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Worship - November 2021

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One of the awesome things about fall is that right smack dab in the middle of November is DNOW. As part of DNOW I get the amazing privilege of putting together a band and leading worship for our students as they spend the weekend diving into God’s Word and growing
together. This is also a great time to introduce them to some new music, which sometimes is actually pretty old music. Last year, along with some other songs, we taught the students All the Way My Savior Leads MeI Stand Amazed in the Presence, and a modernized version of Be Thou My Vision. But we didn’t stop there. During the course of this school year the student band has been leading worship at their Sunday night student gatherings, and our young people are continuing to sing these songs, including a modernized version of The King of Love My Shepherd Is. The tempos are different, the accompaniment is different, and on a couple of them the melodies are even different. But the gospel truths, which have been sung by the church for generations, are the same. 

This year we have some more music picked out for them, and we are continuing to prioritize songs that are rich with biblical teachings and the power of the gospel. By God’s grace these songs will be a discipleship tool for these students, and this young generation will carry these songs with them as they are sent out as lights into a dark world. 

I am very excited about the music we have picked out for them this year, including one of my favorite hymns. We will be teaching them Rock of Ages, although it’s quite a bit different from the tune most of us think of. Honestly, you may not even recognize the song if it were not for those powerful words, but we are going to teach our students those wonderful words that have been sung for generations. And when I say these words have been sung for generations, I mean something like ten generations. The words were originally published 245 years ago in 1776, although the tune we all know and love would not be composed until about 55 years later. I did not realize it at first, but the tune the students will be learning was actually written about 170 years ago and has fairly commonly been used with Rock of Ages in Europe over the last century and a half. 

I don’t know how many times we sang Rock of Ages during the four years I was serving in western Kentucky, but like I said, it’s one of my favorite hymns. What I found peculiar, though, was that every time we sang it people would tell me that it’s a funeral hymn. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is a wonderful song to sing at a funeral. It reminds us that our hope, comfort, and security is found only in Christ, and that even when we behold Him on His glorious judgment throne one day, still we will be hidden in him. However, these gospel saturated words are pertinent in all seasons of life, not just during times of bereavement. They help us to “seek the things that are above,” as Paul instructs us to do in Colossians 3, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God
(vv. 2-3).  This hymn helps us to turn our attention to the things above by reminding us Christ has given us His righteousness and has redeemed us that we may live in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). 

I love Rock of Ages  because it helps us to sing the gospel, and we need the gospel every day. We don’t just need it at the beginning of our spiritual journey and at the end of this life, but every day in between, and then for all eternity. Verse 3 reminds us, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling… Foul, I to Thy fountain fly. Wash me, Savior, or I die!” No matter how long we have been saved, we are still wholly dependent on the righteousness of Christ, not anything good that we have done since the day we received Christ. The cross doesn’t just give us fresh start and a clean slate, leaving us to our own devices after that.  The blood of Christ is “of sin the double cure” because it both saves us from the wrath of God and it makes (and continues to make) us pure. Our goal is not to become less dependent on Christ, it is to glorify God through our dependence on Christ. This precious hymn with which we are arming our students reminds us that we never outgrow our need for Christ and we never outgrow the gospel!

Posted by Derek Niffenegger with

Worship - October 2021

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Hello Church Family, please enjoy this article about the origins of one of our beloved hymns by Marshall Segal:

You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:5) 

As with so many of our favorite hymns, “The Love of God” was born in adversity. Frederick Lehman (1868–1953), who wrote the hymn with his daughter, had experienced the failure of his once-profitable business, which left him packing crates of oranges and lemons in Pasadena, California, to make ends meet. Again and again throughout history, deep and enduring trials seem to have a strange and beautiful way of swelling the waves of worship.

Perhaps the most memorable lines in the hymn, however, were not Lehman’s, but words someone had found scribbled on the walls of an insane asylum a couple hundred years earlier, words that had been passed along to Lehman and held profound meaning for him.

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made;

Were every tree on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky. 

The lyrics, it turns out, were a translation of an old Aramaic poem (now almost a thousand years old). And while no one knows the name of the insane asylum patient, the circumstances of his suffering, or how he came across the poem, the lines sparkle with surprising clarity, hope, and, well, sanity. A kind of spiritual sanity that often eludes us.

That Lehman treasured the lyrics is hardly surprising. Living just a handful of miles from the Pacific Ocean, he would have known, with acute awareness, the roaring vastness of the sea, the tall and swaying elegance of palm trees, and the bursts and hues of California sunsets. Day by day, he held the brilliant orangeness of its oranges and smelled the lively tartness of its lemons. The ocean, the trees, the sky, the earth were enormous and familiar friends of his — and yet each so small next to the love he had come to know in Christ.

When Lehman looked at the sky, he saw a hint of something wider still. He sang, like David, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3–4). The sky above him awed him, and then humbled him. If God could stretch out heavens like these with his hands, why would he pierce those hands in love for me? 

When Lehman looked out over the ocean, he heard a hint of something deeper still. “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). The ocean taught him of forgiveness, of a dark, far-off, forgotten place where God submerged our canceled sins. How could God possibly forget what we had said, and thought, and done? Well, he could bury them beneath the sea. And so he does.  “O Lord, how manifold are your works!” the psalmist sings. “In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great” (Psalm 104:24–25). The ocean is big, and crowded, and wild, and yet you, O Lord, are bigger still, and your love, wilder still. And while the ocean sang its choruses, the sand beneath his feet would occasionally interrupt: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand” (Psalm 139:17–18). 

When Lehman stared at the towering trees above him, he tasted a hint of something higher still. He surely could not count the trees that surrounded him, and their numberlessness reminded him of the unsearchable greatness of God. He may have read of math like this in the Psalms: “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:5). More than can be told. Is there any better summary of the love of God?

Were we to fill that ocean with ink and stretch out scrolls to cover those skies, and were every tree, of every kind, a pen, and every one of us a scribe, we still could capture only hints and whispers of the boundless love of God. We would drain the ocean dry. And then still have so much more to say. 

Let that never keep us from saying as much as we can. We ought to thank God for those, like Frederick Lehman, who help us taste and see and feel realities we will never fully grasp. We ought to thank God for the poor soul clinging to faith in that asylum. If he had not scrawled those words on that wall, from his embattled memory, would we have ever heard them? We ought to thank God for the pen that crafted those original lines, in Aramaic, so many years earlier. Who could have imagined just how far his words would float, like a letter in a bottle, and how many hearts they would brighten and strengthen over centuries?

And we ought to ask God for fresh words that might open worlds like these for others. How might we help others feel the love beyond expressing? If words fail us, we could start by writing the beloved lines where someone might someday see them.

Article by Marshall Segal. Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Posted by Derek Niffenegger with

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