Monday, September 17, 2018

"We will walk and worship ever."

Hymn: “Shall We Gather at the River” – Words & Music by Robert Lowry (1826-1899)

Although it is in the middle of a gospel song often used in conjunction with river baptisms, it is a text about our gathering at the heavenly river – the one that flows right by the throne of God – where the saints gather to join in the final, eternal worship of him who sits on that throne.

One of my favorite places to visit in the state of Texas is San Antonio. We welcomed the 21st Century in there on December 31, 1999... the night the technological system was to implode and the world was supposed to end. We’ve been there several times since we moved back to this part of the world. We enjoy the food, the history and the culture, but we LOVE the River Walk, especially when the weather is nice and it’s not all that crowded. It is made for peaceful, hand-holding strolls. When we can afford it, we stay in one of the hotels with balconies overlooking the canal; that way, we can step out the door and be on our happy way.

Walking is a good physical activity, but there’s something cathartic about placing one foot in front of the other with a rhythmic pattern that seems to free the heart and soul. For some reason, it’s even better when done along water… the beach, the lakeside, the mountain stream.

On the other side of eternity, we will have the privilege of being pedestrian in our worship… not because worship will be uninteresting or dull, but because we will accept our role as a holy pedestrian; even as we walk – in fact, in everything we do - our attention will be centered on the One with whom we will spend the rest of our days. For those of us whose main ‘button’ is worship, this is what we look most forward to.

Today can be a practice session for the nothing-but-worship life which we anticipate.

Hear an an unaccompanied singing of this hymn

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"I was an outcast stranger on earth... but I've been adopted."

Hymn: “A Child of the King” – Harriet E. Buell (1834-1910)

No longer on the edge… at the perimeter of life. God has welcomed me into his family.

How many times have you seen ANNIE? Whether the staged musical or the movie (with its exchange of July Fourth for Christmas!), few of us avoid the lump-in-the-throat excitement when Daddy Warbucks brings the mop-top waif into his Fifth Avenue mansion… and eventually wants to adopt her. It’s a story-line that works every time – on stage, on film, in novels and biographies: outcast child invited into a family. And it works every time in the faith-life, too!

We Christian people sometimes forget that we are adopted by the Heavenly Father, invited to participate in the Kingdom with all his other children. We share the family name of his only-fathered Child. And according to that Child, a mansion is being prepared for us to enjoy for all time… rent-free at that!

Those of us who have found ourselves on the fringes are the most likely to appreciate being invited to join the team during recess… to be considered on common ground with the coolest of kids… to play in the reindeer games!

Keep an eye out around you: marginalized humanity is waiting to be brought to the vibrant center of life. A grace-ful invitation may be all they need. An accepting attitude may be all they require. A saving Lord may be the answer they seek.

Miss Hannigan or not, there’s an orphanage out there filled with lonely, desperate, unloved seekers. Let’s help them find a home.

A youth choir leads the congregational singing of this hymn

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"To all life thou givest, to both great and small."

Hymn: “Immortal, Invisible” – Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908)

Let me just say that I love this hymn. I think I would never tire of singing it in worship. The sturdy 3/4 pulse and the powerful text always resonates with me as the words trip over my lips! Within this hymn are some great lines, but I’ve chosen this one to deal with today.

This hymnline always reminds me that God is no respecter of persons. He makes the sun and rain to fall on the just and the unjust… the important and the seemingly insignificant. He gives life to all despite their ‘place’ in the world order… the great and the small. Having always considered myself on the of-lesser-importance end of the spectrum, this hymnline inspires me!

During his earthly adventure, Jesus found himself visited by lowly shepherds and by wealthy men from the Far East; sitting with the highest officials in his religion, lawyers, government officials; working in the lives of city leaders, lepers and other outcasts; walking tall among the greatest people of his day, and stooping to be on the level with the sinningest sinners; standing in the Temple preaching and praying, and later letting children sit in his lap. He was an enigma for sure – a conundrum for those who tried to figure him out.

He still is a paradox. His ways are still a mysterious “puzzlement” (to quote Yul Bryner). He is still giving life to both ends of the social spectrum – giving breath to all who require it to stay alive… and giving his redeeming Spirit to those who wish to stay alive forever.

You know those sticker things people put on the back window of their van to represent the family inside? That pretty much says it all so far as who is acceptable in God’s family! The next time you pull up behind one of those sticker-clad SUV’s in traffic, be reminded that God gives life to both great and small… even you!

Hear the Congregational Singing of This Hymn

Friday, September 7, 2018

"Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal."

"Despair" - Gill Kaye

Hymn: “Come, Ye Disconsolate” – Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

Hardly anyone sings this hymn anymore in worship. I suppose it is too much of a downer. It will not allow us to escape the depths to which it moves us – we who are beyond consoling. That’s too bad, because on my disconsolate days, this hymn-line is one to which I turn because it is as true as any scripture I might seek out. Some Sundays I NEED to sing this hymn. Some Fridays, I need to meditate on it.

The dictionary definition of sorrow is: a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.

There are times when I experience this kind of sorrow. I won’t make a list here, but you probably just made a mental list of your own. You may have even been overwhelmed by some sorrow during the last few days… maybe even the past few minutes.

Interestingly, one of the synonyms for sorrow is regret. Hmmm. Now, isn’t that interesting. I think I’ve always tied this text to those earthly disappointments offered in that dictionary definition. But if I understand that there are no regrets – nothing from my past, however sinful it may have been or may seem to me – no regrets that heaven cannot heal. Oh, my! Isn’t that freeing?!

The other stanzas end with similar phrases: Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure, and Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove. This is powerful stuff we’re dealing with here, folks. If these phrases are true – and I believe they are – then after having meditated on these hymn-lines, we should have a better attitude about our life!

If the great God of heaven can heal, cure and remove my sorrows – even my regrets – then should I not be ecstatic in my appreciation… in my thanksgiving.

Most of us have trouble accepting forgiveness – from other humans and/or from God himself. But let’s do a better job of being receptive of the healing, curing removal of our transgressional sorrows.

I hate it when I’m in the middle of something which is a crisis for me, and someone says, “Oh, just get over it.” It is an un-kind statement… and probably an un-Christ-like response. Instead of getting over it, perhaps we need to give it over – give it over to heaven and the One who sits upon the throne thereof!

RSVP: Regrets Only No Regrets

An arrangement of this hymn by Terre Johnson (from HBU)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

"When at last I stand with the heav'nly choir... I shall never tire."

Hymn: “There’s a Glad New Song” – Words & Music by Albert C. Fisher (1886-1946)

For the first time in over forty years, I am singing in a church choir!* I’m experiencing the music ministry from the other side of the rail! I consider myself fortunate indeed to attend an evangelical church that still has a choir; the truth is that we’ve had several people join our church in recent months because they want to attend a service in which the music is choir-driven. It’s a very good choir: they sing well, read music better than most volunteer groups, and they are engaged in their leadership of worship.
But one of these days, I plan to stand with a massive number of singers who gather near the throne of God to offer up continual praise of the One who sits there! I have the feeling the music never ends – that it’ll be like an incessant medley, won’t it? When we finish one great hymn or anthem, we’ll modulate into the next. For us musicians, THAT would be heavenly!

Although it sounds like an old gospel song, the third stanza of this fairly new hymn (first published in 1956, ten years after the death of its writer) speaks to me with today’s hymn-line and following:
            When at last I stand with the heav’nly choir in the light of the throne above,
            On the golden strand I shall never tire of the song of redeeming love!
            Of his love I shall ever sing
            Till above I behold the King.
            Through eternity my glad song shall be of the Savior’s redeeming love.

Sometimes I fly into the choir room after Sunday School and throw on my robe, make certain I have the correct stole turned to the right side, grab my folder and race to my chair, trying my best to be situated before the pre-service rehearsal begins. I often audibly say “Whew” as my backside hits the chair. But once the singing begins, I am renewed. I hope I shall never tire of singing the praises of God… in this life or the next.

* - I wrote this Hymnline before I lost my ability to match pitch due to a hearing problem. All the talk about my participation is no longer relevant... in THIS life. I still plan to regain my hearing and be able to harmonize in the life that is yet to come. Therefore this is a more hopeful hymn than ever for me!

[I couldn’t find a recording of this hymn. I hate that, because I’d love for you to hear it! Sometimes those hymns whose phrases speak to us are not as popular with everyone else as they were with us. Take my word for it: it’s worth hearing… and singing. Google it if you want to sing or play through it.]

Friday, August 31, 2018

“E’er to take, as from a father’s hand, one by one, the days, the moments fleeting.”

"Hands" - Painting by Kimberly VanDerBerg

Hymn: "Day by Day and with Each Passing Moment" - Caroline V. Sandell-Berg (1832-1903)

Archaic word alert: “E’er” is simply a contraction of “ever.” In this case, you can mentally substitute “always” or “consistently.” [I make no apology for poetic language, by the way!]

Earlier this morning I was sitting on our back porch - rocking, drinking coffee, reading -- taking in the fresh, small-town breeze – just waiting for the temperature to overcome me and send me back inside to the conditioned air. As I often do when I rock and think, I became overwhelmingly grateful for the moment-filled days that have one-by-one rushed past me in these sixty-eight years. I am not simply appreciative to some cosmic force or sequence of lucky breaks. I am thankful to the loving father-like God through whose fingers each moment has been sifted.

When I rock and think, I usually am reminding myself of those people who one by one God has handed to me along the way – some for very short periods… like a seminar, a retreat, a week at Ridgecrest/Glorieta… others for many years, even from my childhood. Were it not for all those faces which scroll across my memory-screen, the days would not have been nearly as happy or fulfilling. Instead of flying past (fleeting) as they have, my eighteen waking-hour segments would have trudged by, leaving me no reason to sit and rock and be grateful.

A contemporary singing of this hymn with hymnals in hand!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

"What God's almighty pow'r hath made, his gracious mercy keepeth."

Hymn: “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” – Johann J. Schutz (1640-1690)

It seems that our image of a strong, powerful public figure is one who takes control and keeps it, exerts his/her authority, flaunts their clout, commands allegiance. Get the picture? We rarely associate a person of might with an attitude of mercy; they seem mutually exclusive.

This hymnline reminds us that in spite of the fact that in his mighty power our God spoke all things into existence, he maintains his relationship with all he constructed, keeping it all safe in his merciful care. It is a much more true-to-scripture portrait of the worshiped One: strong, yet meek – tall, yet willing to stoop – in control, yet filled with concern.

We, his creation, are kept – protected, secured, embraced, nurtured, sustained – by the watchful, mercy-filled eye of our almighty, powerful Creator. What a way to live!

Congregational Singing of This Hymn

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“Give our hearts to thine obedience, serve and love thee best of all.”

Delacroix - "Christ on the Sea of Galilee"
Hymn: “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult” – Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)
Typical Tune: GALILEE

Alexander was an Irish hymn writer. Her other long-standing hymns are “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “There Is a Green Hill Far Away,” This one is about the call of Christ coming to us above the struggles and conflicts which might easily drown out his sweet voice saying “Christian, follow me,” and “Christian, love me more.”

The hymn-line I have chosen from many possibilities in this text is part of the final stanza as she pleads with Christ in his great mercy to be sure that we hear his call – that we might open our hearts to obey him, serve him, and love him more than we love anything or anyone else.

What strikes me is that her prayer – and ours as we sing it – is that we might hand over our hearts into the realm of full obedience to all his callings… those mentioned in the earlier stanzas and those yet to come in our pilgrimage of faith.

Thank you, long-gone Irish poet. May your words move us to hear fully, obey willingly, serve extensively, and love extravagantly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

"Beyond the sacred page, I seek thee, Lord."

Hymn: "Break Thou the Bread of Life"- Mary A. Lathbury (1841-1913)

Somewhere along my spiritual journey I realized that God spoke to me beyond the sacred pages… that I could find him very much alive in nature… that I could see him in the lives of people around me and hear him in their words of encouragement and teaching. As long as what those people were doing and saying was in keeping with the teachings of that little zippered black book, I could be enriched and edified by human interaction.

The communicating faithful led me to think outside the book… beyond the sacred page. They widened my horizons and helped me turn some important corners in my pilgrimage of faith.

Lots of people write lots of books and are on lots of television and radio shows, producing lots of video series, etc. Most of them are doing that for the right reasons, I’m sure – and I’ve learned many things from them. But it’s the everyday genuine FOJ – follower of Jesus – whose life and comments continue to shape my walk.

When I sing this hymn-line, I visualize myself looking over the top edge of a page of my childhood Bible - beyond the zipper’s regular pattern - to see God. In other words, I hear him in other words… and see him in other faces.

Thankfully, beyond Revelation 22:21, I seek you and see you, Lord.

Monday, August 27, 2018

"Crowns become the Victor's brow."

Hymn: “Look, Ye Saints, the Sight Is Glorious” – Thomas Kelly (1769-1855)
“That dress is very becoming.” That’s probably an archaic phrase for some of you, but it was pretty common when I was younger; every now and then I’ll hear someone say that.

As an adjective, “becoming” is simply another word for appropriate, suitable… even pretty.

We find the word in scripture in the KJV, Psalm 93:5b: “Holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, forever.” Speaking of archaic! “Holiness becomes thy house, O Lord,” or “It is appropriate that your house be holy.”

This is not one of those hymns we sing a lot, so it may not be terribly familiar to you – some would likely call IT archaic as well.

When we DO have opportunity to sing this hymn-line, we’re actually saying, “That crown looks good on you, Jesus. It’s appropriate that the One who has conquered the grave should wear the crown of victory.”

If you keep up with the British royals, you know that William and Kate's son Prince George is in line to ascend the throne. After Elizabeth, Charles and William have completed their reigns, this regent will wear the crown. And for those who support the monarchy, it will be appropriate – or becoming – that he wear one of the many crowns on display at the Tower of London.

Our long-awaited King has already come. He didn’t have to wait in some long line of succession. When he returned to the palace of his Father, he took the throne, trading a crown of thorns for an everlasting crown of victory. It is becoming that he should sit upon the throne of glory and wear heaven’s crowns... and that no one is in line to take his place.

At the risk of sounding unbecoming, let me say, “Looking good, Jesus!”

Saturday, August 11, 2018

"Let every kindred, every tribe... to him all majesty ascribe."

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.

Friday, July 6, 2018

"Refresh thy people on their toilsome way."

Hymn: “God of Our Fathers” – Daniel C. Roberts (1841-1907)

Although considered a patriotic hymn and usually included in that section of most hymnals, except for one line (“in this free land by thee our lot is cast”), the remainder of the hymn is about the Almighty God of our forefathers… having bless-ed little to do with patriotism. It is in every way a prayer-hymn with a few allusions to our being people of freedom secured from war by the strong arm of our Protector.

It's use on Sundays related to patriotic holidays strengthens its impact as a Christian hymn in appreciation for the blessings of living “in this free land.” Some of those national-holiday-related three-day weekends afford us the opportunity to be refreshed… to step away from the toilsome way that provides our monetary income. So the fact that the final stanza begins with that request makes perfectly good sense, don’t you think?

There are other worthwhile entreaties made in this prayer-hymn:
- Be our Ruler, our Guardian, our Guide.
- May your true religion increase in our hearts.
- Let your Word be our law.
- May we choose your paths, making our way in your direction.
- Grant that we might be nourished by your bountiful goodness.
- Fill our lives with godly love and divine grace.
- Eventually lead us from overwhelming darkness to daylight that never ends.

All these petitions lead us back to the hymnline for today: give us refreshment so we can take up the everyday work to which we have committed ourselves.

By his almighty hand, may God make these kinds of provisions in our lives – and may we ever express the glory, laud and praise that alone are due him.

This Hymn Sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
(with patriotic imagery in the video, of course!)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

“Let music swell the breeze. And ring from all the trees sweet freedom’s song.”

Hymn: “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” – Samuel F. Smith (1808-1895)

Long before the term “surround sound” was coined, this hymn-line captured the essence of music coming at you from all directions. We musicians can picture this happening: we can see thousands of staves filled with quavers and semi-quavers swirling through the air, engulfing us with the richness of a great choral or symphonic sound. I personally think Eric Whitacre might be the composer of the sound I audiolize – that’s like visualize, but for sound!

It’s almost like a scene from Walt Disney’s FANTASIA… one of the pleasant, exuberant sections, not one of the scary ones! With a grand flourish, Mickey’s baton pulls sound from every direction: it is a cacophony of pitches, but they all make sense – they “make music.”

In this case, the song is one of freedom. “Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.”* People all around the world from every nation have had their freedom songs… their rallying cry set to music… at various times in their history. Their singing added to their resolve to do something about their incarcerated condition – their confinement to a situation from which there seems to be no escape.

This is a week to cherish our freedom as Americans: that’s why I chose a patriotic hymn. But it’s a time to be concerned for freedom of all God’s people who find themselves enslaved… traded, abused, neglected. Christian people cannot stand by and enjoy their freedom while others have none. Our concern must move us to action.

“Freedom! O Freedom! Freedom is coming, O yes I know.” (Traditional South African Song)

Listen to This Song

* - from the Broadway show LES MISERABLES (listen)

[Disclaimer: I realize this is not really a hymn as such; it is a patriotic song. There is a danger on weeks like this to hoist the flag in front of the cross and to miss the opportunity to worship and be grateful to the One who gave us life and liberty at the same time. So, I'm approaching it from the angle of "God... the Author of liberty" in the final stanza.]

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

“In the glad song of ages I shall mingle with delight.”

Billy Graham Crusade Choir

Hymn: “My Savior First of All” – Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

Mingling… fitting in… not standing out. That’s how I intend to be when I have opportunity to join the congregational singing in the hereafter.

Our true understanding of heaven’s details is extremely limited. Over the years, many have “put a spin” on what we might expect. Books have been written, songs have been published, art masterpieces have been produced, extensive studies have been compiled. Someone in Texas even created a show called “Heaven’s Front Porch.”

Though we lack for too many specifics, it seems we can count on music being involved. In the Bible’s ultimate book, there is too much evidence to deny. “Music plays a larger role in the book of Revelation than in any other book of the New Testament, and few books in all of Scripture have spawned more hymns sung in Christian worship today.” 1   Along with the singing of the saints, the only mention of instrumental music in the New Testament appears in Revelation.

I may not audition for the heavenly choir because great singing has never been my gift. However, I have from my earliest memories delighted to sing the congregational songs. So when they crank up those great melodies of the ages, my delight will continue as I add my not-so-wonderful singing voice to the greatest congregation ever assembled, joining the grandest hymn ever sung: the song of the redeemed.

As I have said thousands of times: “Please stand together as we sing.”

A Congregational Singing of This Hymn

From Gary Chapman’s A Hymn a Week

1 Craig Koester – “The Distant Triumph Song: Music and the Book of Revelation”: Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)