The Pastor’s Page August 2018
I am really impressed with the music ministry here at St. John’s Evangelical Church. Both our services are blessed with such gifted individuals who come together to share their gifts to the glory of God and the edifying (building up) of His people. We have choirs comprised of kids and adults and one filled with bells. While we may not host the Cruise In as we have in years past, there is still a hope of hosting concerts in our sanctuary and fellowship hall throughout the year. Music is integral to who we are as a people of faith.
In recent months, Teresa Broseke has been including an article on a selected hymn in our monthly newsletter. She has done so to add some texture and depth to our understanding of what is sung in our sanctuary. Hopefully, these articles will impact your worship and praise. Teresa hopes these articles will aid people in their worship as they understand the history and thought that shaped the hymns that we sing.
This month’s article is on the hymn Be Thou My Vision, which is a personal favorite of mine. This song has impacted my faith greatly so much so that it was part of my ordination service in 1995. I love this song as it is part of my Celtic roots—the tune reminds me of my homeland. The hymn’s origins transport me back to the early days of the Christian faith in those lands and inspired early Christians there to maintain the course and the gospel of Jesus Christ was carried to the pagans there.
Most of all, the words of the hymn have inspired my faith. Those words are reminders that my faith rests in nothing less than God Himself. He and He alone will avail me in life. For that to happen, I need to keep my eyes fixed on God lest I turn to the left or to the right and stumble and fall. The Christian walk calls me to a life where the Lord and the Lord alone fills my vision, my thoughts, and my actions.
That reminds me of the story of the Israelites and the Golden Calf. Moses had gone up on the mount where he was to receive the Law from God. ALL the people were supposed to have join him but they were terrified (see Exodus 20:18-21). Instead, they sent Moses to represent them before the Lord. The process took longer than they had expected, so the people turned to Aaron to make them gods to worship (Exodus 32:1).
Quite quickly, they took their eyes off of the Lord their God and fell into idolatry. They turned from the truth and settled for lies. They suffered from a case of spiritual amnesia. God had delivered them from oppression and a life of enslavement. God freed them from the grip of Pharaoh, one of the mightiest rulers on the planet. God sustained them in the desert. After all that, they could not wait for a little bit of time while Moses received instructions from the Lord.
As the scripture says in Exodus 32:25 (see the text box above), “the people broke loose.” The people let go of what was truly important. What looked like freedom and a choice was spiritual enslavement as they traded their freedom in Yahweh for chains of bondage forged in hell.
That’s why Moses called out in the next verse, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” Besides that verse being part of another great hymn, it is a reminder to remain steadfast when others chase after the things of the world. Sometimes that temptation to forget God and His ways is so great. However, we are compelled by the Holy Spirit to remain faithful.
I remember how much anxiety I battled as I prepared for ministry. All the questions that ran through my head. Who was I to serve the Living God? Was I ready? Was I prepared? How could I fulfill this high calling?
Amongst them all, clanging around my brainpan was the question, “Could I finish well?” I grew up at a time when many great and influential Christian leaders had succumb to moral failures and when many churches and Christian leaders downplayed the scriptures and the truth it contained. I wondered if I would be able to maintain my faith and my witness for the long haul of life and service.
To answer that question rightly, I would have to fix my eyes on Jesus and no where else if I wanted to complete the racecourse ordained for me (Hebrews 12:1-2). Christ alone would be my best thought. His presence would be the only light that guide me as He illuminated my path. He would be the fount of wisdom from which I could speak His truth. Keeping my eyes fixed on God would remind me of my true identity—I am a child of Almighty God who relates to me as my Heavenly Father.
This hymn has endured through the ages with its unique Celtic tune and equally unique turns of phrases. It presumably was originally arranged for monastic use, became a hymn, and has now been recorded in all sorts of manners. Still, this hymn reverberates in the soul and the heart. The tune’s name itself evokes an act of daring and defiance and faith by St. Patrick that has emboldened the faithful for generations to do the right thing no matter what the culture or the powers that be demand. God rewards great acts of faith when they are empowered and engendered by the Holy Spirit.
Disappointingly, our church’s hymnal drops the third stanza that Teresa correctly (in my opinion) includes in her article. This too reminds me of my ordination. A dear pastor friend and mentor asked that we remove that stanza. It begins “Be Thou my battle Shield (or Breastplate), Sword for the fight.” My dear friend thought this sounded too militaristic. However, the stanza continues, “Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight.” We are called to fight a spiritual fight not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces and cosmic powers (Ephesians 6:12).
Every time I hear that hymn, I am transported to a time and place long before my being. Simultaneously, I am lifted into a spiritual realm—a plane where Christians war against demonic forces that seek to devour the innocent and the helpless and where we battle to win their souls. And yet, at the very same time, I am pulled into the real world of everyday life where we Christians are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). At a certain level, thinking on these things seems too great a thing for a mortal mind, but then comes the faith that these lyrics speak to over and over again. When our eyes are cast upon the Lord are good, when He is our Vision, our Hope and our Delight, and when He alone is our Best Thought, Word, and Defense, we have no fear for we can succeed in all the realms of which this hymn speaks and we can achieve the monumental tasks of faith for the Lord is with us as our Guide and Fulfiller of all His promises. We have no where else to go but where He sends. We have no fear for when our eyes are cast upon the Lord, we find our perfect Faith and Rest.
In Christ’s powerful name,