Monday, September 30, 2013

Psalm 100 (Strength in Hymn)

Psalm 100

Shout for joy 
to the Lord,
all the earth.

Worship the Lord 
with gladness; 
come before him 
with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God. 

It is he who made us, 
and we are his;
we are his people, 
the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates
with thanksgiving 
and his courts with praise; 

give thanks to him
and praise his name.

For the Lord is good 
and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues
through all generations.

So for my Strength in Hymn series, this isn't exactly a hymn in the modern sense like the others, but it sure is an ancient one.  The early church sang the Psalms, as did the Old Testament saints. Just words for the eyes and mouth? No. Worship from and for the heart.  As a teen and young adult, I sang it straight from the King James, with a little repetition to make the words fit the rhythm of the melody.  Whatever the tune, whatever the version, it's a timeless and powerful testimony to the goodness of God.
"From Psalm 100, we're going to see that Christian worship is a weekly cosmic journey that takes us to a palace, a pasture, and a pantry, where we experience God as a King, a Shepherd, and a Gift-Giver." Josh Bales in sermon on 9/29/2013
"Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.” — Annie Dillard, Christian nature lover best known as author of A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This quote, which Josh Bales used in his aforementioned sermon, is from her book of essays, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters.
One more thing, a prayer of confession, from yesterday's service:
"Almighty God, we confess how hard it is to be your people. You have called us to be the church, to continue the mission of Jesus Christ to our lonely and confused world.  Yet we acknowledge we are more apathetic than active, isolated than involved, callous than compassionate, obstinate than obedient, legalistic than loving.  Gracious Lord, have mercy upon us and forgive our sins. Remove the obstacles preventing us from being your representatives to a broken world.  Awaken our hearts to the promised gift of your indwelling Spirit.  This we pray in Jesus' powerful name. Amen"
This morning Judy, a dear friend from church, was talking with me about the grace and goodness of God.  As I left, she encouraged me to keep noticing beauty, to keep taking photographs, and to keep writing.  That I will do, no matter what else is going on in my life, which sometimes is a bit much for my patience level.  Participating in the beauty of the Lord helps to keeps my faith alive and to trust him when I might not otherwise. 
The pictures in this post were taken in Baldwin Park, Florida, in a small neighborhood natural habitat preserve.  Two of my younger children and I were waiting for my kids to get out of Lake Baldwin Church's youth group and decided to go on a nature walk and enjoy the beautiful creation of our King, Shepherd, and Gift-Giver.   What is beauty?  Good question, one which my son had asked me a little earlier when I told another mother she had "beautiful children."  I replied simply, "Beauty is a reflection of the goodness of God." 

What do you think beauty is?

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Strength in Hymn)

"Great Is Thy Faithfulness"

Thomas Chisholm – 1925

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

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.

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!

The beauty of nature witnesses to my soul about the glory and goodness of God. That's why I include so many nature photos on my blog. Experiencing God as the Grand Creator helps take the edge off of some of the negative perceptions about his character that I had acquired along the way.  God is life and love, not rules and regulations.

"Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow" is exactly what I need right now.  Say a prayer for me, will you?   And let me know how I can be praying for you, too.  That would be my privilege.

And now, since some of you said you like my personal "life" notes on the hymns... 

When I turned 50 earlier this month, my children and some of our friends and relatives compiled a beautiful photo album / scrap book for me with paragraphs of things they remembered about me.   My daughter Joanna sent in her entry from Australia, where she is a student this semester at the University of Canberra, and where she took the sunset photo above.  She wrote:

1. I appreciate the creativity you put into teaching us in elementary school.  I will always remember when we wrapped up in sheet togas and crawled through the catacombs we constructed in the dining room, complete with dripping water sound effects and candles.  You always wanted us to learn with our senses.

2. One of my first memories ever is hearing you sing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" as I fell asleep, and I still hear you singing it.  It always "brings me back" and makes me grateful to your faithfulness to us. 

3.  Over the past few years, you have modeled to me how to think critically and how to speak up graciously against injustice.  You have helped shape my plans to become a counselor.  As you have found your voice, I have as well."

I am so touched by her words.  

That first one -- the catacombs and bed sheets one -- was when we were learning about the early Christian martyrs who were persecuted and killed for their faith in the Roman empire. I wanted my children to remember that even though God is faithful and just and compassionate, that life will not always be sunshine and roses for this children.  He brings us through trials -- often severe ones -- to fulfill his greater purposes not only in our own lives but also in human history.  Our challenge is to keep trusting.

The second one -- hymn singing is something we did a lot more in the earlier years of child raising and home schooling, especially at bedtime for lullabyes and during a morning worship and Scripture reading.  It is something we need to revive somehow.  It's too easy to wander in what music we choose.  I don't mind my kids (who are now mostly teens and adults) listening to decent secular pop and country music, but shouldn't they also be listening songs which are inherently more wholesome and faith-building?  I notice difference that in my own life. Maybe that's why I started the "Strength inHymn" series? 

And the third -- learning to think and speak up -- is borne from the fires and trials of life.  Finding my voice meant getting past the pious passivity that often afflicts Christian women who believe they should be seen but not heard.  What my daughter is talking about is what's on this blog: posts on abuse of authority / legalismgender roles, and more.  Joanna knows that if time and money were no object for me, I'd go back and get a master's degree in counseling to help others work through these issues. But that's not an option at this point, so I guess I'll experience that vicariously through her and just keep writing my own little blog posts as my contribution to humanity.  Fortunately, I do have a new teaching job that I love, and that is a story of God's faithfulness right there!   I thank God for showing that care just when I needed it most, in the midst of a dark season of stress and loss and need.  That's a story for another day.  

Virginia Knowles

P.S. I took the rainbow picture at the top of the post yesterday evening. One of my teenage sons was leaving for a concert with his older sister, but took the time to call and tell me to get outside and see the rainbow!  Bless his heart!  The rainbow has always been a symbol of God's faithfulness.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun (Strength in Hymn)

Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun
by Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
thy daily stage of duty run;
shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise 
to pay thy morning sacrifice.

Redeem thy misspent time that's past,
And live this day as if the last;
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.

Let all thy converse be sincere,
Thy conscience as the noon-day clear; 
Think how all-seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite. 

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.



I guess you recognized that last bit, didn't you, even if you hadn't heard the rest? The doxology that we know and love is actually the final part of a much longer hymn.  I'm only including about half of the verses here.  The author, Thomas Ken, was an Anglican bishop whose Protestant religious convictions landed him as a prisoner in the Tower of London.  

According to CyberHymnal, "Ken wrote this hymn at a time when the es­tab­lished church believed only Scripture should be sung as hymns—with an em­pha­sis on the Psalms. Some con­sid­ered it sin­ful and blas­phe­mous to write new lyr­ics for church mu­sic, akin to ad­ding to the Script­ures. In that at­mo­sphere, Ken wrote this and sev­er­al other hymns for the boys at Win­chest­er Col­lege, with strict in­struct­ions that they use them on­ly in their rooms, for pri­vate de­vo­tions. Iron­ic­al­ly, the last stan­za has come into wide­spread use as the Dox­ol­o­gy, per­haps the most fr­equent­ly used piece of mu­sic in pub­lic wor­ship. At Ken's request, the hymn was sung at his fun­er­al, fit­tingly held at sun­rise."


What is the point?  Is this hymn demanding a lifestyle of performance?  Are we just supposed to push ourselves to do, do, do – to prove our worth?  No.  It is about being aware of God, taking time to worship, making the most of our day, serving others, getting better at what we do, keeping a clear conscience, and living well with a heart for excellence -- with God's empowerment.   All of this is wholesome and ultimately pleasant for the soul. I believe this invigorating approach is so much better than living with the worm mentality of thinking I can never do anything well or that I am so insignificant that my puny efforts will never make a difference or that God has to hold his nose or look away when I am in his presence.  As the Westminster catechism proclaims, The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever!  We can do that.  We were made for it.


I thought of this hymn today because I had a really hard time getting up and getting going with the day since I hadnt slept well during the night.  Unfortunately, this sleepiness resulted in a few cross words exchanged with a child who had other expectations for my activity level.  I eventually eased into wakefulness, especially with the help of a little caffeine and reading.  It was a productive day after all: a vigorous mix of laundry, helping my husband with his resume, grading and lesson planning for the classes I teach three days a week, chauffeuring my kids, cooking dinner, chatting with my family, and shopping.  And yes, wee pockets of time to pause and rest and ponder the goodness of God and the beauty of his creation.  Speaking of which, the photos here are actually not of sunrise, but this evenings sunset as I left home for errands – but I think that’s just fine since once I got going, I lasted all day!  I love to stop and notice what God has made for our enjoyment and his own glory.


A modernized version of the hymn...  Enjoy!


Virginia Knowles

If you like my sunset and clouds photos, you might also like: 
Catch It While You Can

Friday, September 6, 2013

O God, Our Help in Ages Past (Strength in Hymn)

O God, Our Help in Ages Past
by Isaac Watts

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.

Under the shadow of thy throne,
still may we dwell secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting, thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages, in thy sight,
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night,
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all who breathe away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come;
be thou our guide while life shall last,
and our eternal home.

At Lake Monroe, the skies are blue, but a storm is coming.  As I walk over to the marina, I see darkening clouds and the breeze picks up.  Moments later, the thunder rolls and the wind whips the palm trees.  I keep walking.  The waves crash against the sea wall and the sailboat bells clang furiously. I see lightning in the distance. The rain pelts the windows of my van when I pull away from the Veteran's Memorial park.  As I drive home, it's a full storm and the puddles splash up so intensely onto my windshield that I cannot see at all.  I steadily apply my brakes and hope I don't hydroplane, spin, or hit anything.  Fortunately, I don't, but my adrenaline pumps hard.  Nearing home, I run into the grocery store for just a few things, but looking out the window at the lightning and seeing the long line at the check out, I realize I had better go pick up my teenage son at the school bus stop instead.  It is just too fierce for walking out there.  I leave my groceries at the store, and rush to my own neighborhood just in time.  As my son dashes toward the van, the lightning splits the sky.  I think, "My van is a shelter in the stormy blast!"  I drop him off at home, then drive over to the elementary school to pick up my two youngest, then back to the store for my groceries, and to another bus stop for another child.   It's a stormy day, but soon I am safe and dry inside my own house with my children around me.   Young friends are coming over for the evening and life is good.

Yes, there are times when life itself seems so stormy for us.  Dark clouds, rain, wind, thunder, lightning.  Anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, fear.  Yet God is with us in the midst of it.  He is our help and our hope.  He is our shepherd and our shelter, and the storm will pass.

Virginia Knowles