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!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"The love of Jesus - what it is, none but his loved ones know."

Hymn: “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” – 12th Century Latin Hymn
            Attributed to Bernard of Clairevaux
            Translated by Edward Caswall (1814-1878)
Typical Tune: ST. AGNES

In our hierarchy of relationships, we have three categories that we seem to group together: friends, family, and loved ones. These often show up in obituaries or other lifetime articles; here, one of them shows up in the last line of an ancient hymn text… from nine centuries ago!

Our ‘loved ones’ seem to be those with whom a deep level of love is shared – reciprocated. This is probably the highest form of friendship and familial connection.

As of today I have 1,078 Facebook friends; some of those are family, some are friends, many are simply acquaintances… and a few are loved ones. I am Facebook friends with John Grisham, Johnny Depp and Dolly Parton, but we do not have a mutual appreciation for one another; I’m pretty sure they don’t read my blog!

I am a loved one of Jesus Christ… and he is a loved One of mine! We share a reciprocated relationship: I am his, and he is mine. I fall into that classification of people mentioned in today’s hymn-line, as do many (if not all) of you who read it regularly! WE understand the love of Christ: the width, the length, the height, the depth – the total volume! Paul put it this way:

“I pray … that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (from Ephesians 3:16-19)

Fellow loved ones: while you and I may be total strangers, we share the love of Christ; we are fellow-enjoyers of his voluminous affection. Only WE understand that. Let us not simply sit around in a circle and speak to one another about this warm relationship – although we probably don’t do that often enough; rather, let’s tell someone outside the circle in order that they may count themselves among Christ’s loved ones.

The love of Christ? Who can understand it? Only his loved ones!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"May thy rich grace impart strength to my fainting heart."

Hymn: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” – Roy Palmer (1808-1887)

“I’m just give out,” my mama would say as she lowered herself onto the rocking chair in the den. Bad English, perfect expression. There are indeed days when we are so droopy we doubt that we can actually go on; there are nights we fall into bed and wonder if we can get up and go again the next day simply because we are exhausted. We have overdone it, overextended ourselves.

“Because we have been given this work by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart,” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:1. It is not the being worn down physically that I fear: it is being worn out in my spirit. Losing heart in the midst of carrying out our various life-duties will cause us to implode.

I’ve never sung this hymnline and not whispered a “yes, Lord” under my breath! I know the dispensing of God’s grace is my only hope for not losing the wherewithal to go on. In order to do all the things necessary to survive as a human being in the 21st Century AND share in the work of my church and other ministering organizations, I simply must rely on the richness of the grace of God, believing that he has plenty enough to keep me going.

We all probably need to slow down more than we do. We tend to fill every minute with some activity. We sometimes ‘give out’ more than we ‘take in.’ We expect to be refueled by God’s grace while we’re on the run… sort of like planes are refueled in flight. Perhaps we need to land for a while and enjoy the re-infusion of grace in our lives, calmly accepting that provision, reflecting on its affect before we rush off to accomplish some other looming task.

When the fuel tank on my Rav-4 nears the E, I could save 7.4 minutes if I didn’t have to pull into the Shell station. But it doesn’t work that way. Neither does our spiritual life. We have to take time out to let our fainting heart be energized once again by the amazing grace… the grace that can be imparted only from the reservoir of God.

Hear an A Cappella Singing of This Hymn

Monday, June 19, 2017

"He is so precious to me."

Hymn: “He Is So Precious to Me” – Words & Music by Charles H. Gabriel (1856-1932)

If you didn’t grow up ‘rural,’ you may not be familiar with this one!

The word precious conjures up different responses from each of us. Our mind goes to words like costly, expensive… even priceless. You might even think of cher – the French word, not the singer – which translates to our word dear. It is most often applied to jewels and metals: precious rubies, precious gold, etc. In a contemporary chorus, we sing, Lord, you are more precious than silver… gold… diamonds.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum refers to the ring as “my precious,” In his case, he had a love/hate relationship with the thing he called precious; having lost it to Bilbo Baggins, he spent the rest of his days trying to retrieve it. Those of us who saw the film versions can still hear that guttural whispered speaking of “my precious.”

I hate to admit this, but this was what my mama called me: Precious! It was like her pet-name for me. When I was in trouble, peering over her glasses with furrows on her brow, she called me by my full name: Ronald George Huff. But most of the time, she called me Precious. When I was a kid, I hated it… especially in front of friends and family members – those loved ones from a few days ago!

Over time, her calling me that became precious to me because I grew to understand the deeper meaning of the word; I was of great value to her, and she expressed it with a word which communicated her affection in a much sweeter way than calling me “O Valuable One”!

So this old gospel song by Charles H. Gabriel (who is said to have written over 7,000 hymns/songs for the church), speaks to me on several levels. It brings back memories of singing it in my childhood, it reminds me of my mama, and it prompts me to express to Christ how dear he is to me – how valuable.
In case you haven’t sung it in a while, here is more of the text that leads to the refrain:
            So precious is Jesus, my Savior and King,
            His praise all the day long with rapture I sing.
            To him in my weakness for strength I can cling,
            For he is so precious to me.

            He stood at my heart’s door in sunshine and rain,
            And patiently waited an entrance to gain.
            What shame that so long he entreated in vain,
            For he is so precious to me.

More so than silver or gold, diamond or ruby, or sought-after ring, ‘Tis heaven below my Redeemer to know, for he is so precious to me.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"Touch with your pierced hand each common day."

Hymn: "Here at Thy Table, Lord" - May P. Hoyt

Today is probably going to be for most of us "just one of those days." For some, it will be especially good, perhaps exciting - a new love, a career change, the birth of a baby. For others, it may turn out to be a difficult day filled with pain and sorrow, maybe even tragedy. But my guess is that for most of us it will be a common day.

In our manic existence, we sometimes long for an un-frenzied day - one not marked by extreme highs or extreme lows. When asked, "How was your day?", we would be happy to respond, "Level."

Tucked in this tiny communion hymn (usually with only two stanzas printed), we find "Touch with your pierced hand each common day." Unless yours is a faith tradition that observes the Eucharist frequently... perhaps weekly... you don't have many opportunities during the church year to sing this text; but the next time you do, let this phrase resonate deep within you and be your earnest prayer.

Many of us (especially with Baptist backgrounds) know B. B. McKinney's standard gospel song whose refrain repeats the admonition to "place your hand in the nail-scarred hand." Here, however, we are pleading for the outstretched arm of him whose hands were riven, imploring his constant touch upon our lives at all times... even the common days.

It is sometimes easier to be acutely aware of God's touch when we are praising him for his blessings on our best days or begging for his help in those not-so-great times. Let us not overlook that guiding, upholding hand on those other days... like today.

Lord Jesus, in our common, ordinary, everyday lives, keep your nail-printed hand on us. As we glance at your strong fingers as they touch the deepest places of who we are, may those attendant wounds remind us that we are redeemed by the event that caused those marks. May those hands lift us when we are down, subdue us when over-stimulated, and lead us ever in the path that brings us closer to yourself... because we know from another hymn-line that the way of the cross leads home. Amen.

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)