Category: hymns


The class had completed our trip around Europe, and I knew I’d remember the places I’d seen for a long time.  I had enjoyed being able to help out my professors in a behind-the-scenes way by keeping track of the digital photos.  (A big bonus for me was the fact that I didn’t have to write a report about the trip!)

I had a few souvenirs– some tea from England, postcards from France, a little plaque with an anchor on it from the catacombs.  (Nothing against Germany; I just didn’t have time to pick anything up there!  Instead, I left my umbrella there by accident.)  And I had a handful of coins, maps, and brochures from each country.

I had been worried that people would be annoyed with us because we were Americans, but almost everyone I interacted with was patient and friendly.  I thought it was touching to hear the expressions of sympathy from all of these countries for the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks.  I saw on the news that the guards at Buckingham Palace in London even performed the Star-Spangled Banner!

Of course, the U.S. had grounded all flights the day of the attacks.  By our departure date on Saturday, the planes were in the air again, but the airports were having to work through a backlog of postponed flights and treat every flight with increased caution under a lot of stress.

We got our things packed and went to the airport early, ready for a long day of waiting.  We prayed that God would help us to get home safely.  Dr. B. warned us that no one should mention anything about bombs, terrorism, the Middle East, or New York, or even think of joking about anything related to them.  (Probably good advice, but being obsessive-compulsive, I’m always afraid I’m going to be the one to blurt out something inappropriate in a situation like that even though I don’t think I ever have.)

We listened to music, played cards, talked quietly.  Some of my classmates worked on writing their reports.  The flight before ours took off for the U.S. but was directed to turn around and come back to Italy after a couple of hours.  We boarded our flight, not knowing if we were going to get to take off.

I am so thankful– our plane did take off, and we were allowed to make the entire flight.  The flight before ours had been sent back, and we later learned that the flight after ours was as well.  But ours wasn’t– we arrived at the Newark airport on time.  I looked out the window and could see the site of the World Trade Center, smoke still rising from it.  Once we had landed safely, the passengers applauded.

Getting off the plane and through customs was a slow process, but everyone seemed willing to be patient.  The airport workers looked tired– I’m sure the last week had been awful for them.  I wondered if any of them had lost someone they knew in the attack.

We waited at the airport from afternoon until late evening.  Our flight from Newark to Ohio ended up being postponed, then canceled.  Finally, Cedarville arranged for a bus to drive us home from New Jersey.  Exhausted, we piled onto the bus for the last leg of our journey.

We were driving through the countryside of Ohio as the sun came up, and I could see American flags on most of the houses and mailboxes as we passed.  We got home in time to go to church on Sunday and sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

I was so relieved to be back home and able to tell my family about everything we’d done.  The trip had been full of memories that I would always keep with me.  And the next time I had to cross the street in Cedarville, it didn’t seem as scary.

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(Sorry about the long delay between posts; I had a great deal of this one written a few weeks ago, but I forgot to save my work before my computer’s batteries ran out, and whenever that happens, it takes me a while before I feel like writing again.  I am also planning to get back to posts that deal more with Asperger’s syndrome again once I’m done talking about my class trip.  Anyway, thanks for reading my story; let’s go on!)

On Monday, we got on a bus and set out for Munich, which is about 350 miles south of Berlin.  Some of my classmates were excited about the prospect of seeing the Autobahn, Germany’s famous highway system that has no speed limit under certain circumstances.  (The speed rules on the Autobahn have gotten more strict in recent decades than they once were; it now uses electronic signs to adjust the speed limit and number of open lanes based on the amount of traffic and to warn of accidents blocking the road.)

As one might suspect, riding a bus on the Autobahn is not very different from riding a bus on a highway in the United States, except that the speed of the cars passing us may have been faster.

I talked with some of the other football fans in the class, sharing the results and scores of the games I could remember seeing the previous day.  I observed that while obviously soccer is the most popular sport in Europe, Germany seemed to be the country most receptive to American football, based on the fact that all but one of the NFL Europe franchises had ended up moving to Germany.  (NFL Europe no longer exists, though, so obviously it didn’t catch on that much.  The teams were all pretty terrible anyway, being made up of players who were trying to make it onto an actual NFL roster.)

About 50 miles out of Berlin, we stopped at the smaller town of Wittenberg.  It was there that Martin Luther, a priest and teacher of theology at the university, published his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 and started the Protestant Reformation.

I saw the church building where, according to one of his students, Luther nailed his document to the door so that everyone could read it.  There was a paper printout of the Ninety-Five Theses stuck to the door still.  Of course, it wasn’t the same door as was there in Luther’s time.  In fact, the entire building had burned down and been rebuilt at some point over the intervening 500 years.  I was reminded of the old story about the farmer proudly declaring that he owned the very hatchet that had once belonged to George Washington– only the axe head had been replaced three times and the handle four times.

Still, it was amazing to see the spot where such an influential moment in church history (and world history, really) took place.  I thought about the story of Martin Luther’s life.  After surviving a terrifying thunderstorm in which he cried out to God for help, he vowed to become a monk.  But he found that nothing he could do– hard work, sacrifice, even punishing himself– could take away his fear of having to answer to a perfect, holy God.  Every selfish thought, every careless word, every wrong motivation was an offense against God, who required perfect obedience arising from pure love.  Luther would spend hours confessing his sins until his fellow monks were weary of him. He was terrified that he would leave some forgotten sin unconfessed, and the more closely he scrutinized himself, the more sinfulness he found.

Luther found comfort in reminding himself of Christ’s sacrifice for his sins.  A Bible verse that greatly influenced his thinking was Habbakuk 2:4 (which is quoted in multiple places in the New Testament), “The just shall live by faith.”  Luther could never earn salvation by trusting in his acts of repentance; rather, God had provided the perfect sacrifice in Christ and called Luther to look to Him in faith.

Years later in Wittenberg, a traveling friar named Johann Tetzel was raising money for the church by selling indulgences.  For doing the good deed of donating money to the church, the purchaser of the indulgence received a guarantee that the punishment for his or her sins would be lessened.  People could also purchase indulgences on the behalf of relatives or friends who had died, in order to shorten the time their loved one would need to suffer for their sins in order to become fit to enter heaven.  Tetzel was a fiery preacher and a good salesman, and he was very good at stirring the emotions.

In his Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther argued that Tetzel’s preaching was in conflict with the teaching of the Bible.  He didn’t disagree with the importance of repenting of one’s sins– in fact, he stated that “the entire life of believers” should be “one of repentance.”  But Tetzel’s promises were leading people to trust in their own deeds and the effectiveness of the indulgences he was selling rather than in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Luther quite boldly took the leaders of the church to task in his document, accusing them of allowing Tetzel to preach these things because it was an effective way to raise money.  His stand caused him to make enemies in the church, and it would end up putting his life in danger, but Martin Luther continued to write about trusting in God’s grace for the rest of his life.

Inside the Wittenberg church, our New Testament professor led us in singing Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said.

We made it to Munich that evening after stopping for dinner at a restaurant that had something similar to a buffet.  The bread in Germany is so good!  I used my nonexistent German skills to ask for food by pointing to it and saying “Das, bitte”.

I think I was trying to say “This, please,” but I may have been saying “The, please.” and I probably wasn’t even using the correct form of the article.  My phrase book basically said “der, das, die— use whichever one you want.  People will still know what you mean.”

Also, they will probably not confuse you for a native speaker of German!  The servers were very kind, smiling when I would say “Danke schön.”

I felt so much better on Sunday morning after getting a good night’s sleep.  I found out that all of England was in a celebratory mood, because England’s national soccer team (more properly their “football team,” since we were in Europe) had just defeated Germany 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier that evening while we slept.  In soccer, 5-1 is a major beating, and this win had come against a historical rival on their home turf, in Munich.  England’s Michael Owen recorded a hat trick (three goals in one game), which is cause for celebration in ice hockey but truly a rarity in soccer.

We got breakfast in the hotel’s cafeteria.  I got there a bit late asked the woman at the cafeteria line for some scrambled eggs, and she responded with something I didn’t understand.  I repeated myself, and she repeated herself a few times, until finally she gave up and served me some scrambled eggs.  Finally, one of my classmates explained that she had been trying to tell me that the hot breakfast items weren’t included in our room fee and I’d have to pay for them.  I had the money to pay, so it was no problem, but I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to decipher her accent.  It was strangely ironic that during the course of our whole trip, the only time I couldn’t understand someone speaking English, it had happened not in France, Germany, or Italy, but in England.

We attended a morning service at All Souls Church, an Evangelical Anglican church in London.  According to Wikipedia, the building has stood since 1823 and survived damage during World War II.  The church itself has withstood a trend in 20th-century Christianity (in America as well as in Europe) to focus on preaching about what humans should do to improve our lives rather than what Jesus Christ has done to save us from the penalty for our sins.  Influential evangelical leader John Stott, who passed away just a few months ago at the age of 90, ministered and worshipped at All Souls Church for most of his life.

I found the service very encouraging.  As we sang the hymns and worship songs and read the Lord’s Prayer, I thought about my family, who would be going to church back home in Ohio in a few hours.  They were probably praying for me, and I could pray for them.  We were on opposite sides of the ocean, but we were loved by the same God.  All the years I had been going to church in the U.S., there had been believers in England and other countries, in every continent, meeting to worship God.

The sermon that morning was from Zephaniah 3, which I’m having a hard time summing up because so much is in it.  It’s a message from God to Jerusalem, the capital city of his covenant people Israel.  At the start, God declares “woe” upon the city because its leaders– the rulers, prophets and priests– are preying on the weak and leading the people to disobey God.  The preacher was quite bold in talking about leaders within the church in Britain who were leading people astray.  (He made the point that God’s message in this passage is directed towards those who consider themselves very religious– not people who don’t go to church.)

God promises to be the righteous judge that those disobedient leaders were not; he will pour out his anger on those who deserve it.  Which is bad news for me, because I too have disobeyed God, and I’m sure I’ve led other people to disobey him, even if it was just by watching how I behaved.  But that is why we need a Savior.  As impossible as it may seem, our hope is to turn to that same God who promises to punish sin.  God tells the city that “the remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord.”

The second half of the chapter is as joyful and tender as the first half is severe:  “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!  The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.”  God promises his people “I will bring you home.”  How can this be, if being a righteous judge requires him to punish the city?  It is only possible because God poured out that judgment on his own perfect Son, who willingly took the punishment we all deserved in order to save us.

Sorry; that got a bit long– I told you it was hard to summarize briefly.  I’m not sure I did it justice.  One of my favorite souveniers from the trip is a recording of that sermon.  I really wanted to share it with my parents, but the group was getting ready to leave, so I did something I don’t like to do and asked a stranger where I could get sermon tapes.  At first the elderly man didn’t understand what I was saying, but after I repeated myself, he said, “Oh, TYPES!” (pronouncing the “A” like a “Y”) and pointed me in the right direction.

That afternoon, we visited the British Museum.  I stuck close to Dr. B. and took digital photos of each artifact according to his instructions, using a notepad to record the identity of each object.  I wish I could give more detail about the things we saw there, because they were really neat, but the museum visits have blended together a bit in my mind, and so I can’t remember which things I saw in which museum.  The British Museum had artifacts from Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, some of which were old when Zephaniah was still alive.

We sang one of my favorite hymns in church yesterday, “How Firm a Foundation.”

This hymn has been a comfort to me whenever I have been struggling with doubt and need to be reminded of God’s promises.  The wonderful thing about it is that for most of the hymn, the “speaker” is not you– it is actually God!

Do you ever feel uncertain of your own faith in God, or unsure of whether you love him?  Even if you do, you can still sing this song at the top of your lungs, because it’s about God’s love for his people, not their love for him.  And that never changes and is never in doubt.

Apparently, it’s not known who wrote the words to this song, but they did a good job grounding it in what the Bible says (which is essential; it’s very dangerous to put words in God’s mouth otherwise!)

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus hath fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”

This song helps me to stop thinking about myself and picture things from God’s point of view.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”

He is risen!

I love singing about Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for all who trust in him.

This Easter, Paul’s words to the church at Corinth are especially on my mind:

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  For since by a man came death, by a man also came resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

I am so thankful for that promise.

I thought I’d share some of my favorite Easter songs– I plan to be listening to or singing them today!

Low in the Grave He Lay Robert Lowry and W. Howard Doane

This hymn is really fun to sing.  The first part of each verse, about Jesus lying in the tomb, is very slow and introspective, and then all of a sudden it goes into this fast, energetic refrain with the different singing parts doing all sorts of embellishments:

Up from the grave He arose!

With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.

He arose a Victor from the dark domain,

And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.

He arose!  He arose!  Hallelujah, Christ arose!

Arise, My LoveNewsong

This was one of my favorite songs as a child.  It simply tells the story of the resurrection.  The group Newsong always did a great job with the harmony when they belted out the chorus, which imagines what God the Father said to his Son that morning.  The lyrics are inspired by Song of Solomon 2:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:55:

Arise, my love!  Arise, my love!

The grave no longer has a hold on you.

No more death sting, no more suffering,

Arise, arise, my love!

Easter SongKeith Green

Hear the bells ringing; they’re singing that you can be born again!

Hear the bells ringing; they’re singing Christ is risen from the dead!

Just a joyful song.  The group GLAD recorded a wonderful a capella version of this song that I love to listen to.

He Was HeardMichael Card

This song, based on the book of Hebrews, especially 12:1-2, speaks a message of great hope gleaned from in-depth study of the Bible, as a lot of Michael Card’s songs do.  It helped to answer a question I once had about the resurrection– I knew that Jesus’ death on the cross was significant in that it paid for my sins, but then why do we treat His resurrection as even more significant?  I can’t quote just part of this song– got to quote it all!

In the days of old, the priest would come with a lifeless sacrifice,

While the crowd in anxious silence would wait outside.

As he entered in the temple, they only hoped he would be heard,

God would give them a tomorrow, and the priest would stay alive.

Their only chance, their only hope– would he be heard?

The only way they might be saved– would he be heard?

.

In the fullness of the promised time, the final Priest did come,

And He offered up a living Sacrifice.

Now we His children wait for Him with hope and joyful praise,

For we know that God has heard Him, for we know that He was raised.

He offered tearful prayers, and He was heard.

He offered up His life, and He was heard.

.

So let us fix our eyes upon the Priest whom God did hear.

For the joy that was before Him, He overcame the fear.

For once and all He paid the cost, enduring all the shame,

Taking up the cruel cross, ignoring all the pain.

Love Crucified Arose – Michael Card

This is one of Michael Card’s earliest and most poetic songs.  It has a lot of beautiful images in it.

Love crucified arose

The Risen One in splendor

Jehovah’s sole defender

Has won the victory

.

Love crucified arose

And the grave became a place of hope,

For the heart that sin and sorrow broke

Is beating once again.

Wow.

Was It a Morning Like This? – sung by Sandi Patty

This was another song I loved as a child whenever I heard it.  It always made me feel a sense of excitement and wonder.  It also has a tune that’s hard to stop singing!

Here’s a video of it. (Only watch if you don’t mind 80s Christian music!)  ; )

Christ the Lord Is Risen Today Charles Wesley

One of the things that makes Easter hymns seem so special is probably that you usually only sing them once a year.  But I’ve always thought that you could sing this one any time, as the title is still true about any day you sing it on.

It has a neat, unique tune that is great to sing.  But I also love to think about the words:

Soar we now where Christ hath led,

Following our exalted Head.

Made like Him, like Him we rise.

Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.

Happy Easter, everyone!