Friday, July 31, 2015

"When at last I stand with the heav'nly choir... I shall never tire."

"When at last I stand with the heav'nly choir... I shall never tire."
Hymn: “There’s a Glad New Song” – Words & Music by Albert C. Fisher (1886-1946)

For the first time in over forty years, I am singing in a church choir!* I’m experiencing the music ministry from the other side of the rail! I consider myself fortunate indeed to attend an evangelical church that still has a choir; the truth is that we’ve had several people join our church in recent months because they want to attend a service in which the music is choir-driven. It’s a very good choir: they sing well, read music better than most volunteer groups, and they are engaged in their leadership of worship.
But one of these days, I plan to stand with a massive number of singers who gather near the throne of God to offer up continual praise of the One who sits there! I have the feeling the music never ends – that it’ll be like an incessant medley, won’t it? When we finish one great hymn or anthem, we’ll modulate into the next. For us musicians, THAT would be heavenly!

Although it sounds like an old gospel song, the third stanza of this fairly new hymn (first published in 1956, ten years after the death of its writer) speaks to me with today’s hymn-line and following:
            When at last I stand with the heav’nly choir in the light of the throne above,
            On the golden strand I shall never tire of the song of redeeming love!
            Of his love I shall ever sing
            Till above I behold the King.
            Through eternity my glad song shall be of the Savior’s redeeming love.

Sometimes I fly into the choir room after Sunday School and throw on my robe, make certain I have the correct stole turned to the right side, grab my folder and race to my chair, trying my best to be situated before the pre-service rehearsal begins. I often audibly say “Whew” as my backside hits the chair. But once the singing begins, I am renewed. I hope I shall never tire of singing the praises of God… in this life or the next.
* - I wrote this Hymnline before I lost my ability to match pitch due to a hearing problem. All the talk about my participation is no longer relevant... in THIS life. I still plan to regain my hearing and be able to harmonize in the life that is yet to come. Therefore this is a more hopeful hymn than ever for me!

[I couldn’t find a recording of this hymn. I hate that, because I’d love for you to hear it! Sometimes those hymns whose phrases speak to us are not as popular with everyone else as they were with us. Take my word for it: it’s worth hearing… and singing. Google it if you want to sing or play through it.]

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing ev'ry day."

Hymn: “O Happy Day That Fixed My Choice” – Phillip Doddridge* (1702-1751)

Let’s take on a Sacred Harp tune today, why don’t we? Get your fasola in gear, and start singing this text and tune familiar to most every evangelical denomination. For today, I’m using a line from the refrain… from the part we all know by heart:
           He taught me how to watch and pray,
            And live rejoicing ev’ry day.
            Happy day! Happy day
            When Jesus washed my sins away!

When I’m posting a birthday greeting on Facebook, I often simply put “Happy Day,” because the greater percentage of my Facebook friends are also believers… and would likely get the crossover meaning of my post… giving a nod to their second birth as well as their initial one. Okay, so nobody gets it, but it is after all the thought that counts!

In our pilgrimage of faith, we have each learned to be alert (to watch) and to speak with God on a regular basis (pray). He… and many humans along the way… have drilled those into us. However, we stumble a bit when it comes to the live rejoicing ev’ry day part. Not because we don’t want to, but because we just don’t do it!

The rejoicing life – the life lived in a state of joy – is one of our goals AND one of the promises of scripture. It’s an easy face to put on, but not a simple process to carry out.

Recently from the choir loft of my church, I looked out over the congregation as we sang, “There are sweet expressions on each face,” and realized we just sang a lie! Fortunately, I don’t have a mirror in my choir folder; perhaps I should!

People outside the faith will not be attracted to grumpy, negative, frowning, cranky people inside the faith. You may be sharing your faith with everyone you meet, but your attitude may be decrying every word that comes with your well-rehearsed witness.

I’m pretty convinced after sixty-plus years of observation that our joy is our most-attractive tool for witnessing. I’ve been forced to go through too many church-in-a-box programs from which I have emerged full of the right Bible verses, yet possibly devoid of the joy to back them up.

In a contemporary African American spiritual, we sing, “This joy that I have the world didn’t give it to me… and the world can’t take it away.” In other words, we may conjure up a positive attitude and smile-crossed face, but it is the deeper, sincere joy for which we long. That authenticated-by-the-Spirit great delight is what we are after – and too often, it is what we will not allow to happen. It is yet another way we have fallen short of the glory of God!

I have a few heroes for whom this is truly their operating system – for whom the joy of the Lord is the strength of their lives. A hero is one after whom I would like to model my own existence, and in this case, that definition applies.

Let’s stop grinning our way through life. Let’s instead live rejoicing ev’ry day - not as a trick we pull off to appear happy, but as an act of plumbing the depths of the Spirit of Christ.

Wouldn’t this be a good day to start?
The Cathedrals (fasola-version at the end!)

* Note: For you hymn purists (It takes one to know one, by the way!), the refrain was added to the Doddridge hymn-text; therefore, today’s hymn-line is actually from an anonymous source.

[Originally Posted 10/01/2013]

Friday, July 24, 2015

Not a Musical Hobby

Instead of a Hymnline, Today I Am Posting This Great Quote from Hymn-writer Keith Getty: "Congregational singing should spring from lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, not people fulfilling a musical hobby or a family ecclesiological tradition or being swept up in some mindless contemporary fad." (from THE HYMN, Spring 2015)
I'm going to put that in my phylactery and keep it ever before me!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

“Her charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth.”

Hymn: “The Church’s One Foundation” – Samuel E. Stone (1839-1900)

The Beatles sang, “One is the loneliest number…”; however, this hymn’s second stanza negates that sentiment, reminding us that people from every nation are now one o’er all the earth, that the church blesses one holy name and partakes one holy food, and that we press forward in one united hope. The centerpiece statement about our one-ness is today’s hymnline: we share one Lord, one faith, and one birth… actually one re-birth!

Most every organization has a charter – a document which sets out its basic purpose. The charter declares “why” this group is being formed; from its very beginning, these people are associating themselves toward this end… or these commitments. According to Samuel Stone’s hymn which crosses all denominational lines, the charter of the church (made up of people who share in the salvation of Christ) is to share
•    only one Lord – that is Christ himself
•    one common faith – a reliance on that same Christ… an ultimate trust in him
•    a one-time, born-again experience.

Probably no other single stanza speaks more directly to the unity of the church. In thirty-nine words, our commonality is underscored; every time we sing those thirty-nine words, the One Word is highlighted as we recommit ourselves to the basic charter of our salvation – a charter which unites and does not divide.

So, one is NOT the loneliest number. In fact, we are never alone when we cast our lot with other believers, other pilgrims on the journey. And we are never looking out for “number one” (ourselves), because that would not be in keeping with the example modeled for us by our One Lord. Instead, we are looking out for the real “Number One,” in our worship, our fellowship, and our ministry.

The only foam finger we need is one that points to Christ, who is still our One Foundation.

King’s College Choir Sings This Hymn

Monday, July 20, 2015

"I cannot bear my burdens alone."

Hymn: “I Must Tell Jesus” – Words & Music by Elisha A. Hoffman (1839-1929)

Prelude: Some of you may wonder how various hymn tunes get their names. They are often named for a city or place of significance to the writer. That is the case here: Hoffman’s hometown is Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania.

We’re back to a good old gospel song today. Those of us who cut our musical/spiritual teeth on songs like this find ourselves singing them as prayers (aloud or silently), especially just when we need him most. That need may be to share some great, good news – and we run through the hallway joyfully saying, “Who can I tell? Who can I tell?” At other times the need may be just the opposite: we are so weighed down that we don’t know with whom we can share such a burden, and we whisper into our chest, “Who can I possibly tell?” That’s the kind of situation out of which this text emerges, emphasizing the trials, burdens, distress, troubles, temptation, and evil allurement. And each downcast stanza is followed by the closing words of the refrain: Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

We’ve all been there, done that… and have found it to be one of the great truths of our hymnody.

Any time we congregate, we need to be reminded that those people we are about to meet down at the church house are also people who are (hopefully) willing to help us bear our burdens. They are there to be Christ for us… and we for them.

We meet together as a church family for many reasons – primarily worship of the Everliving One. But let’s not overlook this burden-bearing ministry. After all, anything considered a ministry in the church should be a place where we step in and do what Christ would do if he were still among us in the flesh. Since he is not, he has called us and empowered us by his Spirit to fill the gap.

When you start to do any renovation on a building, you have to be careful not to remove a load-bearing wall. Those around you in your church family serve as this load-bearing wall, giving you necessary support. Be careful not to remove them from your life by keeping those burdens to yourself without sharing the load. After all, it comes down to this: none of us can bear our burdens alone.

Mom Winans Sings This Hymn

[Originally Posted 09/29/2013]

Friday, July 10, 2015

“Just a smile from my Savior, I know, will thro’ the ages be glory for me.”

“Just a smile from my Savior, I know, will thro’ the ages be glory for me.”
Hymn: “O That Will Be Glory” – Words and Music by Charles H. Gabriel (1856-1932)

We all seem to have some preconceived notions of what heaven… or glory… is going to be like. Some of these are based on scripture, some on traditions, some on hymns and gospel songs, and some are just based on what we ‘want’ it to be like.

The man who wrote such hymns as “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” and “In Loving-Kindness Jesus Came” draws a poetic picture here of what he anticipates by the closing line of the chorus: “When by his grace I shall look on his face, THAT will be glory for me.” You may have heard me say before that the one thing we agree on about heaven is being eternally in the presence of Christ… that “face to face with Christ my Savior” kind of event.

This certainly holds true in this hymn. The three things Gabriel looks forward to are 1) being near the dear Lord he adores, 2) looking on the face of Jesus, and 3) finding on that face an endearing, glad-to-have-you-home smile. I have to admit that I concur.

One of the best things we can share with another is a smile – a genuine, heart-felt smile. Many a teacher, coach, parent have shown approval by nothing more than a nod and a smile. Nothing seems to communicate “good job” any better – no trophies, no ribbons, no gradebook entries.

And from the Savior of humankind, we all would like to hear the “well done, good and faithful servant” commendation; but mostly, we want him to lower his chin a bit and show his teeth through the upturned edges of his lips.

Meanwhile, it is our calling in this life to bring joy and a sense of value to those we encounter throughout the day, especially those whose station in life may not be brightened by very many smiles – the waitress, the grocery checker, the janitor, the bus driver, etc. Those who serve us are often the least appreciated and are least-often the recipient of a smile and the words “good job.” Unto the least of these, we need to constantly BE the presence of Christ. Then we can enjoy HIS smiling face all the more, and that will be glory.
(Sorry about the bouncing ball!)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"All coldness from my heart remove."

"All coldness from my heart remove."
Hymn: “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me” – Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676); translated by John Wesley

What a prayer! It seems like it needs no further explanation or discussion. But then, this hymn-line would be much too short an entry! On the other hand, I know that if this could happen in my life, I would indeed be a different follower of Christ.

I’ve never been very formulaic in my public prayers. Whether off the cuff or written out, I usually simply speak my mind/heart. I’m known to be blunt with my honesty sometimes, even to the point of someone saying afterwards, “I can’t believe you actually said that in a prayer.”

I take my praying seriously, and that means I talk to God as openly as possible, reining myself in as needed depending on my human audience; however, I’m carrying on a conversation with the Almighty while my fellow mere mortals listen in!

If, on the other hand, I prayed using a formula, I think I should add "All coldness from my heart remove" to all my prayers – public and private.

The great formulaic prayer – the one we call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” – includes the phrase “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our coldness of heart against individuals and/or groups usually stems from having been (in our opinion) wronged. There are those who have left the organized church and are cold toward her because they were at some point disenfranchised over a life choice or a lifestyle – or their honesty. Others of us have placed our heart in the deep freeze over disagreements with family members and former friends.

Speaking of honesty, most of us know the chill-down-the-spine feeling we get when we have to pass certain people in the hallway between Sunday School and worship. The coldness of heart surges into our system, and we try desperately to avert our eyes for fear that our mouth might say what our mind is thinking. Too honest? Am I alone in this? I think not!

Worst of all is the child of God whose very outlook on life has cooled to the point of freezing – the one whose heart is frozen hard as a rock due to countless, endless experiences which have lowered their spiritual temperature to depths they could never have anticipated – and likely would never admit.

We were not redeemed for such an attitude as this. We were ‘set on fire’ at our salvation-time, and for many of us, the heating scale has been on the decline ever since.

Once upon a time, some angry, disappointed people were traveling on a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Along the way, a stranger joined them and allowed them to vent their confusion, their crisis-of-faith. At their destination, they invited the stranger to remain for dinner saying, “Stay with us.” At table, they recognized him as the Christ. We know the story; it is one of those we see unfold almost as a staged drama. As the scene concludes, after the main character has left the stage, the actors say to one another, “Were not our hearts warmed within us as he talked with us…?” Indeed, when he walks with us and talks with us and tells us we are his own, our hearts begin to thaw.

Lord Jesus, stay with us. Continue the warming of hearts until they are again afire with love and not near-hate for our fellow believers and others outside the faith family. Lord Jesus, stay with us, that we may walk so near yourself that we can do no less than reenact your lifestyle. Lord Jesus, stay with us. All coldness from our heart our hearts remove; may every act, word, thought be love. Amen.

Though not the tune with which most of us associate the text,
this is a really 'sweet' video

St. Olaf Choir Sings Egil Hovland's "Stay with Us" -
One of my all-time favorite choral pieces

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

“Hide me, O my Savior, hide till the storm of life is past.”

Hymn: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

This kind of hiding is not like a children’s game; it is rather a plea for Christ to cover us or tuck us away near to the heart of God during a rough patch… a difficult stretch… possibly only a more-than-we-can-handle day.

I remember vividly a Glorieta Music Week preacher telling a room full of hymn-lovers that we should never sing this hymn again because it encourages us to hide instead of fighting, taking a stand or being “out there,” taking on the world as it comes. I remember my brain screaming, “What?! Is this guy serious?” He may have been a famous pulpiteer with a large following, but on that one, he was wrong.

There are days we need to be covered, drawn nearer, shadowed ‘neath the wings of the Almighty. The storm of life may be as simple as feeling inadequate or insignificant; it may be a family or worldwide tragedy; it may be a prognosis. Whatever it is, we seek refuge in the cleft of the Rock of Ages.

An old southern gospel song that I cherish to this day is “Where Could I Go But to the Lord?” Along with today’s Wesley hymnline and many others like it from scripture and from hymnal-pages, we get the answer to that toe-tapping question: nowhere.

I am not ashamed to tell you that with Corrie Ten Boom, I often cry out to God for a hiding place where my attention is drawn from the momentary or long-term thunder storm or tornadic activity in which I find myself – drawn instead to the hope and eventual joy with which I emerge to forge ahead, at least until the next down pour. I don’t think that makes me less brave; I think it makes me more reliant on the Source of any spiritual bravery I might muster to outlive the storm.

Rock of Ages, let me hide in thee once again… and again, and again. I have nowhere else to go. Amen.

Hear Fernando Ortega Sing This Hymn (REFUGE tune)

Friday, July 3, 2015

“Let music swell the breeze. And ring from all the trees sweet freedom’s song.”

“Let music swell the breeze. And ring from all the trees sweet freedom’s song.”
Hymn: “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” – Samuel F. Smith (1808-1895)

Long before the term “surround sound” was coined, this hymn-line captured the essence of music coming at you from all directions. We musicians can picture this happening: we can see thousands of staves filled with quavers and semi-quavers swirling through the air, engulfing us with the richness of a great choral or symphonic sound. I personally think Eric Whitacre might be the composer of the sound I audiolize – that’s like visualize, but for sound!

It’s almost like a scene from Walt Disney’s FANTASIA… one of the pleasant, exuberant sections, not one of the scary ones! With a grand flourish, Mickey’s baton pulls sound from every direction: it is a cacophony of pitches, but they all make sense – they “make music.”

In this case, the song is one of freedom. “Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.”* People all around the world from every nation have had their freedom songs… their rallying cry set to music… at various times in their history. Their singing added to their resolve to do something about their incarcerated condition – their confinement to a situation from which there seems to be no escape.

This is a week to cherish our freedom as Americans: that’s why I chose a patriotic hymn. But it’s a time to be concerned for freedom of all God’s people who find themselves enslaved… traded, abused, neglected. Christian people cannot stand by and enjoy their freedom while others have none. Our concern must move us to action.

“Freedom! O Freedom! Freedom is coming, O yes I know.” (Traditional South African Song)

Listen to This Song

* - from the Broadway show LES MISERABLES (listen)

[Disclaimer: I realize this is not really a hymn as such; it is a patriotic song. There is a danger on weeks like this to hoist the flag in front of the cross and to miss the opportunity to worship and be grateful to the One who gave us life and liberty at the same time. So, I'm approaching it from the angle of "God... the Author of liberty" in the final stanza.]

Thursday, July 2, 2015

“For the joy of human love… for all gentle thoughts and mild.”

“For the joy of human love… for all gentle thoughts and mild.”

Hymn: “For the Beauty of the Earth” – Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917)
Common Tune: DIX

Unless you are a hermit or a real loner, you will agree with this hymnline because few of us can exist without some kind of human affection – from spouses, family members, close friends, folks at church, people with whom we work, etc. We know the warming effect of someone’s entrance into the room and that racing-forward smile when you greet someone special at the airport… just outside security, of course!

I think it is a universal emotion: love. While all cultures do not base their marriages on love, those people MUST have others they care about and enjoy – someone without whom they could hardly exist. This world-wide finding joy in the reciprocated fondness for another human is at the heart (no pun intended) of our relishing this life promised to us in abundance.

In these joy-based relationships, we don’t fear one another. Instead we have gentle thoughts and mild reactions. This gentleness and this mildness are peaceable, calm, kind, pleasant; one of the synonyms is “easy-going.” In other words, we don’t have to constantly work to keep these affiliations intact; such connections become a natural part of who we are and who THEY are.

Some of us have found a life-mate whose presence brings us this kind of joy. We are fortunate indeed to have joined our lives with theirs... and in some cases attached ourselves to the larger loving pool of their family. Some have bound themselves through other means and avenues of friendly interaction. If you fall into either of those categories, you need to sing with confidence the line which follows in this text: “Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise” – because these loving relationships are God’s provisions, and they have been rationed out in just the right proportions to keep us ever happy and ever blessed.

Hear This Hymn Sung

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

“With healing balm my soul he fills and every faithless murmur stills.”

Hymn: “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” – Johann Sch├╝tz (1640-1690)

Murmuring: have you ever heard that word used in a positive context? By definition, this is a soft, indistinct sound made by a person or group of people speaking quietly or at a distance; the quiet or subdued expression of a particular feeling by a group of people.” In common usage, these “soft, indistinct sounds” and “subdued expressions” have become forces that can eventually lead to a mutiny if not detected and quieted.

With forty-plus years in local church ministry, I am well familiar with murmuring – and not once do I recall this to have developed into a movement of support or praise.

This happens inside us individually. Understand? There are constant whisperings in our spirit that are faithless – not faith-based. Sometimes that “still small voice” that nags at us is not the one Elijah heard; instead, it is a complaining, grousing attitude that works against us – one that will not (and I reluctantly use the phrase) shut up and leave us alone.

When we realize this is happening, we have to deal with it; we have to quieten those negative voices that demand our attention and command our approval… and possible action. Our only choice is to “shut ‘er down” and put an end to “every weight and sin that so easily beset us” or drag us down… throw us off course… ultimately defeat us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Fortunately, this hymnline reminds us that there is a salving of the soul, a filling of the Spirit that attacks for us the viral attack of those low-toned murmurings. The Great Physician… or Pharmacist… is near to fill that which has been prescribed for us to be able to quiet those undertones and replace them with resolve.

I’m not comfortable with exorcism; I guess the Linda Blair movie messed me up on that! However, there are times when I have to say, “In the name of Jesus, away with you, faithless murmur. Leave me alone. I will not listen to you anymore.”

Somebody pass me that healing balm!

This hymn from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)