Welcome!  Hymns have been and continue to be a real source of inspiration to me.  My desire in this blog is to share special hymns with my readers hoping that the words will minister to them, especially in times of great personal need.  If one of these hymns ministers to you, please take time to leave a comment so that I know that my blog is helping others as much as it helps me. Sometimes I will also provide a link where you can go to hear the hymn played.  So, please join me here each week and sing along as we praise God together.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

BIRTHDAY OF THE KING

Every family celebrates birthdays differently. Some throw big parties and give big gifts. They make a special fuss about "special" birthdays - like numbers 30, 40, 50, 60, 70. For others, like us, they are just another day and celebrated without parties or presents. They are just part of the normal aging process. However, our one exception is for our seven grandchildren. We do have a special meal for them. They can choose the menu - anything from salmon and ham to pizza and subs. We also make a special cake for them until they reach thirteen when they get a heart shaped cake. I guess the same difference in approaches to a birthday comes at Christmas. Some get so involved with travel, presents, decorations, parties, and meals that the guest of honor - Jesus - is often forgotten. This can happen even to the most dedicated of believers. The day can be filled with stress rather than worship. What was your day like yesterday? One of my favorite Christmas carols reminds us that Christmas is really the birthday of the King. And those who came to proclaim His coming and those who went to see the baby in the manger probably celebrated it correctly. No stress, just joy and astonishment, and true worship. Well Christmas is now over. The presents are opened. The food is eaten. The families have departed. The decorations have begun to come down. But have you taken time to worship the King? The origins of this melodious hymn are not known, although it is said to have been written by a William H. Neidlinger in 1890. Spend time in worship today as you sing these words.

In the little village of Bethlehem,
There lay a Child one day;
And the sky was bright with a holy light
O'er the place where Jesus lay.
Alleluia! O how the angels sang.
Alleluia! How it rang!
And the sky was bright with a holy light
'Twas the birthday of a King.

'Twas a humble birthplace, but O how much
God gave to us that day,
From the manger bed what a path has led,
What a perfect, holy way.
Alleluia! O how the angels sang.
Alleluia! How it rang!
And the sky was bright with a holy light
'Twas the birthday of a King.

The first time I heard this hymn was in high school when our chorus sang it for Christmas. A close friend of mine had the solo part. He had an excellent tenor/baritone voice and sang it so beautifully. Since then my favorite renditions of this feature male soloists. Unfortunately for me, I was not able to find a suitable clip of it being sung by a male soloist. But you will still enjoy hearing it sung here. LISTEN.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

THANKS FROM THE "BLOGGER"

Please accept my sincere wishes for a very blessed Christmas and New Year. I began this blog almost two and a half years ago because I wanted to share with others some of the great hymns that have influenced my Christian growth and experience. I was also doing this because I was preparing hymns for monthly hymn sings which my wife and I have been leading for about six years at Pinebrook Bible Conference. I never realized that I would continue writing this long, completing about 125 of these weekly blogs. I also never expected that so many of you would actually take time to come and read these ramblings created by a non-musician amateur writer. So I have been amazed that weekly readership has now reached about 300! I find that humbling and say thank you for dropping by each week. My hope and prayer is that some of these blogs and hymns have touched your lives. I especially thank those who have posted anonymous responses sharing your reactions. I will try to continue these blogs into 2011 and pray that they will bless you as they have blessed me. Again, thank you for dropping by and may you have a great holiday season.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

IT CAME UPON THE MIDNIGHT CLEAR

Did you ever sing a song and not fully understand all the words? I must admit that this was the case with this week's choice. I have sung it all of my life and yet not fully understood the words of verse three. But recently, after looking at the time when it was written, I began to understand that the writing of this text occurred at a time in American history when there was much unrest, including the foreboding of the tensions between the North and Southern States, social upheaval due to industrial revolution, and the time of the "Forty-niner" gold rush. This Christmas carol actrually helped to heal the torn nation by the foretelling of better times to come. Perhaps in today's world of strife the words of this old hymn can again bring comfort to those of us who are bent beneath the crushing load of life. The final stanza is a verse of hopeful optimism: "When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world gives back the song, which now the angels sing." The writer of the text, Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears, was born on April 6, 1810, (my birthday but 131 years earlier), in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School and spent life pasturing small Unitarian Churches in Massachusetts. Many were surprised that Sears, a Unitarian, could write such a fine text surrounding Christ's nativity. He was viewed to be more a Unitarian in name than by conviction, for he believed and preached the deity of Christ from his pulpit. He wrote: "Although I was educated in the Unitarian denomination, I believe and preach the Divinity of Christ." Sears wrote a number of publications, but authored only two hymn texts, both intended for the Christmas season. His first carol hymn, written while a student in Harvard Divinity School, was "Calm on the Listening Ear of Night." This hymn is also included in various hymnals today, but it is not as popular as "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" written 15 years later. The first two verses tell beautifully the Christmas story - the first coming of Jesus. The third verse expresses hope for those who are crushed by the events around them. Finally, the fourth verse presents the impact of the day when Christ shall come again. What a great message for those who lived in the time when it was written, as well as for those of us today.

(1) It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
"Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven's all gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

(2) Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The bless├Ęd angels sing.

(3) And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

(4) For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Listen to it here. LISTEN

Sunday, December 12, 2010

O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL

For centuries men looked for the coming of the Messiah. And when He came, silently in a manger, many folks missed it completely. Others were looking for a political deliverer and leader and the real Messiah just didn't meet what they wanted. Others just rejected anmd ignored Him completely. And things still haven't changed today. Our hymn this week is one of the oldest hymns still found in hymnals. It has its origin in seven prose Latin sentences which were sung during medieval monastic vespers leading up to Christmas. Its usage dates all the way back to the 9th century. Each stanza (originally, the stanzas were short sentences) salutes the returning Messiah by one of the many titles ascribed to Him in Scripture. kWith its haunting minor melody, the ancient hymnwriter refers to Jesus as "Emmanuel" and "God with us". He implores Jesus to come and end the Christian's separation from God. "Israel", used three times in the stanzas and each time in the refrain, signifies the waiting Church. While we can experience reconciliation and friendship with God right now, the hymn longs for that perfect, completed fellowship which will be enjoyed in eternity. Jesus is also referred to as the "Dayspring" (or the "Rising Sun"—see Luke 1:78) and is asked to remove the gloom of spiritual night and the shadows of death. Whether writing in the 9th or 21st century, these words still address the yearning of Christians everywhere for Christ's return. Another name for Jesus is the "Rod of Jesse" (see Isaiah 11:1). It is a term found in the King James Version of the Bible and signifies Christ's fight to free His people from Satan, hell and the grave. It hearkens back to the time when a rod, the club used by shepherds to fight wild animals, played a significant role in defending the sheep. And while many missed the first coming of the Messiah, nobody will miss the second coming. This time He won't come as a babe in a lowly manger. This time it will be with the shout of the angel and the sound of trumpets. And all the world will see. And so while for centuries mankind cried out "O come, O come Emmanuel", today believers should cry out the same prayer and watch for His soon return. O come, O come Emmanuel - and may it be today! What a tremendous Christmas that would be. Keep looking up.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse's tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Listen to it here. LISTEN

Sunday, December 5, 2010

HALLELUJAH CHORUS

I have been looking for something special to kick-off the Christmas season and I thought maybe I would depart from my usual selection of hymns and feature a tremendous piece of choral literature that has thrilled people for centuries. I also chose it because of the special video I have linked below which shows this being sung in a very unique and stirring way. If you can't listen to this being sung without tears in your eyes and praise overflowing in your hearts, then maybe you need to check your pulse. Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel, and is one of the most popular works in the Western choral literature. The libretto by Charles Jennens is drawn entirely from the King James and Great Bibles, and interprets the Christian doctrine of the Messiah. Messiah (often and incorrectly called The Messiah) is one of Handel's most famous works. The Messiah sing-alongs now common at Christmas usually consist of only the first of the oratorio's three parts, with the Hallelujah Chorus (originally concluding the second part) replacing His Yoke is Easy in the first part. Composed in London during the summer of 1741 and premiered in Dublin, Ireland on 13 April 1742, it was repeatedly revised by Handel, reaching its most familiar version in the performance to benefit the Foundling Hospital in 1754. In 1789 Mozart orchestrated a German version of the work; his added woodwind parts, and the edition by Ebenezer Prout, were commonly heard until the mid-20th century and the rise of historically informed performance. The tradition of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus began during a performance on March 23, 1743. King George II was attending the performance. When the Hallelujah Chorus began King George rose. It is unclear why he stood up, he may have been stretching his legs, it is possible that King George, who was partially deaf, mistook the opening notes for the national anthem, or he may have risen to his feet out of respect. No one knows why King George stood but we do know that people around the world still rise to their feet whenever they hear first notes of the Hallelujah Chorus. But whether you stand or sit, sing along with the great words as you worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to begin the Christmas season.

|: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! :|
|: For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! :|
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
|: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! :|
The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
|: King of kings, and Lord of lords, :|
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
And He shall reign forever and ever,
|: King of kings! and Lord of lords! :|
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

You really don't want to miss this special rendition. Please take time to watch and sing along. LISTEN

Sunday, November 28, 2010

NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD

I thought that I'd conclude the traditional "Thanksgiving season" with another hymn of praise. Now Thanksgiving should be 24/7 for all Christians and this hymn would be appropriate to sing throughout the year. Unfortunately, it is seldom sung or heard anymore. But what a challenge for us to live with thankful hearts and voices for the countless gifts of love our Father has given to us. This week I have been able to find some of the history concerning the writing. Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran minister, was in Eilenburg, Saxony, during the Thirty Years' War. The walled city of Eilenburg saw a steady stream of refugees pour through its gates. The Swedish army surrounded the city, and famine and plague were rampant. Eight hundred homes were destroyed, and the people began to perish. There was a tremendous strain on the pastors who had to conduct dozens of funerals daily. Finally, the pastors, too, succumbed, and Rinkart was the only one left — doing 50 funerals a day. When the Swedes demanded a huge ransom, Rinkart left the safety of the walls to plead for mercy. The Swedish commander, impressed by his faith and courage, lowered his demands. Soon afterward, the Thirty Years' War ended, and Rinkart wrote this hymn for a grand celebration service. It is a testament to his faith that, after such misery, he was able to write a hymn of abiding trust and gratitude toward God. Certainly God has blessed you and maybe He's also brought you through some very difficult personal "wars". Raise your voice in praise as you sing these words and thank Him for the countless gifts of love you have experienced from His hands.

(1) Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers' arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

(2) O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

(3) All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

I am providing two sources this week for you. The first is an upbeat version which I really enjoy.
The second is a more traditional, classical version of this great hymn.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

COME YE THANKFUL PEOPLE, COME

There are a number of hymns that have traditionally been sung at Thanksgiving and one of my favorites is "Come Ye Thankful People, Come", written by Henry "Dean" Alford in 1844. It was written for the English harvest festivals, a movable feast which varies according to the harvest time in different villages that celebrate it. The hymn writer is regarded as a gifted, Christian leader of the 19th century, a distinguished theologian and scholar, as well as a writer, poet, artist and musician. The composer is George J. Elvey, an longtime organist at the Windsor, Royal Castle. Originally, this hymn was meant to be a harvest song, and was titled "After Harvest" with seven stanzas. Only four remained in common use. It was originally accompanied by the text "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Psalm 126:6). The first stanza of this thanksgiving hymn is an invitation and a exhortation to give thanks to God in the earthly temple – His Church – for the heavenly care and provision of our earthly needs. The following two stanzas are an interesting commentary on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares as recorded in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. The final stanza is a prayer for the Lord's return –"the final harvest home" – the culminating event that Henry Alford saw as the ultimate demonstration of God's goodness in His eternal purpose of man's Redemption. It is said that at the end of a hard day's work, as well as after every meal, it was customary practice for "Dean" Alford to stand to his feet and give thanks to God for the blessings enjoyed during the day. This spirit of perpetual gratitude is clearly evidenced throughout this hymn. Because of Alford's strenuous efforts and unlimited activities in the Christian ministry, he suffered a physical breakdown in 1870, and died on January 12, 1871. During his lifetime one of his cherished dreams was to visit the Holy Land. Although this dream was never realized, it was said of him that his eyes were fixed upon the Heavenly Jerusalem toward which he journeyed. On his tombstone the following appropriate inscription is found: "The Inn of a Pilgrim Traveling to Jerusalem." So let me continue Alford's call for all thankful people to come and raise a song of praise to our great God who showers us with His blessings and provides us with more than we need. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving as you raise your voice in thanks to Him who alone is worthy of all of our praise.

(1) Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

(2) All the world is God's own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

(3) For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

(4) Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Listen to this week's hymn of thanksgiving here. LISTEN

Sunday, November 14, 2010

MORE LOVE TO THEE

A friend of mine just told me that he has just met the love of his life. And he is so excited. It is special to find a person that you can love with your whole heart and who loves you as well. When you do find such a person, you want to spend all of your time with them. You want to share all of your dreams, your cares and your experiences with them. You want to honor them, and trust them, and give them your all. Unfortunately, human love often fails. But there is one who loved us even when we were unlovable. And He is a true friend who has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Our desire should be to love Him and we should want our love for Him to grow deeper and fuller every day. This was the desire of Elizabeth Payson Prentiss who struggled with insomnia and severe headaches for her entire life. After the loss of two children in short succession, Elizabeth's frail health was nearly broken and she cried out in her distress "Our home is broken up, our lives wrecked, our hopes shattered, our dreams dissolved, I don't think I can stand living for another moment." But it was during this time of tremendous emotional suffering that Elizabeth wrote the lyrics that eventually became the hymn, More Love to Thee, O Christ. The words that Elizabeth wrote joyously proclaim the Christian's desire to love their Savior more everyday. However, Elizabeth originally did not finish her poem. Thirteen years later, she found the unfinished poem. She would have left it unfinished but for her husband's encouragement. Her husband printed several copies, one of which found its way to William Howard Doane, a musician in Cincinnati. He set the words to music and published the hymn in his Songs of Devotion. Elizabeth once said that "To love Christ more, is the deepest need, the constant cry of my soul … Out in the woods and on my bed and out driving, when I am happy and busy, and when I am sad and idle, the whisper keeps going up for more love, more love, more love!" Is that your desire as well? It should be. We love Him because He first loved us.

(1) More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

(2) Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest;
Now Thee alone I seek, give what is best.
This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

(3) Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

(4) Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Listen to it sung here. LISTEN

Sunday, November 7, 2010

ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS

Next Thursday will be Veterans Day, a time when we should remember our veterans who gave themselves to protect and earn the freedoms that we experience today. Unfortunately the meaning and purpose of this special day of remembrance has lost its impact for most people today. On Friday we led a special hymn sing at Pinebrook to remember and honor our veterans. It was a special day and a special program and many veterans were in attendance. It was just one small way for us to say "thank you" to those who served. But there is also a sense that all Christians are veterans. For we are involved in a spiritual battle that we often take for granted. Many hymns have been written about this battle but most of them are no longer sung today. That is probably because it is not "politically correct" to talk about "war" in our churches today. But that doesn't mean that this war is not being waged. One of the hymns that talks about this theme is this week's choice, written by Sabine Baring-Gould. But while this hymn speaks about this spiritual battle, it was really written for a different purpose. According to the author, "Whit-Monday is a great day for school festivals in Yorkshire. One Whit-Monday, thirty years ago, it was arranged that our school should join forces with that of a neighboring village. I wanted the children to sing when marching from one village to another, but couldn't think of anything quite suitable; so I sat up at night, resolved that I would write something myself. "Onward, Christian Soldiers" was the result. It was written in great haste, and I am afraid some of the rhymes are faulty. Certainly nothing has surprised me more than its popularity. I don't remember how it got printed first, but I know that very soon it found its way into several collections. I have written a few other hymns since then, but only two or three have become at all well-known". So while you mediate upon this "marching" sing, be reminded of the spiritual battle which we face each day and our need to "march on" in the power and under the leadersip of Jesus.

(1) Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

(2) At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

(3) Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

(4) Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

(5) Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

You can listen to it here. LISTEN