Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Though my heart grows weary, I never will despair."

Hymn: “He Lives” – Words and Music by Alfred Ackley (1887-1960)

I know it is odd to start off the Lenten season with an Easter hymn... but I'm pretty sure this hymnline works any time of year.

Now and then I get weary… of body mostly nowadays… but often I get weary of heart… weary of spirit. I think I am not alone in this one!

But despair? By definition, this is the complete loss of hope… the absence of optimism. Have you ever been just this side of despair? Have you ever felt that if you didn’t make some kind of radical adjustment, you might just go over the edge and tumble into hopelessness?

This hymnline allows me to make a bold statement against ever letting that out-of-control spiral happen to me. “I never will despair.” If I mean those four words when I sing them -- and I say them with confidence and commitment -- I have made a stand against the Evil One who wants to entice me toward the cliff’s edge and then nudge me over into oblivion.

Let’s all admit that we grow weary now and then… of our jobs/careers, our families, our bank accounts, our community – even our church-life. One of my favorite lines from John Grisham’s The Painted House was the lady who would have been a Baptist but she just didn’t have the energy!

We can accept weariness, but as followers of the Risen Christ, we can NOT buy in to despair.

Every now and then during the music at a revival-type service, the music leader will shout into the microphone, “Sing it like you mean it!” That always chafes me a bit because I thought I WAS! But the next time you sing this hymnline – corporately or devotionally – sing it like you mean it!

Bluesy Piano Solo… not an ounce of despair!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

“Love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong… shall evermore endure.”

“The Love of God” – Words and Music Frederick Lehman (1868-1953)

This warhorse among gospel songs has some great metaphors about oceans being inkwells incapable of holding enough ink to write the magnitude of God’s love… even on parchment as wide as the skies.

However, before we become overwhelmed by the flowery descriptive language, we need to notice this recurring line in each refrain which describes so well the simple truth about the love of God as revealed in his ever-loving Son:
•    Rich - having or supplying a large amount of something that is wanted or needed
•    Pure – undefiled, without ulterior motive, unmixed with anything inconsistent with itself
•    Measureless – without edges, boundless, can’t be limited by width, depth or height
•    Strong – exhibiting no weakness, able to support great weight, able to withstand, indestructible
•    Enduring – absolutely continuous, persistent, long-lasting… in this case, everlasting.

These are powerful expressions of this so often talked about attribute of God… worth noticing, worth examining, worth replicating... on Valentine's Day or any day!

from Ephesians 3:16-20
I pray that you may have power  to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and that you may know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

From the Gaither Homecoming

(I’ve never really figured out how “the guilty pair” got included in the first stanza of this hymn, but I do know this hymn doesn’t work well as a wedding song!)

Friday, February 9, 2018

"The kindling of the heav'n-descended Dove."

Hymn: “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart” – George Crowly (1780-1860)

I admit that I sang this hymn for years before I noticed what the last lines actually say… mean. Even though I grew up in a culture that knows all about kindling, I thought in this case it was some archaic rendering of the word “kind” – as in “Be ye kind one unto another.”

“The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and thy love the flame.”

As we sing this, we are offering ourselves as kindling… a fire starter… for the Spirit of God when it falls on us from heaven. It’s as if on our hearts we stack up the small strips of wood or dried twigs so that when the purifying flames descend, we are ready to get this fire going! I’m reminded of Gene Bartlett’s more-recently-written hymn “Set My Soul Afire.”

Stephen King’s novel FIRESTARTER was made into a 1984 movie starring Drew Barrymore as a young girl whose gift of pyrokinesis is appropriated by the government. It’s a typical Stephen King thriller involving the paranormal. The sequel on the Sci-fi network was called… get this: FIRESTARTER: REKINDLED!

In reality, we who believe the power of the Spirit is of amazing proportions, able to achieve so much in our lives as individuals and corporately within the church, should be kindling our hearts so that we – yes, even WE might be the ones who get the fire going among our fellows: the fire starters!

What if those posters of Smokey the Bear were lining the halls of our churches, pointing at us like a furry Uncle Sam, saying, “Only YOU can prevent the spread of the fire.” That’s one fire I don’t want to put out – one movement I don’t want to impede.

If I miss out on being a fire starter, I hope I will at least be a flame fanner… and not a water tosser!

Hear Three Stanzas of This Hymn

Thursday, February 8, 2018

“Always looking on his smiling face, that is why I shout and sing.”

Hymn: “He Keeps Me Singing” – Words & Music by Luther Bridgers (1884-1948)

Have you ever noticed how much difference a smiling face makes? We all know it is always better to smile than to scowl, but sometimes we Christians forget!

We were at the local Chili’s one Sunday after church. Our buzzer went off to let us know our table was ready. As we vacated the little bench we had occupied for several minutes, a gentleman – no, there was nothing gentle about this man – almost knocked us down taking our obviously much-coveted spot by the bar. I glanced in his direction and held back from saying what I wanted to say lest a Texas bar fight break out. He had the ultimate unhappy, mad-at-the-world look on his face. I admit, I didn’t give him a smile, but just kept following the hostess to our table.

I wondered to myself if that guy had probably been in church a while earlier, singing in the choir, taking up the offering, or (God forbid) standing in the pulpit!

All of that to say that we who represent Christ in the world should have a visage that matches his… that compassionate, pleasant look that we all seem to share with newborns and small children. It is often a look that we don’t share as often with our peers.

While feasting on the riches of his grace and resting beneath his sheltering wings, I keep my attention on his smiling face which gives me good reason to shout and sing. So says the song.

If you have seen the smiling face of Jesus, pass it along to someone else. Pay it forward. Make sure you don’t grab it and hold it for yourself, your children/spouse, or the people who accompany you to weekly worship. You may even have to smile at some guy who topples you in the waiting area of a local restaurant!

See Jesus’ smile? Share it regularly.

Sung straight-forward by Mennonites

Sung with a 40’s swing by Babbie Mason

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

“Trusting Jesus, that is all.”

Hymn: “Trusting Jesus” – Edgar Page Stites (1836-1921)

“That is all.” Fans of STAR WARS will recall that this was a dismissive phrase from Darth Vader. Some of us remember it was the last line of the classic M.A.S.H. series. The phrase is often used to bring a list to a close. In internet shorthand, TIA.

In the CB radio days, the conversations were punctuated by “over,” meaning that’s all… it’s your turn to talk.

John Keats said, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." Although her quote seems Oprah-esque, Audrey Hepburn summed it up this way: “The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – that is all that matters.”

Me? I’ll go with a Jesus quote: “Trust me.” (Mark 5:36, Luke 8:50, John 14:1, etc.)

"Trusting Jesus, that is all." The bottom line of my commitment to Christ is summed up in those five words which conclude each stanza and the refrain of what may seem like a light-hearted romp of a gospel song. When the dust settles, when it is all said and done, at the end of the day (and other aphorisms!), I trust Jesus. Period.

Trust Jesus. Over and out, good buddy.

From a 1970 Assembly of God Choir Album

Monday, February 5, 2018

“We love your name, we love your laws, and joyfully embrace your cause.”

Hymn: “Come, Holy Spirit, Dove Divine” – Adoniram Judson (1788-1850)
Common Tune: MARYTON

This baptismal hymn was written by the first American missionary to be sent to Burma and stay on the field long enough to establish a faith community. His commission set into motion the great missionary movement from the U.S. to countries around the world. He was passionate about believers’ baptism by immersion (as reflected in this hymn) and oversaw the translation of the Bible into the Burmese language. His is a major name among those for whom missions is their cause.

In THIS hymnline, Judson puts the foundation of his calling into our mouths as we sing; and as we repeat them, we speak our own commitment to embrace the cause of Christ… with joy!

There are lots of different Christian causes out there, and around each one there seems to have formed a following. Some of these have morphed into denominations or sects; some have filled gaps in the church’s ministry; some have given rise to the greatest movements in church history; others have created division and infighting.

The cause of Christ is to know him and to make him known – to reveal Christ by modeling his life-actions, his attitudes, his sacrificial nature… by anticipating his ultimate reign (“Thy kingdom come…”). When we take up that central cause and avoid the peripheral distractions, we come closer to agreeing with these words when we sing them together.

Almost every great cause (Christian and otherwise) has incorporated a song. In fact, any time we stand to sing our faith together, we joyfully support the mission of Christ.

Your mission, if you should choose to accept it: Adore his name. Revere his Word. Gladly embrace his cause.

See all stanzas.

Friday, February 2, 2018

"Thou didst accept their praises; accept the praise we bring."

Hymn: "All Glory, Laud, and Honor"
Theodulph of Orleans (760-821)
Translated by John Mason Neale (1919-1866)
Typical Tune: ST. THEODULPH

This is one of the oldest hymns that we still sing. I know it is meant to be sung on Palm Sunday, but this hymn-line is about praise-acceptance, not about donkeys and palm branches and garment-strewn streets.

Praise is one of those words that has become blurred in its use in the church, especially since we've developed so many styles of congregational expression... and one of those has been tagged "praise and worship." There's something very exclusive about that, indicating that any other style is devoid of those two actions; but that is an argument for another day on another blog!

In church-life, praise is making positive statements or remarks about God (Father, Son and/or Spirit). In our praise we commend God both for who he is and for what he has done. I like to say that we attribute worthiness to God when we praise him. In our praising, we say, "You are worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing," as in Revelation 5:12.

Another way to look at this is that we assign value to our God; in fact, we are saying, "You are the most valuable to me." From the Revelation passage, we might interpret it as "Of great value is the Lamb!"

I have way too much to say on this subject, so I'll stop trying to convince you of all my opinions on what all the word entails. However, however you worship - no matter what style your church may follow - be sure your praise is a sincere offering lifted up to God, especially as you sing!

As you praise God, imagine you are handing him a gift... a present, if you will... from your hand to his... from heart to his. Every time you breathe between phrases, whisper "Here, take this." When you praise God like this, presenting him with your authentic attribution of his great value, extolling him for his great work in the world, appreciating his consistent activity in your own life, I believe he is happy to extend his hand and his heart to receive your praise. Acceptable praise, accepted.

Don't let your praise stop at the ceiling of the room in which you worship - high-vaulted with carved beams or with suspended Celotex tiles. Hurl them all the way to the throne of God, saying, "Here, take this." -- and I believe he will.

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)