Friday, February 19, 2016

"All the reach of heavenly art, all the pow'r of music bring."

"All the reach of heavenly art, all the pow'r of music bring."
Hymn: “Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Common Tune: AMSTERDAM

Leave it to Charles Wesley to write a hymnline like this one… nestled within other great statements about who God is, what God does, and what God deserves. THIS line deals with the latter.

I’m teaching an Introduction to the Fine Arts class at Dallas Baptist University, and I absolutely love where my semi-retirement has taken me: into a college-level classroom on a Christian campus to talk about one of great passions – art! One of the things I emphasize with these students is that all art forms CAN be used to honor God. This hymnline supports that argument – that all the farthest reaches of heaven-given artfulness (or talent) can be called upon to praise the Lord who reigns above and keeps his court below.

My students think I’m just way too passionate about the arts. At every chapter, they hear me say, “Now this may be my favorite art form!” I AM passionate about the arts because they are lasting examples of creativity – God’s creative energy passing through the hearts, minds, feet, hands and mouths of his created ones.

Music is a powerful art. It is common to every race and every culture. Wesley encourages us to apply that innate power of music to the unbridled praise of God.

Today’s hymnline ends with the modifying phrase, “… the music of the heart.” In order for music or any art form to be acceptable worship, it must come from the innermost depth of who we are. It must be a sincere, humble offertory. It must not be a self-aggrandizing display of one’s talent.

Many of us enjoy and appreciate the arts. Humanity's creative expression through the arts is one of the ways we are made in the image of God. It behooves us then to offer them back to God to honor him. I think he enjoys it when we do.

“All the reach of heavenly art, all the pow’r of music bring.” And I say, “Bring it on!”

Jakarta Oratorio Children’s Choir Sings a Setting of This Text

The AMSTERDAM Tune Sung by a Frequently-Breathing Soloist

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear."

Hymn: “In Heavenly Love Abiding” – Anna L Waring
Various Tunes – most common in the U.S. is NYLAND

This is my wife Carlita's favorite hymn, and it opens with these phrases:
    In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear;
    For safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here.

It’s a hymn about spiritual stability. When surrounded by and supported by the deep, deep love of Jesus, no matter how many storms rage about us, we have no reason to fear. There is a certain safety factor which is unsurpassed by another other shelter in the time of storm.

Our lives go through so many changes. Every paradigm seems to be shifting – and some of those paradigms have been our way of life, way of worship, way of doing things for all our years. But even when caught up in the squall of constant adjustments, we can be confident that this love of God has not and will not change… and neither will our relationship with God.

We can abide confidently in him as he abides in us… as branches – offshoots – of who God is, producing fruit in every season, even the tempestuous ones.

Lots of public buildings now have a sign on the outside that reads “Safety Zone.”  Those have been designated for people who are living their lives in fear of someone who may want to do them harm. We all desire a place we can count on – a hiding place. For those of us who seek him, God becomes for us that kind of refuge… our safety zone.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it, and they are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Need a place to hide out for a while? Start running away from your troubles; run instead toward that strong tower.

A Choir Sings the Familiar NYLAND Tune

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Shadows around me, shadows above me never conceal my Savior and Guide."

Hymn: “Heavenly Sunlight” – H. J. Zelley (1859-1942)

You may not be familiar with the Schubert song “The Erl King” based on a poem by Goethe. But for me, it’s an image that comes up when I read this hymnline. The basic story is of a father racing through the woods on horseback with his dying, hallucinating son; it’s more complicated than that, but you can Google it and get the details! It’s not a Christian story; rather it stems from German folklore.

Anyway, as the shadows and darkness surround him, the boy keeps crying out, “My father! My father!” The horse gallops, the darkness becomes greater, and still the child begs his father to help him out of the agony of his sickness.

There are times when we are surrounded by great cloud of witnesses, and we are rejuvenated and empowered to face whatever comes our way. At other times, we may find ourselves encompassed by nothing but shadows and darkness trying their best it seems to rob us of our joy, our calling, our mission… even our life. The horse gallops, the darkness becomes greater.

But THIS song (unlike the Schubert) reminds me that even the darkness cannot hide God from view. See Psalm 139:12. Today’s hymnline tells me this about my dark days: “Shadows around me, shadows above me never conceal my Savior and Guide (because) He is the light. In him is no darkness.” I love it when kernels of truth and beauty are hidden in the middle of these toe-tapping gospel songs that we sometimes set aside as “fluff.”

Having one of those shadows-all-around-me kind of days… or weeks? Don’t let the gloom obscure the face of your Savior who wants to carry you past the dark vale into the light of a new, more productive day.

Hear the Gaither Gang Sing This Great Gospel Song

Friday, February 12, 2016

"The favor he shows and the joy he bestows are for them who will trust and obey."

Hymn: “Trust and Obey” – John H. Sammis (1846-1919)

This is sort of staple hymn for evangelical churches… those who sing hymns-as-written and those who sing updated settings. That common usage is probably attributable to the simplicity of the text… and the different ways it approaches the subject of obedience that springs from trust.

I have heard many say that this hymn’s title pretty much sums up what becoming a follower of Jesus means: trust AND obey. That all-important conjunction makes a huge difference. You’ve probably seen those Ford commercials that spoof “bed or breakfast” and “nuts or bolts.” In every case, the people involved say they prefer “and”! It seems that is also what God prefers!

Today’s hymnline indicates some of what is in store for those who obediently trust God: on them God pours out his favor (approval) and a joy available through no other source. That approval or endorsement of God is high on most of our lists; we want to be pleasing in his sight – we want to stand unashamed in his presence. We seek the joy that becomes our strength, our undergirding, our overflowing fountain; we need look no further than God in Christ Jesus.

As this hymnwriter puts it, the favor and joy are not extended to those who are distrustful and disobedient – but only those who trust and obey, who walk with the Lord in the light of his Word. Available to all, but not acknowledged by all.

Join the couples in those Ford commercials: trust AND obey is to be preferred over trust OR obey any day!

Chelsea Moon Sings This Hymn a la Bluegrass!

Gary Chapman Talks about and Sings This Hymn

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Ask ye what great thing I know?"

Hymn: “Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know” – Johann C. Schwedler (1672-1730
Common Tune: HENDON

I rarely use the first line of a hymn as the hymnline for the day, but today I am!

You know the old jokes about how if when questioned in Sunday School, a child doesn’t know the answer, it’s usually a pretty safe bet he/she can reply, “Jesus” – and have a pretty good chance at being correct.

This hymn is basically a series of questions to which the answer IS “Jesus”! In fact, it’s “Jesus Christ, the crucified (One).”

Here are some of the questions:
- Do you ask what is the greatest thing I know?
- Do you wonder what delights and stirs me so deeply?
- What is the high reward I win by following this faithful path?
- Whose name do you think I glory in?
- What the strong foundation of my faith?
- What awakens my lips to sing?
- Who is the center of my life (life in life)?
- Who will ultimately be the death of death?
- On whose right will I be seated along with all the host of saints who have gone ahead of me into the glorious rest?

It’s almost like a catechism. Questions are posed and correct, learned answers are repeated. Quite honestly, for the true follower of Christ, this IS the answer to all these questions. Fortunately, unlike the formal catechism, the answers don’t change… only the questions do!

The final stanza is one long answer:
     This is that great thing I know!
     This delights and stirs me so:
     Faith in him who died to save,
     Him who triumphed o’er the grave:
     Jesus Christ, the Crucified!

Go back and read through the list again, and see if you can honestly answer “Jesus… the One who was crucified for me.” It might reveal an area of your own faith walk that could use some work. I won’t ask which ones YOU struggled over if you won’t ask ME!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Beneath the cross of Jesus, I gladly take my stand."

Salvador Dali - "Christ of St. John..."

Hymn: “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” – Elizabeth Clephane (1830-1869)

On this Ash Wednesday, let's consider our proximity to the cross. this opening hymnline of one of my favorite Lenten hymns is all about that proximity to the cross. After answering the question “Are we there yet?”, we are drawn within “the shadow of a mighty rock” and “a home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way.”

We often steer away from singing this hymn because in the original text printed in most hymnals, the word “fain” is used instead of the word “gladly.” When our mind has to stop and wonder what a word means, we sometimes lose the thought that follows; therefore, I’m glad that some song books and arrangements are using less archaic language to help us ‘get it’ without explanation!

I would have used the word “proudly,” but pride is such a no-no in church-speak! However, we should be proud to take our stand with Christ at the foot of his cross, shouldn’t we?!

Taking our stand for Christ and with Christ is vital for those of us who would be counted as one of His. Our placement keeps people from second-guessing who we are and whose we are. In today’s society, that establishment of our post is key to our vitality as witnesses to “the very dying form of One who suffered there for me.”

Looking for prime real estate in the Kingdom? Find it beneath the cross of Jesus.

A Men’s A Cappella Setting of This Hymn

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"When I took him at his word, forgiv'n he lifted me."

Hymn: “In Loving-Kindness Jesus Came” – Words & Music by Charles H. Gabriel (1856-1932)

The title of this hymn (the first line) sends out a strong message about the way Jesus came… and continues to enter… our struggling world: in a kindness based out of love – an intense affection only possible through the power of God at work in his life. We’re back to that image of the Son of God gently making his entrance among his people. He did not barge in and take over with fanfare or bombast. So far as we know from his Word, everything about him was kind, intentional, filled with grace and truth.

If we take him at his word (or Word), we find him willing and able to redeem us. Questioning is not a bad thing; it is in fact a healthy faith exercise. Doubt on the other hand… not so much. The opposite of taking him at his word is doubting the core of his message… disbelieving that he can work a miracle in our lives.

My dad, Raymond, was known to be a man of his word. In my earliest years I recall his making land deals and buying cars with a down-payment and a handshake. He got burned a few times, but as far as I know, he never went back on his word.

The Lord Christ was and is known to be a man of his word. In our case, he has accepted our admission of estrangement, and in place of a handshake has handed us forgiveness for those actions and attitudes which have separated us from his holiness. And the best news is that he does this for us every day: he has promised to keep on forgiving us – we have his word on that.

Need a lift? Yeah, me too. Let’s take him at his word, accept his loving, kind forgiveness, and be elevated by tender hand from sinking sand. When it’s all said and done, we can sing, “O praise his name! He lifted me.”

This Hymn Played at the Piano

Monday, February 8, 2016

"To all life thou givest, to both great and small."

Hymn: “Immortal, Invisible” – Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908)

Let me just say that I love this hymn. I think I would never tire of singing it in worship. The sturdy 3/4 pulse and the powerful text always resonates with me as the words trip over my lips! Within this hymn are some great lines, but I’ve chosen this one to deal with today… continuing in a way my unseen-partner theme from the last post!

This hymnline always reminds me that God is no respecter of persons. He makes the sun and rain to fall on the just and the unjust… the important and the seemingly insignificant. He gives life to all despite their ‘place’ in the world order… the great and the small. Having always considered myself on the of-lesser-importance end of the spectrum, this hymnline inspires me!

During his earthly adventure, Jesus found himself visited by lowly shepherds and by wealthy men from the Far East; sitting with the highest officials in his religion, lawyers, government officials; working in the lives of city leaders, lepers and other outcasts; walking tall among the greatest people of his day, and stooping to be on the level with the sinningest sinners; standing in the Temple preaching and praying, and later letting children sit in his lap. He was an enigma for sure – a conundrum for those who tried to figure him out.

He still is a paradox. His ways are still a mysterious “puzzlement” (to quote Yul Bryner). He is still giving life to both ends of the social spectrum – giving breath to all who require it to stay alive… and giving his redeeming Spirit to those who wish to stay alive forever.

You know those sticker things people put on the back window of their van to represent the family inside? That pretty much says it all so far as who is acceptable in God’s family! The next time you pull up behind one of those sticker-clad SUV’s in traffic, be reminded that God gives life to both great and small… even you!

Hear the Singing of This Hymn

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)