Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Christ will gird himself and serve us." II


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Christ will gird himself and serve us."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 26, 2017

"Yielded and still, seeking thy will."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Tuesday, June 20, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear an A Cappella Singing of This Hymn

Monday, June 19, 2017

"He is so precious to me."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

"Touch with your pierced hand each common day."


Hymn: "Here at Thy Table, Lord" - May P. Hoyt
Tune: BREAD OF LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, June 15, 2017

"In deeper reverence, praise."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"Love is the theme, eternal theme."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)