Thursday, July 31, 2014

“Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace.”

Hymn: “Shall We Gather at the River” – Words & Music by Robert Lowry (1826-1899)

“Did not our hearts warm within us…?” the Emmaus Road travelers said when they realized theirs had been a close encounter of the highest kind. As their hearts quivered, so may ours.

We so often talk about “heart-warming” experiences – sometimes brought on by a darling puppy or a cooing baby… or a self-giving act of kindness or sacrifice. In our Christian experience, hearts are often warmed as well – from the inside out! While prompted by some exterior stimuli, the Spirit moves within us and surfaces into broad smiles or bright-eyed wonder… maybe even tears – and at best, song!

One of these days – the sooner the better – we are going to hear a melody of world peace. I’m so tired of the warring and the in-fighting in the Middle East; I’m pretty sure you are with me in that. It will take more than an additional chorus of “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” But there must be a grand song of peace on the horizon. And when it rises up around us, our hearts will tremble.

The “peace on earth, goodwill to all” angelic theme is not there just to make Christmas more palpable – nor is Jesus called the Prince of Peace for no good reason. God intends us to get along and to leave peaceably with one another.

Perhaps you anticipate peace in your own home, your larger family, the town where you live, the church you attend, your workplace. While we set our sights on global concord, our hearts vibrate within us when baby-steps toward peace are achieved… and the melody of peace is a balm to our oft-injured spirit.

I know this hymn is about gathering by the river that flows by the throne of God… heaven’s tributary. But I am convinced that this heart-quivering song may be ours on this side of Glory. O that it might begin today.

A Choir Sings Aaron Copland’s Setting of This Hymn

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“O Lamb of God, my sacrifice, I must remember thee.”

Hymn: “According to Thy Gracious Word” – James Montgomery (1771-1854)
Common Tune: AVON

Being a person fascinated with words, my ears and mind were piqued recently when I was came across a new insight into an old word: anamnesis. This is a term theologians toss around that means the act of remembering, especially related to the Eucharist. This hymn as a matter of fact is a communion hymn whose final words in each stanza are “remember thee.”

Anamnesis is the opposite of amnesia – the state of not being able to remember anything. More than just remembering, this is best described as “not being able not to remember.” You have to chew on that for a minute because its emphasis is based in the double negative.

For those of us who are bound to the Kingdom through the life, death, burial, resurrection and reign of Christ, we suffer from anamnesia because no matter how hard we might try, we simply cannot forget the magnificent significance of all that. I’ve never tried to forget, of course – because I have no desire to erase that from my mind.

My adherence to the doctrine of the security of the believer is probably related to this. My inability to forget keeps me securely tethered to the hem of his sacred, seamless dress. “My anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock” partly because I can’t help remembering.

With James Montgomery, I agree: “I MUST remember thee.”

A contemporary Scottish setting of this text

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“Creating God, your fingers trace the bold designs of farthest space.”

“Creating God, your fingers trace the bold designs of farthest space.”

Hymn: “Creating God, Your Fingers Trace” - Jeffery W. Rowthorn (1934-   )

Remember using finger paints? Dipping your hand into a bowl of tempera paint and smearing it all over a sheet of newsprint? It was freeing, colorful and creative… at least it was in preschool. Somehow, I picture God’s finger-use in the creation process as much more deliberate and precise, making every little move exactly when and where it should have happened.

When my creation-mind gets out of hand, I imagine God dragging his finger through the Arizona desert to expose the Grand Canyon… or etching his way along the shoreline to delineate the land from the sea. When we lived in Denver, I was convinced God must have squeezed his fingers around a clump of earth and caused Mount Evans to rise above the western horizon, carefully shaping it to be “just so.”

According to this hymnline, God’s fingers not only finger-shaped the earth’s natural beauty but boldly designed the far reaches of outer space! Our God is an amazing creative force… a force to be reckoned with!

I have to be honest: one of the things I like best about fingers is their ability to rub my aching neck or to massage my deepest back muscles. In so many ways, those same fingers which dug in and raised up creation’s masterpiece can also be to us a great Comforter… a Relaxer, if you will. At the end of a long day or a long week – or a long lifetime! – God can still work out the kinks in our over-tensed spiritual/social musculature. And when he’s finished, as far as we’re concerned another miracle has come to be!

“Creating God, your fingers are fashioning still, reshaping rocks and riverbeds, drawing plants from the dirt, remodeling run-down lives. Continue to work your way through us to knead-out our pain and tickle our spirits in order that we might rejoice in you and with each other. May we surrender to the strength of your fingers. Let us once again say, ‘Ahhhh. That feels so good.’ Amen.”

[I had to restrain myself from saying “I Knead Thee Every Hour.”]

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure."

"Sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure."

Hymn: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Tune: ST. ANNE

“Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have won the victory on his behalf.” (Psalm 98:1)

Since we dealt with being hidden in the hollow of the hand of God yesterday, it seems only right that we would move up to the arm.

“Sufficient” is a good word. Synonyms would be adequate, enough, satisfactory, appropriate, ample. These almost seem to underestimate the arm of God! While absolutely correct, sufficient isn’t as high-arching a term as we usually associate with God. However, when we need his support, enough is plenty! An ample arm will do. [Note: when referring to several items, sufficient can mean “abundant”; that’s a more biblical/church-sounding term.]

So many of our hymns refer to how God is working overtime on the defensive squad, protecting us from all invaders.  The mighty fortress he has erected on our behalf is not one that can easily be dismantled in a raid or over-run in an attack.

When discussing architecture, two of the necessities for any building are that it will stand and it will withstand. That pretty much describes the sure nature of the shielding feature of Almighty God.

He is plenty. He is sure. That’s reason enough to sing to the Lord a new song… or this old one!

Frederick Swan Plays His Famous Setting of This Hymn

[Just so you know, I have hymns about fingers and shoulders yet to come!]

Thursday, July 24, 2014

“Hidden in the hollow of his blessed hand.”

“Hidden in the hollow of his blessed hand.”
Hymn: “Like a River Glorious” – Frances R. Havergal (1836-1879)

On the security scale, you can’t do much better than this! That gigantic, powerful hand of Christ has grasped you, pulled his fingers around you and hidden you from anything outside that might harm you, distract you, or pull you away. You may have heard the phrase “in the grip of grace”; that’s what I’m talkin’ about when I sing the second stanza of this common-to-most-churches hymn.

We love being held in a place of protection. In fact, when danger lurks, we crawl as far into the palm as we can go, hiding out from anything that might seek to damage or destroy. However, being shielded from distraction is a bit different; when something interesting comes into view through the openings in his fingers – perhaps contrary to the nature of the Father and behavior expected of his children – it is then that we climb up to peer out and survey the possibilities of escape. We lick our lips and rub our hands together, dreaming of what it might be like to go there. That’s what I’m talkin’ about, y’all. Idenitfy?

Fortunately for most of us, we pass on the opportunity to vacate the nail-scarred real estate.

In terms of spiritual warfare, the hand of Christ is involved in a tug-of-war every day with forces of evil. Fortunately from what he says to us [“My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” John 10:29], all the yanking possible can’t win the battle for my soul… my salvation… my relationship.

Swaddled tightly in the sacred grip, I can avoid harm, distraction and abduction. I like it here. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, y’all.

[I couldn’t find a rap version, but it would have fit today! I’ll work on that for my next recording project!]

This hymn sung by Crown College Choir (a little strident, but nice arrangement)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”

Hymn: “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – Robert Robinson (1735-1790)

I am constantly being invited to seminars about getting rid of all my debt… of owing nothing to anybody – even for my house?! It boggles my mind, and every time it is discussed, I glaze over and an accounting coma overcomes me! We are not deep in debt by any stretch, but we still buy some things “on credit.”

This great hymn text reminds us that we are forever indebted to the grace of God for having put up with us, watched over us, and ultimately has redeemed/is redeeming/will redeem us. Every day, we need to pay God his due thanksgiving for the payment of an overwhelming debt that no one else can, would or could cover for us.

That word “constrained” could throw this line off if we’re not careful… and could mess with our theologies and/or our concept of how God works. If we could insert the word “compelled,” we might be closer to its intent. By his nature, the Grace-Giver does not require that we are grateful people. We are not forced to reciprocate or pay back the debt; we are not even obligated to do so.

Another definition of being constrained is being driven from within to do something. In the same way we are driven to provide for our families, to be the best at our careers and hobbies, to “succeed” even – we are simply personally motivated to constantly remind ourselves that our debt has been forgiven… our sin absolved… our slate wiped clean yet again and again. God doesn’t demand it of us; we do it of our own accord.

Grace is like a magnet that pulls at us constantly. It doesn’t push us around; rather it draws us nearer to the Provider. No straight-jacket. No binding leash. No shackled ankles. Just a gentle nudge reminding us of how marvelous and wonderful is the grace of God.

Mack Wilberg’s Setting of This Hymn (Baylor Choir)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“Show me the truth concealed within thy word.”

Hymn: “Break Thou the Bread of Life” – (this stanza) Alexander Groves (1842-1909)

This hymn is unusual in that it has two text-writers. Mary Lathbury wrote the first two stanzas to support the Bible study times at Chautauqua, NY in 1877; Groves added the second two, extending the bread-of-life analogy from the written Word to the Living Word – Jesus, who called himself the Bread of Life in John 6:35. Throughout the text, this is a prayer for enlightenment.

The concealed truth – that which is not obvious on the surface of a scripture passage – is what most of us seek when we approach Bible study. Were it not for searching out the deeper implications of the various verses and passages, we’d have no reason to attend Bible study groups, Sunday School… or listen to weekly sermons from the pulpit. Otherwise, we would simply say, “I’ve read that verse. I can even quote it verbatim from the KJV. I’m ready to move on to something else.”

On the other hand, most of you who are reading this blog are probably like unto myself: we want to know the deeper meaning of scripture, understood in the context, applied to our own daily walk with Christ.

Remember in THE SOUND OF MUSIC after Maria has introduced the Von Trapp children to solfeg (do, re, mi, etc.), one of the children says, “But it doesn’t mean anything.” I have to admit that a cursory reading of many biblical phrases leaves me saying the exact thing. Then I turn to a commentary or an online source to get a better insight into the truth of the matter. When I was in the full-time church ministry, I’d walk down the hall and ask the pastor. Sometimes they knew! But they were always ready to discuss it and help me find resources.

The truth of holy writ is not hidden like a buried treasure. It’s more like Easter eggs that are placed around the lawn at different levels: some are obviously find-able, and others take some searching… or re-searching. I think God WANTS us to discover the truth; that's why he gave us minds to do the work of unearthing a deeper message.

Dig on, brothers and sisters!

This Hymn Played at the Organ

Monday, July 21, 2014

“Lift the smallness of our vision.”

“Lift the smallness of our vision.”
Hymn: “God, Whose Purpose Is to Kindle” – Elton Trueblood (1900-1994)

Elton Trueblood was a Quaker theologian, advisor to American Presidents, author, and hymn-writer. This hymn has appeared in many hymnals since its writing in 1966. Because it is in the standard meter, it has been set to many tunes over the years.

Like Trueblood’s powerful voice among American theologians of the 20th Century, this single line jumps out from the hymn text which is itself a powerful prayer for the church to sing corporately.

It might be said that we are people of great faith but small vision. We verbalize how much we rely on God’s leadership and direction, but often we shy away from casting our vision beyond the commonly-held parameters of the world-wide church, our own denomination, our local congregation, or our small circle of Christian friends. No doubt some of the greatest sacred ideas – visions, if you will – have gone by the wayside because the person to whom they were revealed was reluctant to carry them through… to lay them out before others as a viable option for furthering the kingdom. Perhaps they were shared with a few, disparaged (pooh-poohed), and set aside.

I would like to not be considered a person of small faith OR small vision. I’d like to trust the Father’s wise bestowment of kingdom plans, and (because they are truly from the Father) run after them with greater vigor. After all, “Where there is no vision, the people (of God) perish.”  (Proverbs 29:18). And likely, some of us are withering due to our self-imposed limited vision of what God wants to accomplish in our personal lives and in the greater kingdom.

Lord Christ, please lift the smallness of my vision. Amen.

[I could not find an online example of this hymn.]

Friday, July 18, 2014

“How marvelous the grace that caught my falling soul.”

Hymn: “He Looked Beyond My Fault” – Dottie Rambo (1934-2008)

Following up on my post from yesterday about pianos falling from third-floor walk-ups, I thought I’d keep that fast-descending theme going today!

Though printed in some hymnals, this Dottie Rambo text is more a song than a hymn as it has only one stanza and a refrain. Set to the “O Danny Boy” tune, however, it elicits a near-levitating response within us as we hear it or sing it.

The refrain begins, “I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary,” which is where we left off with yesterday’s musings. But the phrase “grace that caught my falling soul” grabs my attention every time because it expresses a near-inexpressible concept: that though falling rapidly into the abyss of sinful behavior patterns, this Christ of Calvary swooped in – somewhat like Superman – and gathered me up in his arms… gathered me to himself and held me there all this time. It was not an act of justice, it was an act of grace.

And that takes us back to the opening line of this song: “Amazing grace shall always be my song of praise.” – that marvelous soul-catching grace.

Dottie Rambo Sings Her Song

Thursday, July 17, 2014

“Souls in danger, look above.”

Hymn: “Love Lifted Me” – James Rowe (1865-1933)

Like most people, you probably never look at the hymn tune name, the one that is somewhere on the page in all-caps. Sometimes they are attributed to the place where the hymn was written (ADA), it may be the name of a family member (LORIANN), or it may give a hint to what the hymn is about, as is the case here (SAFETY).

When something comes loose from a crane or lifting device, someone always cups their hands around their mouth and cries, “Look out below!” The person walking directly beneath is definitely a “soul in danger,” and they are totally unaware of their peril until someone warns them. That is, of course, what this hymn is trying to accomplish: to sound a word of caution.

If this line were in the middle of the hymn “Showers of Blessing,” it would take on an entirely different reaction from the singer. We souls in danger – that would be all of us at one time or another – need to look up not just to be aware that a piano is headed our direction from a third floor walk-up apartment, but to respond to the blessings being poured out on us from heaven’s throne.

If you are in danger of mortal injury, you’d best be looking to the Savior who stands above you, ready to shield you from an impending hazard and ultimately save you from eternal death. The rest of us need to keep an eye out for the sacred outpourings of the Spirit of God.

Lift thine eyes, O lift thine eyes!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus!
Get your head up!

The Statler Brothers sing this hymn

Sing along with Jack Black (from BERNIE)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

“Little is much when God is in it.”

"Measuring Up" - Norman Rockwell
Hymn: “Little Is Much When God Is in It” – Words & Music by Kittie Louise Suffield
Tune: STEWARDSHIP (also sung to NETTLETON)

This gospel song – particularly the refrain – must have been written for those who identify with the one-talent person in the parables of Jesus… the ones who want desperately to be of service to the Kingdom, but whose mustard-seedness makes them reluctant.

When as an eighteen-year-old sophomore at Carson Newman College I sensed a ‘call’ of God in my life to enter a career in music ministry, I realized that I had limited musical gifts… at least those publicly exhibited in worship. I don’t play an instrument, and my singing voice is barely acceptable – and is certainly not sing-the-big-solo worthy! At the encouragement of some music professors, I began to follow that call through college, seminary, and forty-plus years of local church ministry.

I am living proof that blessed little talent can be used when offered to God. With a vengeance I went with the things I did well and developed my career in areas that magnified the gifts of others because I could not rely on my personal musical performance skills. Whatever successes I had along the way, they happened in spite of my inadequacies!

We need to be reminded that a little leaven when applied freely causes the whole loaf to rise.

This hymnline is a call to us “little ones” to step up and apply our meager abilities to further the kingdom, inviting the Giver of All Gifts to make the best use of whatever talents appropriated to us.

Marshall Hall sings this hymn

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

“With you at my right hand, then I shall never fail.”

Hymn: “Forever with the Lord” – James Montgomery (1771-1854)

Having a good support system is part of our vernacular nowadays. We toss that phrase around in seminars and workshops… sermons and Bible studies. It makes perfectly good sense, whether we think of it in secular or spiritual terms. We are NOT in this alone, and we should take advantage of every opportunity to be supportive of others… and to accept support when it is offered to us.

This hymnline is from one of those hymn-texts we sing rarely, and when we do, it is often at a memorial service. The second stanza from which this line is lifted is not so much about the eventual eternal life as it is about the one we are currently enjoying.

“With you at my right hand, then I shall never fail.
Uphold me, Lord, and I shall stand. Through grace I will prevail.”

It seems that James Montgomery understood our best support system to be the Lord Christ himself. As we sing these phrases, we are reminded that we agree with him: we stand best when we are upheld by the Lord at our right hand… and our left for that matter!

Life is filled with failures. We make mistakes more often than we would like to admit. We are at times going to be tripped up by life, fall flat on our faces, seem like complete failures. Ultimately, when the dust settles, the realization comes: “I shall never fail with you at my right hand.”

Hang on to your human support system – give support, receive support. But don’t for a moment discount your primary Upholder. Lean heavily on those everlasting arms. He will not let you fall… or become a total failure!

An organ setting of this hymn tune

Monday, July 14, 2014

“We love your name, we love your laws, and joyfully embrace your cause.”

“We love your name, we love your laws, and joyfully embrace your cause.”
Hymn: “Come, Holy Spirit, Dove Divine” – Adoniram Judson (1788-1850)
Common Tune: MARYTON

This baptismal hymn was written by the first American missionary to be sent to Burma and stay on the field long enough to establish a faith community. His commission set into motion the great missionary movement from the U.S. to countries around the world. He was passionate about believers’ baptism by immersion (as reflected in this hymn) and oversaw the translation of the Bible into the Burmese language. His is a major name among those for whom missions is their cause.

In THIS hymnline, Judson puts the foundation of his calling into our mouths as we sing; and as we repeat them, we speak our own commitment to embrace the cause of Christ… with joy!

There are lots of different Christian causes out there, and around each one there seems to have formed a following. Some of these have morphed into denominations or sects; some have filled gaps in the church’s ministry; some have given rise to the greatest movements in church history; others have created division and infighting.

The cause of Christ is to know him and to make him known – to reveal Christ by modeling his life-actions, his attitudes, his sacrificial nature… by anticipating his ultimate reign (“Thy kingdom come…”). When we take up that central cause and avoid the peripheral distractions, we come closer to agreeing with these words when we sing them together.

Almost every great cause (Christian and otherwise) has incorporated a song. In fact, any time we stand to sing our faith together, we joyfully support the mission of Christ.

Your mission, if you should choose to accept it: Adore his name. Revere his Word. Gladly embrace his cause.

See all stanzas.

I couldn’t find an good online setting of this hymn, but this one is at least interesting

Friday, July 11, 2014

“Yaw muen un fahr um hop uh zi! Um esken wum in dez a ray! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Hymn: “All Creatures of Our God and King”  - Aye Tu Zee (2015-3012)

Most of you who’ve ever discussed worship with me know that I feel that there is a difference between fun and joy. First of all, fun is not mentioned in the Bible, but joy is there throughout. Second, fun is short-term, based on the moment; joy is a longer-lasting state of mind/heart. And unlike fun, joy is created from within and is a gift from God… one of the fruit of the Spirit actually.

That having been said, this post is going to refute everything I just said! This hymnline is not a typo; I did not get my fingers off the home keys. When you watch the video, you’ll get it.

I’ve done 265 of these serious, poignant, insightful hymnlines, and it seems like a good time to insert a nothing-but-fun post. This was sent to me by Kyle Fuller, one of my funnest-ever youth choir members. It features the Venerable Bean making every attempt to participate in worship. While his singing is filled with joy, it is just too much fun!

Our Father, who art in heaven… lead us not into worship-entertainment, but deliver us from boredom.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

“In the glad song of ages I shall mingle with delight.”

Hymn: “My Savior First of All” – Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

Mingling… fitting in… not standing out. That’s how I intend to be when I have opportunity to join the congregational singing in the hereafter.

Our true understanding of heaven’s details is extremely limited. Over the years, many have “put a spin” on what we might expect. Books have been written, songs have been published, art masterpieces have been produced, extensive studies have been compiled. Someone in Texas even created a show called “Heaven’s Front Porch.”

Though we lack for too many specifics, it seems we can count on music being involved. In the Bible’s ultimate book, there is too much evidence to deny. “Music plays a larger role in the book of Revelation than in any other book of the New Testament, and few books in all of Scripture have spawned more hymns sung in Christian worship today.” *   Along with the singing of the saints, the only mention of instrumental music in the New Testament appears in Revelation.

I may not audition for the heavenly choir because great singing has never been my gift. However, I have from my earliest memories delighted to sing the congregational songs. So when they crank up those great melodies of the ages, my delight will continue as I add my not-so-great singing voice to the greatest congregation ever assembled, joining the grandest hymn ever sung: the song of the redeemed.

As I have said thousands of times: “Please stand together as we sing.”

* Craig Koester – “The Distant Triumph Song: Music and the Book of Revelation”: Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

“My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him.”

Hymn: “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” – Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

We are heading into the middle of July, and summer is heavy upon us. Here in Texas, we’re approaching our first 100◦ day; but when you get above 98, who can tell the difference?

Thirst seems to accompany heat… like those old movies of desert-lost Indiana Jones types who crawled sand-mouthed toward an oasis which often turned out to be a disappointing mirage -- a figment of one’s desires and perhaps imagination.

Today’s hymnline comes at the end of the second stanza of this Scottish hymn – the stanza that parallels the story of Christ with the woman of Samaria from John 4… well, you know the story!

“I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give the living water, 
          thirsty one, stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life-giving stream. My thirst was quenched.             

         My soul (was) revived. And now I live in him.”

No mirage here! Who you see is what you get. Jesus sits by the well and makes promises he can keep: if we humble ourselves (stoop down) and drink, life will take a turn for the better.

Got a dry mouth? Feel like you’re chewing on sand? Looking for refreshment for your soul? Stoop down like Gideon’s soldiers, and with your eyes on Jesus, lap up the living water. Be revived. Let the experience modify your life. Face your next battle in the might of the Living-water Bearer. Then the next time you sing this hymn, it will be YOUR testimony, not just words on a page… or a wall!

Sung by the Choir of Manchester Cathedral (KINGSFOLD)

Great Celtic Setting… not so great graphics. (KINGSFOLD)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

“Grace, love and pity he shows.”

“Grace, love and pity he shows.”

Hymn: “Why Do I Sing about Jesus?” – Words & Music by Albert A Ketchum (1894- ?)

Grace and love are pretty familiar church terms because they are tossed about freely in our sermons, Bible studies, hymns and songs. If asked what two attributes of God are favorites, most would probably respond with these two. I, for one, consider the grace (or mercy) of God to be at the top of my list.

This hymnline, however, employs a less-often uttered term among us believer-types. Perhaps because none of us wishes to be pitied by another, we avoid the word. “She’s just pitiful” or “It’s a pitiful mess he’s gotten himself into” are phrases we’d rather not have spoken about us.

But “pity” is great descriptor of the kind of grace and love expressed in the example of Christ. Pity is simply a substitute term for compassion… especially compassion that is felt because another is suffering some kind of loss or misfortune. One of the definitions I came across was a “fellow feeling” – a shared understanding of what another is going through.

It is not at all positional: a looking down upon. It is not objective: viewed from a distance as we wag our heads and say, “Oh, you pitiful person.” Instead, it is identifying with another, putting ourselves on the same level… standing on even ground with all human strugglers.

Grace, love and pity. In the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus, we find these three things on display… always. Because he is our example, we should set out to exhibit these three… always!

Stop using “pity” in a negative context; move that term over to your positive column. Approach the one who stands before you as a fellow-feeler. Even if you haven’t faced the same difficulty or dilemma, you can identify with having been a deflated wanderer who – for some period of time – lived as one without hope.

“Grace, love and pity he shows.” It is show-time for the rest of us!

Monday, July 7, 2014

“God his own doth tend and nourish... in his mighty arms he bears them.”

Hymn: “Children of the Heavenly Father” – Caroline V. Sandell-Berg (1832-1903)
             Translated by Ernst W. Olson

“God his own doth tend and nourish.
In his holy courts they flourish.
From all evil things he spares them.
In his mighty arms he bears them.”

In most hymnals, this is the second-of-four stanzas and includes highlights from Psalm 23, describing God as the Shepherd - tending and nourishing the flock, inviting them into the house of the Lord forever, sparing them from all that might harm them, and ultimately enfolding them in his strong arms as he carries them through the meadow.

This is a beautiful picture of the One who takes great care to take care of us – we who are the sheep of his pasture – we following-lambs of the Lamb.

While God tends to us, giving us his undivided attention, he is seeing to it that we are given each day our daily bread. In our dual role as children of his and servants in his courts, we are allowed to succeed. Nothing truly wicked can overtake us because God is ever our Protector, delivering us from evil. When carried in his mighty arms, he keeps us above all that might distract us or harm us; in that position (close proximity to the heart of the Shepherd), we are less likely to be led astray by the temptations above which we are borne.

You may notice that this also parallels statements from the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread,” “Deliver us from evil,” and “Lead us not into temptation,” reminding us that our prayer is being answered even as we speak it!

While this is often considered a “Children’s Hymn,” it speaks volumes to all who consider themselves children of the most high God, sheep of his pasture, pray-ers of the prayer he taught us to pray. Let’s not overlook the depth of the riches of this stanza of one of the great hymns.

Hymn sung by Mennonite men’s group

Friday, July 4, 2014

"Thy true religion in our hearts increase."

Hymn: “God of Our Fathers” – Daniel C. Roberts (1841-1907)

“If anyone gives a different teaching, not in agreement with the true words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the teaching which is in agreement with true religion, he has an over-high opinion of himself; being without knowledge, having only an unhealthy love of questionings and wars of words… But true faith, with peace of mind, is of great profit.” (from 1 Timothy 6:3-6 BBE)

I read a wonderful quote from Stephen Colbert online yesterday about how we Christians (and he is one) are going to either have to denounce our faith or get on with what we are called to do. He is absolutely right about that. I am convinced that in order to follow the true religion laid out for us in the gospel accounts of the words and actions of the One we call Lord, we must put that model into action.

True religion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” (James 1:27 CEB)

There’s a difference between caring about and caring FOR another person: the first is a distant concern; the latter is direct involvement. This scripture calls us to be a help to the helpless… not JUST women left without a husband and children living without parents.

It is a national holiday today, but I’m not going to become political here; taking sides on partisan issues is not my purpose with this blog. However, in order for “true religion” to increase in our hearts and our congregations, we have nowhere else to turn but to the life and ministry of Jesus. After all, “Where could I go but to the Lord?”

Do we want true religion to manifest itself in our hearts? Then we need to transfer that into our attitude and our actions. A good place to start might be caring FOR the marginalized… those whose support system has collapsed.

A prayer for today from yesterday’s hymn: “Help of the helpless, O abide with me. Amen.”

This Hymn Played by US Marine Band

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee."

"Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee."

Hymn: “Abide with Me” – Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847)

This hymnline bears out that great truth from Psalm 30:5 that we may go to bed distressed, but in the morning all that angst is turned to joy. Okay, that was my loose translation, but that’s basically what it says to ME.

There is something about the morning light breaking through the window that seems to bring hope for the day ahead. Until we are totally alert and able to drag the problems of all our yesterdays back to the forefront of our brain -- for those few fleeting moments, the shadows of earth’s difficulties are erased by the early sun rays.

I admit that I have a propensity towards worry. Whatever comes my way, I am inclined to be anxious… even before there is a real problem! I need to be re-programmed in this area, and I am still working on it actually!

If I could just allow that “I can start all over from scratch” attitude to over-ride my worry button, wouldn’t it be a more pleasant way to approach whatever comes my way in the new day? Well, yes it would.

Tomorrow morning, remember this little post. Let earth’s vain shadows flee. Before you jump out of bed, jump out of worry… and jump with both feet into hope.

Cynthia Clawson Sings This Hymn 
Nobody does it better!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"The kindling of the heav'n-descended Dove."

"The kindling of the heav'n-descended Dove."
Hymn: “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart” – George Crowly (1780-1860)

I admit that I sang this hymn for years before I noticed what the last lines actually say… mean. Even though I grew up in a culture that knows all about kindling, I thought in this case it was some archaic rendering of the word “kind” – as in “Be ye kind one unto another.”

“The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and thy love the flame.”

As we sing this, we are offering ourselves as kindling… a fire starter… for the Spirit of God when it falls on us from heaven. It’s as if on our hearts we stack up the small strips of wood or dried twigs so that when the purifying flames descend, we are ready to get this fire going! I’m reminded of Gene Bartlett’s more-recently-written hymn “Set My Soul Afire.”

Stephen King’s novel FIRESTARTER was made into a 1984 movie starring Drew Barrymore as a young girl whose gift of pyrokinesis is appropriated by the government. It’s a typical Stephen King thriller involving the paranormal. The sequel on the Sci-fi network was called… get this: FIRESTARTER: REKINDLED!

In reality, we who believe the power of the Spirit is of amazing proportions, able to achieve so much in our lives as individuals and corporately within the church, should be kindling our hearts so that we – yes, even WE might be the ones who get the fire going among our fellows: the fire starters!

What if those posters of Smokey the Bear were lining the halls of our churches, pointing at us like a furry Uncle Sam, saying, “Only YOU can prevent the spread of the fire.” That’s one fire I don’t want to put out – one movement I don’t want to impede.

If I miss out on being a fire starter, I hope I will at least be a flame fanner… and not a water tosser!

Hear Three Stanzas of This Hymn

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Faith has caught the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground."

"Faith has caught the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground."
Hymn: “Higher Ground” – Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)

Carlita and I were once discussing how different world religions have certain very definite “rewards” waiting for them in their final life beyond the grave. Some are reserved only for the men, and some are very sexual in nature. These beliefs in an exact prize (or bevy of prizes!) provide quite the incentive for their extremists to martyr themselves. After a few minutes of silence, I said, “And all we have to look forward in the next life is singing!”

In all honesty, that is not a bad thing to anticipate: the privilege to “thus surround the throne” as we march through Zion, the beautiful city of God. For those of us who delight in few things any more than we enjoy congregational singing, it gives us reason to look forward to heaven.

This entire hymn deals with pressing on the upward way toward new heights gained daily, catching a glimpse of the brightness of Glory, and eventually planting our feet there.

One stanza has an almost depressing statement: “My heart has no desire to stay…” That’s a bit too close to a death-wish for my tastes; but in the next stanza comes today’s hymnline which says that my faith during this life has caught an aural-glimpse (I think I just made that up) of what the sound might be like when the saints gather on heaven’s shore, process around the throne, cast down their golden crowns as acts of worship, and join the endless song.

Off and on through my life, I think I have caught that joyful sound, and I have a high anticipation of linking myself with members of the heavenly throng who have been assigned a singing position… not because of their great singing ability, but because of their heart-felt song.

Do you hear the people sing?

Nobody seems to sing OR record the third stanza, but here is a fun quartet singing this hymn:

[Those of you who wonder whatever possessed me to create and carry-out the Old Fashioned Singing Project and its theme “Heaven’s Front Porch” should be a little closer to understanding my madness!]

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)