Middling

The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

Category Archives: Songs of worship

Beautiful Things

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

  ~ Revelation 21:5

On a trip to help my dad pick up a lawn-mower today, I slipped on a hill that turned out to be muddier than it looked. I caught myself, but my hand was covered in earth as a result. I wiped it off as best I could, knowing with some annoyance that I wouldn’t be able to wash it off until much later. But a few minutes later, I looked at my hand in the sunlight — and scattered all over it were grains of something that sparkled in the light. I suppose there are specks like in any handful of dirt, but I’d forgotten about them. In those particles of dust and grime filling the lines of my palm, I saw a touch of beauty shining at me. That reminded me of this song.

Whether or not you’re familiar with it — even if you can’t yet relate to the heartfelt story of  pain and redemption captured in its notes — it’s worth listening to and giving time to reflect over:

One of the ways I think our Lord most delights to display His beauty is through using what is weak, what is despised, what is barren, what is broken, what is forsaken, what is worn and exhausted, to shine the very radiance of His face. He makes everything beautiful in its time — even pain, even weakness and defeat, even lowliness and ashes, even dust. We serve a God of beauty.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.”

  ~ Psalm 27:4

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A restless Sabbath

I realized last night that I needed a day of rest.

From what I understand from Scripture (and there are people I highly respect who would disagree with me), I don’t believe that I’m morally obligated to keep a Sabbath. But I think God knew what He was doing when He set down the pattern of six days of work, one day of rest. Plus, given the holiday tomorrow, I knew I would (hopefully) be given enough time to pay my assignments their due.

And so, I decided today would be a day of no schoolwork.

The day flew by, even more rapidly than I’d expected. At first, it didn’t feel that different; perhaps it just took a bit for me to log out of the schoolwork mentality. But about halfway through the day, I was struck by a seemingly out-of-the-blue thought/conviction that caught me slightly off-guard:

I don’t want to just rest from academics; I want to rest in God. But what does that mean? What does it mean to find true repose in Him, and in Him alone? I sensed a longing, a restlessness in my spirit that I didn’t quite have an answer for…

A few minutes later, I attended a dance lesson today that left me totally and curiously drained (I’ve danced longer and more intensely many times before; I guess in those cases my adrenaline was enough to keep me from realizing how tired I was until much later). An hour and a half of involuntary, physical repose afterward had never been so sweet…

Perhaps too often, I go through my day running on a kind of spiritual adrenaline, unaware of my dependence and need for my Creator. And as I learn to remember the restlessness inside of me, I will find the sweet repose that only He can supply.

Lord… teach me to be restless for You.

“…our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

~ Augustine

Christmas carol exegesis

Christmas-Carols-Origin-and-History

I wasn’t able to craft a fully coherent Christmas message this year, but since I’ve mentioned my difficulty with finding meaning in Christmas music before (my post on the season from last year), I thought I’d indulge in a bit of exegesis in some of the carols I’ve heard most often and loved singing most this season. If nothing else, I hope that my scattered thoughts give you encouragement you to ponder more deeply the music you sing and hear this Christmas.

*     *     *

O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining.

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

‘Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

To be holy means to be set-apart. It doesn’t refer to the intrinsic worth of an object, but the value placed on it by another; the rocks in an altar holy to the Lord are rocks like any other but set apart for a special purpose, as are the living stones set apart by God to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5).

That night so many years ago was, in many ways, like any ordinary night. Yet it stands apart from every other night in history. All else melts away like morning frost in comparison to this: the Lord of all the Universe stooped low enough to enter His creation, wrapped in flesh and nestled in a food-trough.

Were the stars, excepting the one that lead the Wise Men, brightly shining that night? Did they array themselves in all the splendor they could muster at the joy of welcoming their Maker into the universe? Or did they look like they do every night? I could see it being either way; God does seem inclined to be incredibly poetic at times, and starkly undramatic and unglamorous at others (sending His Son to be born in a stable is a good example of that).

However the stars looked that night, the dear Savior came. Why? Why come to this fallen world, a figment still of what God had intended it to be, yet bound by its corruption and rebellion since Eden? Why come to a planet that to this day, two thousand years after the Holy birth, still lies pining in its sin, groaning for its redemption?

Simply this: to testify to the truth that would set men free (John 8:32, 18:37). To bring light to darkness, to make a way of redemption for all who are willing to follow it and eventually, for all of Creation. The Hope of the nations appeared in Bethlehem that night, and the hope of His returning fills the universe still to this day. When the Lord of the heavens appears on the earth to bring salvation to man, there is hope indeed. And faced with such humility and sacrifice — God Almighty stepping down from His celestial throne to become a part of a messy, fallen world, that He might redeem it — how can the soul not exult in feeling its true worth? God doesn’t need us. But if He wants us, if He loved our race enough to take on our weakness and enter our lowly existence, how He values us can hardly be made any clearer. And that is where our ultimate worth lies.

When we sing of a Holy Night, we truly do sing of a night unlike any that has ever been or ever will be.

*     *     *

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh

Come peasant, king, to own Him.

The King of Kings salvation brings

Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

I never realized before how much this verse is saturated with the Kingship of Christ. Even the first line speaks of bringing gifts befitting a king. He is worthy of that honor, and far more.

Yet the Savior’s birth belongs to the rich and poor alike. Peasant and king, lowly shepherd and Magi, the lowest and the highest and everything in between, all may lay claim to Him; good thing too, because all need Him and none deserve Him. Yet any heart that is willing to grant Him its scepter, a heart that truly loves Him, is one He will deem worthy to enter and reign in.

Why He would deign to sit enthroned in our lowly hearts when He has a throne in heaven is beyond me, but I am grateful. Thank the Lord that He, the King of Kings, bore a salvation for us all.

*     *     *

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The long-awaited, long-expected Messiah’s arrival is truly an event for every son of Israel and daughter of Zion to rejoice greatly over. Foretold in ages past, He had finally come. God with us, a promise made reality.

Yet, it is a promise that the adopted children of Abraham have cause to rejoice in as well. As the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, it is a news of great joy “for all people.” As old Simeon exulted in the temple courts, this salvation was to be “a light unto the Gentiles,” as well as the glory of Israel.

I rejoice for the children of Israel who have received their long-awaited Messiah. But I am also exceedingly glad that I, a Gentile and stranger to the old covenant, may enter in and share the Light of Salvation with them as a child of the New Israel. Thanks be to the Lord for that!

*     *     *

Sing, choirs of angels! Sing in exultation!

Sing all ye citizens of heaven above.

Glory to God in the highest!

O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him, Christ the L0rd.

Translated literally, the Hebrew hallelujah simply means “praise the Lord!” But more than merely a vague expression of praise, the term is a plural imperative, i.e. an instruction or even command to many. A more apt translation would be, “Everyone! Let us praise the Lord together!”

To me, this verse seems to be the same way. I’ve always sung this verse concerning the angels in a nebulous, praise-the-Lord kind of fashion. Perhaps you have as well.

But that’s not what the text says. It’s an imperative, a request or even command to the hosts of heaven themselves! Then it turns to address the whole Body of Christ, all whose citizenship lies in heaven above.

When we tell angels to sing in exultation, “Glory to God in the highest!”, I have little doubt that they can hear us. Perhaps they join in every time we invite them to as well. At any rate, whether we invite the angels or our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to sing to God’s glory with us, let our invitation be a sincere one.

He is worth singing about. Truly, let us come before Him and adore Him for who He is: our Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, Friend, the Light of all men, the Firstborn of creation, the perfect Son of God.

Wishing you a merry and most blessed Christmas,

  ~ Timothy

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I first heard this song last Christmas, but it seemed especially appropriate this year, in light of all that happened in Connecticut so terribly recently…

Based off of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (the full poem can be found here), this song has been running through my head quite often of late. Whether or not you’re already familiar with the poem or song, please take a moment to listen. Whatever is filling your heart and mind this Christmastime, I pray that this song encourages and strengthens you.

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

~ Hebrews 13:20-21

Liberty

I was recently working on a paper concerning the Puritans and how they viewed (and lived in light of their view of) freedom. One of the verses I used was 2 Corinthians 3:17, and the moment it popped into my head, this song would not leave me alone.

Even if you’re familiar with the song, check out this collab between Shane & Shane and Phil Wickham. Good stuff.

Here’s to being free indeed!

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”

~ John 8:34-36

Live Like That

This song has been the cry of my heart for some time now. The first time I heard it on the radio, it felt as if someone had dipped a pen into the inkwell of my heart and written a poem with it. I don’t know if it rings the same with you, but it’s worth hearing if you’ve never heard it, and being re-listened to if you have:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

~ Matthew 5:14-16

Hungry

I attended the graduation ceremony of a friend last week, and heard this song for the first time as part of the short worship set at the beginning. It was a rare opportunity; I usually like to sing to everything, especially worship music (and if I can find a working harmony, even better). But here, I found myself not knowing this song that everyone else clearly was familiar with and loved, a song that they were now singing out with all of their being. So I just listened.

Generic? I suppose you could call it that. But drinking in the words (especially the first two lines) makes me aware of how heartfelt they are. Sometimes the simple, even slightly generic words say it best.

(Speaking of heartfelt words, I found a short interview excerpt from the writer, Kathryn Scott, about what she was living through when she wrote this song; check it out if you enjoy Scottish accents.)

Maybe you’re familiar with this song. Maybe, like me until last week, you’ve never heard it before. Regardless, reflect on the words for a spell. Consider the worth of our Lord, and how we can do nothing but fall to our knees at His feet and give Him all that we have and are in response.

Consider how He alone ultimately satisfies our hunger.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled.

~ Matthew 5:3-6

How He Loves

This song has been haunting the back of my mind for the past few days, like the ghost of a dear, long-forgotten friend. It’s doubtless been years since I last heard it, up until a few days ago, and it’s not left me alone since. If you’re not overly familiar with it, you’ve probably heard the chorus before at least.

Regardless, let this song fill you for a moment. Reflect on that everlasting, unshakable, deep, deep love… After all, it belongs to you, especially if you are in Christ. It is yours today. Do not make the mistake of forgetting how He loves you…

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

~ Ephesians 3:14-19

You’re beautiful

I considered sharing this song through a video with more pictures, effects, and so on, but I wanted the focus to be on the song itself. On the words. On the truths behind those words.

Drink them in, regardless of if you’ve never heard this song before or heard it a million times. If you are a believer, if Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior — this song belongs to you.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

~ Romans 5:1-8

Videofest: Tribute to the violin

I don’t play the violin. Never have, probably never will (though I play the piano, so my Asianness is intact). But that’s completely irrelevant.

The violin is an amazing instrument. It may seem odd that I’m starting out here with an electric violin video, but it’s one of my favorite songs, and I believe the violinist here does a beautiful job of it (as far as my musically-taught but violin-untrained ear can make out).

(I don’t know this particular violinist, but she has a few other pretty awesome electric violin videos on her channel; check them out if you’ve got time.)

I can’t even fully comprehend just how expressive and versatile the violin really is… and it only gets more amazing when brought together with voice and other instruments.

Check this out:

When I showed my dad this video, he asked me if I’d ever heard of another band, which I hadn’t, so we looked it up. Here’s the first video we found:

Awesome, no?

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
   praise him according to his excellent greatness!

 Praise him with trumpet sound;
   praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
   praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
   praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!

  ~Psalm 150

Soli Deo Gloria,

~ Timothy

P.S. I suppose they had lyres and harps back then instead of violins, but I wonder what this psalm would sound like today on our strings… Worth a thought.