Thursday, October 19, 2017

"I'd rather have Jesus."

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

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)

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)

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

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)

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

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:

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)

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)

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)

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)

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!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Let ev'ry kindred, ev'ry tribe on this terrestrial ball, to him all majesty ascribe and crown him Lord of all."

Hymn: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” – This stanza by John Rippon (1751-1836)

I know it was politically incorrect, but as a child we sang “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” Even as a youngster, I learned from a simple song that we are all in this together, regardless of our race, our kinfolk, or our lineage. I’ve tried to maintain that attitude… and extending those groupings and moving the stakes out further until the tent can contain us all.

This hymnline conjures up for me another one of those mental pictures. In this one, I see a multi-colored throng of all the world’s people standing together in what in my mind at least looks like a huge city square; I would say it looks sort of like the plaza in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, but I know somebody would be offended that I had a Catholic vision!  Anyway, all those people are singing at the top of their lungs, but their fortissimo-singing is very much under control. It’s not yelling; the sound is very, very musical. They are all lifting up their praise to the One who sits on the throne – although in this glimpse, I don’t see HIM; I just see and hear THEM!

For a brief moment during the singing of this great hymn, I am transported into that scene where I join the everlasting song… and I realize what a wonderful place it is… and will be. This is not something we have to wait for; we can stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow believers from every background, race, gender, lifestyle, and denomination to honor the One who loves us all and equally accepts our ascription of praise. So let’s.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Thy promises so rich in me fulfill."

Hymn: “I Need Thee Every Hour” – Annie S. Hawks (1835-1918)
Tune: NEED

The people who research those sorts of things say that there are over 3,500 promises of God in the Bible. In the New International Version, the word “promise” occurs 69 times… and not once in the Gospels. I found THAT interesting, don’t you?

I’m not sure how many promises I would find if I read through the whole of Scripture notating everything that I consider to be a promise of God to his people; I’d be even more confused if I tried to narrow that down to the promises that apply to ME!

I don’t need to do that, however, to know that the Word of God is filled with promises and that he has stood behind (or will yet stand behind) every one he has made. Given my personal understanding of Jehovah God, he wouldn’t ‘waste his breath’ on any promise if it were not significant… important… or as this hymn-line says rich.

I looked up the word ‘rich’ in Webster’s, and found a lot of synonyms which apply to the promises of God: abundant, of high value or quality, well-supplied, magnificently impressive, highly productive, full of nutrients, pure. Annie Hawks may not have turned to Webster when she wrote this text, but having dissected the word, I think she selected the perfect word to describe the promises and blessings of God.

Fulfill means to complete or carry out. I’ve always thought of it as being filled-full… to the point of overflowing. In this case, I think that applies and makes the prayer-line even more powerful. I guess I want to not only be standing on the promises; I want to be drowning in them!

Simply put, may this be our prayer today: Let your rich promises be realized in my life. Amen.

P. S. – As is the case in so many hymns, this hymn-line is tucked into stanza three – the one we too often skip. In fact, I couldn’t find an online recording that included it! As usual, the third stanza has the truth that has been stolen from those of us who worship corporately. Let’s add a new commandment for worship-planners: “Thou shalt not steal a stanza from any hymn that thou shalt sing with thy thinking congregants, especially the third.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Thou of life, the fountain art. Freely let me take of thee. Spring thou up within my heart."

Hymn: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Okay, it’s really three hymn-lines today, but they hang together well! It’s all about water spraying, drenching and springing up.

We lived in the Kansas City area for a few years in our trek across the country; it seemed God was saying, “Go east, young man.” Denver, Kansas City, Chapel Hill. While serving in that great Midwestern city, we learned it is a beautiful town – sort of a hidden jewel. It is nicknamed the City of Fountains; they say it has more fountains than Rome. In the downtown sector, you can literally see a fountain every couple of blocks, especially around their famed Plaza. Not only are most of them spectacular, but they seem to symbolize refreshment! I loved the sound of water splashing – sometimes roaring. They are the life, the fountain art of the city!
Like most cities, people were forever jumping into the pools beneath the statuary – frolicking about, acting childish, cooling off. Remember the opening of FRIENDS, when the six young adults were acting silly in one of New York’s fountains? There is something magnetic about fountains, drawing us into their liveliness… bringing us joy. There is something freeing about taking off your shoes and wading in the effervescence. There is something invigorating about sensing the spray across your face.

Jesus, the lover of my soul is all that (magnetic, freeing, invigorating) and more. He is the original Old Faithful, spouting forth blessings at exactly the right time! He is not only the redeeming fountain filled with blood… he is also the sustaining fountain of life – life!

My relationship with Christ is constantly bubbling up within me, restoring my joy, renewing my outlook, reviving my spirit, bracing my hope.

The kicker in these hymn-lines is the two brief, sincere, needful prayers: “O great Fountain of Life, spring up within my heart. Amen.” “O wonderful Refresher of all souls, let me freely take of thee. Amen.”

If you don’t live in Kansas City, you may not walk past a grand sculpture spewing forth refreshing liquid today; but I encourage you to pray those two short prayers over and over throughout the day… and maybe all your days. Jot them down on a Post-It Note and repeat them to God almost as your mantra* for the day. Let’s see if it makes a difference in our outlook and our attitude.

Christ stands with his watering can in hand, ready to pour. Come, stand under the stream. Run through the sprinklers. Have a more-refreshing-than-usual kind of day.

 * - a sound, word, or phrase that is repeated by someone who is praying or meditating; a word or phrase that is repeated often or that expresses someone's basic beliefs


Monday, September 11, 2017

Hymn for This Day

I don't think I've posted this hymn before; but on this 16th anniversary of the event for which it was written, it seemed like a good idea.

This was published online by LifeWay the week after 9/11 for churches to download and use the following Sunday. Several did... and have used it for other similar tragedies since then. I thought maybe I'd re-share it on Facebook, just in case anybody needs it, especially with all that's going on in the world right now... hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, uprisings, etc.
No automatic alt text available.

"It tells me what my Father has in store for every day."

Hymn: “There Is a Name I Love to Hear” – Frederick Whitfield (1829-1904)

The ‘it’ in this sentence hearkens back to the name I love to hear – that is, of course, the name of Jesus. The recurrence of the communicating-name of Jesus reminds me of many things, but one is the reassurance that God knows the plans he has for me – that he knows what he has stored up for me today.

I just returned from a trip to the local supermarket. They were not stocked up with all the things I went to purchase for this week. So I had to go to Wal-Mart to get the remainder of the things on my list.  That’s one of the real drawbacks to living in a small town with limited grocery access! I was already singing these words to myself, so the words in store became even more evident.

As it is with most realities about the wisdom and wonder of Almighty God, what he has in store – shelved for me - is an unknown… until it happens – until I start shopping my way through the day. “Clean up on aisle fourteen,” has to be a part of some of our days, you understand!

But the next line of this hymn says, “And though I tread a darksome path, (his love) yields sunshine all the way.” In other words, there is hope with each new day’s path, even those which may be dark. And we must admit that sometimes there are several darksome days in a row. Even so, Lord Jesus quickly comes and brightens some part of our path… enough to see us through.

The love of Christ indwelling me makes it possible for me to be kind, generous, helpful, appreciative to people I come across on my darksome path because they, too, may be in the same seemingly endless forest in which I find myself today. I can spare a little sunshine through my God-provided good graces.

Keeping my chin up may not be easy on those funk-filled days – sometimes brought on by others, sometimes self-imposed; however, I keep reminding myself that God knows, and that his love is reminding me to stick with his plan and to walk in the light provided.

I have little concern about the life which is to come: the afterlife, if you will. I have that taken care of – signed, sealed, one day to be delivered into the presence of Christ himself. The things of this earth: these are the things that weigh upon me. From another hymn:  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
PS: Because this is the third stanza in most books, you may not know this one as well as the others. In fact, I couldn’t find an on-line recording that includes it! Oh, the poor, unappreciated plight of the third stanza – often times the meatiest of all!

Friday, September 8, 2017

"Just when I need him, Jesus is..."

Hymn: “Just When I Need Him Most” – William C. Poole (1875-1949)

The man who wrote this hymn died the year I was born, so it’s obviously an old hymn!

This gospel song is all about the constant availability of Jesus in our lives, and it describes for us who he is. According to this text, Jesus is
- near
- ready
- true
- giving
- strong
- never forsaking
- bearing my burdens
- answering
- tender
- watching
- comforting
- cheering
- giving a song.

What a great description of the friend we have in Jesus – and a great list for us to follow when we seek to be a friend to others… or when we are seeking out friends for ourselves.

The hymn also says “he is my all.” That puts him at the top of my list of loved ones. It’s a hard concept to understand or describe, but it prioritizes all others somewhere beneath him.

For me, it is comforting to know that “Jesus is”… period. Within all the descriptors included in this hymn text, I am reminded of the perpetual presence of Christ. He is persistent in his hanging around to be sure he is carrying out all the things on that list… continuous, unceasing – even relentless.

Just when I need him, Jesus is.

Sung by Catherine Gorman

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"If our love were but more simple, we could take him at his word."

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

This hymn text doesn’t get enough ‘air time’ in worship because it has yet to land on just the perfect tune. The ones assigned to it over the years have never matched the words in such a way to truly display the depth of the text. That’s too bad, because it is a rich discourse on the mercy of the heavenly Father penned by the English hymn-writer who gave us “Faith of Our Fathers.”

Because it is chock full of my personal theology, this hymn-line is one of three from “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” that I have covered in this blog.

I’m forever telling my students that art doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective… or perhaps even beautiful. Some visual artists have so much happening on the canvas that we just move on to the next one because we are confused. Music may be the worst offender here, especially in the past hundred years, producing harmonies and melodies that are so intricate and convoluted that normal listeners cannot comprehend them – and in congregational music, people can’t sing them with any ease, negating the sometimes engaging message.

For our spiritual development, simplicity is preferred according to Christ’s admonition in Mark 10:15: “You must accept the kingdom of God as if you were a little child." (New Century Version) We know how the Jewish leaders of Old Testament times had added rule upon rule until it was almost impossible to be a worthy God-follower; historically, that trend has continued into the Christian church… and still does.

If our love and our faith-processing were simplified, we would readily accept what God tells us in his Word as truth. In my experience, this is not a limiting exercise; rather, it is freeing!

Why have we developed into questioning, suspicious people when it comes to God and matters of faith? Why can we not simplify our belief system and take him at his word? After all, another hymn tells us ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take him at his word; just to rest upon his promise, just to know thus saith the Lord.

After all, 'tis a gift to be simple.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"Give for wild confusion, peace."

Hymn: “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – William Whiting (1825-1878)

Rembrandt - "Storm on the Sea of Galilee"
Known as the Navy Hymn, this hymn of mariners, seafarers… especially those involved in the conflict of battle is the kind of song we use in a service when we highlight the armed forces or perhaps to celebrate one of our annual national holidays. The fact that most of the stanzas end with “O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea,” limits our using it unless the sermon is centered on one of the sea-storm New Testament stories.

But this short hymn-line is a valid prayer – on sea or land – because many of us spend at least part of every day confused about something. We may not be overwhelmed by confusion on a regular basis, but most of us have spent enough time there to know that sinking feeling.

Wild confusion brings to my mind larger, public events that are thrown into turmoil by some senseless act of an individual or group: school shootings, the bombing of the Murrah Building, the 9/11 attacks, the Boston Marathon, etc. Those times of wild confusion cause people to go running for safety, seeking loved ones who have been involved, cowering in corners – chaos. In recent days, hurricane-prompted flooding and the fear of yet another land-fall have created wild confusion.

We watch those events unfold on the screens of our televisions and computers, and we ask “why?” Then most of us immediately in our own words pray today’s hymn-line.

I remember in the Aladdin story, the merchant chanting through the street, “New lamps for old. New lamps for old.” – at least that was in the cartoon version! This is basically what this hymn-line is doing: asking God to trade peace for confusion… or to replace a dreadful situation with a tranquil one. “Settle us down, Lord. Things are out of our control.”

There is a peace that only Christ can provide – a peace that over-rides understanding. When it is achieved in a world situation, a local uproar, a church conference, or our own personal lack of clarity, one of the great spiritual miracles comes into play. It is as if the Great Ancient Mariner stands again at the rear of boat and commands the winds and waves to return to their calm.

The next time we’re in wild confusion, may we with him speak peace.


Monday, July 24, 2017

"There is never a grief or loss but that Jesus in love will lighten."

This was from Friday. I think I forgot to post it!

Hymn: “Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus” – Anna B. Russell (1862-1954)

Today’s hymn-line comes from another one of those lilting 6/8-metered tunes so familiar to the congregations in my part of the country. Throughout its stanzas, this hymn repeats the phrase “there is never…” applied to many ‘downer’ occurrences, all of which are tended to by the wonderful, wonderful Jesus.

Extreme grief and overwhelming loss may weigh us down more than we realize. In fact, the admission of these is often denied by people going through such emotions. Beneath such a great burden, this hymn-line reminds us that Jesus is available to lighten the load if we but give him the opportunity – yea, even the privilege!

Implants are routinely done nowadays: devices that help send electronic impulses to the brain when certain body parts can’t respond naturally on their own. The most common is the pacemaker for the heart. In this hymn’s refrain, Anna B. Russell reminds us that in the heart he implanteth a song… because songs tend to turn our attention away from our difficulties, at least for a time. According to the refrain’s text, the implanted song is one of deliverance, of courage, of strength. In times of grief and loss, that’s the kind of song we need to hear… and to sing!

Whatever bothersome cargo you carry today, may this hymn or another great song of faith lift your spirit as he lightens your load. With a 6/8 lilt, let’s go skipping through the day!


Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Still all my song shall be: Nearer, my God, to thee."

Hymn: “Nearer, My God, to Thee” – Sarah F. Adams (1805-1848)

It is a real shame that this hymn is mostly remembered as what the band was playing when the Titanic went down and is typically relegated to memorial services and funerals. The haunting, usually-slowly-sung hymn has some wonderful brief phrases worth recounting. It speaks of steps leading into heaven, angels beckoning us homeward, thoughts brightened with praise… and references to the Jacob’s ladder-dream (Genesis 28:12).

My outstanding word in this hymn-line for today is “still.” It’s a great word we use when we mean “after all this time.” I suppose that’s one of the reasons it is associated with funerals or end-of-life events.

Job uses this word many times in his defense against those who encourage him to turn from his God, such as in chapter 13, verse 15: “Though he take away my life, still will I hope in him.” (Some translations use the word ‘yet,’ meaning the same as ‘still.’)

It is that kind of continuing steadfastness to which we all aspire – those of us who seek to be faithful followers of the Lamb. It is our intention to come to the end of our days, still using the word “still”! Of course, you know that I’m going to love this line because it says that my song shall still be, “Let me be nearer, my God, to thee.”

One of my top-ten favorite hymns is “Draw Me Nearer.” Many of you know that one, and it will come up more than once on these blogs! I find myself singing it many mornings while I’m getting ready – out loud if no one else is in the house! It truly is my sincere prayer for every day – to edge a bit closer to my blessed Lord and to the cross where he died.

This Sunday when you stand to sing in worship - whatever your musical style - realize that your praises of the crucified, risen Christ are still genuine – after all these years. May ALL our songs still continue to draw us nearer to the One who is now on heaven’s throne at the top of those steps where angels beckon us to come. May our thoughts and attitudes truly still be brightened with his praise.

Try your best to stop thinking of this as a hymn about a mighty ship going down; rather consider a mighty church rising up in praise, still moving nearer to one another and their Leader.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Life itself is ours on lease."

Hymn: “Of All the Spirit’s Gifts to Me” – Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)

One of the newest texts I’m going to cover on this blog is from one of my heroes of modern hymn-writing: Fred Pratt Green, a British Methodist minister who penned some wonderfully meaningful texts which are easy to comprehend the first time you sing them – a goal of anyone who writes songs for congregational use. If you have a hymnal published in the past thirty years, it would be worth your time to read through the full text; for copyright reasons, I shouldn’t print it here.*

Life itself is ours on lease. These six words communicate so much about how our life is not our own; it is loaned to us for a brief period then returned to its owner – our owner – God himself. Green’s British turn of phrase here “ours on lease” brings even more emphasis to ownership.

While much of hymnody (especially the gospel songs from the first half of the 20th Century) point us toward our eternal life - our heavenly home - this one centers our attention back on our current situation. This life I call MINE is truly not mine at all! I need to be reminded of that now and then to keep me from getting what my mama called ‘the big head.’ Arrogance or self-confidence can blur our vision of who we really are; humble gratefulness can re-center our understanding of ourselves and of Jehovah… whose very name means ‘giver of life.’

            In this world I’m driving a “loaner.”
            One day it reverts to its owner.
            No debt to repay,
            So each day I say:
            My God, he’s a wonderful donor!

Not nearly as poetic as Green, but you get the point! [I think that may be my first-ever limerick!]

By its very definition, a lease is temporary… and the owner is compensated as part of the agreement. In the case of our contract with God, HE has paid the price, and WE enjoy the benefit. That is the opposite of our usual understanding of how a lease works.

Okay, fellow lessors: contact your Lessee today. Thank him for affording you the privilege of life. While you’re at it, you may need to renew your lease! 

 * - At you can read the text and hear the hymn-tune played (click midi file). Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see words and music scanned from contemporary hymnals.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"I'm possessed of a hope that is steadfast and sure."

Hymn: “Since Jesus Came into My Heart” - Rufus H. McDaniel (1850-1940)
This rip-roaring, toe-tapping gospel song has enjoyed popularity since it first appeared in print in the early 20th Century. Because it is a fun tune with lots of repetition in the melody, it caught on quickly and stuck… and is still used commonly in evangelical worship.

As is true of so many hymns, this one emerged from the soul of Rufus McDaniel in response to a tragedy – the death of his son. It’s hard for us to believe that such a positive set of words could be prompted by a season of grief and loss – especially set to such a lively tune by Charles H. Gabriel, one of the most prolific tunesmiths of the time; we are most familiar with his “I Stand Amazed in the Presence.”

We have a hint at McDaniel’s loss in another stanza of “Since Jesus Came into My Heart” with
            There’s a light in the valley of death now for me…
            And the gates of that city beyond I can see…
            I shall go there to dwell in that city, I know.

The thing that stands out to me in today’s hymn-line is being possessed by hope… owned by, mastered by, controlled by hope. What a wonderful thought. But each time I sing that line, I have to ask myself, “Am I?” Does my steadfast, secure hope truly shape all of my thinking and doing? Am I constantly motivated by a hopeful attitude? I mine the kind of hope that is confidently expectant?

When many of us hear the word ‘possessed,’ our minds go to something evil… probably because we grew up with movies like The Exorcist! But here, possession is a good thing!

Possessed is closely akin the word obsessed… but this is a glorious obsession!

The term fanatic has been cast in a negative light; we are always concerned when someone becomes fanatical about an idea or a cause. It is, of course, the shortening of this word which is our word “fan”… and we are surrounded by fanatics when any sports season is in full swing! A true, obnoxious fan is obsessed with his/her team or celebrity figure… possessed… owned by, mastered by, controlled by.

Without being obnoxious, I want to be a person possessed by great hope… secure faith… firm belief. I certainly don’t want to become hope-less. And I won’t become despairing if my confidence is steadfast and sure – not because I have conjured it up, but because Jesus came into my heart… and he continues to do that just when I need him most.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"See, the Father meets him out upon the way, welcoming his weary. wand'ring child."

Hymn: “Ring the Bells of Heaven” – William O. Cushing (1823-1902)

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" - Rembrandt
This is a fine example of a good old gospel song – a peppy, fun-to-sing one at that! We have sometimes separated our congregational songs into  hymns, gospel songs, praise choruses, scripture songs… and now, even rap. But this is truly a “gospel” song because it is based from one of the great stories told by Jesus from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, that section which features the three parables of ‘the lost’: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son – all three of which are eventually found, making them parables with happy endings!

There are several songs based from stories in the Gospels: “Master, the Tempest Is Raging” tells of Jesus’ calming of the sea, and “The Ninety-and-Nine” recounts the first of these parables from Luke 15. “Ring the Bells of Heaven” alludes to all three of the lost-parables, but it is mostly about the story of the young man we have always called the Prodigal Son… the weary, wand’ring child, a soul returning from the wild, a soul rescued from his sinful ways, a precious soul who’s born again.

We’ve all heard plenty – maybe too many – sermons and Bible studies based on this story of the son who demands his inheritance only to waste it on ‘riotous living’ which includes all those sins we were instructed to stay shy of in the beginners Sunday School class. He comes to his senses and heads home, unsure of how he will be received. It is upon his trip home that the “surprise” of this short story happens. The rising action turns to the father and his over-the-top re-acceptance of the long-lost son who has been incommunicado.

In the Bible story, my favorite line is “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…” That sentence speak volumes about the nature of God’s relationship with us; even when we wander off as far as we’ve ever been, when we turn toward home, God sees us… and is “filled with compassion for” us. (v. 20) This is why many people now call this the Parable of the Loving Father instead of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Today's hymn-line begins with the word ‘see’ – as if to say "notice." It’s kind of like when something turns out the way someone else said it would, they say to you, “See, I told you so.” If the line didn’t have to be so poetic as to fit a metrical scheme, it could have been, “Get this! The father meets him…”

Perhaps too much has been made of the father’s un-Jewish-man-like uncharacteristically running down the long dusty driveway, but he certainly wasted no time meeting the wandering child --arms stretched wide open, offering a strong hug -- and walking him the rest of the way to the house.

We’ll get to "see on the portals he’s waiting and watching" in another hymn-line later, but bring that picture to mind. Got it? Now see him jump off the porch… probably avoiding the steps… and rushing toward the now-happy wanderer – knapsack on his back – singing “Val-deri, val-dera.”-- Oops. Sorry. Wrong song! In this case, he may be singing “Glory! Glory! How the angels sing. Glory! Glory! How the loud harps ring.”

Weary, wand’ring child: turn toward home. It will be worth the trip.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Today's Hymnline

The actual hymn "line" for today is: "O Christ, be thou our lasting joy, our ever great reward."
For some reason, it picked up the hymn title instead of the "line" for today.

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)