Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, praise God and on him cast your care."

"Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, praise God and on him cast your care."
Hymn: “All Creatures of Our God and King” – Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

All of us deal with pain now and then (physical and otherwise). We all encounter periods of great sorrow. There are some, it seems who bear pain and sorrow continuously, rarely escaping the two specters that loom about them. I experience a certain level of pain and sorrow for people like that, trying to identify with their station.

Some people who are dealt pain and sorrow daily respond by becoming angry and difficult. Others retreat into their own shell and reclusively try to deal with their dilemma. The ones which always surprise me, though, are those who rise above the difficulty to be people who praise their Maker in spite of where they find themselves. These are the folks who neither complain nor boast but genuinely throw themselves on the mercy of God… who cast all their cares upon the One who controls all of life – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When one of these saints finally loses their struggle – whose long pain and sorrow is turned to eternal health and joy – we celebrate their final healing, their moving at long last into the face-to-face beholding of their Savior.

During these weeks of preparation for Christmas, be more aware of those who have long suffered pain and borne sorrow for many years; if you get the opportunity, encourage them to cast that care upon the Savior whose birth we are about to celebrate.

If that person is you, O praise him! O praise him! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Accapella Setting

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Praise him still the same as ever, slow to chide and swift to bless."

"Praise him still the same as ever, slow to chide and swift to bless."

Hymn: “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” – Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847)
Common Tune: ANDREWS,

I think we established several months ago that this is one of my favorite hymns, especially sung to the ANDREWS tune.

Today’s hymnline emphasizes in a few words two of my favorite attributes of God: 1) he never changes, and 2) he is more likely to bless us than to condemn us.

The changelessness of God is paramount to my being able to trust him in any and every situation. His faithful, un-waffling nature is at the core of all he is and does… universally and personally. This truth is borne out in Scripture and history; there is little else I need to say about that!

In Scripture, we are often reminded to 'fear' God. That word is more akin to the word ‘respect.’ It is not the cower-in-the-corner kind of posture that never knows what to expect next – a spanking or a hug. He is by his very perfected parental nature more likely to encourage and treat me with loving-kindness than he is to take me to the wood shed for corporal punishment!

Throughout the Old Testament, God is referred to as “slow to anger… abounding in steadfast love.” That’s exactly what this hymnline is getting at.

It is more comforting to face the day with a consistent Savior… one who is much more likely to bless me than to discipline me without cause. Recalling hymnlines like this one helps me remember this, even when I feel like I’m being pushed around and treated unfairly. With that confidence, I can praise him still. I can also be reminded to be consistently gracious and merciful - never quick to punish.

This hymn to the ANDREWS tune… a bit slower than I like it

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Praise with elation! Praise ev'ry morning, God's recreation of the new day!"

Hymn: “Morning Has Broken” – Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

Elation is one of those super-superlative words: it’s a word we reserve for true excitement… probably about as excited as we can get! So this early morning praise should be done with exhilaration and enthusiasm. [You know that enthusiasm has at its root “theos”; so it originally meant excited about God!] The assigning of worthiness should be unbridled… nothing held back.

I’ve always wondered if the next line is about God’s re-creating a new day for us to enjoy… or if it means that his providing a fresh start for his creation is a form of recreation… like we use the word for something we do in our spare time to re-energize ourselves. I think it could mean either one, and I’m not sure anyone ever pegged down the English author of children’s stories and plays to find out.

On some days I hear it as re-creation… on others, I think of it as recreation. Either way, God is to be praised for providing us with yet another morning – a start-over point.

My favorite moment from the movie version of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is when the cast realizes they have not handled the Messiah appropriately and begins to board the bus as they sing, “Could we start again please?” Each fresh morning is God’s answer to that question: “Yes, you may.”

From Lamentations 3:22-23 – “The Lord treats us with great loving-kindness, and it is new every morning.”

Art Garfunkel and Diana Krall

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Refresh thy people on their toilsome way."

"Refresh thy people on their toilsome way."
Hymn: “God of Our Fathers” – Daniel C. Roberts (1841-1907)

Although considered a patriotic hymn and usually included in that section of most hymnals, except for one line (“in this free land by thee our lot is cast”), the remainder of the hymn is about the Almighty God of our forefathers… having blessed little to do with patriotism. It is in every way a prayer-hymn with a few allusions to our being people of freedom secured from war by the strong arm of our Protector.

That doesn’t diminish its usage on Memorial Day Sunday - the one we just passed; on the contrary, it strengthens its impact as a Christian hymn in appreciation for the blessings of living “in this free land.” Frankly, I’m always concerned when we get more revved up about patriotism than we do about our faith.

Those three-day weekends afford us the opportunity to be refreshed… to step away from the toilsome way that provides our monetary income. So the fact that the final stanza begins with that request makes perfectly good sense, don’t you think?

There are other worthwhile entreaties made in this prayer-hymn:
- Be our Ruler, our Guardian, our Guide.
- May your true religion increase in our hearts.
- Let your Word be our law.
- May we choose your paths, making our way in your direction.
- Grant that we might be nourished by your bountiful goodness.
- Fill our lives with godly love and divine grace.
- Eventually lead us from overwhelming darkness to daylight that never ends.

All these petitions lead us back to the hymnline for today: give us refreshment so we can take up the everyday work to which we have committed ourselves.

By his almighty hand, may God make these kinds of provisions in our lives – and may we ever express the glory, laud and praise that alone are due him.

This Hymn Sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Friday, May 23, 2014

"Temptations lose their pow'r when thou art nigh."

"Temptations lose their pow'r when thou art nigh."
Hymn: “I Need Thee Every Hour” – Annie S. Hawks (1835-1918)
Tune: NEED

Temptation is a potent influence. It tugs at us, comes at us from every direction, pulls us down, wears us out, gives us chase. Most of us know where we are the most vulnerable – those areas which temptation seems to hold stronger sway than others.

There are some regions of my behavior in which I face no temptations. I’m not sure if I’m just wired to be more resistant there or if I have resisted for so long, certain temptations have simply given up attacking me!

We know that inducements to sin are instigated by the Evil One. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray to be delivered from evil. We may even come to times when we think we have passed a certain level of dominance over temptation… like my grandsons conquer levels in their video games. But even after Jesus’ three-tiered desert encounter with Satan, scripture tells us that Satan only left him alone for a season. In fact, if-and-when we think we are exempt, we are likely the most susceptible.

Near-walking with Jesus is our best protection. Even the most compelling distraction from righteousness is over-ridden by the presence of the Holy One.

Remember how on the old Batman television series those call-outs would pop up on the screen to indicate the spelled-out sound effects? Bam, zap, bang, boom, etc. In this case, temptations lose their “pow” when Jesus is near.

If you haven’t sung this hymn lately, you’re due a reminder! Sing this refrain to yourself because it is as true as it has ever been:
    I need thee, O I need thee. Every hour I need thee.
    O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

Hear This Hymn

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Blessed quietness, holy quietness, bless'd assurance in my soul. On the stormy sea, He speaks peace to me, and the billows cease to roll."

"Blessed quietness, holy quietness, bless'd assurance in my soul. On the stormy sea, He speaks peace to me, and the billows cease to roll."
Hymn: “Blessed Quietness” – Manie Payne Ferguson (1850-1932)

Irish-born Manie Payne Ferguson worked most of her life in missions up and down the California coast, ministering to the down and out. Though she wrote several books and song-texts, this is one which still appears occasionally in print.

I have used the refrain as the hymnline – mostly because it’s the part of the hymn I remember from my growing-up years. I came to love this hymn after it appeared in a Centurymen recording as arranged by the late Burl Red.

Most of us yearn for things to quieten down around us. We seek out times of solace away from the maddening crowd. Even Christ himself set us that example, separating himself from those who would take all his attention and time… realizing that in his humanity, he needed to be alone now and then to recharge mentally, spiritually, physically.

Most of us have blessed LITTLE quietness, but when we DO, we consider it holy. In those hallowed times, I am reminded of the blessed assurance that Jesus is mine, enjoying the foretaste of glory divine.

Our greatest need for this alone time with God seems to come when we are in the midst of stormy, rocky days – those unsettled, unsettling stretches. We often find that just a little talk with Jesus one-on-one makes things right… and the insurmountable seems achievable.

We can rarely deal with important decision-making in the midst of all the noise… the rush of everyday schedules. Strangely, sometimes we have to pull away from the busy-ness of our church-life to find our more important Christ-life.

From THE MESSAGE, hear these words from Jesus: “Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” (Matthew 6:6)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"To ev'ry captive soul a full deliverance brings, and through the vacant cells the song of triumph rings: the Comforter has come!"

"To ev'ry captive soul a full deliverance brings, and through the vacant cells the song of triumph rings: the Comforter has come!"
Hymn: “The Comforter Has Come” – Frank Bottome (1823-1894)

Right in the middle of this Pentecostal hymn, we find a great statement about deliverance from the prison of sin: when deliverance happens, there’s an empty cell that’s left behind. I had never thought of that before. And according to this text, there’s a song that rings out in triumph, declaring to all who pass by the vacant space that the once-bound resident has been released by an intervention of the Comforter… the Holy Spirit him/herself.

In east Tennessee we would say that “them’s shoutin’ words!”

This simple hymnline creates a mental picture of what full release means. I suppose I would have drawn a picture of a quiet, abandoned jail cell – no longer occupied by an inmate. However, Frank Bottome saw it differently… and probably more appropriately. It’s sort of like Jesus’ statement that the very rocks would cry out to praise him; in this case, the very prison walls sing!

I love the image. I’m going to try to keep it in mind not only when I celebrate the release of some life-long reprobate, but when I reflect on my own release(s) from the bondage of sin.

Lillie Knauls sings this hymn

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Of your time and talents give him, they are gifts from God above, to be used by Christians freely to proclaim his wondrous love."

Hymn: “Come, All Christians, Be Committed” – Eva B. Lloyd (1912-2006)

As the choir processed at First Baptist Church of Waxahachie, Texas on this past Sunday morning, my tired ears were greeted by Myla McClinton’s playing of an arrangement of this hymn – and the final eight measures were close to “tutti,” my personal favorite organ dymnamic! So it just seemed like a good time to reflect on this hymn by an English teacher from Maryville, Missouri.

The entire hymn is worthy of our study, pulling hymnline after hymnline… giving careful attention to its well-crafted text.

This particular hymnline speaks brilliantly for itself; there is little I can add to expound upon its message. The fact that both time and talent (ability) are gifts from God is something we somewhat-gifted people too often overlook. However, the strike-me-down word in this hymnline is “freely.”

I am one of those people who is good at a lot of things, but great at very few. I shaped my life that way almost intentionally it seems. My early years of majoring in visual art seem almost wasted because I rarely pick up a pen-and-ink to draw. I’ve been just involved in enough drama (writing, directing and participating) over the years to know blessed little about either one. I’ve written a few songs, done some arranging.  I've written a few hymn texts and anthem texts… and so the list goes on.

In my semi-retirement, I’m teaching about all these things at the college level, but I am doing none of them consistently. I have made a personal (now public, I guess) commitment to do more of all of them, hoping that one will re-surface as a talent to occupy my time – and that whichever that turns out to be, I want to share it freely in order that more attention might be drawn to Christ.

I hope I will do it “tutti.”

Hymn being sung in worship

Friday, May 9, 2014

"All that we have is thine, a trust, O Lord, from thee."

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

This stewardship hymnline gives us a nudge toward making our offerings with a better sense of WHO our belongings belong to. To put it in context, the whole first stanza says this:

    “We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be.
    All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.”

I have to be reminded of this more and more often because in our society, we are over-encouraged to amass more and keep it. In spite of all those Hoarders Shows on cable television, we don’t seem to see ourselves in the desperate people who climb over piles of stuff and are sometimes buried even unto death beneath those collections. They are in many ways we.

If what I have is a trust from God (and that IS a biblical principle), that means he trusts me to use it wisely and to share it unbegrudgingly. I cringe when I pay the escalating bills that accrue in my to-be-paid box; I bristle every time I drive away from a gas station having paid more than ten times what I once paid for a gallon of gas. These are natural reactions.

But when it comes to writing a check to my church or other worthwhile charities (Christian and otherwise), that cringing bristle should not be part of my reaction. I have to remember that God has given me custody of this money and expects me to use it well – to not waste it, but to reinvest it in his Kingdom.

It is good to be trusted. But I find that a great responsibility always accompanies a great confidence… especially from God.

Congregational Singing of SCHUMANN tune

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief."

"In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief."
Hymn – “Sweet Hour of Prayer” – William Walford (1772-1850)

From an earlier era, many of us recall the radio/television commercial break “How do you spell relief?” The answer, of course, was not “R-E-L-I-E-F”; it was rather “Rolaids.”

This hymnline is not about gastrological distress and grief necessarily; it points more toward that kind of commonly-held malady which confronts most of us at varying degrees. Some are greatly distressed while others are simply stressed out. Some are truly dealing with deep-seated grief while the rest of us may with Charlie Brown be uttering “Good grief” in exasperation for one more seemingly unnecessary distraction.

Nonetheless, we believers all have found in prayer a certain relief from our distress and grief. You may have considered it more “release” in that you finally felt freed from the fettering – pardon my alliteration! As the next hymnline continues, our prayer life has often allowed us to escape the traps set by the Tempter along our pathway through uncharted territory.

These ‘old gospel songs’ often get us back to the basics of our faith experience; in this case, the hymn-writer is reminding us that the sweet time spent at the throne in prayer provides us with much more than merely the answers to our made-known wants and wishes.

How do I spell relief? Sometimes I spell it P-R-A-Y-E-R.

Vance Perry Multi-track

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"In hope that sends a shining ray far down the future's broad'ning way."

"In hope that sends a shining ray far down the future's broad'ning way."
Hymn: “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee” – Washington Gladden (1836-1918)

I’m 64 years old, semi-retired… and am still trying to figure out what I want to be! Maybe it is the extra time on my hands. Maybe it is the realization of unrealized goals. Maybe it is because I’m afraid I didn’t use all my gifts to their maximum. Either way, I have a whole different perspective on “the future’s broad’ning way,” believing that there are still challenges ahead – and trying to find them!

There is, according to this hymnline, a hope that is lighting the intended path before me… like maybe a high-intensity klieg light or followspot. To the right and to the left I may find it less well-lit, hazy… even pitch dark.

I believe, of course, this little light of mine is being powered by the Father of Light; but I also am convinced that some of the hopeful shining ray is being generated by the people who have been placed in my path… many of whom are broadening right along with me – but that’s another discussion altogether!

Those faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us and pat us on the back, believing in us, encouraging us to forge ahead as the horizons widen, expand, and extend beyond our imagination.

At whatever life-stage you find yourself, realize that there’s a holy light shining over your shoulder, giving you hope, however broad the way becomes.

Amy Grant

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"He whose heart is kind beyond all measure gives unto each day what he deems best, lovingly..."

"He whose heart is kind beyond all measure gives unto each day what he deems best, lovingly..."
Hymn: “Day by Day” – Caroline V. Sandell-Berg (1832-1903)

We are back to one of my favorite hymn texts because it was a ‘life-changer’ for me at a crucial, transitional time in my ministry… and my life in general.

But this hymnline helps me understand why my prayers are not always answered in the way I think they should be – according to my pleas to be pleased. In his measureless kindness, God lovingly provides what is best for me as he sees my journey from his perspective.

Some of you will remember the black-and-white television show “Father Knows Best” with Robert Young in the title role. It has sort of become a joke over the years for the doting wife dressed in pearls to greet her husband home from work, the children who always learn the life lesson for the day, and the patches on the elbows of the father’s tweed jacket.

But the title holds true for us who call God our Father… our Holy Parent: Father knows best. And when his plan doesn’t match ours, we have to understand that he is lovingly giving us what is to our ultimate advantage.

Babbie Mason’s great song comes to mind:
    “God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind.
    When you don’t understand.
    When you can’t trace his hand.
    When you can’t see his plan, trust his heart.

But at the heart of the hymnline for today is the heart that is kind beyond all measure. No measurement of space, time, length, depth, height, weight, circumference, mass… you name it: the heart of God is kind beyond all possible charting.

And whatever he gives me today, I know it will be for my best… whether I yet understand it or not.

Antrim Mennonite Choir

Friday, May 2, 2014

"Take away our bent to sinning."

"Take away our bent to sinning."
Hymn: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Why are we bent toward sin? Why are we attracted to that which is not good for us? Why do we find ourselves leaning in the direction of evil? It is our human nature… our carnality. We all share this propensity… and we all wish we didn’t!

That’s why when this hymn comes along and this line passes my eyes, my mind, my mouth… my heart wants to break. I’m sometimes afraid my face may belie my melodious participation, screaming “Guilty! I’m guilty! I have a tendency to be bent toward sinning!”

At least these six words (from Wesley again!) give us opportunity not only to admit who we are, but also to ask God to re-set us – to straighten us up and remove our leanings. It’s almost like we admit that we have poor posture when it comes to righteous things. “Back straight. Shoulders down. Chest up. Eyes straight ahead, soldier.”

It may well be an unanswerable request on our part. We can, however, be more aware of when we might be off-center – leaning one way or the other.

I have Meniere’s Disease - vertigo on steroids (Google it!) – so I know what it’s like to lose my balance and lean away from vertical just walking across the room. I know what it’s like to find the hardwood floor coming up to meet my face. Now that I know I have this condition and have admitted it is a REAL problem, I’ve taken medical steps to lessen its likelihood of regular recurrence.

Admitting we have this sinful condition and seeking out help from the Great Physician, the only One who can give us any relief: these are steps in the up-right direction.

“Take away our bent to sinning. Alpha and Omega be.”  With the Alpha under one arm and the Omega under the other, I am more likely to stay the course… from first to last.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir (HYFRYDOL tune)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"There's not an hour that he is not near us, no night so dark but his love can cheer us."

Hymn: “No, Not One” – Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)

None of us wants to be abandoned. It’s a fear common to all of us.

When pledging a music fraternity in college, part of the initiation involved being blindfolded and driven out to the middle of nowhere in Jefferson County. Upon being dropped off well before dawn and instructed to not take off the blindfold until I had counted to 100, I heard the car speeding away. Almost immediately I ripped the blindfold off and watched as the red tail lights faded down the hill and into the distance. Were they headed back to school or were they trying to throw me off by heading the opposite direction? There I stood with an envelope of instructions I could barely read because there wasn’t a light anywhere in sight. I was abandoned and, quite frankly, terrified. Hours later I found my way back to campus in time to get ready for my first class.

Isn’t it odd what some of these hymnlines bring to my mind? Okay, I admit it: I AM odd!

As alone as I was, as forsaken as I felt – even then, I was not by myself. Deserted by my ‘friends,’ but not unaccompanied because “there’s not an hour that he is not near us, and there’s no night so dark but his love can cheer us.”

That was true for me in 1970. It is still true for me today. How about you?

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)