Friday, August 29, 2014

“Jesus, thou divine Companion, help us all to work our best. Bless us in our daily labor.”

Hymn: “Jesus, Thou Divine Companion” – Henry van Dyke (1852-1933)

For Labor Day Weekend, I decided to use a line from a mostly-unfamiliar hymn. I’m attaching a copy of it for you to read this line in context.

I very much like the concept of Christ being my Divine Companion… One who accompanies me wherever I go as my Escort, Comrade, Confidante, Compadre – Friend. By dictionary definition, a companion is “a person who shares the experiences of another, especially when these are unpleasant or unwelcome.” THAT is what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!

Sticking with definitions, a companion is also one of a pair of things that complements the other. This also applies to our relationship with Christ: he improves my attitude and my actions, and I raise his image among my constituents when I behave and react more like he would. We have an interdependent, symbiotic relationship.

Although it is rarely used, this word can also be a verb: Jesus companions me, and I him.

Interestingly, the very word from the Latin means together (com) with bread (panis). Bring that to mind the next time you approach the communion table.

Not only does he travel with me, he is my Assistant – not as a second-in-command, but as one is there to help whenever needed. This is where we arrive at today’s hymnline, imploring his help in our work and his blessing on our labor. We are not asking him simply to help us get our work done or accomplish a task; our prayer is that we might give it our best effort and that the product would be the best we can give.

I think I’ve said this before, but I’ve often been accused of being a perfectionist. That is simply not true… and can’t be in local church music ministry! I am unashamedly a “best-est,” convinced that nothing offered to God in worship should be anything short of our finest. (2 Samuel 24:24)

I hope this is an encouraging word as you face bosses, deadlines, inter-workplace conflicts and projects that seem way beyond your capabilities. You are not alone. You have a Divine Companion. And all the people said…

Scroll Down to See Hymn Sheet

Thursday, August 28, 2014

“The heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.”

Hymn: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” – Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863)

I like this hymn a lot. I LOVE the title of this hymn! I know I’m a bit nerdy, but I find myself singing the first line (“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.”) at many times when I recognize that God’s pity-full kindness has once again stretched itself wide enough to catch me and keep me from falling completely off the Christian grid.

The heart – the emotional center – of the Eternal One is overwhelmingly filled with kindness (which is a synonym for mercy, by the way). God’s emotional center covers a lot of bases: love, hate, jealousy, wrath, etc. Emotionally is one of the ways in which we are created in the image of God. In the case of God, the kindness is superlative – it ranks high above all those other sentiments. He is MOST wonderfully kind.

Yesterday I attended the memorial service of a local saint. His current pastor, a former pastor, a fellow chaplain, and the executive director of our state denomination spoke repeatedly of Dan McClinton’s kindness; and from my experience with this minister of music colleague, they were absolutely correct in that assessment. I felt like we should have sung the “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee” song from those old commercials, because Dan’s kindness drew everybody to him, and nobody didn’t like him.

I admit that as I move nearer to my own funeral – aren’t we all? – that I wonder what word will be the repeated theme at my service? I’m pretty sure it won’t be “kind,” but I wish it were. I’m too bull-headed… make that “determined”… to be considered wonderfully kind!

No human is MOST wonderfully kind. God has a corner on that market! And I’m glad he does. Otherwise, I’d be… I can’t even imagine.

                                   A Choral Arrangement of This Hymn Text

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

“Naught be all else to me save that thou art.”

Hymn: “Be Thou My Vision” – Ancient Irish
Music: SLANE

This is one of those prayer hymns. We’ve visited this prayer before, but today I’m zeroing in on the second line of the first stanza. Immediately after we begin the prayer, asking that Christ the Lord of our hearts might be our true vision, this hymnline comes into play.

In reality, when we are involved in the privileged activity of prayer – communication with the Almighty – we need to focus our attention on him and him only. We’re all familiar with those mind-wandering prayers in which we suddenly realize we are no longer praying but planning our day or solving our problems.

The most effective prayer times – those which affect our lives most deeply and probably please God most – are the ones where we are determinedly centered on the One to whom our prayers arise. This hymnline/prayerline sets us in that direction. It is as if we are saying/singing, “For the next few minutes I am going to forget that there is anything or anyone else of any importance except you, Lord. The only thing that matters is that you exist and that you have the role of Master of the Universe. I am going to spend this time focused only on you.”

If you haven’t taken time recently for an intense period of undistracted prayer, give it another try. If we construct our prayer times in that way, we are more likely to build our lives around that same Christ-centeredness. Our lifestyle, like our prayer times, will not be diverted or detoured off course.

                                                  One of Those Six-Part Solos (!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

“Jesus, listening, can hear the songs I cannot sing.”

Hymn: “Sunshine in My Soul” – Eliza E. Hewitt (1851-1921)

We all know about those unutterable prayers - those that our heart can express, but our lips can’t quite complete the process. We know that those un-verbalized expressions of praise, petition, and confession are graciously received by the all-hearing One.

For those of us who express our faith in music, there are also some concepts that we cannot seem to put into words… or that no melody can adequately capture… that even the richest harmonies come up short of fulfilling what we want it to sound like.

In his “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats put it this way: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on.” I’ve always loved the thought behind this poem: that the people on the urn are playing music, but we have to use our imagination to hear the pitches and rhythms.

Fortunately, when the heart sings, Jesus hears the song perfectly – as if you and I were masterful composers. He listens, he pays close attention, and – in my opinion – he sings along!

I hope there is sunshine in your soul today. I hope there is a song in your heart today. Spoken or unspoken, sung or unsung, Jesus, listening, hears.

The Mormon Tabernacle Sings Mack Wilberg’s Arrangement of This Hymn

Monday, August 25, 2014

“My song shall ever be: how marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior’s love for me.”

Hymn: “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” – Words and Music by Charles H. Gabriel (1856-1932)

First of all, if you are the worship leader at your church, never let the congregation SIT to sing this hymn. Just sayin’!

We’re sort of back to that song-that-never-ends idea here.

When the question is asked in a Bible study group, “What is your favorite attribute of God?”, the most common response is going to be his love. Some of us will try to come up with something more profound (like omnipresence or immutability), but down deep we simply want to say, “His love for me.” [Below I have listed Spurgeon’s list of the attributes of God, just in case you’re interested!]

The first thing the nursery teacher repeated to you in Sunday School was “Jesus loves you.” The first song you ever learned was probably “Jesus Loves Me.” Hymnal and chorus-books are filled with songs that tell us about how much God loves us… and give us many opportunities to say how much we love him. The love of God is so ingrained in our spirit, our psyche and our vocabulary, we can hardly escape it, even if we tried – and why would we?

As I sing this hymn, each time we come to the refrain, my faith is brightened – even renewed – by the two descriptors: marvelous and wonderful. I’ve probably sung this hymn a thousand times in my lifetime – corporately or to myself -- and still… still these two words grab me by the heart and throw me about the room because they are so spot-on and commensurate with my own personal worship love language.

Any time you have fifteen extra seconds today, stop and sing the refrain of this hymn… or sing it while you go about your work. If it doesn’t raise the ends of your lips, we need to talk!

From the Gaither Tent Revival Video

Chris Tomlin Leads an Introspective Setting of This Hymn

C. H. Spurgeon’s Attributes of God:
•    Eternal
•    Faithfulness
•    Foreknowing
•    Good
•    Holy
•    Immutable
•    Impartial    
•    Incomprehensible   
•    Infinite 
•    Jealous   
•    Justice   
•    Longsuffering
•    Omnipotent 
•    Omnipresent  
•    Omniscient
•    Righteous   
•    Self-existent   
•    Self-sufficient   
•    Sovereign   
•    Transcendent
•    Truth
•    Wise
•    Wrath   
•    Love   
•    Mercy

Friday, August 22, 2014

“This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way.”

Hymn: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)

Have you ever said, “I thought that song would never end?”

I took my junior high choir to Dallas to see THE WIZ when the movie first came out. If you’ve never seen it, let me just say that it is a terminal musical. I remember somewhere into the third hour the little boy sitting next to me said out loud, to Diana Ross, “Just click your heels together, and let’s get this over with!” I almost said, “Amen.”

I have some good news for you: there is a song that has already started -- a tune taken up by the earliest Christians. It’s been humming its way through history for almost two thousand years now, and you and I are a part of it. The song is “Jesus got me here.” Or as Fanny Crosby put it, “Jesus led me all the way.”

It’s a retrospective song… an introspective (here-and-now) song… and a prospective song, anticipating the fact that when our lives have ended, the lyric will still hold true. Since I joined this song in my twelfth year, Jesus has led me to where I am now… and will lead me to where I’m going.

Even at those times I wrangled my hand from his loving grasp and ran ahead of him… or ran away from him totally… he maintained his position of leadership, eventually leading me back to himself.

Some people start the day saying, “This is the day the Lord has made…” Perhaps I will take up the habit of putting my head on my pillow at the end of every day, singing this 12-word hymnline to myself before I go to sleep, because no matter what kind of day it may have been, “Jesus led me all the way” through it.

I thought that song would never end… and indeed, it won’t!

A Congregational Singing of This Hymn

Personal Note: One whose entire life had been committed to leading others in the song of the redeemed joined the eternal hallelujah chorus yesterday. Everybody’s friend Dan McClinton took up the coda of the song of endless ages, knowing that Jesus led him all the way through a life of music ministry. I’m not sure if he’s playing his clarinet/saxophone or singing tenor; but I AM sure he’s carrying his part with all the enthusiasm he did in this life.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

“And bids me at my Father’s throne make all my wants and wishes known.”

Hymn: “Sweet Hour of Prayer” – William Walford (1772-1850)

Have you ever noticed WHO is being addressed when you sing a hymn? Many… probably most… are addressed to God the Father, Son or Spirit. Others we sing to fellow believers (“Come, we that love the Lord,” e. g.). There’s also a group of gospel songs that we sing to those outside the faith; we evangelicals often use these for invitation hymns: “Only Trust Him,” “Are You Washed in the Blood?”, etc.

When we sing “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” we are not only singing ABOUT prayer; we are singing TO prayer. The entire text is addressed to the privilege we call prayer. Some hymnals capitalize the thee’s, thy’s, and thou’s, but they shouldn’t be… in my humble, uneditorial opinion.

Prayer often calls to US, reminding us to make better use of it. In the middle of worry and difficulty, I sometimes say, “What am I going to do?”, and prayer whispers, “Try me!” It bids me… lures me, motions for me to enter the presence of God with my wants and wishes.

There’s a great argument that there’s no reason to pray because God already knows what’s going on in my life, so why recap it. I don’t buy into that debate, and those who do have likely never experienced the warm blessing it is to pour out one’s deepest desires to the One who is most concerned about them.

If you can anthropomorphize prayer – assign a human face and body to it – imagine that she stands motioning for you to come make use of the privilege she affords. Almost siren-like, she calls you… not to a rocky demise but to a hopeful expression of what you need to get off your chest.

Got a problem you can’t solve? Got a hole in your resolve? According to the Cynthia Clawson song, “Bring it to Jesus” – responding to the bidding of prayer.

[On a personal note: Today pray for our friends Dan and Myla.]

                                    An a cappella Congregational Singing of This Hymn

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

“I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad.”

Hymn: “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” – Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
Various Tunes: KINGSFOLD, VOX DILECTI, SPOHR… and others!

If you’ve been following these posts, you realize one of my favorite hymns is “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place,” and that I am drawn to texts that emphasize “rest” as one of their themes. This may speak to my chronological status, or it may be simply one of the things I have always sought and valued when found.

The first stanza of this hymn begins with: “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto me and rest. Lay down, thou weary one, lay down thy head upon my breast.’” From there, that allusion from the eleventh chapter of Matthew is fleshed out until THIS hymnline closes the stanza.

When I’m in my resting place, I’m probably at my glad-est. For me, that is usually on the back porch in my rocking chair, glass of iced tea in hand! I’m less stressed, more relaxed, less distracted, more freed-up to do nothing but reflect, think, meditate.

Spiritually speaking, when I find in Christ that cleft in the rock where respite and protection are available, I have a different kind of gladness; that biblical concept of joy comes into play, overwhelming me with a depth of delightful contentment… and I realize I’ve found in him a resting place. It’s sort of cyclical for me: I realize I’ve found a resting place, and that my joy is found in the resting place where I found my joy in the resting place… and so on, and so on, and so on.

Still Christ bids us heavy-laden types to approach him for rest. He is accessible, and his relaxing reward is available. There we find the gladness that passes all understanding.

Me? I’m heading to the back porch!

                                                  A relaxing setting of the KINGSFOLD tune!

Monday, August 18, 2014

For something different today, I’m posting an NPR article by Juan Vidal, a writer and cultural critic from Miami. This was sent to me by my friend MK, a fellow lover of words and hymns!

Anyone thoughtful — no matter what their spiritual leaning — can appreciate the art of the hymn: the rhythm, the sonorous language, the discipline and structure.

The thing about a beautifully wrought hymn, that age-old lyric poem, is that there is nothing like it — and it would be wrong to say the best ones don't go at the heart head-on. Again, no matter where you stand on heaven and hell, there is power in a hymn. And if we're blessed enough to be able to sit quietly with one, we might see that hymns contain everything: death, laughter, loss. They tell a story about our relationship to the divine. A brute truth: No other form of expression can so richly translate the depth and breadth of authentic religious experience like a well-conceived song of praise.

And even our most hailed rock icons like Elvis Presley embraced the art form (and expressed) their adoration for these old compositions. Willie Nelson, who grew up Methodist, holds a somewhat flexible set of beliefs when it comes to religion. That didn't stop him from offering a masterful (rendition) of "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)."

It would do us good to revisit some of the poetry of a time so different than our own. These old texts merit our attention; for me they carry the same resonance as Shakespeare. Not only are they rich in history, they also draw us to appreciate the wonder of words. Instead of viewing the vocabulary as archaic, I've come to see hymns as the language of prayer, and as a way of connecting with those that have come before me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

“No more we doubt thee… life is naught without thee.”

Hymn: “Thine Is the Glory” – Edmond Louis Budry (1854-1932)

Did you see the movie DOUBT with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Viola Davis, etc.? Based on a stage play, the film gave us just about as good a dramatic definition of “doubt” as could be expressed. Basically, as long as there was a sliver of doubt remaining, we could not trust the priest – or ultimately anyone else in the cast! We left the theater unsure on just about every level.

This resurrection hymn gives us the opportunity to express our full trust that Jesus is who he claims to be… and that trust leaves no room for doubt – even a fragment. Implied is the possibility that we may have had our uncertainties before, but now that he has risen from the bonds of death, with great conviction we join the long-held confession “Jesus is Lord!”

Without him, life is worthless. A later-scribed gospel song says, “Without him I could do nothing… I’d surely fail… I would be drifting, enslaved, hopeless, lost.” If Christ were stolen from us – yanked away – our lives would be so very altered, and we would calculate our existence at zero.

Without reservation, without misgiving, without a shadow of a doubt: this is how we must come to Christ. No qualms, no hesitation. We place our faith in the One who when we know him personally leaves no room for doubt. Confidently we consider our lives worthwhile, never even pondering the possibility of being a naught-y nobody.

                                  Exciting Use of This as a Closing Easter Hymn

Thursday, August 14, 2014

“Jesus, name of boldness, making cowards brave.”

Hymn: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” – D. B. Towner (1850-1919)

Towner was the director of the school of music for the Moody Bible Institute and wrote some familiar Christian hymns and gospel songs, among them: “At Calvary” and “Trust and Obey.” This one is not nearly as familiar, but it has a few punchy lines… including “Jesus be our joy note.” (see below)

According to today’s hymnline, the very character or nature of Jesus is daring and courageous; and when his followers take on that nature, they are less likely to cower and quietly allow their belief-system to be overrun – by those outside or inside the faith family.

Having served on local church staffs for over forty years, I often felt muzzled from boldly saying what I really thought about decisions being made around me or changes which seemed to undercut our main ministry/mission thrusts. I definitely had to steer clear of making any kind of statement that might align me politically against the majority… and not always a moral one!

I’ve had trouble shaking the rein-bit tugging at the edges of my mouth. After many years of being under the control of the people who paid my salary, it has been difficult for me to allow the boldness which is mine through the Spirit of the Savior to lift me out of my cowardice.

I’ve never been a fighter. I honestly can never remember being in a real “fight” as a child, and I avoid conflict as if it were the plague! I may never outgrow that reluctance to wrangle… even when it is called for. But if ever my faith is called into question or the very foundational tenets of my personal commitments are attacked, I hope this lone hymnline will come to mind, and that I will trade my cowardice for the boldness of Christ.

[No online example of this hymn]

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

“The healing of his seamless dress is by our beds of pain.”

Hymn: “Immortal Love, Forever Full” – John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

I’ve always pictured this hymnline as though Christ in his flowing white robe is hovering beside a hospital bed as nurses rush about trying to heal and bring comfort. I’m sure that is part of what John Greenleaf Whittier had in mind, but in the flow of the poem, the previous line says, “We search the lowest depths, for him no depths can drown.”

Today, the country mourns the death of Robin Williams… and so do I. On so many levels, his talent has been a part of our lives. From all reports, his ending was a suicide; because of that, this hymnline has been wandering through the hallways of my mind ever since I learned about his passing.

Pain is not always physical – it is not always attached to an organ or appendage. Pain is so often – maybe MORE often – mental and/or spiritual. The crowded press of life is too heavy upon us, and we fall prey to the downward spiral. Frequently hidden or camouflaged, cloaked behind an overwhelming talent, a grand smile or a hyper sense of humor, the hurt is no less excruciating than broken limbs or cancer-robbed tissue. The writhing on THAT bed is no easier to handle, because it is often considered a certain death bed.

Whatever the pain, Christ is at the ready - the hem of his garment still available to be pursued, grabbed and employed.

“We touch him in life’s throng and press, and we are whole again.”

                           Gordon Young’s Setting of This Text


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"For the wonder of each hour."

"For the wonder of each hour."
Hymn: “For the Beauty of the Earth” – Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917)
Tune: DIX

Our youngest grandson turned three a few weeks ago. When Carlita and I had our first opportunities to watch him when he was a baby, we truly "watched" him, spending a lot of time just looking at him, watching him react to this new world into which he had been thrust.

Every hour… no, every waking moment… for Jude was filled with wonder. Every flash of light, sound, shape, face, smell – it was all approached with wonder. It was almost as if he said to himself, “I wonder what that is?” I love that he seemed so curious... and still is, thankfully.

Most of us have lost that childlike wonder… and sadly so. Few if any things truly surprise us and astonish us anymore. We think we’ve seen it all and done it all… and maybe worst of all, know it all. And in our spiritual life, we may have convinced ourselves that we’ve experienced it all.

Let’s try an experiment, you and I – those of us who have connected ourselves to these hymnlines posts. Let’s allow ourselves to be amazed at least once an hour by all that goes on around us, especially that which is outside the realm of the everyday, the routine. Let’s find as many things as we can that astound, startle, flabbergast… or even leave us dumbfounded. And time we encounter these marvels, let us say (or sing) what the final phrase of each stanza of this hymn exclaims: “Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

Here’s one to get you started being astounded:

Then listen to John Rutter’s setting of this text sung by a fine high school group.

Monday, August 11, 2014

“E’er to take, as from a father’s hand, one by one, the days, the moments fleeting.”

Hymn: "Day by Day and with Each Passing Moment" - Caroline V. Sandell-Berg (1832-1903)

Archaic word alert: “E’er” is simply a contraction of “ever.” In this case, you can mentally substitute “always” or “consistently.” [I make no apology for poetic language, by the way!]

Earlier this morning I was sitting on our back porch - rocking, drinking coffee, reading a little Mary Doria Russell, taking in the fresh, small-town breeze – just waiting for the temperature to overcome me and send me back inside to the conditioned air. As I often do when I rock and think, I became overwhelmingly grateful for the moment-filled days that have one-by-one rushed past me in these sixty-five years. I am not simply appreciative to some cosmic force or sequence of lucky breaks. I am thankful to the loving father-like God through whose fingers each moment has been sifted.

When I rock and think, I usually am reminding myself of those people who one by one God has handed to me along the way – some for very short periods… like a seminar, a retreat, a week at Ridgecrest/Glorieta… others for many years, even from my childhood. Were it not for all those faces which scroll across my memory-screen, the days would not have been nearly as happy or fulfilling. Instead of flying past, my eighteen waking-hour segments would have trudged by, leaving me no reason to sit and rock and be grateful.

                                   A contemporary singing of this hymn with hymnals in hand!

Friday, August 8, 2014

“He will guide us with his eye.”

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

You see it sometimes in a detective show or a mystery movie: a person is tied hands-and-feet to a chair and gagged, being closely watched, fearing for their life. When a possible rescuer enters the scene, the bound person’s only way to communicate is with their eyes; so they dart their pupils to one side as if to say, “Beware! My captor is in that direction.”

On the other hand, most of us are familiar with how much a parent can transmit across a crowded room with no more than the raising of an eyebrow or (like the confined one above), dart their eyes to one side as if to say, “You get away from that situation this minute,”

Our heavenly Parent is much like that. When we’re wandering, wondering which way to turn, sometimes all we have to do is make eye contact – and he’ll give us that eye-nod. Then we have a peace about following his indication.

Turning our eyes upon Jesus is more than an admonition from a Singspiration campfire song. Throughout scripture, we are called to keep our attention on the Savior… to consider where God is working… to give high regard to what we see when we focus on the actions of all parts of the God-head.

Sometimes God’s getting our attention takes a lot of prodding, pushing, pulling… dragging us off kicking and screaming. Other times, it takes only a gentle nod or an eye-gesture to give us direction… and peace about our decision.

                                                   This is a little too peppy for the text, but it was the only one I could find!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

“Out of life’s storms and into thy calm, out of distress to jubilant psalm, Jesus, I come to thee.”

Hymn: “Out of My Bondage, Sorrow and Night” – William T. Sleeper (1819-1904)

A couple of storm-tossed Bible stories come to mind here: Jonah’s voyage inside the giant fish, and Jesus’ calming the sea. A hymn or two cross our minds as well: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,” and “Master, the tempest is raging; the billows are tossing high.” We study and sing much about turbulence turning to tranquility. There is a good reason for that.

There are few days which do not bring with them a certain amount of disruption, perhaps to the point of upheaval. I feel the earth move under my feet… and there’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on. We want to cry out, “There’s a storm a’ comin’, Auntie Em!” In the midst of those uprisings monumental and/or miniscule, we are often thrown off course, tossed about or capsized by it all.

Out of whatever it is that disquiets us, we come to Jesus for calm. In all truth, it is not until the post-storm serenity has settled in that we breathe a sigh of relief and utter at least one sincere. “Thank you, Jesus” before we move ahead with our day.

My favorite slant on this hymnline comes in the second phrase, indicating that out of distress comes song. For those of us who are musically bent… or at have praise leanings… we get that phrase, we chew on it, we ponder it, we agree with it wholeheartedly. Who has not risen from the real or imagined ashes with a song of praise – a psalm, if you will - on their lips? Few, if any. And for most of us, that musical expression may well be one of the great hymns or a fragment thereof.

Basking in calmness seems incomplete unless out of the steadied situation rises the steady beat.

The song you hear may not be “Here I come to save the day!” But it may well be “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed.” Your response may not be “I did it my way,” but “To God be the glory, great things he hath done” yet again and again!

You may go down fighting, but always come up singing!

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)