by: Denise Robinson
Singing Our Faith: A Transformed Life
Rom. 12:2; Col. 1:9-20
In Romans 2:12 the Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Today we conclude our sermon series, Singing Our Faith, as we think about what it means to live a Christian life, a life transformed by the love of God and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We began our service this morning with “How Great Thou Art.” Did you know this great hymn of faith has a connection to Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers? A man named Vernon Spencer was injured in a mining accident in Oklahoma. Unable to return to the mine, he began to play music in a local bar called, of all things, the Bucket of Blood. After achieving a measure of fame at the Bucket of Blood, Spencer moved to California and began playing in clubs and at dances and one night met another would-be-star by the name of Leonard Slye. Along with a third guy, they formed a group called the Pioneer Trio. Vernon changed his named to Tim and Slye changed his name to Roy Rogers. The group became the Sons of the Pioneers. Money rolled in and Tim Spencer was on top of the world. He married and had two children. In 1949, he wrote two hit songs – “Room Full of Roses” and “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wild, Wild Women.” While Tim was on the road living the last song in particular, his wife and children were at home. Tim’s wife, a devout Presbyterian, was praying for her husband. She began to write him letters and included a verse of scripture in every letter. One night one verse in one of the letters caused Tim to pick up the Gideon Bible in his hotel room to read more. He gave his life to Christ, retired from the Sons of the Pioneers, and a few years later wrote these words: “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art.” The hymn opens with words of wonder for the world God created. The greatness of God is seen in the world, stars, rolling thunder, forest glades, birds singing in trees, mountains, brooks, and the winds gentle breezes. As we read in many of the psalms, the world in all its beauty speaks to the greatness of God.
But evidence of God’s greatness doesn’t stop with our world. Our opening hymn speaks not to God’s creative power, but to God’s character – to God’s faithfulness, compassion, mercy, and love. The author of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. Thomas Chisholm constantly battled illnesses and these words from Lamentations 3:22-23 became a part of his outlook on life (reading from the KJV): “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”
In our faith journey as we discover God’s power and majesty and then experience God’s faithfulness, grace, and love, we move closer to God. As we heard read from Colossians 1, Paul’s wish for the church is that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they may lead lives worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. He writes: “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father … who has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Our prayer hymn, “Abide With Me”, takes us across the Atlantic Ocean to Scotland. It was written by a Scottish priest by the name of Henry Lyte in 1847. Lyte, who was ill with tuberculosis preached his farewell sermon to his congregation on September 4th of that year and introduced this hymn. He died just a few weeks later. The Greek word for abide, meno, suggests an intentional, continuing, long-term relationship. We don’t “abide” in a hotel room, a parking space, or a checkout line. We abide at home. Home is the place where we’re safe, surrounded by memories and mementos; home surrounds us and defines us. We don’t think about home all the time, even though we eat, sleep, read, pay bills, raise children, and entertain family and friends there. It just is. As we abide with Christ, many other thoughts will invade our minds and many other activities will engage us – but Christ is still with us, always with us, in good times and bad, straight to the end and beyond. We don’t need to be thinking about Christ every passing hour, but this hymn reminds us we need Christ’s presence every passing hour. We never know when we will face difficult decisions, questions, and fears. But if we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us, we can rely on the promise of God’s presence:
“Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.”
Our transformed life continues because the longer we abide in Christ and Christ in us we move ever closer to our closing hymn for today, toward the point where we are willing to say to God, “I Surrender All.” From the hills of Kentucky and Scotland we now move to a farm in Michigan in the late 1800’s where an art teacher, artist, musician, and Methodist felt called to devote his whole life to Christ. He resisted the call for over five years until one night he fell to his knees praying, “Lord, if you want me to give my full time to Thy work, I’ll do it. I surrender all to Thee.” Several years later, Justin Van De Venter wrote the hymn, I Surrender All. Judson later in life moved to Tampa, Florida where be began teaching hymnology at Florida Bible Institute. One of his students would later refer to Judson as the evangelist who influenced his preaching. That student was Billy Graham.
Surrender is a difficult word for most of us. We don’t like the thought of surrendering. It suggests weakness and defeat. It suggests giving up control of our lives. If we are honest, when we think about singing this song, we’d be far more comfortable singing, “I surrender some.” The words of this hymn are uncomfortable:
All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live.
All to Jesus I surrender
Humbly at His feet I bow
Worldly pleasures all forsaken
Take me Jesus take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender
Make me Savior wholly Thine
Let me feel the Holy Spirit
Truly know that Thou art mine.
Someone once said, “Only in the Christian life does surrender bring victory.” That brings us to the 4th stanza of this hymn:
All to Jesus I surrender
Lord I give myself to Thee
Fill me with Thy love and power
Let Thy blessings fall on me.
Our postlude for today reminds us joyfully to count our blessings. Written by another Methodist, the song says: “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your blessings; see what God hath done. Count your many blessings; see what God hath done.”
Here is your question for the week. When you consider your life, your priorities, your desires, are you conformed to this world or has your life truly been transformed to the will of God? For many of us, we try to have it both ways – but for those who have coming to our Zoom Bible study on the Epistle of James we just this past week read these words from James, chapter 4: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Strong words about the choices we make. And yet, James continues: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” Abide with God. Surrender all. And count your blessings.