Doxology and the Power of Praise

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a church on a Sunday evening, and we closed the service by singing the doxology. I began singing, almost without thinking, but then I wondered, “When did I learn the doxology, and how did this short song become known as ‘the doxology’?”

I mostly grew up in Baptist churches, graduated from a Methodist college, and frequently visit a nearby Reformed Presbyterian church. In all of these, I have sung the doxology, usually either to begin or end a service. I don’t remember learning it, and assume I picked it up through repetition.

So, who wrote the doxology, where did it come from, and why do so many different denominations include it as a matter of course? And what does doxology mean anyway?

The word doxology comes from the Greek word doxologia meaning a short hymn of praise to God. Different religions have their own doxology hymns, so my search will focus on the doxology I’m familiar with which was written by the Anglican priest, Thomas Ken.

Thomas Ken was ordained in 1662 after obtaining degrees from Oxford. He would eventually serve as chaplain to Princess Mary of York, then royal chaplain to King Charles II before serving James II (who would lock Ken and six other bishops in the Tower of London for refusing to publish the king’s Declaration of Indulgences). Before his royal commissions, however, he spent ten years at Winchester College.

Ken felt it was important for his students to spend time in private worship, so in 1674 he published A Manual of Prayers For the Use of the Scholars of Winchester College. This pamphlet included two long hymns: “Awake, My Soul and with the Sun” and “Glory to Thee, My God, This Night.”  Both these hymns ended with what we now sing as the doxology as their final stanza. The manual remained in private circulation as the hymns could not be sung publicly for fear of “adding to the Word.” In fact, hymns were not officially approved by the Church of England until 1820. Apparently, Ken disagreed with the thought that hymns could be dangerous as he instructed his students to “be sure to sing the Morning and Evening Hymn in your chamber devoutly.”

Skipping ahead almost two hundred years, a story from across the ocean demonstrates the power of praise through the doxology. At Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, (a Confederate prison during the Civil War), a group of new prisoners was marched to the door about ten o’clock one night then left outside until arrangments could be made for them. In the company, was “a young Baptist minister, whose heart almost fainted when he looked on those cold walls and thought of the suffering inside. Tired and weary, he sat down, put his face in his hands, and wept. Just then a lone voice sang out from an upper window. ‘Praise God, from whom all blessings flow’; a dozen joined in the second line, more than a score in the third line, and the words, ‘Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,’ were sung by nearly all the prisoners. As the song died away on the still night, the young man arose and sang, ‘Prisons would palaces prove, If Jesus dwell with me there.'” (From One Hundred and One Hymn Stories by Carl F. Price)

That the words written by the Englishman Thomas Ken for his students in 1674 ended up on the lips of a group of Americans in the middle of a war in the nineteenth century and are now sung in countless congregations across the world amazes me. How even more remarkable is it that lines which could originally only be sung in private are now known and sung in different denominations throughout the world in public worship and praise.

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O For A Thousand Tongues Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley, hymn writer extraordinaire, is credited with writing thousands of hymns and for the hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, he wrote eighteen stanzas.

Wesley was inspired to write the hymn by a comment made by Peter Boehler. “If I had a thousand tongues, I would praise Christ with them all.” He wrote the hymn to celebrate his first year anniversary of being saved. The line that eventually became the title was actually the first line of the seventh stanza in its original form.

Though his brother, John, was the preacher and organizeer behind the Methodist movement, it was the hymns of Charles which gave the Methodists their reputation for being “overly exuberant” in their worship. The Anglican church the two men grew up in did not sing hymns during their services, and they certainly didn’t express themselves in an “exuberant” way. Salvation changed, not only the hearts of Charles and John, but the way they wanted to worship.

Though there are many great lines in this hymn, the line “He breaks the power of canceled sin” recently caught my attention in an interview with Richard Foster concerning spiritual formation. Understanding that at salvation, Jesus’ blood has washed away my all my sin and thus canceled them, what kind of power can “canceled sin” have in my life?

Have you ever doubted? About God’s love? God’s power? God’s forgiveness? Have you ever thought God couldn’t use you because of past sin in your life? You say you believe He forgave you, but . . .But? If you do, then how can that forgiven, that canceled, sin have power over you? If that “canceled sin” is keeping you from doing what God intends for you, if it is keeping you from walking in faith, if it is keeping you from sleep–it has power over you.

The good news is: He does have power over canceled sin. We receive that power through sanctification, by walking and growing in grace. As Foster says: “The idea is that it’s possible for sin to be canceled and yet still have power. In the life that is with God, Christ breaks that power so that we are growing in grace, as Peter puts it in 2 Peter 3:18. Some people have a tough time with a verse like that because they only think of grace as unmerited favor.” (Christianity Today, October 2018, p. 64).

So, celebrate, O Christian! He does have the power over canceled sin. He sets the prisoner free!

Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! Psalm 25:7

Magdala–A Place Where Jesus Taught and Healed

We ended our first day in Israel at a site recently discovered in 2009. The town of Magdala began in the Hellenistic period and became a successful fishing village located on a commercial trade route, the Via Maris. This town is well known to readers of the Bible because of Mary Magdalene, a woman healed by Jesus who became one of his most faithful disciples.

The Magdala Synagogue is the oldest synagogue excavated in Galilee and one of seven first century synagogues in Israel. Coins have been discovered dating between 5 and 63 A.D. One coin, minted in 29 A.D., gives reason to believe Jesus would have taught in this synagogue during his public ministry.One of the most interesting and unique finds in this synagogue is known as the Magdala Stone. Believed to be a holder for the Torah and Prophet scrolls, its detailed carvings depicting Herod’s Temple gives evidence that the artist was familiar with this Temple before it was destroyed by the Romans. It also upholds the belief held by many scholars that the synagogues of that day were considered sacred places rather than just places for meetings and study. The original stone has been removed for safe-keeping, but a replica sits on the site as you can see here.

Also uncovered is the marketplace of Magdala made up of over 20 rooms that would have sold items such as pottery, woven goods, and fresh produce. At least 40 water installations and wells have been discovered in this area.

Built near the site is a spiritual center, the “Duc in Altum” (Latin for “Put Out into the Deep”).  Inside this building are several chapels and the Women’s Atrium which is dedicated to women disciples throughout history. In the Women’s Atrium are eight pillars, seven of which represent women in the Bible who followed Jesus and the eighth honors women of faith through the ages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One chapel, the Boat Chapel, contains a fishing boat made like one that Jesus would have preached from on the Sea of Galilee.

Then there are Mosaic Chapels. Each of these contains a mosaic picturing a Biblical event that happened around the Sea of Galilee.

Finally, the Encounter Chapel built on the marketplace of the first century port and modeled after the Magdala synagogue. An amazing and beautiful mural is painted on the wall depicting the encounter between Jesus and the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25).

 

This site at Magdala, well labeled as a “crossroads of Jewish and Christian History”, is a work in progress, so many discoveries are yet to be found. As beautiful as the chapels with their paintings and mosaics are, to see a place where Jesus would have taught and healed was a highlight, not only of my first day in Israel, but also of the whole trip.–More “highlights” to come.

 

Part Two of Day 1 in Israel

Continuing on with our first day in Israel–after having lunch at St. Peter’s Restaurant (fish, of course)–we visited three different churches, all along the Sea of Galilee.

The Church of the Beatitudes is situated on the traditional spot believed to be where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the feeding of the 5,000. (Matthew 5 and John 6) The church is built on the ruins of a fourth century Byzantine church. The floor plan is octagonal, representing the eight Beatitudes.


Next we visited the Church of the Primacy. The present structure was built in 1933 but incorporates parts of another fourth century church. This is said to be the area where Jesus cooked fish for the disciples after His resurrection and where He told Peter to feed His sheep.

Inside the Church of the Primacy is a stone table–Mensa Christi or Christ’s Table. This is supposedly the spot where Jesus laid out the breakfast for the disciples. Somehow I’ve never pictured a table there on the beach, limestone or not. I prefer to just look here at the beach:

And imagine Peter jumping out of the boat to swim to Jesus where He had built a fire, ready to cook the fish for the disciples’ breakfast. (John 21)

One more church:

The Church of the Multiplication or the Church of the Loaves and Fishes

Underneath this table is another stone table purported to be where Jesus fed the 5,000. Though unlikely this was the very spot where this miracle took place, the church is also built on the ruins of fourth and fifth century churches. The floor is a Byzantine mosaic (notice the fish and loaves) built in the fifth century.

Though we can’t know the exact location of where Jesus fed the 5,000 or cooked on the beach, we do know this is the area–on the shores of the Sea of Galilee–and can easily imagine Jesus walking, talking, and cooking here.

First Days in Israel–Galilee

It’s been a week since our return from Israel, and I’m getting back into my normal routines. “Normal” includes writing and preparing the devotion for a ministry on Sunday. But, I have loads of pictures to share from our trip, so I will get started NOW!

Our first two days were spent in Galilee and our hotel was set on the Sea of Galilee. I have to admit, I probably have way too many pictures that look mostly the same but they are all beautiful! Don’t worry–I’m only going to show you the best of the best.

Airport picture. When you’re both excited and relieved to finally land.

View of the Sea of Galilee from our hotel window.

Early morning on the Sea of Galilee.

Going for a boat ride.

City of Tiberias as seen from our boat.

Later, we visited Mt. Arbel. The road here would have been used by Jesus as he traveled back and forth from Capernaum to Nazareth.


Notice the caves? The Jews probably hid here from the Greeks and Romans at different times.

This covers the first part of our first day. I know–Looking back now, I’m amazed at how much we saw just on our first day.

More later! Shalom!

 

He’s NOT HERE! He is RISEN!

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.”
“And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb”

“But when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”

“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.'”

Happy Easter to all my reading and writing friends! He is risen!

Wiley Cash: The Last Ballad

Looking to read more from local (North Carolina or anywhere in southeast) writers, I picked up the latest from Wiley Cash a few weeks ago.

The Last Ballad tells the story of Ella May Wiggins, a woman who worked in the textile mills of North Carolina in the 1920’s. In 1929, she leaves Bessemer City to go to Gastonia to hear about the union and their plans to strike. Ella May works hard every night, having to leave her four children (the father of her children has abandoned them). Joining a union is dangerous and will probably lose her her job, but what choice does she have? Her children are hungry and she can’t afford to clothe them. Something has to change.

Wiley Cash is a writer that any writer would envy. He writes of hard times, desperate situations, evil and selfish people with poetry and grace. He takes a woman who lived in an impossible situation and shows her courage and determination. I highly recommend this book, and will be checking out the backlist for Wiley Cash.

For those of you who read ebooks, this book is available for $1.99 across the different vendors for a limited time.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading from your local authors? Who are your favorites?