Saturday, August 11, 2018

"Let every kindred, every tribe... to him all majesty ascribe."

Hymn: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” – This stanza by John Rippon (1751-1836)

I know it was politically incorrect, but as a child we sang “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” Even as a youngster, I learned from a simple song that we are all in this together, regardless of our race, our kinfolk, or our lineage. I’ve tried to maintain that attitude… and extending those groupings and moving the stakes out further until the tent can contain us all.

This hymnline conjures up for me another one of those mental pictures. In this one, I see a multi-colored throng of all the world’s people standing together in what in my mind at least looks like a huge city square; I would say it looks sort of like the plaza in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, but I know somebody would be offended that I had a Catholic vision!  Anyway, all those people are singing at the top of their lungs, but their fortissimo-singing is very much under control. It’s not yelling; the sound is very, very musical. They are all lifting up their praise to the One who sits on the throne – although in this glimpse, I don’t see HIM; I just see and hear THEM!

For a brief moment during the singing of this great hymn, I am transported into that scene where I join the everlasting song… and I realize what a wonderful place it is… and will be. This is not something we have to wait for; we can stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow believers from every background, race, gender, lifestyle, and denomination to honor the One who loves us all and equally accepts our ascription of praise. So let’s.

Friday, July 6, 2018

"Refresh thy people on their toilsome way."

Hymn: “God of Our Fathers” – Daniel C. Roberts (1841-1907)

Although considered a patriotic hymn and usually included in that section of most hymnals, except for one line (“in this free land by thee our lot is cast”), the remainder of the hymn is about the Almighty God of our forefathers… having bless-ed little to do with patriotism. It is in every way a prayer-hymn with a few allusions to our being people of freedom secured from war by the strong arm of our Protector.

It's use on Sundays related to patriotic holidays strengthens its impact as a Christian hymn in appreciation for the blessings of living “in this free land.” Some of those national-holiday-related three-day weekends afford us the opportunity to be refreshed… to step away from the toilsome way that provides our monetary income. So the fact that the final stanza begins with that request makes perfectly good sense, don’t you think?

There are other worthwhile entreaties made in this prayer-hymn:
- Be our Ruler, our Guardian, our Guide.
- May your true religion increase in our hearts.
- Let your Word be our law.
- May we choose your paths, making our way in your direction.
- Grant that we might be nourished by your bountiful goodness.
- Fill our lives with godly love and divine grace.
- Eventually lead us from overwhelming darkness to daylight that never ends.

All these petitions lead us back to the hymnline for today: give us refreshment so we can take up the everyday work to which we have committed ourselves.

By his almighty hand, may God make these kinds of provisions in our lives – and may we ever express the glory, laud and praise that alone are due him.

This Hymn Sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
(with patriotic imagery in the video, of course!)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

“Let music swell the breeze. And ring from all the trees sweet freedom’s song.”

Hymn: “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” – Samuel F. Smith (1808-1895)

Long before the term “surround sound” was coined, this hymn-line captured the essence of music coming at you from all directions. We musicians can picture this happening: we can see thousands of staves filled with quavers and semi-quavers swirling through the air, engulfing us with the richness of a great choral or symphonic sound. I personally think Eric Whitacre might be the composer of the sound I audiolize – that’s like visualize, but for sound!

It’s almost like a scene from Walt Disney’s FANTASIA… one of the pleasant, exuberant sections, not one of the scary ones! With a grand flourish, Mickey’s baton pulls sound from every direction: it is a cacophony of pitches, but they all make sense – they “make music.”

In this case, the song is one of freedom. “Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.”* People all around the world from every nation have had their freedom songs… their rallying cry set to music… at various times in their history. Their singing added to their resolve to do something about their incarcerated condition – their confinement to a situation from which there seems to be no escape.

This is a week to cherish our freedom as Americans: that’s why I chose a patriotic hymn. But it’s a time to be concerned for freedom of all God’s people who find themselves enslaved… traded, abused, neglected. Christian people cannot stand by and enjoy their freedom while others have none. Our concern must move us to action.

“Freedom! O Freedom! Freedom is coming, O yes I know.” (Traditional South African Song)

Listen to This Song

* - from the Broadway show LES MISERABLES (listen)

[Disclaimer: I realize this is not really a hymn as such; it is a patriotic song. There is a danger on weeks like this to hoist the flag in front of the cross and to miss the opportunity to worship and be grateful to the One who gave us life and liberty at the same time. So, I'm approaching it from the angle of "God... the Author of liberty" in the final stanza.]

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

“In the glad song of ages I shall mingle with delight.”

Billy Graham Crusade Choir

Hymn: “My Savior First of All” – Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

Mingling… fitting in… not standing out. That’s how I intend to be when I have opportunity to join the congregational singing in the hereafter.

Our true understanding of heaven’s details is extremely limited. Over the years, many have “put a spin” on what we might expect. Books have been written, songs have been published, art masterpieces have been produced, extensive studies have been compiled. Someone in Texas even created a show called “Heaven’s Front Porch.”

Though we lack for too many specifics, it seems we can count on music being involved. In the Bible’s ultimate book, there is too much evidence to deny. “Music plays a larger role in the book of Revelation than in any other book of the New Testament, and few books in all of Scripture have spawned more hymns sung in Christian worship today.” 1   Along with the singing of the saints, the only mention of instrumental music in the New Testament appears in Revelation.

I may not audition for the heavenly choir because great singing has never been my gift. However, I have from my earliest memories delighted to sing the congregational songs. So when they crank up those great melodies of the ages, my delight will continue as I add my not-so-wonderful singing voice to the greatest congregation ever assembled, joining the grandest hymn ever sung: the song of the redeemed.

As I have said thousands of times: “Please stand together as we sing.”

A Congregational Singing of This Hymn

From Gary Chapman’s A Hymn a Week

1 Craig Koester – “The Distant Triumph Song: Music and the Book of Revelation”: Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

Monday, June 25, 2018

“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise. Thou mine inheritance.”

Hymn: “Be Thou My Vision” – Ancient Irish

I've never been fond of applause in worship... especially when it is directed at me! I got a standing ovation at a church where I had served eight months as their interim director of music. It made me very uncomfortable; I just nodded and smiled. In my time with them I had tried to direct the attention off myself and toward the One to whom our music was offered -- and it is a rarely-applauding congregation! I know they were simply showing their appreciation; I was flattered, but I was uncomfortable. It was an interim, so we don't need to discuss the "man’s empty praise I heed not" aspect of the hymn-line!

A few summers ago, we took the guided VIP tour of Cowboy's stadium. Christine (our tour guide) did a marvelous job of pointing out various aspects of the grand structure -- JerryWorld. At every stop, she pointed out something that was the largest in the world (it is Texas, after all) and how Jerry had seen to it that only the finest of everything had been employed in the construction - including steel from Europe because he didn't want anything in this palace that came from Pittsburgh!

It was a grand and glorious tour -- worth every penny of the inflated price. I was as oohed and awed by it as anyone else; you don't have to be a Cowboys fan to be blown away by the place. However, I kept thinking that the billion-dollar price tag represented the construction of the world's largest altar upon which to celebrate football... and to display the wealth of one of the sport's proponents.

I admit that I would love to win the lottery, but I'm told you have to buy one of those tickets in order to qualify. I have auditioned for “Wheel of Fortune” and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"; as a semi-retired minister, we could use the cash! We try to make wise investments of our resources. But rich? It will never happen; I just hope to always be able to pay the bills at the end of the month! And the empty praise and applause is short-lived and can become a dangerous feeder of the ego.

No, my inheritance is held for me in the Kingdom of God. Thankfully, he doles out that inheritance daily, hourly, regularly. Most inheritances truly become the possession of the recipient when the donor dies. Well, that's not going to happen because we're talking about an everlasting God! And in our case, we don't have to wait until WE die to enjoy the wealth of riches he wants to send us - not monetary necessarily!

"For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever."  And as children of God, we are in line to inherit all of who he is!

Meanwhile, I'm guess I’ll be off to audition for another game show if they come to town! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)