Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"As devout and patient scholars more and more its depths reveal."

Scriptorium Monk

Hymn: “Word of God, across the Ages” – Ferdinand Q. Blanchard (1876-1968)
Typical Tune: AUSTRIAN HYMN

This hymnline in context:
    … may the message bless and heal
    As devout and patient scholars more and more its depths reveal.
    Bless, O God, to wise and simple all the truth of ageless worth…


I appreciate so much when pastors and Bible teachers are prepared, when they have plumbed the passages they deal with in public, when they have read and studied the writings of other biblical scholars and theologians. Those devout and patient scholars have given their lives to a fuller understanding of what God is trying to tell his people through the written Word.

I was talking to a friend the other day who said he didn’t like hearing a certain local pastor preach because he seems to have studied too much. My friend’s preference is to have pulpiteers who “preach from their heart and their own experience.”

Some preachers and Bible teachers may tend to TELL us too much (I plead guilty to this one!), but I would never criticize anyone for being too well-prepared to unveil the truth of scripture. I want to learn something new every time the scriptures are opened: a fact, a revelation, a syntax, a meaningful realization… an ‘ah ha moment.’

With the writer of this fairly contemporary hymn (as hymn history goes!), I applaud those who have patiently combed those not-so-easy-to-understand passages, gone back to the original languages, studied the contexts and the situations. I am grateful to those whose gift is “gardening” the Word of God.


from Corban University

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Thy name be my theme, and thy love be my song."

"Thy name be my theme, and thy love be my song."
Hymn: “I Love Thee” – from Jeremiah Ingall’s Christian Harmony (1805)
Tune: I LOVE THEE

Again we find this pithy hymnline tucked into the second half of the third-and-often-skipped stanza of this sturdy old pre-Civil War hymn. We have no idea who penned these words, but there’s a good bit of honesty woven throughout the hymn.

I keep posting these prayers… fragments of hymn texts that speak directly to God the Creator, the Redeemer, the Spirit. This entire hymn is addressed to Christ; it is ALL a prayer.

This hymnline, though, catches my attention each time it crosses my mind, especially as I sing it aloud in worship. It basically says that I want the nature or character of Christ to be the very theme of my life – the leitmotif, if you please – that recurring theme that is indicative of who Christ is and who I want to be.

Not to wax too music-professor here, but most of us are familiar with the music form called “Theme and Variations.” In that form, a basic theme is stated simply to open the piece; it is usually straight-forward, unencumbered, obvious. After that, the theme is presented in a variety of ways – variations on the first-stated melody.

For us Christian folk, it would be good if we took one of the attributes of Christ – his nature or character – and developed it into everything about our lives. Let’s take the characteristic of “grace” from the arsenal of those things for which Christ stands. If every thought and action were a variation on the theme of grace, our lives would better reflect the main Theme himself.

In THIS hymnline, the unknown writer set out to make “love” the theme of his/her song.

    Thy name be my theme, and thy love be my song;
    Thy grace shall inspire both my heart and my tongue.


May the very essence of who Christ is be the theme of my life, and may love be the song my comrades “hear” through my words and deeds. That’s a prayer worth verbalizing… and living by.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"O Jesus, nothing may I see, nothing desire or seek but thee."

"O Jesus, nothing may I see, nothing desire or seek but thee."
Hymn: “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me” – Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
Typical Tune: ST. CATHERINE

What a great prayer this hymnline is. Simple, straight-forward, to the point.

John Wesley actually translated this from a much older hymn text, so more of Wesley’s ability to turn a phrase may be involved. Either way, if we who purpose to be close followers of Christ would begin our day with THIS prayer, we might find it answered in richly meaningful ways.

If we turn our eyes upon Jesus only, want nothing but him and his presence, and pursue no other spiritual goal, we are almost guaranteed a closer relationship with the Divine.

I said earlier that I begin every day singing at least part of the hymn “I Am Thine, O Lord.” Maybe I’ll start alternating days with this one!
  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing eternal hallelujahs."


Hymn: “He Lives” – Words and Music by Alfred Ackley (1887-1960)
Tune: ACKLEY

This final hymnline from this week-long delving into a standard gospel song echoes Paul’s admonition to the church at Philippi: “’Rejoice in the Lord always.’ Again I say, ‘Rejoice’.” (4:4) I’ve always appreciated the way that even Paul had to repeat himself to get people to delight in the Lord as they worshiped!

In this hymnline, we Christ-followers who have recently celebrated his resurrection are called upon to make some noise in response to this miraculous event by singing continuous hallelujahs.

There is something about our sung praise that seems to go on forever, ricocheting through time and space… never ending. A hearty hallelujah from our mouths to God’s ears is ceaseless as it reverberates.

The very word “hallelujah” (or some form of it) is common to every language. I’ve always thought that is so when we gather on heaven’s shore, we’ll all be language-linked by that one word if nothing else. THEN we will literally join those eternal hallelujahs.

“Rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King.” And again I say, “Rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King.”

A cappella Singing of This Hymn

                                                    

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Though my heart grows weary, I never will despair."


Hymn: “He Lives” – Words and Music by Alfred Ackley (1887-1960)
Tune: ACKLEY

Now and then I get weary… of body mostly nowadays… but often I get weary of heart… weary of spirit. I think I am not alone in this one!

But despair? By definition, this is the complete loss of hope… the absence of optimism. Have you ever been just this side of despair? Have you ever felt that if you didn’t make some kind of radical adjustment, you might just go over the edge and tumble into hopelessness?

This hymnline allows me to make a bold statement against ever letting that out-of-control spiral happen to me. “I never will despair.” If I mean those four words when I sing them, and I say them with confidence and commitment, I have made a stand against the Evil One who wants to entice me toward the cliff’s edge and then nudge me over into oblivion.

Let’s just all admit that we grow weary now and then… of our jobs/careers, our families, our bank accounts, our community – even our church-life. One of my favorite lines from John Grisham’s The Painted House was the lady who would have been a Baptist but she just didn’t have the energy!

We can accept weariness, but as followers of the Risen Christ, we can NOT buy in to despair.

Every now and then during the music at a revival-type service, the music leader will shout into the microphone, “Sing it like you mean it!” That always chafes me a bit because I thought I WAS! But the next time you sing this hymnline – corporately or devotionally – sing it like you mean it!

Bluesy Piano Solo… not an ounce of despair!

"None other is so loving, so good and kind."


Hymn: “He Lives” – Words and Music by Alfred Ackley (1887-1960)
Tune: ACKLEY

The level of love, goodness and kindness present in Christ Jesus is like no other. If you stack these qualities found in anybody else, his stack is always taller.

These are three of the nine fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23: LOVE, joy, peace, patience, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.* Each of these is also a great descriptor of Jesus himself. I guess if Ackley had included a few more measures in this hymn, he could have included all nine… because none other is so-any-of-them!

When we look for role models, we need to look first to the One who is in a category all by himself – that being perfection. Then we look for humans whose lives stack up highest in these areas. Ultimately, we set out to measure up personally… not to perfection but to high achievement!

Look for Jesus in others today. Be Jesus to others today.

Not a bad epitaph to leave behind: He/She was loving, good and kind.

NOTE: This ends our week-long post-Easter guided tour through this great gospel song. I hope you've enjoyed the journey! Next week we'll be onto more hymns that speak to us one line at a time.


* - An easy way to remember these nine fruit of the Spirit is that the first three are one syllable, the second three are two syllables, and the third group is three syllables.

Sing-along Version



Monday, April 21, 2014

"I serve a risen Savior."


Hymn: “He Lives” – Words and Music by Alfred Ackley (1887-1960)
Tune: ACKLEY

This hymnline speaks for itself. I have nothing to add.

[For the rest of this week, I’m going to deal with other lines from this gospel song. I’ve not done that before – done several from the same hymn on subsequent days – but it seems like a good time to take that turn.]

Alan Jackson sings “He Lives”

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Love's redeeming work is done. Fought the fight, the battle won."

Hymn: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Common Tune: EASTER HYMN

On this Easter morning, let’s turn to a great Wesley text, one that is probably being sung across denominational lines in more churches today than any other. This one has too many great hymnlines to choose just one, but I had to choose one to start us off at least.

To get the full impact of Wesley’s poem, take out the alleluias:
    “Christ the Lord is risen today,”
    Heav’n and earth together say!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high.
    Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth reply.

    Lives again our glorious King.
    Where, O death, is now thy sting?
    Dying once, he all doth save.
    Where (is) thy victory, O grave?

    Love’s redeeming work is done.
     (Love) fought the fight, the battle won.
    Death in vain forbids him rise.
    Christ has opened Paradise.   

    Soar we now where Christ has led,
    Following our exalted Head.
    Made like him, like him we rise.
    Ours (is) the cross, the grave, the skies.


How much theology can one person put into one hymn? Not much more than this! Thank you, John Wesley!

Love’s redeeming work is done. Fought the fight, the battle won. The redemptive plan of God set into motion long ago, culminating in the cross, is now completed by the resurrection power of love. Love has fought this and many battles.  The war against death has been won. The song of victory can NOW be sung! Alleluia!

Put on your Sunday best and head down to the church house. The day you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. You have reason upon reason to rejoice. May the contemplative moments of the past six days be replaced by all the loudness you can muster.

Christ the Lord is risen today. Heav’n and earth together say, “He is risen indeed!”

Processional Hymn from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

2 - "Low in the grave he lay."

Hymn: “Low in the Grave He Lay” – Words and Music by Robert Lowry (1826-1899)
Tune: CHRIST AROSE

I don’t usually post a hymnline on Saturday, but since it’s Holy Week, I thought maybe I should… or would!

I’ve always been sort of fascinated with this day dubbed “Black Saturday” by some. Officially, it’s “Holy Saturday,” but for me it’s kind of a what-the-heck-was-going-on day. We have nothing recorded in Scripture about that day’s events; I suppose the silence of the writers is there because the day was likely filled with great grief… one of those Jewish wakes like Jesus encountered at the tomb of Lazarus – paid mourners and all.

However, I think there was some genuine grief going on among the F.O.J. (Followers of Jesus), especially those closest to the center of his ministry. The conversations must have been much like we ministers have heard upon visiting the home of a recently unexpectedly-deceased church member. “I can’t believe this is happening.” “What are we going to do now?” “Our lives are just falling apart.”

This is NOT my favorite Easter hymn, mainly because in my growing-up years, we sang the first eight measures dismally slow and cranked up the tempo and dynamics when we hit the refrain. I came to appreciate it more when I was in charge of the speed and the volume!

But the first two pre-Easter stanzas are appropriate for today, describing the state of being of Jesus and the seemingly futile activity of the followers:
    1.  Low in the grave he lay, waiting the coming day.
    2.  Vainly they watch his bed. Vainly they seal the dead.


Everyone in the story had to wait. And that is all we can do today. That’s what we’ve been doing all week… all during the Lenten season for that matter. It doesn’t even seem ‘right’ to rehearse resurrection music during this week, much less have a premature celebration of victory over death! We need to let the darkness of this week settle in; we need to wrestle with the realities of the bleak mid-spring in order to truly rejoice in the light of Easter morning.

Today doesn’t have to be a downer, but let’s don’t put the cart before the horse… or the rolling stone before the moss-covered grave site. All we can do today is wait… and anticipate tomorrow.

[After what I’ve just said, I am purposely NOT routing you toward listening to this hymn!]

"Low in the grave he lay, waiting the coming day."

Hymn: “Low in the Grave He Lay” – Words and Music by Robert Lowry (1826-1899)
Tune: CHRIST AROSE

I don’t usually post a hymnline on Saturday, but since it’s Holy Week, I thought maybe I should… or would!

I’ve always been sort of fascinated with this day dubbed “Black Saturday” by some. Officially, it’s “Holy Saturday,” but for me it’s kind of a what-the-heck-was-going-on day. We have nothing recorded in Scripture about that day’s events; I suppose the silence of the writers is there because the day was likely filled with great grief… one of those Jewish wakes like Jesus encountered at the tomb of Lazarus – paid mourners and all.

However, I think there was some genuine grief going on among the F.O.J. (Followers of Jesus), especially those closest to the center of his ministry. The conversations must have been much like we ministers have heard upon visiting the home of a recently unexpectedly-deceased church member. “I can’t believe this is happening.” “What are we going to do now?” “Our lives are just falling apart.”

This is NOT my favorite Easter hymn, mainly because in my growing-up years, we sang the first eight measures dismally slow and cranked up the tempo and dynamics when we hit the refrain. I came to appreciate it more when I was in charge of the speed and the volume!

But the first two pre-Easter stanzas are appropriate for today, describing the state of being of Jesus and the seemingly futile activity of the followers:
    1.  Low in the grave he lay, waiting the coming day.
    2.  Vainly they watch his bed. Vainly they seal the dead.


Everyone in the story had to wait. And that is all we can do today. That’s what we’ve been doing all week… all during the Lenten season for that matter. It doesn’t even seem ‘right’ to rehearse resurrection music during this week, much less have a premature celebration of victory over death! We need to let the darkness of this week settle in; we need to wrestle with the realities of the bleak mid-spring in order to truly rejoice in the light of Easter morning.

Today doesn’t have to be a downer, but let’s don’t put the cart before the horse… or the rolling stone before the moss-covered grave site. All we can do today is wait… and anticipate tomorrow.

[After what I’ve just said, I am purposely NOT routing you toward listening to this hymn!]

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Draw me nearer to thy precious bleeding side."

"Holy Lance" - Fresco from Dominican Monastery in Florence

Hymn: “I Am Thine, O Lord” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Tune: I AM THINE

Some people get up every morning and speak some Christian mantra like “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it,” or “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” You may have your own sacred saying to begin your day.

For me, I sing to myself (or aloud if no one else is in the house) some portion of this hymn, because every day I want to be drawn nearer to Christ… follow his teachings and as nearly as possible replicate his compassion for all people, regardless. Some mornings, I only recount the refrain of the hymn from which this hymnline is pulled:
         Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to the cross where thou hast died.
         Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to thy precious bleeding side.



My mother’s term of endearment for me was “precious.” Every time I tell that, people laugh… because they don’t see me as all that precious! I always knew that by her calling me that, she meant I had great value to her. The French would use the word “Cher” to express that kind of loving significance. Fortunately, she didn’t call me THAT! The last time I visited with her in the hospital, we watched JEOPARDY! together before I rushed off the airport to fly back to Denver; and as I left she called me “precious” and told me one last time to behave!

So many times throughout our hymnody, poets have used that term of endearment… especially applied to the free-flowing blood of Christ during the crucifixion event. We understand that red natural liquid to be life-giving, life-sustaining, life-extending; therefore, it is of great value.

On this day – and every day for that matter – may we be pulled toward the cross and the One who hangs there with blood streaming down from his head, his hands, his feet… and eventually by the slicing of a Roman sword, from his gashed side. May we be attracted by that ironic pairing of gore and beauty… suffering and healing… death and life. May we walk side by side with Him who bleeds for our redemption.

A somewhat Celtic setting of this hymn

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me."



Hymn: “The Old Rugged Cross” – Words & Music by George Bennard (1873-1960)
Tune: OLD RUGGED CROSS

This is a favorite of many evangelical Christians, especially folks who have their roots in the southern gospel-song tradition. In my formative years, I suppose we sang this one about as often as we sang anything at First Baptist Church in Pigeon Forge… and not only during the Lenten season which I had never heard of at the time, of course! It was a “go-to” from the faded green BROADMAN HYMNAL in the pew racks.

Why does the cross of Christ have such an attraction to believers worldwide? It is the universal symbol of the Christian church… all denominations and para-church groups. While it IS “the emblem of suffering and shame,” most of us rejoice at the sight of those intersecting lines whether made of old, rugged wood or finest gold. We are acutely offended when this sacred symbol is desecrated or ridiculed (think Madonna!)… perhaps even more so than hearing the name of God used ‘in vain.’

This magnetism is inexplicable. As hard as we believers may try, we can’t verbalize WHY the cross is so dear to us. From the mouth of Jesus: “When I am lifted up, all people will be drawn to me.” (John 12:32) In the context of this discourse (and based on John’s editorializing in the following verse), Christ is prophesying this very “wondrous attraction.”

This hymn composed by a Salvation Army preacher is filled with one-liners which resonate with those who love that old cross… and who love this old hymn:
- where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.
- the dear Lamb of God left his glory above to bear it to dark Calvary.
- cross, stained with blood so divine.
- Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify me.
- its shame and reproach (I’ll) gladly bear.   
- I’ll cherish the old rugged cross till my trophies at last I lay down.

I suppose this has long been a “go-to” hymn choice for congregational singing because it is such a great place to go to!

Anne Murray

From the Gaither “Tent Revival” – Doesn’t include this stanza!
(Editorial: “It don’t get much better than this!”)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

" 'Tis I deserve thy place."

Hymn: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” – Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
Tune: PASSION CHORALE

This is one of those mournful major-key hymns whose tune is beautifully married to its text. Its perceived dreariness keeps it from common use in public worship… except during this week when we need the less peppy to express the depths of our grief.

The hymn as a whole is a translation from a Medieval Latin poem, and the occasional archaic word makes it less immediately accessible (visage, languish, vouchsafe, etc.), but now and then throughout this devotional text, we understand more clearly the beautiful awfulness of the death of Jesus.

“Lo, here I fall, my Savior. ‘Tis I deserve thy place.” We call this “substitutionary atonement” - that is that Christ was my stand-in when it came to this moment in history. (That’s all the theology I’ll get into on this one!) No hymnline is much more clearly stated than this one; when we sing it (or read it), we speak truth… and we are startled by it. We are put in OUR place, humbled, brought down a notch; those of us who think we are the masters of our own soul find ourselves on our face before Christ, grateful.

In the ancient (1970’s) youth choir “folk musical” NATURAL HIGH, Ralph Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser had a song that said,
    “When I think of the cross, it moves me now:
    The nails in his hands, his bleeding brow…
    It should have been me.
    Instead I am free!”


That’s substitutionary atonement clearly stated; and following on yesterday’s hymnline, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble,” it still “moves me now.”

Now and then I hear someone bragging about winning an argument, and they use the phrase, “I put him in his place.” On this day, reflecting on this hymn, realize that Jesus is on the cross this week because God put HIM in our place.

Fernando Ortega Sings This Hymn (pictures from THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble."

Hymn: “Were You There?” – African American Spiritual
Tune: WERE YOU THERE

Trembling. Shuttering. Shaking uncontrollably. How long since the thought of the crucified Lord gave you a rigor? Brought an overwhelming sense of awe and appreciation?

Do the pictures that traverse your mind during this week still “get to you” when you visualize the cruelties layered upon the Righteous One? The sweat-drops of blood in the garden, the abandonment of his friends, the unfair treatment by the justice system of his day, the floggings, the pressing down of the thorns into his brow, his being forced to carry his own instrument of destruction, his being raised up to die, the piercing of his side, the taste of vinegar on his lips… on and on the humiliations mount up.

It is not a feel-good week for those of us who take the events seriously… who walk the path of sorrow in the shadow of the Savior… who step aside and allow these images to massage our spirits and reshape our attitudes – and realign our relationship with our Redeemer.

After the culmination of all the indignities and the eventual silence of death, he was laid in the tomb. It was then that the trembling – the quaking – is taken up by the earth itself as the totally-dead Christ is released from the ground to be the totally-alive Risen Lord. And with that realization, we tremble once again, standing amazed at the power of God, the Master of the Universe – the Life-giver.

All in all, during this week there’s a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on!

Marion Williams

Willie Nelson

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Your Redeemer's conflict see. Watch with him one bitter hour."

"Agony in the Garden" - El Greco

Hymn: “Go to Dark Gethsemane” – James Montgomery (1771-1854)
Common Tune: REDHEAD

This hymn is a guided tour through the final days of the earthly life of Jesus – the week we call the Passion. The first stanza (from which this hymnline is taken) is about the agony of Christ in the garden, dealing with his impending death; from this, we learn how to sincerely pray. The second stanza deals with the judgment process, the mistreatment and the sentencing; from this, we learn how to take up our cross. The third and final stanza in most books, carries us to Calvary to recall the dying Lamb, learning from Jesus how we should face death.

In order to ‘get into’ the Gethsemane story, we need to wrestle with God’s plan the way Jesus did. We need to grasp the conflictive thought process through which even the perfect Son weighed his options. Because we know his decision to accept the cross-death, we sometimes overlook the agony, the crying out to his Father, the begging for another option: “Isn’t there another cup? Couldn’t we let this one pass?”

Some theologians say he had no choice. After reading the passage over and over and trying to identify with this One I call Friend, I think he DID have an option to walk away. Otherwise, his death would not have been sacrificial; it would have been mandatory. For those of us who have benefited from the blood-bought redemption, that makes a huge difference in our perspective.

Watching with Christ for one hour and grappling with him – struggling with him flat on his face before God – could make a huge difference in how we get to this Friday. Can we carve out an hour from our busy week of Lenten lunches, Maundy communion, Good Friday reflections… much less purchasing an Easter frock, coloring/hiding eggs, planning/preparing a meal for the family on Sunday after church? Perhaps that is out of the question for many of us; but if we could manage an intense hour of walking through the bitterness – “the wormwood and the gall” of the first two stanzas of this hymn, we would be more prepared come Friday to comprehend Golgotha’s tragic implications – and to walk toward Sunday with more conviction than ever before.

It’s going to be a long week for us. Think what a long week it was for him!?

Hear This Hymn Mournfully Sung

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Our praise and prayer and anthems before thee we present."

"Our praise and prayer and anthems before thee we present."
Hymn: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” - Theodulph of Orleans (760-821)
Tune: ST. THEODULPH

From one of the oldest texts in most any hymnal, today’s hymnline is from the Palm Sunday hymn that will be represented in more worship services this week than any other hosanna-related song. There are lots of allusions to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem the weekend prior to his death: the children form “hosanna” on their lips; the Hebrew folk welcome him with palms; he is called “David’s royal Son” and “the King and blessed One.” It’s one of those hymns that paints a pretty clear picture of a biblical event.

I am one of those who still believes in the return of Christ – the parousia. For years, I’ve said that I hope he will make his second entrance on Palm Sunday, because congregations all over the world are primed and ready to welcome him with “praise and prayer and anthems” geared toward the arrival of a triumphant king – THE triumphant King. The hymns will be “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” “The King of Glory Comes,” and “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty.” Choirs will sing settings of “Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates” and variations on the hosanna theme. Some mature soloist will dust off “The Holy City” to sing one more time.

In other words, if ever during the church year we are poised to greet the returning Redeemer, it is on Palm Sunday!

May we come to our various places of worship this Sunday with a real sense of anticipation. Let’s raise our hands in worship, grasping palm branches or fern fronds, waving them with more vigor than in past years. Let’s sing louder than usual so as not to be under-heard as the King of Glory approaches from the distance.

Christ promised he would return at a time when we least expected him. Just in case it’s this Sunday, let’s be ready… because one way or the other, he will be present with us and will accept the praise and prayer and anthems we present before him.

Maranatha! Even so, King Jesus, come!




A lengthy processional of choirs from Edenton Street Methodist Church in Raleigh, NC

A simpler version for singing along

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it whte as snow."

Hymn: “Jesus Paid It All” – Elvina M. Hall (1820-1889)
Tune: ALL TO CHRIST

A crimson stain… a scarlet letter. Sin’s identifying mark. We all have one. For some it is more evident than others.

I remember hearing a story told (I’d give credit if I could remember from whom I heard it.) of a group of ladies who complained to the pastor because a street person who reeked of alcohol, tobacco, and other rough-life odors  had begun to attend their Sunday services. Upon hearing their orders to do something about it, he said simply, “I’m just glad my sin doesn’t smell.”

Gratefully for those of us who believe, no matter how deeply-seated our sin is, how long it has controlled us… whether or not it is odorous… the stain has been covered, bleached, removed. Where once there was the redness of an open sore, there is now a white, healed smoothness.

With David in Psalm 51, we cry out: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” And God’s response comes at the cross.

Robert Sterling’s arrangement of this hymn sung by the Truett-McConnell College Chorale

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt and made me free."

Hymn: “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” – Phillip P. Bliss (1838-1876
Tune: MY REDEEMER

As we close out this week before Holy Week, I want to deal with the pardoning and the debt-paying aspects of the upcoming cross event.

This is one of those songs which are often sung too trippingly to catch all the words. It certainly is cause for joy, but if we are not careful, its poignancy may be missed. I’m not sure we should ever approach the cross-event lightly… even in our singing!

Our pardon has been written up and the seal has been applied, making it official. We are no longer held accountable for that for which we have been charged – our sin. Though guilty as charged, the Great Governor - he who governs all – has responded to our plea for leniency. Clemency is ours. The paperwork is completed; our pardon is secured… sealed by the blood of the Lamb. Thanks be to God!

We, who were once owned by the purveyors of sin, have been bought back by our Maker. The enormous debt we owe has been paid in full; that rubber stamp has been inked and applied to our documentation, and we go throughout the rest of our earthly existence, paperwork in hand, as freedmen… and freedwomen. To quote a spiritual from the black American tradition: “Free at last, free at last. I thank God, I’m free at last!”

In one of this hymn’s stanzas, Bliss says: “In his boundless love and mercy, he the ransom freely gave.” Ransomed, pardoned, debt-paid, freed. And all this was done “at the cross where I first saw the light” (from an earlier posting).

Slow down the song and take in the words. Find new richness in the text of this old gospel song.

A Contemporary Setting from Todd Bell and the Choir of Prestonwood Baptist Church

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood."

Hymn: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
CommonTunes: HAMBURG; O WALY, WALY   

One of my favorite NPR shows is “A Way with Words.” Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett take calls and questions about odd English-language phrases. I’ve never called in, but I have lots of questions about colloquialisms, especially from east Tennessee.

But when it comes to hymn texts, Isaac Watts definitely has a way with words. Although many of his hymns are favorites across denominational lines, most of them have to be thought through to be truly understood… and to benefit our Christian experience. This hymn is no exception. These are called devotional hymns because they require more than cursory exposure.

Today’s hymnline allows us to give up all the selfish things that lure us away from the way of the cross (from yesterday) and offer them instead to be covered by the blood of Christ.

The image of the necessity of a blood sacrifice throughout Scripture is unavoidable. From the earliest Hebrew festivals to the ultimate blood sacrifice at Calvary, there is a red thread that holds it all together… sometimes called the “scarlet cord.”

We all have enticing impulses. The traps are baited for us at every turn, it seems. These temptations which charm us (like a snake-charmer coaxing the cobra out of the basket) seem to be unrelenting. We know where our weaknesses lie, and our M. O. (modus operandi) is avoidance. The better option might be agreement with Watts: sacrifice it to the blood which we already claim. Let it go. Turn it over. No longer recognize its pull on us.

O WALY, WALY tune sung by Kathryn Scott

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"It is sweet to know as I onward go, the way of the cross leads home."

Hymn: “The Way of the Cross Leads Home” – Jessie B. Pounds (1861-1921)
Tune: WAY OF THE CROSS

I realize that the intention of this hymn-text is to emphasize that to in order to arrive at Heaven’s home, one must walk the “blood-sprinkled way.” It was obviously her intention as she wrote these words, but I often think of it differently when I sing the refrain to myself.

In music, songs have a tonic note -- a home note – to which the ear finds stability. In baseball, there’s a home plate which completes a victorious run after a good ‘at bat’. Of course, there’s that place you grew up – the house, the town, the culture – which signifies to most of us a certain security or at least familiarity.

While I agree that the way of Christ’s cross-laden journey is the one which will ultimately gain my entrance into an eternal home, as someone on an earthly pilgrimage, my constant awareness of the cross with all its redemptive implications keeps me centered, stabilized, victorious and secure – in THIS life. And there’s a sweetness to knowing that.

On my prodigal days, I want to find home. When I’m adrift on uncertain waters, I want to find home. Wandering after having lost my way, I want to find home.

My daddy drove a Trailways bus when I was young. One of his regular routes was carrying groups from east Tennessee to visit the nation’s capital. When I was about nine years old, he took mama and me to Washington to show us all the sights he had shown to strangers over the years. I remember his telling me, “If you ever get lost in D. C., look up and find the Washington Monument. When you get there, you can start all over and find your way again.”

When I lose my way, I just have to look up and find the cross. When I get back there, I can start all over because for ME, the cross is home.

Hear a very spirited congregational singing of two stanzas of this hymn!


Monday, April 7, 2014

"I know a fount..."

Hymn: “I Know a Fount” – Words & Music Oliver Cooke (1873-1945)
Tune: I KNOW A FOUNT

I bet I am doing a trifecta today as the hymnline, the hymn name, and the hymn tune are the same! I know nothing of horse-racing or betting thereon, but I like the word “trifecta”!

While only the refrain of this 1923 hymn appears in most hymnals and songbooks, the stanzas that precede ask questions like: Are you weary, heavy-laden? Burdened, weighted down with care? Are you doubting, in bondage? Do you want deliverance? To answer those questions, Cooke begins the refrain with “I know a fount…” – he implies, “Let me direct you to this source.”

This is such a simple, easily-sung tune, and the benefits available at the fount are also simply-stated, but profoundly relevant. Here are the appropriations he lists:
- Sins are washed away.
- Night is turned to day.
- Burdens are lifted.
- Blind eyes are made to see.


The brief chorus concludes with “There’s a wonder-working power in the blood of Calvary.”

I love this snippet of redemptive theology. Nothing draws me in quite like simple profundity… and this is a fine example. Yet every time I sing it, I am struck by that verb “know.” Does it mean I am merely aware of the fount, or do I KNOW that fount by experience? I grew up in the church; I’ve been in Sunday school since the first Sunday after my birth date. I know a whole lot about God/Jesus, the heroes of the faith, the gospel – even salvation. [I still remember Campus Crusade’s “Four Spiritual Laws”!] But unless I truly “get” the cross-experience, I will still be weary, heavy-laden, in bondage, etc.

During this Lenten season, I hope we can all get beyond the questions to the answer… and approach Easter with a new spirit of knowledge of the power of the blood of Calvary.

Listen to This Hymn
(Don’t watch the screen because the words are badly presented… grammatically and otherwise!)

Friday, April 4, 2014

"And when I think that God his Son not sparing sent him to die, I scarce can take it in."


Hymn: “How Great Thou Art” – Words & Music by Stuart K. Hine (1899-1989)
Tune: O STORE GUD

Again, we turn to that oft-skipped third stanza* for today’s hymnline! Of all the third stanzas not to be avoided, this would be the one!

“I scarce can take it in.” I almost wish they inserted instructions in the hymnal to pause for several seconds before moving on with the remainder of the stanza, because my mind and heart get stuck on this phrase every time – because as much theological education as I may have, as many Sunday school classes as I’ve sat through and/or taught, as many sermons as I have endured… I mean “enjoyed” over the years – and though I’ve been singing about the redemptive power of the cross throughout my entire life – still, “I can barely take it in.”

You know what? I’m glad that I can’t. I’m truly pleased that there is not only POWER in the blood, there is also MYSTERY. I’m very careful to never spout off about all I know about the wonder-working power of the spilled blood of the Lamb. Anything I say cannot approach the reality of what God did when the un-sparing sacrifice was made.

By definition, “to spare” means that the person is not allowed to suffer or be injured… or, of course, killed.  So the use here of “not sparing” means that God allowed the death of his only Son. That’s why there is no way we mere mortals can comprehend what transpired; it is beyond our grasp.

I hope I never get to the point that I can sing this hymnline without pause. I never want to take it for granted.

Hear a Beautiful Instrumental Setting of This Hymn

* Note: This hymn was translated from the Swedish into English and set to this tune by Stuart K. Hine in 1949. THIS stanza was actually written by Hine and is not a translation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?"

Hymn: “What Wondrous Love Is This?” – American Folk Hymn
Tune: WONDROUS LOVE

This mournful Appalachian-sounding tune carries its text so perfectly. There are few hymn text/tune marriages that are more in line than this one. From its opening question to its final song of freedom, this hymn speaks so many moods with so much depth of expression.

The question is simple: What kind of love pulls the Lord of all happiness and joy from THAT kind of seemingly perfect state to shoulder the curse of death? That’s pretty profound in itself, but you tag on the last three words, “for MY soul,” and it takes an inward turn.

We realize it was not just a general act designed to scoop up all of humankind into some unified net and redeem them as a group. It’s the realization that while it was accomplished for any who would respond, it was also finished for ME.

I believe Christ died for sinners… I believe Christ died for the church… I believe Christ died for all the saints who’ve gone before us… I believe Christ died for many who will come after us. But for it to take on the enormous significance it deserves in MY life, I have to come to terms with the fact, and say without a doubt… I believe Christ died for ME.

What kind of love is this? It is the love that only God can fully display and we can only emulate.

Fernando Ortega Sings This Hymn

"He bore the burden to Calv'ry and suffered and died alone."

Pen & Ink Drawing by Viv Walden
"He bore the burden to Calv'ry and suffered and died alone."

Hymn: “I Stand Amazed in the Presence of Jesus” – Words & Music: Charles Gabriel (1856-1932)
Tune: MY SAVIOR’S LOVE

To get to the “burden” of this hymnline, we have to go back a line:
       “He took my sins and my sorrows; he made them his very own.”
My sins and my sorrows were taken upon himself as if they were originally his… he who was without sin – original or otherwise!

This is one of those theologically-charged concepts that we don’t necessarily fully grasp… yet we believe that our sin was embodied in the sinless body of Christ and carried to Calvary to be exchanged for an everlasting relationship with the Father of all life. It is sometimes called “The Great Exchange”: my sin for his righteousness.

I remember an old black-and-white Saturday morning cartoon based on the story of Aladdin in which a man is pushing a card, repeating the phrase, “New lamps for old. New lamps for old.” (I have no idea why I still remember that!) This notion of God through Christ exchanging tarnished lives for renewed ones resurrects that childhood memory. It is as if Christ walks among us, almost as a barker crying out “New lives for old.” Some of us believe his “sales pitch” and take him up on his offer.

In that process, we hand over the worst of us for the best of him. He takes our sins and our sorrows and makes them his very own, bears them to Calvary where he suffers and dies alone – the ultimate expression of his marvelous, wonderful love… that Savior’s love which shall ever by the subject of my song.

An intergenerational singing of this hymn – you’ll want to sing along for sure!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away."

Hymn: “At the Cross” – refrain by Ralph E. Hudson (1843-1901)
Tune: HUDSON

This hymnline always brings to my mind the drawings I’ve seen of the burden falling from the back of the protagonist in PILGRIM’S PROGRESS. Standing before the cross, Pilgrim’s back-pack rolls down the mountain, symbolic of his being relieved of the great burden of his life.

We approach the cross with an armload of sin, distress, pain, and personal history. Most of us come hesitantly because we are weighed down by guilt and shame, completely convinced that our sin is too great to be forgiven. Like Pilgrim, we have spent too much time enjoying Vanity Fair, hiking the Delectable Mountains, and pondering at Doubting Castle.

To our surprise, forgiveness is granted, our darkness is removed, and our over-sized burden is cut loose to roll in the opposite direction. In the light, our burden is lightened.

Our human nature causes us to refill our backpack, replenishing those burdens. We return to self-centeredness, overindulgence and doubt. In our despair, we recall how we once wound our way to the Savior, the Releaser of burdens – and we set out seeking him once again.

This coming to the foot of the cross is something we do over and over… daily… sometimes hourly. There, by faith, we receive our sight, and the rest of our day is filled with joy.

An energetic, spirit-filled singing of this hymn


Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)