God


Ah! Vacation Bible School. With the week upon us, can’t you just hear the high-pitched voices of the children roaming through the church hallways, catching up with friends from school and from last year’s VBS? And then there are the teachers and helpers, smiling and enthusiastic, a bit bedraggled by Wednesday or Thursday, but still smiling (a smile that turns into a relieved grin when the last child departs with parents or grandparents on Friday). Yes, it’s VBS week, and we are excited. Excited about the children and families who will be touched by our ministry this week. Excited about all the volunteers who will be helping out with this mammoth endeavor. Excited for the chaos that clutches the church during these few short summer days. But most of all we are excited about the story of Jesus and the Heavenly Father that will be told, retold and absorbed this week.

Personally, I am excited to be looking to the stars for the evidence of God’s existence, His love, and His provision that will be our focus this year with the help of LifeWay’s “Galactic Starveyers” VBS material. If we are in doubt about the existence of a Creator-God who loves us, we can simply look to the skies and see the evidence of His Majesty. If we can’t get our eyes on the stars, we can gaze at the world around us and see His handiwork proclaiming His perfection. And if we don’t find any of the natural world in our scope of vision, we can make a quick examination of ourselves—we are designed to breathe automatically; our blood flows unaided by a thought (unless we have gone out of our way to damage our heart); even our fingertips shout out to us that the One True God had a design because each one of us can claim the uniqueness of personal fingerprints. So, this week let’s look (if we can) to the stars and discover the God of the universe.

God saw all that He had made, and it was very good indeed.”  —Genesis 1:31a

It was supposed to be a game. The two opponents would face each other and grab hands interlocking the fingers. Then they would begin to push on each other trying desperately to bend the fingers of their opponent back to near breaking point, until one or the other would cry out, “Mercy!” The game was called “Mercy” and I do NOT recommend it as a form of pastime or entertainment. I also do not see it as a means to learn about mercy.

What I know of mercy I learned from my father. He walked a life that was courageous, contagious, and filled with the love of God for his fellow man. Perhaps the best example of this attribute was based on an image that I had built up within my own mind. Dad was strict, and he had a way of indicating how things should be—his way. So, when I knew that God was directing my path to study at an institution in another state rather than the college where he wanted, expected, and knew I should attend, I didn’t know how to approach him. When I finally drug up the courage to tell him that I was transferring from his choice to mine, I expected a long, drawn-out argument in which I would have to defend my choice. The lesson in mercy came in Dad’s response, “If it’s what you’ve got to do, Son, it’s what you’ve got to do.”

Our Heavenly Father is much more succinct in showing His mercy. He gives it every day. When we breathe in and out, His mercy lets us live. When we say “yes” to faith and obedience to His Son, His mercy grants us everlasting life. In this He gives us what we do not deserve, what we have not earned: an on-going relationship with Him. What unwarranted gift have we given someone today?

“I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  —God to Moses as recorded in Romans 9:15

It has been nice, at least for me, to take a month to focus on love. It is a powerful thing, this love. I’m reminded of a story I heard years ago: a boy and his little sister were overheard as they conversed in their back yard.

Boy: “You’re nothing but a dummy. Dummy, Dummy, Dummy.”

Silence.

Boy: “You’re nothing but a stupid dummy. Stupid Dummy, Stupid Dummy, Stupid Dummy.”

Silence.

Boy, yet again: “You’re nothing but a ignorant stupid dummy. Ignorant Stupid Dummy, Ignorant Stupid Dummy, Ignorant Stupid Dummy.”

Girl: “Johnny.”

Boy: “What!”

Girl: “I love you.”

God’s love is like that: there for us, even when we revile Him, and often leaving us speechless. Isn’t love grand?

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Some of the simplest concepts are the most profound. We teach our children a simple song in Sunday school settings. The premise is really easy to learn. The song title is “Praise Him All Ye Little Children” and each succeeding verse simply changes one word to advance the song. As the title suggests, we praise Him. Then the song admonishes us to love, and then to serve, Him. And we do all of this because “God is love.”

We know that God loves us. How can we respond appropriately? We love Him. And how can our love be made evident in our lives? We offer praise to Him from the heart, and let that praise spill over into our lives as we serve Him by our obedience to Him.

Since our focus is on love this month, sing the second verse with me:

Love Him, love Him all ye little children

God is love, God is love;

Love Him, love Him all ye little children

God is love, God is love.

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Jesus, John 14:23

John Needham (d. circa 1786)

The Hymn

  1. Awake, my tongue, thy tribute bring
    To Him Who gave Thee power to sing;
    Praise Him Who is all praise above,
    The source of wisdom and of love.
  2. How vast His knowledge, how profound!
    A deep where all our thoughts are drowned;
    The stars He numbers, and their names
    He gives to all those heavenly flames.
  3. Through each bright world above, behold
    Ten thousand thousand charms unfold;
    Earth, air, and mighty seas combine
    To speak His wisdom all divine.
  4. But in redemption, O what grace!
    Its wonders, O what thought can trace!
    Here, wisdom shines forever bright;
    Praise Him, my soul, with sweet delight.

(Hymn words accessed at CyberHymnal) Stanzas included in our study hymnal are indicated with bold print.

Scriptural Connection

In Exodus 4, verse 11, the Almighty gives a reminder to Moses in the midst of the servant’s “call” experience, that it is God who has made even the mouth and tongue of man. So it is that man’s mouth should say what it is that God Almighty has given him to say. In response to this, we find this ancient hymn that teaches us to praise the One who made our lips.

What does it mean?

This song written some 200 years ago is one which calls the worshiper to the act of righteous praise. In ancient fashion we have a passion for the giving of praise where praise is due. In a way the archaic disposition of the song is a bit of a drawback for the song. Perhaps it is this reason that more hymn collectors pass this selection over than choose to include it in their volumes. One thing that causes me to struggle with this one is the way the poet approaches God from a seemingly negative side in order to bring us to the throne of glory.

Even so, there are a few phrases that bring us cause to really hear the heart of the poet. He insists that “ten thousand thousand charms unfold.” We are reminded of the vastness of the Creator. Constant images of depth and vast expanse turn our minds to the greatness of God. Much like more modern song writers say in today’s pop culture – “Our God is an awesome God . . .” or “How great is our God . . .” In the late eighteenth century, to examine the vastness of God would turn our attention to how inadequate we are when standing in His presence. And even then, as inadequate as we find ourselves to be, we must use the tongue that God has placed in us for its greatest activity—praise of God.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

Words by Robert Grant (1779 -1838)

Also included in The Broadman Hymnal 1940 edition, Broadman Press, Nashville – #2; Voice of Praise, Broadman Press, Nashville (1947) – #122; The Baptist Hymnal, 1975 edition, Convention Press, Nashville – #30; 1991 edition, Convention Press, Nashville – #16; 2008 edition, LifeWay, Nashville – #24; Inspiring Hymns, Singspiration, Grand Rapids (1951/1968 edition) – #407; Favorite Hymns of Praise, Tabernacle, Chicago (1967/1969 edition) – #13; The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration, Word, Waco (1986) – #10; The Celebration Hymnal, Word, Waco (1997) – #104; New Songs of Inspiration Volume 12, Brentwood, Nashville (1983) – #215.

One note: The Celebration Hymnal includes a fifth verse penned by David Guthrie (included below in italics), all other hymnals hold to Grant’s original four stanzas.

The Hymn

  1. O worship the King, all glorious above,
    O gratefully sing His power and His love;
    Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
    Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.
  2. O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
    Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
    His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
    And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.
  3. The earth with its store of wonders untold,
    Almighty, Thy power hath founded of old;
    Established it fast by a changeless decree,
    And round it hath cast, like a mantle, the sea.
  4. Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
    It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
    It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
    And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.
  5. Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
    In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
    Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
    Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.
  6. O measureless might! Ineffable love!
    While angels delight to worship Thee above,
    The humbler creation, though feeble their lays,
    With true adoration shall all sing Thy praise.
  7. All hail to the King! In splendor enthroned;

             Glad praises we bring, Thy wonders make known.

             Returning victorious, great conqueror of sin,

             King Jesus, all glorious, our vict’ry will win.

(Hymn words accessed at CyberHymnal) Stanzas in bold are those used in our sample hymnal. [Bracketed words are from the 1956 Baptist Hymnal]

Scriptural Connection

The scriptural connection for this hymn is from the Psalms – 104 to be exact. It is another worship song. The present version that we have from hymn-writer Grant is a re-working of an earlier treatment of Psalm 104 by William Kethe from 16th Century Genevan Psalter. Here (also from CyberHymnal) is a sample of Kethe’s original language:

  1. My foule praise the Lord, speake good of his Name,
    O Lord our great God how doeft thou appeare,
    So passing in glorie, that great is thy fame,
    Honour and maieftie, in thee fhine moft cleare.
  2. His chamber beames lie, in the clouds full fure,
    Which as his chariot, are made him to beare.
    And there with much fwitneff his courfe doth endure:
    Vpon the wings riding, of winds in the aire.

Notice the ancient spelling of the original wording.

What does it mean?

While we are in the section of the 1956 Baptist Hymnal dedicated to worship and calls to worship, it almost seems redundant to say it over again, but here we are – another call to worship. This one focuses on the “otherness” of God, pointing out how glorious He is. He is mighty, spectacular, beyond our understanding of just how great He is. The stanza traditionally placed last (#4 in all our hymnals, see #5 above) places those who are called into worship in stark contrast to the Mighty Maker.

Sing this hymn with the regal tune attributed to Johann Haydn (1737-1806) and you will be transported into the throne room of heaven and be in the very presence of the One to whom we are called to worship.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

[Having taken a couple of weeks off for the holidays, we will take up where we left off, with number 19.]

Words by Isaac Watts (1674 -1748)

The Hymn

  1. Now to the Lord a noble song!
    Awake, my soul; awake, my tongue;
    Hosanna to th’eternal Name,
    And all His boundless love proclaim.
  2. See where it shines in Jesus’ face,
    The brightest image of His grace;
    God, in the person of His Son,
    Has all His mightiest works outdone.
  3. The spacious earth and spreading flood
    Proclaim the wise and powerful God;
    And thy rich glories from afar
    Sparkle in every rolling star.
  4. But in His looks a glory stands,
    The noblest labor of thine hands;
    The pleasing luster of His eyes
    Outshines the wonders of the skies.
  5. Grace! ‘tis a sweet, a charming theme;
    My thoughts rejoice at Jesus’ Name:
    Ye angels, dwell upon the sound!
    Ye heav’ns, reflect it to the ground!
  6. O may I live to reach the place [O may I reach the happy place]
    Where he unveils His lovely face!
    Where all His beauties you behold,
    And sing His Name to harps of gold!

(Hymn words accessed at CyberHymnal) Stanzas in bold are those used in our sample hymnal. [Bracketed words are from the 1956 Baptist Hymnal]

Scriptural Connection

An excellent connection to make for this hymn because of the desire to direct praise to God the Son is found in Philippians 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say again, ‘Rejoice!’”

What does it mean?

With yet another hymn calling worshipers to the act of praise is found here. This time we are called to awake from our sleepy state to offer praise to, specifically, God the Son. We are reminded that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s love (see John 3:16), and the epitome of all that God has planned.

The love of God shines from Christ. The grace of God proceeds from Christ. The wealth of God is found in Christ. Therefore as we lift a noble song to the Lord, we discover that Christ is that noble song that we sing.

May we forever keep singing it.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

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