Friday, March 11, 2016

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

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

Following on yesterday’s post about proximity to the cross, this opening hymnline from one of my favorite Lenten hymns has a similar theme. 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

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Near the cross I'll watch and wait, hoping, trusting ever."

Hymn: “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) 

Proximity is a wonderful thing in any relationship. We never want to be far from the people we love most. That’s why Hallmark has a whole series of cards from “across the miles”!

Maintaining a close proximity to the cross is of great importance to those of us who are Christ-followers. Many people accessorize with a cross, wearing it daily as a reminder to themselves that they are inextricably affiliated with the One whose life and death are represented by two intersecting straight lines. For many years in my early ministry, I dangled a wooden cross from my neck so that every time it struck my chest, I was reminded whose I was… and my minute-by-minute commitment to him.

You may not ‘wear’ a cross daily, but you need to be prompted to stray not far from the influence of the cross on your daily decision-making.

Beneath the cross of Jesus is a good place to keep vigilance, with a watchful eye to avoid failure and mis-steps. There we can wait… be still… learn patience. It is also a great vantage point from which to view hope as a constant under-girder of our faith experience. And is there a better place to express our trust in Him who redeems us, comforts us, restores us – yea, even saves us?

In the context of Fanny Crosby’s text, this hymnline is about watching for, waiting on, hoping toward, and trusting in the ultimate return of Christ. The following line says, “till I reach the golden strand just beyond the river.”

I agree with all that; but it is also the place I watch for God, wait for him to act, hope that his will is done in my life, and trust that he will see me through TODAY… whether or not his return is imminent!

Need a change of place? Come over here and stand with me near the cross. Proximity is a wonderful thing.

Hear Hastings College Choir sing Robert Sterling’s arrangement of this hymn

Friday, March 4, 2016

Easter Departure Hymn

In case you need something new to round out your Easter morning service or a sunrise service...
here you go!
Easter Departure Hymn
Tune: ACKLEY (“He Lives”)

Go serve the Risen Savior,
Rise up, go on your way.
Our Christ is resurrected
On this glad Easter Day.
The grieving days are ended --
The cross, the thorns, the strife.
We join Him in his rising
And endless life.

He lives! He lives!
Christ Jesus lives today.
Have faith in him,
Be true to him
In all you do and say.
Go out with joy,
May all your conflicts cease.
O church of Christ, the Risen Lord,
Go out in joy and peace.

R. G. Huff

"Established is God's law, and changeless it shall stand deep-writ upon the human heart."

Hymn: “The God of Abraham Praise” – David ben Judah Dayyan (c. 1400)

This very Jewish text set to a traditional Hebrew melody is included in most Christian hymnals because we are, in fact, an extension of Judaism. After all, our founder was himself a Jew!

God’s Word is well-established. It has stood for many generations as a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. Its very long-standing nature is one of its strengths. As commanded, we pass it along to our children’s children in order that it may maintain its place among believers yet to come.

The Word of God will stand unshaken when it is deep-writ upon the hearts of those who love it and follow its precepts. I love the term “deep-writ”… or deep-written -- chiseled out, engraved, scribbled in indelible ink, permanently applied to our most-inner self.

I am reminded of stories from the concentration camps of World War II when the Bibles of prisoners were taken from them. We’re told that they would huddle together at night by candlelight and scribble passages of scripture on scraps of paper and hide them from their captors. Eventually they had recreated a large number of the most meaningful verses, many of which reminded them of how God had saved their people from total destruction… and gave them hope that he might indeed do that again. For many, that hope became a reality. (Think SHINDLER’S LIST!)

As a musician, I am drawn to another aspect of that tragic stain upon human history: they seem to have been able to recall many of these scriptures from songs they had sung.

However you are going about it – repetition, memorization, or with anthem texts - writing the Word of God permanently on your heart and mind is an important process because there are times when nothing will satisfy or comfort like drawing upon those remembered verses.

Hear This Hymn Played

Thursday, March 3, 2016

"Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, evermore his praises sing."


Hymn: “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” – Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847)
Various Tunes: My favorite is ANDREWS

This hymn text is a bit unusual because it is structured in a way that the singer is speaking to himself/herself. As we sing these words, we are reminding ourselves to praise God, the King of heaven… to acknowledge his greatness (bring tribute).

In THIS line, we remind ourselves that we are the ransomed, the healed, the restored, the forgiven ones – and that we should sing his praises as long as we have breath to do so. Because we sometimes consider our redemption, our healing, our restoration and forgiveness to be in the past, we may not praise him for these anymore. In reality, all these activities of God on our behalf are ongoing; therefore, we need to be more appreciative as part of our continuing praise.

The remainder of the text highlights God’s grace and favor, his faithfulness, and his enduring changeless qualities over against our frail, perishable human nature.

Interestingly, the final stanza turns from this introspective urging as it speaks to the angels and the triumphant saints in heaven, calling on them to praise God because they have the privilege of beholding him face to face.

Okay, it’s time we take up the song, merging our praise with the everlasting “Alleluias” of the ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven ones who have gone before us and who will come after us. It is up to us to keep the song alive. No pressure!

ANDREWS tune arrangement sung by Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

"Till my ransomed soul shall find rest."

Hymn: “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)

During these weeks of Lent when the worship-focus in most churches is on the cross, it seems appropriate that my post for today takes up that theme, reminding myself and those of you who read these posts that our place is not distant from the cross and the man who hangs there. No, our place is NEAR the cross... in close proximity to the Christ of Calvary.

This was my mother’s favorite hymn. It served her well as a daily prayer for her life, and it continues to minister to me every time I hear it or sing it.

Growing up, I thought she loved it because it was all about the cross and the sacrifice of Christ upon that emblem of suffering and shame. As her life wound down, however, it seemed to me that what she found attractive about this Fanny Crosby text was this closing line of the refrain – its emphasis on “rest.”

“In the cross be my glory ever, till my ransomed soul finds rest just beyond the river.”

In the busy-ness of our lives, this may become one of our great spiritual desires: to slow down long enough to reflect adequately on our lives with uninterrupted introspection. In reality, we might better sing, “Till my WEARY soul finds rest,” or better yet “my hurried LIFE.”

For a semi-retired person, I am way too busy – and much of it still involves ministry, just through different channels than before. And quite frankly, my “hurried life” is seeking some rest. I could use a time-out. How about you? I bet this is a common denominator for most of us.

I just hope I gain some rest from my labors on this side of river!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"O the pure delight of a single hour that before thy throne I spend."

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

O the pure delight of a single hour that before thy throne I spend
When I kneel in prayer, and with thee, my God, I commune as friend with friend.

There is not a whole lot I can add to that. This hymnline speaks for itself.

Our understanding of prayer as a communication between friends makes a lot of difference in how we approach the throne. Prayer is not a duty, it is a privilege – one that should be cherished and anticipated, much like we look forward to catching up with our dearest friends. There are no off-limits subjects, we talk about everything and anything, we are at ease, there is no sense of tension.

My seminary roommate and I have talked by phone every Monday for years. It is a loosely scheduled weekly catching-up time. These sometimes-brief conversations continue to be a blessing. I’m trying to reshape my prayer life to be more like my visits with David: just talking to God and asking him for nothing. Too much of my prayer time is centered around what I want God to do for me. I’m trying to alter that… or altar that!

Spending an hour in prayer is probably a stretch for most of us, but whatever time we carve out to dedicate to dialogue with this great Friend should be delightful. Some days I may visit with God an hour… five minutes at time! But those occasional intense, lengthy audiences are the richest because they yield superior results. O the pure delight…


Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)