Monday, 30 November 2020

Go tell it on the Mountain

It is fascinating that we grow up singing songs, carols and hymns without fully knowing the story behind the words. A beautiful song like God Tell it on the Mountain is often sung during our Christmas worship services and although the words are easy enough to interpret, there is a remarkable story behind the words:

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere;
go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching, Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens, There shone a holy light:

The hymn has its origins in the slave communities of the deep South in America. It is believed to have been composed by a humble slave who expressed his innermost thoughts in the words of a song. He would have been illiterate, yet would have held onto the incredible stories of Jesus’ birth, retold ever Christmas. With no opportunity of visiting Bethlehem in real life, he imagined a scene that transcended his own pain and suffering, and called others to pass on the message of hope and peace.  

Many of the spiritual songs like Go Tell It On the Mountain could have been lost to our ears, if it weren’t for people like John Work and his son John Wesley Work Jnr. As a family, they were instrumental in saving numerous songs from this era and subsequently compiled many of the African-American spirituals into famous collections.  

John Work was the driving force behind his local church choir and he used their remarkable singing gifts to keep the music alive. The choir boasted a number of singers from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who helped spread the popularity of these songs as they were given opportunity to travel the world. If it weren’t for this miracle, Go Tell It On the Mountains may have remained a local song, sung only on a small farm in rural Tennessee.

As Jane Schroeder says, “it is the spirit of the words that provides the song's real power. As an unknown, humble slave revealed his own prayers and faith, he had little knowledge that the inspiration he felt—probably the only thing of value he ever possessed—would touch millions with the news not only on the mountain, but “over the hills and everywhere.”

We are challenged to remember that the Good News of Christ’s birth transcends our circumstances and the present sufferings we face. There is always Hope where Jesus is found. 

Living in Grace


Sunday, 29 November 2020

Hark the Herald Angels sing


As we enter into another glorious season of advent I am going to reflect on a few of the traditional hymns, carols and wonderful new Christmas songs. There is so much depth in each of these that I felt if would be interesting to find out a little about these musical messages.

The song Hark the herald angels sing, was written by Charles Wesley and was supposed to have been inspired by the sounds of London church bells while he was walking to church on Christmas Day. Wesley wrote the “Hark” poem about a year after his conversion and first appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739 with the opening line of “Hark, how the welkin (heaven) rings.”

Scholars tell us that George Whitefield, a student and eventual colleague of Wesley’s, adapted the poem in 1753 into the song we now know today. It was Whitefield who penned the phrase “newborn King.”

It is said that the initial music that Charles Wesley used for his poem was a little slow and solemn, so the hymn didn't reach it's full potential. It was only a hundred years later, when Felix Mendelssohn wrote his score for the words, that the poem really came alive. 

Of course the most profound part of the poem has to be the words, which portray the Angels proclaiming the birth of the Messiah. The words of the Hymn point us to the passage in Luke 2:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Living in Grace

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Sharpen your axe

"If the ax is dull
and its edge unsharpened,
more strength is needed,
but skill will bring success."
-Ecclesiastes 10:10

This verse always reminds me of Stephen Covey's lovely story which speaks to us of  'sharpening the saw'. We often feel we don't have time to stop and get our 'tools' sharpened, but we then plod along using blunt tools to try and do an effective work. The time we take to pause to get things 'sharp' is well worth it in the long run. 

Jesus practiced this in his own life too. He took time to get his priorities straight and this made his ministry deeply profound and effective.

What are you doing to keep yourself sharp for the Lord?

Living in Grace

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Ironies of life

As Solomon heads deeper into chapter 10, he starts to reflect on some of the ironies of life. He even goes so far as to say that these ironies are almost evil in some ways. This is what he says about some decisions made by leaders, politicians and rulers.

"There is another evil I have seen under the sun. Kings and rulers make a grave mistake when they give great authority to foolish people and low positions to people of proven worth. I have even seen servants riding horseback like princes—and princes walking like servants!" - Ecclesiastes 10:5-7

I don't think he is being derogatory about uneducated people gaining positions of leadership, but rather about rulers appointing their cronies to positions of power, when those people are not qualified for the job. Then in the same way, people who are skilled in certain fields are over-looked for leadership. This kind of treatment is not going to get your subjects excited about serving on your leadership team.

“You don't necessarily need atomic bombs to destroy a nation. Politicians who value their pockets than the life of citizens always do that every day.”
― Israelmore Ayivor

Living in Grace


Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Be careful with your words

I wonder how many times Solomon said something in anger, only to realise that he should have responded with a more controlled tone of voice? The reason I suggest this is because he mentions this a number of times in Ecclesiastes and in Proverbs, which makes me wonder. Take these words as an example:

"If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post;
    calmness can lay great offenses to rest." - Ecclesiastes 10: 4

Or in the New Living Translation...

If your boss is angry at you, don’t quit!   A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes.

His most famous quote about this subject has to be "a quiet word turns away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1).

I think we all get his point! We can often change the course of an aggressive conversation by watching how we speak or what tone we use.

What do you think?

"Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed." -Abraham Joshua Herschel

Living in Grace


Monday, 23 November 2020

Fly in the ointment

In old English there is a saying that goes:

"'Tis that dead fly in the ointment of the Apothecary."

We know it more as 'the fly in the ointment', which refers to a small glitch in an otherwise good plan.

Reading through Ecclesiastes 10, we note that this idiom has it's origins in the time of Solomon. I am struck by how ancient wisdom has been carried into our modern era and how we can still understand the concepts of people like Solomon.

"As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
    so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
    but the heart of the fool to the left.
Even as fools walk along the road,
    they lack sense 
and show everyone how stupid they are." - Ecclesiastes 10:1-3

Some thoughts are timeless.

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, "And this too, shall pass away." - Abraham Lincoln

Living in Grace


Sunday, 22 November 2020

What kind of King?

Our passage from Ecclesiastes today fits in very well with our overall theme as a Christian Church. Today is known as Christ the King Sunday and we obviously celebrate the Lordship of Jesus, as well as the end of the liturgical calendar. With the benefit of hindsight and thousands of years of history we slowly comprehend that Jesus came as a different kind of King. The world has a picture of what lordship looks like, which is why many people took a while before they understood that Jesus was the King of Kings.

"I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one sinner destroys much good."
- Ecclesiastes 9:13-18

Let us not miss our king of Kings this year. Of all the years, 2020 is the time we need to get on bended knee and admit we are in need of a Saviour-King.

Living in Grace