Worship Conference

There are no words which can adequately describe the experience of attending the WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts. The best I could do would be to encourage you to view online the two services which were held on the Martin Luther College campus in the Chapel of the Christ. Of course, it’s not quite like being there, but maybe it gives you some idea.

The theme of this year’s conference was handing down the Lutheran heritage to the next generation. WELS President Mark Schroeder, who was just re-elected to another term today, wrote in his introductory letter to the conference:

Lutherans have been blessed with a rich heritage—an astounding array of spiritual treasures, passed down to us over the centuries through faithful Christians who have gone before us. It’s a biblical heritage that grounds us firmly on the Words of Scripture. It’s a confessional and theological heritage that connects us to faithful confessors and to the church of all ages. And it’s a liturgical heritage that respects our roots and values commitment to worship that focuses on the proclamation of the gospel in all its beauty.

We Lutherans today are the beneficiaries and recipients of such a rich heritage. But blessings such as those we’ve received bring with them a solemn responsibility. Our heritage is one to be treasured for ourselves to be sure, but it is also one that we will want to pass along to the next generation of Lutheran Christians. By treasuring this heritage for ourselves, we keep the gospel of Jesus Christ as the focus of our worship and of our efforts to bring the good news of Christ to a fallen world. By passing this heritage to the next generation, we take our place in a long line of faithful witnesses, as “one generation commends [God’s] works to another” (Psalm 145:4).

Throughout the week, this theme was expressed in several ways, most notably in the keynote address, in the 48 voice children’s choir assembled for the conference, and in a number of the presentations.

It was under this theme that I presented the topic of “Hymns in the Life of Church, School, and Home.” I maintain that the church’s song—especially her hymns—provides us with a vehicle for passing the faith on to the next generation. This happens when these songs not only provide musical accompaniment for the proclamation of the gospel in corporate worship, but especially when these hymns accompany the lives of the church’s members. It starts with children at a very young age; when hymns are learned young and learned well, they provide for a lifetime of comfort and strength.

I have created a web page with all kinds of information related to this topic. There you can find links to all the books, presentations, CDs, etc that I referred to in my presentation. On the page you can also view the slides I used. Keep in mind that the slides are not the presentation itself; they were mainly used to illustrate the stories I used to make various points. If you click through the slides you will see various images, videos, and audio clips. Over the next several days I hope to post a few of the stories to which those slides refer.

Hymns and Children

Yesterday I heard an interesting segment of Issues, etc, on teaching hymns to children. You can listen to the segment here.

This covers some of the same ground that I will be presenting in a few weeks at the WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts in St. Peter, MN.  Here is a description of my presentation:

A Lutheran hymnal is a rich devotional resource that deserves to be used in every church, school, and especially, in every home. Already at a very young age, children are capable of learning hymns and participating in worship. These hymns provide solid teaching and strong comfort for Christians, young and old alike. This presentation provides practical and inspiring ideas and anecdotes for teachers, parents, pastors, and all who influence children and worship.

After the conference, I will post my presentation and materials here. But I’m looking forward to seeing some of you in Minnesota in just a few weeks.

Evening Hymn

I can visually remember the words of the hymn up on the overhead in Mrs. Kraus’ first grade classroom. “Lord Jesus, who dost love me…” I can also remember having difficulty finding the hymn in the hymnal at home because we didn’t learn the first stanza.

Those final two stanzas of Paul Gerhardt’s evening hymn, “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow” have probably been sung in our home more than any others. I have sung them to the all kids at bedtime since they were born. I have also sung these stanzas frequently in hospital rooms and in the sick room.

Tomorrow evening our school kids will be singing this hymn during our Lenten Compline service at church. They have been learning it and practicing it at school, and we’ve been singing it at night before bed.

I took one year of piano lessons in grade school, and a few lessons here and there since then. I’ve always wished I had stuck with it, and I’ve always had a strong desire to at least be able to play hymns. For many years now I have spent considerable time at the piano playing through hymns, often slowly and with many mistakes. Since we have had a piano in our home, I have been able to play much more regularly, and there are at least a handful of hymns that I can play fairly well. This evening hymn is one of those. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to be able to accompany my children and sing these words with them.

Now rest beneath night’s shadow
The woodland, field, and meadow;
The world in slumber lies.
But you, my heart, awaken,
With prayer and song be taken;
Let praise to your Creator rise.

The rule of day is over
And shining jewels cover
The heaven’s boundless blue.
Thus I shall shine in heaven,
Where crowns of gold are given
To all who faithful prove and true.

Lord Jesus, since you love me,
Oh, spread your wings above me
And shield me from alarm.
Though Satan would assail me,
Your mercy will not fail me;
I rest in your protecting arm.

My loved ones rest securely,
For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads.
Sweet slumbers may he send you
And bid his hosts attend you
And through the night watch o’er your beds. (CW 587)

Until He Comes

I just love the last Sundays of the church year. I am especially fond of the texts from Matthew 25 that bring the year to a close and point us to the end. The Sheep and the Goats. The Wise and Foolish Virgins. And on top of it, we’ve been given hymns that illustrate and illumine these texts. I’m thinking especially of Philipp Nicolai’s Wake, Awake, “The King of Chorales”. This Sunday I’ll be spending the Bible class hour leading people through the scriptural references and historical background of this hymn. I initially thought it wouldn’t nearly take up the whole hour, but now I’m wondering how we’ll get it all in.

But there’s another hymn that has become just as meaningful to me. “O’er the Distant Mountains Breaking” (CW 220) also refers to this week’s Gospel in the final stanza:

With my lamp well-trimmed and burning,
Swift to hear and slow to stray,
Watching for your glad returning,
Waiting for the blessed day.
Come, my Savior, Come, my Savior,
O my Savior, quickly come!

I just love that phrase, “swift to hear and slow to stray.” So often we have it the other way around. And we always want to emphasize the “watching” for Jesus. But does it look like he’s coming? When the night of watching day waiting grows long and it seems like he may never come, then we can do nothing but cling to his word, his promise that he will indeed return. Hurry up and listen.

In Bible class at church we just finished up a course on Christian vocation. Last week as we were wrapping it up I mentioned the third stanza of this hymn which has also been very dear to me over the past few years:

Nearer is my soul’s salvation;
Spent the night, the day at hand.
Keep me in my humble station,
Watching for you till I stand,
O my Savior, O my Savior,
In your bright, your promised land.

I just discovered today that the author of this hymn, John S. B. Monsell, died from injuries he received while watching or inspecting workers who were repairing the roof of his church. Either he fell off the roof, or he was hit by a falling object. Maybe he would have been better off staying in his study (in his “humble station”) and not crawling around on the roof. That may be a reminder I need from time to time. I’ve been known to do dumb things like that which I have no business doing. It’s a reminder that the station(s) in life into which I have been placed is the best place for me to be while I wait for Christ’s return. Even though it might not always be the place I want to be, or it might not always be the most comfortable place to be, it is the place where I will find “one of the least of these brothers of mine” (Mt 25:40) behind whom Jesus promises to hide himself. I would always like to take the shortcut to get my life more like it will be when Jesus returns, but no, not yet.

Another favorite phrase from this hymn is in stanza two:

Come, O Long-Expected; weary
Waits my spirit anxiously.
Life is dark and earth is dreary
Where your light I cannot see.

O my Savior, O my Savior,
When will you return to me?

It reminds me of Psalm 73: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (vs 25). And then that last phrase shows a trust that the Lord Jesus is not just coming back to raise everyone and judge everyone, but I’m looking for when he is coming for me. As though he would go through all the trouble of coming back even if it were only for me.

And  then there’s the delightful image in the first stanza of the return of Jesus like the dawn of a new day:

O’er the distant mountains breaking
Comes the redd’ning dawn of day.
Rise, my soul, from sleep awaking;
Rise and sing and watch and pray.
’Tis your Savior, ’Tis your Savior,
On his bright returning way.

So I think of that every time I see the sun pushing up over the mountains to the east. Each new day is a day to rise and ready ourselves for Jesus’ return. I snapped this picture one Sunday morning out the car window (I stopped first) as I was on my way to church.

All of these thoughts and images fill my mind during these last days of the church year. They all lead me to one unending cry, which the Church has been crying for nearly 2,000 years. “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.”

Christ Is With Me

This year our theme for the school year, especially for our weekly chapel services, was taken from this hymn from Christian Worship Supplement, “Christ Is With Me.” During the year, I covered as many aspects of Christ’s presence among us as I could, generally following the themes of the church year. Here are a few highlights:

  • September: Christ is with us when we gather in his name. Because of his promise, he is with us when we worship him, from invocation to benediction.
  • October: Christ is with us at all times and in all places. We noted God’s presence by night and day, and no matter where we might travel.
  • November (End Time): Christ is with us to the very end. Whether that is the end of our earthly life, or the end of this world, Christ will never leave.
  • December: God is with us in his son, Immanuel. Now that he has become our brother, Christ is never separate from us, for he is one of us.
  • January: In baptism, we are connected with Christ. His righteousness is ours; our sin is his.
  • February: Christ is with us through cross and suffering. In fact, especially in times of danger, fear, and sadness, Christ assures us of his presence.
  • March (Lent): Christ is with us because he suffered and died. He was abandoned by his people, his disciples, and finally by God himself. Left alone, so that we never would.
  • April (Easter): Christ is risen. Had he remained in the grave, he could not be with us. But a living Christ can keep his promise to never leave us.
  • May (Ascension): Jesus left his disciples when he ascended into heaven, but not really. In fact, when he sits on his throne, he is closer than ever before. Jesus’ ascension guarantees his presence with us constantly, and especially in the means of grace.

This is just a summary of a whole year of chapel devotions. This Sunday, our students will be singing this hymn in church. Our kids have been practicing at home, and so I have had the privilege of listening to these deep scriptural truths sung to me by the kids. The verses are paraphrases of verses from Romans 6, John 15, and Galatians 2.

We were buried with him into death,
That as he was raised by God’s glory,
We might walk in life made new by grace.
Having died with Christ, we shall live with him.

Christ is with me ev’rywhere I go. Never to leave me, this I know.

I have now been grafted to the vine,
Drawing life from roots rich in mercy,
Bearing fruit as I abide in him:
Fruit forever fresh, glorifying God.


I have now been crucified with Christ.
I no longer live; Christ lives in me.
Now I live by faith in God’s own Son,
One who loved me so—gave himself for me.


Text: Gerald Patrick Coleman, b. 1953, alt

Not Unto Us

On Sunday morning, our school kids will be singing a couple stanzas of Kurt Eggert’s hymn, “Not Unto Us” (CW 392). Our kids have been practicing it both at school and at home. This evening while the kids were singing I managed to record a little bit. Consider it a preview. This is Hannah (6), Andrew (5), and Lydia (3). Lydia isn’t really in school, but she always learns the songs that the big kids learn from school (Go here for another example).

O faithful love—that shepherded through faithless years;
Forgiving love—that led us to your truth.;
Unyielding love—that would not let us turn from you
But sent us forth to speak pardon and peace.

“Not Unto Us”

Singing the Gospel

I came across this very interesting post on the value of singing hymns.   

"If I Were the Devil" by Klemet Preus

I thought the post itself was interesting, but I was particularly interested in his quotes by Christopher Boyd Brown. He made a presentation at Worship Conference this summer, which I attended and found very interesting. I was glad to see that the findings of his study are available in a bookBROSIN

Basically, Professor Brown studied the place of hymns in the lives of early Lutherans, and the impact that those hymns had on their lives when the Counter-Reformation took their pastors away. He found that the hymns that they learned helped them to hold on to their faith—even though they didn't have pastors to teach the faith. Or in other words, it was the hymnody of the early Lutherans that allowed the teaching of the Reformation to take root in the hearts of the people and continue despite persecution. 

I'm looking forward to picking up this book and reading about these things in more detail. It'll have to go to the end of the queue, though, because I have a stack of books that I've been intending to read. I'll let you know what I think when I finally get to it, but if you can't wait, maybe you'd like to read it for yourself

October 4

Yesterday I taught the hymn "All Depends on Our Possessing" for hymnology. Today I have the words of stanza two on my mind as I give thanks for thirty years of God's grace.

He who to this day has fed me
And to many joys has led me
Is and ever shall be mine.
He who ever gently schools me,
He who daily guides and rules me,
Will remain my help divine.

Bedtime Hymns

Every night at bedtime the kids get to pick a song to sing. Several nights ago Andrew picked a random hymn from the hymnal, “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (CW 410), Luther’s hymn on the Lord’s Prayer. I didn’t fight him on it.

But since Hannah can read well enough to sing hymns that she hasn’t seen before, I really enjoyed singing several stanzas of this hymn with her. Bedtime Hymns