Friday, May 22, 2015

“Give our hearts to thine obedience, serve and love thee best of all.”

“Give our hearts to thine obedience, serve and love thee best of all.”
Delacroix - "Christ on the Sea of Galilee"
Hymn: “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult” – Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)
Typical Tune: GALILEE

Alexander was an Irish hymn writer. Her other long-standing hymns are “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “There Is a Green Hill Far Away,” This one about the call of Christ coming to us above the struggles and conflicts which might easily drown out his sweet voice saying “Christian, follow me,” and “Christian, love me more.”

The hymn-line I have chosen from many possibilities in this text is part of the final stanza as she pleads with Christ in his great mercy to be sure that we hear his call – that we might open our hearts to obey him, serve him, and love him more than we love anything or anyone else.

What strikes me is that her prayer – and ours as we sing it – is that we might hand over our hearts into the realm of full obedience to all his callings… those mentioned in the earlier stanzas and those yet to come in our pilgrimage of faith.

Thank you, long-gone Irish poet. May your words move us to hear fully, obey willingly, serve extensively, and love extravagantly.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"I need no other argument. I need no other plea."

Ellis County Courthouse - Waxahachie, TX
Hymn: “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” – Lidie H. Edmunds

We watch way too many legal dramas on the television at our house. In fact, we’re now into several from the BBC; we just couldn’t get enough courtroom drama here in the states! We both read legal thrillers, and because Carlita works in a law office, we have lots of discussions about how the system works.

After the bailiff (or British usher) calls the court to order, one of the first questions to the accused is “How do you plead?” or “What is your plea?” In most cases on the televised dramas, the plea is “not guilty”; otherwise, these could be some very undersized shows!

It is then that the arguments are presented from both sides of the aisle… the prosecution and the defense teams present every possible angle to support their belief in guilt or innocence.

We understand that we are all guilty, right? Guilty, vile and helpless we. Our having sinned and fallen short of the glory of God have put us into that category. But our case is argued by our Advocate (I John 2:1) – the One who sits with us at the defense table. Our striving would be losing were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing… Christ Jesus.

His argument on our behalf is brief: “I have died for this person,” he says. It’s a short argument, but it is enough. The Holy Spirit is called as a witness (Hebrews 10:15), and the defense rests.

Despite the rantings and objections of the prosecutor – the Evil One himself – who may call witnesses to the contrary, the verdict is “not guilty.” We turn to thank our Defender and offer him payment for his services; he hands us his bill marked “paid in full.” The case is closed. The next sinner on the docket is called forward, and the process continues. It is fortunate for us that the Father of our Defender was our Judge.

That’s a lot to process while singing this one hymn-line, isn’t it? I’m afraid that is how my mind works! When this phrase comes across my lips, I am reminded that I’ve had my day in court and that I am now free from the law – and it’s a happy condition.

Originally Posted 09/03/2013

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Let us hope and trust, let us watch and pray, and labor till the Master comes."

Hymn: “To the Work” – Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

We don’t sing this hymn much anymore in any denomination, but I definitely grew up on it as did many of you. I’m using the last line of the refrain as the hymn-line, but the returning theme in Fanny Crosby’s text is the message that “Salvation is free!” That phrase ends three of the four common stanzas printed in most hymnals.

MY favorite of the stanzas is:
            To the work! To the work!” Let the hungry be fed.
            To the fountain of life let the weary be led.
            In the cross and its banner our glory shall be
            While we herald the tidings, “Salvation is free!”

This call to get off our backsides and get on with our calling(s) is a strong one, and it emphasizes the social message of the gospel (feeding the hungry/poor) and the evangelistic message of leading weary souls to the fountain of life… the cross whose banner flies above our troops as we march through the streets announcing the good news that salvation is without cost to the one who believes it… yet at great cost to the One who provides it.

It doesn’t happen as much now, but in addition to a lunch break, workers were given two breaks during the day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon; for many, these were ‘smoke breaks,’ but I won’t go there this time! When those breaks ended, the boss/foreman/office manager would say, ‘Back to work now,” and the day’s tasks would resume. The first line of each of this hymn’s stanzas could be “Back to work! Back to work!” 

On the spiritual side of life in our toiling for the kingdom, we need to be singing our way unbegrudgingly through Tuesday with today’s hymn-line: Let us hope and trust, let us watch and pray, and labor till the Master comes.

Originally Posted 09/02/2013 (Labor Day)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Assist me to proclaim."

Hymn: “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Typical Tune: AZMON

On any given Sunday, all around the world, preachers will preach, choirs will sing, praise teams will produce music, prayers will be lifted aloud, teachers will lead small-group Bible studies, someone will share the gospel that another may hear it for the first time. And none of these can do it alone; they all need the some assistance.

Our gracious Master, God, intends to be the helper of those who proclaim the gospel in church buildings great and small, ornate and simple, long-established or store-front. The danger – yea, even the scary part - is when folks stand before others to expound on the tenets of the faith without first asking God’s backing – his undergirding.

The Broadway Show Les Miserables features a wonderful song “On My Own.” It is one of many show-stopping melodies. Some of us who serve as worship leaders join Eponine’s sentiment and think we can do this sacred task on our own… that our talents and perhaps our education will carry us through. Under our own power, we are powerlessly ineffective. The right words may be spoken, the exact notes may be sung to the proper rhythms – but they become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. They become full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Just because someone shakes your hand and says, “Good job today,” doesn’t mean a whole lot to any of us when we realize that we have gone it alone—on our own.

In public worship and in personal evangelism… at every turn in life’s road, we need to constantly be calling out for assistance, crying out for help as we proclaim the goodness of God.  Don’t wait until you are in hopeless distress to send up an S.O.S.

Today and every day: My gracious Master and my God, assist me.

Monday, May 18, 2015

"Yet he who dwells in heav'n above deigns to abide with us in love, making our bodies his temple."

Hymn: “Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand” – Nicolai F. S. Grundvig (1783-1872)
            Translated – Carl Doving
Typical Tune: KIRKEN

The One whose dwelling place is in heaven has agreed to live among us with compassion, turning our very bodies into holy ground. That’s not nearly as poetic, but it gets at the point of this hymn-line.

That is some pretty powerful stuff to ponder today. It’s about the transcendency of God (his high holy nature) and the reality that he descends to where we are. Heaven came down as a kindhearted associate.

That final phrase is the clincher in this hymn-line – that our very bodies have become his temple. In John 2:21, Jesus called HIS body a temple. We share that temple-ness according to 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.”

We call that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But when I think of my BODY as a TEMPLE, I get a different mental image. I’m not just a house where the Spirit of Christ takes up residence, I am a holy house, set apart for holy things. That could and should make a difference in my attitude and my behavior.

By definition, a temple is set aside for the sacred; that space is reserved for or dedicated to holy activity only. The very word temple has the same root as our word “template” – or plan/design/outline. In architectural planning processes, buildings often include what is called ‘dedicated space’ – set aside for one specific purpose only… and that applies here.

Nestled in the middle of a hymn text that has been around for some time and has been translated and re-translated over the years, we find three important truths about the God we worship and serve. I need to rethink all three as I go about my day today. How about you?

Originally Posted 08/30/2013

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us."

First Posted on 08/29/2013 - The Fiftieth Anniversary of the March on Washington
 Hymn: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

In his address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to honor the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, former President Bill Clinton repeated the phrase that we who follow after King should “put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back.” I listened to the speech on NPR today, and with all the music running through my mind and all of the day’s talk about human rights, I thought I should reflect briefly on an African American hymn-line. This is probably THE African-American hymn.

The fact that this revered song of the black church community was totally unknown to me until its inclusion in The Baptist Hymnal 1991 published for a predominantly white, mainly southern denomination speaks strongly to me on this day. It is a text replete with wonderful imagery of the liberating power of our common Christ… the Savior common to all races, tribes and colors.

I am a pacifist at heart. I believe that a fight (war) is a last-resort to solving any disagreement. I am such the conflict-avoider that I have often been trampled by those who are not! That is why to me the amazingly peace-filled demonstration March on Washington on August 28, 1963, is monumental in our history. That day’s rhetoric along with many other events along the way have stood to point out to us the dark past of the mistreatment of minorities in this country… and other countries around the world.

The people of faith – those who turn to the great God of heaven and earth to find their compass for life – have been able to learn from past wrongs and have joined in the peaceful-when-at-all-possible fight to right those, often taking an unpopular stand among their own kind… even amid their own congregation and/or denomination.

While much evil has been accomplished in the name of God over the years, and the cross has been (and still is) the banner for some un-godly causes, that same old rugged cross has remained the emblem of suffering and shame­­ -- and it has been the symbol of freedom and equality for any and all people, even those with whom we disagree and for those who look and/or act differently than we.

The line which follows today’s is “Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.” We have, in other words, been taught and have learned from the dark past… and we have emerged as enlightened, changed people who in this present day have had hope delivered to us.

If you don’t really know this great hymn, find it in print (Google it if nothing else) and study the pain and victory encapsulated in its stanzas. Whatever your political bent or your roots, you will likely find yourself empowered to join in the chorus of all who believe in human rights… civil and otherwise. Then together people of all colors, opinions and lifestyles may lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"If there's a void this world never can fill, let Jesus come into your heart."

Hymn: “Let Jesus Come into Your Heart” – Words & Music by Leila Naylor Morris (1862-1929)

Talk about a hymn-line you may have never sung, this is in the second half of the third – and often-skipped stanza of this gospel song! Though written around the turn of the last century, this text speaks to a notion that is pretty commonly talked about among evangelical Christians: that is that there is a God-shaped hole in your heart that only Jesus can fill… or that there is a puzzle piece missing into which only Jesus will fit.

Most of us have spent at least a portion of our life making vain attempts to fill our emptiness with things ‘of the world’ – things which fall outside the realm of faith. We may have even tried to put our faith in something or someone else, being lured into the edges of dabbling in another world religion or non-Christ-centered sect. For most of us, thankfully, we have realized early on that we’re missing the point… missing the mark… falling short of the glory of God!

My guess is that today some of you… of us… may be struggling with some of those space-fillers, trying to spackle our way back to wholeness, filling in the cracks and hoping to keep moving ahead with gaps lurking just below the surface – smiling our way through every difficulty, knowing full well that we need to turn our eyes back upon Jesus, so that the things of earth will grow strangely dim. [I know I’ve used that analogy in a previous posting, but it seemed to work today!]

Un-barricade the door. Un-lock your heart. Un-leash the Spirit of Christ to work mightily in your life. Maybe then you will un-derstand the void the world cannot fill is truly Jesus-shaped. 

      Just now, your doubtings give o'er.
      Just now, reject him no more.
      Just now, throw open the door.
      Let Jesus come into your heart. 

Originally Posted 08/28/2013

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Never a trial that he is not there."

Hymn: “Moment by Moment” –Daniel W. Whittle (1840-1901)

These hymn-lines basically speak in a series of ‘never’ statements. It sort of puts us in the territory of never, never… or Never, Never Land!

Who doesn’t love the Peter Pan saga of the Lost Boys who live and fight pirates in the Never Woods on the fictitious island? In the earliest versions of his play, J. M. Barrie called it the Never, Never, Never Land, and it has become a metaphor for the escapism to everlasting childhood. We’ve all seen the movie, the play, the Broadway musical – or read the Wonder books.

But these hymn-lines speak of a very grown-up place in which we Christian people are kept near to the heart of God … year by year, month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment – as in Tick-Tock the Croc, I guess.

There is nothing fictitious about this region of living where there is
  •          never a trial that he is not there
  •          never a burden that he doth not bear
  •          never a sorrow that he doth not share
  •          never a weakness that he doth not feel
  •          never a sickness that he cannot heal.
It is merely a list of ‘nevers’ tucked into the second and third stanzas of an old gospel song. There’s not much to add to its straight-forward message… and/or its simple truth.

So move over, Tinkerbell, Wendy Darling, Captain Hook and Peter Pan. The he in our hymn-line takes center stage… and there’s nothing about him that is even close to a fairy tale. Welcome to Never, Never, Never, Never, Never Land!

“Be content, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’" (Hebrews 13:5)

Listen to a Simple Singing by a Youth Choir

Originally Posted 08/26/13

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Who can faint while such a river ever does their thirst asuage?"

Hymn: “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” – John Newton (1725-1807)

"Doth this cup thy thirst assuage?"
How long has it been since you used the word ‘assuage’? Unless you’ve been doing a bit part on Downton Abbey or some other British drama, it’s probably been a while!

This grand old hymn about Zion, the city of God founded on the Rock of Ages was penned by the same man who wrote what has been dubbed the Christian National Anthem: “Amazing Grace”!

This particular hymn-line follows a couple of statements about how the sons and daughters of God are well-supplied with living water; then the question is asked how could any one of those sons and daughters (you and I) ever fall by the wayside when we have such a rich supply of living water to quench our thirst? I know it is hyperbole and that the question is rhetorical… and all that poetic-device stuff, but seriously, folks: how can we claim to be thirsty when we have been offered a never-thirst-again dose of effervescent refreshment to even our driest moments?

I know that many people pooh-pooh hymn singing because archaic words crop up now and again. (I can’t believe I just typed “pooh-pooh” into one of these postings! My apologies to people with preschoolers.) For sure, the use of assuage is archaic; but without turning to any dictionary or book of synonyms, in this context we all know what it means. It’s not nearly as off-putting as raising one’s Ebenezer!

The next line of the hymn seems to indicate that the assuaging agent is grace… like that amazing grace of one of John Newton’s other hymns – grace that never fails from age to age.

So before you start swooning and crying out in your dehydration, step into that river of grace – that life-giving, life-maintaining, life-sustaining free gift of God. It could easily be the pause that refreshes!

Originally Posted 08/25/2013

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?"

Hymn: “O Worship the King” – Robert Grant (1779-1838)

In 1985 in the town where I live, The Trip to Bountiful was filmed. Right here on the streets of Waxahachie, Texas, Geraldine Page wandered about as Carrie Watts, in search of her fictional home town: Bountiful. She won a best-actress Academy Award for her portrayal… and Cynthia Clawson was nominated for her singing of “Softly and Tenderly.”

I never get to this third stanza without recalling that year when all the movie trucks came to town and disrupted the normal day-to-day pace-- because in 1985, Main Street in Waxahachie looked like Houston looked in the early 1950’s when the action was supposed to have been taking place. Gee, I love living in a quaint little town… I really do. Ah, yes. (Snap out of it, Huff. You have a blog to complete.)

Most of us would like to return to the bountiful care of our childhood… even if our home town is not called Bountiful. Those days of constant watchful protection: who can put it into words? According to this hymn-writer, it can’t be done. The vastness of God’s provision for us is such that it cannot adequately be verbalized. Instead, it is dramatized for us in creation itself:
            It breathes in the air.
            It shines in the light.
            It streams from the hills.
            It descends to the plain.
            It sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

The generous care of the Holy One works quietly in oxygen and in brightness; it gushes down from the hillside, like a flood rushing through a canyon toward the flatlands; it sweetly lands upon parched places in the form of dew and rainfall. And we stand, awaiting its affects because we are frail, feeble children of dust.

Head back to Bountiful today. Sit on the platform outside the local warehouse. Drive out in the country to the tumbled-down homeplace. Recall the days gone by, and believe with all certainty that the bountiful care still abounds!

Originally Posted 08/24/2013

Listen to a contemporary mash up of this hymn with a chorus:

Friday, May 1, 2015

"I join in the singing for I can't decline."

Hymn: “It’s So Wonderful” – Words & Music by Ralph H. Good Pasteur (1923-1996)
"Care to Dance?"
Some of us (mostly men) will recall the great fear that came along with us when we went to high school dances… okay, “sock hops” for some of us whose parents wouldn’t let us associate with an event that involved the gyrations of social dancing. As long as we were just hopping about in our bobby socks, it seemed more acceptable! Back to that fear thing: The fear was not in ASKING someone to dance with us as much as it was in the possibility – even likelihood – that they would DECLINE.

Along life’s pilgrimage, we have made the choice to decline many offers far beyond a three-and-a-half-minute dance. Most of us have turned down job offers, move-away opportunities – for some, even wedding proposals. Declining is usually a polite refusal, not an act of spiteful spurning.

As someone who loves to sing in church – especially the great hymns – I have always been taken aback by the cross-armed refusal of some (again, mostly men) to participate. Some do this because they’ve been told they don’t sing well, some because it’s not the ‘manly’ thing to do, some because they find the music portion of the service to be a waste of time… for others, it’s just plain old obstinacy! Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God, but children of the heavenly King may – no, “must - speak their joys abroad as they march upward to Zion.

I remember the first time I ever sang the spirited spiritual “It’s So Wonderful”: it was at Glorieta, New Mexico, in Holcomb Auditorium as William J. Reynolds introduced us to the new Baptist Hymnal 1975. I recall the joy that permeated the room as a predominantly white congregation of over two thousand worshipers was introduced to such a wonderful 20th Century African-American praise song. Few stood arm-folded! Most swayed, clapped the beat, smiled; not many lifted-hands were spotted because after all, this WAS 1975 and we were Baptists after all!

Imagine (here I go again!) the Lord Christ walking up to you and asking you if you care to sing – if you would like to join in the melodic verbalization of your faith – to participate in praise of the one who invites you. Is there any way on earth you might say, “No thanks. I’d rather just stand here and listen”? I somehow doubt it.

We are made that offer every time we gather as a worshipping community. The next time Jesus approaches you across a crowded room and reaches out his hand and says, “Wanna dance… or sing?” don’t you dare decline! Uncross those arms (even lift them if you are so inclined) and cut loose in vibrant praise. It will make you both feel better.
"An Invitation to Dance" - Mathias Schmid
 Originally Posted 08/23/2013

Hear the Statesman Quartet

Hear the Congregation of the Church Where the Song Originated

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)