Tuesday, October 31, 2017

“Lift the smallness of our vision.”

Hymn: “God, Whose Purpose Is to Kindle” – Elton Trueblood (1900-1994)

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 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)

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

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

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)