Thursday, December 14, 2017

"He comes to make his blessings flow."


Carol: “Joy to the World” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Tune: ANTIOCH

We have innumerable blessings, you and I. It's an inexhaustible list. Do you see how those blessings pile up? That’s a blessing in itself!

This Isaac Watts carol is really a re-versification of Psalm 98; if you read that Psalm, you’ll see the parallels. Today’s hymnline follows the phrase, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.” In place of the infestation of these negative aspects of life, “He comes to make his blessings flow (as) far as the curse (of sin) is found.”

There are many reasons Christ came; we could grab a legal pad and start making another list! But one of them is to replace the curse of sin with the blessings of himself – so that his blessings might flow into and through our lives… for our own edification and for those around us who may still be up to their necks, strangled by the thorns of sin and sorrow.

It is a shame when a blessing comes into our lives, stops there, and goes no further. “Paying it forward” was a Biblical principle long before it was a movie or a common catch phrase. As the blessing pile higher and higher, we become hoarders… yea, even Scrooge-like!

Let me give us another challenge for the Advent season: Because he comes to make his blessings flow, let’s pass along every blessing we possibly can. Let’s take up the blessing industry and be about our Father’s business!

Lord Christ, may every blessing that flows into me flow out of me into someone else. Amen.

Hear Choir from George Fox University

Hear Dolly Sing This Carol (with Stella on the Front Row!)
Sorry she doesn’t sing this stanza.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, praise God and on him cast your care."


Hymn: “All Creatures of Our God and King” – Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
Tune: LASST UNS ERFREUEN

All of us deal with pain now and then (physical and otherwise). We all encounter periods of great sorrow. There are some, it seems who bear pain and sorrow continuously, rarely escaping the two specters that loom about them. I experience a certain level of pain and sorrow for people like that, trying to identify with their station.

Some people who are dealt pain and sorrow daily respond by becoming angry and difficult. Others retreat into their own shell and reclusively try to deal with their dilemma. The ones which always surprise me, though, are those who rise above the difficulty to be people who praise their Maker in spite of where they find themselves. These are the folks who neither complain nor boast but genuinely throw themselves on the mercy of God… who cast all their cares upon the One who controls all of life – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When one of these saints finally loses their struggle – whose long pain and sorrow is turned to eternal health and joy – we celebrate their final healing, their moving at long last into the face-to-face beholding of their Savior.

During these weeks of preparation for Christmas, be more aware of those who have long suffered pain and borne sorrow for many years; if you get the opportunity, encourage them to cast that care upon the Savior whose birth we are about to celebrate.

If that person is you, O praise him! O praise him! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Accapella Setting


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"And all flesh shall see the token that God's word is never broken."


Carol: “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” – Johannes G. Olearius (1611-1684)
Tune: GENEVAN 42

Catherine Winkworth’s translation of this ancient hymn text grabs me, reminding me that throughout time, God has presented us with signs of his promises: the rainbow in Noah’s day, the pillar of fire for Moses’ troops, the covenant with Abraham, and ultimately revealing himself in THE Sign: the Lord Christ. It is that revelation that we come to celebrate during this season.
 
The sending of his Son was the ultimate token of his everlasting promise to the people of Israel. At Bethlehem’s manger, God is saying, “See. I keep my word. I always do.” On a nearby hillside the angels echo the sentiment, “Unto you a Savior is (finally) born” – that Savior you’ve been anticipating since the beginnings of the covenant relationship God had with the Jewish nation.

This carol is a great versification of Isaiah 40, opening with the same statement we find there spoken to the prophet by the Lord:  “Comfort, comfort ye my people.” In 40:5, we find the text on which my favorite Christmas chorus from MESSIAH is based: "And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.” It is from THIS passage that today’s hymnline is lifted; I think you can see the parallels without my going on and on about them!

These two centuries later, we need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness; what God says, he will do – eventually, finally. And even though “Standing on the Promises” is not a song for this season, that’s exactly what we need to continue to do.
Hear the Choir of Conrad Grebel College

Monday, December 11, 2017

"Let loving hearts enthrone him."


Carol: “What Child Is This?” – William C. Dix (1827-1898)
Tune: GREENSLEEVES

A carol that begins with a question, winds its way through the manger scene, speaks some theology, calls forth the magi (and us) to bring him gifts honoring his arrival, and in most editions, ends with this line: "Let loving hearts enthrone him.”

We all have to ask ourselves during these weeks leading up to Christmas who we think this is? We find ourselves with the very adult words of Jesus ringing in our ears: “Who do people say that I am?” That leaves us wide open for answers like these: the One who ushers in the most profitable merchandising season every year, the do-gooder of Galilee, the man who healed people and preached a lot. Ultimately, we are faced with the second half of that inquiry: “Who do YOU say that I am?” Hopefully it doesn’t take us long to agree with Peter’s assessment that this baby is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

He was that from the beginning, you know – not just after he began his adult ministry. You might say he was that from the VERY beginning, but for sure I think we would all agree that from his first earth-breath, he was the Son of Jehovah.

With it’s repeated “This, this is Christ the King,” in many ways, this carol could serve as our ‘confession of faith’ during the Advent season.

May those of us who love our Christ put him in his rightful place… on the throne of our lives. From there may he rule not only in December, but all year long.

Josh Groben Sings This Stanza First!

This Carol on Guitars


Friday, December 8, 2017

"Bind all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease."


Carol: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – Latin Hymn
Tune: VENI EMMANUEL

This plainsong Advent carol is one of those prayer hymns we’ve discussed already. In this one, we singers are not only asking Messiah to come; we are also making several requests of him upon his arrival and upon the establishment of his Kingdom:

1) Come and cheer our spirits.
2) Disperse the gloomy clouds of night.
3) Send death’s dark shadows away.
4) Bring order to all things.
5) Show us the path of knowledge and lead us in that path.

In the final stanza, we encounter today’s hymnline. We plead for true camaraderie of all peoples in compassion and in thought. “Bring us together,” we pray. “Give a sense of cooperation and agreement. Help us to accept one another’s differences and make those differences work for the good of the Kingdom.”

To do that, the envy, strife and quarrels need to cease. Our praying continues, “Emmanuel, now that you, O God, are with us, call a cease-fire between the warring factions worldwide.”

I know this carol has some definite Jewish overtones – the people of Israel are renewing their belief that Emmanuel shall come to them. As Christians who are confident that Messiah has already made his appearance on this terrestrial ball, we make all those same requests listed above, and we, too, seek commonality of passion and theology; we, too, have had it with the disagreements that arise within the church out of anger, envy and strife. Except for the instigators, nobody likes a good church fight!

As part of a denomination that has suffered its fair share of disagreement – especially in recent years – this prayer carol takes on a fuller significance. When I pray this carol, I mean it: I beg the Good Shepherd to come to enfold all his children who find themselves at war within the flock.

For all of us, conflict is on display worldwide. For some, the conflict may be within their community, their family, or even within themselves. Wherever they are found, may the struggles stop and reconciliation reign.

In the refrain, we are called to rejoice in the promise that Emmanuel continues to come to our rescue. Ultimately, we will enjoy a worldwide heavenly peace. Meanwhile, we keep on prayer-singing!

Great rendition by a cappella men’s group
(does not include this stanza!)

Big choral arrangement that uses this stanza

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

“Sing with blest anticipation.”


Hymn: “’Tis the Church Triumphant Singing” – John Kent (1766-1843)
Common Tune: AR HYD Y NOS

We talk a lot about “participatory” worship experiences: everybody jump in there and participate vigorously! What if we promoted “anticipatory” worship?

Have you ever thought about anticipation being a blessing? Well, it is. We have been blessed with the gift of anticipation... and we emphasize that during the Advent season.

Those who believe in the providence of God approach every aspect of life with a sense of expectation – expecting the hand of God to lead them through the day and the eye of God to be ever-watching, protecting, overseeing their every move… for their own good and the good of the kingdom.

Indeed, we anticipate the Kingdom which is yet to come, promised to us beyond this earthly journey; but if we only anticipate THAT reality, we miss out on the everyday provisions – those which surround us on THIS trek.

The next time you sing – corporately or alone – do it with a sincere hope of that which is yet to come your way… far in the future AND close at hand. It is that kind of anticipatory worship that truly keeps us going, confident that God is at work. Go ahead: “Sing with blest anticipation.”

This hymn tune played at the organ

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Fix in us thy humble dwelling."


Hymn: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Typical Tunes: BEECHER, HYFRYDOL, BLAENWERN

You probably don’t know that I was an art major when I first entered Carson Newman College in the fall of 1967. I had a decent ability to draw things.

When I was being artistic, after completing a section of a charcoal drawing or have worked in pastels, I took a can of spray fixative, shook it to hear that little ball bang against the can, and generously covered the possible-masterpiece so it would not smear if accidentally touched while I continued to work on it. The process is called “fixing” the artwork.

We are only three phrases into the singing of “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” when this hymn-line crosses our lips, and because it is so early-on in the hymn, it may not register in our brain what it is we are singing.  When I speak these words on the nine assigned pitches, I have a flashback to my art-major days… of being sure I am either outside or in a well-ventilated room in order not to inhale the fumes from the Krylon aerosol can. This was BEFORE people actually wanted to inhale fumes like these!

In the hymning of these words, I am asking God to cover me in such a way that my faith might not smear – or that the distinct lines of my belief system might not become indefinite or undefined.  That he might take up residence in my life in such a way that these cannot be disturbed.

Other hymns use the word “seal” to mean the same thing, (e.g. “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it…”) but I’m glad Wesley chose “fix” – a word with which this artsy person can identify!

Ever since we came to him in faith, God – the ultimate artist – has been drawing his nature across the sketch pad of our lives.  Everything he has inscribed there has given us the possibility to be more like him… more like his Son… more Christ-like. I, for one, do not want any of that to be messed up or smeared by anything or anyone who would like to make my Christian experience anything less than beautiful.

God is making a masterpiece within us. That’s not self- aggrandizing – that’s the truth! And we want to be sure that beauty is preserved… or fixed… unlikely to be damaged. That preservation is more likely to occur if Christ is allowed to take up full-time humble residence at the center of our lives.

“Fix” can mean to repair something that is broken or not working properly; but in this case, it means to keep it from needing to be repaired!


This Hymn Sung by St. Olaf Choir

Monday, December 4, 2017

"So prepare to be the home where such a mighty Guest may come."


Carol: “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” – Charles Coffin (1676-1749)
Common Tunes: PUER NOBIS, WINCHESTER NEW

I grew up in the Baptist denomination, and none of our hymns had the word “Baptist” in the title! Other denominations, however, often include this hymn about John the Baptist’s announcing the coming of Messiah; as the forerunning cousin of Jesus, that was his calling.

Note: It is important to include the apostrophe after Baptist; otherwise, it sounds like a whole denomination of immersers is wailing on a river’s edge!

The stanza in which this hymnline sits says this in total:
    Let ev’ry heart be cleansed from sin,
    Make straight for God within,
    And so prepare to be the home
    Where such a mighty Guest may come.


Straightening up the house is something we do when we’re expecting guests -- any guests… even regular visitors and family members! That may include hiding some things in the closet, under a bed, or behind the sofa. We want give the best possible appearance, tidied up as well as we can to make the visitor feel welcome – even ‘at home.”

Other carols say, “Let every heart prepare him room,” and “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room…” But THIS line calls Jesus a ‘mighty Guest.’ I think that means the same thing as ‘important’ or ‘extra special.’ The mighty Son of the mighty God is looking for somewhere to take up residence.

Unlike our usual visitors – however glamorous or significant – we don’t need to start hiding things! That all-knowing-ness of Christ sees right through any pretenses we may try to create.

So I suppose this is a season of peace, joy, love, hope… and transparency!

Get your house in order! You may be about to have a Zacchaeus kind of day!

Winchester New Tune at the Organ

Friday, December 1, 2017

"Who, from our mother's arms, hath blessed us on our way."


Hymn: “Now Thank We All Our God” – Martin Rinkhart (1586-1649)
Tune: NUN DANKET

Here is one more hymn centered on being grateful/thankful/appreciative... then we'll move on to Advent.

Our God “who, from our mother’s arms, hath blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”

"Migrant Mother" Dorothea Lange
Generally speaking, our mothers are our original caretakers. Good mothers become for their children the very representation of who God is and how he treats us. This hymnline helps us get that perspective, reminding us that from our first breath, God has blessed us with innumerable  love-gifts… and those love-gifts continue, no matter how many years we may be removed from those mother-cuddled hours.

We believers are richly blessed as we make our way through life, and we need to count those blessings. The danger is that we might begin to consider our blessings as routine, not noticing the little things with which God seasons our life.

On Thanksgiving Day, most of us had some of the richest, best-seasoned dishes we’ll have all year long. Those old family recipes on grease-spotted note cards seem to hold back nothing from the spice rack when it comes to food preparations for this holiday. Even then, we think to ourselves, “This tastes so much better than food tastes throughout the rest of the year,” but we likely give no thought to WHY that is true.

Let’s not overlook those blessings with which our God spices up our life… those small zests added to our mundane existence. We cannot truly be a blessing to others until we realize how blessed we are.

NOW, let’s all thank our God with hearts and souls and voices! NOW!

Sing along with this hymn

Monday, November 27, 2017

"We too should be voicing our love and devotion."


Hymn: “Let All Things Now Living” – Katherine K. Davis* (1892-1980)
Tune: ASH GROVE

This Thanksgiving hymn many of us sang recently opens with “Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving to God the Creator triumphantly raise.” I actually like to sing this hymn all year long, not just during the last week of November, because it is one of those hymns that beautifully describes God in poetry that is well-constructed.

After listing many of God’s creative, sustaining, redeeming works, today’s hymnline continues: “We too should be voicing our love and devotion, with glad adoration a song let us raise.”

We voice lots of songs and expressions of our love for God, but here we are called on to declare our devotion – our promise, our pledge, our guarantee.

Olivia Newton John had a hit song in 1978 titled “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (from GREASE). Most of us can hum it and at least sing the ‘hook’. For Christ-followers, however, we lift up our commitment to him singing “Hopefully Devoted to You.”

I also like the phrase “with glad adoration” – not coerced or forced, but gladly offered up. I am personally delighted to sing great hymns and songs of the faith… the ones that express my adoration of him who created, re-creates, sustains and redeems me. I know I am not alone in that; otherwise, you would probably not be reading this blog.

This week, of all weeks, we SHOULD be voicing our love and devotion with glad adoration. Sometimes I encourage us to internalize concepts; this time, let’s verbalize them… voice them… even to strangers.

Hear This Hymn Sung

Hear Children’s Chime Choir Play This Hymn (directed by Jeff Reeves)

*PS – Katherine K. Davis was also a composer of wonderful church music and is best known for her Christmas Song “The Little Drummer Boy.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“Do not be discouraged. God is over all.”


Hymn: “Count Your Blessings” – Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)
Tune: BLESSINGS

Frustration and discouragement are two of our most formidable foes, and they often work hand-in-hand. Many times, frustration causes us to expend too much physical energy trying to ‘fix’ what frustrates us; discouragement consumes our spiritual/mental reservoir.

Elijah was overcome by both when he told God, “I, only I am left” on your side. It’s the way Jonah felt as he sat beneath the worm-chewed vine. This is probably how the disciples felt when they needed to feed the five thousand. This is where many of us too often find ourselves.

This simple truth drawn from the last stanza of one of those gospel songs we trip through as if nothing is worth recalling – this truth that “God is over all” is one we are prone to forget, especially on the front-end of discouragement. Eventually – as though slapped up the side of the head – we believing-types will come around to the realization that God is in control, even in overwhelming, frustrating situations.

This does not free us up to do nothing. Instead, it frees us up to move ahead with the blessed assurance that God has it all under control, and we can ease up a little.

I had a minister friend in Denver who in response to his wife’s ranting-on in frustration would simply admonish her to “maintain.” It was his way of saying “chill out” or “keep your cool.” I have at many times brought that word to mind when trying to settle myself down because I fall prey to frustration and discouragement with the best of them!

Maintain your place under God’s canopy of oversight. There, may we all find the peace that passes understanding; and in that peace may we WITH God work through our frustrating discouragement.

A peppy little setting of this hymn!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"We ourselves are God's own field... wheat and tares together sown."


Hymn: “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” – Henry Alford (1810-1871)
Tune: ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR

This seems to me to be a great description of society… or the field of humanity owned by God himself. The good, the bad and the ugly coexisting.

Somehow, we wheat-types sometimes want to get rid of the tares-type – to set them aside as worthless outsiders… even people without hope. Jesus knew we were going to do this, so he told a parable in Matthew 13:24-30; this one is right on the heels of the Parable of the Sower which we know and understand better… although I’m never quite sure we understand everything Jesus was trying to communicate through these little stories!

"Farmer Sowing" - Charles Henry Granger
In this “Parable of the Weeds,” the hired hands want to go out and pull up the weeds (tares) from amongst the soon-producing wheat. The landowner who had planted the field says, Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.

I see this kind of thing happening all the time: it’s the us/them mentality. The righteous vs. the unrighteous. The lost vs. the saved. The good guys vs. the bad. Worst of all, I see this within the church.

If we follow the Lord’s direction on this, we will leave the separating of wheat and tares (sheep and goats) up to him at the harvest time. Meanwhile, we yield fruit… period. That is our role. Pointing out and pulling up weeds is the role of the One who owns the field.

Although we sing this hymn at Thanksgiving (because of the title), the “harvest” allusions are to the final harvest – as in the Matthew passage above. That’s why the last stanza begins with “Even so, Lord, quickly come. Bring thy final harvest home. Gather now thy people in…” Together we thankful people come to say and sing “Maranatha!” Or for those of us who watch THE PRICE IS RIGHT, “Jesus Christ, come on down!”

Interestingly, “harvest home” is the name of an English festival celebrating the harvest; it is also a song they sing as they bring in the sheaves.

So it is good and right that as we sing this hymn, we should celebrate the harvest of terrestrial crops; at the same time, we anticipate the heavenly harvest yet to come when we will be gathered in, purified, and privileged to abide in his presence forever. Even so, Lord, quickly come.



This Hymn Sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Friday, November 17, 2017

"In music, Lord, I worship thee."


Hymn: “My Singing Is a Prayer” – Novella D. Preston Jordan (1901-1991)
Tune: VERMONT

This hymnline has probably been the theme of my entire existence… at least back as far as I can remember. I’ve always found God in music – especially sung music… music with words. I find him most commonly and most profoundly in hymn-singing. That should come as no surprise to those of you who know me well.

I’ve written several hymn and/or sacred anthem texts over the years with a modicum of success in having them published. At times, I’ve tried my hand at writing poems that were not sacred in nature – that did not express anything about my faith: love songs, patriotic songs, country songs – even an opera libretto. I couldn’t ever seem to make that work because my music – my words – seem to be set aside for worship.

When the USA team had a tiny shot at winning the World Cup in soccer, the frenzy flooded the airwaves and the print media. One thing I noticed was the incorporation of a rhythmic, highly-repetitive chant: “I be-lieve that we will win! I be-lieve that we will win!” Every sports bar in the country seemed to have taken up this “hymn” to the sport of futbol.

Historically, when a group shares a common belief, they take up a song to support it. That’s why countries have national anthems and patriotic songs – causes have a common song (e.g. “We Shall Overcome”) – and religions… all religions… incorporate some form of corporate musical expression into their gatherings.

As you might imagine, I was not caught up in the soccer eddy, but I am totally committed to expressing my Christian beliefs in song – chiefly the hymns of my faith. That’s why I do this blog; that’s why I created the Old Fashioned Singing Project; that’s why most every Sunday morning with book in hand, I’ll be somewhere singing… because “in music, Lord, I find you.”

Once again, I can’t find this one online for you to hear. It’s a great text and tune, but it’s under copyright with Broadman Press, so I can’t publish it here. You can read it at http://modernpuritan.com/2012/07/16/singing-is-a-prayer/

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood?"


Hymn: “And Can It Be?” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Tune: SAGINA

This is one of the most thrilling hymns. To quote Jennifer Lopez from AMERICAN IDOL, “I get goosies” (goose bumps) every time we hit the final statement: “Amazing love! How can it be that thou my God should die for me?”

But today, I want to deal with the opening hymnline – the first words of the hymn – which ask one of those ponderably profound questions. This is not one to trip over lightly and not notice the depth of what you are asking.

This word “interest” is key. It is not used here as a fascination or curiosity, as in “Isn’t the blood of Jesus just captivating?” Although that is true, HERE “interest” is more about apportionment… that we share in the atoning, life-giving flow. “Is it possible that I might share in the benefits of the Savior’s blood?” That’s more what is suggested here.

In the banking world, gaining interest is something we understand. When the interest rates go up on our investments, we are pleased to hear that. We believers are gaining interest in the investment made by the Father through his Son on the cross. (I understand so little about the financial world, I will not even try to carry this analogy any further! I’ll leave that to my banker bonus-son!)

The next line asks if Jesus died for me, even though I caused his pain. There is an implied answer to both questions: Yes! It is possible that you can gain an interest in the Savior’s blood. And yes! He died in your place even though your actions and attitudes may cause him excessive distress.

It is great if you find the cross interesting. It is even better if you own a share in its investment.

A sturdy congregational singing of this hymn

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

“Lift the smallness of our vision.”


Hymn: “God, Whose Purpose Is to Kindle” – Elton Trueblood (1900-1994)
Common Tunes: HYMN TO JOY, EBENEZER, RUSTINGTON, HOLY MANNA

Elton Trueblood was a Quaker theologian, advisor to American Presidents, author, and hymn-writer. This hymn has appeared in many hymnals since its writing in 1966. Because it is in the standard 8.7.8.7.D meter, it has been set to many tunes over the years.

Like Trueblood’s powerful voice among American theologians of the 20th Century, this single line jumps out from the hymn text which is itself a powerful prayer for the church to sing corporately.

It might be said that we are people of great faith but small vision. We verbalize how much we rely on God’s leadership and direction, but often we shy away from casting our vision beyond the commonly-held parameters of the world-wide church, our own denomination, our local congregation, or our small circle of Christian friends. No doubt some of the greatest sacred ideas – visions, if you will – have gone by the wayside because the person to whom they were revealed was reluctant to carry them through… to lay them out before others as a viable option for furthering the kingdom. Perhaps they were shared with a few, disparaged (pooh-poohed), and set aside.

I would like to not be considered a person of small faith OR small vision. I’d like to trust the Father’s wise bestowment of kingdom plans, and (because they are truly from the Father) run after them with greater vigor. After all, “Where there is no vision, the people (of God) perish.”  (Proverbs 29:18). And likely, some of us are withering due to our self-imposed limited vision of what God wants to accomplish in our personal lives and in the greater kingdom.

Lord Christ, please lift the smallness of my vision. Amen.

[I could not find an online example of this hymn.]

Monday, October 30, 2017

"I need thee ev'ry hour. Stay thou nearby."


Hymn: “I Need Thee Every Hour” – Annie S. Hawks (1834-1918)
Tune: NEED

This coming weekend, we will have an hour transfused into our lives by the great timekeeper of the earth. I have to admit that I am not a fan of the semi-annual resetting of the clocks. If a presidential candidate would make the abolishing of spring-forward, fall back his/her major platform issue, I would cast my vote on their behalf whatever party they might represent. Well, maybe not!

Down deep, I think it must be an economical ploy to give me one extra hour of daylight from March through October to spend money!

Every year at this time, we are told that we have an extra hour to sleep, probably because officially this this donation of sixty minutes comes to us at 2:00 am. Most of us are probably awakened by our body-clock at the same time anyway, so we ended up with an extra waking hour instead. And because it always falls on a Saturday night into Sunday, our additional time is part of the holiest day of our week. So theoretically, we have an extra hour to invest in the worship of God, the sharing of our faith or service on his behalf to our fellow human beings – those activities and attitudes to which we are drawn on Sundays.

God is not thrown off by this human-induced attempt to make the sun stand still. Since the Most Holy One never naps, doses or sleeps, he is just as available during our gift-of-hour each autumn. His watchcare is active no matter how many time increments our days may be expanded. I’m glad about that: imagine if for one hour each November, God’s presence in our lives were suspended. As absurd as that may sound, it should give you pause.

How ever many hours I have in this day or any other day - with this century-old hymnline, I daily ask for God to stay nearby… so near that I will sense his presence in such a way that his nearness will affect my thinking, my decision-making and my actions.

“O ever-present One, I need you every hour. Stay close at hand because I know that the temptations I face today will be less powerful when you are near. Amen.”

An Amazing A cappella Setting

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

“He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin. He sets the prisoner free.”

Hymn: “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” – Charles Wesley (1792-1788)
Main Tune: AZMON

Why is it that those sins which were long-ago forgiven… canceled by the eraser of God… why do they continue to have power over us and haunt us? They lurk in the back of our subconscious memory and surface now and then to almost take us hostage? For some reason, we have not fully grasped the reality of forgiveness… even those of us who have known about it our entire lives, have heard multiple sermons and studies on the subject, and – best of all – have experienced it over and over for ourselves.

There’s a weird little verse in Isaiah’s woe-listing that says, “Woe unto them who draw iniquity with cords of vanity and sin as it were with a cart rope.” (5:18) I often quote it when called upon to say a particularly meaningful scripture passage; it gets great puzzled looks from everyone in the study circle! These are they who cannot let go of their sin; in their vanity, they drag it behind them as if attached to them by a rope. It’s a great picture of those of us who will not accept the gift of God’s forgiveness; it is too often a picture of ME!

Imprisoned by guilt? It’s time for a break-out.

Better yet, it is time to accept the Governor’s “pardon”! The One who governs the universe is concerned with your freedom. God wants to set you free… and his truth can do that! The truth is: you are forgiven of all you have submitted for absolution. Get over it. Let it go, let it go! Cut the tugging-rope you have too long dragged behind you. Walk away a freed man/woman.

Grab my hand. We’ll try to do this together.


This hymn text set to a delightful English tune

Monday, October 23, 2017

"Tell me thy secret, help me bear the strain of toil, the fret of care."


Hymn: “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee” – Washington Gladden (1836-1918)
Tune: MARYTON

Have you ever turned to someone you admire for having come through a difficult time or whose life is just one trial after another and said to them “What’s your secret?” You don’t mean it is a secret as such; you mean “How do you do it?”

This hymn draws a picture of walking along a road… or through a meadow… or up a mountain trail with Jesus – just the two of us. As we walk, I have the wherewithal to turn to him and ask, “What’s your secret?” or “How do you do it?” Knowing that his humanity brought with it bearing up under the strain of difficult days and might have included fretting over the cares of this world… ultimately dying a cruel death at the hands of enemies. What IS his secret?

We figure that if we understood how HE did it, we could do better ourselves as we face rough spots, trying times.

Some of you will remember a song from the early 1950’s called “It Is No Secret.”  That song is all about how there is no secret to WHAT God can do in Christ; this hymnline asks HOW did the Son of God hold up under the human struggle that was his to bear.

This is somewhat of a mystery, but as we delve deeper into the life of Christ and look at how he reacted and what he said, we have a better understanding of the secret of his success. When we study his teachings and try to get at the crux of the matter, we are more likely to find a pattern for facing our own struggles in a Christ-like manner.

It may be that Christ will lean over and whisper hope to us. If and when he does, we welcome that voice that makes our heart in its sorrow rejoice.

Hear an A Cappella Singing of This Hymn
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=WXwXQnsaL3A

Thursday, October 19, 2017

"I'd rather have Jesus."


Hymn: “I’d Rather Have Jesus” – Rhea F. Miller (1894-1966)
Tune: I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS

I’m using a hymnline that is also the hymn-title and the hymn-tune name!

Many of us grew up hearing George Beverly Shea (the tune’s composer) croon this song on the televised Billy Graham Crusades. No one has – or ever will – sing it quite like he did!

The upshot of this hymn is simple: I’d rather have Jesus than you name it.

There is not much else to be said about the hymnline – there is much to be said about our application of its truth to our actual hierarchy of priorities and how we in reality live those out in our daily lives. In other words, as I sing this hymn, am I being truthful? Or am I simply verbalizing someone else’s testimony? Worst of all, am I singing a lie?

This is often true of hymns we sing corporately: preferring Jesus over anything is a noble goal, perhaps not yet achieved in my own life.

It’s a question we all have to deal with on our own while not being judgmental of anyone else down the pew. It would be great if we could all sing the final line with all sincerity and commitment: “I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords (offers me) today.”

Hear George Beverly Shea Sing His Hymn

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"I sing, for I cannot be silent."



Hymn: “Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Tunes: REDEEMED, ADA

I’ve never been much of a singer. For someone who loves to sing as much as I do, you’d think
I would have been afforded the gift of beautiful vocalization. Fortunately, I had other musical gifts that were applicable to my forty-plus years of music ministry; unfortunately, many congregations expect their music leader to be a top-notch soloist.

As I was growing up, I don’t think we sang this hymn; at least, it never registered with me or attached itself to my memory like most of the old songs did. When A. L. (Pete) Butler’s setting of this text was published as an anthem in 1967, it became one of my favorites… and years later, he became one of my mentors. His tune has been included in many hymnals since, making it available to congregations to join the singing of this sturdy, well-married tune for the Fanny Crosby text.

For me, I am always drawn to this hymnline: “I sing, for I cannot be silent.” I have no choice but to sing… I can’t just stand there while the love of Christ is the theme of everybody else's song. My lusty, not-so-wonderful raspy baritone voice may draw questioning looks from people down the pew, but that will NOT mute me. I can NOT be silent. I have to sing when the Spirit says “Sing!”

Paul McCartney has a song “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance.” It’s not exactly a church song, but it does apply to my discussion. I join him in polishing up my tonsils because I’ve gotta sing!

While I am all for the sounds of silence in worship; for me as a contemplative, they are imperative to my finding God. Remember, I’m an Elijah-type. I’m sure God enjoys those lengths of absolute breathless silence, but when we rear back and sing – breaking the silence – I imagine a wide smile crosses his face.

That’s why I love this hymn. That’s why I sing no matter what anyone around me thinks about my intoning talent. “I sing, for I cannot be silent! His love is the theme of my song.”

Hear the ADA tune sung


Monday, October 16, 2017

"Things I would ask him to tell me if he were here."

Hymn: “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” – William H. Parker (1845-1929)
Tune: STORIES OF JESUS

Often considered a children’s song, this simple hymn can message us no matter how old we are, especially those of us whose entire life has been inquisitive at best… nosy at worst!

It seems as if this is worded like early elementary students might speak when sitting on the floor in their Sunday School class or gathered in a family setting. It may be simple-speak that makes this such an appealing hymn, familiar to most Christian denominations. I’m pretty sure it’s the simple-speak that appeals to me!

There are so many questions I have to ask Jesus when face to face I shall behold him far beyond the starry sky. I would write them all in composition books if I thought we could take them with us on that journey. I want to know why boys and girls couldn’t swim together at youth camp when I was a teenager – why sometimes they even had separate pools! Or why my home pastor mowed the parsonage yard in his white shirt and tie. Or why did God allow someone to invent shrink-wrap that makes everything (especially CD’s) so hard to get into. Obviously, it’s the spiritual answers I’m after!

However, THIS hymn is our asking another human with more knowledge of the Bible to fill us in on the details of the earthly life of God’s Son. But we all have questions about our faith that seem to have been redacted from the Canon. Those are the things I’d like to ask Jesus if he were here. I won’t list my own queries; I’ll let you fill in those blanks for yourself. We all want to know more than we’ve been told… but THAT is part of the holy mystery of the faith. If we had all the answers, we would become arrogant and even snobbier than we are! We’d be singing that playground ditty, “I know something you don’t know” as we bully our way through life.

I agree with Paul here: “I want to know Christ.” (Philippians 3:10) The more I know about his life, the more likely I am to get to know him personally – just like it is with all my closest relationships.

So tell me everything you can about Jesus. Inquiring minds want to know!


This hymn sung beautifully by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Friday, October 6, 2017

"How much I love thee, my actions will show."


Hymn: “I Love Thee” – Writer unknown
Tune: I LOVE THEE

We have no idea who wrote this hymn, but it continues to be sung with some regularity in churches who still sing the sturdy texts. I like Laurie Klein’s chorus “I Love You, Lord,” but it doesn’t come at the subject with quite as much intensity or from as many directions.

This is one of those hymn-lines which needs no further discussion: it says what it needs to say and is poignant on its own. I will, of course, expound upon it… like preachers who continue to sermonize on those straight-forward scriptures.

While teaching a children’s song years ago, I discovered an easy way to remember the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: the first three are one syllable (love, joy, peace), the next three are two syllables (patience, kindness, goodness), and the final grouping has three syllables each (faithfulness, gentleness, self-control).

These nine attributes pretty much get at how we best express our love – how we demonstrate our commitments. (If you’ve heard me do a wedding, you’ve likely heard me use this passage.) While they are not all what an English teacher would dub “action verbs,” they all imply ways in which we act out that which is becoming our nature.

In the NIV, Paul summarizes this section with “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (v. 25)

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning. To refresh your memory (speaking of English teachers!), here’s that full sonnet:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach… freely, purely, with passion.” How profound is that? How appropriate to our understanding of how our actions can dramatize our love beyond the footlights of our everyday strutting and fretting our hours upon the stage.

How much do you love Christ? How can your actions show it? Take to the stage and act it out. Start today. Places everyone. Five minutes to curtain.

I cannot believe I could not find a video or audio

of this hymn online to share with you!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies."

Hymn: “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart”
George Croly (1841-1860)
Typical Tune: MORECAMBE

While the hymn centers around the request of God’s presence to hover over us and fall upon us, this hymnline says what we’re not wanting:
    I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
    No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
    No angel visitant, no opening skies.
    But take the dimness of my soul away.


Don’t you love that?! I do! With this hymn-writer, I don’t ask for some grand vision or to be caught up in some enraptured ecstasy. I don’t desire stigmata or other openings in my epidermis in order to prove that the Spirit of God is active within me. I don’t anticipate one of God’s messengers to suddenly appear at the foot of my bed at midnight. A rolling back of the clouds to reveal the heavens behind them is un-necessary.

I’d be fine with the removal of the dull, blurry, indistinct places in my soul – those vague, even ambiguous places that tend to un-brighten the corners of who I am. Yes, I too want to have light restored to my darkness – the darkness brought on my lack of trust, my fear… even my disbelief.

So come down, Holy Spirit. Work on my in-most being. No miracles required.

Congregational Singing of This Hymn
(Again, I had trouble finding an online example that included this pivotal stanza!)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"Faith has caught the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground."


Hymn: “Higher Ground” – Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)
Tune: HIGHER GROUND

Carlita and I were once discussing how different world religions have certain very definite “rewards” waiting for them in their final life beyond the grave. Some are reserved only for the men, and some are very sexual in nature. These beliefs in an exact prize (or bevy of prizes!) provide quite the incentive for their extremists to martyr themselves. After a few minutes of silence, I said, “And all we have to look forward in the next life is singing!”

In all honesty, that is not a bad thing to anticipate: the privilege to “thus surround the throne” as we march through Zion, the beautiful city of God. For those of us who delight in few things any more than we enjoy congregational singing, it gives us reason to look forward to heaven.

This entire hymn deals with pressing on the upward way toward new heights gained daily, catching a glimpse of the brightness of Glory, and eventually planting our feet there.

One stanza has an almost depressing statement: “My heart has no desire to stay…” That’s a bit too close to a death-wish for my tastes; but in the next stanza comes today’s hymnline which says that my faith during this life has caught an aural-glimpse (I think I just made that up) of what the sound might be like when the saints gather on heaven’s shore, process around the throne, cast down their golden crowns as acts of worship, and join the endless song.

Off and on through my life, I think I have caught that joyful sound, and I have a high anticipation of linking myself with members of the heavenly throng who have been assigned a singing position… not because of their great singing ability, but because of their heart-felt song.

Do you hear the people sing?


[Those of you who wonder whatever possessed me to create and carry-out the Old Fashioned Singing Project and its theme “Heaven’s Front Porch” should be a little closer to understanding my madness!]

Monday, October 2, 2017

“My sure and certain refuge, my never-failing tow’r.”


Hymn: “I Saw the Cross of Jesus” – Frederick Whitfield (1829-1904)
Common Tune: WHITFIELD

I’ve probably already said this in one of my previous hymnline posts, but the attribute I look for most in my friendships is dependability. I want someone on whom I can depend, who will show up when they say they will, in whom there is no doubt of their faithfulness. Based on those parameters, Jesus would make a wonderful friend… and indeed he is!

We have three descriptive terms to label this Jesus Friend: sure, certain, and never-failing – and they basically mean the same thing.
•    I am sure of his commitment to me and my well-being. He is my sure foundation.
•    I am convinced that he is reliable. I am certain of this. He is my blessed assurance.
•    I have never found him to let me down… ever! He never failed me yet. He is my Mighty Fortress.

An old southern gospel hymn asks, “Where could I go but to the Lord?” I totally agree with the implied answer: “nowhere!” He is where I find protection, sanctuary, asylum. When I run to him, he always provides for me a hiding place, a haven of rest, a shelter in the time of storm. I can be certainly sure of his never-failing nature.

Want something today that you can count on? Find a friend in Jesus... the strong and mighty tower.

Hear Lloyd Larson’s setting of this text

Friday, September 29, 2017

"Let the Amen sound from his people again, gladly..."


Hymn: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” – Joachim Neander (1650-1680)
        Translated by Catherine Winkworth
Tune: LOBE DEN HERREN

First of all, let me say that I love this hymn all the way through.

This hymnline calls on the people of God to sound the truth again… it seems to imply that this should be done with fervor, maybe because of the way the melody rises at that point.

The very word “amen” has been curiously interpreted for us throughout history. Although it has come to mean “I agree with what you just said (or sang),” at its center is more of an agreement with the truth of faith; in Scripture, it is sometimes translated “verily, verily” or “I tell you the truth.”  It is a uniquely Judeo-Christian word – though in Islam a similar “Amin” is used.

My point here is simple: I think this hymn is calling the church to stand firmly for the truth, using a uniquely sacred word. We might even think of it as “Let God’s truth sound from his people again.” No more standing back and waffling on the issues; in agreement, speak the truth… and do so “gladly” – not coerced or because it is expected – but because you want to.

The next time this phrase comes across your lips in worship, let it stir up within you its intended call to speak the truth… stand for the truth… live the truth – individually and corporately because we are his glad people.

Hear Fernando Ortega Sing This Hymn

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"For the wonder of each hour."


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

Our youngest grandson turned three a few weeks ago. When Carlita and I had our first opportunities to watch him when he was a baby, we truly "watched" him, spending a lot of time just looking at him, watching him react to this new world into which he had been thrust.

Every hour… no, every waking moment… for Jude was filled with wonder. Every flash of light, sound, shape, face, smell – it was all approached with wonder. It was almost as if he said to himself, “I wonder what that is?” I love that he seemed so curious... and still is, thankfully.

Most of us have lost that childlike wonder… and sadly so. Few if any things truly surprise us and astonish us anymore. We think we’ve seen it all and done it all… and maybe worst of all, know it all. And in our spiritual life, we may have convinced ourselves that we’ve experienced it all.

Let’s try an experiment, you and I – those of us who have connected ourselves to these hymnlines posts. Let’s allow ourselves to be amazed at least once an hour by all that goes on around us, especially that which is outside the realm of the everyday, the routine. Let’s find as many things as we can that astound, startle, flabbergast… or even leave us dumbfounded. And time we encounter these marvels, let us say (or sing) what the final phrase of each stanza of this hymn exclaims: “Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

Here’s one to get you started being astounded: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNe6fsaCVtI

Then listen to John Rutter’s setting of this text sung by a fine high school group.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"Begin, my tongue, some heavenly theme, and speak some boundless thing."

"Goober" - Elizabeth Ann Lanham

Hymn: “Begin, My Tongue, Some Heavenly Theme” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Common Tune: MANOAH

I’m most often trying to get my tongue to stop! I sometimes think the letter from James was assigned to me; in that short book, there are six references to keeping the tongue under control.

Here, Isaac Watts calls upon the tongue to express praise and to tell of God’s faithfulness and power, pointing out the flip-side of the negative uses of the tongue.

Most hymns are addressed to God, to believers, to non-believers. Occasionally we come across one addressed to a Rock of Ages or to ourselves (Be Still, My Soul). This one is more unique because it is addressed to a body part! We are actually singing this hymn to our tongue!

There are many heavenly themes: kindness, grace, hope, encouragement, healing, assistance, etc. So beyond calling our speech patterns to the on-going praise of God, we are also reminding ourselves to start speaking words of kindness, grace, hope --- all of the above!

At some point in my ministry – probably too late – I made a blatant commitment to never intentionally say anything hurtful to anyone. The important key in that mantra is not to hurt someone “on purpose”, because as hard as we try, we are going to occasionally hurt someone with what we say. But if I set out to damage you with my speech, I am counter to the nature of Christ.

All of us who write would love to capture just once “some boundless thing” – a turn of phrase that encapsulates some profundity in a way that expresses it best. We all want to have an “All we have to fear is fear itself,”  “Ask not what your country can do for you,” or “I have a dream” phrase that sticks in the mind of all who read/hear it... forming our speech (tongue) into a group of words whose theme might be boundless - eternally remembered.

For most of us though, I guess we need to put the brakes on our not-so-positive tongue and release our tongue of blessing to glorify God, exhort our fellow pilgrims, and make stronger attempts at saying something worth remembering.

Ready? Set? Begin.

This Hymn (MANOAH tune)


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"And preach thee, too, as love knows how by kindly words and virtuous lives."


Hymn: “Faith of Our Fathers” – Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863)
Tune: ST. CATHERINE

The quote “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary” has long been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. In recent years, this has been un-attributed to him, but whoever said it in whatever century it came up was onto something.

There’s also been some discussion as to whether preaching has to be verbal to be called preaching at all. I am confident that a preacher started that argument, but imagine: Christian scholars debating such things?! Yeah, right!

Either way, Faber put it well in this hymn-line. I agree with him, of course; otherwise I would not have included this in my postings! Although I’ve done some pulpit-preaching in my career, most of my sharing what I know of Christ has been by imitating his attitude and actions; the same is probably true of you.

What a pulpiteer ‘tells’ us in a sermon may not be consistent with what he/she does when they are not behind the sacred desk. We’ve all heard sermons on forgiveness delivered by people who refuse to forgive, or tirades on specific sins with which the deliverer struggles. However, our sharing the gospel by kind words and lives trimmed in virtue are truly “where the rubber meets the road.”

It’s a shame that we relegate this hymn to the Sunday we Americans (probably Hallmark!) have dubbed Father’s Day, because the text is about the faith of those who’ve gone before us; it’s more akin to Steve Green’s song, “O may all who come behind us find us faithful.” It is the faith that is living still, not the fathers; the faith has survived dungeon, fire and sword, and when we are aware of that lasting faith, our hearts beat high with joy. The hymn is addressed to our faith, not to God; this is made more obvious in most hymnals because the word “thee” is not capitalized. In that final phrase, we’re declaring our allegiance to our faith… the faith of our forebears; most of us have probably thought we were singing our allegiance to God himself. But after all, it is our faith through which we commit ourselves.

I would guess that most of the people who read this blog are not preachers… or pastors… those we associate with sermonizing on Sunday mornings. Most of you are like me: simply striving to be Christ to those with whom we come into contact during the next eighteen hours or so. We are “the only Bible some people ever read,” like we were told in early Sunday School years.

I’m pretty sure consistent Christ-like living will have a lasting effect on our comrades… more so than street-corner shouting… more so than any properly prepared statement of our dogma. So today and all your days, “Preach it, sister!” (or brother!)


Monday, September 25, 2017

"Lord, I would clasp my hand in thine, nor ever murmur or repine, content whatever lot I see."



Hymn: “He Leadeth Me” – Joseph H. Gilmore (1834-1918)
Tune: HE LEADETH ME

We’re sort of back to that and he walks with me and he talks with me hymn again, but I see this one  to be more like a child who grabs ahold of an adult’s hand, fully believing there is safety in that grasp. Walking hand-in-hand with the Savior is something we all aspire to … shoulder-to-shoulder in locked step… going only where his trajectory leads.

Picture this, if you will: The Lord Jesus extends his hand and looks you in the eye. You’re invited to place your hand in that nail-scarred hand, but you are not forced to accept the gesture – you don’t even feel obligated. But you clasp your palm into his, and you feel the sudden strong squeeze that reassures you that you have made the right move. Although we may visualize the two of you walking together, that may not happen; he may just stand there with you – perfectly still in the midst of chaos. Sometimes that’s what we need: not necessarily a walking buddy but a standing companion. “Just hold my hand while I work my way through this situation,” might be our request – sort of like “All I need is a hug.”

I get into this hymn-line every time I sing it, and I’ve been singing it most of my life – since my earliest memories of congregational singing in the white wood-frame church that was Pigeon Forge Baptist Church before we moved over into the big brick building on the parkway… next door to what is now Dwight Maples’ motel… and changed our name to The First Baptist Church of Pigeon Forge.

I love to imagine hanging on for dear life to hand of my Lord the Christ. And I like promising him that I won’t complain about my life – that I’ll be content in whatever state I find myself… even Texas! :)

It is not an easy promise to make because we seem to need to vent our frustrations and our unhappinesses. But unlike a fairly recent best-seller, I have never been disappointed with God. I have been disappointed with my own decisions and mistakes. I have been disappointed by God’s people. But I have never been disappointed with God. And despite having sung this promise for over sixty years now, I have occasionally complained to God about my situation and have not always been as contented as Elsie.

It is still my intention. It is still my prayer because this hymn-line concludes with “content whatever lot I see, since ‘tis thy hand that leadeth me.” ‘Tis still his hand… and sometimes he has to squeeze a little harder to remind me of my promises and my commitments to him and to his Kingdom.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Thou art giving and forgiving."


Hymn: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” – Henry van Dyke (1852-1933)
Tune: HYMN TO JOY

I love a good play on words. That’s probably why I like country music! One of my favorite turns-of-phrase is the title of one of my high school friend Stella Parton’s song “I’m Not That Good at Goodbye.”

In this hymnline from one of the truly great hymns of the Christian faith, the turn of phrase – the play on words – is not just clever: it is true. The One who is always giving in abundance is also constantly forgiving with similar lavishness! While Christ is in the business of providing for our good, he is at the same time erasing our not-so-good… our mistakes, our wrongs.

From the same generous hand comes both good gifts and forgiveness… provision and clemency… blessing and pardon.

This is a simple-yet-profound reality… one which seems too basic to even mention. It is that kind of truth about which we need to be reminded, because it can be so easily overlooked or – God forbid – forgotten.

Today, keep in mind that our Savior is constantly available to afford us blessing upon blessing… even the most basic provisions for our earthly existence. At the same time, when we mess up, he is standing by, ready to apply his merciful eraser. We don’t use the word ‘err’ much anymore, but we are consistently doing it! We continue to be errant children of God; and in his ‘mercy higher than the heavens, deeper than the deepest sea,’ the Head of the family is erasing our errors. Best of all, he is forgetting them! That still baffles me.

The next time you sing this hymn, add a measure with the words “and forgetting.” It’s four syllables, so it fits! Just add four notes to the Beethoven tune, then keep singing!

“Thou art giving and forgiving and forgetting, ever blessing, ever blessed.”

A Grand British Singing of This Hymn
at the BIG SING event

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Shall I fear to own his cause, or blush to speak his name?"


Hymn: “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” – Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Typical Tune: ARLINGTON

Long before Baynard Fox wrote the hymnline “I’m not ashamed his name to bear” [from “I’ll Tell the World that I’m a Christian”], Isaac Watts was posing the same question. It is a haunting question for all of us who claim the cross… and a query we need not take too lightly.

Patriotic songs like “I’m Proud to Be an American” seem to be easy for some of us to sing… perhaps because being proud of one’s country is an acceptable behavior and a tolerated attitude. I am however concerned that displaying the red-white-and-blue star-spangled banner by the curb is easier than planting a cross in my front yard.

I am not suggesting that we should erect crosses and other symbols around the exterior of our homes, but I am suggesting that we not be ashamed of our faith… that we not blush to speak the name of Jesus outside the walls of our sanctuaries and Bible study rooms. T-shirts, bumper stickers, highway billboards – I’m not sure those are the best way to be unashamed. But I am sure that we should not cower from opportunities to say, “Yes, I believe in Christ,” or “Yes, as a matter of fact I am a Christian.” If necessary, I may have to give definition to what I mean by that so they’ll know what I mean by those church-y phrases.

We avoid the use of soldier-ing hymns nowadays; martial hymns with battle analogies are not as politically correct – and I get that. But if I fear to take ownership of the cause of Christ, or if my face turns red when confronted with my position in the Kingdom – then I am concerned. And I must admit, this sometimes happens for me.

I – and perhaps you – need to make some adjustments in our own sense of pride… the good kind of pride… and say that we are PROUD to be children of the King, followers of the Lamb, people of the cross. May our fearful, blushing days be behind us. May we be confident with heads-held-high when the name of Christ is mentioned, and we have opportunity to stand up, stand up for Jesus as soldiers of the cross.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Thou, my everlasting portion."


Hymn: “Close to Thee” – Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)
Tune: CLOSE TO THEE

When my grandfather Smelcer decided to stop farming his acreage in Pigeon Forge, he apportioned it out equally among his children, keeping only the large corner lot on which the homeplace stood. My mother received her portion and lived on that plot of land the rest of her life. This kind of event helps me understand some hymn texts – and in turn, the hymn texts improve my limited understanding of who God is and how he works among his people.

In the Old Testament, God does a lot of apportionment of his land… and of his Spirit. We also read about his distribution of himself:
“God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
"The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." (Lamentations 3:24)

In the New Testament, we are referred to as “partakers” or those who share in the inheritance:
“You will joyfully give thanks to the Father who has made you able to have a share in all  that he has prepared for his people in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:12)

Even after my grandfather divvied up his farmland, it was still the Smelcer Farm… but now it belonged to his children. The acreage in east Tennessee was my mother’s inheritance… which eventually became my inheritance… which is now just a block off the road into Dollywood and has been re-zoned as commercial property and sold to provide for us in our retirement!

But in the case of God, he has subdivided this inheritance among all his believing, accepting children. It is mine for all time… I have an eternal share of stock. He IS my everlasting portion - more than friend or life to me. I am delighted to have been allotted a piece of the Kingdom.

We live in a subdivision here in Waxahachie, Texas. When I lived here 35 years ago, this was the Cook Farm; it has since been re-apportioned into lots for home-building. The plot on which our house is built, however, was not given to us: we bought it. In the case of our share in Christ, it was bought for us and given to us freely… as was my mother’s slice of the farm.

Seems like I took way too much verbiage to say that singing this opening line of a Fanny Crosby hymn text makes more sense to me when I break it down into a situation I can get my mind around. Sometimes, that’s the only way I can get at the truth: talk it out until it makes sense!

Now, go and enjoy your allotment… your everlasting portion of God!



Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)