Saturday, August 31, 2013

"In my hand not price I bring; simply to thy cross I cling."

Hymn: “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” – Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778)

The last few weeks I’ve watched on television stories of lesser-fortunate parents standing in line to receive free school supplies and required vaccinations for their children. After some great disaster hits (natural or otherwise), we have observed long lines of displaced individuals awaiting food, clothing and necessities. I remember driving past city missions with homeless men cued up for blocks anticipating the opening of the doors so they could get in from the cold for a good hot meal and a warm place to spend the night.

In every one of these cases, as the line moves forward and the people receive that for which they have come to these places, no one is standing at the end of the line expecting to be paid. No paperwork may even be required; they are simply provided with what they came for.

 This is how you and I have been graced by God. When we have arrived at the serving table, we may have made some vain attempt to pay for the bundle he has prepared for us, but he gladly hands us his great salvation. We fumble for our wallet; he grabs our hand and says, “No charge.”

Somehow we are not comfortable with the free gift of salvation; we WANT to pay for it ourselves; we don’t want a hand-out; we NEED to work for it or pay it off a little at a time. In our protesting, God may be a bit offended because he’s trying his best to give us a free gift, and we insist on making some kind of payment.

In that long line of sinners poor and needy, you and I have arrived face to face with the One in charge of distribution. With no price in hand, we accept the free gifts of God’s grace simply because the cross stands bare, the tomb stands empty, the throne stands occupied. Love’s redeeming work is done. We move aside as another weary soul comes to the front of the line; without personal payment, they too walk away with what they have come for.

Know somebody who needs to be in that line? Do they need someone to stand with them? Are they confused about the no-payment-necessary part of the transaction? Help them understand. Tell them how it works. Joy with them when they receive what they come seeking.

Put your wallet away. Stop trying to figure out a long-term payoff plan. Even if you try, you can’t afford it. Jesus paid it all. Now move out of the way and let somebody else enjoy the same blessing.

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Yet he who dwells in heav'n above deigns to abide with us in love, making our bodies his temple."

"Yet he who dwells in heav'n above deigns to abide with us in love, making our bodies his temple."
Hymn: “Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand” – Nicolai F. S. Grundvig (1783-1872)
            Translated – Carl Doving
Typical Tune: KIRKEN

The One whose dwelling place is in heaven has agreed to live among us with compassion, turning our very bodies into holy ground. That’s not nearly as poetic, but it gets at the point of this hymn-line.

That is some pretty powerful stuff to ponder today. It’s about the transcendency of God (his high holy nature) and the reality that he descends to where we are. Heaven came down as a kindhearted associate.

That final phrase is the clincher in this hymn-line – that our very bodies have become his temple. In John 2:21, Jesus called HIS body a temple. We share that temple-ness according to 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.”

We call that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But when I think of my BODY as a TEMPLE, I get a different mental image. I’m not just a house where the Spirit of Christ takes up residence, I am a holy house, set apart for holy things. That could and should make a difference in my attitude and my behavior.

By definition, a temple is set aside for the sacred; that space is reserved for or dedicated to holy activity only. The very word temple has the same root as our word “template” – or plan/design/outline. In architectural planning processes, buildings often include what is called ‘dedicated space’ – set aside for one specific purpose only… and that applies here.

Nestled in the middle of a hymn text that has been around for some time and has been translated and re-translated over the years, we find three important truths about the God we worship and serve. I need to rethink all three as I go about my day today. How about you?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us."

"Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us."

Hymn: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

In his address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to honor the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, former President Bill Clinton repeated the phrase that we who follow after King should “put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back.” I listened to the speech on my way home from choir rehearsal tonight, and with all the music running through my mind and all of the day’s talk about human rights, I thought I should reflect briefly on an African American hymn-line for this, the day after. This probably THE African-American hymn.

The fact that this revered song of the black church community was totally unknown to me until its inclusion in The Baptist Hymnal 1991 published for a predominantly white, mainly southern denomination speaks strongly to me on this day. It is a text replete with wonderful imagery of the liberating power of our common Christ… the Savior common to all races, tribes and colors.

I am a pacifist at heart. I believe that a fight (war) is a last-resort to solving any disagreement. I am such the conflict-avoider that I have often been trampled by those who are not! That is why to me the amazingly peace-filled demonstration March on Washington on August 28, 1963, is monumental in our history. That day’s rhetoric along with many other events along the way have stood to point out to us the dark past of the mistreatment of minorities in this country… and other countries around the world.

The people of faith – those who turn to the great God of heaven and earth to find their compass for life – have been able to learn from past wrongs and have joined in the peaceful-when-at-all-possible fight to right those, often taking an unpopular stand among their own kind… even amid their own congregation and/or denomination.

While much evil has been accomplished in the name of God over the years, and the cross has been (and still is) the banner for some un-godly causes, that same old rugged cross has remained the emblem of suffering and shame­­ -- and it has been the symbol of freedom and equality for any and all people, even those with whom we disagree and for those who look and/or act differently than we.

The line which follows today’s is “Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.” We have, in other words, been taught and have learned from the dark past… and we have emerged as enlightened, changed people who in this present day have had hope delivered to us.

If you don’t really know this great hymn, find it in print (Google it if nothing else) and study the pain and victory encapsulated in its stanzas. Whatever your political bent or your roots, you will likely find yourself empowered to join in the chorus of all who believe in human rights… civil and otherwise. Then together people of all colors, opinions and lifestyles may lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“If there’s a void this world never can fill, let Jesus come into your heart.”

"If there's a void this world never can fill, let Jesus come into your heart."
Hymn: “Let Jesus Come into Your Heart” – Words & Music by Leila Naylor Morris (1862-1929)

Talk about a hymn-line you may have never sung, this is in the second half of the third – and often-skipped stanza of this gospel song! Though written around the turn of the last century, this text speaks to a notion that is pretty commonly talked about among evangelical Christians: that is that there is a God-shaped hole in your heart that only Jesus can fill… or that there is a puzzle piece missing into which only Jesus will fit.

Most of us have spent at least a portion of our life making vain attempts to fill our emptiness with things ‘of the world’ – things which fall outside the realm of faith. We may have even tried to put our faith in something or someone else, being lured into the edges of dabbling in another world religion or non-Christ-centered sect. For most of us, thankfully, we have realized early on that we’re missing the point… missing the mark… falling short of the glory of God!

My guess is that today some of you… of us… may be struggling with some of those space-fillers, trying to spackle our way back to wholeness, filling in the cracks and hoping to keep moving ahead with gaps lurking just below the surface – smiling our way through every difficulty, knowing full well that we need to turn our eyes back upon Jesus, so that the things of earth will grow strangely dim. [I know I’ve used that analogy in a previous posting, but it seemed to work today!]

Un-barricade the door. Un-lock your heart. Un-leash the Spirit of Christ to work mightily in your life. Maybe then you will un-derstand the void the world cannot fill is truly Jesus-shaped. 

      Just now, your doubtings give o'er.
      Just now, reject him no more.
      Just now, throw open the door.
      Let Jesus come into your heart.

Sorry! I couldn’t find a halfway decent recording of this online.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"To us he'll condescend."

"To us he'll condescend."
Hymn: “Come, Christians, Join to Sing” – Christian H. Bateman (1813-1889)
Typical Tune: MADRID

This grand old hymn calls us all to combine our voices in song. I guess its title could have been tattooed across my forehead for my ministry, because this is exactly what I was calling folks to do – luring them to join the song of the blessed.
British Artist: Ghislaine Howard

As we sing through this text, all the phrases make sense; they’re all praise-y and typical-ish until we get to today’s hymn-line. Condescend? Isn’t that a negative word? Doesn’t that mean that he will talk down to us or treat us with disrespect? In our vernacular, this is a patronizing word – not one I attach to the Savior Christ. “Descend” I would automatically comprehend; but “condescend”? Not so much.

I admit that I always take a momentary time-out while I remind myself that this word (especially at the time of its penning) can also mean to stoop, to lower oneself… or to use an even more archaic word: deign.

“He humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:8) He stooped to wash the feet of his disciples. He bent down and blessed the children along his path. We have plenty of Bible-story snapshots of the holiest-of-all bending to where the lowest-of-the-lowly were.

Recntly, I heard Wayne Watson sing these words from one of his greatest hits:

            Jesus, he meets you where you are.
            Jesus, he heals your broken scars.
            All the love you’re longing for,
            All the love you need is
            Jesus, the Friend of the wounded heart.

It’s that kind of sentiment that I must admit when I sing “to us he’ll condescend.” THEN I will not only understand what the word means, I will experience what the word tells me about how Jesus treats me… meeting me where I am, befriending my wounded heart.

Come on, Christians! It’s a hymn-line worth singing!

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)