Friday, October 30, 2015

"He sees not labels but a face, a person and a name."

Hymn: “When Christ Was Lifted from the Earth” – Brian Wren (1936-   )
Various Tunes – Most common ST. BOTOLPH

One of the most insightful hymn writers of the 20th Century into this century is Brian Wren. As one who applies himself to the penning of an occasional hymn or anthem text, I marvel at Wren’s ability to word his faith so bluntly and creatively.

In this hymnline, Wren speaks a loud and clear word of acceptance, saying that Christ overlooks the human-attached labels and sees instead the individual – the face, the person, the name. I believe that is exactly how Christ observes all people… and I am convinced that his example of acceptance should be imitated by those of us who say that we are followers of the King. [By the way, he concludes the hymn with an admonition to accept as Christ has accepted us.]

Probably no group on earth is more involved in the needless act of labeling than the Christian community… especially the more fundamental, narrow fringes. Why do we do that? What gives us the right to overlook the “judge not” passages? (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37, etc.) Even those of us who would never voice our label-attachments may mentally do so. Shame on us!

It’s something we need to stop doing… and we need to speak out against those who do. Tagging is not Christlike behavior – accepting by grace is. If the perfect One can look beyond our faults, shouldn’t we do that to our fellow strugglers?

I also like the way Wren says that Christ sees a face, a person, and a name. That tells me that if I get to know some of the people whom I might be inclined to brand – if I got to know their name, their circumstance, their plight – I might be less inclined.

This is a powerful, needed message for those of us who are serious about acting out our faith. Even though it is tucked away in the middle of a hymn you may not know, it should leap off the page and into our hearts to change us if need be.

I’ve heard that we should always err on the side of grace. This hymnline echoes that adage.

Originally Posted 11/03/2013

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

“My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him.”

Hymn: “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” – Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

Most of us have never been at the point of absolute thirst… that situation at which we truly might expire were our thirst not slaked. We’ve all desperately needed a drink, but not to the point of being near death.

Spiritually speaking, however, many of us thirst for living water. With the woman at the well, we want to walk away with that un-ending supply that will allow us to never thirst again.

The second phrase of this hymnline might best be pictured as someone whose heart has stopped and is lying lifeless on the ground until another comes by and pounds on their chest, applying the proper treatment that revives them and sends them on their way – restoring their life. There are times when our very soul needs a kick-start or a jump-start.

Bonar describes his own experience of revitalization when he responded to the voice of Jesus calling him to receive the water of life:
    I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give    the living water.
    Thirsty one, stoop down and drink, and live.”

When you and I have shared that experience, we can honestly sing this stanza with a sense of gratitude. We have been like the damaged man on the road to Jericho whose life depended on the arrival and ministry of the one we have dubbed the Good Samaritan. We have been “taken care of” – our spiritual needs have been met – by the One whose voice continues to say, “Come unto me.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

“The wonder of wonders that thrills my soul is the wonder that God loves me.”

Hymn: “The Wonder of It All” – Words and Music by George Beverly Shea (1909-2013)

Most of us you who follow this blog will know the life and ministry of Bev Shea, the long-time baritone soloist with Billy Graham’s crusades. Although probably best as a solo, this song of his has made it into a few hymnals for congregational singing.

After enumerating wonders of nature, Shea comes to the conclusion that is today’s hymnline: none of that compares to the wonder that we are loved by Almighty God… loved to the point of redemption.

It is a simple, understandable message – one to which most of us attest.

The second stanza (I think there are only two?), ends with an important reminder that this is a wonder “that’s only begun.” There is more yet to be of this wonder-filled life as God’s love, mercy, presence, faithfulness, etc. continue to bubble up within our lives.

We often loose the child-like wonder of our early years. This hymnline calls us back to being once again awe-struck by God at work in us. Let’s give it try, why don’t we?

Jump in a rain puddle, dance with abandon, play hopscotch, make up a song, finger paint, be overcome with wonder.

Hear This Song Sung by George Beverly Shea

Friday, October 23, 2015

“Ah! mine iniquity crimson hath been, infinite, infinite, sin upon sin.”

Hymn: “No, Not Despairingly” – Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

[I’m sticking with the hymn I used yesterday. This is the last time, I promise.]

I began my church-going life with too much talk about sin, and it looks like I will end it with not enough talk about sin.

In our church-growth-fueled fervor, it would be dubious to hear sin talked about much from the local pulpit for fear that someone might be offended and put-off…or might not return with intention to join our ranks and contribute to our cause.

Believe me, I don’t want to return to the guilt-trip-inducing tactics of previous generations. I think “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is a great piece of literature, but I don’t want to be frightened into good behavior through the words of Jonathan Edwards. I also don’t want to be lulled into peaceful ignorance on the wings of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. There must be a place somewhere between “I’m Okay, You’re Okay,” and “Nobody’s Okay, We’re All Going to Hell.”

Somebody has to remind us that we are sinners – that by nature, we all tend to wander off course. Otherwise there is no need to be redeemed… and no appreciation for the redemption that is ours.

Horatius Bonar does this carefully, caringly in today’s hymn. He sees an infinitely high stacking of transgressions, one upon the other, reaching further than the eye can see or the mind fathom.  In reality, he has a pretty good grasp on the human condition. There is no listing of the petty stuff or the immoralities of ill-spent youth. Rather he lists only two categories: 1) sin of not loving thee and 2) sin of not trusting thee. I’m not a great theologian, but most of my other sins stem from these two. How about yours?

This is not to be a downer post, although it may seem so. This hymnline is to remind us that we are sinners who have been redeemed from a stack-pile of lapses in our commitments. It reminds us to get back on the path and renew our thanksgiving to the One who saves.

When we get to that point, we can re-utter the first word of this hymnline; but now the “ah” can become an expression of relief.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Leaning on Thee, my God, guided along the road, nothing between."

“Leaning on Thee, my God, guided along the road, nothing between.”

Hymn: “No, Not Despairingly” – Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

You know already from past posts that this is one of my favorite hymn texts, replete with pithy hymnlines. I go to this hymn when I’m at the apex of my contemplative arc! If you’re not familiar with this one, grab your hymnal now and GET familiar with it.

The line I’m using today is the final one; this is the thought that lingers after the last chord is sounded and silence sets in, echoing through our mind and heart: “Nothing between. Nothing between. Nothing between.”

If we were to lean so heavily upon the Savior that nothing could be inserted between us, THAT would be a close affiliation – and wouldn’t that be a marvelous way of making our way in the world today. (Cheers!)

This merging of our life into his – or better yet his merging his life into ours – is a situation into which we would will ourselves down deep in the cravings of our soul. We want there to be a melding. Our desire is to be absorbed into the very being of God as revealed in Christ Jesus. For most of us who share piety*, this is a common goal.

All this talk of an overlapping relationship gives me much to “chew on” for the next several hours, and it causes me to take my prayer from another, probably more familiar gospel song: “Just a closer walk with thee… Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.” Amen.

* - “Piety” or “being pious” is not a negative stance. It simply indicates a deep devotion to God and to kingdom living. Piety is not spiritual snobbery.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow."

Hymn: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” – Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960)

This is MY favorite hymn, and many of my long-time friends thought I would have posted this one as my first hymnline two years ago when I started this process. Finally, I’m going to use it; this line is so special to me, it won’t be that easy an endeavor.

From my perspective as one who started going to church nine months before I was born, this hymnline based from Lamentations 3:22-23 sums up what Christ offers those who follow him. There are obviously many other blessings lined up for the taking, but if I have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, I can pretty much make it through any day – the ones filled with joy, the ones filled with struggles and sadness, and the ones which just dribble by on an even keel.

Occasionally I hear someone jokingly say, “Lord, give me strength,” when they’re dealing with problem people… even their children. While it has become a one-off kind of expression, it IS my daily honest desire – my constant prayer. The undergirding of the supportive hand of God is what I seek and what I enjoy. It truly is the gracious gift of strength which has “brought me safe thus far.”

Ensconced in my belief system is hope – not just for an eternal resting place or home beyond my dying day. This is a bright hope for the next day… and the next. Sometimes I want to join Annie and sing “The sun’ll come out tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun,” because I DO believe that a brightness awaits beyond the darkness – after I have laid me down to sleep.

I could pontificate on these two phrases for a long time; however, I will just say that now that I am a child of the King, I would be fine if these two blessings were all I had to go on every day. Fortunately, I am not limited in the number of times and methods these are meted out because his faithfulness is great and his mercies are new every morning. Just call me grateful.

My Friend Babbie Mason Sings This Song

P.S. – On JEOPARDY! yesterday, they included a hymns category. When it first came up, I said to Carlita, “I better know all these!” Sure enough I did. Art, classical music and Bible-based columns are usually my strength; she is strongest in anything pertaining to literature (including the Word of God). I hope the hymns category will go into their regular rotation for the benefit of us hymn-lovers who are also JEOPARDY! devotees!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

To those who have sought thee, thou never said, "No!"

Hymn: “Whiter than Snow” – James Nicholson (1828-1876)

Most of us have an inbred fear of rejection. I have a drawer full of rejection letters for things I’ve sent to publishers over the years – many of which would have undoubtedly been best-sellers.

We have failed to take risks and accept challenges for fear of receiving a negative reaction… a rejection… a “no!”

Admittedly, I am rarely in a service where this old gospel song is sung; but when I am, THIS is the line that grabs me and brings that wry smile to my lips as I realize how very true this hymnline is. The tenor aria “If with all your hearts you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me” from ELIJAH rushes into my mind, and a blessed assurance overtakes me.

Today, remember that we serve the God of the Yes – the positive presence – the One who does not bar the door, but stands with gates wide open for all who want to enter.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Just from Jesus simply taking life and rest and joy and peace.

Hymn: "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" - Louisa M. R. Stead (1850-1917)

Available to us is a bundle of blessings - innumerable blessings waiting to be downloaded into our lives from the heart of Jesus. They are there for the simple taking. Among that long list of obtainable gifts are life, rest, joy and peace… and these are ours for the simple taking.

These four donations from the wounded-yet-strong hand of Jesus – the Great Donor – are attitudes and situations to which we all aspire. The gift of life is a given, so to speak. If you are still breathing in air and taking nourishment, you are already enjoying this one. (To keep it simple, I won’t dive into the eternal life implications of this text; but you can ponder that one on your own.)

Who doesn’t want rest? This happens to be a Monday morning after a super-full Sunday of singing, ringing and orchestra-ing at my church. My brain is numb after feverishly bringing in people at the right time while conducting in two services yesterday. I can’t believe I did that every Sunday for over forty years. When I flopped into my recliner last night, it was a pleasure to simply accept the gift of rest.

Joy and peace are so sought after in our world and in our culture. Along with love, these two are probably the mindsets that are most often voiced when posed the question, “What do you want most out of life?” For sure these terms come up most often from Miss America contestants in the interview competition.

If Jesus indeed offers life, rest, joy and peace to his followers, shouldn’t we offer those to everyone around us – introducing them that Great Donor – demonstrating to them how we have these at our disposal for the simple taking? It’s what is called a “soft witness,” but it is valid and effective in a society that values these so much.

Approach the drive-through window and drive away with these and the many other available godsends. Go on your way rejoicing. Would you like to super-size your order?

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)