Monday, July 24, 2017

"There is never a grief or loss but that Jesus in love will lighten."

This was from Friday. I think I forgot to post it!

Hymn: “Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus” – Anna B. Russell (1862-1954)

Today’s hymn-line comes from another one of those lilting 6/8-metered tunes so familiar to the congregations in my part of the country. Throughout its stanzas, this hymn repeats the phrase “there is never…” applied to many ‘downer’ occurrences, all of which are tended to by the wonderful, wonderful Jesus.

Extreme grief and overwhelming loss may weigh us down more than we realize. In fact, the admission of these is often denied by people going through such emotions. Beneath such a great burden, this hymn-line reminds us that Jesus is available to lighten the load if we but give him the opportunity – yea, even the privilege!

Implants are routinely done nowadays: devices that help send electronic impulses to the brain when certain body parts can’t respond naturally on their own. The most common is the pacemaker for the heart. In this hymn’s refrain, Anna B. Russell reminds us that in the heart he implanteth a song… because songs tend to turn our attention away from our difficulties, at least for a time. According to the refrain’s text, the implanted song is one of deliverance, of courage, of strength. In times of grief and loss, that’s the kind of song we need to hear… and to sing!

Whatever bothersome cargo you carry today, may this hymn or another great song of faith lift your spirit as he lightens your load. With a 6/8 lilt, let’s go skipping through the day!


Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Still all my song shall be: Nearer, my God, to thee."

Hymn: “Nearer, My God, to Thee” – Sarah F. Adams (1805-1848)

It is a real shame that this hymn is mostly remembered as what the band was playing when the Titanic went down and is typically relegated to memorial services and funerals. The haunting, usually-slowly-sung hymn has some wonderful brief phrases worth recounting. It speaks of steps leading into heaven, angels beckoning us homeward, thoughts brightened with praise… and references to the Jacob’s ladder-dream (Genesis 28:12).

My outstanding word in this hymn-line for today is “still.” It’s a great word we use when we mean “after all this time.” I suppose that’s one of the reasons it is associated with funerals or end-of-life events.

Job uses this word many times in his defense against those who encourage him to turn from his God, such as in chapter 13, verse 15: “Though he take away my life, still will I hope in him.” (Some translations use the word ‘yet,’ meaning the same as ‘still.’)

It is that kind of continuing steadfastness to which we all aspire – those of us who seek to be faithful followers of the Lamb. It is our intention to come to the end of our days, still using the word “still”! Of course, you know that I’m going to love this line because it says that my song shall still be, “Let me be nearer, my God, to thee.”

One of my top-ten favorite hymns is “Draw Me Nearer.” Many of you know that one, and it will come up more than once on these blogs! I find myself singing it many mornings while I’m getting ready – out loud if no one else is in the house! It truly is my sincere prayer for every day – to edge a bit closer to my blessed Lord and to the cross where he died.

This Sunday when you stand to sing in worship - whatever your musical style - realize that your praises of the crucified, risen Christ are still genuine – after all these years. May ALL our songs still continue to draw us nearer to the One who is now on heaven’s throne at the top of those steps where angels beckon us to come. May our thoughts and attitudes truly still be brightened with his praise.

Try your best to stop thinking of this as a hymn about a mighty ship going down; rather consider a mighty church rising up in praise, still moving nearer to one another and their Leader.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Life itself is ours on lease."

Hymn: “Of All the Spirit’s Gifts to Me” – Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)

One of the newest texts I’m going to cover on this blog is from one of my heroes of modern hymn-writing: Fred Pratt Green, a British Methodist minister who penned some wonderfully meaningful texts which are easy to comprehend the first time you sing them – a goal of anyone who writes songs for congregational use. If you have a hymnal published in the past thirty years, it would be worth your time to read through the full text; for copyright reasons, I shouldn’t print it here.*

Life itself is ours on lease. These six words communicate so much about how our life is not our own; it is loaned to us for a brief period then returned to its owner – our owner – God himself. Green’s British turn of phrase here “ours on lease” brings even more emphasis to ownership.

While much of hymnody (especially the gospel songs from the first half of the 20th Century) point us toward our eternal life - our heavenly home - this one centers our attention back on our current situation. This life I call MINE is truly not mine at all! I need to be reminded of that now and then to keep me from getting what my mama called ‘the big head.’ Arrogance or self-confidence can blur our vision of who we really are; humble gratefulness can re-center our understanding of ourselves and of Jehovah… whose very name means ‘giver of life.’

            In this world I’m driving a “loaner.”
            One day it reverts to its owner.
            No debt to repay,
            So each day I say:
            My God, he’s a wonderful donor!

Not nearly as poetic as Green, but you get the point! [I think that may be my first-ever limerick!]

By its very definition, a lease is temporary… and the owner is compensated as part of the agreement. In the case of our contract with God, HE has paid the price, and WE enjoy the benefit. That is the opposite of our usual understanding of how a lease works.

Okay, fellow lessors: contact your Lessee today. Thank him for affording you the privilege of life. While you’re at it, you may need to renew your lease! 

 * - At you can read the text and hear the hymn-tune played (click midi file). Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see words and music scanned from contemporary hymnals.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"I'm possessed of a hope that is steadfast and sure."

Hymn: “Since Jesus Came into My Heart” - Rufus H. McDaniel (1850-1940)
This rip-roaring, toe-tapping gospel song has enjoyed popularity since it first appeared in print in the early 20th Century. Because it is a fun tune with lots of repetition in the melody, it caught on quickly and stuck… and is still used commonly in evangelical worship.

As is true of so many hymns, this one emerged from the soul of Rufus McDaniel in response to a tragedy – the death of his son. It’s hard for us to believe that such a positive set of words could be prompted by a season of grief and loss – especially set to such a lively tune by Charles H. Gabriel, one of the most prolific tunesmiths of the time; we are most familiar with his “I Stand Amazed in the Presence.”

We have a hint at McDaniel’s loss in another stanza of “Since Jesus Came into My Heart” with
            There’s a light in the valley of death now for me…
            And the gates of that city beyond I can see…
            I shall go there to dwell in that city, I know.

The thing that stands out to me in today’s hymn-line is being possessed by hope… owned by, mastered by, controlled by hope. What a wonderful thought. But each time I sing that line, I have to ask myself, “Am I?” Does my steadfast, secure hope truly shape all of my thinking and doing? Am I constantly motivated by a hopeful attitude? I mine the kind of hope that is confidently expectant?

When many of us hear the word ‘possessed,’ our minds go to something evil… probably because we grew up with movies like The Exorcist! But here, possession is a good thing!

Possessed is closely akin the word obsessed… but this is a glorious obsession!

The term fanatic has been cast in a negative light; we are always concerned when someone becomes fanatical about an idea or a cause. It is, of course, the shortening of this word which is our word “fan”… and we are surrounded by fanatics when any sports season is in full swing! A true, obnoxious fan is obsessed with his/her team or celebrity figure… possessed… owned by, mastered by, controlled by.

Without being obnoxious, I want to be a person possessed by great hope… secure faith… firm belief. I certainly don’t want to become hope-less. And I won’t become despairing if my confidence is steadfast and sure – not because I have conjured it up, but because Jesus came into my heart… and he continues to do that just when I need him most.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"See, the Father meets him out upon the way, welcoming his weary. wand'ring child."

Hymn: “Ring the Bells of Heaven” – William O. Cushing (1823-1902)

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" - Rembrandt
This is a fine example of a good old gospel song – a peppy, fun-to-sing one at that! We have sometimes separated our congregational songs into  hymns, gospel songs, praise choruses, scripture songs… and now, even rap. But this is truly a “gospel” song because it is based from one of the great stories told by Jesus from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, that section which features the three parables of ‘the lost’: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son – all three of which are eventually found, making them parables with happy endings!

There are several songs based from stories in the Gospels: “Master, the Tempest Is Raging” tells of Jesus’ calming of the sea, and “The Ninety-and-Nine” recounts the first of these parables from Luke 15. “Ring the Bells of Heaven” alludes to all three of the lost-parables, but it is mostly about the story of the young man we have always called the Prodigal Son… the weary, wand’ring child, a soul returning from the wild, a soul rescued from his sinful ways, a precious soul who’s born again.

We’ve all heard plenty – maybe too many – sermons and Bible studies based on this story of the son who demands his inheritance only to waste it on ‘riotous living’ which includes all those sins we were instructed to stay shy of in the beginners Sunday School class. He comes to his senses and heads home, unsure of how he will be received. It is upon his trip home that the “surprise” of this short story happens. The rising action turns to the father and his over-the-top re-acceptance of the long-lost son who has been incommunicado.

In the Bible story, my favorite line is “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…” That sentence speak volumes about the nature of God’s relationship with us; even when we wander off as far as we’ve ever been, when we turn toward home, God sees us… and is “filled with compassion for” us. (v. 20) This is why many people now call this the Parable of the Loving Father instead of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Today's hymn-line begins with the word ‘see’ – as if to say "notice." It’s kind of like when something turns out the way someone else said it would, they say to you, “See, I told you so.” If the line didn’t have to be so poetic as to fit a metrical scheme, it could have been, “Get this! The father meets him…”

Perhaps too much has been made of the father’s un-Jewish-man-like uncharacteristically running down the long dusty driveway, but he certainly wasted no time meeting the wandering child --arms stretched wide open, offering a strong hug -- and walking him the rest of the way to the house.

We’ll get to "see on the portals he’s waiting and watching" in another hymn-line later, but bring that picture to mind. Got it? Now see him jump off the porch… probably avoiding the steps… and rushing toward the now-happy wanderer – knapsack on his back – singing “Val-deri, val-dera.”-- Oops. Sorry. Wrong song! In this case, he may be singing “Glory! Glory! How the angels sing. Glory! Glory! How the loud harps ring.”

Weary, wand’ring child: turn toward home. It will be worth the trip.

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)