Wednesday, December 24, 2014

“In his name all oppression shall cease.”

“In his name all oppression shall cease.”
Carol: “O Holy Night” – Translated from the French by John S. Dwight (1813-1893)
Tune: CANTIQUE DE NOEL (Adolphe Adam)

Oppression, slavery, mistreatment, abuses of all kinds. If I had one wish for every new year, it would be the cessation of all these. In other words, I guess my desire – my prayer – would be for peace, just like the angels promised.

These are the kinds of things that I can actively eliminate from my own habit-cycle, but I can’t seem to do much about it outside my own little piece of the globe. I can give to organizations that seek to eradicate these from people-groups, I can stand up for human rights, I can elect leaders who join me in my concern… but CAN all oppression cease?

I have to believe that it can, and that the infusion of the Spirit of Christ into the hearts and minds of the offenders is indeed capable of wiping out cruelty and subjugation wherever it raises its ugly head… or hides itself behind conventional facades. Not only is his name wonderful, it is also powerful – and freeing.

We started the Advent season with "O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive [people of all kinds] who wait in lonely exile." Before we step into Epiphany - to all those who fall into this category, I want to say with confidence: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee.”

UCLA Choir Sings This Carol

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

“Fall on your knees.”

“Fall on your knees.”
Carol: “O Holy Night” –Translated from the French by John S. Dwight (1813-1893)
Tune: CANTIQUE DE NOEL (Adolphe Adam)

“Fall on your knees” is a call-to-worship, and to me it is in an interesting context; it seems to be stronger than “kneel” or “bow down.” It seems to be more of a reflexive action… one we do before we realize what we’ve done!

I’m a movie-lover, and two scenes from fairly recent films come to mind: 1) SAVING PRIVATE RYAN when the mother gets word that her sons have been killed in battle, and 2) MICHAEL CLAYTON when Tilda Swinton realizes her undoing. In both these cases, the women fall to their knees in shock; in our case, it would be awe. Upon realizing we are in the presence of a holy God, our reflex might be to fall to our knees without thinking it through: “Now should I raise my hands, should I bow my head, should I dance, should I be still?” Without any contemplation, we react in a way appropriate to our own expression, uncaring or unaware of anyone else’s reaction.

Whatever your natural, unbridled, child-like response, let it happen during this Epiphany season. If it’s as extreme as falling on your knees or prostrate (face down, arms spread) or standing still, let it be your honest, open response to the arrival of Emmanuel. It is an event worthy of your authentic worship response.

Susan Boyle Sings This Carol

Monday, December 22, 2014

“His law is love, and his gospel is peace.”

“His law is love, and his gospel is peace.”
Carol: “O Holy Night” –Translated from the French by John S. Dwight (1813-1893)
Tune: CANTIQUE DE NOEL (Adolphe Adam)

When the grown-up Jesus said, “Love one another,” it was not a suggestion; it was a command – a law, if you please. He had every expectation that his followers would live up to this directive.

With our government’s laws, for most of us these have become second nature. Because we were taught them in driver’s ed, the laws of the road stuck with us: we observe the speed limit (for the most part!), we signal before we turn, we maintain a safe distance behind the car in front of us, etc. We are instinctively law-abiding citizens; following the rules has become one of our characteristics.

So it should be with this mandate from Christ. “Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love, and his gospel is peace.” When loving our fellow-humans becomes our inherent behavior, we will have begun to obey this law, and in turn, we will have become more Christ-like. In reality, we will also be happier people because we will be living out the gospel of peace.

We have our orders. It is our duty as an FOJ* to follow through.

This Carol Sung by Michael Fawcett

                                                                         * - If you’re new to this blog, that’s a “Follower of Jesus.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

“He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger.”

Carol: “O Holy Night” –Translated from the French by John S. Dwight (1813-1893)
Tune: CANTIQUE DE NOEL (Adolphe Adam)

We continue our week with “O Holy Night.” I hope you won’t tire of my breaking this one apart!

Identification. When you list the attributes of Christ, you may overlook this one, but the fact is that part of his mission to earth was to identify with those whom his Father had created. His having walked several hundred miles in our shoes made it possible for him – even now in his glorified state – to empathize with us human pilgrims.

I think I understand the concept of Christ having knowledge of my needs even before I voice them; that has been drilled into me from my earliest days of neediness. However, I am struck in this carol by the line “to our weakness (Christ) is no stranger.” I’m more familiar with “I am weak, but thou art strong,” but THAT is looking at this from a different perspective. Being no stranger to my weaknesses points out this identification attribute. He does not stand to the side as the strong silent type and wonder what I’m facing; he stands inside, seeing it from my perspective and whispers, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there.”

So, my fellow needy weak friends, the name Emmanuel can take on a deeper meaning for us during these days leading up to Christmas. Christ truly is WITH us in all our struggles.

Carol Sung by Home Free

Thursday, December 18, 2014

“Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we.”

“Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we.”
Carol: “O Holy Night” –Translated from the French by John S. Dwight (1813-1893)
Tune: CANTIQUE DE NOEL (Adolphe Adam)

This carol by a French poet and French composer was translated into English by an American Unitarian music critic just before the Civil War. That’s the background.

I thought this one was appropriate for this blog since it includes the word “hymn.”

One of the reasons I have a lot of trouble doing hymnlines regularly during the Advent/Christmas season is because so many traditional carols simply deal with events and characters from the first Christmas; you can only expound so much on angel appearances, magi arrivals and over-crowded cities with hay-filled cattle stalls.

“Sweet… joy… grateful” – wonderful words that sum up this season, don’t you think? We join in a grateful chorus to express our hymns of joy… our SWEET hymns of joy. Nothing saccharin about this kind of carol-singing… no Splenda, only splendid music! There is, in other words, no substitute for music that bubbles forth from the lips of children and child-like adults who celebrate their faith through song.

Queued at the register at Target, bustled about in the shopping mall, harped on by some church Scrooge: in all these situations, I hear the voice of Hedy (my mother) saying, “Now Ronald George, you be sweet.” Mustering all that is within me, I try to obey that long-ago-spoken directive.

Need a lift during the next seven days? Raise a song. Lift a carol. Be grateful. Be sweet!

A grand chorus sings this carol

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

“Order all things far and nigh.”

Hymn: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” - Latin hymn

We often make light of folks with OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder). In television shows and on film, they’re the ones who are lining up every object on their desk and re-placing anything that anyone else adjusts. It is fertile ground to elicit a laugh. However, the people we know who “suffer” from this disorder do not find it a laughing matter.

Those of us on the other end of the spectrum – who do not live by the axiom “a place for everything and everything in its place” – probably appreciate this hymnline more than those who are by nature orderly. I will not name names!

During these weeks leading up to Christmas, many of us would be happy enough if some orderliness came to our schedules… our calendars!

 “All things should be done decently and order,” Paul says. (I Corinthians 14:40) This quote comes after a long discussion of expressing one’s self in public worship, but it gets at a nagging desire in most of us.

One of the things most of us crave is orderliness in our lives. The people of Israel believed that one of the things Messiah would do is straighten things out – bring order to the chaos. Though Christ did that (and continues to do that), he didn’t necessarily do it in the way they envisioned… or the way you and I think he should!

Is your life out of order? Forget your desk-top or your work area – we’re talking deeper issues here. If so, make this hymnline one of your Advent prayers, imploring the soon-to-arrive Christ to bring order to your personal chaos. With your cooperation (availability and flexibility), he can. After all, he already knows about all our clutter.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O ones who order lack!

This Hymn Sung by Pentatonics
(Does not include this hymnline!)

Monday, December 8, 2014

“With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord, to see the day of earth’s redemption that sets your people free.”

“With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord, to see the day of earth’s redemption that sets your people free.”
Hymn: “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” – Laurentius Laurenti (1660-1722)
Tune: HAF TRONES LMAPA FARDIG (Swedish folk tune)

“Pleading” is a word we use for crying out in desperation. It is an end-of-my-rope kind of crying out – the kind of language we use when we have nowhere else to turn.

In this hymnline, we assume the posture of worship (“with hearts and hands uplifted”) to make a distress call to the throne of God, begging for the kind of redemption that sets people free… all people everywhere, whatever their imprisonment.

The Old Testament believers looked forward to a coming monarch who would rule on their behalf and give preference to the people of God. Their awaiting was for an earthly leader… a hero, if you will. We Post-New Testament Christians are looking forward to the return of Christ; however, we know from Scripture that his leadership style did not include warring and domination. Therefore, we anticipate his grace-filled redemptive intervention to (among other actions) unlock various kinds of prison doors.

If you’ve read these blogposts for a while, you know that Carlita and I support a couple of mission efforts whose sole purpose is to free people from enslavement… especially women and children. One of these is International Justice Mission (  Large non-profit organizations like this are putting feet to the desperate pleas for the freedom of others.

At the end of our ropes, we continue our anxious plea for all who know no freedom - only bondage and oppression - fully believing that this is ONE of the many miracles the Lord Christ will bring in his ever-loving hand.

Meanwhile, we should be about our Father’s business, doing what WE can to see that such cruel persecution might come to an end. Hearts and hands uplifted... feet and funds on the move!

A High School Academy Sings This Hymn

Friday, December 5, 2014

“You came not in a splendor bright as monarch, but as humble child.”

“You came not in a splendor bright as monarch, but as humble child.”
Carol: “Creator of the Stars of Night” – 9th Century

In my years of doing full-time music ministry, two of the choral pieces I often used at Christmas concerts were “No Golden Carriage” and “How Should a King Come?” The texts of both dealt with Christ’s arrival being unlike that of most kings: little fanfare, no big public celebration, no fancy clothes, toys or parades.

This line from a truly ancient advent carol gets at the same theme – the child of humble beginnings. We use that phrase a lot to describe great politicians and business-people – those who “pulled themselves up by the bootstraps” (whatever that means) and became great leaders and visionaries. So it was to some extent with Jesus.

His rise to leadership and greatness was by divine design… prophet-foretold, Israel anticipated. Those prophecies and expectations were for more of an earthly-kingly entrance and a much more dominating (even militant) reign. Surprise! God would have none of that. From the very beginning, he was destined to save his people through peace and goodwill according to the angels who created the only fanfare.

Humility vs hubris. It’s a conflict we still encounter. We see it in our leaders… even among ecclesiastics. Worst of all, many of us have a similar war raging within us: Am I going to maintain the Christlike characteristic, or will I be sucked into the worldly vortex of pride? We are too often drawn to the spotlight of arrogance, egotism and self-importance, rather than the shadows of servanthood. Service is often trumped by superiority… even among those who call themselves an FOJ.*

During these weeks, we do not gather around a fancy, linen-pillowed cradle; we don’t race to peek through the windows of a golden carriage to get a quick glance at the most-recently-born ruler; we don’t have camera crews posted outside hospital doors to alert us of the birth of the next monarch. No, we gather around straw-filled manger replicas. And I think we all like it better that way.

Once again, God knew what he was doing!

                                                                                                                             * - Follower of Jesus
This carol chanted by solo voice

Thursday, December 4, 2014

“To show God’s love aright…”

Carol: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” – 15th Century German

How should we show the love of God in the best possible way? That’s a question we all ask ourselves regularly. Sometimes it is a philosophical musing; at other times, it is a question we ask when confronted with a situation: “What should I do? What would Jesus have me do?”

In this carol, it is referring to Mary’s willingness in the half-spent night to bear to us a Savior. But every time we cross this line in our Advent singing, I ponder for a moment how I could be more intentional about showing the compassion of Christ appropriately… in a way that is pleasing to God and beneficial to others.

Here is the prayer my wife Carlita prayed at choir rehearsal last night. I think it gets at this same quandary… and gives us some insight into rightly dividing the spirit of Christ during this season:

Dear God, Father of the Infant Jesus: Thank you for loving us so much that you were born to us and among us to save us. In a season that is so full of joy and anticipation, we nevertheless look around and see broken hearts, hunger, hate, violence, need of every kind. 
When we encounter a need, help us know how to respond. 
When we are prone to a rush to judgment, give us a sense of gentle and compassionate thoughtfulness. 
When we are distracted by the world, turn us again towards Bethlehem. 
This Christmas season may we want only more of you and not merely “more”. 
Shape our worries into prayer. 
Mary and Joseph’s journey to the manger was not an easy one – likewise, may we find our way through the holiday throngs and madness to silent adoration at the cradle of our King. Amen.

She has a “way with words,” and her prayer helps me better understand how to show God’s love aright. Hopefully, also with you.

This carol beautifully sung by one of Baylor’s excellent groups

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

“His coming known shall be by the holy harmony which his coming makes in thee.”

Carol: “Thou Shalt Know Him When He Comes” – Anonymous

This text of unknown origin has been set by many composers through the years. The closing line will be my focus for today.

In the study of harmony, there are two words which define the relationship of two or more notes when sounded together: dissonance and consonance. While you may not know what causes this, you recognize the difference when you hear it. For most of us, consonance is preferred over dissonance. The reality is that we could not distinguish between the two if we had never heard a dissonant harmony. In other words, we recognize consonance (stability) because we relate it to a dissonance (instability) we have heard before.

So it is with life: we can only appreciate the stability of it after we have experienced the instability.

All families, couples, groups live in harmony. Some are only familiar with dissonance because they are constantly bickering, in-fighting, supplanting. Others enjoy a more consonant relationship with supportive, loving interaction. Harmony is sort of like cholesterol: it can be good or bad!

The use of “holy harmony” which is ours when the coming Christ arrives indicates harmony of the most-stable kind – the most consonant, agreeable, calming stacking of notes we can imagine.

During this Advent season, you are going to hear all kinds of harmonies in the music which surrounds you in church, in the concert hall and at Wal-Mart! Fortunately, most Christmas songs include mostly consonant harmonic structures. Let those pleasing, smile-inducing melodies remind you that the holy harmony of Christ can be yours… eventually – even when you think your life couldn’t be any more dissonant.

    Thou shalt know him when he comes,
    not by any din of drums,
    nor his manners, nor his airs,
    nor by anything he wears.

    Thou shalt know him when he comes,
    not by his crown or by his gown.
    But his coming known shall be,
    by the holy harmony
    which his coming makes in thee.

Mark Sirett’s Setting of This Text

(Thanks, Suzanne Matheny for reminding me of this wonderful text.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

“Seraph (and) cherubim…veil their faces to the Presence as with ceaseless voice they cry, ‘Alleluia.’”

“Seraph (and) cherubim…veil their faces to the Presence as with ceaseless voice they cry, ‘Alleluia.’”
Carol: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” – Fifteenth Century

Many of you know that I collect Mickeys, Magi and Angels. I have slowed my angel-collecting since it has become trendy to do so; remember the words rebel and southerner are almost synonymous! Because I have several seraphim and cherubim sitting on shelves around the house, this hymnline may be more significant to me than it is to others.

Today we consider one of the holiest hymnlines ever penned (translated). It is definitely one of those “picture this” phrases. In the Presence, even angels cover their faces and voice their praises. While an obvious allusion to Isaiah’s sixth-chapter experience, these words set to this haunting melody conjure up a warming, hair-on-the-arm-raising reaction (as opposed to arm-raising!). I never sing or hear this without putting myself in their place – standing (or flying) before the very form of the Almighty, now shaped as a human. The melismatic “alleluia” rolls from the lips of the winged messengers, and I have no recourse but to join them… and my mortal silence is broken.

Fernando Ortego Sings This Carol

I love Cynthia Clawson’s version of this, but can’t find it online to share with you. Visit and buy the CAROLSINGER album!!!

Monday, December 1, 2014

“Hope of all the earth thou art. Dear desire of ev’ry nation…”

Carol: “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Common Tune: HYFRYDOL

Disclaimer: I think I used all my favorite Advent/Christmas Carol hymnlines last year! Now I’m having to dig in for some others. That means I may be into less-familiar territory, so bear with me.

If you attend a church that still sings hymns, you might well have sung this Advent carol yesterday. It’s one of those that comes up once a year, usually on the first Sunday of Advent… which in many congregations is the day the “hope” candle is lighted.

This mash-up of two lines from Wesley approaches the hope subject from two sides. On the one hand Messiah is reon.” Similar, but not exactly the same.

As Christian people, we have a deep and abiding hope which is more akin to confidence than to some event or object we want will happen or come our way. During this season of anticipation, we start with the word “hope” because it looks forward; for believers, we don’t “wish” for what might happen in the future; we are confident that it will happen. Our hope is in Christ Jesus, as Paul says consistently in the epistles. That blessed assurance is ours.

Desire is something else altogether. This half of my mash-up is the state in which the yet-to-know-salvation nations find themselves – those peoples who yet await the arrival of a Messiah… a Savior. Almost every time explorers have uncovered a new people-group (tribe), they have found that they await some god-like redeemer. While their descriptors may vary, the Christ of Christmas may well be exactly what they’re waiting for – the desire of every nation.

Hope IS a state of looking forward. Absolutely. We who have already known the joy of the manger, the tragedy of the cross and the mystery of the resurrection can be SURE… sure enough to expose the desiring nature of all humanity to the beauty of that in which we are confident: the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Celtic Setting

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“We, too, should be voicing our love and rejoicing with glad adoration.”

Hymn: “Let All Things Now Living” – Katherine K. Davis (1892-1980)

As “All Creatures of Our God and King” calls all of creation to praise, this 20th Century hymn admonishes all living things to rally in thanksgiving. The upshot is simple: if all of creation - even the crying-out rocks - is involved in gratefulness, so should we. Like them, we also should speak our love, our joy and our adoration to the Giver of all good gifts.

When I sing this hymn (and not often enough, by the way), I mentally translate the word “voicing” to “singing”… because that’s what I’m doing at that moment. There’s nothing wrong with that interpretation, but there are other ways to give voice to our appreciation to and our association with Jehovah Jira – the God who provides.

I probably go here too often in these hymnlines, but our reluctance to speak a good word for God concerns me. MY reluctance concerns me! If indeed I am eternally indebted to this provisionary presence, why do I not openly voice my reliance upon him?

As long as you and I are among those “things now living” – inhaling/exhaling, taking nourishment (on Thursday!), with synapses snapping and blood flowing – we need to keep this hymnline in mind… and act on it! It just might be our best Thanksgiving ever!

This will make you smile!
(Notice how the choir looks at their music even when there are no words!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“And guide us when perplexed.”

“And guide us when perplexed.”

Hymn: “Now Thank We All Our God” – Martin Rinkart (1586-1649)

“Unable to understand something clearly or to think clearly.” So says Merriam-Webster as to the meaning of perplexed. Surface perplexity happens to most of us regularly if not constantly: we are baffled by technology, by science, by the way humans treat humans in traffic or at the shopping mall. God’s guidance out of the simplest lack of understanding or clarity is a good thing to desire, but here I think the hymn-writer was after a deeper, more profound uncertainty… even one which becomes for us a state of mind.

An old gospel song says it like this:
    Trials dark on every hand,
    And we cannot understand
    All the ways that God would lead us
    To that blessed promised land;
    But he guides us with his eye,
    And we'll follow till we die,
    We will understand it better by and by.

It boils down to that I-just-don’t-get-it place in our thinking. A deeper lack of understanding. We are truly puzzled by the way our life is going. We seem to ask “Why?” more often than wish we did. We join the Children of Israel traipsing through the wilderness, for the most part following Moses’ directions and leadership, yet always wondering… to the point of complaining and wanting to give up.

This one-line prayer “Guide us when perplexed” gets at this shared human problem. The puzzlement is common to all of us; the way we handle it varies. But looking to God for guidance, even when we are totally confounded with our “why list,” will set us apart from other wondering wanderers. After all, it’s a wilderness out there.

Puzzled? Baffled? Confounded? Unsure? Me, too. I am, however, confident that with God’s good guidance “we will understand it better by and by.” For that, we can be thankful.

The MTC Sings John Rutter’s Arrangement of This Hymn

Monday, November 24, 2014

“Do not be discouraged. God is over all.”

“Do not be discouraged. God is over all.”
Hymn: “Count Your Blessings” – Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)

Frustration and discouragement are two of our most formidable foes, and they often work hand-in-hand. Many times, frustration causes us to expend too much physical energy trying to ‘fix’ what frustrates us; discouragement consumes our spiritual/mental reservoir.

Elijah was overcome by both when he told God, “I, only I am left” on your side. It’s the way Jonah felt as he sat beneath the worm-chewed vine. This is probably how the disciples felt when they needed to feed the five thousand. This is where many of us too often find ourselves.

This simple truth drawn from the last stanza of one of those gospel songs we trip through as if nothing is worth recalling – this truth that “God is over all” is one we are prone to forget, especially on the front-end of discouragement. Eventually – as though slapped up the side of the head – we believing-types will come around to the realization that God is in control, even in overwhelming, frustrating situations.

This does not free us up to do nothing. Instead, it frees us up to move ahead with the blessed assurance that God has it all under control, and we can ease up a little.

I had a minister friend in Denver who in response to his wife’s ranting-on in frustration would simply admonish her to “maintain.” It was his way of saying “chill out” or “keep your cool.” I have at many times brought that word to mind when trying to settle myself down because I fall prey to frustration and discouragement with the best of them!

Maintain your place under God’s canopy of oversight. There, may we all find the peace that passes understanding; and in that peace may we WITH God work through our frustrating discouragement.

A peppy little setting of this hymn!

Friday, November 21, 2014

“Come to God’s own temple! Come, raise the song of harvest home.”

Hymn: “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” – Henry Alford

This gathering hymn will be sung in many churches this coming Sunday as Americans head into the Thanksgiving holidays. As visions of turkey legs dance in their heads, worshipers will lift this once-per-year choice of worship-planners. Appropriately so, this is a song about the bringing in of the literal sheaves.

The “harvest home” concept is foreign to those of us who grew up in this country. We generally get the idea, but in England they had a big festival to celebrate the end of the harvesting process; they called THEIR autumn celebration the “Harvest Home.” Attached to this celebration were songs, so “raise the song of harvest home” is significant.

On this side of the pond, the farmers developed their own Harvest Home celebration calling it “Thanksgiving” instead. Beginning as a simple fete, it has evolved into a major break-in-the-action of the fall schedule; it has become the portal into the Christmas season… a la Macy’s parade.

Around this, we have adopted some harvest home songs from other nations: “We Gather Together” (Dutch), “Now Thank We All Our God” (German), “Let All Things Now Living” (Welch), and so on. “Count Your Blessings” and “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” sprang from American minds!

My point here pretty straight-forward: when you come to the house of God this Sunday, if they sing this hymn, realize that the “song of harvest home” is one that praises God for all his blessings of the past year, symbolized by the completion of the field-gleaning. Though many of us come from the bucolic lineage, few are still farming – planting, tending, harvesting. We can, however, join our ancestry to raise a song of great appreciation to our provisional God.

If you can’t attend a barn-raising this next week, at least you can participate in a song-raising!

Here is a gorgeous setting of this text to a fresh tune.
Thanks, Billy Coburn, for sending it to me.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

“Lord, I confess to thee sadly my sin. All I am tell I thee, all I have been.”

Hymn: “No, Not Despairingly” – Horatius Bonar (1808-1899)

This is the second Horatius Bonar hymn I’ve used this week. Obviously, his texts resonate with me on a deeper plane.

To borrow a word from this hymnline, “sadly” not many evangelical churches sing this hymn any more. That is sad for me because there may be no other complete hymn in all of church history with more profound one-liners than this one. Those “ruminating” texts are why I am committed to hymns – congregational and devotional.

Two of the most introspective sentences in all hymndom are spoken here. Nothing frivolous or superficial. “Sadly, righteous Christ, I admit there are some darknesses in my life that I cannot express out loud to any human. You know about all this already, of course, but I need to tell you the whole truth of who I am and what I’ve done… who I’ve been. Here goes…” A chill should have come across you as you pondered that. If not, go back and read it again!

In the hymn, Bonar goes on to ask for purging, washing and cleansing; it is a true confession.

For me, the great mercy of this text is that I can lay it all out there – expose myself, so to speak – and my relationship with Christ will not be affected. Do you realize that? Do you really? This ability of the Savior to continue loving me in spite of the sad shape my life may have been in – I am blown away by that. Absolutely blown away.

Like any good friend, in all likelihood the response of Christ is, “I know. I know. It’s okay. We’re still okay.”

Though too often omitted from public worship, confession is still good for the soul… for THIS poor soul at least.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“Trusting Jesus, that is all.”

“Trusting Jesus, that is all.”
Hymn: “Trusting Jesus” – Edgar Page Stites (1836-1921)

“That is all.” Fans of STAR WARS will recall that this was a dismissive phrase from Darth Vader. Some of us remember it was the last line of the classic M.A.S.H. series. The phrase is often used to bring a list to a close. In internet shorthand, TIA.

In the CB radio days, the conversations were punctuated by “over,” meaning that’s all… it’s your turn to talk.

John Keats said, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." Although her quote seems Oprah-esque, Audrey Hepburn summed it up this way: “The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – that is all that matters.”

Me? I’ll go with a Jesus quote: “Trust me.” (Mark 5:36, Luke 8:50, John 14:1, etc.)

"Trusting Jesus, that is all." The bottom line of my commitment to Christ is summed up in those five words which conclude each stanza and the refrain of what may seem like a light-hearted romp of a gospel song. When the dust settles, when it is all said and done, at the end of the day (and other aphorisms!), I trust Jesus. Period.

Trust Jesus. Over and out, good buddy.

From a 1970 Assembly of God Choir Album

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

“Let us talk of all his wondrous love and care.”

“Let us talk of all his wondrous love and care.”

Hymn: “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” – Words & Music by James M. Black (1856-1938)

I’m back to my roots here, using a toe-tapping gospel song from the Revivalist tradition… one that is most often omitted from current hymnals. It is, however, familiar to most of us from various denominational backgrounds. It’s a staple at Waxahachie’s Old Fashioned Singing Project.*

The local community theater recently did THE MUSIC MAN featuring one of my grandsons in a four-measure solo! It’s a favorite show of all us “music men and women” who have spent our entire lives convincing people they CAN make music, even before their instrument shows up. I left many people waiting for their Wells Fargo Wagon to arrive.

In that show, there is a group of local ladies-who-talk… okay, they gossip and embellish. Their song is “Pick a Little, Talk a Little.” Their conversation consumes them, and they are often the highlight of the production.

When you and your allies get together, about what do you talk? I’m probably in don’t-ask-don’t-tell territory here, but you probably get the picture. It may be more like the Pick-a-Little Ladies than any of us want to admit.

Hidden amongst the rollicking measures of “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” we come across this admonition to TALK about Jesus – his character, his nature, his personality. Unlike having a little talk WITH Jesus, we’re encouraged to have a little talk ABOUT Jesus.

It is sometimes uncomfortable for even the most faithful follower to bring up the subject of our Leader. But we should. Whenever we have opportunity, we need to put in a good word for the Savior. It is not necessary to lay out a full theology or some extensive plan to lure them into the kingdom; it is, however, a good idea to speak well of the One we call Lord.

The next time your bitty-group (roosters are as bad as hens, by the way) takes a turn toward gossip or unwholesome talk, turn the topic upside down and say something good about Jesus. We couldn’t cover “all his wondrous love and care” in a single conversation, but anything we can put out there which makes him look good will elevate his standing among our friends. It is, after all, one of the ways we “magnify” the Lord.

This Hymn from the Gaither Homecoming

“Pick a Little, Talk a Little” – Just for fun!

                                      * - A local non-profit for which I serve in my spare time as the Artistic Director.

Monday, November 17, 2014

“Look unto me. Your morn shall rise, and all your days be bright.”

Hymn: “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” – Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
Various Tunes: KINGSFOLD, VOX DILECTI, SPOHR… and others!

To refresh your memory, each stanza of this hymn begins with the declaration, “I heard the voice of Jesus say,” followed by a theme for each stanza. Here are the things he said to Horatius Bonar – and to the rest of us:
•    Come unto me and rest.
•    Behold, I freely give the living water.
•    I am this dark world’s light.

Today’s hymnline follows that final-stanza’s beginning phrase and is related to light overcoming darkness.

When I was a college student, some of my Pigeon Forge cronies and I would go camping atop a short mountain that overlooked the valley in which we grew up. I have lots of good memories from those outings, but the thing I recall most vividly is getting up early the following morning, starting a campfire, and watching the day begin.

Those hills are called the “Smokies” for a reason: they are often engulfed in low, hovering clouds. On those early morning’s perched atop uncle Chock’s land, we looked due east and waited for the sun to make its appearance above the mountain opposite us. At last, it would arise, and as it did, the clouds would begin to subside… literally crawl down the gorges. It was as if the rising sun melted the mist and sent it on its way.

[I should probably have used this story for “Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away!”]

After we had enjoyed our early-morning spectacle of God, we packed up and headed back down toward home to shower and get ready to work another day at Goldrush Jct… the amusement park that is now Dollywood! The sun was up, and so were we… ready to attack another day as only young adults can do.

Every morning, look toward Christ. When the light of Christ arises and we allow that brightness to invade the nooks and crannies of our darkened spaces, all the daylight hours will be brighter.

A few other hymn titles come to mind: “Look and Live.” “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus.” “Look, Ye Saints! The Sight Is Glorious.” “Be Thou My Vision.”

That final stanza ends with this conviction: “And in that Light of life I’ll walk till travelling days are done.” And all the people said…

A Setting of the KINGSFOLD Tune

Friday, November 14, 2014

“I come, I wait, I hear, I pray.”

Hymn: “My Lord, My Love Was Crucified” – John Mason (1645-1694)
Typical Tune: BEATITUDO

This is from the final stanza of a hymn a hymn you probably do not know very well… if at all. I use it here because it is a succinct outline for worship at its core. Here is the full stanza:

          I come, I wait, I hear, I pray;
          Thy footsteps, Lord, I trace.
          I sing to think this is the way
          Unto my Savior’s face.

Come into the presence of God with anticipation. Wait quietly and patiently as long as it takes. Give rapt attention to everything you hear, spoken or sung by humans – or by the Spirit. Speak your joys, your sorrows, your wants and needs. Trace (recount) the events in the earthly journey of Jesus and his activity in your own trek. Let song arise when you realize you have encountered once again your Savior face to face.

How simple. How profound. How overlooked.

In most public worship nowadays, there is so much happening around us, we have difficulty following these basic steps toward the throne. Little silence, few readings from the Word, little (if any) time for introspection. Often we find the Living Christ in spite of ourselves!

But when it is just us alone with God in private consultation, we can follow the brief rubric of John Mason’s ancient hymn text:
•    Come
•    Wait
•    Hear
•    Pray
•    Trace (Recall)
•    and maybe Sing!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

“Who with me my burdens share? None but thee, dear Lord, none but thee.”

Hymn: “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” – Anonymous

Beast of Burden. Lamb of God.

With the weight of the world heavy upon me, I trudge along under the load. At times I seem to enjoy pointing out to my fellow strugglers how cumbersome is my allotted baggage. Someone may say, “Can I help you with that?” -- to which I heroically respond, “No, I’ve got it.” What a liar I become.

I’ve mentioned before my envisioning Pilgrim in his progress, toting the knapsack of sin. Again, that image is before me. Can you bring that one up on your mind-screen?

We don’t think of a lamb as being a pack animal in this culture, but sheep are used around the world to carry things for their owners… not as much a llama or mules, but it is done. Perhaps if John had cried out by the Jordan, “Behold the Lamb of God who carries the burdens of the world,” we would have better understood the concept of allowing Christ to assist… not only with the bearing our sin but also with our everyday life-imposed burdens.

The closer walk with Jesus allows him to be of greater assistance. I’ve not done it, but those people who have ridden mules into the Grand Canyon on super-narrow pathways would probably get the picture I’m after here.

The song from FROZEN may be the hymn the Savior sings to us this day: “Let it go! Let it go! --Let me help.”

Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson Sing This Gospel Song

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

“Keep me, O keep me, King of kings, beneath the shelter of your wings.”

Hymn: “All Praise to You, My God This Night” – Thomas Ken (1637-1711)
Typical Tune: TALLIS’ CANON

The wing-sheltering concept interlaces itself throughout scripture, always reminding us of the protective, parenting/mothering nature of God. Jesus showed his feminine side when he scolded Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings…” (Matt. 23:37, Luke 13:34)

Lots of hymns and gospel songs carry this theme. From “Under His Wings” to “The Great Speckled Bird,” we are invited and encouraged to find refuge positioned near to the heart of God.

None of us avoid safety; in fact, we crave it. It’s why we live in walled, locked homes, why we drive impact-ready vehicles, why we rely on our local police forces, why we have a Department of Homeland Security, etc. Because it is in our nature to seek out safekeeping, this nestled-under-his-wings is a place we want to be.

I gravitate to this hymn’s text because it is a prayer… even a plea… for maintenance: “Continue to be a shelter to me. Maintain your strong grip upon me.”

There is safety in numbers, but there is also security cuddled all alone in the shelter of the everlasting arms.

A Fugue on the Tallis Tune with This Text

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Peace is there that knows no measure."

Hymn: “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” – John Bowring (1792-1872)
Typical Tune: RATHBUN

In this seven-word phrase, the prolific poet/hymn writer John Browning captures the essence of the disposition of those who have found their place in the shadow of the cross of Christ. Not only is the peace immeasurable, it is also beyond explanation.

Those of us who have lived the faith-life for most of our days have trouble explaining our REAL reaction to the cross-event. While to us it may “go without saying,” sometimes it needs to be said – to be expressed. The great hymns of the church give us that opportunity.

I’ve also spoken the language of music for most of my life. I’m the kind who when bowling (yes, I bowl occasionally... have my own ball and shoes!) invariably asks what measure we are in. I know full well they are called frames, but I group my downed pins into measures. My favorite bowling meter is 10/4 by the way… as it is with my CB radio talk.

Those of us who use another language all the time sometimes forget that everyone around us doesn’t speak that language or understand it. That’s why sometimes we need to explain ourselves… even with spiritual things. When another is struggling without any sense of direction or stability in their lives, we can speak a word of peace – and if appropriate, carry that description to the cross where we achieve that peace that surpasses understanding or carnal comprehension.

Lost that peaceful easy feeling that once you overwhelmingly sensed at the cross? Maybe it’s time to go back for a refresher course in how a tragic death can instill in us such concord.

Call a ceasefire with your raging self.

This text set to Bach “Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring”

Friday, September 26, 2014

“Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross but is blessed when we trust and obey.”

Hymn: “Trust and Obey” – John H. Sammis (1846-1919)

Grief, losses, frowns, crosses. All these are hard to bear… or to bear up under. At the time of their occurrence, nothing about any of them seems to be a blessing – not even close.

Trusting to the point of obedience gets us through these experiences and often brings us out on the other side with a realization that as rough as the time may have been, our lives were blessed by having passed through.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not eat you alive.” (Isaiah 43:2)

It’s that “passing through” that we’re dealing with here. In the midst of the waters and the fires, we cannot imagine that it will be well with us any time soon – if ever again. That Hee-Haw “gloom, despair and agony on me” song replaces our hymns of confidence.

A frown from someone can just about ruin your day. It is the lesser of the difficulties listed in this hymnline, but it is truly amazing how much affect a snarly dismissal has on our own attitude. On the other hand, a smile or a word of encouragement carries us a long way as we are “passing through” the more difficult times of grieving, losing and cross-bearing.

Davis Cooper (my Denver pastor) said that “trust and obey” pretty much sums up what we believers are called to do. I think he was right… as usual!

Trusting obedience brings a blessing… eventually!

Recording from The Hymn Club

Thursday, September 25, 2014

“Sing with blest anticipation.”

“Sing with blest anticipation.”
Hymn: “’Tis the Church Triumphant Singing” – John Kent (1766-1843)
Common Tune: AR HYD Y NOS

We talk a lot about “participatory” worship experiences: everybody jump in there and participate vigorously! What if we promoted “anticipatory” worship?

Have you ever thought about anticipation being a blessing? Well, it is. We have been blessed with the gift of anticipation... and we emphasize that during the Advent season.

Those who believe in the providence of God approach every aspect of life with a sense of expectation – expecting the hand of God to lead them through the day and the eye of God to be ever-watching, protecting, overseeing their every move… for their own good and the good of the kingdom.

Indeed, we anticipate the Kingdom which is yet to come, promised to us beyond this earthly journey; but if we only anticipate THAT reality, we miss out on the everyday provisions – those which surround us on THIS trek.

The next time you sing – corporately or alone – do it with a sincere hope of that which is yet to come your way… far in the future AND close at hand. It is that kind of anticipatory worship that truly keeps us going, confident that God is at work. Go ahead: “Sing with blest anticipation.”

This hymn tune played at the organ

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

“Here bring your wounded hearts. Here tell your anguish.”

“Here bring your wounded hearts. Here tell your anguish.”
Hymn: “Come, Ye Disconsolate” – Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

We’re familiar with the use of “county seat” – the “seat” of government – the place where local authority is exercised. We also use it as a synonym for the center – where some concept prevails – e.g. the “seat of learning.”

Today’s hymnline follows the admonition, “Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.” It is there that mercy-filled authority is exercised and wounded hearts and anguished lives are welcomed and dealt with. It’s a beautiful thought… a heart-warming image.

The church should be a mercy seat – a seat of mercy – a place where the concept prevails. To be all it is meant to be, the body of Christ must embrace the wounded, anguished masses one at a time… not to condemn them but to aid in their healing and restoration. The church’s ad campaign should include this hymnline… not as a church-growth gimmick, but as a sincere “all come.”

It has been said that the church is known as the only army which shoots their wounded. That image has to change. The merciful Christ demands it.

To quote Wayne Watson, the church needs to become the “Friend of a Wounded Heart.”

This Hymn Sung by the Men of Baylor’s A Cappella Choir

Wayne Watson Sings “Friend of a Wounded Heart”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

“The church for you doth wait, her strength unequal to her task. Rise up, and make her great.”

Hymn: “Rise Up, O Men of God” - William P. Merrill (1867-1954)

“I can’t do this on my own.” “There’s more here to do than I can get done.” “My strength is unequal to my task.” We’ve all said something like this countless times in our lives. Some of us say to ourselves some variation on this every day of our lives.

As a church body, we need to admit this: our strength is unequal to our task. We rely completely on the power of Christ among us to guide us… yea, even pull us… toward the goal of worship, work and witness.

Because it is a sexist title, we sometimes avoid this hymn nowadays; in fact, it is omitted from several newer hymnals. However, when we do that, we are guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, missing some not-to-be- forgotten truths – like this one.

I’ve mentioned several times that we need to pay attention “to whom” the hymn is addressed. In this case, we are singing to ourselves… to our fellow believers – not just the men folk! In modern-speak, we would say it like this: “Somebody needs to step up. There is no way that individually we can accomplish all that the church needs to do.” That’s not nearly as poetic, but that IS what we sing when these words pass our lips.

In order for the church to fulfill her mission – to be “great” – rank-and-file everyday members must step up. There are gaps in every church – places waiting to be filled by people whose gifts “fit” the empty space. The church is WAITING for individuals to strengthen weakened or non-existent ministries. The world is waiting. Christ is waiting.

Will I be the one who will rise up, and make her great? Will you?

The Northern Lights Chorale Sings This Hymn

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)