Thursday, October 19, 2017

"I'd rather have Jesus."


Hymn: “I’d Rather Have Jesus” – Rhea F. Miller (1894-1966)
Tune: I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS

I’m using a hymnline that is also the hymn-title and the hymn-tune name!

Many of us grew up hearing George Beverly Shea (the tune’s composer) croon this song on the televised Billy Graham Crusades. No one has – or ever will – sing it quite like he did!

The upshot of this hymn is simple: I’d rather have Jesus than you name it.

There is not much else to be said about the hymnline – there is much to be said about our application of its truth to our actual hierarchy of priorities and how we in reality live those out in our daily lives. In other words, as I sing this hymn, am I being truthful? Or am I simply verbalizing someone else’s testimony? Worst of all, am I singing a lie?

This is often true of hymns we sing corporately: preferring Jesus over anything is a noble goal, perhaps not yet achieved in my own life.

It’s a question we all have to deal with on our own while not being judgmental of anyone else down the pew. It would be great if we could all sing the final line with all sincerity and commitment: “I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords (offers me) today.”

Hear George Beverly Shea Sing His Hymn

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"I sing, for I cannot be silent."



Hymn: “Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Tunes: REDEEMED, ADA

I’ve never been much of a singer. For someone who loves to sing as much as I do, you’d think
I would have been afforded the gift of beautiful vocalization. Fortunately, I had other musical gifts that were applicable to my forty-plus years of music ministry; unfortunately, many congregations expect their music leader to be a top-notch soloist.

As I was growing up, I don’t think we sang this hymn; at least, it never registered with me or attached itself to my memory like most of the old songs did. When A. L. (Pete) Butler’s setting of this text was published as an anthem in 1967, it became one of my favorites… and years later, he became one of my mentors. His tune has been included in many hymnals since, making it available to congregations to join the singing of this sturdy, well-married tune for the Fanny Crosby text.

For me, I am always drawn to this hymnline: “I sing, for I cannot be silent.” I have no choice but to sing… I can’t just stand there while the love of Christ is the theme of everybody else's song. My lusty, not-so-wonderful raspy baritone voice may draw questioning looks from people down the pew, but that will NOT mute me. I can NOT be silent. I have to sing when the Spirit says “Sing!”

Paul McCartney has a song “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance.” It’s not exactly a church song, but it does apply to my discussion. I join him in polishing up my tonsils because I’ve gotta sing!

While I am all for the sounds of silence in worship; for me as a contemplative, they are imperative to my finding God. Remember, I’m an Elijah-type. I’m sure God enjoys those lengths of absolute breathless silence, but when we rear back and sing – breaking the silence – I imagine a wide smile crosses his face.

That’s why I love this hymn. That’s why I sing no matter what anyone around me thinks about my intoning talent. “I sing, for I cannot be silent! His love is the theme of my song.”

Hear the ADA tune sung


Monday, October 16, 2017

"Things I would ask him to tell me if he were here."

Hymn: “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” – William H. Parker (1845-1929)
Tune: STORIES OF JESUS

Often considered a children’s song, this simple hymn can message us no matter how old we are, especially those of us whose entire life has been inquisitive at best… nosy at worst!

It seems as if this is worded like early elementary students might speak when sitting on the floor in their Sunday School class or gathered in a family setting. It may be simple-speak that makes this such an appealing hymn, familiar to most Christian denominations. I’m pretty sure it’s the simple-speak that appeals to me!

There are so many questions I have to ask Jesus when face to face I shall behold him far beyond the starry sky. I would write them all in composition books if I thought we could take them with us on that journey. I want to know why boys and girls couldn’t swim together at youth camp when I was a teenager – why sometimes they even had separate pools! Or why my home pastor mowed the parsonage yard in his white shirt and tie. Or why did God allow someone to invent shrink-wrap that makes everything (especially CD’s) so hard to get into. Obviously, it’s the spiritual answers I’m after!

However, THIS hymn is our asking another human with more knowledge of the Bible to fill us in on the details of the earthly life of God’s Son. But we all have questions about our faith that seem to have been redacted from the Canon. Those are the things I’d like to ask Jesus if he were here. I won’t list my own queries; I’ll let you fill in those blanks for yourself. We all want to know more than we’ve been told… but THAT is part of the holy mystery of the faith. If we had all the answers, we would become arrogant and even snobbier than we are! We’d be singing that playground ditty, “I know something you don’t know” as we bully our way through life.

I agree with Paul here: “I want to know Christ.” (Philippians 3:10) The more I know about his life, the more likely I am to get to know him personally – just like it is with all my closest relationships.

So tell me everything you can about Jesus. Inquiring minds want to know!


This hymn sung beautifully by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Friday, October 6, 2017

"How much I love thee, my actions will show."


Hymn: “I Love Thee” – Writer unknown
Tune: I LOVE THEE

We have no idea who wrote this hymn, but it continues to be sung with some regularity in churches who still sing the sturdy texts. I like Laurie Klein’s chorus “I Love You, Lord,” but it doesn’t come at the subject with quite as much intensity or from as many directions.

This is one of those hymn-lines which needs no further discussion: it says what it needs to say and is poignant on its own. I will, of course, expound upon it… like preachers who continue to sermonize on those straight-forward scriptures.

While teaching a children’s song years ago, I discovered an easy way to remember the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: the first three are one syllable (love, joy, peace), the next three are two syllables (patience, kindness, goodness), and the final grouping has three syllables each (faithfulness, gentleness, self-control).

These nine attributes pretty much get at how we best express our love – how we demonstrate our commitments. (If you’ve heard me do a wedding, you’ve likely heard me use this passage.) While they are not all what an English teacher would dub “action verbs,” they all imply ways in which we act out that which is becoming our nature.

In the NIV, Paul summarizes this section with “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (v. 25)

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning. To refresh your memory (speaking of English teachers!), here’s that full sonnet:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach… freely, purely, with passion.” How profound is that? How appropriate to our understanding of how our actions can dramatize our love beyond the footlights of our everyday strutting and fretting our hours upon the stage.

How much do you love Christ? How can your actions show it? Take to the stage and act it out. Start today. Places everyone. Five minutes to curtain.

I cannot believe I could not find a video or audio

of this hymn online to share with you!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies."

Hymn: “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart”
George Croly (1841-1860)
Typical Tune: MORECAMBE

While the hymn centers around the request of God’s presence to hover over us and fall upon us, this hymnline says what we’re not wanting:
    I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
    No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
    No angel visitant, no opening skies.
    But take the dimness of my soul away.


Don’t you love that?! I do! With this hymn-writer, I don’t ask for some grand vision or to be caught up in some enraptured ecstasy. I don’t desire stigmata or other openings in my epidermis in order to prove that the Spirit of God is active within me. I don’t anticipate one of God’s messengers to suddenly appear at the foot of my bed at midnight. A rolling back of the clouds to reveal the heavens behind them is un-necessary.

I’d be fine with the removal of the dull, blurry, indistinct places in my soul – those vague, even ambiguous places that tend to un-brighten the corners of who I am. Yes, I too want to have light restored to my darkness – the darkness brought on my lack of trust, my fear… even my disbelief.

So come down, Holy Spirit. Work on my in-most being. No miracles required.

Congregational Singing of This Hymn
(Again, I had trouble finding an online example that included this pivotal stanza!)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)