Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“We, too, should be voicing our love and rejoicing with glad adoration.”

Hymn: “Let All Things Now Living” – Katherine K. Davis (1892-1980)

As “All Creatures of Our God and King” calls all of creation to praise, this 20th Century hymn admonishes all living things to rally in thanksgiving. The upshot is simple: if all of creation - even the crying-out rocks - is involved in gratefulness, so should we. Like them, we also should speak our love, our joy and our adoration to the Giver of all good gifts.

When I sing this hymn (and not often enough, by the way), I mentally translate the word “voicing” to “singing”… because that’s what I’m doing at that moment. There’s nothing wrong with that interpretation, but there are other ways to give voice to our appreciation to and our association with Jehovah Jira – the God who provides.

I probably go here too often in these hymnlines, but our reluctance to speak a good word for God concerns me. MY reluctance concerns me! If indeed I am eternally indebted to this provisionary presence, why do I not openly voice my reliance upon him?

As long as you and I are among those “things now living” – inhaling/exhaling, taking nourishment (on Thursday!), with synapses snapping and blood flowing – we need to keep this hymnline in mind… and act on it! It just might be our best Thanksgiving ever!

This will make you smile!
(Notice how the choir looks at their music even when there are no words!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“And guide us when perplexed.”

“And guide us when perplexed.”

Hymn: “Now Thank We All Our God” – Martin Rinkart (1586-1649)

“Unable to understand something clearly or to think clearly.” So says Merriam-Webster as to the meaning of perplexed. Surface perplexity happens to most of us regularly if not constantly: we are baffled by technology, by science, by the way humans treat humans in traffic or at the shopping mall. God’s guidance out of the simplest lack of understanding or clarity is a good thing to desire, but here I think the hymn-writer was after a deeper, more profound uncertainty… even one which becomes for us a state of mind.

An old gospel song says it like this:
    Trials dark on every hand,
    And we cannot understand
    All the ways that God would lead us
    To that blessed promised land;
    But he guides us with his eye,
    And we'll follow till we die,
    We will understand it better by and by.

It boils down to that I-just-don’t-get-it place in our thinking. A deeper lack of understanding. We are truly puzzled by the way our life is going. We seem to ask “Why?” more often than wish we did. We join the Children of Israel traipsing through the wilderness, for the most part following Moses’ directions and leadership, yet always wondering… to the point of complaining and wanting to give up.

This one-line prayer “Guide us when perplexed” gets at this shared human problem. The puzzlement is common to all of us; the way we handle it varies. But looking to God for guidance, even when we are totally confounded with our “why list,” will set us apart from other wondering wanderers. After all, it’s a wilderness out there.

Puzzled? Baffled? Confounded? Unsure? Me, too. I am, however, confident that with God’s good guidance “we will understand it better by and by.” For that, we can be thankful.

The MTC Sings John Rutter’s Arrangement of This Hymn

Monday, November 24, 2014

“Do not be discouraged. God is over all.”

“Do not be discouraged. God is over all.”
Hymn: “Count Your Blessings” – Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)

Frustration and discouragement are two of our most formidable foes, and they often work hand-in-hand. Many times, frustration causes us to expend too much physical energy trying to ‘fix’ what frustrates us; discouragement consumes our spiritual/mental reservoir.

Elijah was overcome by both when he told God, “I, only I am left” on your side. It’s the way Jonah felt as he sat beneath the worm-chewed vine. This is probably how the disciples felt when they needed to feed the five thousand. This is where many of us too often find ourselves.

This simple truth drawn from the last stanza of one of those gospel songs we trip through as if nothing is worth recalling – this truth that “God is over all” is one we are prone to forget, especially on the front-end of discouragement. Eventually – as though slapped up the side of the head – we believing-types will come around to the realization that God is in control, even in overwhelming, frustrating situations.

This does not free us up to do nothing. Instead, it frees us up to move ahead with the blessed assurance that God has it all under control, and we can ease up a little.

I had a minister friend in Denver who in response to his wife’s ranting-on in frustration would simply admonish her to “maintain.” It was his way of saying “chill out” or “keep your cool.” I have at many times brought that word to mind when trying to settle myself down because I fall prey to frustration and discouragement with the best of them!

Maintain your place under God’s canopy of oversight. There, may we all find the peace that passes understanding; and in that peace may we WITH God work through our frustrating discouragement.

A peppy little setting of this hymn!

Friday, November 21, 2014

“Come to God’s own temple! Come, raise the song of harvest home.”

Hymn: “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” – Henry Alford

This gathering hymn will be sung in many churches this coming Sunday as Americans head into the Thanksgiving holidays. As visions of turkey legs dance in their heads, worshipers will lift this once-per-year choice of worship-planners. Appropriately so, this is a song about the bringing in of the literal sheaves.

The “harvest home” concept is foreign to those of us who grew up in this country. We generally get the idea, but in England they had a big festival to celebrate the end of the harvesting process; they called THEIR autumn celebration the “Harvest Home.” Attached to this celebration were songs, so “raise the song of harvest home” is significant.

On this side of the pond, the farmers developed their own Harvest Home celebration calling it “Thanksgiving” instead. Beginning as a simple fete, it has evolved into a major break-in-the-action of the fall schedule; it has become the portal into the Christmas season… a la Macy’s parade.

Around this, we have adopted some harvest home songs from other nations: “We Gather Together” (Dutch), “Now Thank We All Our God” (German), “Let All Things Now Living” (Welch), and so on. “Count Your Blessings” and “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” sprang from American minds!

My point here pretty straight-forward: when you come to the house of God this Sunday, if they sing this hymn, realize that the “song of harvest home” is one that praises God for all his blessings of the past year, symbolized by the completion of the field-gleaning. Though many of us come from the bucolic lineage, few are still farming – planting, tending, harvesting. We can, however, join our ancestry to raise a song of great appreciation to our provisional God.

If you can’t attend a barn-raising this next week, at least you can participate in a song-raising!

Here is a gorgeous setting of this text to a fresh tune.
Thanks, Billy Coburn, for sending it to me.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

“Lord, I confess to thee sadly my sin. All I am tell I thee, all I have been.”

Hymn: “No, Not Despairingly” – Horatius Bonar (1808-1899)

This is the second Horatius Bonar hymn I’ve used this week. Obviously, his texts resonate with me on a deeper plane.

To borrow a word from this hymnline, “sadly” not many evangelical churches sing this hymn any more. That is sad for me because there may be no other complete hymn in all of church history with more profound one-liners than this one. Those “ruminating” texts are why I am committed to hymns – congregational and devotional.

Two of the most introspective sentences in all hymndom are spoken here. Nothing frivolous or superficial. “Sadly, righteous Christ, I admit there are some darknesses in my life that I cannot express out loud to any human. You know about all this already, of course, but I need to tell you the whole truth of who I am and what I’ve done… who I’ve been. Here goes…” A chill should have come across you as you pondered that. If not, go back and read it again!

In the hymn, Bonar goes on to ask for purging, washing and cleansing; it is a true confession.

For me, the great mercy of this text is that I can lay it all out there – expose myself, so to speak – and my relationship with Christ will not be affected. Do you realize that? Do you really? This ability of the Savior to continue loving me in spite of the sad shape my life may have been in – I am blown away by that. Absolutely blown away.

Like any good friend, in all likelihood the response of Christ is, “I know. I know. It’s okay. We’re still okay.”

Though too often omitted from public worship, confession is still good for the soul… for THIS poor soul at least.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“Trusting Jesus, that is all.”

“Trusting Jesus, that is all.”
Hymn: “Trusting Jesus” – Edgar Page Stites (1836-1921)

“That is all.” Fans of STAR WARS will recall that this was a dismissive phrase from Darth Vader. Some of us remember it was the last line of the classic M.A.S.H. series. The phrase is often used to bring a list to a close. In internet shorthand, TIA.

In the CB radio days, the conversations were punctuated by “over,” meaning that’s all… it’s your turn to talk.

John Keats said, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." Although her quote seems Oprah-esque, Audrey Hepburn summed it up this way: “The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – that is all that matters.”

Me? I’ll go with a Jesus quote: “Trust me.” (Mark 5:36, Luke 8:50, John 14:1, etc.)

"Trusting Jesus, that is all." The bottom line of my commitment to Christ is summed up in those five words which conclude each stanza and the refrain of what may seem like a light-hearted romp of a gospel song. When the dust settles, when it is all said and done, at the end of the day (and other aphorisms!), I trust Jesus. Period.

Trust Jesus. Over and out, good buddy.

From a 1970 Assembly of God Choir Album

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

“Let us talk of all his wondrous love and care.”

“Let us talk of all his wondrous love and care.”

Hymn: “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” – Words & Music by James M. Black (1856-1938)

I’m back to my roots here, using a toe-tapping gospel song from the Revivalist tradition… one that is most often omitted from current hymnals. It is, however, familiar to most of us from various denominational backgrounds. It’s a staple at Waxahachie’s Old Fashioned Singing Project.*

The local community theater recently did THE MUSIC MAN featuring one of my grandsons in a four-measure solo! It’s a favorite show of all us “music men and women” who have spent our entire lives convincing people they CAN make music, even before their instrument shows up. I left many people waiting for their Wells Fargo Wagon to arrive.

In that show, there is a group of local ladies-who-talk… okay, they gossip and embellish. Their song is “Pick a Little, Talk a Little.” Their conversation consumes them, and they are often the highlight of the production.

When you and your allies get together, about what do you talk? I’m probably in don’t-ask-don’t-tell territory here, but you probably get the picture. It may be more like the Pick-a-Little Ladies than any of us want to admit.

Hidden amongst the rollicking measures of “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” we come across this admonition to TALK about Jesus – his character, his nature, his personality. Unlike having a little talk WITH Jesus, we’re encouraged to have a little talk ABOUT Jesus.

It is sometimes uncomfortable for even the most faithful follower to bring up the subject of our Leader. But we should. Whenever we have opportunity, we need to put in a good word for the Savior. It is not necessary to lay out a full theology or some extensive plan to lure them into the kingdom; it is, however, a good idea to speak well of the One we call Lord.

The next time your bitty-group (roosters are as bad as hens, by the way) takes a turn toward gossip or unwholesome talk, turn the topic upside down and say something good about Jesus. We couldn’t cover “all his wondrous love and care” in a single conversation, but anything we can put out there which makes him look good will elevate his standing among our friends. It is, after all, one of the ways we “magnify” the Lord.

This Hymn from the Gaither Homecoming

“Pick a Little, Talk a Little” – Just for fun!

                                      * - A local non-profit for which I serve in my spare time as the Artistic Director.

Monday, November 17, 2014

“Look unto me. Your morn shall rise, and all your days be bright.”

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

To refresh your memory, each stanza of this hymn begins with the declaration, “I heard the voice of Jesus say,” followed by a theme for each stanza. Here are the things he said to Horatius Bonar – and to the rest of us:
•    Come unto me and rest.
•    Behold, I freely give the living water.
•    I am this dark world’s light.

Today’s hymnline follows that final-stanza’s beginning phrase and is related to light overcoming darkness.

When I was a college student, some of my Pigeon Forge cronies and I would go camping atop a short mountain that overlooked the valley in which we grew up. I have lots of good memories from those outings, but the thing I recall most vividly is getting up early the following morning, starting a campfire, and watching the day begin.

Those hills are called the “Smokies” for a reason: they are often engulfed in low, hovering clouds. On those early morning’s perched atop uncle Chock’s land, we looked due east and waited for the sun to make its appearance above the mountain opposite us. At last, it would arise, and as it did, the clouds would begin to subside… literally crawl down the gorges. It was as if the rising sun melted the mist and sent it on its way.

[I should probably have used this story for “Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away!”]

After we had enjoyed our early-morning spectacle of God, we packed up and headed back down toward home to shower and get ready to work another day at Goldrush Jct… the amusement park that is now Dollywood! The sun was up, and so were we… ready to attack another day as only young adults can do.

Every morning, look toward Christ. When the light of Christ arises and we allow that brightness to invade the nooks and crannies of our darkened spaces, all the daylight hours will be brighter.

A few other hymn titles come to mind: “Look and Live.” “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus.” “Look, Ye Saints! The Sight Is Glorious.” “Be Thou My Vision.”

That final stanza ends with this conviction: “And in that Light of life I’ll walk till travelling days are done.” And all the people said…

A Setting of the KINGSFOLD Tune

Friday, November 14, 2014

“I come, I wait, I hear, I pray.”

Hymn: “My Lord, My Love Was Crucified” – John Mason (1645-1694)
Typical Tune: BEATITUDO

This is from the final stanza of a hymn a hymn you probably do not know very well… if at all. I use it here because it is a succinct outline for worship at its core. Here is the full stanza:

          I come, I wait, I hear, I pray;
          Thy footsteps, Lord, I trace.
          I sing to think this is the way
          Unto my Savior’s face.

Come into the presence of God with anticipation. Wait quietly and patiently as long as it takes. Give rapt attention to everything you hear, spoken or sung by humans – or by the Spirit. Speak your joys, your sorrows, your wants and needs. Trace (recount) the events in the earthly journey of Jesus and his activity in your own trek. Let song arise when you realize you have encountered once again your Savior face to face.

How simple. How profound. How overlooked.

In most public worship nowadays, there is so much happening around us, we have difficulty following these basic steps toward the throne. Little silence, few readings from the Word, little (if any) time for introspection. Often we find the Living Christ in spite of ourselves!

But when it is just us alone with God in private consultation, we can follow the brief rubric of John Mason’s ancient hymn text:
•    Come
•    Wait
•    Hear
•    Pray
•    Trace (Recall)
•    and maybe Sing!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

“Who with me my burdens share? None but thee, dear Lord, none but thee.”

Hymn: “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” – Anonymous

Beast of Burden. Lamb of God.

With the weight of the world heavy upon me, I trudge along under the load. At times I seem to enjoy pointing out to my fellow strugglers how cumbersome is my allotted baggage. Someone may say, “Can I help you with that?” -- to which I heroically respond, “No, I’ve got it.” What a liar I become.

I’ve mentioned before my envisioning Pilgrim in his progress, toting the knapsack of sin. Again, that image is before me. Can you bring that one up on your mind-screen?

We don’t think of a lamb as being a pack animal in this culture, but sheep are used around the world to carry things for their owners… not as much a llama or mules, but it is done. Perhaps if John had cried out by the Jordan, “Behold the Lamb of God who carries the burdens of the world,” we would have better understood the concept of allowing Christ to assist… not only with the bearing our sin but also with our everyday life-imposed burdens.

The closer walk with Jesus allows him to be of greater assistance. I’ve not done it, but those people who have ridden mules into the Grand Canyon on super-narrow pathways would probably get the picture I’m after here.

The song from FROZEN may be the hymn the Savior sings to us this day: “Let it go! Let it go! --Let me help.”

Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson Sing This Gospel Song

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

“Keep me, O keep me, King of kings, beneath the shelter of your wings.”

Hymn: “All Praise to You, My God This Night” – Thomas Ken (1637-1711)
Typical Tune: TALLIS’ CANON

The wing-sheltering concept interlaces itself throughout scripture, always reminding us of the protective, parenting/mothering nature of God. Jesus showed his feminine side when he scolded Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings…” (Matt. 23:37, Luke 13:34)

Lots of hymns and gospel songs carry this theme. From “Under His Wings” to “The Great Speckled Bird,” we are invited and encouraged to find refuge positioned near to the heart of God.

None of us avoid safety; in fact, we crave it. It’s why we live in walled, locked homes, why we drive impact-ready vehicles, why we rely on our local police forces, why we have a Department of Homeland Security, etc. Because it is in our nature to seek out safekeeping, this nestled-under-his-wings is a place we want to be.

I gravitate to this hymn’s text because it is a prayer… even a plea… for maintenance: “Continue to be a shelter to me. Maintain your strong grip upon me.”

There is safety in numbers, but there is also security cuddled all alone in the shelter of the everlasting arms.

A Fugue on the Tallis Tune with This Text

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Peace is there that knows no measure."

Hymn: “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” – John Bowring (1792-1872)
Typical Tune: RATHBUN

In this seven-word phrase, the prolific poet/hymn writer John Browning captures the essence of the disposition of those who have found their place in the shadow of the cross of Christ. Not only is the peace immeasurable, it is also beyond explanation.

Those of us who have lived the faith-life for most of our days have trouble explaining our REAL reaction to the cross-event. While to us it may “go without saying,” sometimes it needs to be said – to be expressed. The great hymns of the church give us that opportunity.

I’ve also spoken the language of music for most of my life. I’m the kind who when bowling (yes, I bowl occasionally... have my own ball and shoes!) invariably asks what measure we are in. I know full well they are called frames, but I group my downed pins into measures. My favorite bowling meter is 10/4 by the way… as it is with my CB radio talk.

Those of us who use another language all the time sometimes forget that everyone around us doesn’t speak that language or understand it. That’s why sometimes we need to explain ourselves… even with spiritual things. When another is struggling without any sense of direction or stability in their lives, we can speak a word of peace – and if appropriate, carry that description to the cross where we achieve that peace that surpasses understanding or carnal comprehension.

Lost that peaceful easy feeling that once you overwhelmingly sensed at the cross? Maybe it’s time to go back for a refresher course in how a tragic death can instill in us such concord.

Call a ceasefire with your raging self.

This text set to Bach “Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring”

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)