Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hymnlines Rerun Season!

Some of You Will Remember Rerun from "What's Happening?"
For the next few days while I let my life catch up with me... or maybe until I catch up with my life!... I'm going to run some of the earliest of these posts. MOST of you have joined this site later in the process, so these will be new to you. Others who were here from the first will find them as fresh as ever, I'm sure! :) 

I had initially set out to do a year's worth (365). I'm way past that and plan to continue posting regularly again soon. Recently, I haven't been able to carve out an extra hour for this process. My humanity is showing... as are my 65 years! (I got my first Social Security check this week!)

Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy [or re-enjoy] this season of re-runs.

“Keep us, Lord, O keep us cleaving to thyself and still believing.”

"Monument to Workers" from Hamilton Ontario
Hymn: “Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him” – Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

I know that “cleaving” is an archaic word, but here it seems so appropriate. While it means to cling faithfully, steadfastly, closely to someone or something, in this case I am reminded of the phrase “hanging on for dear life,” because our constant attachment to the Lord Christ is one which fits that description quite perfectly.

It’s that vine-branch relationship from John 15; we draw life from that to which we are attached… to which we cling – or cleave! This “dear life” which is ours – this precious, cherished, redeemed existence – is maintained only when we don’t lose our grasp – when we are not cut off from the Source.

As Thomas Ken reminds us in this brief prayer statement, we keep on hanging on because we still believe; we have a verbally indescribable confidence that this clinging connection is for our best – and is best for earthly bonds (family, friends, etc.) and is best for the Kingdom.

It is my prayer that THIS prayer will be YOUR prayer today and every day: “Lord, keep me hangin’ on.”

This song is counter to the message of the hymn,  

but what the heck:let the Supremes take you back!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

“My name is written on his hands.”

Hymn: “Arise, My Soul Arise” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Common Tune: Lenox

On this Ash Wednesday – the day that ushers us into the Lenten Season – this seems like an appropriate hymnline on which to contemplate. As the closing line of the first stanza, this brief statement is the one that stands out and stays with us as we sing this hymn or read its text.

Stuart Townend in his recent hymn text “The Power of the Cross” puts it this way: “O to see my name written in his wounds.” Both Townend and Wesley are drawing our attention away from ourselves and into the nail-scarred hands of the One who makes his way toward Jerusalem… toward Calvary.

Those of us whose faith experience includes personal piety will resonate with these two expressions which include the pronoun “my,” making the cross not just a universal event for all who will believe – but one in which I share stock… for which I share responsibility.

At the same time, we share the glory of the cross because indeed our name is written on his pierced hands and feet, his thorn-imbedded brow, his sutured side… all his self-accepted wounds.

Our being able to rejoice in such a horrible event is one of the mysteries of the faith… of Christian thought. That’s why when we come past either of these hymnlines in worship, we are taken aback by the image of a dying, cross-bound Savior; at the same time, we are lifted in gratefulness for the sacrifice of the Redeemer on OUR behalf.

Carry this image for the next forty days. Keep it before your spiritual eyes. Let Good Friday arrive with all the sorrow it bears. But when you get there, recall today’s hymnline… and look to his hands to find your name written there.

Twyla Paris’ Contemporary Setting of The Wesley Text

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

“Three we name thee, though in essence one, undivided God.”

Hymn: “Holy God, We Bless Thy Name” – Ignase Franz (1719-1790)

Though the word “Trinity” never appears in Scripture, we are Trinitarian in our understanding of God as the Father (Parent), God the Son (Child), and God the Holy Spirit (Presence). It seems to be easier to get our minds around the three persons. The idea of the three-in-one God came into being through the teachings of Tertullian in the 2nd Century AD and became an accepted dogma in the 4th Century.

While the theological implications are multi-layered and not always easily understood, this short phrase from a German hymn says it so succinctly and so well: “Three we name thee, though in essence one, undivided God.” Although we call you by three names, when we understand the truth of who you are, you are  undividable – indivisible.

Every writer wishes he/she had written that line – because it brings the Trinitarian idea into a clearer focus. We can look at him and appreciate him from three different angles, but we must not lose sight of his being One.

Irish Philharmonic Chorus

Thursday, February 12, 2015

“Bring us low in prayer before thee.”

Hymn: “We Are Gathered for Thy Blessing” – Paul Rader (1878-1938)

This hymn was written by a Denver-born American preacher who became the first radio evangelist. In today’s hymnline, Rader brings to our minds the New Testament parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. I don’t usually include a Scripture passage, but here I think we need to be reminded of the details:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a  Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. [Luke 18:10-14]

This posture of humility… not even looking up when praying… was the more acceptable prayer – elegant in its attitude and simplicity.

“Prostrate” is a good worship word we use that helps us picture “bring us low in prayer before thee.”  It means falling flat on your face… sprawled out on the floor… getting as low as you can in the presence of God… avoiding any possibility of arrogance or entitlement.

When we were in Rome recently, we happened upon a church that was home to a small sect of believers whose worship was done prostrate on the floor before the altar. We were in the small basilica when one of their prescribed worship times began and were witnesses to their unusual ritual. As odd as it was for a pretty staid American Baptiterian, I was fascinated and moved by the way they so seriously lowered their bodies and lay face-down in the Presence for an extended period of time.

These give us mental pictures, but the point to all this is not so much the physical positioning as the heart posture. With as little hubris as possible, we approach the throne in such an unassuming way that our cries for mercy might be heard, and we might go on our way “justified before God.”

So, how low can you go?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

“Fully absolved through these I am.”

Hymn: “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” – Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)
              [Translated by John Wesley]

Count Zinzendorf was a German Moravian who wrote several hymns. This one and “Jesus, Still Lead On” are probably his two most famous. He also wrote “Christian Hearts, in Love United” and “O Thou to Whose All-Searching Sight.”

Here, he makes a simple, forthright statement of our redeemed condition: We have been fully absolved through the blood and righteousness of Jesus. Here is the full hymnline:

    Fully absolved through these I am
    From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

We Protestants shy away from the use of the term “absolution” because it has been connected with the Roman Catholic Church since the 13th Century. In that tradition, the priest pronounces the penitent one – the sinner – forgiven. By its basic definition, however, it is the act of forgiving someone for wrongs done. We would understand this to be a pronouncement from the High Priest – Christ himself.

FULL absolution… complete pardon…total remission… amnesty without strings attached. In the modern court system, we use the word “exoneration” to express this act.

When I stand and sing with boldness, “Fully absolved through these I am,” there a definite sense of assurance in my voice and in my spirit. It could almost be followed by “no doubt about it.”

May we never lose sight of the significance of the fact that we are absolutely absolved.

This Hymn Sung to the ST. CRISPIN Tune

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

“Heartaches, broken pieces, ruined lives are why you died on Calvary.”

Hymn: “I Will Serve Thee” – Bill & Gloria Gaither

Jesus didn’t come to heal the healthy or to lift up those who already walked upright. He didn’t come to mend unbroken lives. According to him, seeking out and saving the lost ones was his mission. (Luke 19:10) While many of us appear to have it all “together,” we may be heartbroken, our lives shattered to the point of ruin.

We have a lot of Fiestaware at our house… all different colors. The baker’s rack in our kitchen is one of the most cheerful places in the house. Over the years we’ve broken lots of pieces – they’ve literally fallen off the shelf or been dropped onto the ceramic tiled floor. In the garage, we have those pieces in a box marked “Broken Fiesta.” We fully intend to do something artsy with them and turn them into mosaic masterpieces! We plan to redeem those broken pieces and make them useful… even beautiful… again.

We sang this Gaither chorus in worship last Sunday morning, and from the choir loft when the words “broken pieces” came out of my mouth, I thought about that box in the garage.

Jesus is about his Father’s business of collecting shattered lives and making them useful and beautiful again… even those whose very existence may seem to be in ruins like the Roman Forum or the Athenian Acropolis – weathered with time, toppled over, with no apparent benefit to themselves or others.

Artists and craftsmen are constantly finding the seemingly worthless items and creatively turning them into worthwhile objets d’art. Repairmen are taking long idle appliances – overhauling them, making adjustments – restoring them to usefulness. And so is Jesus.

When we look back at all the mending that has happened in our lives, we never have to wonder WHY God sent his only begotten Son. We are simply glad he did.

The Hoppers Sing This Song

Monday, February 9, 2015

“Give him the best that you have.”

Hymn: “Give of Your Best to the Master” – Charlotte Barnard (1830-1869)

This waltz-like English hymn doesn’t appear in many hymnals anymore, but it is one that we sang a lot in my growing-up, learning-to-love-hymns years at First Baptist Church in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It is definitely one that had an impact on my life as a Christ-follower, and the message of this hymnline is still central to my personal mission statement.

One of my favorite Old Testament quotes is from David when he was looking to purchase a piece of land (a threshing floor) on which to build an altar to Lord. The owner offered it at no cost… as a free gift. David’s response was, “I will not offer to Lord anything that costs me nothing.” (1 Chronicles 21:21-26) I’ve used that quote on choirs throughout my ministry to support my belief that music offered up in worship should be well-prepared, labored over, ready -- And that the music itself should be the best I could find for those choirs.

Whatever your calling, it is incumbent on you to produce only the best work possible. I say that because I believe that we do everything “as unto the Lord,” (Colossians 3:23) and that we especially should give only our best in worship, fellowship, mission and ministry.

When we try to do an end run on God and offer him the second-best (or less), we are acting contrary to our basic commitment to him in the first place. Doing only the bare minimum or completing only what is required is out of the question for those of us who have set out to be successful servants of the Master.

Maybe this hymn will come back around again sometime: I think the message is worth passing along to every generation. Though rarely sung in worship, in my hum-along memory this hymn stands as a constant reminder of my pledge of allegiance to the One who always gives his best to me.

A Piano Karaoke Version of This Hymn: Sing Along!

Friday, February 6, 2015

“God gives a song in the night season and all the day long.”

Hymn: “God Leads Us Along” – Words and music by G. A. Young

Although this hymn is about how God leads his dear children along through life’s struggles, this is how the refrain ends, completing each stanza with the God-provided gift of song! This is the kind of hymn with which we retired ministers of music resonate!

I wish I could calculate the number of times a song has pulled me through a “night season.” For me, it has most often been a line from a hymn; that’s basically why I started this blog in the first place!

Several years ago, I realized that the contemporary scene in church music had invaded my traditional space. It happened when in the midst of confusion and seeming helplessness I caught myself singing, “Nothing is too difficult for Thee,” (from the chorus “Ah, Lord God”). At that dark, pivotal moment, God gave me a new song… new to me at the time.

I am thankful for the Word of God and its ability to minister to me in times of difficulty. I am also grateful to those who write the hymns and songs that come to me in shady green pastures and in the valley in the darkest of night. Through waters, flood, fire, great sorrow – I am often led out by a song, sung to me by the Inventor of sound. And with a God-breathed song in my heart I can face whatever the long day might bring my way.

From the Gaither Homecoming

Thursday, February 5, 2015

“My guilty conscience seeks no sacrifice beside (his powerful blood).”

“My guilty conscience seeks no sacrifice beside (his powerful blood).”

Hymn: “Join All the Glorious Names” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Typical Tune: DARWALL

In my education process, we learned that Isaac Watts is the “Father of English Hymnody.” While this hymn is not nearly as popular as his “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” there are some similarities, especially with THIS line. Here is the full stanza:

Jesus, my great High Priest, offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks no sacrifice beside.
His powerful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the throne.

Many of us have a tendency to carry our guilty conscience with us everywhere we go. We seem to drag it behind us as if we need something else to free us from the weight of our past. It’s almost as if we are not sure that the cross-sacrifice is adequate “for such a worm as I.” We know better; we verbalize the fact that “nothing but the blood of Jesus” can for sin atone. But we can’t seem to erase the guilt from our consciousness… to release it.

I’m sure you’re about as tired of the FROZEN song “Let It Go” as I am. It is a great song… at least it was the first forty-three times I heard children singing it on YouTube! However, it might do us well to make it our theme song when it comes to dealing with our past indiscretions… our sins. Couldn’t we just stand and sing those first two phrases after we speak our confessions in public worship? Makes sense to me. I’m sure the lawyers at Disney would be all over THAT!

The forgiveness process needs no further sacrifice than the one already made. So let’s stop going through life looking for a supplement. To quote another of my favorite hymns, “It is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”  Enough is enough. Period.

An Organ Postlude on This Tune

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

“He for conflict fits and arms us.”

“He for conflict fits and arms us.”
Hymn – “Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him” – Thomas Ken (1637-1711)
Common Tune: ACCLAIM

“He for conflict fits and arms us,
Nothing moves and nothing harms us
While we trust in him.”

This is not a line from “Onward, Christian Soldiers” or one of the more militant hymn texts. While it may have had some battle implications when Thomas Ken penned these words, their application works for us in our everyday lives which, like it or not, are filled with conflict – some great, some miniscule… but often at the moment seeming insurmountable.

We have put on the whole armor of God from Ephesians 6, haven’t we? Aren’t we dressed head-to-toe with the belt of truth, vest of righteousness, shoes of readiness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and prayer? According to Paul’s letter, these will make it possible for us to stand firm in the midst of all kinds of evil.

We have been well-suited to our environment. We are tailor-made to be God’s people – fearfully and wonderfully constructed. We need to look to our strengths (above) and not hide behind our weaknesses. Nothing can move us entirely off-balance because we are planted firmly in our relationship with our Designer. We may get roughed up a bit – even injured in the conflict – but no spiritual harm will come to us while we trust in him.

When I got up this morning, I didn’t go looking for conflict; but it always seems to find me! You probably feel the same way. Well, let’s agree not to let it defeat us. Let’s hold up under the struggle, believing that the Tailor has clothed us well. His armor is a perfect fit.

This Hymn Karaoke-Style!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

“Earth has forsaken meekness and mercy, and slighted thy Word.”

“God the Omnipotent” – Henry F. Chorley (1808-1872)

Chorley was an English art and music critic (among other things) who had strong conservative views and was consistently opposed to anything innovative. That might give us some background to this hymnline.

There are, however, days when I wonder if “earth has forsaken meekness and mercy”; I’m more likely to ask, “Whatever happened to common courtesy?” or “Does everybody feel entitled to say and do whatever they please?”

Meek (humble, servant-minded, not all-about-me) and merciful (showing empathy and forgiveness, being non-judgmental and accepting of all) – these are two traits to which most of us Christ-followers aspire. Because these are important to us, we are sometimes frustrated that everyone else doesn’t feel the same way… which makes us less meek and less mercy-filled. It’s a vicious cycle!

The world around us may indeed have set aside the Word of God, lowering or erasing its significance. However, it is our reliance upon that same Word which enables us to avoid forsaking meekness and mercy – allows us to maintain those consistently even when we may feel like the Lone Stranger. We are, of course, not alone; we are surrounded by fellow strugglers on the path to pleasing the Model of gentleness and compassion.

[ In case you don’t know this hymn, the stanzas end with the refrain: “Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.”]

Diane Bish’s Organ Setting of the RUSSIAN HYMN

Monday, February 2, 2015

“Love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong… shall evermore endure.”

“Love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong… shall evermore endure.”
“The Love of God” – Words and Music Frederick Lehman (1868-1953)

This warhorse among gospel songs has some great metaphors about oceans being inkwells incapable of holding enough ink to write the magnitude of God’s love… even on parchment as wide as the skies.

However, before we become overwhelmed by the flowery descriptive language, we need to notice this recurring line in each refrain which describes so well the simple truth about the love of God as revealed in his ever-loving Son:
•    Rich - having or supplying a large amount of something that is wanted or needed
•    Pure – undefiled, without ulterior motive, unmixed with anything inconsistent with itself
•    Measureless – without edges, boundless, can’t be limited by width, depth or height
•    Strong – exhibiting no weakness, able to support great weight, able to withstand, indestructible
•    Enduring – absolutely continuous, persistent, long-lasting… in this case, everlasting.

These are powerful expressions of this so often talked about attribute of God… worth noticing, worth examining, worth replicating.

from Ephesians 3:16-20
I pray that you may have power  to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and that you may know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

From the Gaither Homecoming

(I’ve never really figured out how “the guilty pair” got included in the first stanza of this hymn, but I do know this hymn doesn’t work well as a wedding song!)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)