Friday, August 14, 2015

"Early let us seek thy favor. Early let us do thy will."

Hymn: “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” – Dorothy A. Thrupp (1779-1847)

Are you a morning person? I am. I tend to get a lot accomplished in the earliest part of the day. Generally speaking, I don’t sleep very well; so I am not the kind who leaps out of bed to cheerfully greet the morning! But once I’m up and have a couple of cups of freshly-ground coffee in my system, I’m probably at my best. I used to wish that choir rehearsals were first thing on Wednesday mornings instead of the last thing on Wednesday evenings!

This hymnline from a lady who was born in England at the end of the American Revolution opens the final stanza of a hymn which is loved by most all Christian congregations. It encourages us to go ahead and get on with our seeking of Christ’s favor and the doing of his will. Pleasing the blessed Lord is something we should not wait around to do.

We can look at this as a call to seek out God early on in our pilgrimage; or we might see it as a way to begin each day. First thing off the pillow, I may need to say, “I’m going to seek your favor today. I’m going to try to do your will.” We might even need to do this at the first of every hour… even the first of every minute… because we sometimes forget!

Either way, let this hymnline remind us to make our continuing relationship with Jesus a first priority in our lives – day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

Most of you probably read these early in the day; you use them as a morning devotional thought. If that’s the case, it’s not too late to start of your day seeking the favor or the One who loved us and who loves us still.

Piano Setting of this hymn

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"When perils o'ertake us, you will not forsake us."

Hymn: “We Praise Thee (You), O God, Our Redeemer” – Julia Cady Cory (1882-1963)
Typical Tune: KRESMER

Ever get separated from your parents when you were a child? Even now, years later, a certain chill probably went down your spine at the very remembering of such an experience.

The one that comes to mind for me was in Atlantic Mills in Knoxville where I had gone to shop with my parents. Atlantic Mills was much like our current K-Mart or a Wal-Mart, but this was in the early 1950’s before either of those came into being. It was like a bargain basement gone haywire – so much stuff to look at, so little time.

I could have used the “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it” text here, because as a preschooler I was Curious (Ronald) George. Even then, I had to figure out how everything worked. I simply could not stay close to a parent, especially in a huge store like this with aisle after aisle of things I had never seen before. Sure enough, I was prone to wander off and found myself in another aisle, holding on to the skirt of someone else’s mother!

I will never forget the terror that welled up within me… or the blood-curdling scream that came forth from my tiny vocal cords! “Where’s my mama?” I cried. “She left me here all by myself!”

That my-sheep-hear-my-voice thing kicked in, and Hedy came flying around the corner to sweep me up and assure me that she had not left me. We immediately left without buying anything. We found Daddy sitting on a bench out front… smoking, of course … totally unaware of why Mama was in a tizzy, I was weeping uncontrollably, and we were suddenly hurrying back home to Pigeon Forge.

Why is it when we are caught up in the perils of being lost that we automatically assume that we have been abandoned? I’m the one who had wandered off; my mother hadn’t even had time to miss me! But I was confident that my parents had just dropped me off there and gone out to shop for another similar model of cute little boys equipped with a charming smile and a quick wit. (!)

Anytime I come across a hymn-phrase that reminds me that God “will not forsake us,” I have a flashback to Atlantic Mills – I’m serious, folks; I really do! And I recall that I had moved into unknown territory, and that it turned out that I had not been deserted after all – and I won’t ever be abandoned by my heavenly Father. Forsaking is not in his nature. And somewhere deep inside my terrified self, I heave a sigh of great relief… and head on home.
The St. Olaf Choir Sings This Hymn

[Originally Posted 10/17/2013]

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"How much I love thee my actions will show."

Hymn: “I Love Thee” – Writer unknown

We have no idea who wrote this hymn, but it continues to be sung with some regularity in churches who still sing the sturdy texts. I like Laurie Klein’s chorus “I Love You, Lord,” but it doesn’t come at the subject with quite as much intensity or from as many directions.

This is one of those hymn-lines which needs no further discussion: it says what it needs to say and is poignant on its own. I will, of course, expound upon it… like preachers who continue to sermonize on those straight-forward scriptures.

While teaching a children’s song years ago, I discovered an easy way to remember the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: the first three are one syllable (love, joy, peace), the next three are two syllables (patience, kindness, goodness), and the final grouping has three syllables each (faithfulness, gentleness, self-control).

These nine attributes pretty much get at how we best express our love – how we demonstrate our commitments. (If you’ve heard me do a wedding, you’ve likely heard me use this passage.) While they are not all what an English teacher would dub “action verbs,” they all imply ways in which we act out that which is becoming our nature.

In the NIV, Paul summarizes this section with “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (v. 25)

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning. To refresh your memory (speaking of English teachers!), here’s that full sonnet:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach… freely, purely, with passion.” How profound is that? How appropriate to our understanding of how our actions can dramatize our love beyond the footlights of our everyday strutting and fretting our hours upon the stage.

How much do you love Christ? How can your actions show it? Take to the stage and act it out. Start today. Places everyone. Five minutes to curtain.

I cannot believe I could not find a video or audio

of this hymn online to share with you!

(Originally Posted 10/15/2-13)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Silently now I wait for thee, ready."

Hymn: “Open My Eyes That I May See” – Words & Music Clara H. Scott

I may have learned this hymn at Vacation Bible School in the late 50’s. In straight lines reaching all the way to the main street through Pigeon Forge – a thoroughfare much less-traveled than it is today - we followed the flags and the Bible into the cavernous sanctuary to make our way through two weeks of intense Bible study and craft-making. (Editorially speaking: most churches here had a four-day VBS this past summer.) That may have been the year I got the pole of the American flag caught in my open fly at commencement ceremonies, but that’s a story for later, I’m sure.

I have very fond memories of my summer weeks spent at VBS. That’s where I learned the order of the books of the Bible and where I memorized some of my life verses. Many summers my Mama taught at another church out in the country, so I did four weeks… and ended up with a double set of crafts! The order of the Bible books remained the same, however.

This hymn-line from the refrain of “Open My Eyes That I May See” has three out-standing words – silently, ready and waiting -- all of which speak to us more as adults than they did as young learners; their impact on our mind development and spiritual formation is probably more profound than any of us imagine or would dare admit.

Ready and waiting in silence: that’s how we say we are positioned to receive direction from the One who trends our path. We find ourselves at the corner of Ready and Waiting… at least that’s what we ‘say’! I must admit that many times I am waiting to hear from God, but I am not always ready to accept the instructions with which I am charged. My guess is that if you are honest, you are that way, too.

When I was leading music at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth during my seminary days, I remember how mercilessly we ribbed a girl in the youth choir because she literally lived at the corner of Willing and Waiting! Fortunately she took it well, waited until the right guy came along (from within the youth group) and has lived happily ever after.

However, standing at various crossroads in our lives, decision-making is not easy until we are ready and waiting… or willing and waiting! That is where I sincerely want to stand in my relationship to God’s call, because when those two are aligned, obedience will follow naturally.

I’m pushing my contemplative button again, but I’m convinced that the only time we clearly hear is when we are quiet – silent – still. Our in-constant-motion lives and our air-filled-with-noise waking hours impede God’s ability to speak a loud and clear message… to give distinct direction to our wandering feet -- ready and willing though they may be.

            Silently now I wait for thee. Ready, my God, thy will to see.
            Open my eyes. Illumine me, Spirit Divine.

Go to the corner of Ready and Waiting. Wait silently. Do not pass go or try to collect $200! Stay there as long as needed; Repeat as often as necessary.

Friday, August 7, 2015

" never speak a hurtful word..."

Hymn: “O God, We Ask for Strength” – Larry Schultz (1965-     )

There are only a few binding laws that I have imposed on my life, but this is one of them. After many years of hurting other people’s feelings too freely, I realized that it had to stop. I had used that James-tongue entirely too much, usually to put someone in their place or to elevate my own. That’s not a good method for a minister. So somewhere along the way – and I can’t point to an exact time or situation – I told myself that I would never again purposefully hurt anyone in any way, especially verbally.  

I have never been a sand-lot fighter. To the best of my knowledge, I have never picked a fist fight with anybody; and the very few scuffles in which I’ve found myself were initiated by someone else. But angry words: those were my fists – and I would readily put up those dukes when cornered. I by no means drew blood; instead, I drew tears. I didn’t leave skin bruises; I left banged-up hearts and lowered self-esteems in my wake.

This contemporary hymn penned by a friend of mine from my North Carolina days begins with “O God, we ask for strength to lead a gentle, caring life.” I love every line of this hymn, but each time we sing past “… to never speak a hurtful word,” I am reminded of the commitment I made to myself, to my God, and to my fellow humans.

As binding as this law is upon my life, I will occasionally break it; and when I do, I am the one who hurts most… and I usually withdraw the sword and become a healer. I have always been non-confrontational, but I’ve not always been a peacemaker. Making another feel small in order to make myself feel more important is not a Christlike action or attitude; and if reflecting my Savior is truly one of my life goals, then I have to set aside actions and attitudes that run counter to that goal.

Today – and every day from now on – recall this hymn-line the next time you find yourself about to lay someone low… bring them down to size… put them in their place. What would Jesus do? He certainly would never speak a hurtful word. I'm pretty sure of it.

NOTE: Like many strong hymn texts, this one appears only in the Baptist Hymnal 1991! Hopefully, some other publisher will pick it up and include it in future books!

[Originally Posted 10/14/2013)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

“O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still, above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will.”

Hymn: “O Jesus, I Have Promised” – John E. Bode (1816-1874)

Here we go again, asking for clarity and quiet! It must be a major need of mine since I seem to revert to this kind of hymn-line! Perhaps that is true of most of you in my ‘audience,’ so I will soldier on.

None of us wants to be spoken to in muffled tones. I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode where he dealt with the “low talker” – remember her? Every time she said something to Jerry, she would lower her head and speak as though her mouth were filled with marbles. His frustration was one that we have all experienced. Now that I have a hearing aid in one ear and am stone deaf in the other, I am even more sensitive to low talkers!

This prayer-line asks for clarity from the mouth of God. While I’m sure HE never mumbles, we may often wear ear muffs, or ear plugs… or stick our fingers in our ears! So beginning now, when we ask God for the clarity of his still, small voice, we need to listen with all our powers because we know he wants us to hear and understand.

We also need to be constantly aware that he speaks in so very many ways: audibly to some (although that’s never been my experience), by gentle inner nudgings, through sermons and Bible studies, via other believers (or even non-believers and donkeys for that matter), and of course in Scripture. And do not for a moment forget that he speaks through hymns; otherwise, these writings are a major waste!

When our storms of passion are raging and our self-will is tugging at us to pull us away from our Center, then we must listen more intently – more intentionally. We are caught up in lots of passions (not all of them carnal!), and we’re constantly being pulled upon from every side until our self-will is hard pressed to maintain. Then… THEN we are forced to listen more closely to re-aright ourselves with the One who never mumbles.

Amidst the passions and the murmurs, the grumblings and the mumblings, the noise and the silence – listen.

(Originally Posted 10/10/2013)

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Mine to tell me whence I came, mine to tell me what I am."

Hymn: “Holy Bible, Book Divine” – John Burton, Sr. (1773-1822)
Typical Tune: ALETTA

Keeping balance in my life is always a challenge. How about you? Staying grounded, keeping a proper perspective, finding my ‘true north’ – these are the things I contend with on a daily basis.

Most of the hymn “Holy Bible, Book Divine” is about how the Word of God is there for me to help me with these kinds of decisions, and each of these ideas is introduced by the two-word phrase “mine to.” In other words, the Bible is:

  • ·         Mine to tell me whence I came
  • ·         Mine to tell me what I am
  • ·         Mine to chide me when I rove
  • ·         Mine to show a Savior’s love
  • ·         Mine to guide and guard
  • ·         Mine to punish or reward
  • ·         Mine to comfort in distress
  • ·         Mine to show how to triumph over death
  • ·         Mine to tell of joys to come.
Those first two are the grounding ones for me. My reading of, studying of, and meditating upon Scripture phrases (Bible-lines, if you please!) can often bring me back to my roots – all my beginnings.

This remembering where I came from and whose I am can simply keep me steady-headed throughout the days which are smooth-sailing… not a worry or a care. At times when I’m headed toward pride or self-inflation, recalling my origins and my ownership can give me a reality check and a good dose of humility. On those occasions when I feel un-necessary or worthless, those same recollections can restore my belief in myself and my gifts.

All of you know by now that I have a pretty modest genesis in east Tennessee. I tell my fine arts classes all the time that for someone who had never heard the “Hallelujah Chorus” sung live until I went away to college, it’s amazing how much I love great music; and for a kid who had never visited a real museum until I was an adult, I sure do enjoy seeing great art when I get the opportunity. Any time I feel the snobbery coming on, I have to remember whence I came, and be grateful for the appreciation of all things bright and beautiful that was instilled in me from my inaugural years.

When I was a kid, I belonged to Hedy and Raymond Huff; it wasn’t exactly slavery, but I probably thought it was at the time! The fact that I knew who was taking care of me gave me a positive hope that all would eventually be well, even when I may have thought there was no way my earliest ordeals could turn out for the good. Now, as a semi-retiree, I am still comforted by my Christ-owned situation… that I am his, and he is mine… that now I belong to Jesus.

Having more trouble than usual staying grounded? Remember where you came from and whose you are. If you need a little help with that, turn to the Holy Bible, Book Divine.

This hymn at the piano

[Originally Posted 10/04/2013]

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)