful home where we’ll never more roam,
We shall be in the sweet by and by;
Happy praise to the King through eternity ring,
’Tis a land where we never shall die.  Refrain

When our work here is done and the life crown is won,
And our troubles and trials are o’er;
All our sorrow will end, and our voices will blend,
With the loved ones who’ve gone on before.  Refrain

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John 1:1-5…14  —  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Galatians 5:13  —   You… were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Galatians 5:16-17  —  So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

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THE THIRD ARTICLE OF THE APOSTLE’S CREED:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

978) Make Room

     One of the best-loved Christmas carols is Joy to the World.  The song begins with “Joy to the world, the Lord has come; let earth receive its King;” and then we sing, “Let every heart prepare him room.”  Prepare him room, it says, or, make room for Jesus.  The phrase brings to mind that very first Christmas when there was no room in the inn– no room, not even for a woman about to give birth.  Imagine that, the Son of God, here to visit his own creation, and there is not even room for him to be born.

     How about for you?  The hymn seems to ask, “Is there any room in your heart and in your life for this Lord?”  He came for you– do you have any room for him?  “Joy to the world,” we sing, “the Lord has come; let every heart prepare him room.”  No room in the inn for a pregnant woman about to give birth to the Son of God?  How outrageous!  But is it any less outrageous that God himself wants to be with little you, has come to earth to live a life like you, has died for you to forgive you of all your sins, has risen from the dead for you so that you too may live forever– all that for us, and we have to be told to see if we can make a little room for him in our busy lives!

     Every detail of this story as it is told in the Gospels is significant, and the fact that there was no room for Jesus in the inn is also symbolic of the many people in the world who still have no room for him.  And the fact that Jesus was born in the poorest and humblest of circumstances is also symbolic of the fact that throughout history it has been the poorest and humblest people who have been most willing to make room for Jesus.  It was among the slaves and lower classes that the early church took root and grew most of all.  Today it is among the poor of the Southern hemisphere that the church grows by leaps and bounds, while in the wealthier countries of Europe and the United States the church is in rapid decline.  There was room for Jesus in Bethlehem on that first Christmas, but not in the busy comfort of the inn.  Rather, it was out among the cattle in the stable, where many necessities were lacking, and there were many dangers for a newborn.  

     The same is true in our lives.  The more comfortable we are, the less likely we are to make room for Jesus.  It is when we are in discomfort or despair or anxiety or hopelessness that we are most likely to remember Jesus, and remember to make room for him in our hearts.  Best of all, of course, is if we do not forget Jesus in our good times; then when hardships do come, Jesus can be there for us like an old friend.

     When I was in college in the 1970’s I was assigned to read the book Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler.  The book has a chapter on what Toffler called “over-choice,” in which he predicted that in the future there would be so many choices for pleasure, communication, entertainment, travel, education, television, leisure, fitness, sports, and so on, that all these many opportunities would become no longer something positive, but a source of frustration.  People would have so much and do so much, and still feel like they were missing out on something, because there would be still so much more to be had.

     Well, that future is here.  Our lives are incredibly full compared with even a couple generations ago, and we are still frustrated and anxious.  There are even words now for this condition– FOMO– Fear Of Missing Out; or if you are older, FOHMO– Fear Of Having Missed Out.

     Now, with all these wonderful choices available, fewer and fewer people have the time or energy for what Jesus called that “one thing needed.”  Jesus said that to Martha who was so very busy with so many things that she did not have room in her schedule for Jesus, even though Jesus was making a personal visit in her home that day.

     Jesus will probably not be coming to your home in person like that, so what would it look like for you to ‘make room for Jesus’ in your daily life?  You do have to keep your mind on what you are doing and you can’t be just thinking about Jesus all the time.  But you can probably keep him in mind more than you do.  When something goes well for you or you get some unexpected good news, you can say in a one sentence prayer, “Thank you, Lord.”  If something goes wrong, or you get some unexpected bad news, you can in a one sentence prayer, ‘Lord, be with me,” or, “Lord, be with them,” or simply, “Lord, have mercy.”  If you have a decision to make, you can pray, “Lord, what would you have me do?;” and when you are tempted to do something wrong, you can pray, “Lord, give me the wisdom and the strength to do what is right.”

     With practice, such simple prayers can become a habit, and then you will be, in fact, preparing room in your heart for Jesus; and you will grow in faith, and then experience more and more that joy that has come into the world in Jesus.

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Luke 2:7  —  She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 10:38b-42  —  …(Jesus) came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

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Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room…

–Isaac Watts  (1674-1748)

871) Rich Mullins; The ‘Awesome God’ Guy

Rich Mullins  (1955-1997)

     Rich Mullins was an American contemporary Christian singer and songwriter.  He was born in Richmond, Indiana.  

     Mullins was best known for his worship songs Awesome God and Sometimes by Step, both of which have been embraced as modern classics by many Christians.  Some of his albums were considered among Christian musics’s best.  His songs have been performed by numerous artists, including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, John Tesh, Christ Rice, Jars of Clay, and many others.  

     Rich Mullins is also remembered for his radical devotion to the Christian faith.  He was heavily influenced by St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226).  After his song, “Our God is an Awesome God” hit the top of the music charts and his music started earning millions, Rich entrusted the profits from his tours and record sales to his church.  He asked only to be paid the average salary for an American each year, and that the rest be given to missions to help the poor.  

     Although Rich Mullins grew up in the church and never wavered in his faith, he struggled with depression, loneliness, and eventually alcohol.

     Rich leaned heavily on the love and wisdom of pastor and author Brennan Manning, who had also wrestled with alcohol.  Manning wrote a wonderful book entitled The Ragamuffin Gospel, and Rich’s group became the Ragamuffin Band.

     Rich Mullins died in 1997 in a car accident.  In 2014 Color Green Films released a feature-length docudrama on the life of Rich Mullins entitled Ragamuffin.

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RICH MULLINS QUOTES:
 
We were given Scriptures to humble us into realizing that God is right, and the rest of us are just guessing.
 
Bear in mind, children, that parents listen to you because you are their kids, and not because you are right.  And that is how our heavenly Father listens to us.  We hardly understand what we are praying for, and God, in his mercy, does not answer our prayers according to our understanding, but according to his wisdom.

The thing I like most about the Bible is all the weirdos that are in it.  The Bible is just packed with them.

David didn’t kill Goliath because he set out to kill giants.  He set out to give sandwiches to his brothers, and Goliath got in the way.

I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite, because nobody goes to church because they are perfect.  If you’ve got it all together, you don’t need to go.  You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning.  Every time you go to church, you are confessing again to yourself, to your family, to the people you pass on your way there, to the people who will greet you there, that you don’t have it all together.  You need some direction and you need some accountability and you need some help.

Closeness to God is not about feelings, closeness to God is about obedience.  I don’t know how one ‘feels’ close to God.  And no one I know that seems close to God knows anything about those ‘feelings’ either.  I do know that if we obey, sometimes the feelings will follow; not always, but occasionally.  And, I know that if we do not obey, we don’t have a shot at ever getting those feelings.

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Psalm 149:1  —  Praise the Lord.  Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

Psalm 68:35  —  You, God, are awesome… the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.  Praise be to God!

Romans 12:3  —  For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

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OUR GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD by Rich Mullins, 1988

Listen/watch at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJL_bChiTI0  (sung by Rich Mullins)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaU6EMR37NA  (sung by Michael W. Smith)

—–

When He rolls up His sleeves
He ain’t just putting on the ritz
(Our God is an awesome God)

There’s thunder in His footsteps
And lightning in His fists
(Our God is an awesome God)

And the Lord wasn’t joking
When He kicked ’em out of Eden
It wasn’t for no reason
That He shed His blood
His return is very close
And so you better be believing that
Our God is an awesome God

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God (2x)

And when the sky was starless
In the void of the night
(Our God is an awesome God)

He spoke into the darkness
And created the light
(Our God is an awesome God)

Judgement and wrath
He poured out on Sodom
Mercy and grace
He gave us at the cross
I hope that we have not
Too quickly forgotten that
Our God is an awesome God

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God (5x)

855) Psalm 23

 

Francis Rous (1579-1659), an English lawyer and churchman, reworked the words of the twenty-third Psalm into a wonderful hymn, “The Lord’s My Shepherd.”  His adaptation of the Psalm has been revised into many different forms, and has been put to many different tunes, and sung in many different ways.  The link below is to a beautiful Celtic rendition of the hymn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krxL2xdWeKY

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 “The Lord’s My Shepherd”

1. The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me lie in pastures green.
He leads me by the still, still waters,
his goodness restores my soul.

Refrain:
And I will trust in you alone.
And I will trust in you alone,
for your endless mercy follows me,
your goodness will lead me home.

2. He guides my ways in righteousness,
and he anoints my head with oil,
and my cup, it overflows with joy,
I feast on his pure delights. [Refrain]

3. And though I walk the darkest path,
I will not fear the evil one,
for you are with me and your rod and staff
are the comfort I need to know. [Refrain]

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PSALM 23 (King James Version):

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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