Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Christ will gird himself and serve us." II

Hymn: “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship” – George Atkins

This is not exactly déjà vu, but I AM picking up with the same idea we dealt with yesterday – partly because I thought of another angle on the concept, and I’ve reflected on it several times today when dealing with those in the service industry…even at the drive-through at Taco Casa!

That ‘picture this’ of Jesus scurrying about between the tables when you’d think he should be in the place of honor… or at least sitting down with the rest of us to enjoy the meal… brought me back to a choir tour memory from several years ago with ‘my kids’ when I was minister of music at First Baptist here in Waxahachie. The ‘powers that were’  at the time always made us travel on an old Blue Bird school bus, no matter how far we were going. I’d beg for a ‘real’ bus, and one of the men-in-position would insist that the Blue Bird had been overhauled, and we should expect no trouble.

Immediately after high school graduation, we loaded 40+ teenagers and chaperones onto the Blue Bird and left the church parking lot; fortunately, we loaded the luggage onto the church van which (in theory) would follow us from central Texas to central Florida – you guessed it: DisneyWorld.
Somewhere in Mississippi on our first night out, the Blue Bird fizzled out on us for the first time, and we were stranded along the highway in the dark of night, miles from the nearest rest stop/bathroom. In our weary frustration, we unloaded the luggage from the van and began shuttling the kids several miles into the next town to the first and only restaurant open for breakfast. We dropped off a couple of adults and four or five teenagers and repeated the process about ten times.

Inside the restaurant, there was one – count ‘em – ONE waitress. Picture Flo from the 70’s sit-com. There were a couple of people in the kitchen, but I think one was only there to mop and clean up after customers. They were not delighted to know that over fifty people were on their way for breakfast.

The point of this story is that our adult chaperones jumped in and helped with everything that had to be done to get these kids fed. They were taking orders, pouring milk and orange juice, helping out in the kitchen – I definitely had a git-er-done group of chaperones that year.

Here’s the part that relates to the hymn-line: When we dropped off the last group from the bus, I walked into the restaurant and found OUR people serving while Flo took a smoke break over in a corner booth!!!

As I recalled this event, I had a continued understanding of what it meant for Christ to jump in and serve whenever the need arises… not just at the planned banquet, but in the emergency meal. The phrase “see a need and fill it” is not from Scripture, but it certainly describes what the Servant-Savior does – and what his followers should do, even in greasy spoon restaurants in Mississippi.

PS – The Blue Bird faltered on us several more times on this trip. We were late to a couple of concerts, and we missed one altogether. But it was probably the most memorable of all my choir tours. Thankfully, the bus is no longer with us… and no one mourned her final home-towing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Christ will gird himself and serve us."

Hymn: “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship” – George Atkins

Then he’ll call us home to heaven. At his table we’ll sit down.
Christ will gird himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.

We’re back to one of those ‘picture this’ hymn-lines, so go into your Hollywood director mode and visualize the Lord of all the universe in his waiter’s uniform.. maybe an apron.. racing from table to table being sure everyone is served.

I learned many good lessons from my parents, but one was to always be especially nice to the people who work in what we have dubbed the service industry. The most common of these are waiters and waitresses.

Nowadays, most of us frequent many restaurants during the course of a month, but my family seldom went out to eat when I was a child. It was so rare that I remember the first time we went to a sit-down restaurant – it was called the Hwy. 441 Restaurant in the heart of Pigeon Forge. It’s hard to believe that in the early fifties, it was one of only a handful of restaurants on the Branson-like strip which is now home to outlet malls and the entrance to Dollywood! George and Helen Worsham (friends of ours from church) owned and ran the restaurant; they lived upstairs above it. It was such a special event that I remember I wore a short-sleeved white shirt and a clip-on tie!

From Hedy and Raymond I learned a very good lesson about being extra nice to wait-staff in any establishment, especially restaurants. After all, kindness costs nothing… and takes a lot less energy than complaining!

Back to our Hollywood visualization: Here we sit as special invited guests at the table of our Lord; and instead of sitting at the head of table, he is carrying trays of sumptuous food… albeit manna… keeping our tea glasses filled, and being sure we are enjoying the event.

If I truly want to be Christ-like, I need to play this film-clip over and over in my head. I need to stop thinking of myself as entitled to sit and be served… and help serve everybody else. Perhaps churches need to develop a servant industry!... and not just at Wednesday night fellowship dinners!

The next time you are seated in your local restaurant, thank the host/hostess – and don’t always ask if they could seat you at another table. Be really nice to the person who brings the chips and salsa to the table. Be especially nice to the waiter/waitress. Speak a kind word of thanks to everybody in the place who serves you… even the cashier! We all know it is not easy work, but we also realize it is often a thankless job. We can change that by our realization that they may truly be those angels unawares that are mentioned in Hebrews 13:2. And it won’t hurt to add to the soundtrack of this clip Jesus’ whispering in the background, “If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

"Yielded and still, seeking thy will."

Hymn: “Speak to My Heart” – B. B. McKinney (1886-1952)

This hymn-line opens with a word of submission. To some that will sound negative, but I hope you’ll stay with me for a minute here. In its list of definitions, yield can mean to relinquish control, to surrender, to give up in an argument, or to cease resisting – among many others. It can also go toward bringing forth fruit, but I don’t think that one would apply here.

The second important word here is “still.” For my east Tennessee friends, when I first Googled for a definition, it brought up a description of moonshine still, but I somehow don’t think that’s the direction B. B. McKinney was headed in this case. He more likely had in mind subdued, quiet, calm, motionless. It could also be a poetic device where the second word restates the first: in other words, it would be like when a child has fought like crazy and suddenly just gives up – gets immediately still – he/she yields.
The place I’m most familiar with “yield” is in traffic. At an intersection or a merge-point, for my own safety and the safety of others, I’m instructed to allow the other vehicle(s) to move ahead of me – to surrender or submit. Unless I’m the bullying type, it’s the better choice in heavy traffic.

As I sing these words in worship, they sort of startle me, sort of like “I Surrender All,” and for a fleeting moment I wonder if I am singing truth or mimicking some spiritual platitude. Am I willing to give up the fight and in great stillness relinquish control of my life to the One who is being addressed in this prayer song? I also realize that in order to truly seek God’s will, I have to quieten myself and submit to a deeper level than I might usually opt for.

I’m big on proper punctuation. Parenthetically, why is it that the projected songs in worship are never punctuated correctly? But I digress yet again! In this hymn-line, if the comma were moved back two words, the truth of the phrase still holds up: “Yielded, and still seeking thy will.” In this case, still becomes an adverb meaning that I continue to seek God’s will. Just an observation: I’m not trying to rewrite the hymn – this time!

In my experience, “Finding God’s Will for Your Life” or similar phrases have been the title of countless books and sermon-series. They constitute some of the best-sellers at the Christian bookstores and draw some of the best audiences to workshops and preaching events – second only to topics centered on the book of Revelation I would guess.

In a mere six words, McKinney has saved us a lot of time. We don’t have to purchase yet another book or be herded into an arena for a talking head to over-explain a simple truth: acquiesce to God, calm down and wait – then you will more likely find his will clarified.

I hope we will always be found still doing this.
Listen to This Hymn
(Not a great example,
but I know this hymn is
 not common in
some worship traditions)

Friday, June 23, 2017

"Something lives in ev'ry hue Christ-less eyes have never seen."

Hymn: "I Am His, and He Is Mine" - George W. Robinson (1838-1877)

Recently on NPR, they were discussing the color of all things. Part of their discussion was that most people don't pay much consideration to color until someone or something draws their attention to it. In other words, because most of us see in vivid colors, we just take them for granted, not noticing how much the hues of our surroundings contribute to our enjoyment of all we see.

When the interviewee said that, I was driving out in the country; and suddenly, the greens got greener and the yellows got yellower. I notice how bright blue the sky looked. Even the farm houses began to pop out at me.

I teach art appreciation classes at the college where I add junk… I mean I’m an adjunct professor. I’m all the time telling my students to notice sounds, shapes, symmetry, and yes – color. I sometimes demonstrate that by displaying colorless paintings or photographs over against those that appear in living color! So I, of all people, should be more aware.

The line which precedes this hymn-line says heaven above is softer blue, and earth around is sweeter green. The statement which follows is about how birds with gladder songs o’erflow, and flow’rs with deeper beauties shine. I think Robinson is trying to point out that our closer-related association with Christ should make us more aware of the simplest, most beautiful things. We should have our ‘feelers out’ and be more sensitive to all good gifts… even the simplest, most basic which are missed by those whose Christ-less eyes have not ever noticed.

Our proximity to Christ opens us up to many blessings; on that, we probably all agree. But this hymn-line calls our attention to some of the lesser-religious ones – yet very sacred!

Today, notice the sounds, the shapes, smells and colors with more intention. Not because it’s an art class assignment, but because you are his and he is yours. I’m going to try to do that myself – O thou who pointest all this out to thy students – since I know as now I know I am his and he is mine.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia!"

Hymn: “For All the Saints” – William W. How (1823-1897)
Typical Tune: SINE NOMINE

Most of us would love to be brave of heart and strong of arm… like the biblical musician king, David.

I never saw the movie Braveheart. I am not into watch-the-exit-sign gore, and a friend of mine Steve Fullmer told me, “Do NOT see this movie, Rg. You’ll never make it through it.” So Carlita went to see it with our Denver dentist Wanda Dufrene. But I think of Mel Gibson running around in a kilt every time this hymn-line goes past!

This hymn-line is a reaction to having heard the “distant triumph song” of the saints who have gone before us into the realms of heaven… those who confessed their faith boldly for all the world to know… and who now rest from their labors.

If we could literally hear the songs of heaven ringing in our ears, I think our hearts would be strengthened, and we might more boldly, bravely stand up, stand up for Jesus as soldiers of the cross. The truth is I Can Only Imagine what that mighty chorus might be singing today, but I’m pretty sure a part of their repertoire is the great hymns of the faith, those they took with them to heaven, embedded deep within those brave hearts. “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty,” or “Crown Him with Many Crowns, the Lamb upon His Throne,” or “Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O God My Father.”

These distant songs of triumph sung by the heroes of the faith who stand face to face with Christ my Savior – these are the songs that may enliven my day and enbraven me, even when my heart is breaking and my physical abilities may have waned.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength… soar like eagles… run without weariness… walk without feeling faint.” (from Isaiah 40:29, 31)

Listen up, y’all! Join in the triumph song! Let’s hear it!

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)