Monday, September 26, 2016

"Let not your foolish pride rebel."

Hymn: “’Take Up Your Cross,’ the Savior Said” – Charles W. Everest (1814—1877)
Various Tunes

One of the scripture passages my mother drilled into me is from Romans 12:13: “A man should not think more highly of himself than he ought.” I have used this verse on lots of boasting people throughout the years; it was one of my go-to verses when Dustin was growing up, and I now find myself inserting it into conversations with my grandsons. It sounds more like Ben Franklin, but it really is from the apostle Paul!

More modern translations update it and are less sexist: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should,”

This six-word sentence from a little-used hymn stands as a reminder to any who may take more credit for their advances, their talents, their achievements than they ought. Our pride – foolish though it may be – has a tendency to rebel against our redeemed, Christ-like nature. That’s when we have to “put a lid on it” – or in the words of that great theologian Barney Fife: “Nip it.”

Frankly, I tire quickly in the presence of anyone who goes on and on about how God has done this and that in their life. I guess it is not possible to over-glorify God, but that kind of language often tends to make that person appear more spiritual than the rest of us. I am equally put off by those who never give their Creator credit for their creativity and accomplishments – those who wallow in their position among the “Me Generation.”

As an FOC (follower of Christ), I need to strike a happy balance here. I need not take too much credit for my successes, while at the same time not make myself appear to be holier-than-the-rest-of-you. It is a tight rope to walk, but it is do-able if we consciously pay attention to how we make our way.

My old self is rebellious… at times it seems out of control. This is when we rein in who we used to be and behave like we strive to be, in order to represent the One we call Lord. Another phrase I picked up at home was “give credit where credit is due.” Not scripture, but applicable to this hymnline.

Friday, September 23, 2016

"We will rest where the steps of Jesus end at his throne."

Hymn: “Footsteps of Jesus” – Mary B. Slade (1826-1882)

In my hometown, they celebrate “Decoration Day,” an annual tradition common to rural areas in some southern states. Many of you who read this will be unfamiliar with the ritual of decorating the graves of the departed, but to many folks, this is a big deal. The hillside in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where my parents, grandparents and other family saints are buried is at its most colorful on that weekend – adorned with bouquets great and small… real flowers, plastic and silk reproductions. For most, it becomes a reunion day – the only time on the calendar when they come into contact with old friends and family members.

These whose lives are remembered on that first Sunday in June are those who have entered their eternal rest – whose pathways in their earthly life were intent on following the footsteps of Jesus wherever they might have been steered. Their proximity to the feet of Jesus would obviously bring them to sit at his feet as he sits now enthroned.

Many of those who’ve gone on before us into glory had rough, difficult lives, surviving the Great Depression, World Wars, years of un-productive crops and/or dying livestock, factory shut-downs and lay-offs, and so on. They rarely found time to slow down and rest. Most knew nothing of vacations or getting away for a weekend; many had never ventured outside their county or state.

Their pastors may have in their sermons painted glorious pictures of the pearly gates opening into ivory palaces with streets paved with gold; but for most of the bedraggled listeners in the pew, their ears perked up when there was mention of the promised rest. Not only would they meet their loved ones there, but they would actually have time to fellowship with them for extended periods of time without being bothered by animal feedings, seed-planting/harvesting or punching a time clock… or taking care of an extended family’s needs.

Let’s admit it: We, too, look forward to the rest more than we look forward to the architecture.

Either way, it behooves us to follow in the steps of Jesus so that when we arrive at the throne, we’ll recognize his feet – then we can lift our eyes to behold him face to face. We’ll spend time praising him; we’ll catch up with those who got there before us and know their way around. And the rest (remainder) will be rest.

Piano arrangement

Thanks, Barbara Whaley McClure for the photo posted on Facebook.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"When we reach the end of our hoarded resources, our Father's full giving is only begun."

Hymn: “He Giveth More Grace” – Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932)

Written by a school teacher whose career was cut short by crippling arthritis, this stands as her only still-sung hymn. In fact, it was popularly sung as a solo in the 1940’s and 50’s and has only recently been included in books for congregational use.

In a very poetic way, Flint was able to capture FDR’s “when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on” adage in a way which beautifully depicts the abundant generosity of God.
When we have tried in our own strength to accomplish great tasks or to overcome great difficulties, we can “tie a knot” in our rope and wait for God to intervene.

To put this hymnline in context, here is the full stanza:
    When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
    When our strength has failed when the day is half-done,
    When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
    Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

We all know that we should have sought out his assistance and guidance in the first place, but our human nature has caused us to turn to some other colloquial adages like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “I did it my way!” We join the chugging uphill steam engine repeating the mantra “I think I can! I think I can!” We have yet again been Oprah-ized into self success.

Over my 66 years, I have accumulated a good number of creative resources; I’ve had to reason my way through many dilemma in my ministry and my personal life. Amazingly, sometimes that works for me. Other times, I come up way short on my “hoarded resources” and have to send out my call for help. I’m not alone in this; I have many cohorts in this method of doing life!

I love the way Flint calls God’s openhandedness “full giving”… and that we only see the tip of that generosity: it is only beginning to kick in on our behalf.

I would dare say that everyone reading this hymnline today is approaching the end of their rope in some area of their life-journey – and as far as you can tell, the end of that rope is nearing more rapidly than we would like to admit. Go ahead and tie that proverbial knot and wait; stop trying to achieve success on your own. Allow God’s full-giving nature to activate itself in your situation. See if the burden isn’t lifted… or at least lessened.

Larry Ford from one of the Gaither Homecomings

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Praise him still the same as ever, slow to chide and swift to bless."

Hymn: “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” – Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847)
Common Tune: ANDREWS,

I think we have established that this is one of my favorite hymns, especially sung to the ANDREWS tune.

Today’s hymnline emphasizes in a few words two of my favorite attributes of God: 1) he never changes, and 2) he is more likely to bless us than to condemn us.

The changelessness of God is paramount to my being able to trust him in any and every situation. His faithful, un-waffling nature is at the core of all he is and does… universally and personally. This truth is borne out in Scripture and history; there is little else I need to say about that!

In Scripture, we are often reminded to 'fear' God. That word is more akin to the word ‘respect.’ It is not the cower-in-the-corner kind of posture that never knows what to expect next – a spanking or a hug. He is by his very perfected parental nature more likely to encourage and treat me with loving-kindness than he is to take me to the wood shed for corporal punishment!

Throughout the Old Testament, God is referred to as “slow to anger… abounding in steadfast love.” That’s exactly what this hymnline is getting at.

It is more comforting to face the day with a consistent Savior… one who is much more likely to bless me than to discipline me without cause. Recalling hymnlines like this one helps me remember this, even when I feel like I’m being pushed around and treated unfairly. With that confidence, I can praise him still. I can also be reminded to be consistently gracious and merciful - never quick to punish.

This hymn to the ANDREWS tune… a bit slower than I like it

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Praise with elation! Praise ev'ry morning, God's recreation of the new day!"

Hymn: “Morning Has Broken” – Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

Elation is one of those super-superlative words: it’s a word we reserve for true excitement… probably about as excited as we can get! So this early morning praise should be done with exhilaration and enthusiasm. [You know that enthusiasm has at its root “theos”; so it originally meant excited about God!] The assigning of worthiness should be unbridled… nothing held back.

I’ve always wondered if the next line is about God’s re-creating a new day for us to enjoy… or if it means that his providing a fresh start for his creation is a form of recreation… like we use the word for something we do in our spare time to re-energize ourselves. I think it could mean either one, and I’m not sure anyone ever pegged down the English author of children’s stories and plays to find out.

On some days I hear it as re-creation… on others, I think of it as recreation. Either way, God is to be praised for providing us with yet another morning – a start-over point.

My favorite moment from the movie version of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is when the cast realizes they have not handled the Messiah appropriately and begins to board the bus as they sing, “Could we start again please?” Each fresh morning is God’s answer to that question: “Yes, you may.”

From Lamentations 3:22-23 – “The Lord treats us with great loving-kindness, and it is new every morning.”

Art Garfunkel and Diana Krall

Monday, September 19, 2016

"Thy true religion in our hearts increase."

Hymn: “God of Our Fathers” – Daniel C. Roberts (1841-1907)

“If anyone gives a different teaching, not in agreement with the true words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the teaching which is in agreement with true religion, he has an over-high opinion of himself; being without knowledge, having only an unhealthy love of questionings and wars of words… But true faith, with peace of mind, is of great profit.” (from 1 Timothy 6:3-6 BBE)

I read a wonderful quote from Stephen Colbert online yesterday about how we Christians (and he is one) are going to either have to denounce our faith or get on with what we are called to do. He is absolutely right about that. I am convinced that in order to follow the true religion laid out for us in the gospel accounts of the words and actions of the One we call Lord, we must put that model into action.

True religion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” (James 1:27 CEB)

There’s a difference between caring about and caring FOR another person: the first is a distant concern; the latter is direct involvement. This scripture calls us to be a help to the helpless… not JUST women left without a husband and children living without parents.

It is a national holiday today, but I’m not going to become political here; taking sides on partisan issues is not my purpose with this blog. However, in order for “true religion” to increase in our hearts and our congregations, we have nowhere else to turn but to the life and ministry of Jesus. After all, “Where could I go but to the Lord?”

Do we want true religion to manifest itself in our hearts? Then we need to transfer that into our attitude and our actions. A good place to start might be caring FOR the marginalized… those whose support system has collapsed.

A prayer for today from another hymn: “Help of the helpless, O abide with me. Amen.”

This Hymn Played by US Marine Band

[07/19/2016 - I'm reposting this after my pastor's sermon yesterday about True Religion from James 1.]

Friday, September 2, 2016

Blessed Are the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest

I am going to get back to posting hymn devotionals one day soon, but for the time being, here's a hymn somewhat related to this weekend.
I guess I need to write a real Labor Day Hymn... since it is such the sacred holiday! However, here is one about rest from one's labors... that would be FINAL REST! Sorry to post a funeral hymn on such a festive weekend!
[For those of you who know "Fill the Earth with Music": Yes, this is that same tune. I seem to often fall into the pattern... and not everybody knows KING'S WESTON]

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)