Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"In self-forgetting love be our communion known."

"In self-forgetting love be our communion known."

Hymn: "A Parting Hymn We Sing" - Aaron R. Wolfe (1821-1902)

This rarely-used hymn has been omitted from most recent hymnals. The singing of closing hymns that send the congregation out after corporate worship has become a thing of the past but were commonly used in the worship of our forebears. Nonetheless, this is one of those phrases that jumps out at me when I DO have the opportunity to sing this text.

This hymn-line is a more poetic statement of "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love," and quite honestly, we'd rather sing songs that are worded in a straight-forward way... poetic or not. However, encouraging the community of faith ("our communion") to make known their presence in the world by being people of self-less love is a great way to dismiss the flock.

In our social culture - especially American - the concept of self-less-ness is one of the most difficult of Christ's teachings for us to truly "get." Everything about media and the daily buzz among our peers, our leaders, our coaches is self-promotive. We are making ourselves the center of our universe. We hear the word "entitled" applied to more and more individuals and groups.

This hymn-line is a positive reminder to me - and hopefully you - that it is not all about me... that it is when I forget about myself that I am more Christ-like in my treatment of my fellow humans. In order to not be Oprah-ized into self-centered thinking and behavior, I have to remind myself of this constantly, more constantly than I should. When self-less-ness becomes our natural mindset, we come closer to "arriving" at that to which we are called.

May the faith community to which I belong be known around town as a group of self-forgetting, compassionate people.

Not as poetic, but that's what I get out of this hymn-line.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

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

"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!

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Beyond the sacred page I see thee, Lord."

Hymn: “Break Thou the Bread of Life” – Mary A. Lathbury (1841-1913)

Finding God beyond the written Word is part of the Christian maturing process.

There was a time in most of our lives when we looked only to scripture to find what God was saying to us or doing around us. When you’re in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, there is so much emphasis on the Bible itself that we zero in on that book when we are looking for God and his answers to our dilemmas. That’s not a bad thing, but it IS a very limited approach.

I still have the Bible I first carried with me to church – partly to read, partly to be able to check “Bible Brought” on my offering envelope! It was black leather and had a zipper to protect the pages. It did not have those little tabs that helped you find the books of the Bible because my mother thought one should find those on their own; she was after all the associational director of the Sword Drill. (Ask a middle-aged Baptist if you don’t know what that is!) The Book that contained God’s message to his people was very important to me – still is.

Somewhere along my spiritual journey I realized that God spoke to me beyond the sacred pages… that I could find him very much alive in nature… that I could see him in the lives of people around me and hear him in their words of encouragement and teaching. As long as what those people were doing and saying was in keeping with the teachings of that little zippered black book, I could be enriched and edified by human interaction.

The communicating faithful led me to think outside the book… beyond the sacred page. They widened my horizons and helped me turn some important corners in my pilgrimage of faith.

Lots of people write lots of books and are on lots of television and radio shows, producing lots of video series, etc. Most of them are doing that for the right reasons, I’m sure – and I’ve learned many things from them. But it’s the everyday genuine FOJ – follower of Jesus – whose life and comments continue to shape my walk.

When I sing this hymn-line, I visualize myself looking over the top edge of a page, beyond the zipper’s regular pattern to see God. In other words, I hear him in other words… and see him in other faces.

Thankfully, beyond Revelation 22:21, I see you, Lord.

Not great, but I couldn't find a good recording
of anyone singing this one... or playing it well!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Thou didst accept their praises; accept the praise we bring."

"Thou didst accept their praises; accept the praise we bring."
Hymn: "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" - Theodulph of Orleans (760-821); translated by John Mason Neale (1919-1866)
Typical Tune: ST. THEODULPH

This is one of the oldest hymns that we still sing. I know it is meant to be sung on Palm Sunday, but this hymn-line is about praise-acceptance, not about donkeys and palm branches and garment-strewn streets.

Praise is one of those words that has become blurred in its use in the church, especially since we've developed so many styles of congregational expression... and one of those has been tagged "praise and worship." There's something very exclusive about that, indicating that any other style is devoid of those two actions; but that is an argument for another day on another blog!

In church-life, praise is making positive statements or remarks about God (Father, Son and/or Spirit). In our praise we commend God both for who he is and for what he has done. I like to say that we attribute worthiness to God when we praise him. In our praising, we say, "You are worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing," as in Revelation 5:12.

Another way to look at this is that we assign value to our God; in fact, we are saying, "You are the most valuable to me." From the Revelation passage, we might interpret it as "Of great value is the Lamb!"

I have way too much to say on this subject, so I'll stop trying to convince you of all my opinions on what all the word entails. However, however you worship - no matter what style your church may follow - be sure your praise is a sincere offering lifted up to God, especially as you sing!

As you praise God, imagine you are handing him a gift... a present, if you will... from your hand to his... from heart to his. Every time you breathe between phrases, whisper "Here, take this." When you praise God like this, presenting him with your authentic attribution of his great value, extolling him for his great work in the world, appreciating his consistent activity in your own life, I believe he is happy to extend his hand and his heart to receive your praise. Acceptable praise, accepted.

Don't let your praise stop at the ceiling of the room in which you worship - high-vaulted with carved beams or with suspended Celotex tiles. Hurl them all the way to the throne of God, saying, "Here, take this." -- and I believe he will.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Reclothe us in our rightful mind.

(first posted on August 27, 2013)

Hymn: “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” – John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
Common Tunes: REST (sometimes called ELTON), and REPTON

Ever feel like you’re losing your mind? Yeah, me too – more often than I’d like to admit. So when I get to this hymn-line in a service, under my breath I whisper an “A-men!”… let it be so, Lord Jesus!

Do you realize how many great authors go by three names? This fact actually came up in a final JEOPARDY! this week: “Born in what's now Maine in 1807, he's honored with a bust in a special section of Westminster Abbey."  Carlita and I both knew it was an American poet (Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, duh!), but when we started quickly listing the three-named authors, we were thrown into a longer list than we had anticipated. Of course, she got it: William Wadsworth Longfellow. Not one of the three auditioned contestants got it, I might add! I guessed John Greenleaf Whittier… totally unknowing that he, too, was born in 1807!
Whittier wrote this great hymn text; it will come up more than once in the hymn-lines because it is laden with pithy short phrases that hold up on their own – like this one.

We as wayward, foolish people stand stripped of our faculties – and our nakedness-of-mind makes us uncomfortable, embarrassed, ashamed. When I was growing up, I often heard people around me say of someone else in the community, “She ain’t right.” As derisive and politically incorrect as it was, what they meant was the she wasn’t in her rightful mind.

This hymn-line follows the opening sentence of the first stanza: “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.” [Pardon the sexism, but it WAS the Nineteenth Century!] Some more recent hymnals restate it as “Dear Lord and Father of us all…” Either way, we plead forgiveness and ask to be set aright in our thinking.

In scripture, the Levites are commanded to put on linen garments, penitents were instructed to put on sack-cloth with ashes, and we are all commanded to put on the whole armor of God. In this hymn-line, we are asking for God to put on us once again the covering of right-thinking as it relates to him and to one another.

When Adam and Eve came to their sense of sin, the first thing they realized was their nakedness. You and I may need to come to our senses and ask that we be reclothed and launched back onto our pilgrimage with rightful minds. We might find that it’s our mindlessness (I would never use the word “stupidity”)  that has caused us to sin in the first place.

PS – I can’t decide if I want to be a famous respected author and revert to Ronald George Huff, or be a rich and famous author like J. K. Rowling and stick with my initials. Perhaps I should work on being a valid author first! :)

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Teach us all the art of speaking with the accent of your love."

Hymn: “Lord, Thy Church on Earth Is Seeking” – Hugh Sherlock (1905-1998)
            [Text copyright renewed in 1959 by Nazarene Publishing House]
Various Tunes

Those of you know me are aware that I have a distinct accent. It is at its core an east Tennessee accent; when I’m back home in Pigeon Forge, I sound just like everybody else. When I moved to Texas to attend the seminary, I added on some bits and pieces of Texas talk. I guess you could say I’m a hybrid. I lived in Denver for thirteen years but never picked up any new speech inflections – probably because most of the people who attended my church there were transplants from the south.

When I took an advanced French class in college, my professor said, “Monsieur Huff, I think that you must be from southern France!” It’s just one of my burdens, I guess. I’ve tried not to be ashamed of my heavy accent, but now and then I still am!

We pick up our vocal accent from our parents, our family, and the people we hang around; it's the same way with our spiritual accent.

I would hope that in spite of my flat vowels and my slurring from word to word, the people I encounter will realize that whether speaking about or acting out my faith, I’m communicating in an accent that is in keeping with that of the one who created speech and sound and music.

I currently stand in front of classes at two local colleges (read my bio!), and as I teach them about music and the other fine arts, I want them to “get it,” and to be half as excited about it as I am. Sometimes I am successful… sometimes I nose-dive. But I keep trying. In this hymn-line, we are asking the Great Teacher to help us with our accent -- like a speech therapist, maybe.

This should truly be our concerted prayer: that the world around us might realize whose we are by the accent with which we speak to them – and that the accent they hear and see is the one of our heavenly Father, the same way I picked up my earthly father’s accent… and that of everybody on both sides of my family.

So, c’mon, y’all. Let’s us begin ta speak da King’s English in way that’ll jist might ‘nigh make it obvious who we belong to… where we’re a comin’ frum and where we’re headed! Thar ain’t nothin’ ta be ashamed uv!
 (Ask someone from Pigeon Forge to translate!)

I couldn’t find a good recording of anyone singing this hymn,
but this is a good reading of the text with which you may not be too familiar.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"All coldness from my heart remove."

Hymn: “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me” – Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676); translated by John Wesley

What a prayer! It seems like it needs no further explanation or discussion. But then, this hymn-line would be much too short an entry! On the other hand, I know that if this could happen in my life, I would indeed be a different follower of Christ.

I’ve never been very formulaic in my public prayers. Whether off the cuff or written out, I usually simply speak my mind/heart. I’m known to be blunt with my honesty sometimes, even to the point of someone saying afterwards, “I can’t believe you actually said that in a prayer.”

I take my praying seriously, and that means I talk to God as openly as possible, reining myself in as needed depending on my human audience; however, I’m carrying on a conversation with the Almighty while my fellow mere mortals listen in!

If, on the other hand, I prayed using a formula, I think I should add this phrase to all my prayers – public and private.

The great formulaic prayer – the one we call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” – includes the phrase “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our coldness of heart against individuals and/or groups usually stems from having been (in our opinion) wronged. There are those who have left the organized church and are cold toward her because they were at some point disenfranchised over a life choice or a lifestyle – or their honesty. Others of us have placed our heart in the deep freeze over disagreements with family members and former friends.

Speaking of honesty, most of us know the chill-down-the-spine feeling we get when we have to pass certain people in the hallway between Sunday School and worship. The coldness of heart surges into our system, and we try desperately to avert our eyes for fear that our mouth might say what our mind is thinking. Too honest? Am I alone in this? I think not!

Worst of all is the child of God whose very outlook on life has cooled to the point of freezing – the one whose heart is frozen hard as a rock due to countless, endless experiences which have lowered their spiritual temperature to depths they could never have anticipated – and likely would never admit.

We were not redeemed for such an attitude as this. We were ‘set on fire’ at our salvation-time, and for many of us, the heating scale has been on the decline ever since.

Once upon a time, some angry, disappointed people were traveling on a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Along the way, a stranger joined them and allowed them to vent their confusion, their crisis-of-faith. At their destination, they invited the stranger to remain for dinner saying, “Stay with us.” At table, they recognized him as the Christ. We know the story; it is one of those we see unfold almost as a staged drama. As the scene concludes, after the main character has left the stage, the actors say to one another, “Were not our hearts warmed within us as he talked with us…?” Indeed, when he walks with us and talks with us and tells us we are his own, our hearts begin to thaw.

Lord Jesus, stay with us. Continue the warming of hearts until they are again afire with love and not near-hate for our fellow believers and others outside the faith family. Lord Jesus, stay with us, that we may walk so near yourself that we can do no less than reenact your lifestyle. Lord Jesus, stay with us. All coldness from our heart our hearts remove; may every act, word, thought be love. Amen.

Though not the tune with which most of us associate the text,
this is a a really 'sweet' video 

[Originally posted 07/24/2013]

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"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.

If you're following the church year at your place of worship, you'll realize we are in Common Time... that long season that follows Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) and lasts all the way to Christ-the-King Sunday just before Advent begins. It is sometimes referred to as Ordinary Time. These are the weeks when nothing special is happening so far as the liturgical calendar is concerned: No happy celebration of Advent, Christmas or Epiphany -- no heavy-hearted reflections of Lent. There is nothing mundane about it; it's just ordinary.

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 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.

(I don't know why he's singing in a closet?)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)