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Jesus Paid it All

Jesus Paid it All

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Some names we encounter just seem to strike us as humorous. I went to elementary school with Snodgrasses and Butkuses – and I confess, like all the other school-age kids, we chuckled at the names. My own last name was subject to a few taunts and jeers, so I suppose that I at least got my just deserts.

I recall hearing my father tell about “growing up in a church pew.” During long preaching he and his pew-mates would thumb through the hymnal to find some distraction. One of the humorous names he saw was “John T. Grape.” He thought how funny it must have been to be called “Mr. Grape.” Because of his unusual name, I knew of this hymn by its tune’s composer before I ever heard it sung or knew the text!

There’s actually very little information about Grape, except that he was born and died in Boston, Massachusetts (1835-1915). He was a member of the Monument Street Methodist Episcopal church in that city. Grape was a businessman who dabbled in church music as a significant hobby.

Elvina M. Hall (1820-1889) wrote the lyrics in response to a public prayer led at a church service in 1865. Grape and Hall collaborated on a handful of other hymns, some which reached audiences through publication in hymnals, but none that came near to “Jesus Paid it All.”

“I heard the Savior say…”
I’m sure someone, somewhere might object to the idea of personally hearing Jesus’ voice. To make such an objection is to ignore the poetic nature of this hymn and its deeply personal content. Even if our understanding is that God communicates to us through His word (Bible), if we’re really in tune with the voice of God, we will have moments of clarity and reflection – “eureka moments” of epiphany. When either something very good or something very sobering (these are not exclusive of one another), has dawned upon us from our having drunk deeply of the well of God, it is perfectly fitting to say, “I heard the Savior say…” “He who has ears to hear,” Jesus said, “let them hear!”

“thy faith indeed is small…”
Most Christians know of and are growing in their appreciation of God’s grace. We believe “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:10) and we try to take God at his word that we are saved – not by works – but by faith. In a sad twist, though, some of us begin to believe that we are saved by our belief, by the strength of our ability to trust. God’s salvation does not depend on my ability to work perfectly; nor upon my ability to have a perfect faith. “Doubts arise and fears dismay!” God is the author of faith, from beginning to end; He is the one who can help our unbelief (Mark 9:23-25). Our faith is not placed even in our own ability to have faith; the ground of our salvation is the Cross and in it – in Him – we trust.

“Child of weakness, watch and pray…”
Like the disciples whose spirits were willing, but whose flesh was weak, Jesus does not condemn us for our frailties, but he encourages and exhorts us to draw strength from another source than ourselves. It’s when we’ve fallen – or fallen asleep – that we realize our own power is not up to the task. Jesus once again calls us to do something that makes little earthly sense – when your back is up against the wall, when your weakness is on display for everyone to see – “watch and pray.” Is this an echo of Exodus 14:14f? “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.’” When you and I are weak, the strongest thing we can do is “watch and pray” (II Corinthians 9:7-10).

“Find in me thine all in all…”
Look no further than Jesus. He is the satisfaction for which our souls have longed. Rather than looking for an internal source – ourselves – to bolster our strength, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him endured” (Hebrews 12:2).

“Jesus died for me, all to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain: He washed it white as snow.”
This is the only line of the hymn text that reads differently from what I sang growing up in church. For us, the first line was “Jesus paid it all….” How interesting that the line which normally is recognized as the title of this hymn was different in this setting. It was probably lifted from the fourth stanza, whether on purpose or by editorial oversight, we may never know. C.C. Cline’s “Standard Church Hymnal” (1888) has these words in the chorus – and set to Grape’s tune – but an entirely different set of lyrics in the stanzas.
Many different words are used in the Bible to describe what Jesus affected when he “died for me,” including “ransom” and “redemption.” Both of those are words carrying financial exchange – Jesus paid a price for me. The wages which were earned and the debt that was owed was death (Romans 3:23). As significant as Jesus’ death is/was to the dichotomy of life versus death, Jesus’ victory at the cross paid for more than “just” redemption. It also paid for sanctification (the Holy Spirit’s work of making me holy as I “keep in step with the Spirit”) and glorification (the final transformation into the glorious presence of God). He paid for all the spiritual blessings! Jesus paid for everything and He paid for it in full! He pays the price himself “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26) – he doesn’t cut corners!
As distinct from the Christians blessings is the stain of sin. Whenever I get a stain on my clothes, it’s usually a greasy spot (I’ll say it’s little boys’ fingerprints). The Bible describes God as negotiating with people whose lives have been made ugly with sin, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
It’s a futile question to ask, “How I can I repay God and His Christ for all they’ve done for me?” Simply put: we cannot. Walking in the footsteps of Christ is an honor freely bestowed, but which will cost us everything. This is a mystery that will be understood better with time and wisdom.

“Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r and Thine alone can change the leper’s spots…”
This verse probably reflects a mishearing of the text of Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” In other words, can a black man change the color of his skin? Can a leopard reconfigure or remove the spot on his skin and in his fur? In Jeremiah, the idea is that these people are “dyed in the wool” sinners – genuine in their ungodliness – and no surface, superficial change will help them to escape judgment. They’re of a known quality. So the answer is, “No, that doesn’t change.” (At least not on their own!)
Of course, “lepers” (a designation for people who are suffering from a variety of dermatological issues, not just Hansen’s disease) feature prominently in many biblical stories and in the life of Jesus. Many lepers were healed by Jesus (Matthew 8; Luke 17:12). Leprosy was not just an often-fatal disease, it was a sentence worse than death for those who contracted it. In Jewish society, those who suffered from it were required to live without human contact, on the far outskirts of the city. Jesus broke many, many social boundaries when he touched a leper to heal him (Luke 5:13). Only the power of God can change the unchangeable within a man.

“…and melt the heart of stone.”
Isaiah 36 and 37 contain some chillingly vivid images, skeletons reanimated with human flesh, standing at the ready as an army. Before they could “live again” they had be killed. They brought their death upon their own heads (God and death are not companions). A key part of their coming back to life will be a heart transplant. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses” (Ezekiel 36:26-29). God has always wanted the softest of hearts within his people (Deuteronomy 10:12-22; 30:6-8).

“For nothing good have I whereby Thy grace to claim…”
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. … Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due … Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded” (Romans 4:1-4; 3:27)

“…I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s lamb.”
How interesting that we look for the purest water in which to wash and rinse our own clothes, trying to remove all dirt and filth. The key to this cleansing is not what’s removed, but what’s added. And it’s nothing transparent or clear – it’s blood red. Like the overcomers in John’s vision “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

“When from my dying bed my ransomed soul shall rise, Then “Jesus died for me” shall rend the vaulted skies.”
Triumph! Victory! What a powerful moment – the moment of death when a man’s mettle is tested. The victory cry of the Christian is “Jesus died for me!” – no more, no less. It is enough. It is everything. This scream rips through the skies and the heavens and echoes as far as the earth can hear: “Jesus paid it all.”

“And when before the throne, I stand in Him complete, I’ll lay my trophies down, all down at Jesus’ feet.”
There is a tension in the Bible. On the one hand, we have every spiritual blessing because we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). On another hand, there is still something to anticipate about the final coming of the Lord and His claiming His own. We already have throne room status with God, but then we’ll have it in a way that’s more tangible than it is now – more really, more truly, more in every way. And on that day when everything is “in place,” we’ll survey all that we ever had that was ever of any value to us, and well compare it to the splendor and beauty of Jesus. And in comparison “the things of earth grow strangely dim,” they fade and they falter. And we lay them down – not because they are worthless – but because they meant something to us in our past. We lay our entire life at his feet, all that we worked for, all that we earned; in exchange, He grants us to be in his very presence. Yes, it cost us everything to be there, but it was free; Jesus paid it all.

Photo: Levi Sisemore (hymnalcollector.com)
Christian Hymns, 1889
E.G. Sewell, R.M. McIntosh, Leonard Daugherty
Gospel Advocate Publishing Company

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Posted by on March 1, 2018 in Songs in the Night

 

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The Rock that Is Higher than I

The Rock that Is Higher than I

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The Scripture is rich with lithic pictures of God, depicting Him as “the Rock.” The Rock is not a pebble, not even a stone, but a great lithological edifice which dominates the horizon. It has roots that dig deep into the earth and a peak that stretches to the heavens. It was there when men arrived, and it will remain long after they are departed. The rains beat down on the Rock, the sun tries to scorch it; the earth quakes around it, and the rivers run past it – but the Rock cannot be moved. It even forms a kind of shelter for those around it: as the wind blows from the cold north, the south side of the Rock is protected by its sheer mass. When the noonday heat beats down upon a thirsty, cracked, and weary world – those who stay within the shade of the Rock are cooled by their nearness.

The Rock is a place of stability, a place that can support, sustain, and protect life – an oasis in the desert.

The harrowing storm assails us as we walk a difficult path. The storm cascades over our very soul. We can imagine that in the darkness of the storm, we would even fear being lost without a landmark. Where shall we look but to the Rock?

“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (II Samuel 22:2-4).

Daylight has come with the morning, but with the noon the sun becomes oppressive. The land is dry, the way is dusty, and my tongue grows thick and sticks to my mouth. Where is relief but in the shadow of the Rock?

In times of trouble the Rock is there for me; so even in times of joy. Regardless of the situation, the Rock has become my unchanging companion, the visual compass by which I orientate myself.

“For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights … The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation, the God who gave me vengeance and brought down peoples under me, who brought me out from my enemies; you exalted me above those who rose against me; you delivered me from men of violence” (II Samuel 22:32-34, 47-49).

It’s not just God’s presence that is a lodestone for us, but it is his ineffable, unchanging qualities. He is Himself a monument to the great virtues! “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God” (I Samuel 2:2).

“…and the Rock was Christ” (I Corinthians 10:4b).

Photo: Levi Sisemore (hymnalcollector.com)
Christian Hymns, 1889
E.G. Sewell, R.M. McIntosh, Leonard Daugherty
Gospel Advocate Publishing Company

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2018 in Songs in the Night

 

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He Leadeth Me

He Leadeth Me

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In terms of tune, this is quite different what I grew up singing. Furthermore, it may strike some as unusual for a hymnal published by the gospel advocate in 1889 for an a capella-singing church to have a piano reduction in its pages. Oh, the interesting things we find when we look into our own history!

This tune was supplied by “Mrs. R.M. McIntosh.” Mr. Rigdon McCoy McIntosh is listed as one of the editors of this hymnal. McIntosh was not himself associated with the Churches of Christ, but was a Methodist. There was no one employed by the Gospel Advocate in the late 19th century who was capable of being the music editor for a hymnal of the scope. McIntosh was well-known as a Church musician and his involvement lent credibility to the project in addition to his expertise that will surely required.

Our focus is so often the destination yet this hymn calls our attention to the journey. It is enough that we are lead by Christ; we needn’t worry about the itinerary. The very thought of being under the leadership of Jesus brings comfort to the worshipper. These words were originally penned as a response to the 23rd Psalm, though themes of God’s leadership are vibrant in other passages as well.

Sometimes, even though I walk through the valley of death; sometimes, even though he leads me by still waters – he still leads. Regardless of the circumstance, the song reaffirms our trust in God that he will lead us THROUGH trouble, not AROUND trouble.

Although the author is said to have been channeling Psalm 23 as he wrote these words, I’ve always seen the Exodus story embedded within the poem. The children of Israel were led by God from the Red Sea forward. The Red Sea was a moment of great trouble for them as they saw Pharaoh and his army nearing closer and closer, revenge and recapture in their hearts. God parted the waters, moving them through their troubles, and on to safety on the other side. Faith would have had them move on with God, hand-in-hand, without murmuring or complaining. If you’re familiar with this moment in Israel’s history, you know that they failed miserably; they grumbled, murmured, and even wanted to go back to Egypt to die! But the faith of the singer speaks contentment, not because of the destination, nor because of the ease of the journey, but because of the one who leads us.

Finally, the singer stands on the verge of Jordan. This transitional moment in Israel’s history has fascinated poets for generations. Something about this moment has become a metaphor for passing from this life into the next. To cross over Jordan is to go into all of God’s promises, surely some anticipation of heaven is allowed within this picture. As Jesus neared the end of his life in John 17, he prayed to God and noted that he had brought glory to the father, having accomplished the work which God had assigned him. It is only by God’s grace, power, and infant wisdom that we shall become victorious in any lasting sense. Having overcome this life and the sin which so easily entangles, we peer into the great unknown; we look over into death and perhaps wonder if it is death that awaits us or life. The Christian knows of the many promises of God relating to eternal life. “Eternal life” is not just a discussion of duration and quantity, but is essentially a discussion of quality. The quality of life that this person anticipates is nothing less than the fullness of what he has experienced in this life being lead by the very hand of God. At this point in the relationship, even the cold and yet-unfamiliar wave of death’s waters will not dissuade the worshipper from moving forward into the great promises of God.

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, he leadeth me…

Photo: Levi Sisemore
Christian Hymns, 1889
E.G. Sewell, R.M. McIntosh, Leonard Daugherty
Gospel Advocate Publishing Company

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2018 in Songs in the Night

 

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What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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These words and this tune have been wedded together for generations of believers, bringing comfort and peace through reassurance that Jesus listens and the perspective that he can bear the burdens of our heart. This particular copy in the picture claims no ownership for the lyrics, but other sources tell us that they were written by Joseph Scriven. He wrote them as a private poem for his mother while she endured a time of great sorrow. These words were never intended to comfort anyone else, but words that are fitting to comfort a mother are surely deep enough to be a solace to the rest of us.

How many times have we looked to another source for comfort in distress? How many times have we overlooked Jesus, taking him for granted? Oh what peace we often forfeit and what needless pain we bear all because we’re too stubborn, or too forgetful, to carry it to Jesus in prayer.

Precious savior still our refuge – when has he ever stopped being our haven of safety? Sometimes it seems that we call out to the Lord just when we need him, as if we don’t need him all the time. You may be familiar with the popular Christian poem Footprints in the Sand (onlythebible.com/Poems/Footprints-in-the-Sand-Poem.html). I know what that poem intends to communicate, but I think the author misses the point when, at the climax of the poem, Jesus says that he carried the Christian in his times of greatest need. Friends, Jesus either always carries us or he doesn’t carry us at all! Romans 5 tells us that it is in the grace of God that we take our stand. There is no other place, nothing else solid, upon which to stand then the very grace of God.

This is a hymn which works equally well in the assembly of the saints is it does in private devotional time. Many times have I sung this to myself, to my inner self, reminding teaching, and reassuring my selfies timeless truths. In a town where I used to preach it was a gas station and convenience store called friends. They had a clever advertising line on the local radio station: “Who doesn’t need more Friends?” Well when Jesus is your friend you have what you need; when you don’t have Jesus, you lack the one relationship that will not only save you IN the future FROM your past but which will also save you IN your present from the pain, sorrow, faithlessness, poverty, and hardship that life sends our way.

Photo:
Christian Hymns, 1889
E.G. Sewell, R.M. McIntosh, Leonard Daugherty
Gospel Advocate Publishing Company

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2018 in Songs in the Night

 

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All Hail the Pow’r of Jesus’ Name

All Hail the Pow’r of Jesus’ Name

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“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!'”

Notice the “forgotten” verse 3:
“Ye Gentile sinners, ne’er forget the wormwood and the gall;
Go, spread your trophies at His feet and crown Him Lord of all.”

God’s plan for eternity is to unite all people – all races, ethnicities, socio-economic groups, etc. – into one body, the church.

Let all of us, and heaven, too, “hail the power of Jesus’ name” and bow low before His throne!

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel … so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord …”

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Christian Hymns, 1889
E.G. Sewell, R.M. McIntosh, Leonard Daugherty
Gospel Advocate Publishing Company

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2018 in Songs in the Night

 

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How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

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From where do you draw inner strength and peace? What soothes your inward-man? What breaks the chains and heals the soul?

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away our fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole and calms the troubled breast;
‘Tis manna to the hungry soul, and to the weary, rest.

Weak is the effort of my heart, and cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art, I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then I would your love proclaim with ev’ry fleeting breath;
and may the music of Thy name refresh my soul in death.

~ John Newton, 1774

Photo:
Christian Hymns, 1889
E.G. Sewell, R.M. McIntosh, Leonard Daugherty
Gospel Advocate Publishing Company

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Posted by on February 20, 2018 in Songs in the Night

 

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Keeping Down Weeds!


20150601_195442It’s been time for a month or so to have plants out in the garden. In fact, you could be getting close to enjoying some of those fruits and veggies on your plate soon. Just last night at supper my wife and I had the sweetest, homegrown grape tomatoes and a diced Anaheim pepper on our salad. It was a great start-of-the-summer moment! I’m looking forward to many more tastes from the garden (squash, corn, okra, peppers, cucumber, and watermelon) as the season moves on.
One thing I’m not looking forward to – nor does any gardener – is weeds and other plants trying to grow up in my nice, clean garden area. So, I spent yesterday afternoon building some barriers, burying 1x6s to try prevent weeds and grasses from growing back into the squash patch.
Weeds, thorns, and thistles, we’re told in Genesis 3:18, are a direct result and consequence of the fallen state of man and man’s world. Sin doesn’t any more represent God’s intent for his world than weeds represent my intent for my garden.
I don’t think most people set out to intentionally sin (just like gardeners don’t intentionally plant weeds). But you know how weeds are: they encroach, they spread, they grow – just like sin in our lives. One lie is told, then must be covered up with another, and another until the whole garden of our lives is covered up with weedy lies.
In Matthew 13:24-30 (and vv. 36-43), Jesus tells a parable of a well-planted field. In the night, an enemy of the farmer came and scattered weed seed all over the garden. In no way was this good for the crops, nor the workers in the field, nor the farmer’s bottom line. Jesus says that these weeds are “sons of the evil one,” who live just like their father – they are “causes of sin” and “law-breakers.”
Such a weed may live while the garden is growing because the weed is too close to the real plants to be removed safely. It may think that it’s found some kind of safe harbor or reprieve, that maybe it’s snuck in and remained undetected. But that’s not the case at all. When the cultivated crops are harvested at the end of the season, all the trash is pulled up out of the garden, including – and especially – those evil weeds. “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn,” says the farmer in Jesus’ story.
When I was a kid I loved to blow a dandelion’s fuzz with a big poof of breath, now I know that I was just spreading weeds! Let us grow up and stop spreading weeds! Let us grow up and stop being weeds! There’s only one way the season ends and it’s never good for the weed (or the guy who planted them!).

© Levi Sisemore. Published June 2, 2015, by the 37th Street Church of Christ, Snyder, Texas in The Snyder Daily News.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Uncategorized