Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Christ will gird himself and serve us." II

Hymn: “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship” – George Atkins

This is not exactly déjà vu, but I AM picking up with the same idea we dealt with yesterday – partly because I thought of another angle on the concept, and I’ve reflected on it several times today when dealing with those in the service industry…even at the drive-through at Taco Casa!

That ‘picture this’ of Jesus scurrying about between the tables when you’d think he should be in the place of honor… or at least sitting down with the rest of us to enjoy the meal… brought me back to a choir tour memory from several years ago with ‘my kids’ when I was minister of music at First Baptist here in Waxahachie. The ‘powers that were’  at the time always made us travel on an old Blue Bird school bus, no matter how far we were going. I’d beg for a ‘real’ bus, and one of the men-in-position would insist that the Blue Bird had been overhauled, and we should expect no trouble.

Immediately after high school graduation, we loaded 40+ teenagers and chaperones onto the Blue Bird and left the church parking lot; fortunately, we loaded the luggage onto the church van which (in theory) would follow us from central Texas to central Florida – you guessed it: DisneyWorld.
Somewhere in Mississippi on our first night out, the Blue Bird fizzled out on us for the first time, and we were stranded along the highway in the dark of night, miles from the nearest rest stop/bathroom. In our weary frustration, we unloaded the luggage from the van and began shuttling the kids several miles into the next town to the first and only restaurant open for breakfast. We dropped off a couple of adults and four or five teenagers and repeated the process about ten times.

Inside the restaurant, there was one – count ‘em – ONE waitress. Picture Flo from the 70’s sit-com. There were a couple of people in the kitchen, but I think one was only there to mop and clean up after customers. They were not delighted to know that over fifty people were on their way for breakfast.

The point of this story is that our adult chaperones jumped in and helped with everything that had to be done to get these kids fed. They were taking orders, pouring milk and orange juice, helping out in the kitchen – I definitely had a git-er-done group of chaperones that year.

Here’s the part that relates to the hymn-line: When we dropped off the last group from the bus, I walked into the restaurant and found OUR people serving while Flo took a smoke break over in a corner booth!!!

As I recalled this event, I had a continued understanding of what it meant for Christ to jump in and serve whenever the need arises… not just at the planned banquet, but in the emergency meal. The phrase “see a need and fill it” is not from Scripture, but it certainly describes what the Servant-Savior does – and what his followers should do, even in greasy spoon restaurants in Mississippi.

PS – The Blue Bird faltered on us several more times on this trip. We were late to a couple of concerts, and we missed one altogether. But it was probably the most memorable of all my choir tours. Thankfully, the bus is no longer with us… and no one mourned her final home-towing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Christ will gird himself and serve us."

Hymn: “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship” – George Atkins

Then he’ll call us home to heaven. At his table we’ll sit down.
Christ will gird himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.

We’re back to one of those ‘picture this’ hymn-lines, so go into your Hollywood director mode and visualize the Lord of all the universe in his waiter’s uniform.. maybe an apron.. racing from table to table being sure everyone is served.

I learned many good lessons from my parents, but one was to always be especially nice to the people who work in what we have dubbed the service industry. The most common of these are waiters and waitresses.

Nowadays, most of us frequent many restaurants during the course of a month, but my family seldom went out to eat when I was a child. It was so rare that I remember the first time we went to a sit-down restaurant – it was called the Hwy. 441 Restaurant in the heart of Pigeon Forge. It’s hard to believe that in the early fifties, it was one of only a handful of restaurants on the Branson-like strip which is now home to outlet malls and the entrance to Dollywood! George and Helen Worsham (friends of ours from church) owned and ran the restaurant; they lived upstairs above it. It was such a special event that I remember I wore a short-sleeved white shirt and a clip-on tie!

From Hedy and Raymond I learned a very good lesson about being extra nice to wait-staff in any establishment, especially restaurants. After all, kindness costs nothing… and takes a lot less energy than complaining!

Back to our Hollywood visualization: Here we sit as special invited guests at the table of our Lord; and instead of sitting at the head of table, he is carrying trays of sumptuous food… albeit manna… keeping our tea glasses filled, and being sure we are enjoying the event.

If I truly want to be Christ-like, I need to play this film-clip over and over in my head. I need to stop thinking of myself as entitled to sit and be served… and help serve everybody else. Perhaps churches need to develop a servant industry!... and not just at Wednesday night fellowship dinners!

The next time you are seated in your local restaurant, thank the host/hostess – and don’t always ask if they could seat you at another table. Be really nice to the person who brings the chips and salsa to the table. Be especially nice to the waiter/waitress. Speak a kind word of thanks to everybody in the place who serves you… even the cashier! We all know it is not easy work, but we also realize it is often a thankless job. We can change that by our realization that they may truly be those angels unawares that are mentioned in Hebrews 13:2. And it won’t hurt to add to the soundtrack of this clip Jesus’ whispering in the background, “If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

"Yielded and still, seeking thy will."

Hymn: “Speak to My Heart” – B. B. McKinney (1886-1952)

This hymn-line opens with a word of submission. To some that will sound negative, but I hope you’ll stay with me for a minute here. In its list of definitions, yield can mean to relinquish control, to surrender, to give up in an argument, or to cease resisting – among many others. It can also go toward bringing forth fruit, but I don’t think that one would apply here.

The second important word here is “still.” For my east Tennessee friends, when I first Googled for a definition, it brought up a description of moonshine still, but I somehow don’t think that’s the direction B. B. McKinney was headed in this case. He more likely had in mind subdued, quiet, calm, motionless. It could also be a poetic device where the second word restates the first: in other words, it would be like when a child has fought like crazy and suddenly just gives up – gets immediately still – he/she yields.
The place I’m most familiar with “yield” is in traffic. At an intersection or a merge-point, for my own safety and the safety of others, I’m instructed to allow the other vehicle(s) to move ahead of me – to surrender or submit. Unless I’m the bullying type, it’s the better choice in heavy traffic.

As I sing these words in worship, they sort of startle me, sort of like “I Surrender All,” and for a fleeting moment I wonder if I am singing truth or mimicking some spiritual platitude. Am I willing to give up the fight and in great stillness relinquish control of my life to the One who is being addressed in this prayer song? I also realize that in order to truly seek God’s will, I have to quieten myself and submit to a deeper level than I might usually opt for.

I’m big on proper punctuation. Parenthetically, why is it that the projected songs in worship are never punctuated correctly? But I digress yet again! In this hymn-line, if the comma were moved back two words, the truth of the phrase still holds up: “Yielded, and still seeking thy will.” In this case, still becomes an adverb meaning that I continue to seek God’s will. Just an observation: I’m not trying to rewrite the hymn – this time!

In my experience, “Finding God’s Will for Your Life” or similar phrases have been the title of countless books and sermon-series. They constitute some of the best-sellers at the Christian bookstores and draw some of the best audiences to workshops and preaching events – second only to topics centered on the book of Revelation I would guess.

In a mere six words, McKinney has saved us a lot of time. We don’t have to purchase yet another book or be herded into an arena for a talking head to over-explain a simple truth: acquiesce to God, calm down and wait – then you will more likely find his will clarified.

I hope we will always be found still doing this.
Listen to This Hymn
(Not a great example,
but I know this hymn is
 not common in
some worship traditions)

Friday, June 23, 2017

"Something lives in ev'ry hue Christ-less eyes have never seen."

Hymn: "I Am His, and He Is Mine" - George W. Robinson (1838-1877)

Recently on NPR, they were discussing the color of all things. Part of their discussion was that most people don't pay much consideration to color until someone or something draws their attention to it. In other words, because most of us see in vivid colors, we just take them for granted, not noticing how much the hues of our surroundings contribute to our enjoyment of all we see.

When the interviewee said that, I was driving out in the country; and suddenly, the greens got greener and the yellows got yellower. I notice how bright blue the sky looked. Even the farm houses began to pop out at me.

I teach art appreciation classes at the college where I add junk… I mean I’m an adjunct professor. I’m all the time telling my students to notice sounds, shapes, symmetry, and yes – color. I sometimes demonstrate that by displaying colorless paintings or photographs over against those that appear in living color! So I, of all people, should be more aware.

The line which precedes this hymn-line says heaven above is softer blue, and earth around is sweeter green. The statement which follows is about how birds with gladder songs o’erflow, and flow’rs with deeper beauties shine. I think Robinson is trying to point out that our closer-related association with Christ should make us more aware of the simplest, most beautiful things. We should have our ‘feelers out’ and be more sensitive to all good gifts… even the simplest, most basic which are missed by those whose Christ-less eyes have not ever noticed.

Our proximity to Christ opens us up to many blessings; on that, we probably all agree. But this hymn-line calls our attention to some of the lesser-religious ones – yet very sacred!

Today, notice the sounds, the shapes, smells and colors with more intention. Not because it’s an art class assignment, but because you are his and he is yours. I’m going to try to do that myself – O thou who pointest all this out to thy students – since I know as now I know I am his and he is mine.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia!"

Hymn: “For All the Saints” – William W. How (1823-1897)
Typical Tune: SINE NOMINE

Most of us would love to be brave of heart and strong of arm… like the biblical musician king, David.

I never saw the movie Braveheart. I am not into watch-the-exit-sign gore, and a friend of mine Steve Fullmer told me, “Do NOT see this movie, Rg. You’ll never make it through it.” So Carlita went to see it with our Denver dentist Wanda Dufrene. But I think of Mel Gibson running around in a kilt every time this hymn-line goes past!

This hymn-line is a reaction to having heard the “distant triumph song” of the saints who have gone before us into the realms of heaven… those who confessed their faith boldly for all the world to know… and who now rest from their labors.

If we could literally hear the songs of heaven ringing in our ears, I think our hearts would be strengthened, and we might more boldly, bravely stand up, stand up for Jesus as soldiers of the cross. The truth is I Can Only Imagine what that mighty chorus might be singing today, but I’m pretty sure a part of their repertoire is the great hymns of the faith, those they took with them to heaven, embedded deep within those brave hearts. “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty,” or “Crown Him with Many Crowns, the Lamb upon His Throne,” or “Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O God My Father.”

These distant songs of triumph sung by the heroes of the faith who stand face to face with Christ my Savior – these are the songs that may enliven my day and enbraven me, even when my heart is breaking and my physical abilities may have waned.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength… soar like eagles… run without weariness… walk without feeling faint.” (from Isaiah 40:29, 31)

Listen up, y’all! Join in the triumph song! Let’s hear it!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"The love of Jesus - what it is, none but his loved ones know."

Hymn: “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” – 12th Century Latin Hymn
            Attributed to Bernard of Clairevaux
            Translated by Edward Caswall (1814-1878)
Typical Tune: ST. AGNES

In our hierarchy of relationships, we have three categories that we seem to group together: friends, family, and loved ones. These often show up in obituaries or other lifetime articles; here, one of them shows up in the last line of an ancient hymn text… from nine centuries ago!

Our ‘loved ones’ seem to be those with whom a deep level of love is shared – reciprocated. This is probably the highest form of friendship and familial connection.

As of today I have 1,078 Facebook friends; some of those are family, some are friends, many are simply acquaintances… and a few are loved ones. I am Facebook friends with John Grisham, Johnny Depp and Dolly Parton, but we do not have a mutual appreciation for one another; I’m pretty sure they don’t read my blog!

I am a loved one of Jesus Christ… and he is a loved One of mine! We share a reciprocated relationship: I am his, and he is mine. I fall into that classification of people mentioned in today’s hymn-line, as do many (if not all) of you who read it regularly! WE understand the love of Christ: the width, the length, the height, the depth – the total volume! Paul put it this way:

“I pray … that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (from Ephesians 3:16-19)

Fellow loved ones: while you and I may be total strangers, we share the love of Christ; we are fellow-enjoyers of his voluminous affection. Only WE understand that. Let us not simply sit around in a circle and speak to one another about this warm relationship – although we probably don’t do that often enough; rather, let’s tell someone outside the circle in order that they may count themselves among Christ’s loved ones.

The love of Christ? Who can understand it? Only his loved ones!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"May thy rich grace impart strength to my fainting heart."

Hymn: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” – Roy Palmer (1808-1887)

“I’m just give out,” my mama would say as she lowered herself onto the rocking chair in the den. Bad English, perfect expression. There are indeed days when we are so droopy we doubt that we can actually go on; there are nights we fall into bed and wonder if we can get up and go again the next day simply because we are exhausted. We have overdone it, overextended ourselves.

“Because we have been given this work by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart,” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:1. It is not the being worn down physically that I fear: it is being worn out in my spirit. Losing heart in the midst of carrying out our various life-duties will cause us to implode.

I’ve never sung this hymnline and not whispered a “yes, Lord” under my breath! I know the dispensing of God’s grace is my only hope for not losing the wherewithal to go on. In order to do all the things necessary to survive as a human being in the 21st Century AND share in the work of my church and other ministering organizations, I simply must rely on the richness of the grace of God, believing that he has plenty enough to keep me going.

We all probably need to slow down more than we do. We tend to fill every minute with some activity. We sometimes ‘give out’ more than we ‘take in.’ We expect to be refueled by God’s grace while we’re on the run… sort of like planes are refueled in flight. Perhaps we need to land for a while and enjoy the re-infusion of grace in our lives, calmly accepting that provision, reflecting on its affect before we rush off to accomplish some other looming task.

When the fuel tank on my Rav-4 nears the E, I could save 7.4 minutes if I didn’t have to pull into the Shell station. But it doesn’t work that way. Neither does our spiritual life. We have to take time out to let our fainting heart be energized once again by the amazing grace… the grace that can be imparted only from the reservoir of God.

Hear an A Cappella Singing of This Hymn

Monday, June 19, 2017

"He is so precious to me."

Hymn: “He Is So Precious to Me” – Words & Music by Charles H. Gabriel (1856-1932)

If you didn’t grow up ‘rural,’ you may not be familiar with this one!

The word precious conjures up different responses from each of us. Our mind goes to words like costly, expensive… even priceless. You might even think of cher – the French word, not the singer – which translates to our word dear. It is most often applied to jewels and metals: precious rubies, precious gold, etc. In a contemporary chorus, we sing, Lord, you are more precious than silver… gold… diamonds.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum refers to the ring as “my precious,” In his case, he had a love/hate relationship with the thing he called precious; having lost it to Bilbo Baggins, he spent the rest of his days trying to retrieve it. Those of us who saw the film versions can still hear that guttural whispered speaking of “my precious.”

I hate to admit this, but this was what my mama called me: Precious! It was like her pet-name for me. When I was in trouble, peering over her glasses with furrows on her brow, she called me by my full name: Ronald George Huff. But most of the time, she called me Precious. When I was a kid, I hated it… especially in front of friends and family members – those loved ones from a few days ago!

Over time, her calling me that became precious to me because I grew to understand the deeper meaning of the word; I was of great value to her, and she expressed it with a word which communicated her affection in a much sweeter way than calling me “O Valuable One”!

So this old gospel song by Charles H. Gabriel (who is said to have written over 7,000 hymns/songs for the church), speaks to me on several levels. It brings back memories of singing it in my childhood, it reminds me of my mama, and it prompts me to express to Christ how dear he is to me – how valuable.
In case you haven’t sung it in a while, here is more of the text that leads to the refrain:
            So precious is Jesus, my Savior and King,
            His praise all the day long with rapture I sing.
            To him in my weakness for strength I can cling,
            For he is so precious to me.

            He stood at my heart’s door in sunshine and rain,
            And patiently waited an entrance to gain.
            What shame that so long he entreated in vain,
            For he is so precious to me.

More so than silver or gold, diamond or ruby, or sought-after ring, ‘Tis heaven below my Redeemer to know, for he is so precious to me.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"Touch with your pierced hand each common day."

Hymn: "Here at Thy Table, Lord" - May P. Hoyt

Today is probably going to be for most of us "just one of those days." For some, it will be especially good, perhaps exciting - a new love, a career change, the birth of a baby. For others, it may turn out to be a difficult day filled with pain and sorrow, maybe even tragedy. But my guess is that for most of us it will be a common day.

In our manic existence, we sometimes long for an un-frenzied day - one not marked by extreme highs or extreme lows. When asked, "How was your day?", we would be happy to respond, "Level."

Tucked in this tiny communion hymn (usually with only two stanzas printed), we find "Touch with your pierced hand each common day." Unless yours is a faith tradition that observes the Eucharist frequently... perhaps weekly... you don't have many opportunities during the church year to sing this text; but the next time you do, let this phrase resonate deep within you and be your earnest prayer.

Many of us (especially with Baptist backgrounds) know B. B. McKinney's standard gospel song whose refrain repeats the admonition to "place your hand in the nail-scarred hand." Here, however, we are pleading for the outstretched arm of him whose hands were riven, imploring his constant touch upon our lives at all times... even the common days.

It is sometimes easier to be acutely aware of God's touch when we are praising him for his blessings on our best days or begging for his help in those not-so-great times. Let us not overlook that guiding, upholding hand on those other days... like today.

Lord Jesus, in our common, ordinary, everyday lives, keep your nail-printed hand on us. As we glance at your strong fingers as they touch the deepest places of who we are, may those attendant wounds remind us that we are redeemed by the event that caused those marks. May those hands lift us when we are down, subdue us when over-stimulated, and lead us ever in the path that brings us closer to yourself... because we know from another hymn-line that the way of the cross leads home. Amen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"In deeper reverence, praise."

Hymn: “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” – John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
CommonTunes: REST (sometimes called ELTON), and REPTON

I love that many great poets - critically acclaimed, highly respected among literature scholars – wrote some meaningful poetic expressions of their Christian faith… and that some of those have been set to music, like this one.

The four-word phrase I’ve chosen for this hymnline is the ending of the first stanza. In context, it reads like this:
    In purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.

From pure motives may our service emerge. In the depth of reverence may we express our praise. What wonderful objectives for those of us who seek nearness to heart of God.

Reverence is becoming a rarely-practiced art. The noise of our worship doesn’t allow for that centering of our quiet self on “the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” (from Romans 11:33) Instead, the ecstatic joy of the Lord has become our strength.

Every now and then, though, the most exuberant worshiper has a strong craving to find the deeper reverence of solitude, one-on-One with the holy God… to be still and know for sure that God IS God.

Surface faith is nearly worthless. When the commitment and the submission are epidermic, it does little good… for the person or the kingdom.

O that we might in awe search out the depths of our faith experience – that we might be astonished at what we discover as the Almighty is quietly venerated. In the noiselessness, we might hear the still small voice more clearly and come away refreshed by the praise we render in the soundproof room of the soul.

Hear an A Cappella Singing of Two Stanzas of This Hymn (ELTON)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"Love is the theme, eternal theme."

Hymn: “Love Is the Theme” – Words & Music Albert C. Fisher (1886-1946)

This is a rollicking gospel song. I admit it sounds more like a skating rink song than a church-hymn. It doesn’t appear in many hymnals anymore, but it has a need-to-hear message for all of us - both as individuals and as congregants.

For today’s hymnline, I’m using the full text of the refrain:
    Love is the theme.
    Love is supreme.
    Sweeter it grows,
    Glory bestows.
    Bright as the sun,
    Ever it glows!
    Love is the theme,
    Eternal theme!

If you took out the phrase “glory bestows,” this could be a fine description of just about any kind of love, couldn’t it?

What a difference it would make in our personal lives if indeed, love were our theme – love which exhibits acceptance, grace, forgiveness… all those Jesus-qualities. What a difference it would make in our churches if love were INDEED our theme, not just some decorative addition to our mission statement or a word printed on our church letterhead.

Too many studies show that seekers are not as attracted to the preaching/teaching or the music style of a church as they are drawn to places where they feel love and un-qualified acceptance. So why don’t we listen better to those kinds of studies? I guess it’s easier to hire the best platform staff than it is to put ourselves out there in loving ways.

We’ve all had experiences like this, but while in North Carolina, Carlita and I drove to a nearby town to hear Cynthia Clawson in concert (which we are often prone to do) on a Sunday evening. We got there early and found our place in one of the pews in the beautifully-appointed sanctuary. As the church members began to arrive, it became obvious that we were in someone else’s pew. A group of about twelve people surrounded us and basically wedged us into the middle of their pew… and not one of them welcomed us or made us feel remotely loved. Would we have ventured back to that building if we had been looking for a church home? I doubt it seriously, in spite of their reputation for great preaching and music.

Another little hymn says: “Jesus was a loving teacher, helping people… know the love of God our Father, teaching them to love…” We need to stop whatever we are doing and let Jesus teach us once again to be loving by nature – to make love the REAL theme of our weekday lives and to let that theme wash over into Sunday!

Friday, May 26, 2017

"My never-failing treasure filled with boundless stores of grace."

Hymn: “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” – John Newton (1725-1807)

Did anybody recognize this hymnline when it first came up? It is from a hymn you have probably sung at some time – one by the same man who wrote “Amazing Grace.” I guess like all hymn authors, some of them stick, and others don’t!

But what a wonderful picture Newton sketches for us: a "never-failing treasure filled with boundless stores of grace.” You picture it in your mind, don’t you? That treasure chest (like the kind Jack Sparrow placed one foot upon in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) simply overflowing with more doubloons and jewels than it can hold. But the riches here are not so tangible. Newton goes back to that amazingness of grace and stacks it high to overflowing from its never-failing, never-ending Source – that Jesus whose name sounds so sweet in a believer’s ear… soothing sorrows, healing wounds, driving away fear, giving wholeness to wounded spirits, calming the troubled soul.

This hymnline is surrounded by lots of Christ-descriptors: rock, shield, hiding place, manna, prophet, priest, King, Lord – my life, my way, my end. So full of imagery and solid theology. My goodness, they don’t write them like that anymore!

Ever try to picture grace? I could direct your attention to the cross of Calvary… or I could remind you of that overflowing treasure chest. Both are pretty good images to bring up when I forget how grace-ful my Christ is.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Hallelujah! I have found him whom my soul so long has craved!"

Hymn: “Satisfied” – Clara T. Williams (1858-1937)

Eureka! This expression of delight at finally succeeding would be a great word to begin this hymnline; if it had another syllable, Clara T. Williams might have chosen it. Not that the word “hallelujah” isn’t a wonderful word for use in hymns, but “eureka” gets to the point of the excitement of having found that which has been long-sought.

Do you ever have a craving… an insatiate desire? Some people say they crave chocolate, but what they mean is “I’d sure like to have something that originated in Hershey, Pennsylvania, about now.” I’ve learned that whatever food for which I suddenly have a craving will be one that is not in our cupboard or fridge! I sometimes get a hankering for a Boberry biscuit – a decadent, sugar-drizzled breakfast item we learned to love from Bojangle’s fast-food restaurants in North Carolina. One of the reasons I can almost smell and taste that morning treat is that I know I cannot have one now that we’ve moved to the Bojangle’s-less state of Texas.

That’s how those kinds of yearnings usually turn out: unfulfilled.

But when our souls hunger and thirst for God, they are totally satisfied; God’s cupboard is well-stocked with all the spiritual blessings we can think of… and he knows exactly which shelf they rest on in order to get them to us quickly.

Jesus tells us in the beatitudes of Matthew 5 to hunger and thirst after righteousness. If we understand righteousness not as some condition of perfection but as the state being rightly related to God in Christ, it is not only something we might crave: it is a craving we can gratify. It is a positional relationship, not a conditional one.

Robert Browning said, “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” Great quote, of course. Better yet, “God’s in his heaven, and all’s right between him and me.” I find that to be a much better view of what righteousness means.

I can easily sing the refrain of this gospel song and mean it. Whether I say eureka or hallelujah, it is true of my own personal, spiritual longing… because the next line says, “Jesus satisfies my longings.”

Today, may you be given the deepest desires of your heart. Can I get an “amen”? Or a “eureka”?!

Gaither Vocal Band Sings This Hymn

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"With upright heart I give tender care and sympathy."

Hymn: “Dear Lord, Lead Me Day by Day” – Francisca Asuncion (1927-    )

You may not be familiar with this prayer hymn based on a Philippine folk song. It has appeared in more recent hymnals, but as fewer congregations refer to those pew books, it may well be overlooked. This hymn-line is, however, worth visiting.

Originally written as a children’s hymn, the refrain is simple, child-like… almost ‘cute’:
            Praise to God, Fount of love, praise from morn till set of sun,
            Praise at home, praise at church, praise to God ev’rywhere on earth.

Today’s hymn-line is the final one of the last stanza: With upright heart I give tender care and sympathy. I am attracted to this poetic sentence because we sometimes confuse the terms “caring for” and “taking care of.”

It is possible to take care of someone without truly caring about them. In other words, we may be in a position to help someone – to take care of their needs – and do it passively, perhaps out of duty… or even because we are paid to do so. Our attitude may be “Well, somebody has to do it!”

However, those who take care of someone while truly caring about them are wonderful examples of the way Christ taught us to serve others. These are those who connect with the person in need, have compassion on them, and take care of the situation to the best of their ability.

For me, the best example of this may be at your local hospital: nurses. Having spent many hours in hospital rooms with both my parents, my wife, and friends and family members, I have observed some on the nursing staff who breeze in, tend to the needs of the patient, and quickly move on to the next. They do the job for which they are paid… and they do it with great proficiency.

On the other hand, we have all witnessed the nurse who treats the patient with great interest, who speaks to them with kindness, who truly cares for the person… not just their immediate health needs. These are the ones who (whether they realize it or not) are following that example of the Great Physician… the sympathizing Jesus.

To be this kind of caretaker, humility is required. Time is required. The ability to identify-with is required. Unhurried, sincere attention is given, and the result is more healing than the aforementioned laissez faire approach.

I saw this so much during my mother’s final visits to Fort Sanders Presbyterian Hospital in Knoxville. Those round-the-clock nurses truly cared about Hedy Huff; they liked her and enjoyed her; they went out of their way to be sure she was well cared for. I flew in from Denver and arrived at the hospital just a few minutes after my mother had died and was met as I stepped off the elevator by my daddy, other family members, Preacher Cope… and several weeping nurses. It was at that moment I realized the difference between “caring for” and “taking care of.”

If you ever have opportunity to sing this hymn, I hope you’ll remember this little blog post. And the next time you see someone giving care-full attention the needs of another, thank them for it. Then go thou and do likewise!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us..."

Hymn: “For the Fruit of All Creation” – Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)
Typical Tune: AR HYD Y NOS

This hymn has a recurring phrase that ends many of the lines: “Thanks be to God!” It’s a phrase many of us say every Sunday morning in response to the statement, “This is the Word of the Lord.”  As we sing this great hymn, it becomes our repeated common proclamation.

“For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love has found us, thanks be to God.”

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” I hear people say often. When we get to the point that we are beyond being amazed, astonished, or even flabbergasted, we have stepped outside that realm where God can still astound us… where our reaction can still be awe – even child-like wonder. The great mysteries of God still throw me a curve; I am rarely involved in serious Bible study or theological conversation when I don’t have a flash of amazement. It’s that mystery that keeps me coming back for more. I don’t even WANT to discover all the answers; I want to keep digging and learning, and growing from what I find.

The truth we discover can confound or befuddle us. In fact, it probably SHOULD stupefy us and cause us to stand astonished. Knowing the truth and letting it set us free: what a goal for those of us who are God-seekers.

As Fred Pratt Green concludes, we should be most astounded and confounded by the fact that love has sought us out – that God has been worshiper-seeking (John 4:23), and we have been found. It’s like a grand game of hide-and-seek in which WE were hiding, love was seeking.

For all this, we say as if prompted by Sunday’s lector, “Thanks be to God.”

Hear This Hymn Tune Played at the Organ

Hear a Congregation Sing This Hymn

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"How he loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, never more."

Hymn: “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” – Samuel Trevor Francis (1834-1925)

In describing this deep, deep love of Jesus, Samuel Francis uses some great descriptors:

Tuckaleechee Caverns - Townsend, Tennessee
  • ·         Vast
  • ·         Unmeasured
  • ·         Boundless
  • ·         Free
  • ·         Mighty
  • ·         Full
  • ·         Underneath me
  • ·         All around me.

I suppose we can’t talk (or write) enough about the love of Jesus; obviously, we can’t sing enough about it! It is, you recall, something that only his loved ones know. Beyond explanation or comprehension, the love of Jesus is in every way too precious to put into words! But we keep trying, we who think "the ink of the writer is more powerful than the blood of the martyr."

In my part of Tennessee, we have lots of caverns – incredible creations of God turned into tourist attractions. These made for wonderful field trips during elementary school days. Nothing quite as grand as Carlsbad, but every bit as fascinating. Most were inhabited at one time long ago by native Americans which added to my personal interest in them, even as a child: age-old smoke stains still clinging to the ceilings in the large ‘rooms.’

After paying a modest fee, we would begin our descent into the lower regions of the earth, following a guide dressed in a faux park ranger uniform. We’d finally arrived at the end of the tour, and he would flip a light-switch and plunge us into deep darkness. That was my least favorite part, by the way! It was realizing among all those stalactites and stalagmites that I was deep inside the planet – that’s what I loved.

Those are the memories which come back to me when I sing this hymn about the deep, deep love of Jesus. 
But today’s hymn-line that Jesus ever, ever loves and never, never changes – this is the one I am drawn to. I admit that I wonder if the writer borrowed that nevermore word from Edgar Allen Poe! Even if he did, I love his use of it here.There is something about the always-ness of God that attracts me to him and in turn, causes me to try to attract others to him.

Quoth the hymnwriter, “Nevermore.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

“Just a smile from my Savior, I know, will thro’ the ages be glory for me.”

Hymn: “O That Will Be Glory” – Words and Music by Charles H. Gabriel (1856-1932)

We all seem to have some preconceived notions of what heaven… or glory… is going to be like. Some of these are based on scripture, some on traditions, some on hymns and gospel songs, and some are just based on what we ‘want’ it to be like.

The man who wrote such hymns as “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” and “In Loving-Kindness Jesus Came” draws a poetic picture here of what he anticipates by the closing line of the chorus: “When by his grace I shall look on his face, THAT will be glory for me.” You may have heard me say before that the one thing we agree on about heaven is being eternally in the presence of Christ… that “face to face with Christ my Savior” kind of event.

This certainly holds true in this hymn. The three things Gabriel looks forward to are 1) being near the dear Lord he adores, 2) looking on the face of Jesus, and 3) finding on that face an endearing, glad-to-have-you-home smile. I have to admit that I concur.

One of the best things we can share with another is a smile – a genuine, heart-felt smile. Many a teacher, coach, parent have shown approval by nothing more than a nod and a smile. Nothing seems to communicate “good job” any better – no trophies, no ribbons, no gradebook entries.

And from the Savior of humankind, we all would like to hear the “well done, good and faithful servant” commendation; but mostly, we want him to lower his chin a bit and show his teeth through the upturned edges of his lips.

Meanwhile, it is our calling in this life to bring joy and a sense of value to those we encounter throughout the day, especially those whose station in life may not be brightened by very many smiles – the waitress, the grocery checker, the janitor, the bus driver, etc. Those who serve us are often the least appreciated and are least-often the recipient of a smile and the words “good job.” Unto the least of these, we need to constantly BE the presence of Christ. Then we can enjoy HIS smiling face all the more, and that will be glory.
(Sorry about the bouncing ball!)

Friday, May 12, 2017

“For the joy of human love… for all gentle thoughts and mild.”

Hymn: “For the Beauty of the Earth” – Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917)
Common Tune: DIX

Unless you are a hermit or a real loner, you will agree with this hymnline because few of us can exist without some kind of human affection – from spouses, family members, close friends, folks at church, people with whom we work, etc. We know the warming effect of someone’s entrance into the room and that racing-forward smile when you greet someone special at the airport… just outside security, of course!

I think it is a universal emotion: love. While all cultures do not base their marriages on love, those people MUST have others they care about and enjoy – someone without whom they could hardly exist. This world-wide finding joy in the reciprocated fondness for another human is at the heart (no pun intended) of our relishing this life promised to us in abundance.

In these joy-based relationships, we don’t fear one another. Instead we have gentle thoughts and mild reactions. This gentleness and this mildness are peaceable, calm, kind, pleasant; one of the synonyms is “easy-going.” In other words, we don’t have to constantly work to keep these affiliations intact; such connections become a natural part of who we are and who THEY are.

Some of us have found a life-mate whose presence brings us this kind of joy. We are fortunate indeed to have joined our lives with theirs... and in some cases attached ourselves to the larger loving pool of their family. Some have bound themselves through other means and avenues of friendly interaction. If you fall into either of those categories, you need to sing with confidence the line which follows in this text: “Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise” – because these loving relationships are God’s provisions, and they have been rationed out in just the right proportions to keep us ever happy and ever blessed.

Hear This Hymn Sung

Thursday, May 11, 2017

“O let our joy be unconfined. Let us sing with freedom unrestrained.”

Hymn: “Sometimes Alleluia” – Chuck Girard (1943-    )

Unlike many of my choices, this is not from Crosby, Wesley or Watts. This one is more like something from Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Written by a member of Love Song, the first Christian rock band to achieve success, this quiet, calming early chorus-style hymn is one many us remember singing at camps and rallies in the late 70’s and early 80’s. This hymnline is an admonition to worshipers, encouraging a freed-up response to the Presence.

You all know by now that I’m pretty straight-laced when it comes to congregational singing, preferring the sturdy to the slight. Over the years of exposure, I realize that bits and pieces of some of the less-than-sturdy texts and tunes have invaded my memory bank, and that these – like the hymn fragments upon which this blog is based – come to the forefront at times when I need their self-contained brief messages. THIS is one of them.

Generally speaking, we traditionalists are a timid people when it comes to our worship. We are likely to be more constrained than we are to be uninhibited… more guarded than outwardly expressive. This text calls us to release ourselves and speak/sing our truest feelings about God and to God as we worship privately and corporately.

My attempts to “maintain” during worship may disallow me from releasing my praise.

We – you and I – need to be sure we don’t allow the spiritual straight-jacket of our upbringing or our style preference to hold us back from letting God see and hear our real self.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to dance about the room and cast off our clothing a la David in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 6) – nor does it mean we have to raise our hands or sway back and forth like the audiences on AMERICAN IDOL. It does mean that our best worship happens when we don’t hold back from God the best expression of our truest feelings.The person next to us need not know how immersed we are in the experience, and we certainly shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, whatever form our expression takes.

For me, you may not see it on the outside with raised hands or dancing feet, but I just may be “letting myself go” on the inside. After all, if my worship is truly for God, what he sees and knows is more important than what YOU see and know!

In our worship, we have to some extent built up prison walls around ourselves, punctuated by razor-wire that insures our security. It may be time to step out of our confinement… to put our San Quinten behind us. This could become a break-out experience for us. Willing to give it a try?

Hear This Song

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

“He for conflict fits and arms us.”

Hymn – “Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him” – Thomas Ken (1637-1711)
Common Tune: ACCLAIM

“He for conflict fits and arms us,
Nothing moves and nothing harms us
While we trust in him.”

This is not a line from “Onward, Christian Soldiers” or one of the more militant hymn texts. While it may have had some battle implications when Thomas Ken penned these words, their application works for us in our everyday lives which, like it or not, are filled with conflict – some great, some miniscule… but often at the moment seeming insurmountable.

We have put on the whole armor of God from Ephesians 6, haven’t we? Aren’t we dressed head-to-toe with the belt of truth, vest of righteousness, shoes of readiness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and prayer? According to Paul’s letter, these will make it possible for us to stand firm in the midst of all kinds of evil.

We have been well-suited to our environment. We are tailor-made to be God’s people – fearfully and wonderfully constructed. We need to look to our strengths (above) and not hide behind our weaknesses. Nothing can move us entirely off-balance because we are planted firmly in our relationship with our Designer. We may get roughed up a bit – even injured in the conflict – but no spiritual harm will come to us while we trust in him.

When I got up this morning, I didn’t go looking for conflict; but it always seems to find me! You probably feel the same way. Well, let’s agree not to let it defeat us. Let’s hold up under the struggle, believing that the Tailor has clothed us well. His armor is a perfect fit.

This Hymn Karaoke-Style!

Friday, May 5, 2017

"All things bright and beautiful... the Lord God made them all."

Hymn: “All Things Bright and Beautiful” – Cecil F. Anderson (1818-1895)
Common Tunes: ROYAL OAK, SPOHR

First, let me say that I love this hymn text… set to most any tune. I especially love John Rutter’s setting (see below). I always enjoy singing it and love what it has to say. However…

For those of us who are not so bright and beautiful, I want to say that the Lord God made US all, too! “All things dull and hideous” would not make nearly such a great hymn title, but the Lord God did make them/us all.

I know it’s a children’s hymn about nature and not human-kind, but admit it: all of God’s creatures great and small are not all that lovely. Let’s talk about alligators, naked mole rats, blobfish, and Madagascar’s aye aye. Did you ever see a close up of a California condor? But the Lord God made all those, too.

Now that I think through the text, all of us aren’t all that wise and wonderful either. Some of us are dim-witted and average-ish. The good thing is that most of us are bright in our own way and beautiful to someone.

Fellow not so bright, unattractive, everyday folk: we were designed by God and cared about just as much as the most brilliant Homo sapiens and the most striking flora and fauna. This hymn is about all of us; we only sing about the attractive living things.

I’ll remove my tongue from my cheek now so I can sing this wonderful hymn!

Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sings Arrangement of ROYAL OAK Tune

John Rutter Conducting His Setting of This Text

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"But we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own."

Hymn: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” – Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863)

I think I would have enjoyed getting to know Fredrick Faber. First of all, he was British, so I’m sure he was fascinating… had probably visited Downton Abbey. He was a deep-thinking theologian, and his thoughtfulness is obvious in a couple of his other hymns: “Faith of Our Fathers” and “My God, How Wonderful Thou Art” for instance. I would love to have had tea with him and been able to discuss theology!

This hymn overflows with pithy one-liners; it is packed full of thought-out truths, versified for singing. The first stanza is worth the price of ticket:
       “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.
         There’s a kindness in his justice which is more than liberty.”

Woah! As I often say, “I wish I had written that!”

But today’s hymnline is so on-target and speaks such a loud message to the church today… a century and a half later. The limiting of God’s love is of our own doing; the boundless love which Scripture teaches has been pulled back and boxed in by humankind, and exclusion has replaced inclusion. This troubles me a lot… a whole lot! Where in Holy Writ do we find a teaching of Jesus that tells us to draw a line outside which the love of God is not available? I don’t find it.

This hymnline is followed by an even more cautionary thought: “And we magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own.” Read that again and ponder for a moment those times when we as individuals and congregations and denominations have made way too much of the vengeful, angry, strict… even bullying… God, and forgotten to magnify his loving, forgiving, grace-filled nature. We’ve done it (according to Faber) with a fervor that God himself will not allow.

I know I’ve “gone to preaching” here, but this is one of my tallest soapboxes! And this grand old long-dead English poet-theologian verbalizes it so very, very well. If I had the opportunity to sit down to tea with him, I think his spirit would agree with my spirit, and I’d have to say, “You go, Fred!” He’d laugh, I’d blush – then we’d talk more about the nature of God in Christ Jesus.

“Father, forgive us for magnifying your strictness when we KNOW you are a merciful, kind, open-armed Deity. Teach us a lesson from this hymnline. Amen.”

Sung by Young Men’s Choir from England


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Be to the helpless a helper indeed."

Hymn: “Make Me a Blessing” – Ira B. Wilson (1880-1950)

Gospel songs like this one which sound a little more like a skating rink or an amusement park carousel than Sunday morning worship must have been quite popular in the 1950’s because we sang this one a lot. It was sort of a ‘go-to’ song… maybe like “Shine, Jesus, Shine” has been for the past few years.

For me, this song takes me back to Pigeon Forge First Baptist Church and the carefree singing of a text about people who are “weary and sad.” Fortunately, there wasn’t a disconnect there when I was a child; but the words stuck in my mind… and hopefully in my actions!

A lot is said about churches that spend more time on the social gospel than they spend on the evangelistic gospel. Anyone who knows me will have heard me say that the church should reach up (in worship), reach in (through fellowship/discipleship) and reach out (with missions and ministry). I compare it to a three-legged stool like Ma Huff used to sit on to milk the cows; the three legs kept her stable and flexible. The healthiest churches are those who cover all three of those areas fairly equally… neglecting none of them.

A part of the third ‘leg’ is helping those in need. This hymnline is succinct in its call to us: “Be to the helpless a helper indeed.” It may remind you of an oath made by a Boy Scout, but it is definitely a call to those of us who have decided to follow Jesus.

Quite honestly, it is easier to help those who have not yet totally reached rock bottom. Helping the truly helpless – that requires our humbling ourselves and arriving at the servant-place to which Christ was willing to stoop in order to conquer.

Want to really minister? We probably need to be on the lookout for the truly helpless… and they are legion! When we discover these types, let’s not just refer some local ministry to follow up on them with food, shelter or counseling. Let’s take time out to share our life with them – not in order to report our adventure to our Christian compadres, but to BE Christ to those who have no one else to go to bat for them.

We won’t have to look far.

This hymn beautifully sung by a young girl… without this stanza, however!

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Adoration leaves no room for pride."

Hymn: “When in Our Music God Is Glorified” – Fred Pratt Green (1903-     )
Typical Tune: ENGLEBERG

This new hymn (1972) is one you may have not sung, especially if you are in a projector-driven service where for the most part only the hymns with familiar tunes are included. Even so, this one would be worth teaching to any congregation and making it as familiar as “How Great Thou Art”!

It’s common lack of use notwithstanding, Fred Pratt Green's hymn is filled with wonderful phrases about worship – especially the musical elements. It ranks right up there with “Fill the Earth with Music.” :) … or perhaps it’s the other way around!

This hymn-line drives home a very, very important truth about what happens when engaged in acts of adoration – or worship: there is no room for the ego! My personal pride must be set aside in order that I can express how proud I am of God… how much he is revered… what a high value we place on him. In order for him to be magnified (increase), I take the place of humility (decrease). See John 3:30.

To put that into the language of music, I must decrescendo so he must crescendo!

There is no place for show business in the worship business. Entertainment is not commensurate with a spirit of sincere worship. I am startled by it every time I sing this hymn; fortunately the congregations I have led most recently have known and appreciated this hymn. It is one I catch myself singing on my own – a lot actually – because I need to be reminded of this as much as anyone: hubris and holiness are not compatible.

It doesn’t mean that my personal tastes must be set aside in order that the person down the pew from me can exercise his/her preferences. To me, this says that when we approach the throne together, we ALL have to ‘check our pride at the door.’ The narthex of every church in the world this morning should be stacked to the ceiling with pride-backpacks left there by those who have entered the sanctuaries/worship centers. Perhaps we need to install a pride-check closet instead of a coat-check closet!

You’ve heard the phrase “my pride and joy”? In worship, these two cannot genuinely coexist. We should be going after a pride-less joy. It could revolutionize corporate worship, especially if all of us in the room – the leaders and the participants – all of us set aside the deadly sin* of pride. When that happens, I think the adoration that emerges might be unprecedented, overwhelming.

It is a more exciting thought that I can get my mind around. I’m sincerely waiting for that to happen one Sunday morning – maybe even this week.

  * The seven deadly sins are: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Most would say that pride is at the root of the other six!

Friday, April 28, 2017

"What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals"

Some of you might find this article interesting. It speaks TO me and FOR me!

"Peace is there that knows no measure."

Hymn: “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” – John Bowring (1792-1872)
Typical Tune: RATHBUN

In this seven-word phrase, the prolific poet/hymn writer John Browning captures the essence of the disposition of those who have found their place in the shadow of the cross of Christ. Not only is the peace immeasurable, it is also beyond explanation.

Those of us who have lived the faith-life for most of our days have trouble explaining our REAL reaction to the cross-event. While to us it may “go without saying,” sometimes it needs to be said – to be expressed. The great hymns of the church give us that opportunity.

I’ve also spoken the language of music for most of my life. I’m the kind who when bowling (yes, I bowl occasionally... have my own ball and shoes!) invariably asks what measure we are in. I know full well they are called frames, but I group my downed pins into measures. My favorite bowling meter is 10/4 by the way… as it is with my CB radio talk.

Those of us who use another language all the time sometimes forget that everyone around us doesn’t speak that language or understand it. That’s why sometimes we need to explain ourselves… even with spiritual things. When another is struggling without any sense of direction or stability in their lives, we can speak a word of peace – and if appropriate, carry that description to the cross where we achieve that peace that surpasses understanding or carnal comprehension.

Lost that peaceful easy feeling that once you overwhelmingly sensed at the cross? Maybe it’s time to go back for a refresher course in how a tragic death can instill in us such concord.

Call a ceasefire with your raging self.

This text set to Bach “Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Fills my ev'ry longing (and) keeps me singing as I go."

Hymn: “There’s within my Heart a Melody” – Words and Music by Luther Bridgers (1884-1948)

Some of us know this hymn as “He Keeps Me Singing,” but more hymnals nowadays are using the first line of the first stanza as the title. Either way, this is one most of us evangelicals know pretty well!

The line I chose today is from the end of the refrain:
    Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Sweetest name I know
    Fills my ev’ry longing, keeps me singing as I go.

With all due respect to Mr. Bridgers, I’m not sure about the use of “every” in that last line. I’ve sung that phrase since I was knee-high to nothin’, but am a little quizzical about that concept. In the first place, I’m not sure it is a biblical teaching; in the second place, if Jesus filled my EVERY longing, I’d be in some deep trouble, wouldn’t you? Spiritually speaking, my Savior fills most of my sacred longings; but I have longed for some gifts, talents… even opportunities… that have not yet been achieved.

I’m okay singing that line because the second half is so very true for me. Though not a great singer (one of those unfulfilled longings!), I always have a song going in my head… and sometimes on my lips. To quote a couple of other hymns: “How can I keep from singing?” and “I sing for I cannot be silent.” It’s just part of my nature to be swimming in some melody or adrift in a great hymn text. Like some of you, many times it is a song – and not a scripture or a prayer - that pulls me out of the doldrums and invigorates my spirit.

With a few unfulfilled longings, we can still maintain a singing habit. It’s one habit worth nurturing!

Listen to a Group-Singing of This “Homecoming Style”!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"While all that borrows life from thee is ever in thy care."

Hymn: “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Generally speaking, we Christians have to be reminded often that our very existence is on loan to us. Our minutes, our days, our years – our lifetime – are not truly ours; these are borrowed from the eternal timeline of the mighty, powerful God who made the mountains rise, spread the flowing seas, and built the lofty skies.

Time has become one of our most precious commodities. In some ways, we are more protective of our calendars than we are our bank accounts. Unlike my bank, I do not get an alert from heaven’s Timekeeper to let me know that my account is under 500 hours… that I’m running out of time.

From secular marketing, I picked up a lot of personal rules for my ministry. One guiding force was the hook from a Cadillac print ad I saw in the early 80’s: “We respect your time almost as much as you do.” That’s one I followed religiously… so to speak!

We DO value our time, especially our free time – our time away from our income-producing hours. If we’re not careful, we’ll begin to hoard those free moments… forgetting that ALL our time is on loan from the Time Bank. Unlike Joshua, we may not be able to make the sun sit still or stop the fast-ticking clocks while we conquer our time-consuming enemies. We CAN, however, be reminded by hymnlines like this one that we are truly on “borrowed time.”

Watts points out that however much time we are appropriated, the Time Giver does not lose track of us – we are ever in his care. He is constantly securing his loan! (Don’t try to turn that into a good banking analogy.)

This hymnline runs parallel to Psalm 31:15: “My time, O Lord, is in your hand.” The One whose hand provides us with life also holds us. The Time Loaner is also our Caretaker.

Thank you, Isaac Watts, for the aide memoire!

Hear This Hymn to the ELLACOMBE Tune

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"O may my love to thee pure, warm and changeless be."

Hymn: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” - Ray Palmer (1808-1887)

This is one of my favorite hymns. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I have several! This one would definitely make the top ten… most days! Rich in language and deep in theology, Ray Palmer has expressed his faith in ways with which I identify and resonate. This is definitely one of those texts that works as a devotional hymn as well as it does as a congregational expression.

The line of this prayer-hymn that I’ve selected for today helps us understand what it means to love in general… and in this case how our love for Christ is exhibited.

All of us express love in different ways. [If you’ve never read Gary Chapman’s THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES, get a copy. It’s NOT just a marriage-help book!] Whatever our way of expressing love, these three are foundational:

- Pure: not motivated by self-gain, without mixed motive, unpolluted.
- Warm: engaging, affectionate, expressive.
- Changeless: consistent, never in doubt, unswerving, dependable, constant, stable.

These define a loving relationship of any kind; these set the standard. They describe God’s love for us and kindle within us the longing to reciprocate.

This hymnline is the prayer of my heart. I hope you share that desire.

Mahalia Jackson Sings This Hymn

Footnote: Ray Palmer was a pastor in the Congregational church. He wrote several books and published his hymn/poem collections. His two hymns that are still widely used are this one and “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” – another of my favorites, of course!

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Everywhere that we may be, Thou, God, art present there."

Hymn: “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

We’ve all played hide-and-seek. When we were very young, we hid in plain sight… and still our older cousins pretended we were difficult to find. As we matured as hiders, our task was to become so well concealed that even the most-experienced seeker would be hard-pressed to discern our undiscoverable lair.

God is everywhere, according to this hymnline; we call it his omnipresent nature. He is at all places at all times – not one of the easiest attributes to truly comprehend. We need not think of God as “it” in a children’s covert game. While he may be in all places at once, he is not lurking about to tag us and send us running for another secretive location.

True, God IS everywhere; but my concept of his constant-presence is that he is also constantly available… to protect, guide, enlighten… to extract if necessary. He is also continuously accessible to listen – and perhaps speak.

If we have a predatory concept of the ever-present One, fearing his over-looking of our every move, we might check our legalism quotient. The scales of our lives might well be tilted away from grace.

“O LORD, you have searched for me and you know where to find me. You know where I sit and when I stand up. You are aware when I come into a room and when I exit; you even know when I lie down. Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I retreat to a high place or low place – even if I try to settle somewhere far away from home, even there you will be to guide me and hold me close.”  (from Psalm 139:1-3, 7-10 RgV)

Accept the reality that God is wherever you are, and take advantage of his presence. Don’t retreat to your hidey-hole and pretend he is absent. Lean on him; talk to him. Listen, learn, be safe. Enjoy the everywhere-ness of God.

The Ball Brothers Sing This Hymn

Friday, April 21, 2017

"None other is so loving, so good and kind."

Hymn: “He Lives” – Words and Music by Alfred Ackley (1887-1960)

The level of love, goodness and kindness present in Christ Jesus is like no other. If you stack these qualities found in anybody else, his stack is always taller.

These are three of the nine fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23: LOVE, joy, peace, patience, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.* Each of these is also a great descriptor of Jesus himself. I guess if Ackley had included a few more measures in this hymn, he could have included all nine… because none other is so-any-of-them!

When we look for role models, we need to look first to the One who is in a category all by himself – that being perfection. Then we look for humans whose lives stack up highest in these areas. Ultimately, we set out to measure up personally… not to perfection but to high achievement!

Look for Jesus in others today. Be Jesus to others today.

Not a bad epitaph to leave behind: He/She was loving, good and kind.

NOTE: This ends our week-long post-Easter guided tour through this great gospel song. I hope you've enjoyed the journey! Next week we'll be onto more hymns that speak to us one line at a time.

* - An easy way to remember these nine fruit of the Spirit is that the first three are one syllable, the second three are two syllables, and the third group is three syllables.

Sing-along Version

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)