Monday, June 30, 2014

"His kingdom cannot fail, he rules o'er earth and heav'n. The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv'n."

"His kingdom cannot fail, he rules o'er earth and heav'n. The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv'n."
Hymn: “Rejoice, the Lord Is King” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Common Tune: DARWALL

Sorry, everybody: I’m back to a Charles Wesley text! I must be hooked on Watts and Wesley more than I realized before I started these posts!

I totally love this hymn. I always enjoy singing it. It never fails to lead me into worship. This kind of sturdy tune undergirding a well-crafted text make for an outstanding coupling. And the recurring refrain can hardly be matched in all hymndom: “Lift up your heart! Lift up your voice! Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice!”

Today’s hymnline which covers the third stanza (the one we often skip over) is the one which always catches my attention and sets my mind and spirit spinning upward. These three thoughts drawn from Matthew 16:18-29 are worth our giving attention to.

“His kingdom cannot fail.” The firm belief that come what may, the Kingdom of God will endure is basic to our theology. It will not only stand, but it will withstand all attacks from within and without. Although it may appear to those of us with earthly-eyes that the church is losing ground and that the battle might be eventually lost, that is out of the question. The Lord who was triumphant over the grave will emerge victorious over any and all comers.

“He rules o’er earth and heav’n.” God’s rulership should not be overlooked or downplayed. Unlike the Deists who thought that God created the world then left it to its own devices, most of us believe God is still in control of things on earth and the heavens… yea, even the weather! If nothing else, affirming this role will intensify our prayer lives.

“The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n.” Revelation 1:18 bears out this statement, although we can’t completely comprehend what is meant by this part of John’s vision. For me, it indicates that Christ has the authority to lock or unlock whatever wherever he pleases. Fortunately, he seems to hold off on releasing the powers of death and hell; otherwise, we’d find ourselves in a much greater, disastrous state. Even when we think “all hell has broken loose,” we know that is not possible as long as Jesus holds the key-ring!

In this stanza, we give God his due… and we need to do that more often.

Friday, June 27, 2014

"In music, Lord, I worship thee."

"In music, Lord, I worship thee."
Hymn: “My Singing Is a Prayer” – Novella D. Preston Jordan (1901-1991)

This hymnline has probably been the theme of my entire existence… at least back as far as I can remember. I’ve always found God in music – especially sung music… music with words. I find him most commonly and most profoundly in hymn-singing. That should come as no surprise to those of you who know me well.

I’ve written several hymn and/or sacred anthem texts over the years with a modicum of success in having them published. At times, I’ve tried my hand at writing poems that were not sacred in nature – that did not express anything about my faith: love songs, patriotic songs, country songs – even an opera libretto. I couldn’t ever seem to make that work because my music – my words – seem to be set aside for worship.

When the USA team had a tiny shot at winning the World Cup in soccer, the frenzy flooded the airwaves and the print media. One thing I noticed was the incorporation of a rhythmic, highly-repetitive chant: “I be-lieve that we will win! I be-lieve that we will win!” Every sports bar in the country seemed to have taken up this “hymn” to the sport of futbol.

Historically, when a group shares a common belief, they take up a song to support it. That’s why countries have national anthems and patriotic songs – causes have a common song (e.g. “We Shall Overcome”) – and religions… all religions… incorporate some form of corporate musical expression into their gatherings.

As you might imagine, I was not caught up in the soccer eddy, but I am totally committed to expressing my Christian beliefs in song – chiefly the hymns of my faith. That’s why I do this blog; that’s why I created the Old Fashioned Singing Project; that’s why most every Sunday morning with book in hand, I’ll be somewhere singing… because “in music, Lord, I find you.”

Once again, I can’t find this one online for you to hear. It’s a great text and tune, but it’s under copyright with Broadman Press, so I can’t publish it here. You can read it at

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"I'd sing (about) the character he bears and all the forms of love he wears."

"I'd sing (about) the character he bears and all the forms of love he wears."
Hymn: “O Could I Speak the Matchless Worth” – Samuel Medley (1738-1799)
Tune: ARIEL (based on a melody from Mozart)

Even though this hymn appears in over 600 hymnals, it is not one that all of us know. It is in none of the current major denominational books; for Baptists (my ilk), the last appearance was in the 1954 “old blue” hymnal! I couldn’t even find a decent setting of it online for you to hear. It is not an easy tune to sing, but it is a good devotional text.

We use the word “bearing” to describe a person’s attitude, manner, demeanor… even posture. It’s sort of archaic, but we still use it to describe how someone comes into a room and how they are perceived.

There is a certain character with which Christ carries himself. It is the highest-level of character development, and it is the plane toward which we strive. In drama-talk, we discuss the character (true nature) of the character (role). In well-developed scripts, the “real” moral fiber is exposed… often gradually. So it is with our spiritual life: over time, who we really are comes to the surface. It is hoped, of course, that we have advanced to a Christ-like disposition which comes naturally to us… has become our “true nature” – our character.

I am particularly drawn to the second half of this hymnline: “all the forms of love he wears.” By his very nature, Christ is loving. We learned that in the church nursery (or cradle roll if you go back as far as I do). He is loving in so many ways: his love takes on so many shapes. He WEARS love. I’m a visual learner, so that brings a great picture to my mind and helps me further grasp the deep, deep love of Jesus.

O, that wherever I may be found, I would bear the character (true nature) of Christ and that I might wear (display) his love automatically.

See this hymn at

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"All things bright and beautiful... the Lord God made them all."

"All things bright and beautiful... the Lord God made them all."

Hymn: “All Things Bright and Beautiful” – Cecil F. Anderson (1818-1895)
Common Tunes: ROYAL OAK, SPOHR

First, let me say that I love this hymn text… set to most any tune. I especially love John Rutter’s setting (see below). I always enjoy singing it and love what it has to say. However…

For those of us who are not so bright and beautiful, I want to say that the Lord God made US all, too! “All things dull and hideous” would not make nearly such a great hymn title, but the Lord God did make them/us all.

I know it’s a children’s hymn about nature and not human-kind, but admit it: all of God’s creatures great and small are not all that lovely. Let’s talk about alligators, naked mole rats, blobfish, and Madagascar’s aye aye. Did you ever see a close up of a California condor? But the Lord God made all those, too.

Now that I think through the text, all of us aren’t all that wise and wonderful either. Some of us are dim-witted and average-ish. The good thing is that most of us are bright in our own way and beautiful to someone.

Fellow not so bright, unattractive, everyday folk: we were designed by God and cared about just as much as the most brilliant Homo sapiens and the most striking flora and fauna. This hymn is about all of us; we only sing about the attractive living things.

I’ll remove my tongue from my cheek now so I can sing this wonderful hymn!

Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sings Arrangement of ROYAL OAK Tune

John Rutter Conducting His Setting of This Text

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"While all that borrows life from thee is ever in thy care."

"While all that borrows life from thee is ever in thy care."
Hymn: “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Generally speaking, we Christians have to be reminded often that our very existence is on loan to us. Our minutes, our days, our years – our lifetime – are not truly ours; these are borrowed from the eternal timeline of the mighty, powerful God who made the mountains rise, spread the flowing seas, and built the lofty skies.

Time has become one of our most precious commodities. In some ways, we are more protective of our calendars than we are our bank accounts. Unlike my bank, I do not get an alert from heaven’s Timekeeper to let me know that my account is under 500 hours… that I’m running out of time.

From secular marketing, I picked up a lot of personal rules for my ministry. One guiding force was the hook from a Cadillac print ad I saw in the early 80’s: “We respect your time almost as much as you do.” That’s one I followed religiously… so to speak!

We DO value our time, especially our free time – our time away from our income-producing hours. If we’re not careful, we’ll begin to hoard those free moments… forgetting that ALL our time is on loan from the Time Bank. Unlike Joshua, we may not be able to make the sun sit still or stop the fast-ticking clocks while we conquer our time-consuming enemies. We CAN, however, be reminded by hymnlines like this one that we are truly on “borrowed time.”

Watts points out that however much time we are appropriated, the Time Giver does not lose track of us – we are ever in his care. He is constantly securing his loan! (Don’t try to turn that into a good banking analogy.)

This hymnline runs parallel to Psalm 31:15: “My time, O Lord, is in your hand.” The One whose hand provides us with life also holds us. The Time Loaner is also our Caretaker.

Thank you, Isaac Watts, for the aide memoire!

Hear This Hymn to the ELLACOMBE Tune

Monday, June 23, 2014

"I was an outcast stranger on earth... but I've been adopted."

"I was an outcast stranger on earth... but I've been adopted."
Hymn: “A Child of the King” – Harriet E. Buell (1834-1910)

No longer on the edge… at the perimeter of life. God has welcomed me into his family.

How many times have you seen ANNIE? Whether the staged musical or the movie (with its exchange of July Fourth for Christmas!), few of us avoid the lump-in-the-throat excitement when Daddy Warbucks brings the mop-top waif into his Fifth Avenue mansion… and eventually wants to adopt her. It’s a story-line that works every time – on stage, on film, in novels and biographies: outcast child invited into a family. And it works every time in the faith-life, too!

We Christian people sometimes forget that we are adopted by the Heavenly Father, invited to participate in the Kingdom with all his other children. We share the family name of his only-fathered Child. And according to that Child, a mansion is being prepared for us to enjoy for all time… rent-free at that!

Those of us who have found ourselves on the fringes are the most likely to appreciate being invited to join the team during recess… to be considered on common ground with the coolest of kids… to play in the reindeer games!

Keep an eye out around you: marginalized humanity is waiting to be brought to the vibrant center of life. A grace-ful invitation may be all they need. An accepting attitude may be all they require. A saving Lord may be the answer they seek.

Miss Hannigan or not, there’s an orphanage out there filled with lonely, desperate, unloved seekers. Let’s help them find a home.

A youth choir leads the congregational singing of this hymn

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Fills my ev'ry longing (and) keeps me singing as I go."

"Fills my ev'ry longing (and) keeps me singing as I go."
Hymn: “There’s within my Heart a Melody” – Words and Music by Luther Bridgers (1884-1948)

Some of us know this hymn as “He Keeps Me Singing,” but more hymnals nowadays are using the first line of the first stanza as the title. Either way, this is one most of us evangelicals know pretty well!

The line I chose today is from the end of the refrain:
    Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Sweetest name I know
    Fills my ev’ry longing, keeps me singing as I go.

With all due respect to Mr. Bridgers, I’m not sure about the use of “every” in that last line. I’ve sung that phrase since I was knee-high to nothin’, but am a little quizzical about that concept. In the first place, I’m not sure it is a biblical teaching; in the second place, if Jesus filled my EVERY longing, I’d be in some deep trouble, wouldn’t you? Spiritually speaking, my Savior fills most of my sacred longings; but I have longed for some gifts, talents… even opportunities… that have not yet been achieved.

I’m okay singing that line because the second half is so very true for me. Though not a great singer (one of those unfulfilled longings!), I always have a song going in my head… and sometimes on my lips. To quote a couple of other hymns: “How can I keep from singing?” and “I sing for I cannot be silent.” It’s just part of my nature to be swimming in some melody or adrift in a great hymn text. Like some of you, many times it is a song – and not a scripture or a prayer - that pulls me out of the doldrums and invigorates my spirit.

With a few unfulfilled longings, we can still maintain a singing habit. It’s one habit worth nurturing!

Listen to a Group-Singing of This “Homecoming Style”!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Lift up your voice and sing eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King."

Hymn: “He Lives” – Words & Music by Alfred H. Ackley (1887-1960)

I spent the first half of this week at Kempke’s Music Texas event in Dallas. [Did you miss me?] It’s one of those listen-to/sing-along-with music reading endurance courses! When we finished, one guy said he was in a “choral coma!” I saw a few friends from my former life in the local-church music ministry and got to spend those hours with MY minister of music… beaming when we read through something I liked and grimacing at things I couldn’t endure, hoping he noticed my reactions! :)

I came away from those seventeen packets even more convinced that praising God with music is a definite mandate for the body of Christ… even in the 21st Century. Admittedly, I am more prone to identify with the more sturdy, well-crafted choral styles – you know that already! However, as has always been my nature, I am drawn to the texts… the words… more than I am put-off by the musical style. And I love it when the composers actually pair the words and music in a way that they seem happily married. My favorite was Pepper Choplin’s “Bring It All.” Fortunately, my minister of music purchased it. The beaming worked!

I’ve visited “He Lives” twice already in these Hymnlines posts, and according to my notes, I will be back once more. These gospel songs I cut my teeth on have settled more deeply into my spiritual make-up than I might have realized. My guess is that is true for you as well. Who’d have ever thought that I’d find four phrases from this rollicking toe-tapper that still resonate with me when I sing them.

I am reminded here that whatever music we happen to sing in worship at our church, we need to be sure that it has lasting significance and that it draws attention to King Jesus… and not to itself or its presenter/performer.

This coming Sunday morning when given the opportunity, lift up your voice and sing. No mumbling into your chest allowed. (Those of you who watch THE MIDDLE will get that!)

Listen to Joel Raney’s arrangement of this hymn
(with a little of “Because He Lives” thrown in!)

Friday, June 13, 2014

"We wonder why the test when we try to do our best."

"We wonder why the test when we try to do our best."

Hymn: “When the Morning Comes” – Words & Music by Charles A. Tindley (1851-1933)

The recurring line in this hymn is “We will understand it better by and by.” We seem to live by that belief – that what we don’t comprehend in this life will be better explained in the next.

Today’s hymnline is a statement we’ve all made… or at least thought… countless times during this earth-bound pilgrimage: “Why is it that when I am putting forth my best effort, I am still blocked by testings and seemingly insurmountable snags?” or more specifically, “Why do I face so many struggles when I try so hard to do what God has called me to do, and act in ways commensurate with my commitments to him?”

In 1981, the book WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE? became a best-seller, purchased by every “good person” who walked through Barnes and Noble! “Finally,” they thought to themselves, “someone is asking the same question I’ve been asking.” I have a lot of respect for its author Rabbi Harold Kushner. I realize it brought solace and hope to many, especially those grieving the loss of a loved one. But I never read the book – never had any interest in it really, because it is an unanswerable question. Like a lot of other distractions, we will understand it better by and by. [On the flip-side, I’ve often wondered why good things happen to bad people. How petty of me, I know!]

Fortunately, we understand this seeming imbalance in the cosmic system more and more each day of THIS life. We continue to do our best, problems still come our way, we deal with the complications, and God continues to sustain and bless us. We are strengthened in our faith in spite of the blockades… or perhaps because of them.

I don’t think Christ calls us to be “perfect” as the world sees perfection; I do think he calls us to be “complete” in our devotion to his cause and our reflection of his attitude. While some have accused me of being a perfectionist in my choral/handbell work, I would say I have been a “best-est” – because that is what is expected of us when we offer up music in worship, isn’t it?

Another hymn puts it this way: “Give of your best to the Master; give him first-place in your heart.” That’s my goal, and I realize that doing my best does not exempt me from difficulties.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Begin, my tongue, some heavenly theme, and speak some boundless thing."

"Goober" - Elizabeth Ann Lanham

"Begin, my tongue, some heavenly theme, and speak some boundless thing."
Hymn: “Begin, My Tongue, Some Heavenly Theme” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Common Tune: MANOAH

I’m most often trying to get my tongue to stop! I sometimes think the letter from James was assigned to me; in that short book, there are six references to keeping the tongue under control.

Here, Isaac Watts calls upon the tongue to express praise and to tell of God’s faithfulness and power, pointing out the flip-side of the negative uses of the tongue.

Most hymns are addressed to God, to believers, to non-believers. Occasionally we come across one addressed to a Rock of Ages or to ourselves (Be Still, My Soul). This one is more unique because it is addressed to a body part! We are actually singing this hymn to our tongue!

There are many heavenly themes: kindness, grace, hope, encouragement, healing, assistance, etc. So beyond calling our speech patterns to the on-going praise of God, we are also reminding ourselves to start speaking words of kindness, grace, hope --- all of the above!

At some point in my ministry – probably too late – I made a blatant commitment to never intentionally say anything hurtful to anyone. The important key in that mantra is not to hurt someone “on purpose”, because as hard as we try, we are going to occasionally hurt someone with what we say. But if I set out to damage you with my speech, I am counter to the nature of Christ.

All of us who write would love to capture just once “some boundless thing” – a turn of phrase that encapsulates some profundity in a way that expresses it best. We all want to have an “All we have to fear is fear itself,”  “Ask not what your country can do for you,” or “I have a dream” phrase that sticks in the mind of all who read/hear it... forming our speech (tongue) into a group of words whose theme might be boundless - eternally remembered.

For most of us though, I guess we need to put the brakes on our not-so-positive tongue and release our tongue of blessing to glorify God, exhort our fellow pilgrims, and make stronger attempts at saying something worth remembering.

Ready? Set? Begin.

This Hymn (MANOAH tune)


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Everywhere that we may be, Thou, God, art present there."

"Everywhere that we may be, Thou, God, art present there."
Hymn: “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

We’ve all played hide-and-seek. When we were very young, we hid in plain sight… and still our older cousins pretended we were difficult to find. As we matured as hiders, our task was to become so well concealed that even the most-experienced seeker would be hard-pressed to discern our undiscoverable lair.

God is everywhere, according to this hymnline; we call it his omnipresent nature. He is at all places at all times – not one of the easiest attributes to truly comprehend. We need not think of God as “it” in a children’s covert game. While he may be in all places at once, he is not lurking about to tag us and send us running for another secretive location.

True, God IS everywhere; but my concept of his constant-presence is that he is also constantly available… to protect, guide, enlighten… to extract if necessary. He is also continuously accessible to listen – and perhaps speak.

If we have a predatory concept of the ever-present One, fearing his over-looking of our every move, we might check our legalism quotient. The scales of our lives might well be tilted away from grace.

“O LORD, you have searched for me and you know where to find me. You know where I sit and when I stand up. You are aware when I come into a room and when I exit; you even know when I lie down. Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I retreat to a high place or low place – even if I try to settle somewhere far away from home, even there you will be to guide me and hold me close.”  (from Psalm 139:1-3, 7-10 RgV)

Accept the reality that God is wherever you are, and take advantage of his presence. Don’t retreat to your hidey-hole and pretend he is absent. Lean on him; talk to him. Listen, learn, be safe. Enjoy the everywhere-ness of God.

The Ball Brothers Sing This Hymn

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Crown him with many crowns... and hail him as thy matchless King."

"Crown him with many crowns... and hail him as thy matchless King."
Hymn: “Crown Him with Many Crowns” – Matthew Bridges (1800-1894)

I heard a newscaster say, “For a horse to be royalty, it has to wear three crowns.” He was, of course, referring to the Triple Crown in horse-racing… a feat not achieved since Affirm’s 1978 victory.

This hymn's many-crown concept is scriptural (Revelation 19:12), but it is also a ‘picture this’ image. I understand that in eastern cultures, the official crown of a king was more like a turban, and every time he conquered another kingdom, a piece of cloth in that kingdom’s color was wound into the turban. Therefore the more colored strips in the crown, the more kingdoms he ruled. That is a much easier concept than envisioning a king with several golden crowns stacked up on his head!

When we understand this notion, the hymn calls us to give over more and more territory to the Lamb who sits upon the throne – that is, Jesus. That might be submitting more of our personal ‘turf’ (spiritual growth) or it might summon us to bring more people into the kingdom (evangelism) – or even to reach more world peoples (missions).

Recognizing Christ as our “matchless King” is an important step in our following after him. In worship at the church I attend, we sometimes sing the chorus “There Is None Like You.”  In a contemporary song, we are echoing this same sentiment: “You are matchless!” We need to revere Christ as the one-and-only truly holy Son of the Most High God. Until we put him in his rightful place, we come up short in our worship.

While the world awaits another Triple Crown champion, the church celebrates the victories of their multi-crowned King – One who was there before the race began and who knows no finish line.

Tenore Sings This Hymn

Garrett Martin’s Creative Improvisation

Monday, June 9, 2014

"In deeper reverence, praise."

"In deeper reverence, praise."
Hymn: “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” – John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
CommonTunes: REST (sometimes called ELTON), and REPTON

I love that many great poets - critically acclaimed, highly respected among literature scholars – wrote some meaningful poetic expressions of their Christian faith… and that some of those have been set to music, like this one.

The four-word phrase I’ve chosen for this hymnline is the ending of the first stanza. In context, it reads like this:
    In purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.

From pure motives may our service emerge. In the depth of reverence may we express our praise. What wonderful objectives for those of us who seek nearness to heart of God.

Reverence is becoming a rarely-practiced art. The noise of our worship doesn’t allow for that centering of our quiet self on “the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” (from Romans 11:33) Instead, the ecstatic joy of the Lord has become our strength.

Every now and then, though, the most exuberant worshiper has a strong craving to find the deeper reverence of solitude, one-on-One with the holy God… to be still and know for sure that God IS God.

Surface faith is nearly worthless. When the commitment and the submission are epidermic, it does little good… for the person or the kingdom.

O that we might in awe search out the depths of our faith experience – that we might be astonished at what we discover as the Almighty is quietly venerated. In the noiselessness, we might hear the still small voice more clearly and come away refreshed by the praise we render in the soundproof room of the soul.

Hear an A Cappella Singing of Two Stanzas of This Hymn (ELTON)

Friday, June 6, 2014

"What God's almighty pow'r hath made, his gracious mercy keepeth."

"What God's almighty pow'r hath made, his gracious mercy keepeth."
Hymn: “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” – Johann J. Schutz (1640-1690)

It seems that our image of a strong, powerful public figure is one who takes control and keeps it, exerts his/her authority, flaunts their clout, commands allegiance. Get the picture? We rarely associate a person of might with an attitude of mercy; they seem mutually exclusive.

This hymnline reminds us that in spite of the fact that in his mighty power our God spoke all things into existence, he maintains his relationship with all he constructed, keeping it all safe in his merciful care. It is a much more true-to-scripture portrait of the worshiped One: strong, yet meek – tall, yet willing to stoop – in control, yet filled with concern.

We, his creation, are kept – protected, secured, embraced, nurtured, sustained – by the watchful, mercy-filled eye of our almighty, powerful Creator. What a way to live!

Congregational Singing of This Hymn

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"O may my love to thee pure, warm and changeless be."

"O may my love to thee pure, warm and changeless be."
Hymn: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” - Ray Palmer (1808-1887)

This is one of my favorite hymns. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I have several! This one would definitely make the top ten… most days! Rich in language and deep in theology, Ray Palmer has expressed his faith in ways with which I identify and resonate. This is definitely one of those texts that works as a devotional hymn as well as it does as a congregational expression.

The line of this prayer-hymn that I’ve selected for today helps us understand what it means to love in general… and in this case how our love for Christ is exhibited.

All of us express love in different ways. [If you’ve never read Gary Chapman’s THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES, get a copy. It’s NOT just a marriage-help book!] Whatever our way of expressing love, these three are foundational:

- Pure: not motivated by self-gain, without mixed motive, unpolluted.
- Warm: engaging, affectionate, expressive.
- Changeless: consistent, never in doubt, unswerving, dependable, constant, stable.

These define a loving relationship of any kind; these set the standard. They describe God’s love for us and kindle within us the longing to reciprocate.

This hymnline is the prayer of my heart. I hope you share that desire.

Mahalia Jackson Sings This Hymn

Footnote: Ray Palmer was a pastor in the Congregational church. He wrote several books and published his hymn/poem collections. His two hymns that are still widely used are this one and “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” – another of my favorites, of course!

R. G. Huff – 3/4/2014

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)