Have you ever noticed how often birds appear in the Bible? Owls of all types, eagles, ospreys, hawks, sea gulls and more all figure into God’s story. Noah sent out a raven and then a dove. Elijah was fed by ravens. In Psalm 84 the writer says of heaven: “How lovely is your dwelling place O Lord of hosts!” and then goes on to remark that the sparrow finds a home in the court of the living God and the swallow builds a nest at the altar of the Lord of Hosts.
Jesus however noted that sparrows were cheap. You could buy ten for a penny. But God loves them so much that not a one can fall to the earth without God noticing. To God, we are worth much more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31), and the Lord is watching after us with even greater care.
Civilla Martin was traveling with her preacher husband in 1905 when they stopped for a visit with their close friends, the Doolittles. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedfast for twenty years. Her husband was wheel-chair bound. Yet, their attitudes were inspirational and encouraging. “How could they always be so . . . up?” Civilla asked. Mr. Doolittle replied with a grin: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”
Later that evening Civilla wrote these words that became a gospel hymn:
Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home
when Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he!
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.
The song isn’t in our congregation’s hymnal, but another of Civilla’s is:
Be not dismayed whate’re betide
God will take care of you.
Time is filled with swift transition.
Naught of earth unmoved can stand.
Build your hopes on things eternal.
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.
Before taking us to Asia as missionaries in 1961, my father traveled all over the United States raising money for the effort. He was often told: “Don’t forget the folks back home,” and to be sure he didn’t, churches would make tapes of congregational singing and give them to him. On one of those tapes, from a church in Florida, was this hymn. It’s where I learned it. Dad loved it and we’d often sing it as a family.
Churches don’t sing it much anymore and so it remained but a memory until 2010 and the remake of the movie “True Grit.” As I listened to the sound track (music only), I recognized the tune and the words came back in a flood of memories. I used that sound track at my father’s funeral.
Though the words were written by Jennie Wilson (1856-1913), the music that made it popular was composed by F.L. Eiland (1860-1909) who wrote some 300 hymns himself during his short life. Eiland, a member of the Church of Christ, lived in Texas and established a singing school in Waco, attended by (among others) Tillit S. Teddlie (who wrote “Heaven Holds All to Me” and many others).
Chances are, some of you know the Ray Charles song “You Don’t Know Me” (also covered by Meryl Streep) or the Dean Martin song “In the Misty Moonlight” or Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby.” All these and more were written by Cindy Walker – who was F.L. Eiland’s grandaughter.
Eiland also wrote “Look Away From The Cross” but my favorite remains “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.”
Trust in Him who will not leave you
Whatsoever years may bring.
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view.
The Jordan River originates with the melting snows of Mt. Hermon, nine thousand feet high. Four streams flow forty miles and merge into the Sea of Galilee. The rabbis used to say: “Jehovah has made seven seas, but the Sea of Galilee is his delight.”
It was beside the Galilee that commerce flourished in Jesus’ day. It was there people found mineral springs to sooth the discomforts of the sick. And it was there that Jesus performed most of his miracles and preached his great sermons.
The first verse of “There is a Sea” E.L. Jorgenson refers to this Sea of Galilee.
There is a sea which, day by day, receives the rippling rills
and streams that spring from wells of God, or fall from cedared hills.
But what it thus receives, it gives, with a glad unsparing hand.
The result is a stream more wide, with deeper tide, which flows on to a lower land.
From the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan drops another 700 feet over 65 miles to the Dead Sea (1275 ft. below sea level). When the beautiful water from Mt. Hermon arrives here, it stays here. There is no outlet. Locked in by mountains, the sea is one giant evaporating pan. Only 2-4 inches of rain fall here each year. The temperature varies from 77 to 124 degrees. The water evaporates leaving only minerals. A third of the lake is salt. Nothing lives there, and anything living in the Jordan dies when it arrives in the Dead Sea. In the second verse of the song, the Dead Sea is described.
There is a sea which day by day receives this fuller tide.
But all its store it keeps, nor gives to shore nor sea beside.
Its Jordan stream, now turned to brine, lies heavy as molten lead.
And its dreadful name (Dead Sea) does forever proclaim that sea is waste and dead.
The third verse is the challenge verse for Christians. Which sea do you want to be?
Which shall it be for you and me who God’s good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone, or take to give again?
For he (Jesus) who once was rich indeed, laid all his glory down
That by his grace, our ransomed race should share his wealth and crown.
Christians who receive the gifts of God become more beautiful when they pass them along to others. Those who keep them only for themselves, spiritually die.