Friday, March 28, 2014

"And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood?"

"And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood?"
Hymn: “And Can It Be?” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

This is one of the most thrilling hymns. To quote Jennifer Lopez from AMERICAN IDOL, “I get goosies” (goose bumps) every time we hit the final statement: “Amazing love! How can it be that thou my God should die for me?”

But today, I want to deal with the opening hymnline – the first words of the hymn – which ask one of those ponderably profound questions. This is not one to trip over lightly and not notice the depth of what you are asking.

This word “interest” is key. It is not used here as a fascination or curiosity, as in “Isn’t the blood of Jesus just captivating?” Although that is true, HERE “interest” is more about apportionment… that we share in the atoning, life-giving flow. “Is it possible that I might share in the benefits of the Savior’s blood?” That’s more what is suggested here.

In the banking world, gaining interest is something we understand. When the interest rates go up on our investments, we are pleased to hear that. We believers are gaining interest in the investment made by the Father through his Son on the cross. (I understand so little about the financial world, I will not even try to carry this analogy any further! I’ll leave that to my banker bonus-son!)

The next line asks if Jesus died for me, even though I caused his pain. There is an implied answer to both questions: Yes! It is possible that you can gain an interest in the Savior’s blood. And yes! He died in your place even though your actions and attitudes may cause him excessive distress.

It is great if you find the cross interesting. It is even better if you own a share in its investment.

A sturdy congregational singing of this hymn

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"So shall our song of triumph ever be: Praise to the Crucified for victory!"

Hymn: “Lift High the Cross” – George W. Kitchin (1827-1912)

This is not a hymn I grew up singing. The first time I sang it at a Chorister’s Guild event, it burned a place deep in my memory; it is a moment I’ll never forget. “What a wonderful hymn,” I whispered to myself as the tall brass cross was carried down the aisle at some church in north Dallas where the conference was being held. Every time we hit the refrain, a new part of my faith soared: “Lift high the cross. The love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred name.”

The stanzas of this hymn are very brief. Today’s hymnline is an entire stanza… usually printed as the last. It sums up the gist of the entire hymn: Therefore, our everlasting song of praise will be to the One who was crucified – whose victory over death and the grave allowed us to triumph as well. HIS victory has given US a song of triumph.

So sing it, sister!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"O cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to hide from thee."

"O cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to hide from thee."

Hymn: “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” – George Matheson (1842-1906)
Typical Tune: ST. MARGARET

I have a running joke with Cynthia Clawson and Ragan Courtney about this hymn because, while singing for our wedding, she forgot the words. It’s a long story… but she cannot deny it: I have it on video!

This is great poem… hymn. I will return to it again in these posts, but this last stanza speaks to us particularly during the Lenten season when possibly too often we go about with downcast eyes… too concerned with our return-to-ashes state. It may be time to “Lift thine eyes, O lift thine eyes” to see the ever-present symbol of the crucifixion just ahead.

It is almost an oxymoron that an event which calls us to turn our face away in horror or bow in grave reverence and appreciation might also be a time in which our heads are lifted to remind us of what happened there. It is as if a kind, gentle, nail-scarred hand touches the chin and raises the lowered visage to once again come face to face with the realities of suffering and shame.

This is not one of those easily-comprehended hymnlines. We could spend some time here pulling the possibilities from the few words given. For me, every time I sing or hear this stanza, I am reminded that I should not be ashamed to be connected to the One died there. At the same time, it calls me not to shirk my commitment to the One whose love will not release me from its grasp.

With my face lifted by the realities of the cross, I wouldn’t dare request “a pass” on the suffering which might come my way; there is no way I would stand around the corner and peek at the anguish, distress or humiliation which might be my lot after having taken up the cross and following the Savior of humankind.

Need a face-lift? Allow the cross the privilege of giving you one!

Hear All Four Stanzas Sung in This Setting

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"My sin, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more."

"My sin, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more."
Hymn: “It Is Well with My Soul” – Horatio Spafford (1828-188)

This is a favorite hymn of many… including my wife, Carlita; and it is way up on my list. When I was at Southwestern Seminary and they still sang hymns in chapel, they did a survey of favorite hymns of students, placing this one at the top just above “To God Be the Glory” and (of course) “Amazing Grace”!

Sadly, this is the stanza (the to-be-most-pitied third) often skipped over when one is jettisoned for time purposes in worship-planning. I say “sadly” because after the flowing of peaceful rivers, sorrows rolling like sea-billows, Satan buffeting, and the coming of great trials, THIS stanza tells why it is well with my soul.

Some hymnlines I just can’t sing aloud; I get choked up, teared up… and I just mouth the text. This is one of those. Spafford has worded for me what I could not say on my own: all my sin – not just part, but the whole of it – has been nailed to the cross along with my Redeemer. As one who has trouble letting go, this line reminds me that I can release it; I no longer have to shoulder my transgressions. Sometimes when I am given opportunity to sing this stanza, I gather my wits and am able to phonate by “Praise the Lord, O my soul!”

During the Lenten season or at a weekend retreat, some of us are given the opportunity to scribble some iniquity on a 3” x 5” card and symbolically lay it at the foot of the cross… or even tack it a wooden facsimile. It’s a nice little exercise, but it can only be fully understood if you bring at least three packages of cards with you! It’s that “sin, not in part, but the whole” that completes the imagery.

I’m a Kenny Chesney fan. Sorry, musical-snob friends, it’s true! He has a great song called “There Goes My Life.” You can Google it later. However, each time you see a cross on display, smile a little bit and say with all kinds of sincere confidence, “There goes my sin… all of it.”

Choral Arrangement of This Hymn (counter #315)

Monday, March 24, 2014

"In the cross of Christ I glory, tow'ring o'er the wrecks of time."

"Cross of Rubble" - Ray Tapajna
"In the cross of Christ I glory, tow'ring o'er the wrecks of time."
Hymn: “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” – John Bowring (1792-1872)

What does this word “glory” mean as it opens this hymn? At the time Bowring wrote these words, it meant “to boast.” Now, I know we are told since the Cradle Roll class that we should never boast or brag, but this bold statement has a precedent.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me.” (6:14) Newer versions actually use the word “brag”!

Some grandparents carry with them what they refer to as their “brag book.” It’s nothing more than a photo album of their grandchildren looking all bright, clever and achieving! We’re fine with that… we’ve come to expect it! Most of my friends are doing this via their i-phones!

We have only one area of life in which we can boast without shame: the redeeming act of Christ on the cross. Outside that, we become braggarts or annoyingly self-centered!

The ravages of sin-filled time have left wreckage in their path. Dismantled lives, dysfunctional families, dismembered countries, disoriented cultures… and the dis-es go on! Yet, high above all this carnage stands the Old Rugged Cross. And in that cross, it’s okay to take some pride… to rejoice in the victory… even to boast or brag. So have at it!

Hear this hymn played at the piano

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Days of darkness still come o'er me, sorrows path I often tread."

Hymn: “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story” – Francis H. Rowley (1854-1952)

Lenten days are by nature dark days. There is less joy wound into our worship; we are focused more on the suffering Christ than on the living/healing/teaching Lord. And we’re supposed to refrain from singing ‘hallelujah’ during the Sundays that link together these forty days. So this hymnline seems appropriate, don’t you think?

Growing up, singing this text at a breakneck speed to the WONDROUS STORY tune, the words didn’t seem to match the rollicking, dotted-rhythm melody. All the talk of lostness, being bruised and faint, blindness and possession by fear: those seemed to be ‘downers’ to me!

In spite of my faith walk, days of darkness still come o’er me and sorrow’s path I often tread. Following after Christ does not grant immunity from the common struggles of life… despite what you may have heard from a television preacher recently. In fact, sometimes the darknesses seem even darker, and the sorrows feel deeper. But like this hymnline, we face those with a profound sense of hope that joy will come in the morning! The line continues with “but the Savior still is with me, by his hand I’m safely led.”

In our days of darkness and sorrow, we are not alone! No, never alone.

Let’s not let these cross-anticipating days to drag us down. Let’s focus on the sacrifice made at Calvary, but let us not lose sight of the hope that lies just three days beyond Lent. And may our dark days – whether in Lent or any other season – be survivable because we are not alone: the Savior still is with us, by his hand we’re safely led.

Hear Sandi Patty sing this text to a fresh tune

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Near the cross, O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me."

"Near the cross, O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me."

Hymn: “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)

It is difficult for most of us to think on the extreme suffering of Christ during those last hours – the scourgings, the pressing down of the thorns into his forehead, the struggling through the streets of Jerusalem beneath the cross-bar, the nailing of his hands and feet to the cross, the piercing of his side, his final breath. Just typing those phrases was not a pleasant experience.

I remember when Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST hit the screens, many fine Christians refused to go because it was so gruesome; they did not want to see such a graphic reenactment. The church I served at the time in Chapel Hill rented the theater across the street, watched it together, and came back to the church for the pastor to unpack it for us.

Everything about the faith-life doesn’t need to be pleasant. I certainly did not “enjoy” that film, but my understanding of the suffering Servant was strengthened by the experience.

This third stanza (often skipped in congregational singing) is the only one in which Fanny Crosby addresses Christ directly; it is in fact a brief prayer:
    Near the cross, O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me.
    Help me walk from day to day with its shadow o’er me.

In our process of understanding the cross-event, it is necessary that we not look away… that we not turn our eyes away from Jesus. With Miss Crosby, we need to ask that the scene be played over and over in our mind’s eye. This act of replaying might well help us walk more closely to our Savior, as the beautiful awfulness of the cross casts an eternal shadow across our earthly pathway.

Hear This Hymn Sung in Worship

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."

"Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
Hymn: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

This final phrase from one of the best-loved Christian hymns – especially during Lent – pulls together all the previous stanzas to state the proper response to our giving attention to the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.

We have been called upon to count our richest gain as loss – or to consider all that we’ve amassed in this life as nothing. Instructed to have contempt for – to hate – our prideful nature, we’ve promised God that we would never boast in anything except the death of his Son. We have committed to turn instruments of vanity into a sacrifice for our blood-bought redemption.

We have looked with reverence upon the head, hands and feet of the Crucified One from whom sorrow and love become a confluence flowing slowly downward. Have ever love and sorrow intertwined in such a way? Has ever a rich crown been formed from bramble-bush thorns?

Then we come to the end of the hymn, admitting that nothing created could possibly be gift enough for all this suffering. Instead, our total surveillance of the wondrous cross demands total commitment… a sacrifice of soul, life, and all that we are.

Thank you, Isaac Watts, for walking us through the crucifixion event with such beautiful language… language to sing together as a great congregation of those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb... language which at once communicates our sorrow and our love.

Hear Gilbert Martin’s Setting of This Hymn

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Beneath the cross of Jesus, I gladly take my stand."

Hymn: “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” – Elizabeth Clephane (1830-1869)

Following on yesterday’s post about proximity to the cross, this opening hymnline of one of my favorite Lenten hymns has a similar theme. After answering the question “Are we there yet?”, we are drawn within “the shadow of a mighty rock” and “a home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way.”

We often steer away from singing this hymn because in the original text printed in most hymnals, the word “fain” is used instead of the word “gladly.” When our mind has to stop and wonder what a word means, we sometimes lose the thought that follows; therefore, I’m glad that some song books and arrangements are using less archaic language to help us ‘get it’ without explanation!

I would have used the word “proudly,” but pride is such a no-no in church-speak! However, we should be proud to take our stand with Christ at the foot of his cross, shouldn’t we?!

Taking our stand for Christ and with Christ is vital for those of us who would be counted as one of His. Our placement keeps people from second-guessing who we are and whose we are. In today’s society, that establishment of our post is key to our vitality as witnesses to “the very dying form of One who suffered there for me.”

Looking for prime real estate in the Kingdom? Find it beneath the cross of Jesus.

A Men’s A Cappella Setting of This Hymn

Monday, March 17, 2014

"Near the cross I'll watch and wait, hoping, trusting ever."

Hymn: “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) 

Proximity is a wonderful thing in any relationship. We never want to be far from the people we love most. That’s why Hallmark has a whole series of cards from “across the miles”!

Maintaining a close proximity to the cross is of great importance to those of us who are Christ-followers. Many people accessorize with a cross, wearing it daily as a reminder to themselves that they are inextricably affiliated with the One whose life and death are represented by two intersecting straight lines. For many years in my early ministry, I dangled a wooden cross from my neck so that every time it struck my chest, I was reminded whose I was… and my minute-by-minute commitment to him.

You may not ‘wear’ a cross daily, but you need to be prompted to stray not far from the influence of the cross on your daily decision-making.

Beneath the cross of Jesus is a good place to keep vigilance, with a watchful eye to avoid failure and mis-steps. There we can wait… be still… learn patience. It is also a great vantage point from which to view hope as a constant under-girder of our faith experience. And is there a better place to express our trust in Him who redeems us, comforts us, restores us – yea, even saves us?

In the context of Fanny Crosby’s text, this hymnline is about watching for, waiting on, hoping toward, and trusting in the ultimate return of Christ. The following line says, “till I reach the golden strand just beyond the river.”

I agree with all that; but it is also the place I watch for God, wait for him to act, hope that his will is done in my life, and trust that he will see me through TODAY… whether or not his return is imminent!

Need a change of place? Come over here and stand with me near the cross. Proximity is a wonderful thing.

Hear Hastings College Choir sing Robert Sterling’s arrangement of this hymn

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"To teach the way of life and peace, it is the Christ-like thing."

Hymn: “We Give Thee But Thine Own” – William W. How (1823-1897)

While reminding us that all we have already belongs to God and is on loan from us, this offertory hymn includes today’s hymnline which speaks to our being people of peace, teaching a peaceful lifestyle to those within our circle of influence – not because it’s the trendy thing but because it is the Christ-like thing.

At University Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, NC where I served last in a full-time capacity, our motto was “Moving toward Christlikeness.” That phrase was printed on our Sunday bulletins, in our publicity pieces, on our church stationery, etc. It probably caught on better than any theme I’ve ever encountered at the local church level. Not only was it a motto; it became the goal of our congregation. More than once in committee meetings or Bible study classes, I heard someone ask, “Is this the Christ-like thing to do?”

I’m pretty sure that Christ would approve of our being a people of peace. Having modeled that for us, it seems as if our promoting amity or harmony would be in keeping with the pathway down which he has led us.

President Ronald Reagan said, “Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” I think he was right about that. We may be conflicted at just about every turn in our decision-making… even in our dealings with others; however, if we can set out to intentionally settle those in ways which reflect the peace that passes understanding, we will become teachers of that Christ-like way of life and peace.

A congregational singing of the SCHUMANN tune

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free."

"O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free."
Hymn: “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” – Samuel Trevor Francis (1834-1925)

As we head toward the sacrificial event of Good Friday, we need to re-appreciate the deep, deep love of Jesus. I join the apostle Paul in his prayer for the church at Ephesus: “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.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19a) Wide, long, high, deep – these measurements are helpful to our understanding of the love by which Christ was infused so deeply that he was willing and able to endure death on the behalf of others… even 21st Century strangers-yet-sinners.

This hymnline indicates that even dimensions, amounts, and quantities cannot adequately measure the extent of Christ’s love for humankind. “Vast” is a great, limitless word to use here: unmeasurably boundless. I think you get the picture!

But that word “free” has more than one meaning. The love of Christ is offered without a price attached… without cost from us… even without a coupon! It is also free in that it runs rampant throughout all time and space, offering itself to those whose hands are willing to grab for it and whose hearts are willing to put it to good use.

And let’s not overlook that beginning exclamation: “O”! It seems to call us aside to enjoy that which follows. This simple one syllable expresses so much of the profundity of our religious experience and is so often found in Scripture and in song lyrics, offering us a circle into which we might stand and take it all in!

Let us come apart from the busy-ness of our life and turn our eyes upon Jesus, fully aware of his deep, deep love. Otherwise, we might just come apart!

Contemporary Setting

Straight-forward Singing

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)