Archive for the category “Poems and Hymns”

Singing the World Into Being

sunbeam-76825_1280The Lord didn’t snap his almighty fingers to bring the world into being. He didn’t fire up the diesel engine on his celestial bulldozer to carve out the floor of the Atlantic and heap up the Rockies. Nor did he make a deal with angelic contractors to blueprint, found, and shape everything from ants to galaxies. He alone did it, and he did it by simply opening his mouth and speaking. And at his speaking it was done. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made and by the breath of his mouth all their hosts,” (Ps 33:6). As C. S. Lewis, in The Magician’s Nephew, has Aslan sing the world and all its beautiful intricacies into existence, so the Lion of the tribe of Judah, our Lord Jesus, hymns the heavens and earth into being.

In the beginning God created, and this Beginning is none other than his Word, his Son, our Savior and Lord. Jesus is the Genesis, the Alpha, the Beginning in whom and by whom the Father made the heavens and the earth. He is the strong Word that cleaves the darkness. He is God of God, Light of Light—the uncreated Light from whom all created lights beam and brighten our darkened world.

Jesus our Creator is Jesus our Redeemer. Two sides of the same coin. For God so loved the world that he created it by his Word. And by that same Word he recreated the world in a love that bleeds and cries and dies for you. From the cross forever beameth all his bright redeeming light. It breaks forth in conquering might, to shatter the darkness of our sin, to illumine our midnight hearts with the rays of Eastern dawn. On the cross and out of the tomb Genesis 1 happens all over again—better this time, as we are recreated by the very God who created us, and loved us to death and back.

Give us lips to sing Thy glory, throats to shout the hope that fills us. To Thee, our light-Creator, Light of Light begotten, and light-revealer, be Alleluias without end. For as you have made us, so you have more wondrously redeemed us in Jesus Christ.

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It draws from the language of the hymn “Thy Strong Word” by Martin Franzmann.

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

No Babbling on Pentecost

Today the Spirit of God who brooded over the waters of a lightless creation
Swoops down with tongues of fire to kindle faith in the re-creating work of Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who made the tower-builders into foolish babblers
Unites believers in the univocal language of the church-building grace of Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who came mightily upon the deliverers of Israel
Falls upon the apostles to proclaim the deliverance from sin we enjoy in Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who endowed with wisdom the builders of the tabernacle
Imparts the saving wisdom of the Word made flesh who tabernacled among us.

Today the Spirit who gave the law to Israel on two tablets of stone
Gives hearts of flesh for hearts of stone in the proclamation of the Good News.

Today the Spirit whom unfaithful David prayed the Lord would not take from him
Pours himself into sinners that they might sing of the faithful love of their Husband.

Today is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover resurrection of our Lord
When we are made holy by the holy-ing Spirit of the Christ who gives us the Father.

Today is Pentecost.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Pentecost

Passion Poems: Christ’s Yom Kippur and Uninjured Tongue

As we continue to consider our Lord’s Passion and await his resurrection, here are two poems that reflect upon his saving work accomplished for us. Both are included in my book, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, available through Amazon.

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Christ’s Yom Kippur

Within that lightless vestibule
that Roman claws would raze,
See Aaron’s brood with crimson gifts
through wafting incense gaze,
To paint a throne where God unseen
beholds the fruit of veins,
And with the soap of severed life
removes his people’s stains.
‘Til comes the Priest clad but in skin,
no lamb or goat his gift,
Upon the cruel and gory throne
his offering to uplift,
To pave the way, with flesh and blood,
for all those bathed in grace,
To stand as priests within the veil,
before the Father’s face.

Uninjured Tongue

That head, which angels with ceaseless praise adorn,
Is pierced with crowded thorns.
That face, which our God with grace and beauty lit,
Is marred by sinners’ spit.
Those eyes, outshining the sun’s most piercing light,
Are dull as sable night.
Those ears, accustomed to praise from heaven’s host,
Must hear his haters boast.
That mouth, whose wisdom the wisest could enthrall,
Tastes vinegar and gall.
Those feet, whose footstool is this terrestrial sphere,
To bloody wood adhere.
Those hands, which stretched out the heavens like a tent,
By spikes in twain are rent.
That tongue, uninjured, shall cry from that cursed tree,
A prayer of love for me.

Based on “An Exercise of Repentance from our Lord’s Passion”
in the Sacred Meditations of Johann Gerhard.

What to Expect When Mary’s Expecting

maryelizabethAn uncreated God
Of blood and skin and bone.
A Lord within a womb
Who sits on heaven’s throne.
The Father’s only Son
Who’ll nurse at Mary’s breast.
The ever-watchful King
Asleep on Joseph’s chest.
Creator of the stars,
With diapers on his bum.
The right hand of the Lord
Who’ll suck his tiny thumb.

 

This poem is included in my collection entitled, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. If you’d like to purchase a copy, it’s now on sale to the end of 2014. Click here to purchase your copy. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for a 25% discount. Thank you!

Pugnacious Santa: The Day of St. Nicholas

Pugnacious Santa: The Day of St. Nicholas

St. Nick was a bishop who slapped in the face
The man who would dare the Lord Jesus disgrace,
Spreading lies on which all the heretics dine
Who say that the Son is not fully divine.
St. Nick deserves more than our cookies and milk,
For bravely he fought against Arian ilk.
So give him your honor on this, his saint day
And from true confession do not go astray.

stnicholasThere are many stories and legends about St. Nicholas, some of which you can read about here. This poem refers to my personal favorite, when the St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, punched the heretic Arius in the face because this false teacher denied the full divinity of Jesus. A blessed day of St. Nick to you all!

By the way, this playful poem is included in my book, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. I’ve got a special going on right now, if you’d like to purchase a copy. Go to this website and when you check out, type in this code YLECQSWE for 25% off your copy. Thanks!

Advent’s Alpha

Here is Advent’s Alpha, upon an ass astride,

Riding to our churches, where we with Him abide,

Crucified together and clothed in Easter skin.

Advent yearly takes us the place we’ve always been.

We hear the desert Voice who hails the holy Lamb,

And readies us to see the Babe in Bethlehem.

John’s finger points to Him, whom sages had foretold,

And we in word and meal, with eyes of faith behold.

He gives the blind their sight, He makes the lame to walk,

He preaches to the poor, by Him the mute can talk.

And we who come bereaved, diseased in heart and soul,

Are by His healing touch, restored and rendered whole.

Yahweh came to Israel, was born to bear our sin,

Comes in font and altar, and shall return again.

O Jesus, Advent King, whose reign’s replete with grace,

Each day of this new year, Your image on us trace.

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My Newest Book: Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing

why lutherans sing adsmallSinging is part of the lifeblood of the church. It always has been. In the Old Testament, believers joined voices to sing the Psalms before the Lord everywhere from the shores of the Red Sea to His temple in Jerusalem. So also in the early church, Paul encourages the Christians to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16). These hymns are, first and foremost, the Word of God put to music, and secondly, a confession of thanksgiving and praise back to the Giver of all good gifts.

Singing has certainly been a major part of the life of the Lutheran church. The Reformer himself, Martin Luther, wrote a number of hymns, as did countless others after him. These sacred songs embody the confession of the Gospel as the free grace of God in Christ. They teach the faithful, encourage the weak, give hope to the grieving.

Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing was published years ago, but has been updated to reflect the Lutheran Service Book and now includes a Foreword by the well-known hymn writer, Steve Starke. In this forty page booklet, I introduce and discuss five criteria that I believe are an essential part of what makes a hymn worthy of being on the lips of the Christian church. These criteria are:

  1. A Lutheran hymn aims not to create the right atmosphere or mood for worship, but serves as a vehicle for the Spirit-filled Word of God.
  1. A Lutheran hymn is not entertainment but proclamation.
  1. A Lutheran hymn is shaped by the theology of the cross.
  1. A Lutheran hymn is not bound merely to paraphrase the biblical text; rather, it interprets the Scriptures in reference to Christ.
  1. A Lutheran hymn is bound to no culture save the culture of the church catholic.

In the Foreword, Stephen Starke comments:

Chad Bird’s Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing offers clear criteria in defending Lutheran hymns as well as showing the reader why such hymns remain important now and for the future. He writes in a clear, understandable manner. I believe the booklet’s content will be a blessing to all those who seek to understand the great importance of why Lutherans sing what they sing when they gather for worship.

To read part of the opening chapter, check out this blog post. To purchase your print copy, click on the link here for CreateSpace or Amazon. It is also available as a Kindle edition here. If you wish to purchase bulk copies at a reduced rate for your congregation, Bible Class group, Board of Elders or Deacons, please send me an email at birdchadlouis@yahoo.com for more information. Thank you very much for your interest!

“Angels and Men the Lord Ordains”: A New Hymn Written to Celebrate Twenty Five Years in the Ministry

The pulpit is a blessedly dangerous place to stand. He whom the Lord places there is to speak truths that have got some men killed. Yet speak them he must. They are fire in his bones. They are the nouns and verbs of heaven. They are as sharp as flint, as soft as oil. They crucify and resurrect. Some will love the pastor for what he speaks, some will spit in his face. His is a lonely way, fraught with danger, yet punctuated with joy over sinners who repent, lost lambs carried home. He is a messenger, like the angels, sent by the Lord to announce Christ to the world.

trinitysheboyganGiven the challenges faced by those who serve as pastors, it is good to celebrate milestones in the ministry of these men. This past Sunday the believers at Trinity Lutheran, Sheboygan, WI, did just that. Their senior pastor, Timothy J. Mech, was ordained into the ministry 25 years ago. They celebrated his anniversary in conjunction with the celebration of St. Michael and All Angels, which was uniquely fitting since God uses the ministry of men and angels alike to shepherd His flock. The Rev. John Pless of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, was the guest preacher. I was privileged to write a hymn for the occasion (see below), the tune of which was composed by Ken Kosche.

Thanks be to God for the ministry of Pastor Mech, along with the ministry of all others whom the Lord has called to serve as His under-shepherds.

“Angels and Men the Lord Ordains”
Hymn for the 25th Ordination Anniversary of the Rev. Timothy Mech
St. Michael and All Angels

Angels and men the Lord ordains,
To guard His flock with heaven’s sword.
This blade of words by which Christ reigns,
Will keep at bay the devil’s horde.
Angels above, shepherds below,
The Lord sends forth His grace to show.

As Michael wars ‘gainst hellish foes
To stem the tide of evil’s flood,
So pastors strive, lies they oppose
With truth that’s steeped in Jesus’ blood.
For us our shepherd fights this fight
With Scripture’s sword, the Word of light.

He does not preach to itching ears,
But shows to all their guilt and sin.
Then heralds Christ, who calms our fears,
And by His cross grants peace within.
Ordained to stand in Christ’s own stead,
He echoes words our Lord has said.

With lips of grace our shepherd speaks.
He bathes us in baptismal streams.
The wand’ring lambs, in love he seeks.
When wolves prowl near, he thwarts their schemes.
Christ chose this man; He placed him here
To shepherd us in grace each year.

All praise to you, our faithful God,
For men who bear our Savior’s yoke,
Who guide us with Your staff and rod,
Your love proclaim, Your name invoke.
With angel hosts to You we sing,
The Lamb who is our shepherd King.

If you’d like to read more of my hymns and poems, please take a moment to check out my book, The Infant Priest. This collection of hymns and poems gives voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Butt Prints in the Sand

When babies are born, their legs may be skinny or chubby or somewhere in between, but those legs are pretty much only for show. They’re certainly not going to walk out of the maternity ward when it’s time to go home. But over the next few months they’ll use them to roll over, then crawl, then walk. By and by they’ll even run around and probably get themselves into all kinds of mischief. But that’s human progression, after all. Parents lug babies around, but there comes a time when those babies must make their own footprints in the sands of this world.

That being said, even older children and adults sometimes find themselves needing to be carried. First responders carry a woman away from the scene of an accident because both of her legs were shattered in the collision. A man in a motorcycle crash finds himself paralyzed from the waist down. Overcome by grief upon the news that her son is not coming home from war, a mother slumps to the ground; in her husband’s strong arms they reenter their house of mourning. Yes, there are times when people make no footprints in the sand, because they’re in the arms of someone stronger than they.

The popular poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” uses this image to depict our walk with God. The dreamer sees that, during most of his life, there are two sets of footprints in the sand, where he and God walked side by side. But he notices, to his dismay, that during the “lowest and saddest times of his life,” there’s only one set of footprints. When he asks the Lord about this, He tells the dreamer that “during those times of trial and suffering, it was then that I carried you.”

buttprintsOkay, but what if that person got so comfortable in the arms of the Lord, so accustomed to being lugged around, that he never wanted to walk beside the Lord again? That question, and the frustration with the perceived spiritual laziness behind it, prompted an anonymous person years ago to compose a parody of the popular poem entitled, “Butt Prints in the Sand.” You can read the entire poem here. The gist of it is that, when the dreamer saw prints in the sand “too big for feet,” he asked the Lord what those were. Here is God’s response:

“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”

“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know.
So I got tired, I got fed up,
and there I dropped you on your butt.”

“Because in life, there comes a time,
when one must fight, and one must climb.
When one must rise and take a stand,
or leave their butt prints in the sand.”

I would venture to say that there’s something in both of these poems that appeals to us. We like the idea that we can usually make it on our own, but when times get tough, the Lord is there to pick us up and carry us through it. We also like the idea that being carried around for too long can breed spiritual laziness, that one must meet that demand of the Lord to plant those feet of faith on the ground and walk like a man. We find the footprints poem comforting and we find the butt prints poem challenging.

But, when we search the Scriptures, we find the truth that both poems are a lie. They are as wrong as wrong can be.

While the Scriptures do encourage spiritual growth, that growth is never anything but growth into Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if it’s the day we’re baptized or the day we pass from this world, we are nowhere else but in and of the body of Christ. There are never two sets of footprints in the sand. If there are, heaven forbid, we are no longer a Christian, but have squirmed out of the arms of our Savior and struck out on our own on a path that leads to destruction. To walk by faith is to walk as one who wears the legs of Jesus, who has been clothed with the flesh of Christ, for whom life is nothing more than getting used to his baptism, getting used to the fact that he no longer lives on his own, but Christ lives in him and he in Christ.

When I see a father holding his baby in his arms—a baby that cannot live apart from his care, a baby that needs him night and day, a baby whose entire existence depends upon the love and nurture of his father—then I see a true vision of my relationship with my heavenly Father. I am in His arms. I am wholly dependent upon Him for everything. I live and move and have my being exclusively in Him. When times are sweet or sour, high or low, I do not walk; I am carried by the one who, in His Son, carried the cross up to Calvary for me, and was bound to it with nails, that I too might be crucified with Christ, so that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

I leave no footprints in the sand as I walk beside Jesus. Nor will God ever drop me out of frustration and leave my butt prints in the sand. There are only the footprints of Him who is my all in all, who carries me in Himself. Apart from Him I am nothing, but in Him I am everything He wants me to be.

P.S. If you’d like to read a much better, truer parody of the parody of Butt Prints in the Sand, then click here. Pastor Robert Schaibley wrote this as a true expression of what the Christian life is all about.

ChristAloneCoverIf you enjoyed this reflection, then please check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

 

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Songs are Musical Time Machines

Songs are musical time-machines. You hear the melody, the words wash over you, and in the blink of an eye, you’re “there.” There, hearing the song playing over the radio as your teenage girlfriend sits beside you and takes your hand in her own. There, mom and dad in the rear-view mirror, car packed to the gills, a college dormitory awaiting you. There, crying your eyes out over the break-up you thought would never happen. The music plays on and on, and you go back and back. Songs, transcendent melodies that harbor the past, pull you toward the memories of yesteryear like they were yesterday. Such is the muscle of music, holding tight in your heart the grip of the past.

For me, among the many memories that songs elicit, one that always comes back to me involves a dear elderly lady named Alvena Stein. She was a lifelong member of the congregation where I served as pastor in Wellston, Oklahoma. And she was one of those dear saints whom I could visit on my darkest, I-just-wanna-throw-in-the-towel days in the ministry, and leave an hour later with a smile on my face. Talking with her had a way of putting life in perspective, and restoring joy to my heart, every time. Her life, as with every life, had had its ups and downs. A bride at the ripe old age of sixteen, and a widow at the young age of forty-eight, Alvena knew joy and sorrow. With four daughters, and thirteen grandchildren, and plenty more great-grandchildren and other family members, she was enveloped by those whom she loved and who loved her. Such was the love of Alvena’s family that they adopted me and my family into their own while we lived among them.

The psalmist writes that our earthly lives last “seventy years, or eighty, if we have the strength.” As if proving the poet right, and showing the world that she did have that kind of strength, Alvena fought on to her eightieth year. But after a series of battles, and a gradually weakening body, it became clear that the time of her departure was drawing nigh. I visited her at home, and in the hospital, bringing her the nourishment of God’s word and Christ’s meal. And I also sang songs to her and with her, hymns that poetized the faith she held dear and the hope of victory disguised as death, hymns and songs that she had had on her lips and in her heart from infancy. When the inevitable day came, the 29th of July, 2000, with two of her daughters in the room with her, Alvena was ready. Ready because the Lord had readied her with his love, and now stood to meet her face-to-face in the heavenly fatherland.

I arrived at the hospital shortly after Alvena had passed beyond this world. She lay at peace in her bed, surrounded by her four daughters, their husbands, and others who had been blessed by her love. We prayed the Our Father together, and the 23rd Psalm. And in that room replete with both sadness and joy, gain and loss, but above all hope, I sang the stanza of a hymn that I had sung to Alvena many times in the months leading up to this day.

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my Fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

Home. That’s where Alvena had gone—to her true home in the presence of Jesus Christ. Her pilgrimage here in this vale of tears was complete. And now she rested, awaiting the resurrection of her body. She was in the bosom of Abraham, of whom she was a daughter. She had fought the good fight, she had finished the race, she had kept the faith. And in so doing, she had been a true martyr—a witness—to me and so many others who journey still, who long for the bosom of our father Abraham.

Over the years, every time I sing that hymn stanza, I go back. I go back to that hospital room, back to the family that grieved their loss and rejoiced at Alvena’s gain, back to the woman who was such an encouragement to me, even though I was supposed to be an encouragement to her. The man who, over four hundred years before, wrote the hymn I sang that day, could never have imagined the power his words would wield for good in the lives of countless multitudes, of whom I am but one. His words take me back, but they also point me forward—forward to the day when, like Alvena, I will close to my eyes to this world, unfearing, for I know that I will open them to see my Savior and my Fount of grace, arms open wide, receiving me as his own.

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