Tuesday, June 30, 2015

“More than all, the heart must bear the largest part.”

Hymn: “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing” (George Herbert 1593-1633)
Various Tunes

Are you ever confused when what your head tells you is at odds with the tugging of your heart? This is bad enough in everyday decision-making, but it is amplified when, as a serious follower of Christ, your head-knowledge and your heart-feelings collide.

I’m weighing a philosophy or a trend. I want to be able to take a stand (at least internally) and come to a conclusion in which I find peace. I may struggle with this dilemma for a long, long time as I weigh the two options – like an old-timey scale. One minute I lean to the right; the next I lean to the left. I am NOT drawing some conservative-liberal picture here, so don’t even go there.

When that happens, where do you usually land? With your head or with your heart? Think about that for a minute, then rejoin me here.

I know a lot of facts about God and the Bible. I’ve been in Sunday school since before I was born. I majored in Biblical studies in college and have a seminary degree. Underneath all that, I have learned the nature of God, especially as it is demonstrated and modeled through Christ. Because of that, I think this hymnline speaks for me: when I can’t reconcile the two, my heart goes with what I understand to be the nature of God – the loving, kind, forgiving, grace-filled, understanding, accepting, inclusive, faithful attributes that seem to ride above and beneath all the “factoids” I’ve picked up along the way and on which many not-so-wise decisions have been made by churches and denominations over the years… and sometimes by me.

More than all the knowledge contained in my head, the love of Christ in my heart has to rule… has to carry the largest, hardest part.

How about you?

Ralph Vaughn Williams’ setting of this text

Monday, June 29, 2015

“Then shall my latest breath whisper thy praise.”

Hymn: “More Love to Thee, O Christ” – Elizabeth Prentiss (1818-1878)

The refrain of this hymn is a wonderful commitment: “This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to thee.” All the stanzas are headed toward the intention of increasing our love allowance in the direction of the Almighty.

In the context of the hymn, the word “latest” probably means “last.” But it occurred to me once while singing this wonderful hymn that it could mean my “most recent” breath. In other words, when elevating my love levels throughout my days, I might look back at my last breath… my last moment… and realize it had been praise-filled though unspoken aloud.

Yeah, you’re right: I’m probably over analyzing this one, but it is a great goal, isn’t it? To be so saturated with love for my Redeemer that I praise him without even knowing it until I look back at the prior moment and hear myself having whispered a word of commendation of the One who is the object of my heart’s affection.

We do this with our human love-ties, you know. All of a sudden we realize we were just thinking about a loved-one, and in that fleeting parcel of time, we rejoiced… we were heart-warmed.

I’ve said before that my daily hymn-prayer is “Draw me nearer, blessed Lord.” I could easily add “More love, O Christ, to thee” to my daily music mantra!

By the way, sometimes, whispered praise is the best kind.

Fernando Ortega Sings This Hymn

Friday, June 26, 2015

“Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope.”

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

“Why so downcast, O my soul?” asks the Psalmist. (42:5) In the lives of biblical heroes like Elijah and Jonah, we find them in this moping stage. This state-of-being is not something new.

In today’s culture, most people seem to walk looking down; have you noticed that? The heads-up, confident gait is rare. Even when not texting, folks seem to be more concerned with their immediate path than where they are headed. I admit that after a couple of falls, tripping over an un-level paver in the sidewalk is not something any of us look forward to!

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not our inner-selves… our souls… are downcast? Are we concentrating on the problems that might arise? Are we afraid we might trip up? Are we already up to our knees – or necks – in difficulty?

In almost every hymn by Fanny Crosby, the blind poet throws in a “seeing” analogy. This use of “look” is the one she uses here.

Like the hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” this phrase calls us to “turn (y)our eyes upon Jesus” with a great sense of hope – to return to a more confident faith-walk, no longer watching our feet, but looking ahead for the “footprints of Jesus that make the pathway glow,” believing that they will never lead us where we should not go.

The line appropriately completes itself like this: “Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, and my will be lost in thine.”

Chin down? Chin up? Soul down? Soul up? These are reasonable questions to ask as we walk through life. Like in most things, the up-side seems preferable, don’t you think?

Listen to a Celtic Setting of This Hymn.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

“We test our lives by thine.”

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

When growing up in Pigeon Forge, there was a place at the top of the stairs leading down into our basement where my mother would occasionally stand me up against the wall, level a ruler on top of my head, and make a mark. Beside that mark, she wrote the date. I was an only child, so I don’t know why “Ronald George” was written above all these tick marks. I guess she never measured herself or daddy.

Interestingly as I recall, this was always done at my request – not on my birthday or New Year’s Day. Whenever I thought I had grown a little, I would ask to be measured.

The house is still there on Forest Avenue. I wonder if those vertical evaluations are still in that stair well?

In this six-word phrase from a poem by a great American poet icon, we remind ourselves to stop measuring ourselves against other humans and to rather use the example of the Lord and Master of us all.

Seems like every gift I have falls into some artistic category. Throughout my entire educational and professional career I caught myself saying, “I wish I could sing like him,” or “I wish I could draw as well as she does,” or “If I could act like that other guy, I would have the lead,” and so on. I never seemed to measure up. In my personal evaluations, I was a little good at doing a lot of things, but great at nothing.

The truth is that I have way too often applied the same testing process to my spiritual life, wishing I had the prayer-life of another – or the patience, the wisdom, the understanding of scripture, the moral fortitude; I even wondered why I didn’t have as much faith as my mentors – those I looked up to.

When I come across this final sentence of Whittier’s hymn-text, I want to slap myself for making such comparisons. I should be testing my own life by the benchmarks set up by the One I really look up to: my Savior Example. As with my childhood requests, perhaps I need to ask for a measurement of my spiritual growth.

Judgmental of the spiritual lives of others? Guilty. This hymnline also reminds me that I am not the judge of my fellow strugglers in the faith. I need to get my nose out of their business, stop mouthing off, and set my eyes on Christ. (That’s three facial metaphors by the way!) In all those years that Hedy measured the growth of her only son, she never asked any of my friends to come stand there and see how they measured up to my progress; she only measured me against myself.

Today, focus on how YOU measure up. Stand against the proverbial wall and let your heavenly Parent tick off your progress, regardless of how the kid down the street is progressing!

This text to another tune

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

“Mighty grace o’er sin abounding.”

Hymn: “’This the Church Triumphant Singing” – John Kent (1766-1843)
Commonly Used Tune: AR HYD Y NOS

This second line of the third stanza is about as embedded in a hymn as one can be! All those churches that skip the third stanza have missed a great quote, as have congregations who yawn their way through four-stanza hymns.

This happens to be the week after the gunman killed nine African American worshipers (including the pastor) at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C. According to all accounts at this point, the racism-motivated young man sat through almost an hour of their mid-week Bible study and prayer meeting before he opened fire, announcing that he had no choice – it had to be done. It was a situation of abundant evil… sin was abounding.

Amazingly, there have been no riots or looting in that great southern city. The associate pastors have led their congregants to act like Jesus who in his dying called for forgiveness for those who sat through his teachings, overheard his prayers, and yet seemed to have no choice in doing what had to be done. In every newscast I’ve seen, the members of that church have spoken words of forgiveness for the one who invaded their safe space and took the lives of their friends and family members. It is a situation of abundant good… mighty grace is abounding.

It is as if Mighty Grace swoops in singing, “Here I come to save the day!” The powers of evil still cannot prevail against a rightly-founded church… local or universal. In much smaller doses, this same Almighty Grace is at work ridding the world of evil… even in the small corner of my world and yours.

Words from Desmond Tutu’s prayer book have been adapted into a contemporary hymn that says this:
    Goodness is stronger than evil.
    Love is stronger than hate.
    Light is stronger than darkness.
    Life is stronger than death.
    Victory is ours through him who loved us.

I set out every day to look at everything through the eyes of grace… not judgement or prejudice or retaliation. I do that because I am confident that there continues to be mighty grace o’er sin abounding. So why not stand on the winning side of that tug of war?

A much-too-slow (in my opinion) setting of this hymn
but the only one I could find online!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

“Like the straightness of the pine trees, let me upright be.”

Hymn: “God, Who Touchest Earth with Beauty” – Mary S. Edgar (1889-1973)
Common Tune: GENEVA; Newer Hymnals use BUTLER

It is Vacation Bible School season. Children are plodding through jungles, climbing Mount Everest, lassoing the stray horses, launching into outer space, etc. – all in an attempt to learn more about the Bible and its Author… and the Author’s Son!

I learned this hymn to the GENEVA tune when I was in a two-week VBS at my home church in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s – whenever the Sunday School Board included it in the curriculum. The text is by a Canadian who spent most of her life running camps for girls, exposing them to the wonders of nature. It comes as no surprise that her most famous hymn-text is “God, Who Touchest Earth with Beauty.”

At my first exposure to this, I was most attracted to the tune; for me at least, it was fresher and more interesting than our usual song repertoire on Sundays. The text didn’t really work into my system until years later when at opening chapel services at Carson Newman College, this was one of the hymns that served as a prayer for the new school year and introduced this freshman to the hearty sound of a couple of thousand students and faculty singing this wonderful hymn that I recalled from VBS years before. Mary Charlotte Ball opened the organ up like I’d never heard the one at my home church, and Dr. Louis Ball improvised at the piano. It was obviously an unforgettable experience.

This line about living upright-ly continues to resonate within me – the importance of the straight-backed, straight-ahead spiritual walk is still important to me. As with many things I learned as a child in Vacation Bible School, this and other VBS hymnlines have carried me through some tough decisions and unsteady pathways.

For young children and retired folks and everyone in between, this prayer still works. May we sing it over and over to ourselves all this day long. It may not be as fun and upbeat as what you’ll hear at VBS commencement services, but for me at least, it is definitely a keeper!

Monday, June 22, 2015

“In you we face our Judge and Maker, unafraid before the throne.”

Hymn: “We Come, O Christ, to You” – Margaret Clarkson (1915-     )
Common Tune: DARWALL

I happen to love misprints in church orders of worship and on projection screens. Like the church that projected Janet Paschal’s song “I am not afraid of the gospel” instead of “I am not ASHAMED of the gospel”! At first that was funny – then it was suddenly profound. Somebody’s typo made perfectly good sense, because many of us who follow Christ and call ourselves Believers, are down-deep scared to death of what the gospel might do in us if we turned ourselves over to it completely.

This hymnline is about coming before the throne of God with our Lord Christ sitting at the right hand of the Almighty. We are encouraged in scripture to come boldly before the throne; boldness in this case is the antithesis of fear. Whether in our daily approaches, seeking an undeniable audience with God or at our final appearance at the curtain-call of our earthly life, we have no reason to be fearful.

The One who created us will judge us – “our Judge and Maker.” In our belief system, we stand not alone but IN Christ. [Sometime when you have several hours, make note of how many times in the epistles we are described as being “in Christ Jesus.” You might be surprised!] That position is ours in this realm and in the spiritual realm – that throne room where the Creator Judge sits alongside the Son… the One in whom we live and have our being. We are not, then, fearful of the Father because we have a close relationship with the Son.

I’m the ‘picture this’ type, maybe because of my art background or my interest in the dramatic. Either way, I envision Jesus leaning over and stage-whispering to God, “This is one of mine. Hear him out. Go easy on him.” As one of his sheep, I recognize that voice and am at peace… unafraid… yea even bold.

I am not afraid of the gospel, and I am not afraid to stand before my Creator Judge because I know his Son personally… I am IN Christ Jesus… bound to him eternally by love’s strong cord.

That should be good news for the week ahead.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

“We are not divided. All one body we.”

Hymn: “Onward, Christian Soldiers” – Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)

Due to the militaristic allusions in this hymn, it is sung less frequently among Christian church congregations. The battle implications are obviously against the troops of Satan’s army, but somehow we have attached this to those negative events in the news where folks who call themselves Christians attack groups and causes, marching onward as to war!

Divisiveness is not a goal of the church… although there are some who seem to make it their cause. There are so many calls to unity in Scripture, and there are no admonitions to infighting or division. Though we often attribute the quote to Abraham Lincoln, his “a house divided against itself cannot stand” is directly from the lips of Jesus (Mark 3:25, Luke 11:7).

Unity is a state to which we aspire, but realistically with all the denominationalism and splintering of that “one body we,” congregations almost sing an un-truth here. I think when I sing this hymnline, I am internally picturing the group with which I am worshiping, especially when I continue with the following line: “One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.” As the church universal, we ARE one in hope and one in charity… but not one in doctrine. However, that basic difference need not be divisive; it should not throw us off course from BEING one body.

The more I have ventured outside my growing-up denomination (Baptist), I realize that our differences are not so much theological or doctrinal as they are governance/organization and practice. There are fewer differences than there are similarities – even agreements.

For sure, we are united in our stand against the Evil One himself and against all malevolence and ungodliness. These locked-arm assaults reunite us and undivided us. Indeed, the battle against Satan is one which requires a united front “marching as to war with the cross of Jesus going on before,” because when we triumph, Satan’s army is scattered as they flee. While they are forced to regroup, we can make some progress for good.

Perhaps we are due a reformation – a re-formation of the body of Christ under the banner of the cross, moving ever forward against the forces of evil in our world, especially the one who designs it and inspires its continuation and growth.

Though these words are not as poetic and do not fit a metered-scheme, perhaps we should sing: “We don’t want to be divided any more. We want to be one body.”

Speaking of diversity, listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing this hymn.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

“Inspire my thought, O lofty One, to reach the highest plane.”

Hymn: “Make Room within My Heart, O God” – Bryan Jeffery Leech (1931-     )
Tunes: Various – FOREST GREEN

As far as I can find information, Bryan Jeffery Leech is still alive – so we have a living hymnwriter among us today! He was one of those British poetic voices that helped turn the corner on text-writing for worship songs in the 1960’s and 70’s, using a more natural flow of language to convey pertinent, up-to-date issues. For those of us who still write hymns, he is one of our heroes.

Today’s hymnline is taken from one of his prayer-hymns… a personal prayer (using I, me, my). When I sing this hymn or read this text, I am requesting inspiration from the loftiest of all Inspirers; the terminus of this request is to move up in my spiritual walk… step by step as in climbing a mountain. Many of us grew up singing the gospel song “Higher Ground” which has a similar intention.

When I was convincing my parents that I wanted to go to a seminary halfway across the country from east Tennessee, my sixth-grade-educated father wasn’t initially supportive. “Why would you want to get more education? You’re doing fine in your church job.” I will never forget my reply – where it came from, I don’t know: “I am not the best that I can be at what I do.” I remember the look on his face as he nodded and told me to go for it.

There are times when we are inspired to improve… to move up… to better ourselves… to try to reach our highest potential. This hymnline reminds us to continually do that.

Here is the line in context:
    Inspire my thought, O lofty One, to reach the highest plane,
    That I may know the mind of Christ, and him as greatest gain.

We don’t wear phylacteries on our foreheads any more (thankfully), but if we did, this would be a pretty good hymn text to insert and be reminded of all day long, every day. For this day, wear this hymnline inside your forehead… and make it a worthy goal. With George and Weezy Jefferson, you might find yourself “movin’ on up.”

Monday, June 15, 2015

“Then we shall be where we would be.”

Hymn: “Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him” – Thomas Kelly (1637-1711)

Here is the full last stanza of this hymn:
     “Then we shall be where we would be,
     Then we shall be what we should be.
     Things that are not now, nor could be,
     Soon shall be our own.”

This may sound like a riddle, but it is Kelly’s description of heaven… which has been for centuries misunderstood and elaborated upon. Unlike many hymn writers, he doesn’t describe the place to which believers go; rather he lines out the condition of those who arrive there.

He takes the “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve” quip a bit further into the spiritual realm, saying that we will achieve what we always wanted to be spiritually, we will become what always should have been spiritually, and those things which we have labeled “impossible” in this life will be accomplished.

Kelly calls these (from the previous stanza) our “promised joys with thee.” While seemingly wrapped up in a riddle-esque statement, it is that to which most of us aspire in the next life. If only we could achieve it in this life: be what I would like to be, what I should be – and believe that the impossible can happen.

Wouldn’t that be a taste of heaven?

Friday, June 12, 2015

"We shall be forever with the Lord."

"The End of the Road" - Pablo Picasso

Hymn: “Be Still, My Soul” – Katharina von Schlegel (1752)
Tune: FINLANDIA (Sibelius)

Most of you know that I am the artistic director for a non-profit for the preservation and enjoyment of southern congregational song. [If not, see our web page.] The title of our show is “Heaven’s Front Porch,” a sort of tongue-in-cheek visit to a place on the south side of heaven where shaped-note singers gather to sing their favorite Stamps-Baxter songs when they tire of the other music of the celestial choir.

Like a  lot of notions about life on the other side of Jordan, this is a made-up vision of what we might expect when we enter the pearly gates and walk the streets of gold in that city that is built foursquare… on our way to the mansion just over the hilltop. So many of these images have been created through the song repertoire of believers throughout time; my guess is that the greatest offenders were probably from the southern United States.

In his book “Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination,” Baylor University English professor Greg Garrett has delved into the imagined conceptions we have created over the years… and they are legion! However, whatever else we may have concocted, we would all agree that the promised afterlife is all about being forever in the presence of the Lord. “Face to face with Christ my Savior,” according to another hymn.

For now, erase from your mind all those images – imagined or otherwise – and center your attention on that simple profundity: you are going to spend eternity in the presence of Christ. That should bring a smile to your face and a warmth to your soul. That should make your day!

To conclude this week-long delving into “Be Still, My Soul,” I will use these lines from the final stanza describing that which awaits those who endure to the end of the road:

    When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
    sorrow forgot,
    love’s purest joys restored…
    when change and tears are past,
    all safe and bless-ed we shall meet at last.

May all our souls find true, abiding stillness. Amen.

Hear the Exultate Singers Rendering of This Hymn

Thursday, June 11, 2015

“Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake.”

Hymn: “Be Still, My Soul” – Katharina von Schlegel (1752)
Tune: FINLANDIA (Sibelius)

Confident hope. What a wonderful state of being. Think on that for a moment.

You and I as followers of the Lamb have a place of great stability. Our faith system is built upon such the deep-reaching piers; our foundation is secure. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Yet all kinds of forces from without and within are out to make us tremble… yea, even tremor. These forces are not ‘of God,’ you understand; they are instead of the Evil One who is out to shake us loose from the branch… to earthquake us in two… to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

It is up to us to reinforce the impenetrable mighty fortress… the bulwark never failing. We do that every time we avoid the sin that so easily besets us… when we stand firm against all adversaries… those that attack from the outside and those which lurk deep inside us.

With all the confidence we can muster, let us not lose hope in order that our faith may not be jiggled about, much less shaken loose. THAT is the message from this hymnline, and it is a message worth hearing, remembering and relying upon.

Using the Drop-Cover-Hold On admonition from the earthquake drill:

  •     Drop to your knees.
  •     Cover yourself in prayer, recalling all that stored-up scripture you’ve memorized.
  •     Hold on to the nail-scarred hand.
[Notice on the image, the final step is “spread the word”!]

The next time you feel the earth move under your feet, steady thyself! If you don’t, it will only get worse.

Hear Amy Grant Sing This Hymn

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

“In every change God faithful will remain.”

Hymn: “Be Still, My Soul” – Katharina von Schlegel (1752)
Tune: FINLANDIA (Sibelius)

Change is inevitable. Have you heard that before? During my lifetime there have been more major changes than probably at any other time in history – especially socially and technologically.

I think I’ve said this previously, but the dictionary when I was in college defined the entry “computer” as “one who computes.” And here I sit typing on one, adding to a blog on the internet. When I think about it, that does not compute!

Most of us believer-types value greatly the faithfulness of God. For me, it is the most-valued attribute. And having gone through a lot of changes in the past several years (I won’t bore you with the details!), I am more aware than ever that the faithfulness of my God has not wavered.

This faithfulness which we attach to the changeless-in-change Deity is also at work in the less monumental alterations – the fluctuations – those changes which are tiny, almost unnoticed in our everyday existence. While I am glad to know that God is there in the seismic modifications, I am increasingly cognizant of his unaltered presence in those undetected changes.

In EVERY change – small, medium, large, extra-large - God faithful will remain.

A Rich Unaccompanied Arrangement

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

“Leave to your God to order and provide.”

Hymn: “Be Still, My Soul” – Katharina von Schlegel (1752)
Tune: FINLANDIA (Sibelius)

Don’t you hate to walk up to a machine you need to use and attached to it you find a hand-scrawled, barely legible note that says “Out of Order”… or as I saw recently, “Out of Oder”!

Admit it: sometimes our lives are out of order… or are no longer orderly. Things are not where they’re supposed to be. Our priorities are out of whack. We may not be able to put our proverbial finger on the problem, but we know it exists.

We seem to understand the provisional nature of God – Jehovah Jireh – the God who provides not only a ram in the thicket to avoid the sacrifice of a Biblical patriarch’s child, but also provides for our everyday needs.

We are a little less familiar with the God who wants to order our steps… to lead us not into temptation – not along thorny paths, but rather beside the still waters. God has a plan – a path – in mind for us. He knows what needs to happen in what order for us to have the most abundant life possible. We, on the other hand, want to do things in OUR preferred order, confident that we know what is best for us, forgetting that (from a previous posting) the Father Knows Best!

This hymnline calls us to leave it up to God to perfectly order our lives and to provide exactly what we need… and to do neither based on what we want! That is not nearly as easy as it may sound or as straight-forward as a sugar-coated sermon or devotional might lead us to believe. This kind of turn-it-over performance comes after much rehearsal. Still, it is worth giving the effort to achieve this kind of commitment.

Has someone hung a sign on your life that says “Out of Order”? Leave it up to the original Repairman!

As a reassurance, this stanza ends with this couplet:
    “Be still, my soul, your best, your heavenly Friend
    Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”

This Hymn Beautifully Sung by Boys Choir

Monday, June 8, 2015

“Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side.”

Hymn: “Be Still, My Soul” – Katharina von Schlegel (1752)
Tune: FINLANDIA (Sibelius)

[You regular readers will be glad to know this is a NEW posting!]

This is probably one of THE pithiest hymn texts. It seems as if every phrase is rife with good theology. Therefore, I’ve decided to use this same hymn from which to draw hymnlines all week long. So “bear patiently!”

The theme of this hymn is much like the well-beloved “It Is Well with My Soul” text; it does, however, approach the soul-wellness from several different angles. Like our annual wellness visit to the doctor, we might use it as a check-up of benchmarks.

How many times a week do I say to myself, “Just calm down. Take it easy. Don’t over-react. Keep your cool.” In other words, I have to re-convince my soul to be still. Usually I do this to avoid some unnecessary conflict or outburst. Often this inner-self conversation occurs in traffic!

I need to move beyond the first phrase of this hymnline to remember that I am not alone – that God is on my side. I’ve heard people say that God does not take sides. I think, on the other hand, that God is on everybody’s side... and mine is the one that matters when struggles arise.

“Fear not. The Lord is with you.” This blessed assurance (or similar statements) appears often in scripture – so many times that it must be a message God is trying to get through to us! “The Lord is with you.” “The Lord is on your side.” “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Our souls can be stilled by comforting statements like these.

I’m going to start off my week repeating this hymnline as needed. It might well be just the prescription the Doctor ordered for my un-ordered life. Join me in that, and we’ll see where the remainder of this hymn text leads us from now until Friday.

“Be still, souls. The Lord is on our side.”

Hear David Archuleta Sing This Hymn

Friday, June 5, 2015

"Savior, teach me day by day."

Hymn: “Savior, Teach Me Day by Day” – Jane E. Leeson (1807-1882)
Typical Tune: POSEN

This seems to be a simple, adequate prayer for any day. It speaks for itself, and I probably should let it. But I feel the need to add a thought or two!

I semi-retired for several reasons, but one was to slow down and be a little less busy. That has not happened. I’m as busy (or busier) than ever; I am just paid less for the work I do!

I would like to be more like Mary and less like her sister Martha. I have a tendency to be so busy – albeit many times with worthy, noble tasks – that I miss out on the opportunity to sit quietly and listen to what Jesus has to say. Mary has sometimes gotten the bad rap for having neglected the housework (preparing meals, etc.) for the visit of Jesus while Martha bustled around the kitchen. Others say Martha should have slowed down and taken advantage of listening to the words of their very special Visitor.

After Martha’s murmurings about Mary’s inattention to all the details of her duties, Jesus is pretty profound in his response: “Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about too many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and I will not take that privilege away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)

Jesus was a friend of their family. The two sisters and their brother Lazarus seem to have a long-term relationship with Jesus that transcended the occasional attendance at one of his sermons or participation in one of his grand-scale meal provisions. Jesus knew their ‘natures’. Before Martha invited him over for dinner, he knew which sister would be taking which role.

Life requires a balance of work and reflection… of busy-ness and listening/learning. For fear of appearing lazy, we may over-work and under-reflect. Monasticism is not an option for most of us and is not what Jesus is calling for. He does, however, say that taking time out to be a student of his teachings is the “better” option – a privilege he will not rescind.

His commonly-used earthly name “Teacher” was one of respect (Rabbi), but it was also descriptive of how his followers viewed him.

There is a lesson to be learned today, and Jesus wants to teach it to us. Let’s un-frenzy ourselves and absorb whatever he sends our way. Then when the testing comes, we will more likely be prepared.

            Savior, teach me day by day love’s sweet lesson to obey.
            Sweeter lesson cannot be: loving him who first loved me.

Originally Posted 09/10/2013

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Tune my heart to sing thy grace."

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

I had an aunt in Tennessee who played a great “country piano”. She could add all those runs and flourishes that make the Saturday-night-singing southern style work so well. I’m not sure she could read a note of written music, but she could make any familiar gospel song come to life.

In an un-heated, non-air conditioned room in her farm house she played the heck out of that piano for a while most every day, but she never had the piano tuned. Over the years, the tuning got so bad, there was no longer an identifiable pitch to any key; there were 88 out-of-tune notes on her piano. Little by little, she didn’t even notice. To the rest of us, her playing was a blurred smear of noise; as far as she was concerned, she still heard the melodies and harmonies. It’s sort of like that hackneyed illustration of the frog in the boiling water pot – as the tuning went away, my aunt lost all her sense of musical hearing.

I vividly remember being at her house on a Christmas Eve when she began to play what I thought must have been a carol. Turning to me she said, “Go ahead. Sing, Ronald George!” I had no earthly idea what she was playing; I knew the meter was grouped in two’s, but beyond that, I recognized nothing! My reply, “I don’t think I know that one,” was to no avail. “Everybody knows, ‘Joy to the World’,” she said. So I broke into an atonal singing of the carol as whole-heartedly – and with as little internal laughter – as I could!

Have you ever been in a room when someone was tuning a piano? It is not an easy process to endure. Tuners are highly-skilled and trained in what is becoming a lost art, and how THEY stand it, I’ll never know. But it is something that just has to be done if we are to hear the notes with any clarity.

Sometimes, my heart gets out of tune. Like my Baldwin, I need a good tuning; like my Toyota, I need a tune-up. That’s when my hymn-filled brain turns to this hymn-line, and I ask God to tune my heart so I can better express his gracious self.

Like piano-tuning, it may not be an easy process to endure, but it is something that must be done occasionally if those around me are to hear the gospel lived out through me.

Things to do today: call a piano technician, schedule a mechanic, get my life back in tune.

 Originally Posted 09/09/2013

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"My stubborn will subdue."

Hymn: “Holy Spirit, Breathe on Me” – Edwin Hatch (1835-1889) Adapted and set to music by B. B. McKinney (1886-1952)

A few years ago there was a very popular book published by James Dobson called The Strong-Willed Child. People in my church were discussing it almost as if it should be added to the canon. It seems that every parent in the country began to think that they had the one about which he was writing. I never read it because at the time all my ‘children’ were those in my choirs at the church… and in my opinion most of them were plenty strong-willed!

The book would not have been nearly as marketable as “The Stubborn Child,” but that’s basically what Dobson was trying to help parents deal with.

Our heavenly parent must feel the same way about us… his stubborn children! Don’t you wonder if God has a shelf full of books on how to deal with his children? Of course he doesn’t – he’s all-knowing, you know! But my guess is that there are times when he gets pretty frustrated with us when we dig in our heels, stomp our feet, bang our fists on the floor and scream loudly… figuratively speaking, of course. The truth is, most of us can be pretty stubborn at times; even as adults, our inner strong-willed child rises to the surface.

In this hymn-line, we pray an incredibly poignant prayer when we ask God to mollify the part of us which tends to be rebelliously determined… even obstinate. The picture of a horse being reined in comes to my mind – those scenes we’ve seen in movies where the wildest breeds of horse are in the corral, and they are being brought under the control of the one in charge until finally they are almost docile – even useful.

Okay, Lord Jesus: by the breath of your Spirit calm my restlessness, my inflexible insubordinate self in order that I may be useful-er – make that more useful – to you, to your kingdom, and to the world in which I have been placed. Take thou my heart, cleanse ev’ry part… including my stubborn streak! Amen.

"Alexander Taming Bucephalus" - F. Schromer

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Yes, on through life's long path, still singing as you go."

"Yes, on through life's long path, still singing as you go."
Hymn: “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart” – Edward H. Plumptre (1821-1891)
Typical Tune: MARION

Of course, I’m going to be drawn to this hymn-line: it’s all about singing!

We’re not necessarily following the Yellow Brick Road with Munchkins at our ankles, but we are on a lengthening path filled with uncertainties. Oh, I realize we know where we’re going to end up, but we can never be quite certain what to expect along the way. To carry that Oz analogy a bit further, some of us are hopelessly positive, skipping down the path in our ruby slippers with great confidence and resolve that we can find our way back home. Others are heartless – or have lost heart. Some are totally without courage. Still others are mindless in their travels, not alert or thoughtful. Then there are the ones who are Toto-ly happy to just follow everyone else, making no decisions of their own.
It is not, however, the Great and Powerful Oz we seek in order to ask him for fulfillment. “Weeee’re (not) off to see the Wizard!” Rather we are on the path to things that are higher, things that are nobler. We have set our sights on the heavenly vision, and pleasing the Ruler of Heaven and Earth is our highest call. Thankfully, he has not hidden himself behind a curtain, pretending to be someone he is not!

I never remember walking alone through a cemetery after dark, but I’ve seen that in plenty of movies. In all those situations, the one traversing the graves is whistling or humming… or singing as they go. Perhaps they are trying to ward off the imagined evil spirits lurking there – or better yet, the singing will take their mind off the situation in which they find themselves: the music allays their fear.

We share life’s long path. Our struggles and difficulties may vary, but if we can face whatever lies ahead with a song – perhaps even a hymn – to take our mind off those things which so easily beset us, we may more likely make it safely to the other side of the graveyard… or the end of the Yellow Brick Road.

The word “still” in this hymn-line indicates that we have already been singing, and that we should keep it up. “Yes” – with confidence we set out across the uncharted territory, “still” with a song in our heart and on our lips as we rejoice, give thanks and sing.

Let’s lock arms and head down life’s road together – heartily vocalizing our common faith in song!

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)