One of the events that has been held this year is the national census. Every ten years, the total number of individuals are counted where they live. Data from the census provides information for decision making for elections, funding, and long-term planning. This is not something new as even when Jesus was born, a census was taken, and all the residents in Israel had to journey back to their ancestral home to be counted. That meant Joseph had to take his betrothed, Mary, all the way to Bethlehem in Judea as he was from the line of King David.

Joseph and Mary lived in a little village hidden in the basin at the top of a hill in Galilee. It was small, Cana was bigger, and if you were travelling through the Galilee, you could pass the hill Nazareth was located on and not even know the village was there. Naturally, today Nazareth is a pilgrimage site and a large bustling city. Out of this village, Joseph and Mary would need to travel over 70 miles (as a crow would fly and much more on foot) to Bethlehem, probably through the Jezreel Valley to the Jordan river, south to Jericho and then up the very steep climb towards Jerusalem and then south to Bethlehem. Fit people would be able to travel about 20 miles a day, but for Joseph and Mary, even with a donkey, since Mary was nine months pregnant, the journey probably took them 7-10 days. Seven to ten days traveling on foot or on a donkey, without the comforts of home, wondering when the baby would come and dreaming of the place they can rest, be refreshed and potentially have their baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

They were brave and I am sure gave all their energy to make the trip, both physically and emotionally. As they drew close to their destination, they would see the shepherd’s fields, and finally the township. You can imagine them reaching their destination, potentially a relative’s house where the family would live downstairs and guests upstairs or on an elevated platform. The family animals would be in the rear of the house with feeding troughs. Instead of Mary and Joseph staying in the guest room with others when it was her time to give birth, it is conceivable they moved to the main floor. Many women would come in and out to assist Mary, with the men outside or upstairs, allowing the birth mother privacy. When Jesus was born, he would have been wrapped in clothes and laid in the stone manger fixed to the floor, that was across the room by the animals. The manger was a safe place while Mary recuperated.

We typically conclude there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary. A society based on hospitality would have families lodge guests in a designated space in their house. Mary and Joseph would not have stayed at a hotel/inn or put in a stable for animals behind an inn. They were not housed in a stable as wood would be scarce to build a structure, similarly the place of birth was probably not a cave unless the early Palestinian home was built at the front of the cave. Still Mary and Joseph were guests requiring hospitality just as Jesus also stated later in life that ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20b). He was to be a guest with those who invited him in.

We are blessed people who have a home, necessities, and provisions. Sometimes we can get so focused on these material items that we neglect to welcome Jesus into all aspects of our life. Yes, there is room Jesus! You are welcome! Yet we have concerns, worries, and demands upon our time, that we can forget to be with our resident ‘guest.’ Maybe it is time to allow Jesus to be at home as our Lord and Savior in our lives, and not just a guest into compartmentalized areas of our life.

Listen now to “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, and join us next week in this advent series as we reflect on the Good News announced to the shepherds and how they left everything to go and see the new born baby.

Welcome to our new 7 week series
written by Major Nigel J. Cross, D. Min, Training Principal

Week 1 – November 15, 2020

I wonder what comes to mind as you finish this statement: In the year of our Lord 2020 …

For some individuals significant events happened, for others rite of passage events were marred by the current pandemic, and for all of us, we can all state issues that have brought concern, anxiety, instability and the need to focus on faith, especially for hope. I have even heard that in some countries, people are putting up their Christmas trees early, as they want a symbol of hope in their homes as a distraction to everything else going on.

It seems strange to even consider Christmas before we celebrate Thanksgiving, and yet what better reason to give thanks for our hope found in the Christ of Christmas. The prophet Isaiah stated, ‘The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them’ (Isaiah 9:2). The people in Israel faced darkness. They were under the tyrannical rule of Herod the Great. When Herod was about to die, he also ordered any challengers to the throne to be killed – even newborn babies. The Jews were also in revolt against, not only Hellenistic culture and influences, but also Rome. Political infighting, nationalistic revolts, quelling of situations from Varus all led to dark days. The Jews needed a light, a Messiah to shine and bring promise and hope. The people in Israel, like us felt uncertainty and fragility of life, even facing moments of ‘darkness’ and despair, but in hindsight we recognize the light shining in our darkness, Christ, who brings us hope. Sure, we can buy lights for ‘light therapy’ as an aid to cope with depression or seasonal affective disorder, but in our walk of faith, we have the greater and one true light of Christ.

Thomas Kinkade, the famous ‘painter of light’ produced a figurine that is entitled ‘The True Meaning of Christmas.’ This ornament depicts Santa in front of a fireplace with a stocking on the mantle, a sack of presents behind him with the list of recipients, and a Christmas tree adjacent to the fireplace. Santa is kneeling on one knee in the center of the scene, finishing the carving of a king, a wise man, that would take its place in the nativity scene at the base of the tree. There in the facade of a stable is Mary, Joseph, a shepherd with sheep, cattle and of course baby Jesus lying in a manger. With bended knee, Santa and all that commercialism portrays as the Christmas experience, highlights the birth of Christ.

Isaiah continued, ‘For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will rest on His shoulders. And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace’ (Isaiah 9:6-7a). There is promised peace: peace in political environments, peace in our homes, peace in our communities, peace between people of different cultures, ethnicities, and creeds. There is peace promised and realized in the kingdom of God, and Jesus is our hope and path.

This Christmas advent, we will focus on the ‘True Meaning of Christmas’ as portrayed in Kinkade’s Santa and nativity figurine. Each aspect will reveal a truth of Christ to reflect on, to bring hope, joy and the knowledge of God’s love and providential care, that brings peace in our uncertainties.

Listen now to Staff Songster, Captain Michael O’Brien as he sings, “How Far Is It To Bethlehem?”, and join us next week in this advent series as we reflect on the journey to Bethlehem and the lodgings the holy family found.

ORSBORNAGAIN (36)

A devotional series by Major Rob Birks

ORSBORNAGAIN is meant to introduce the poetry of the first Poet General, Albert Orsborn (1886-1967) to a new audience and to reintroduce his works to dyed-in-the-(tropical)-wool Salvationists.

These are not new songs.

However, the lyrics are jam-packed with new life, which may be missed during corporate worship. Re-examined through scripture and experience, Rob Birks intends through an examination of these scared songs to renew the spiritual fervor of believers, and point seekers to their Savior.

Once, on a day, was Christ led forth to die, 
And with the crowd that pressed on him joined I.  
Slowly they led him, led him to the tree, 
And I beheld his hands no more were free. 
Bound fast with cords, and this was his distress,  
That men denied those hands outstretched to bless.  

Sacred hands of Jesus, they were bound for me;  
Wounded hands of Jesus, stretched upon a tree,  
Ever interceding, mercy is their plea. 
Their effectual pleading brings grace to me,  
Redeeming grace to me.  

Hands that were scarred by daily fret and tear; 
Hands quick to sooth the troubled brow of care;  
Hands strong to smite the sins that men enthrone,  
Yet never raised to seek or claim their own:  
Dear hands of Christ! and yet men feared them so  
That they must bind them as to death they go.  

Hands that still break to men the living bread;  
Hands full of power to raise again the dead,  
Potent and healing, eager to reclaim, 
Laid in forgiveness on one bowed in shame;  
Say, wouldst thou bind, by pride and unbelief,  
Those hands that compass all thy soul’s relief?  

Albert Orsborn 
195 The Eternal God – God the Son, the Suffering and Death of Jesus

By now, if you’ve read through ORSBORNAGAIN, it will not come as a shock to you that we once again find the General contemplating Jesus, and the day and the way he died. Christ-centric and cross-centric, Orsborn is true to form. In this piece it isn’t the charm of the cross or the shadow of the cross that draws Orsborn’s attention. Rather, through three verses and a chorus, he focuses in on the “sacred hands of Jesus.” Orsborn contemplated the cross of Christ so often and so intently that he was able to poetically place himself at the scene of the crime (first verse, second line), and zoom in on the hands which were pierced for our pardon, scarred to heal us and bound to make us free. The “sacred hands of Jesus” made quite an impression on Orsborn, and why not? These were the hands that blessed children, restored sight to a blind man, healed multitudes, and broke bread with his disciples in the upper room.  

And speaking of the disciples, they saw the hands of Jesus most every day for three years. They were there on the day of crucifixion, and saw the “wounded hands of Jesus, stretched upon a tree.” And after it was finished (John 19:30), and Jesus had committed his spirit into the hands of his father (Luke 23:46), the disciples huddled together, wringing their own hands behind locked doors. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he showed them his hands and side, and the disciples were overjoyed (John 20:19-20). The disciples could have written and sung a hymn that night focusing on the sacred hands of Jesus. Maybe they did. Or maybe they sang one that was popular at the time. A week later, Thomas joined in, most likely out-singing the others (John 20:24-29).  

My favorite hands in this world are Stacy’s. They are elegant and comforting, and I have been fortunate to hold them since the late 1980s. The ring finger on her left hand is where the symbol of our life-long commitment gets to live. One of the happiest days of my life was the day I asked Stacy for her hand in marriage, and she said “Yes.” A wedding picture in our room focuses in on our hands and our rings. It reminds me of our mutual mission to let our marriage point to the groom who gave his life for his bride (Eph. 5:25).  

By dying on the cross and paying the penalty for the sins of the world, Jesus was, in a very real sense, asking for our hand. He committed himself to us, and asks for our commitment to him in return. Jesus takes the hand of those who say, “Yes,” and leads them into a mutual mission of sacrificial service.  

In this light, it’s not hard to see that much of what Orsborn describes the “sacred hands of Jesus” doing are the behaviors his bride should be about as well. Our hands should be blessing OTHERS, interceding and pleading mercy on behalf of OTHERS, soothing the “troubled brow” of OTHERS, breaking the living bread for OTHERS, and healing OTHERS. This world needs a whole lot more Christians willing to lay hands of forgiveness on OTHERS who are “bowed in shame.” As Mother Teresa said, “Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.”  

I’m so thankful that General Albert William Thomas Orsborn used his hand to pen these 36 songs, most of which speak of the Savior whose hands “compass all thy soul’s relief.” I pray this new look at old songs of new life has been beneficial to you in some small way. If not, toss it out (i.e., recycle). Life is too short and eternity is too long for us to waste our time here on bad books.  

Here’s praying that you and I will follow Orsborn’s lead in living Christ-centric and cross-centric lives, and using our gifts, talents, passions and position to edify OTHERS and see greater things!  

ORSBORNAGAIN (35)

A devotional series by Major Rob Birks

ORSBORNAGAIN is meant to introduce the poetry of the first Poet General, Albert Orsborn (1886-1967) to a new audience and to reintroduce his works to dyed-in-the-(tropical)-wool Salvationists.

These are not new songs.

However, the lyrics are jam-packed with new life, which may be missed during corporate worship. Re-examined through scripture and experience, Rob Birks intends through an examination of these scared songs to renew the spiritual fervor of believers, and point seekers to their Savior.

We worship thee, O Crucified! 
What glories didst thou lay aside; 
What depth of human grief and sin  
Didst thou consent to languish in, 
That through atoning blood outpoured  
Our broken peace might be restored!  

We mourn that e’er our hearts should be  
One with a world that loves not thee;  
That with the crowd we passed thee by  
And saw, but did not feel, thee die.  
Not till we knew our guilt and shame  
Did we esteem the Saviour’s name.  

Though with our shame we shunned the light,  
Thou didst not leave us in the night; 
We were not left in sin to stray 
Unsought, unloved, from thee away;  
For from thy cross irradiates 
A power that saves and recreates.  

O loved above all earthly love, 
To thee our hearts adoring move; 
Thy boundless mercies yearn to save  
And in thy blood sin’s wounds to lave.  
O speed the day when men shall see  
That human hopes are all in thee.  

Albert Orsborn 
205 The Eternal God – God the Son, The Suffering and Death of Jesus

I have been a fan of the rock band U2 since my early teenage years (which is a bit more than 10 years ago). At first, it was all about their energy and passion. The opening guitar riff of “I Will Follow” was like nothing I had ever heard before.  

As I grew up with the band, I became a fan of their faith journey in addition to the art they were making. Some Christians dismissed the fact that Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr. professed a belief in Jesus. Granted, none of them will be signing the articles of war or putting on a Salvation Army uniform anytime soon, but neither will the majority of Jesus followers. For many, U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was all the proof they needed that these four Irish lads were on shaky spiritual ground. For me, that song struck a chord that still reverberates. Especially the last verse:  

You broke the bonds 
And you loosed the chains 
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame 
You know I believe it 

In the Orsborn song we consider here, the author, like Bono, is contemplating the cross, and all that it means to him, to every believer and to the world. Both Orsborn and Bono are well aware of their own shame and the sacrifice of their Savior. This song is found in the section of The Salvation Army Song Book dedicated to the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The theological jargon of what exactly happened on the cross can get pretty thick. That’s why for many (myself included), poets are relied upon to help us understand the magnificence and majesty of it all.  

Orsborn does a masterful job describing what happened on the cross to make salvation available to all of humankind. The “depth of human grief and sin,” our “broken peace,” our oneness with a world that doesn’t love Jesus, our propensity for light-shunning, all of this spelled out a well- deserved death. But there is one who would “not leave us in the night,” but laid aside his glories to become obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8). And the “atoning blood outpoured” by the “Crucified” restores us. “For from thy cross irradiates / A power that saves and recreates.”  

He “carried the cross” of our shame, in Bono-speak. And by doing so, he “broke the bonds” and “loosed the chains” of all who believe it. You know I believe it!  

Watchman Nee said, “What ground is left for accusation since sin’s penalty has been fully paid? The blood of the Lord has atoned for all the sins of a believer; hence there is no more condemnation in the conscience.” I’m sure it seems odd to go directly from a Watchman Nee quote to New York’s Waldorff-Astoria Hotel, but that’s where, on March 14, 2005, U2 was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During Bono’s acceptance speech, he told this story:  

We’d been campaigning for Dr. King, for his birthday to be a national holiday. And in Arizona, they’re saying no. We’ve been campaigning very, very hard for Dr. King. Some people don’t like it. Some people get very annoyed. Some people want to kill the singer. Some people are taken very seriously by the FBI, and they tell the singer he shouldn’t play the gig, because tonight, his life is at risk, and he must not go onstage. The singer laughs. You know, of course we’re playing the gig, of course we go onstage. And I’m standing there, singing ‘Pride in the Name of Love,’ and I’ve got to the third verse, and I close my eyes, and I know I’m excited about meeting my maker, but maybe not tonight. I don’t really want to meet my maker tonight. I close my eyes, and when I look up, I see Adam Clayton standing in front of me, holding his bass like only Adam Clayton can hold his bass. And you know, there’s people in this room who tell you they’d take a bullet for you, but Adam Clayton would’ve taken a bullet for me, and I guess that’s what it’s like to be in a truly great rock and roll band.  

I’m so grateful (and U should be 2) that when our eyes were closed, just at the right time, in the name of love, Jesus stood in between us and the death that awaited us. I will follow!  

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). 

ORSBORNAGAIN (34)

A devotional series by Major Rob Birks

ORSBORNAGAIN is meant to introduce the poetry of the first Poet General, Albert Orsborn (1886-1967) to a new audience and to reintroduce his works to dyed-in-the-(tropical)-wool Salvationists.

These are not new songs.

However, the lyrics are jam-packed with new life, which may be missed during corporate worship. Re-examined through scripture and experience, Rob Birks intends through an examination of these scared songs to renew the spiritual fervor of believers, and point seekers to their Savior.

Though thy waves and billows are gone o’er me,  
Night and day my meat has been my tears, 
Fain I would pour out my soul before thee, 
At whose hand my advocate appears.  
Only thou art still my soul’s defender,  
Hand of strength, and all-prevenient grace;  
Frail am I, but thou art my befriender, 
And I trust the shining of thy face.  

As the hart that panteth for the fountain, 
So I long for thee, the living God; 
To the spring that flows from out the mountain,  
Lead me forth with thine unerring rod. 
From the depths my soul has called upon thee,  
From the hill shall make thy praises known, 
For my foes shall not prevail upon me, 
By thy strength shall they be overthrown.  

By thy loving-kindness so unfailing, 
Never once hast thou forsaken me; 
O for grace that I, by prayer prevailing, 
May in faithful love remember thee! 
Lo! my soul before thine altar kneeling,  
Renders up the sacrifice of praise; 
Place thy hand upon me for my sealing,  
Thine alone, throughout my length of days.  

Albert Orsborn 
762 The Salvation Soldier – Faith and Trust  – not in the 2015 Edition of The Salvation Army Songbook

Compared to many of my friends and family members, my life has been pain-free. A bad day for me is when the morning commute takes 30 minutes instead of the 20 it should take. I complain if the wireless isn’t working at home, or if the climate in my office isn’t just right (it never is). One of the four-way stops in the small town where I live is another source of frustration for me. It’s not that difficult, people!  

The other day, I ordered a few things online and realized I had two Amazon accounts. I have no idea why that is. The same email address is connected to both accounts. In fact, I used the same password for each. The only difference is a capital letter is used at the beginning of one password, while a lower case letter is used in the other password. So, the $55 gift card (thanks, Commissioners Knaggs) I had placed on one account was not used to cover the order I placed while on my other account. Instead, the total cost was taken out of our checking account. That fact bummed me out for a couple of hours, and I was on vacation at the time!  

I could go on with a long, pathetic list of what my friend calls “first world problems,” but I believe the point has been made. My life, compared to many of my friends and family members, has been pain-free.  

Unlike Orsborn (or you, maybe?), I have never felt like the “waves and billows” were going “o’er me.” I haven’t experienced too many meals consisting of “my tears.” Most of my waves and billows and tear times have been experienced vicariously through those I know and love. A friend of mine lost a husband in a tragic, senseless, car accident. I have a sister who lost a son to a similar circumstance. I have a friend whose mother died while he was still young. One of my nieces has done battle with cancer. The wife of another longtime friend has cancer, and is only expected to live four or five more years.  

Again, I could go on and on. There is a shortage of a lot of things in this world, but pain can be found in abundance. Besides, you have your own list. “Waves and billows” similar to the ones I’ve listed may have come crashing down on you as well. Or, like me, you may have escaped the full force of the pain (so far). As friends and family members of those on a steady diet of tears, we have only a shadow understanding of suffering.  

We, all of us, regardless of the intensity of our pain and suffering, have need of an “advocate,” a “defender” of our souls, a “hand of strength,” “all-prevenient grace,” a “befriender.” And the good news of the gospel (and of this Orsborn song) is that all of these are found in “the living God.” My loved ones who have gone through and are currently going through difficult times are all intimately involved with this living God. “From the depths” their souls have called upon him, and “from the hill” they make his praises known. These people amaze me. I want to be like them when I grow up in my faith. “O for grace that I, by prayer prevailing,” may act as they have when my “waves and billows” are more potentially devastating than my current hardships (i.e., the Seattle Mariners’ losing record).  

One aspect of this song that I find comforting is the emphasis on all that belongs to “the living God.” It’s his shining face. It’s his unerring rod. It’s his strength. It’s his unfailing loving-kindness. It’s his altar. It’s his hand. Even the “waves and billows” are his. And, in the end (and forever) we can be his alone, throughout our length of days.  

As the deer* pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God (Ps. 42:1). 

* Hart (verse 2) is an old word for a deer. It is used by Shakespeare, Tolkien and, apparently, Orsborn.  

ORSBORNAGAIN (33)

A devotional series by Major Rob Birks

ORSBORNAGAIN is meant to introduce the poetry of the first Poet General, Albert Orsborn (1886-1967) to a new audience and to reintroduce his works to dyed-in-the-(tropical)-wool Salvationists.

These are not new songs.

However, the lyrics are jam-packed with new life, which may be missed during corporate worship. Re-examined through scripture and experience, Rob Birks intends through an examination of these scared songs to renew the spiritual fervor of believers, and point seekers to their Savior.

Who the child of God shall sever 
From the faith in which he stands? 
Who shall wound or who shall pluck him  
From the careful shepherd’s hands? 
Not distress or persecution, 
Neither peril nor the sword; 
For in days of tribulation 
Shines the glory of the Lord.  

His abundant grace is given 
To the heart resigned and meek,  
Mercy moves the King of Heaven  
To the penitent and weak; 
Lowly paths our Lord has taken,  
And he proved by word and deed,  
For the lonely and forsaken 
There is grace beyond all need.  

Faith is not afraid of darkness,  
Hope will triumph over loss,  
Love is not afraid of hardness,  
Patience helps to bear the cross;  
These are all the gifts of Heaven,  
Beautiful are they and free,  
Graces that the Lord has given;  
O that they may shine in me!  

Works or wealth can never buy them,  
Nor a single grace impart;  
God himself has sanctified them 
In the meek and lowly heart; 
All besides is vain endeavor. 
Failure every work of mine; 
Saviour, let thy grace for ever 
Cleanse and blend my will with thine.  

Albert Orsborn 
555 The Life of Holiness – Praise and Thanksgiving  

It happened again. Another well known, formerly well-respected individual has been found out. We’ve been through this a thousand times, so everyone knows their role. The sordid details of the scandal are being sorted into two categories by the news media: “What juicy dish will we serve up today?” and “How can we spice it up tomorrow?”  

Friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors are either standing with or against the doer of the dirty deed. Speeches are made, tears are cried, and resignations are tendered and accepted. Pictures and prose none of us needs to see or read are posted everywhere, so seeing and reading them are all but inescapable. Rights are sold for book and TV movie adaptations. In a day or two, the over-exposed individual will be on the “Today” show. Next week, it’s the People Magazine cover story, and the late night talk show circuit. “Celebrity Apprentice” can’t be too far down the road. Nobody is too sure if he or she will get hired or elected or married again. This person has fallen from grace. Or have they?  

It sounds right at first, because we’ve heard the term so often. Referring to someone who used to have it all together, before it all came crumbling down, one might say: “That was before his fall from grace.” The phrase is used to describe the politician, the child star, the athlete, the man of the cloth, or the military leader who used to be someone people looked up to. Then something happened—an affair, an arrest, a tirade—and that’s it. All they had worked so hard to achieve (in most cases)—fame, respect, public trust—comes down hard, often taking a few others out as well. The problem is, the term comes straight from Scripture, and doesn’t describe someone who had it all together and lost it. It also doesn’t describe a person who used to be considered a good Christian, and now is considered a bad Christian (or worse).  

In the fifth chapter of Galatians, the Apostle Paul is addressing a serious situation in which Jewish believers were demanding that Gentile believers be subject to the demands of the Jewish law. To the Gentiles who were trying to live a new life by observing old laws, Paul wrote: You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (v. 4).  

So, to fall from grace really describes someone who is attempting to be justified by what they do and don’t do. A person who has fallen from grace, according to the Bible, is someone who has left Jesus out of their personal plan for holy living. Instead, they have replaced him with rules, rituals, regulations and rites. To this person, Paul says: You’ve missed the point. It’s all about Jesus! It’s all about grace! It’s not about how good we can be without Jesus. It’s about how good Jesus was and is to us, by saving us, cleaning us up, and keeping us saved.  

This understanding turns the phrase on its end.  

Two men: One a religious leader who looks perfect, smiles pretty, and preaches powerfully, but has little time for Jesus. The other, a man with a drug addiction, who lives on the streets, attends church when there’s a meal served, but clings to Jesus for dear life. Which man has fallen from grace? Exactly! I believe Orsborn would agree with Paul and me on this. In this song he writes about “abundant grace,” “grace beyond all need,” “graces that the Lord has given,” a grace which “works” or “wealth” could never buy, a grace that God has sanctified in the hearts of his followers, a Jesus-grace, forever cleansing us, and blending our will with his. Amazing grace!  

For myself, for yourself, for our little part of the universal Christian church, I pray that we never fall from grace, and always fall into it!  

All besides is vain endeavor. Failure every work of mine.  

ORSBORNAGAIN (32)

A devotional series by Major Rob Birks

ORSBORNAGAIN is meant to introduce the poetry of the first Poet General, Albert Orsborn (1886-1967) to a new audience and to reintroduce his works to dyed-in-the-(tropical)-wool Salvationists.

These are not new songs.

However, the lyrics are jam-packed with new life, which may be missed during corporate worship. Re-examined through scripture and experience, Rob Birks intends through an examination of these scared songs to renew the spiritual fervor of believers, and point seekers to their Savior.

I know thee who thou art, 
And what thy healing name; 
For when my fainting heart 
The burden nigh o’ercame, 
I saw thy footprints on my road  
Where lately passed the Son of God.  

Thy name is joined with mine  
By every human tie, 
And my new name is thine, 
A child of God am I;  
And never more alone, since thou  
Art on the road beside me now.  

Beside thee as I walk, 
I will delight in thee 
In sweet communion talk 
Of all thou art to me; 
The beauty of thy face behold  
And know thy mercies manifold.  

Let nothing draw me back  
Or turn my heart from thee,  
But by the Calvary track  
Bring me at last to see  
The courts of God, that city fair, 
And find my name is written there.  

Albert Orsborn 
79 The Eternal God – God the Son, The Name of Jesus

My name is Robert H. Birks, but I go by Rob. A few of my six siblings call me Bob, due to an inexplicable phase I went through in my last few years of elementary school. Some of my nephews and nieces call me Uncle Bob (presumably because they learned to talk during my last few years of elementary school). My mom calls me Robert, as does my dad, although sometimes he calls me Son. Stacy usually calls me Rob, but as is the case with most people in love, she has a few choice terms of endearment for me as well. My daughter, Emily, calls me Daddy. My son, Graham, calls me Dad. My daughter, Lauren, calls me Pops. I have friends that call me Rob-Bob, (inspired by a late 80s episode of “Family Ties”). I have a friend who calls me Bobby (and I call her Schmancy). Another friend calls me Mr. Birks (and I call him Jean Valjean or 1st John). I have another friend who calls me Hiram (because he thinks that’s what the “H” stands for). When I served as the christian education director at Camp Arnold in the summer of 1989, my nickname was Reverend Birks. And there are other names that people call me. Some of those names I can’t currently recall. Some I can recall, but wish I couldn’t.  

Some names have literal meanings. For instance, the name Fulton (to pull one out of the air) either means “from the people’s estate,” or “bird catcher,” depending on which website you check. Other names may only have a sentimental meaning, or they are important for family reasons. However, you will most likely still be able to find a bookmark in a Christian bookstore that will tell you those names mean “gift of God” or “blessed one.”  

My favorite name is Jesus. Again, depending on who you ask, or what source you reference, it either means “God saves” or “God is salvation.” Either one works for me, literally. My works couldn’t and can’t save me. Only the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross could make salvation possible for me, and for you, too!  

Like me, Jesus had a few nicknames. They were way better than Bob or Schmancy, and much more meaningful than Hiram. Here are just a few to look up, write down, and meditate on: Living Stone (1 Peter 2:4), Advocate (1 John 2:1), Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8), Author of Salvation (Heb. 5:9), Bread of Life (John 6:35), Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16), Wonderful Counselor (Is. 9:6), Deliverer (Rom. 11:26), Gate of the Sheep (John 10:7), Everlasting God (Is. 40:28), Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20), High Priest (Heb. 5:10), King of Kings (Rev. 19:16), Lamb of God (John 1:29), Light of the World (John 8:12, 9:5), Lord of All (Acts 10:36), Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8), Lord of Lords (Rev. 17:14), Messiah (John 1:41, 4:25), Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6), Redeemer (Is. 59:20), Son of David (Luke 18:39), Son of God (Matt. 27:54), Son of Man (John 8:28), The Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), The Vine (John 15:5), The Way (John 14:6), The Truth (John 14:6), and The Life (John 14:6; Col. 3:4).  

As I considered this piece from Orsborn, these two choruses kept coming to mind. They go back a few years, but truth is timeless, right?  

Jesus, name above all names. 
Beautiful Savior, Glorious Lord. 
Emmanuel, God is with us. 
Blessed Redeemer, Living Word. 

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, 
Sweetest name I know. 
Fills my every longing, 
Keeps me singing as I go. (SASB 390) 

It’s important to note that in the final verse of this Orsborn song, he shifts from focusing on the name of Jesus to his desire to stay true (“by the Calvary track”) and one day see the place where his own name is written. This is a reference to Revelation 20:11-15, where we read that those whose names are written in the book of life are saved, while those whose names are not found there are thrown into the lake of fire.  

In the end, I don’t really care what name people call me by, good or bad. I only want to be assured that my name is known by Jesus and recorded in his book. Thankfully, mercifully, Jesus means “God saves!”  

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). 

ORSBORNAGAIN (31)

A devotional series by Major Rob Birks

ORSBORNAGAIN is meant to introduce the poetry of the first Poet General, Albert Orsborn (1886-1967) to a new audience and to reintroduce his works to dyed-in-the-(tropical)-wool Salvationists.

These are not new songs.

However, the lyrics are jam-packed with new life, which may be missed during corporate worship. Re-examined through scripture and experience, Rob Birks intends through an examination of these scared songs to renew the spiritual fervor of believers, and point seekers to their Savior.

Others he saved, himself he cannot save, 
Railed they against him on the cross above; 
They were the bondsmen by their pride enslaved:  
He was the freeman, bound alone by love.  

Others he saved, himself he cannot save;  
He was the shepherd, dying for his sheep.  
No man can take it, but his life he gave,  
From death returning, all his own to keep.  

Others he saved, himself he would not save,  
Though hosts of angels waited his command;  
He marched to victory through an open grave,  
Flung wide life’s portals with his mighty hand.  

Others he saved, himself he did not save;  
Lonely, forsaken, our sinbearer he, 
Love to the utmost for my soul he gave;  
Lord, by that love I bind myself to thee.  

Albert Orsborn 
130 The Lord Jesus Christ – Atoning Work  – not in the 2015 edition of The Salvation Army Songbook.

In the introduction of this book, and in a few of the entries, I have referred to General Albert Orsborn as the first Poet General. That’s because The Salvation Army has had (at least) two international leaders who were well versed in the art of poetry. The second Poet General was John Gowans, who led our worldwide movement from 1999-2002. Gowans was prolific, writing three O Lord books of prayer poems, an autobiography entitled There’s A Boy Here, and co-writing 10 musicals in 23 years (1967-1990) with his friend General John Larsson.  

The songwriting team of Gowans and Larsson is legendary in the Army (think Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Len- non and McCartney, or Elton John and Bernie Taupin, or Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, depending on your age or musical taste). Nineteen Gowans and Larsson songs are in the current version of The Salvation Army Song Book.  

I am writing this one week after the second Poet General was promoted to glory, which is how Salvationists describe the blessing of going to be with Jesus. Yesterday, in London, a funeral and thanksgiving service for the life of General John Gowans was held. Appropriately (on more than one level), one of Albert Orsborn’s songs, “My Life Must Be Christ’s Broken Bread,” was sung at Gowans’ committal service.  

In the Orsborn song we have before us, the broken Bread of Life is sacrificially offering himself for humankind, making life possible for humankind. When we took a look at “Son of God! Thy Cross Beholding” (SASB 185), we considered the advent question: Why did Jesus become a man? According to this song the answer to that question seems clear: to save OTHERS! I’m sure the first and second Poet Generals would’ve agreed on many things (cricket over baseball, for instance). But I am certain they agree that Jesus came to save the world! Here’s proof (as if you’re requiring it) of Gowans’ stance on why Jesus came, in the form of the song lyrics for “He Came To Give Us Life” (from 1972 Gowans and Larsson musical, Jesus Folk):  

He came to give us life in all its fullness, 
He came to make the blind to see, 
He came to banish death and doubt and darkness,

He came to set his people free. 
He liberating love imparted, 
He taught men once again to smile; 
He came to bind the broken hearted, 
And God and man to reconcile. 
He came to give us life in all its fullness, 
He came to make the blind to see, 
He came to banish death and doubt and darkness,

He came to set his people free. 
He came to set us free! 

Gowans was a childhood hero of mine. His look, his style, his voice—he was some kind of Salvation Army rock star in my eyes. Once, at an event I attended where he was the visiting leader, I approached him with my copy of his second O Lord book in my hands. I asked him to sign his name by his favorite piece. The poem he chose is called Bridge:  

I want to be a bridge, 
Though I’m not strong. 
I want to be a bridge 
So wide, so long 
That over me from doubt 
To faith may pass 
The lad in search of God, 
The seeking lass. 
Put steel into my faith 
And concrete too, That men may travel 
Over me To You! 

https://youtu.be/J2pDmqqdApk

Underneath the poem he wrote, “O Lord … bless Robert! Amen,” and signed his name. Incidentally (but not coincidentally), a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge (taken by Major Ron Toy) shares the page with the poem. I am blessed, currently, to be serving Jesus and OTHERS in the city by the bay. Often (when the Father and the fog allow it) I see that bridge and am reminded of this poem and the prayer that God would build the author and his admirer into strong structures, connecting people (over troubled water) to his Son.  

May it be so in my ransomed life and yours. Note the first line of each verse. We are saved to save, not saved to survive!  

ORSBORNAGAIN (30)

A devotional series by Major Rob Birks

ORSBORNAGAIN is meant to introduce the poetry of the first Poet General, Albert Orsborn (1886-1967) to a new audience and to reintroduce his works to dyed-in-the-(tropical)-wool Salvationists.

These are not new songs.

However, the lyrics are jam-packed with new life, which may be missed during corporate worship. Re-examined through scripture and experience, Rob Birks intends through an examination of these scared songs to renew the spiritual fervor of believers, and point seekers to their Savior.

O love upon a cross impaled, 
My contrite heart is drawn to thee; 
Are thine the hands my pride has nailed,  
And thine the sorrows borne for me?  
Are such the wounds my sin decrees? 
I fall in shame upon my knees.  

’Twere not for sinners such as I  
To gaze upon thy sore distress,  
Or comprehend thy bitter cry  
Of God-forsaken loneliness.  
I shelter from such agonies  
Beneath thy cross, upon my knees.  

Forgive! Forgive! I hear thee plead;  
And me forgive! I instant cry. 
For me thy wounds shall intercede,  
For me thy prayer shall make reply; 
I take the grace that flows from these,  
In saving faith, upon my knees.  

Now take thy throne, O Crucified,  
And be my love-anointed King!  
The weapons of my sinful pride  
Are broken by thy suffering.  
A captive to love’s victories, 
I yield, I yield upon my knees.  

Albert Orsborn 
189 God The Son – The Suffering and Death of Jesus

On May 13, 1981, a little over five months after John Lennon was shot and killed and less than seven weeks after an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II was shot four times by Mehmet Ali Agca. The crime took place in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Square. The pope had been greeting and blessing the crowds when the sound of shots pierced through the sound of shouts. The pontiff slumped into his seat, and the vehicle sped away.  

I was 13 in May of 1981, living with my parents in Shoreline, Washington. Far from interested in world news or current events, my life centered on street football and mom’s cooking. As long as the rain held off, and I made it in by dinnertime, life was good. So it’s no surprise that I don’t remember this assassination attempt.  

What I do remember is a photo that was published two years after the shooting, which showed the pope visiting with Agca in the would-be assassin’s prison cell. That picture made a huge impact on me as a teenager. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but that particular picture illustrated one word for me … FORGIVENESS.  

The kind of forgiveness that Pope John Paul II demonstrated in that cell in 1983 was foreign to me, but compelling. I couldn’t imagine myself even visiting, much less forgiving, some guy who tried to shoot me, but I knew it was right. It wasn’t until adulthood that I discovered the true quality of the forgiveness which the pope offered the man who tried to kill him. While it’s true that the pope visited Agca two years after the shooting in St. Peter’s Square, forgiveness was offered much earlier. The pope forgave Agca publically on May 17, 1981, just four days after the assassination attempt. Reports indicate, however, that the pope privately forgave Agca in the ambulance on his way to the hospital, immediately following the shooting. Wow! He attributes the power to pronounce forgiveness so early on to “the fruit of a particular grace” given to him by Jesus. In a kind of open letter on the power of forgiveness written five months after the attack, the pope wrote, “The act of forgiveness is the first and fundamental condition so that we aren’t divided and placed one against another like enemies.”  

In the Orsborn song we’re considering here, the first Poet General is once again contemplating the cross of Christ. The first line of the third verse recalls one of the seven statements Jesus made while dying in our place: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Orsborn’s very next line takes this cross-contemplation to another level. It’s one thing to look at the cross of Christ and acknowledge that Jesus forgave those who killed him. That’s history. That’s fact. It’s a very different and much deeper thing to look at the cross of Christ and acknowledge our own need for Jesus to forgive. That’s our story. That’s faith. “And me forgive! I instant cry.”  

Once we see our own face in the crucifying crowd, and let the words of Jesus as recorded in Luke 23:34 wash over us, cleansing us, it is crucial to extend forgiveness to OTHERS. In forgiving the man who shot him four times, and then following up with a visit, Pope John Paul II was exemplifying Christlikeness. No less is required of us. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matt. 6:15).  

That’s pretty clear-cut, and it cuts right through any lame excuses we may try to make for not forgiving someone. Whether wounded by actual bullets, or as a result of someone just shooting their mouth off in our direction, our right response, the only Christlike response, is forgiveness. One final observation on this particular Orsborn song: I like how the last line of each of the four verses makes one thing very clear: Knees Know No Season!  

ORSBORNAGAIN (29)

A devotional series by Major Rob Birks

ORSBORNAGAIN is meant to introduce the poetry of the first Poet General, Albert Orsborn (1886-1967) to a new audience and to reintroduce his works to dyed-in-the-(tropical)-wool Salvationists.

These are not new songs.

However, the lyrics are jam-packed with new life, which may be missed during corporate worship. Re-examined through scripture and experience, Rob Birks intends through an examination of these scared songs to renew the spiritual fervor of believers, and point seekers to their Savior.

In the shadow of the cross 
Side by side with bitter loss,  
Bloomed a garden, passing fair,  
And they laid the Saviour there.  
Sad, they thought his day was done,  
But, afar, his rising sun 
Flung a quenchless ray across 
To the garden near the cross.  

Not for long the grave prevailed;  
When the dreary night had paled  
Into God’s appointed day, 
Angels rolled the stone away.  
Christ, the Lord of truth and might,  
Faring forth in robes of light,  
Drove the fearful shades of loss  
From the garden near the cross.  

Jesus, give to us to know:  
Though in loneliness we sow,  
We shall pluck the fairest flower  
In the sacrificial hour. 
Sorrow hides beneath her wings  
Recompense for sufferings, 
And the blessing waits for us 
In the garden near the cross.  

Albert Orsborn 
145 The Lord Jesus Christ – Resurrection and Ascension  – not in 2015 edition of The Salvation Army Songbook

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:10-11). 

When I was a kid, my friends and I loved to play “war” and “cops and robbers” (and sometimes “Starsky and Hutch”). After running around, jumping over (low) hedges, and hiding behind trees, somebody had to “die.” Since we used toy guns or fingers, general consensus decided who had to play dead and who lived to rob another bank, fight another battle, or catch another bad guy. Obviously, nobody wanted to be the first to go, but invisible force shields only work for so long. With daylight fleeting, homework to do, and dinner to eat, no one had to play dead for more than a few minutes.  

Speaking of playing dead, every once in a while I am reminded of a Jon Lovitz “Saturday Night Live” character from the late 80s. The sketch was called “Master Thespian.” Lovitz dressed in a silky robe and an ascot, spoke loudly with an over-the-top Shakespearean accent, and displayed his dramatic prowess for all to see (and hear). Inevitably during the sketch, the master thespian would “die” a dramatic death, only to “resurrect” with a victorious shout of “Acting!’ Even as I typed that description, hilarious memories flooded my mind. “Brilliant!”  

A similar, more recent, example of a faked fatality and an unreal resurrection can be seen in the latest 007 movie, Skyfall. Early on in the film Daniel Craig, as James Bond, is shot by friendly fire (my least favorite oxymoron), which came at the order of M, Bond’s boss and mentor. Bond is presumed dead, but (SPOILER ALERT) he isn’t. When he hears that MI6 has been hit, he returns to offer his (secret) services to M and to his country. Not long after that, he meets his nemesis, former MI6 agent Raoul Silva, played by the awesomely creepy Javier Bardem. This great dialogue takes place in that scene:  

Bond: Everybody needs a hobby.  

Silva: So what’s your hobby?

Bond: Resurrection.  

Faking death and resurrection is all fun and games for kids playing outside or for a comedian on a comedy show. It can add to the tension and excitement of an action movie. Spiritually speaking, however, death can’t be faked. Well, actually it can, but there is no real resurrection without an actual death. In these words from Orsborn we see that same truth. The resurrection of Jesus would not be that big of a deal if he hadn’t actually died. I know that statement sounds elementary, but it’s crucial for us to believe. If we’re to be Christlike, the same is true for us; there is no real resurrection without an actual death.  

Too many Christians are lacking the resurrection power purchased for and promised to every Jesus follower, by Jesus himself. Why are we lacking it? To paraphrase James 4:2, we have not because we die not. Playing dead and faking resurrection is simple. Attend church regularly. Tithe. Dress up. Say the right things, know the right people, and sing the right songs. Like the kid and the comedian, playing dead can be fun and funny. Like the secret agent, resurrection can be like any other hobby.  

Thankfully, there is another way, a better way, the Jesus way. The apostle Paul makes it clear that we have a share in resurrection if we have a share in crucifixion: For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his (Rom. 6:5).  

And the blessing waits for us 
In the garden near the cross