Friday, January 30, 2015

“Stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art.”

Hymn: “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart” – George Croly (1780-1860)
Typical Tune: MORECAMBE

George Croly was an Irish poet, novelist, historian and Anglican priest. In spite of all his writings, this is his only hymn commonly included in Christian hymnals. I can identify!

In these hymnline posts I’ve often used the imagery of the parent bending down to lift up a child; it seems to be a common theme throughout hymnody. This one, however, seems a little more “grown up” and comes across more as a desperate plea for rescue from one’s weak estate, with full realization that the Spirit of God is strong enough to come to our aid. This might remind us of another hymnline: “I am weak, but thou art strong.”

The next line could almost be troubling: “And make me love thee as I ought to love.” We need not look at the word “make” as an activity performed against our will – like Flip Wilson’s “The Devil made me do it!” Here, it seems to me that we who are salvaged from our feebleness are asking that our response might be to love the One who bends down to free us… to save us from what seems like an inexorable, helpless condition. Perhaps we should look at it more as an artist who makes his/her media into something else – remakes clay into a vessel, paint into a portrait, sounds into music… or words into poetry which eventually becomes a hymn for congregational singing.

Admitting our weakness, crying out for recovery, allowing transformation to occur. This is a pretty good pattern for rededicating one’s life.

This Hymn Sung

Thursday, January 29, 2015

“Gushing from the rock before me, lo a spring of joy I see.”

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

The joy of the Lord rarely comes as a trickle.

While writing this second stanza of one of her best-known hymns, Fanny Crosby seems to be channeling the Children of Israel on their Exodus trek. She mentions following the meandering route and being fed the living bread – manna. Then comes this description of their situation:
    “Though my weary steps may falter,
    and my soul athirst may be,
    Gushing from the rock before me,
    lo a spring of joy I see.”

Although the pilgrimage to the Promised Land is punctuated by an arguable event (whether or not Moses followed Jehovah’s directive or whether he took credit for the miracle), this fact remains: water gushed forth from a rock and the people were satiated. Not only were they in a quest to quench their lips, their souls were also athirst.

With the herded Hebrews, we look to the Rock because we wish to be slaked of our soul’s dehydration.

This gushing is something to which we can relate in nature – Old Faithful, Niagara Falls, the Holana Blowhole on Oahu – and in man-made fountains, broken water mains, and the Bellagio Hotel. People stand in line to watch these things happen because there is such a display of might and pent-up force. Rarely, if ever have we stood in line to watch a dripping faucet or a trickling stream.

So it is for us whose inner self is a-dry. The joy of the Lord gushes forth with such potency that we can hardly take it in to its fullness.

Stand back, folks. A gushing spring of joy is on its way!

Wintley Phipps Sings This Hymn

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

“By morning glow or evening shade God’s watchful eye ne’er sleepeth.”

Hymn: “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” – Johann J. Schutz (1640-1690)

The effect of this hymnline will vary for some of us. If you see the ever-watchful eye of God as being protective and providing security, you will find this to be a reassuring truth. On the other hand, if you picture God as keeping an eye on you and taking note of your every mis-step, you won’t be drawn to it! I hope you fall into the former.

My favorite chorus from ELIJAH is probably “He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps,” (Psalm 21:4) because I find that concept reassuring. If I call upon him at any hour, I will not hear, “I’m away from my desk right now. Please leave a message, and I will get back to you at my first convenience.” – or get an email out-of-the-office response.

I’ve never thought of God’s around-the-clock awareness of my situation to be surveillance – some corner-mounted camera system relaying images to a bank of video screens, checking up on my behavior… making a list and checking it twice. That is contrary to my concept of the loving, caring Provider/Sustainer.

However, his never-napping nature is to me a blessed re-assurance that I am never out of his sight – and though he is keeping an eye on all his children, I am confident that he has excellent peripheral vision!

Psalm 139:3 – “You know when I rise and when I lie down. You are acquainted with everything about my life.”

May that scripture and today’s hymnline be an affirmation.

Arthur Nobile, Jr. Plays This Hymn (Turn your volume down!)

Disclaimer: I have to admit that every time I sing this hymnline, I am reminded of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's wonderful TV show from the early 1990's: EVENING SHADE.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.”

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

I have to admit that every time I sing this hymn, as the words “prone to wander” cross my lips, I honestly confess, “That’s me!” In spite of a life-long faith experience – pre-natal actually – I have a tendency to wander off… to go astray.

I’m glad hymn-writers toss in these little aphorisms that remind us to be up-front with God and with ourselves. I don’t necessarily need to turn to those sitting around me and admit my proclivity to drift; it is, however, in my best interest to have a “come to Jesus” (literally) about my condition.

One of the most dangerous things that can happen in one’s Christian life is when one begins to think they have arrived – that they are above the possibility of falling back into their human inclinations, leaning away from the call of God on their life.

Hopefully, none of us finds ourselves de-railed – completely off track in our relationship with the Living Christ. We may, on the other hand, be closer the edge than we want to acknowledge.

Not wandering off is an important part of following. Our predisposition may be to go off course, but our commitment is to trace the steps… the example… of the Leader.

Let this hymnline continue to remind us to fall in line behind the One who would never lead us where we should not go.

Stonebriar Community Church - Frisco, TX

Monday, January 26, 2015

“O hope of every contrite heart! O joy of all the meek!”

Hymn: “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” – 12th Century Latin Hymn
    (Translated by Edward Caswall -1814-1878)
Typical Tunes: ST. AGNES

This hymn is all about Jesus; from first to last, he is central. Here, he is the hope of the contrite and joy of the meek. Let’s try to understand those two fairly misunderstood words – contrite and meek – so that we don’t miss out on the hope and joy.

Although the contrite person is one who is sorry for what they’ve done, its use here and other places in Christian writings goes a bit deeper. Although found only four or five times in Scripture, the call to being repentant flows throughout Holy Writ. It goes beyond regretting single sinful actions; it is being truly ashamed that without Christ, we are hopeless because Christ’s mission was/is to save us from our sinful condition. When we recognize our condition in light of his holiness and perfection, we are truly contrite… ashamed… ultimately sorry. Then the sinful void is filled with hope, and Jesus becomes “the hope of every contrite heart.”

Meek is not a synonym for “weak.” You’ve heard that before, but I’m here to remind you! While at its core, the meek person is a humble person, more pertinent to those of us who are about growing in our faith need to aim for the deeper meaning: submission. The meek are those who are compliant to the will of God, whose lives are ultimately shaped by the hand of the Almighty. This submissive posture will likely manifest itself in the gentle, mild-mannered behavior and attitude most commonly associated with meekness because Jesus is in fact “the joy of all the meek.”

Need a little hope and joy today? Recall the sorry state from which you have been redeemed and make yourself mold-able to the movement of Christ within you – be more elastic than static. Have a hope-filled joyful day.

from the Mormon Tabernacle

Thursday, January 22, 2015

“(Jesus) threw his loving arms around me, drew me back into his way.”

Philippe de Champaigne (1650's)

Hymn: “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story” – Francis H. Rowley (1854-1952)

This hymnline picks up on the Good Shepherd image:
    “I was lost, but Jesus found me,
    Found the sheep that went astray,
    Threw his loving arms around me,
    Drew me back into his way.”

A stray lamb: that would describe most of us at one time or another… maybe now. We’ve wandered off from the fold and find ourselves lost and alone – maybe wet and cold – for sure, miserable. We may have moseyed off accidentally, made a wrong turn, suddenly realized we were detached from the flock. Others may find ourselves in this condition because we made an attempt to escape; we are like the prodigal. Perhaps we felt forced out because we didn’t fit in anymore. Whatever the reason, we are aware that we are strays. 

The beauty of the Good Shepherd analogy is this: we are find-able.

The Ever-searching One cleans us up, dries us off, throws a blanket around us to be sure we are warm, feeds our hunger, makes sure we are well again and that we find our way “back into his way.”

Even as a young child, this stanza of the hymn caught my attention and seared into my brain the beauty of the picture it painted… long before I knew the John 10 passage or appreciated the great artworks based on the metaphor.

The next time we are estranged, let’s try this hymn/prayer:
    “I am lost. Jesus, find me.
    Find this sheep who’s gone astray.
    Throw your loving arms around me,
    Draw me back into your way.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

“But I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to thee.”

Hymn: “I Am Thine, O Lord” – Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

There’s a mental picture we all have of a parent reaching down and picking up a waiting child. This hymnline re-paints that picture for us and allows us children of God to request a pick-me-up and a long-lasting embrace.

The child in us longs for some one-on-one time with Christ. “Can I be next,” we secretly say. The grown-up in us is reluctant to speak up, but we know the uplifting is something we desperately want, and the close-drawing is at the heart of our longing.

Like many hymnlines, this one pretty well speaks for itself. And it speaks for each of us.

Celtic Setting

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“All folk are your creation and… have dignity.”

Hymn: “Stir Your Church, O God, Our Father” – Milburn Price (1938-   )
Tune: MADILL (A. L. Butler)

Here is the full hymnline for today:
    Give to us a social conscience
    which enables us to see
    That all folk are your creation
    and that they have dignity.

Following on the heels of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it seems appropriate that we take up this line from Milburn Price’s most-sung hymn.

For me, this is a prayer of reminder – one that prompts me to be unjudgmental in my Christian witness. If we are not careful, we will develop prejudicial opinions about people groups (not just racial) who are different for us, and in that bias we can subconsciously marginalize them before we realize it.

In staged drama, there is usually a prompter whose job it is to keep up with the script and be at the ready offstage to rescue the actor who disremembers a line and risks throwing off the whole production. The actor KNOWS the lines; he/she just momentarily forgets. Those of us who have stood in that frozen on-stage position are grateful for those who whisper what we know but have momentarily forgotten.

Hymnlines like this assist us in our lapses – those times when we are less than Kingdom people… when we forget our lines… when we are at risk of derailing the cause of Christ. We are jarred back into the social consciousness to which we aspire and are set back onto the better path, adhering to the Script as life’s drama unfolds.

Monday, January 19, 2015

“Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall.”

“Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall.”
Hymn: “Break Thou the Bread of Life” – Mary Lathbury (1841-1913)

It seems appropriate on the day which we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday (it’s actually January 15), we should deal with the cessation of tyranny – a VERY biblical principle… one for which I have great concern.

In the context of this hymn text, when the truth of scripture is revealed, “THEN shall all bondage cease (and) all fetters fall.”

It is truly a shame that it has taken the truth of scripture so long to achieve enough comprehension to drive the people of the Author to stand up against enslaved, subjugated individuals and groups… locally and worldwide. How did we miss that consistent freeing theme? Why did the church and her leaders perpetuate the injustice? I am baffled by that.

Three years ago thisweek, the airwaves were inundated by stories of the senseless murders of four journalists/cartoonists in Paris, while little was mentioned of the two thousand slaughtered in Borno, Africa, at the hand of the Boco Haram. Less glamourous, I guess – less likely to draw a crowd to march arm-in-arm down the dusty streets of the small towns in that Nigerian state. I am all for the freedom of the press, but I am more-so for the freedom of individuals and groups who are going about their everyday lives and suffering not for publishing offensive cartoons but for simply being.

I will step off my soapbox now to say that when the layers are peeled back and the Word of God is read and understood without prejudice or agenda, something will be done to end the rampant spread of evil suppression and repression the world around – at least down the street.

The hymnline that follows this one is, “And I shall find my peace.” With Paul McCartney, I have to say, “Let it be! Let it be!” [That’s “amen” in church-speak!]

An Instrumental Medley Beginning with This Hymn

Friday, January 16, 2015

“Our inmost wants are known to him who chose us for his own.”

Hymn: “If You Will Only Let God Guide You” – Words & Music by Georg Neumark (1621-1681)

This is one of those hymnlines that will grab your attention and hold it. Whether singing or reading this great text, our hearts are warmed within us as we come across this phrase: “Our inmost wants are known to him.” Suddenly, as if we were in a newspaper comic strip, a light-bulb goes off above our heads, and we say to ourselves, “Yes!” or “Amen!”

I am sorry to say that this hymn is not sung nearly often enough anymore. Its rich text is replete with great truths about who God is and how he gives leadership at every turn – IF we will let him.

This truth is expanded upon in a contemporary worship song by Tommy Walker:
    He knows my name.
    He knows my every thought.
    He sees each tear that falls
    And hears me when I call.

When this one goes past me in worship, I have a similar stop-and-think-about-this reaction – I feel that reassuring warming of my spiritual self… my spiritual heart.

It is good to know that God knows what I think and what I want, even before the realization is formed in my mind and eventually voiced in my prayers. It’s as if when I express my thoughts and desires, God nods and says, “I know.”

A Youth Choir Sings This Hymn

Thursday, January 15, 2015

“The battle is not done.”

Hymn: “This Is My Father’s World” – Maltbie D. Babcock (1858-1902)

This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done.
Jesus who died
Shall be satisfied,
And earth and heav’n be one.

You know how you are singing a hymn in your head… away from a hymnal… and because the
English language has so many homonyms; you wonder what the hymnwriter had in mind? This happened to me once with this hymn while listening to Cynthia Clawson sing it. Did she say “earth and heav’n be one” or “earth and heav’n be won”?

In the context of this battle metaphor, it made sense to me that Jesus would be triumphant (or satisfied) when earth and heaven were won over to his Kingdom-reign. I reached down the pew, grabbed a hymnal, and while she went on with “Then I Saw You,” I looked it up. I have to admit I was a little disappointed that it was about unity and not victory!

We are such a culture of winners – every effort seems to require a winner… and therefore a loser! I guess I fell prey to that mindset.

The truth is: being one is much more important than declaring a victory.

When Carlita and I battle (rare, but it happens), neither is declared the victor. Rather, we end up again as one… and I’m pretty sure Jesus is satisfied.

Truly, the battle between good and evil in our Father’s world rages on. However, when (as we pray aloud together on Sunday mornings) the Kingdom truly comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, “Jesus who died shall be satisfied.”

Cynthia Clawson

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

“How can I say thanks?”

Hymn: “My Tribute” – Words & Music by AndraĆ© Crouch (1945-2015)

AndraĆ© Crouch died last week and has been mourned and lauded throughout the Christian music community. He is known for many songs: “Soon and Very Soon,” “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” “Through It All,” “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” “Jesus Is the Answer,” and “Take Me Back.” However, “My Tribute” is included in more hymnals than any of his other classics.

This hymn has only one set of words and is through-composed… meaning that each of the three sections has a different melody. The text begins with a question many of us have asked ourselves: Is there any way I can adequately thank God for all those undeserved blessings he has bestowed upon me?

The next section (the refrain) begins with the answer: Glorify God! Give credit where it is due. Move over out of the spotlight and let the Source get all the recognition.

The third section (the bridge) ends with a declaration that any praise that comes my way will be redirected to the Christ of Calvary.

If Crouch is true to his hymn text, he is wishing his fans would stop praising HIM for all the music he produced along the way, but would instead praise God for his giftedness.

How do we best express our appreciation? We make sure God is glorified and we are not!

Hear Him Sing This Song

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

“Mirrored here, may our lives tell your story.”

Hymn: “Shine, Jesus, Shine” – Words & Music by Graham Kendrick (1950-   )

In most hymnals, this is the final line of English hymnwriter Graham Kendrick’s most-sung hymn.

Broken down, this is what it says: Reflected here on this side of glory, may our lives demonstrate your good news. Being a consistent reflector of the story of Christ is a goal for most of us. We want to live in such a way that the life of Christ might be mirrored in us… consistently.

We are not too far into the new year to set a few goals and/or make resolutions. This might be one to print up and place on the refrigerator door or attached to your bathroom mirror so you’ll be reminded of it every day. With this at the forefront of our minds, we are much more likely to do it.

“Mirrored here, may my life tell your story.” As it says on your shampoo bottle: Repeat as needed!

"Shine, Jesus, Shine"

Monday, January 12, 2015

“Help me not to falter, never let me fail.”

Hymn: “Set My Soul Afire” – Words & Music by Gene Bartlett (1918-1988)

First, let me say that Gene Bartlett is one of my ministry heroes for many reasons, but primarily because he, like I, wanted to preserve the rich traditions of southern brush-arbor style revivalist singing. His model in this area prompted my establishing a non-profit for the preservation and enjoyment of that musical, historical, spiritual form.

This straight-forward prayer hymnline is one with which all true followers of Christ can immediately identify. None of us want to falter… nor fail.

Hesitating, waffling, being indecisive: these are not signs of strength – they are not positive characteristics of a good leader. If we are not careful, the start-stop, wait-worry attitudes can creep into our spiritual determination. We never set out to have a decrescendo in our resolve, but it happens. This hymnline is a prayer that we might do that less often… or not at all.

The reason I am attracted to this particular hymnline is the request, “never let me fail.” We are reluctant to verbalize a fear of failure in spiritual things, but here, Bartlett puts it out there and asks not to be a failure. I’m glad he admitted what may have caused him to falter… as is true with many of us who are serious about presenting quality offerings of praise and service. With him, I say, “Please, dear Lord, don’t let me be a failure.”

A fruitful endeavor which includes neither hesitation nor failure: that’s a worthy goal.

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)