Sometimes a Light Surprises

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William Cowper (pronounced Cooper) was born in 1731. He is considered one of England’s finest poets.

His life was filled with melancholy and sometimes despair, which may have had its roots in his mother’s death when he was only six. He was hospitalized on more than one occasion for “madness”. He wrote many hymns that were full of hope instead of the despair he was so familiar with. (God Moves in a Mysterious Way; There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.)

The following hymn is especially hopeful. The encouragement that comes from singing is in the first line. The original tune is one by Hayden – Petition 76.76D. The words also fit nicely with the tune – Sally Garden. I am unable to record anything this week, since I am out of town with a family emergency, but have included a link below of an unusually beautiful version of this hymn. You will notice some of the words have been changed from the original.

SOMETIMES A LIGHT SURPRISES, Stillwaters Music – YouTube

Sometimes a light surprises the child of God who sings; the light of one who rises with gentle, healing wings.

When comforts are declining, God grants the soul again A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation with joy we shall pursue the theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.

Set free from present sorrow we cheerfully can say, let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but God will bear us through. Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe the people, too.

Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed: the one who feeds the ravens will give the children bread

Though vine and fig tree neither their yearly fruit should bear, though all the fields should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there,

yet God, the same abiding, through praise shall tune my voice, for while in love confiding I cannot but rejoice.

For Further Study: “And he shall be as the light or the morning, like the rising of the sun, A morning without clouds; When from the sunshine, after rain, the green grass springeth after rain.” II Samuel 23:4

Sources:

http://www.hymnary.org;

The Story of the Hymns and Tunes – Theron Brown and Hezekiah Butterworth – copyright 1906 American Tract Society

Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy

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Joseph Hart was a prodigal. Born of Christian parents in 1712, he learned early to fear God and follow His laws. But the world attracted him and his focus shifted to baser things. The early training seems to have been wasted and his life took a decidedly anti-Christian turn. He didn’t just leave his faith, he aggressively attacked it through the things he published.

God still pursued him and Joseph wrestled with God for years. Eventually he turned again to the God who loved him. This time the struggle was between “Earning his salvation”, and “Assuming on God’s grace”. Neither extreme was Biblically sound and eventually he came to a saving knowledge of the one who saves us not because of our merit, but because of His grace. He also bids us to follow him, by leaving our old ways behind. But here I will let him tell you in his own words.

“He hath plucked me from the lowest Hell. He hath plucked me as a brand out of the fire! He hath proved himself stronger than I, and his goodness superior to all my unworthiness. He gives me to know…that without Him I can do nothing…Though an enemy, He calls me his friend; though a traitor a child; though a beggared prodigal, He clothes me with the best robe; and has put a ring of endless love and mercy on my hand,…He secretly shows me His bleeding wounds; and softly and powerfully, whispers to my soul: ‘I am thy great salvation.’ His free distinguishing grace is the bottom on which is fixed the rest of my poor weary tempted soul…When my dry empty barren soul is parched with thirst, He kindly bids me come to Him, and drink my fill at the fountain head. In a word He empowers me to say with experimental evidence, ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’ Amen and Amen.”

He struggled with assurance of salvation until one Easter he was confronted again by the God who loved him. After being overwhelmed by the suffering Christ he wrote the following hymn. For God uses even our wanderings to Honor Him. He became a preacher in London about 1760. Think of Joseph Hart as you read the words. They are a powerful testimony.

(The chorus was added later by an unknown author. The original tune was also replaced.)

(Joseph Hart 1712-1768)

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy weak and wounded, sick and sore,

Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity love and power.

Chorus: I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms.

In the arms of my dear Savior, Oh, there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify

True belief and true repentance every grace that brings you nigh.

Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of him.

Chorus

Come, ye weary, heavy laden lost and ruined by the fall.

If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.

I will rise and go to Jesus! He will save me from my sin.

By the riches of his merit, there is joy and life in him.

Chorus

View Him prostrate in the garden on the ground your Maker lies.

On the bloody tree behold Him sinner will not this suffice?

Lo the incarnate God ascended pleads the merit of His blood

Venture on Him, venture wholly. Let no other trust intrude.

Chorus

For further study: C. H. Spurgeon often quoted from Hart in his sermons. The above hymn being his favorite. He applied it to Hebrews 7:25 “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

(Above information taken from “The Story of the Hymns and Tunes” by Theron Brown and Hezekiah Butterworth – copyright 1906 – American Tract Society. and “www.biblicalstudies.org.uk” – Joseph Hart and his hymns by Peter C. Rae Cowdenbeath. His source was “Hart’s hymns” – Palmer’s edition of 1863.)

Hymn of Trust – (Give to the Winds Thy Fears)

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Paul Gerhardt’s life was not an easy one. He was a preacher without a parish, tossed from place to place, (Mittenwalde & Berlin) Four of his children died, and at some point his wife also. He had been dismissed from his last church because of disagreements with the Elector Fredrick. He wandered from place to place for two years.

The following hymn was written while he was staying at a wayside inn, homeless and discouraged. After completing it he was finally offered a parish in Lubben where he stayed until his death.

He wrote 123 hymns and was a favorite hymn-writer of the German-speaking people.

Hymn of Trust – (Give to the Winds Thy Fears)

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)/William H. Walter

Give to the winds thy fears, hope and be undismayed;

God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears; God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way;

Wait thou His time, so shall this night soon end in joyous day.

Who points the clouds their course, whom wind and seas obey;

He shall direct thy wandering feet, He shall prepare thy way.

Leave to His sov’reign sway to choose and to command,

So shalt thou wond’ring own His way, how wise, how strong His hand!

Thou seest our weakness, Lord, our hearts are known to Thee;

O lift Thou up the sinking heart, confirm the feeble knee.

Commit thou all thy griefs and ways into His hands;

To His sure trust and tender care Who earth and heaven commands.

Let us in life, in death, Thy steadfast truth declare,

And publish with our latest breath Thy love and guardian care.

For further study: I Peter 5:6-7; Philippians 4:6-7; Psalm 125:1; Psalm 37

Walking Through the Woods on a Winter Day

This week my granddaughter and I were scheduled to go on a field trip in the woods.

It has been bitterly cold here. I wasn’t excited about going.

I was unsure the road would be plowed where we were supposed to meet.

Thankfully when we got up the sun was shining and the weather was milder. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

A few of the pictures have comments under them or things to look for.

Can you see the squirrel nest in the top of the tree?
What kind of animals do you think are hiding/living in the underbrush?
Bur Oak Tree over 200 years old
Can you find the hornet’s nest?
Best two hours we spent all week.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?” Job 12:7-10

Tallis’ Evening Hymn

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Tallis is called “The father of English Cathedral music.” He was born about 1520 in England and died in 1585 in Greenwich.

Glory to Thee, my God this night for all the blessings of the light. Keep me, O keep me King of kings beneath Thine own almighty wings.

Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son, The ill that I this day have done, That with the world, myself, and Thee. I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Teach me to live, that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. Teach me to die, that so I may, Rise glorious at the awful day.

O may my soul on Thee repose, And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close. Sleep that may me more vigorous make to serve my God when I awake.

Praise God, Whom from all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above the heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Choices

My grandfather’s sister was an extraordinary woman. She was born in 1886, which meant she lived through two World Wars. She lived in our town and spent all her holidays, birthdays, and many Sunday dinners with us. She was like a grandmother. We called her Aunt Signe.

She often told us to sit up straight… Didn’t like that we wore slacks… Complained that my sister’s boyfriend’s hair was too long. Severe might be the best way to describe her.

But we loved her and she loved us. She loved us enough to be critical, to push us to be better, to always remember our birthdays. She even bought our family a piano to ensure each of us learned to play.

She had spent most of her life teaching school and was the principal at four different schools in Fargo, ND. One year she even coached the boys basketball team. When she retired, she became a World Book salesman. I still have the well worn set she gave us when I was a child.

Signe was engaged to be married in her 20s to a young man named Byron. When she heard the gospel and God’s demands on her life she made a life changing decision to follow Christ. When she told the good news to Byron, her fiancé, he made light of it. He thought having a slight knowledge of God was good enough. He thought of himself as a good person who had no need of a transformation. Signe argued that God demanded a complete commitment, a redirection, a turning away from our own way of sin to follow Him. When Byron refused to take her new path seriously Signe gave the engagement ring back. God had changed her and nothing else mattered. She went forward with fire and determination.

She raised her nephew on her own. I’m not sure of the circumstances. Families didn’t talk about such things back then.

She never married and out-lived all of her siblings by quite a few years. She would often scold us for not knowing the names of 2nd cousins, that lived on the west coast, who we had never met. Family was important to her, but God meant more…always more.

She took seriously what Jesus said in Matthew 10:37-38.

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

I think often of her determination to follow hard after God, and her determination to convince us to do the same. In her view there was no other path worth taking. She lived to be 93 just as committed to her God as when she was 23. She never looked back.

And so, dear reader, like her, I beg you to be reconciled to Christ. We live in a temporary world that is full of trouble. It is full of sadness, injustice, sin and pain. There is another path that is beckoning. Shift your gaze from earthly rulers and pursuits to the God who is over it all.

Someday there will be a reckoning. Will you be like Byron or Signe? Do you think, like Byron, that you are good enough and just a passing knowledge of God is adequate? Or are you like Signe who saw her sin and her utter need of God?

For further study:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live…” Deuteronomy 30:19

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

“…and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die…” John 11:25-26

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks…

My favorite Christmas carol as a child was “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night”. In my mind it told the most spectacular part of the Christmas story, angels appearing in the middle of the night to Shepherds on a hillside.

I was deathly afraid of the dark so the 2nd verse spoke volumes to me.

“Fear not,” said he; for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind.”

I could well image how terrified they must have been to be out in the dark at night and then to be addressed suddenly by an angel.

But fear made way to…“Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind”. The angel spoke of a Savior and of peace between God and men.

It was written by Naham Tate, an Irishman, who moved to London in his twenties. He was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1692 until his death in 1715. He wrote these lyrics in 1700 (approximately).

The tune is by George F. Handel. (1685 – 1759) Probably taken from an aria he wrote in 1728.

Here is a recording of the most familiar version.

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (Hymn Charts with Lyrics, Contemporary) – YouTube

Here is another version that is probably almost as old. The tune is “Winchester Old”.

WINCHESTER OLD WHILE SHEPHERD WATCHED THEIR FLOCKS – YouTube

Here is a new version from 2013 by Craig Courtney that is also lovely.

Atlanta Master Chorale | While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (Courtney) – YouTube

I will finish the list out with one more – “The Yorkshire Version”

While Shepherds Watched – The Yorkshire Version by Stamford Bridge Singers – YouTube

There are many other versions. Sorry if I didn’t mention your favorite.

What was your favorite Christmas carol as a child? Let me know what it was and why.

Accepted or Contaminated

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We just spent a few days in Door County. For those of you not from Wisconsin, Door County is on a peninsula in Northern Wisconsin. It is surrounded by Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other. We have been going up since our kids were little. Now we go with our grandchildren. It feels like our second home.

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Things have changed. It was no longer the welcoming place we remember. While some of the shop keepers we have known for years were friendly, many were not.

One store required masks that they approved. (check)

Use their hand-sanitizer. (check)

Knock on the door and they will let you in if they aren’t at their capacity of four. (check)

When the clerk came out to let us in we were informed that the two year old was not allowed. Why? Because he wasn’t wearing a mask and they knew even if we put one on him it wouldn’t stay in place.

Did I mention it was a toy store?

Another store required a mask. (Check)

Use their hand-sanitizer. (Check)

Stay socially distanced. (Check)

I came in alone the clerk being the only other person in the store. The clerk stopped me to say that if I touched anything not to put it back on the shelf, but to put it on the table for contaminated things. They would have to sanitize it.

Later at one of the parks in the area we came across a sign at the trail head.

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So we were required to clean our shoes as we entered and exited the trail.

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When we met the few other people on the trails we noticed they had masks on…outdoors…in the wind…

I guess we didn’t get the memo. They looked at us with suspicion and moved way off the trail when they met us.

If Covid has given you stress there is something even more pressing that you should be concerned about.

What about Heaven? Will we be allowed in?

No sin or germs allowed.

Hand sanitizer won’t be strong enough to make us clean.

Socially distancing will not be an option there. We must be perfect.

But miracle of miracles I will be allowed to enter.

Why???

Not because I am sinless or free of germs, but because Christ’s blood has made me clean. Since there is no hope of any of us being perfect we look to God’s perfect Son, Jesus who died in our place. His death on the cross has settled the matter.

To think that a perfect God would allow me into His perfect heaven is too wonderful to comprehend.

I will be accepted.

I will be loved.

I will be welcome.

God, Himself will wipe away my tears.

He is preparing a place for me.

Is He preparing a place for you?

Have you accepted His offer of eternal Life to any who would put their trust in His Son, who died for your sins and mine?

Neither of us knows what tomorrow holds. He might call us home tomorrow or next week or next year. Make sure you have made preparations. Put as much thought into your eternal health as you have been putting into your Co-vid avoidance.

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22 (ESV)

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that were I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. John 14:2-4, 6 (ESV)

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I John 5:11 & 12 (ESV)

Overwhelming Trouble

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I have lived through periods of being overwhelmed. My details aren’t important. Insert your own circumstances into the story I am about to tell you.

One particularly difficult period went on for a few years. I would often talk to God about “this mess that is my life.” I could see no way forward. It was impossible to go back. The circumstances I found myself in were beyond my control and way beyond my ability. It wasn’t a matter of trying harder, it was a matter of being completely undone.

My life was like a train wreck. Twisted metal blocking any clear path.

Sitting crumpled on my living room floor I cried out to God. “This is too hard. I am too weak. I can’t go on.” It was as if He whispered…”Can you get through this hour? I will be with you this hour.” “Take my hand. Moment by moment we will get through this.”

I wanted no part of this train wreck. I wanted a smooth easy existence with blessings floating down to my outstretched hands. God wanted my outstretched hands to be reaching for Him not His blessings.

Severe trouble shifted my focus from things He provides to God Himself. When everything else lay in ruins, God was the only thing left. He was offering to take my hand as I stumbled through the train wreck. The train wreck took years to get through. I still encounter remnants of it. When I do I am reminded of how far God has brought me. From constant, hopeless despair to a moment by moment existence holding tightly to my Father’s hand.

What have I learned? My utter sinfulness. My need, not for new circumstances, but to be right with God. My hope could not be found within myself, but within God’s redemption.

Whatever your circumstances there is hope. Not in yourself, but in God.

We are eternal beings. We will live forever. This life isn’t all there is. You have a choice to make. Living moment by moment with God now and for eternity, or turning away from His outstretched hand to live a miserable existence in this life and the next.

“For God so loved the world, (that means you) that He gave His only Son, (Jesus died for your sins) That whoever (that includes you) believes in Him should not perish (separation from God for eternity) but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV – (notes by me.)

For further study:

Feasting on Crumbs

I’ve been thinking about my friend, Sharon the last few weeks. We had been friends since college in North Dakota. We had cried together and laughed much.

She moved to West Virginia. I moved to Wisconsin.

A couple of years after her third baby was born, she was diagnosed with cancer. We kept in contact over the phone and I would meet her in Zion, Illinois when she went there for treatments. She died much too soon after various surgeries and treatments. She left behind a husband and 3 boys. The youngest only 4.

One of the last times I talked to her on the phone she said, “thank you for the crumbs.”

She explained, “Every day I ask God for crumbs to get me through the day. He knows I can’t eat a big meal but need to survive on crumbs.” She related how every day she watches carefully for the crumbs God would provide. She looked forward to each one knowing they came from her Father’s hand.

I thought back to when I had visited her in the hospital. As we talked first one fellow patient, and then another would wander into her room. I watched as she greeted them with a smile and asked if they wanted to pray with her. Turns out this was a regular occurrence. This mild-mannered North Dakota farm girl was impacting dozens of people.

As I watched her live each day, knowing her time was short, I was amazed at the grace God gave her.

She was learning that the most valuable thing in her life was the moment by moment presence and provision of the God who loved her. He was walking with her through the darkness that was enveloping her. She was learning to let go of her children, her husband, her family and friends. She was drawn ever closer to her God.

So, today, we can look for crumbs…knowing that our God is carefully laying them out for us to find.

Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”