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 

ORSBORNAGAIN (28)

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.

Son of God! Thy cross beholding,  
Hearing thy expiring cry, 
All our guilt and shame unfolding,  
Melt the heart and dim the eye.  
King of Glory,  
Camest thou to earth to die?  

Is it thus, O Christ eternal, 
Right shall reign and sin shall cease?  
Come we to the joy supernal 
By thy dying, Prince of Peace?  
Matchless Jesus, 
Break our bonds and give release.  

Past the reach of all despising,  
Past man’s puny judgment bar,  
Now we see thy light arising,  
Hope is singing from afar.  
Hail Immanuel,  
Brighter than the morning star!  

Lo, we yield thee adoration;  
Glory crowns thy sacred brow,  
And the saints of every nation 
At thy feet in reverence bow.  
Hallelujah!  
In thy cross we triumph now.  

Albert Orsborn 
185 The Lord Jesus Christ – Praise and Worship   – not in 2015 edition of The Salvation Army Songbook

We’ve already seen that Orsborn’s work is Christ-centric and cross-centric. This song is a classic example. It begins with the poet wondering as he contemplates Christ on the cross. It ends with the poet, along with “saints of every nation,” worshiping and finding victory in the cross of Christ.  

As I write this, Stacy and I are preparing to visit a Salvation Army corps (church) in the division where we currently serve. Truth be told, Stacy is preparing; I’m praying through and commenting on ORSBORNAGAIN (again)—this song in particular. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of the Advent season. The theme for the advent material the corps is using is “Why the Nativity?” and this Sunday asks the question, “Why did Jesus become a man?” This Orsborn song asks the same question in a few different ways: “King of Glory, camest thou to earth to die?” and “Come we to the joy supernal / By thy dying, Prince of Peace?”  

Christian theologians have asked and attempted to answer this question for over 2,000 years. The general consensus is that, while there are many reasons Jesus became a man—to fulfill prophecy, to identify with the human experience, to rule in the line of David, and to reveal the Father—there is no getting around the fact that his main mission was to save the world. These Christian authors concur: Oswald Chambers writes, “The Incarnation was not for the Self-realization of God, but for the purpose of removing sin and reinstating humanity into communion with God,” and C. S. Lewis states, “The Son of God became man to enable men to become sons of God.”  

While there is no getting around the fact that Jesus came to save us, it is crucial to get our heads and our hearts around it, by faith. After all, we all need saving.  

In 2006, Pulitzer Prize winning historian and biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, was published. It took me a while, but I read it, and was amazed at all that I never knew about the 16th President of the United States. As a kid in school, I was fascinated by how Abraham Lincoln died. Team of Rivals made me much more interested in how Lincoln lived.  

For instance, after he won the presidency, Lincoln placed men in his cabinet who had previously shown nothing but disdain for him. Why? He believed they were the best men for the job, and for the country. The Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln, is based on the sections of Team of Rivals that deal with the last four months of Lincoln’s life, and his pursuit of the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. After reading the book, or viewing the film, one is left with the impression that abolishing slavery in the U.S. was the main mission of Lincoln’s life.  

In an 1862 letter, Lincoln wrote, “Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life.”  

Abraham Lincoln adhered to his purpose. He kept his resolution. He proclaimed all slaves to be free, and then set out to make it happen. Many lives were lost in the process, and he paid the ultimate price in dying for his life’s purpose.  

The “Son of God,” the “King of Glory,” the “Prince of Peace,” “Christ eternal,” our “Immanuel” also paid the ultimate price for his life’s purpose. From the cradle to the cross, the salvation of the world was first and foremost on his mind. Why did Jesus become a man? It was to free you, to free me, to free the world. Only the “matchless Jesus” can “break our bonds and give release.” Hallelujah!  

So, what will you do with your freedom? We, all of us, would do well to take a cue from Orsborn, and live Christ- centric and cross-centric lives. If the cross of Christ doesn’t cause us to wonder and to worship, if contemplating the cross doesn’t bring us to tears and to triumph, we’ve missed the point and purpose of Christ’s life and our own.  

He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing (1 Peter 2:24 MSG).  

ORSBORNAGAIN (27)

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.

Not unto us, O Lord, 
But unto thy great name;  
Our trumpets are awake,  
Our banners are aflame, 
We boast no battle ever won;  
The victory is thine alone.  

We were that foolish thing  
Unversed in worldly ways, 
Which thou didst choose and use 
Unto thy greater praise,  
Called and commissioned from afar  
To bring to naught the things that are.  

A hundred anthems rise 
For every fighting year 
Since thou, as Lord of hosts,  
Our captain did appear  
To sanctify, to take command 
And bring us to the promised land.  

Not yet we hail the day  
When all to thee shall yield,  
But we behold thee stand  
Upon our battlefield. 
And this alone shall ever be  
Our sign and seal of victory.  

Albert Orsborn 
969 – Our Response to God – Life & Service, Warfare

“Trumpets,” “banners,” “anthems”—I love a parade! Most people do, I think, to some degree. The imagery in this song leads me to believe that Orsborn envisioned The Salvation Army as a parade of formerly foolish types, “called and commissioned,” cleaned and commanded by the “captain,” whose presence is “our sign and seal of victory.” Great stuff! But what if the parade marches off course? What if the parade becomes the thing? God, help us! (That was a prayer, by the way.) Many parades, most notably the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, involve balloons. Here’s a cautionary tale of balloons gone bad:  

In a village far from wherever you are as you read this, there lived a people who were very poor, but very happy; poor because money was scarce, happy because they knew their place and purpose in the world. Their village had been built on the southern side of a tremendously large sinkhole. For centuries, people traveling north would fall helplessly into the sinkhole, never to be seen or heard from again. When this came to the attention of the ruler of the land, he commissioned a village to be erected on the southern side of the hole for the sole purpose of warning travelers away from danger and death. And so, the town was raised (not pretty, but functional) and the community developed (not pretty, but friendly and faithful). They knew what to do; their mission was clear: warn people and steer them away from falling into the pit.  

The ruler’s plan worked. Countless lives were saved. For several years, the lifesaving village developed new ways of helping travelers avoid the sinkhole on their journey north. One of the most creative ideas was the “balloon brigade.” Members of the village would blow up bright balloons and place them around the edges of the pit. This served at least two purposes: creating beauty in a place which desperately needed beauty, and (most importantly) catching the attention of weary travelers, and saving their lives.  

After a century or so, however, something went terribly wrong. The balloon plan didn’t seem to be working any longer. Or at least the plan wasn’t working as well as it had in the early days. Most travelers either didn’t see the balloons, or saw them and weren’t curious enough to inquire as to their purpose. This trend led to innumerable deaths. One might think this would’ve caused the village some concern. One would be wrong. While it’s true that some in the village attempted to sound the alarm and questioned the effectiveness of the balloon brigade, they were not taken seriously. In fact, these warnings and wonderings were seen by the village elders as rebellion against the ruler’s original plan for the village. “We were built to blow up balloons” was the party line of the day. So those who thought differently (i.e., “the village was built to save lives”) were stuck with one of three choices:  

  1. Try something new on their own, though it would be unsanctioned and unsupported by the village.  
  1. Leave for another village that welcomed new life saving ideas and techniques.  
  1. Shut up, pull up a chair, and blow all of their hot air into balloons.  

It should be noted that at some point the blown up balloons were no longer even placed on the edges of the sinkhole. Instead, balloons decorated the inside walls of the village homes and gathering places. The balloons became the thing. Much time, energy and money was invested into the production and celebration of balloons. And the travelers kept walking, falling and dying.  

Here is where the account comes to an end. I have no idea what happened to the village, the sinkhole, the travelers, or the balloon brigade. Do you?  

When an Army settles down to the acceptance of a code and is content to stitch its trophies on its banners and admire its own history, that army is lost. —Albert Orsborn (as quoted on the wall at the William Booth Birthplace Museum in Nottingham, England)  

Not unto us, O Lord, but unto thy great name …  

ORSBORNAGAIN (26)

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 their appointed days 
All things their maker praise, 
For all are lovely in their time 
And in their varied ways; 
Yet true it is to say, 
All beauty fades away 
Save that which in the heart resides  
And cannot know decay.  

As gently falling dew 
Bids nature smile anew, 
So does the beauty of the Lord  
True comeliness renew; 
It glorifies our Lord, 
Shows forth the living word, 
So men beholding must confess  
The saving grace of God.  

Come, Saviour, and refine 
This sinful heart of mine,  
Removing everything that mars  
The loveliness divine;  
O make and keep me clean, 
Spare not one lurking sin, 
So shall my life each day proclaim  
The Christ who dwells within.  

Albert Orsborn 
494 The Life of Holiness – Consecration and Service  – Not in 2015 edition of The Salvation Army Songbook

I have a gift (some family members might argue it’s more of a curse) for noticing song similarities. If a song comes on, I will often recognize a musical or lyrical portion of it that reminds me of another song. This gift impresses me to no end, but it produces very different reactions from those who are trying to listen to and enjoy the song that’s playing.  

Some song similarities are more obvious than others. Some, I’m sure, are accidental. Others, I assume, are intentional nods to the work of other songwriters. Some songs are similar because they have the same muse, or source of inspiration. There are similar songs about romance, friendships, cars, even days of the week. Take Mondays for example. For that one day alone, I just thought of six songs (with the help of my daughter, Lauren): “Rainy Days And Mondays” by the Carpenters; “Monday, Monday” by The Mamas & The Pa- pas; “Manic Monday” by The Bangles; “Monday” by Wilco; “Monday Morning” by Death Cab For Cutie; and “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats. All six are very different songs, written and recorded by very different artists. Each one, however, is based on the same premise—Mondays are very different from the other six days of the week.  

Reading this beauty on beauty from Orsborn reminds me of the lyrics of a modern day worship classic from composer James Curnow:  

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, 
Worship the Lord in the spirit of praise, 
Bow down before him, 
Love and adore him, 
Come let us worship in spirit and truth. 

These two songs have obvious similarities. Both works focus on praising God, and both works make it clear that the praise that pleases God is that which flows from a pure heart, a lovely life. There is no chance that these two pieces are accidentally similar. Since Curnow was raised in The Salvation Army, I suppose his piece could be a bit of a nod to Orsborn’s earlier work. However, the strongest evidence points to the fact that both of these songwriters were well versed in Scripture, and found their inspiration in 1 Chronicles 16:29: Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness (KJV).  

What does holiness beauty look like? One thing’s for sure, it’s not only skin deep. After all, we tend to look at outward appearances, while God looks for and sees a beauty that runs much deeper (1 Sam. 16:7). Wait, here’s another thing that’s for sure about holiness beauty—it’s not only in the eye of the beholder. Our holiness is not beautiful because some- one else sees something in us they like. It’s beautiful because our Savior refines our sinful hearts, “removing everything that mars the loveliness divine.” Also, the worship expressed by a holiness beauty may not look or sound like what we or OTHERS are expecting.  

Several years ago, I was in a gathering where the speaker played a video in which of a lot of beautiful, apparently well- off, seemingly happy white people were worshipping together. However, the video’s sound was muted. Instead, Stevie Wonder’s “Village Ghetto Land” played through the chapel speakers. That song described scenes that were anything but beautiful. The contrast of the images we saw and the lyrics we heard was convicting. Holiness beauties worship, like Curnow wrote and the Bible teaches (John 4:24), “in Spirit and in truth.” And the truth is, worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness begins with clean hands and a pure heart (Ps. 24:4) and continues in our chapels and sanctuaries.  

But holiness beauty must also make its way into the schools we attend, our places of business, the streets and parts of town we’ve tried to avoid, the “Village Ghetto Land.” God’s not as interested in 60-minute worship services as he is in 24/7 services of worship. To borrow from another modern day songwriter, Sara Groves, our beautified lives should “add to the beauty” around us.  

Lauren Scruggs knows about both superficial and sanctified beauty. She is the model and fashion blogger whose life was changed dramatically the night she walked into the spinning propeller of a plane she had just exited. She lost an eye and an arm, and her face will never be what it once was. After a long and difficult rehabilitation, however, her holiness beauty still shines for all to see. She cites her faith in Jesus as her salvation and strength.  

It seems to me this is exactly what Orsborn is getting at in these three verses—a formerly marred life, purified by the Spirit, praising God, and proclaiming the beautiful Christ within.  

This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful. —Sara Groves  

ORSBORNAGAIN (25)

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.

Unto thee will I cry, 
Shepherd, hear my prayer! 
Poor and needy am I, 
Shepherd, hear my prayer! 
Deep is calling unto deep. 
Rugged are the heights, and steep;

Guide my steps and keep; 
Hear, O hear my prayer! 
Hear, O hear my prayer!  

Where the tempest is loud,  
Shepherd, hear my prayer!  
’Mid the darkness and cloud,  
Shepherd, hear my prayer 
Let me hear thy voice afar,  
Coming with the morning star;  
True thy mercies are!  
Hear, O hear my prayer!  
Hear, O hear my prayer!  

Let the foe not prevail,  
Shepherd, hear my prayer! 
My resources would fail,  
Shepherd, hear my prayer!  
Order all my steps aright, 
Carry me from height to height;  
Yonder shines the light!  
Shepherd, lead me there! 
Lead me safely there!  

Albert Orsborn 
794 Our Response to God – Holiness, Means of Grace, Prayer

Considering the prayerful poetry Orsborn has offered here, it seems wrong to do anything but consider and pray through this psalm of David. (For musical accompaniment, check out Jon Foreman’s “House of God, Forever.”)  

Psalm 23  
A psalm of David.  

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures, 
he leads me beside quiet waters, 
he refreshes my soul.  
He guides me along the right paths  
for his name’s sake. 
Even though I walk 
through the darkest valley,  
I will fear no evil, 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me 
in the presence of my enemies. 
You anoint my head with oil; 
my cup overflows. 
Surely your goodness and love will follow me  
all the days of my life, 
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD  
forever.  

Psalm 23 (MSG)  
A David Psalm  

GOD, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.  
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,  
you find me quiet pools to drink from.  
True to your word, 
you let me catch my breath 
and send me in the right direction. 

 
Even when the way goes through  
Death Valley, 
I’m not afraid 
when you walk at my side.  
Your trusty shepherd’s crook  
makes me feel secure.

 
You serve me a six-course dinner 
right in front of my enemies.  
You revive my drooping head; 
my cup brims with blessing. 

 
Your beauty and love chase after me  
every day of my life. 
I’m back home in the house of GOD  
for the rest of my life.  

As you finish up reading for today, enjoy this archival version of Psalm 23 (message version) written by Ivor Bosanko, sung by the WMI Chorus and conducted by Janette Bosanko.

No Lion or Bear can ever surprise our ever-watchful guardian or overcome our Almighty Deliverer. —D.L. Moody