Friday, April 20, 2018

“No righteousness nor merit, no beauty can I plead.”

Hymn: “I Saw the Cross of Jesus” – Frederick Whitfield (1829-1904)
Common Tune: WHITFIELD

 “How do you plea?” the judge asked as he peered over the top of his reading glasses from what seemed at that moment twenty feet above the accused. That imposing presence from the bench is one of the strongest tools at any judge’s disposal. Taking a deep breath and swallowing almost audibly, the accused answered: “According to what the cross of Jesus tells me, I’m a vile and guilty creature saved only through the Lamb. So I can plead no righteousness; there’s nothing beautiful. upon which to base my case. I have no merit – no excellent argument. I guess I’ll just say that I glory in the cross. I am now entitled to be called one of  his own. Is that a good enough answer? Can that be my plea?”

The response of the here accused is basically what we plead as we sing the second stanza of this great old hymn:
    I love the cross of Jesus, it tells me what I am:
    A vile and guilty sinner saved only through the Lamb.
    No righteousness nor merit, no beauty can I plead.
    Yet in the cross I glory, my title there I read.

We have no excuse for our sinful behavior; we simply claim the cross… or the blood of him who died there in our place.

Our blood-bought salvation is not easily understood… theologically speaking. It’s what the French would call tres complique! But for me to understand it, I have to rely on pictures or circumstances – and the courtroom is one of those for me. I stand guilty, but my sentence has been dismissed. Therefore, in the sight of God, my bold, grateful plea can be “not guilty.”

Think you’re righteous? Think you deserve your salvation? Think you’re too creative to be omitted? Think again.

Hear Lloyd Larson’s setting of this text

Thursday, April 19, 2018

“Thee will I cherish. Thee will I honor.”

Hymn: “Fairest Lord Jesus” – AnonymousTune: CRUSADERS’ HYMN (ST. ELIZABETH)

This is a hymn we all know, no matter what our denominational bent. It is one of the most beautifully crafted prayer hymns in any song book. Translated from German, we have no idea who penned the main stanzas.

This hymnline sounds almost like it’s part of someone’s wedding vows. The officiate says, “Do you __(insert name)__ take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife. To cherish and honor her from this day forward…” The groom whose name has been inserted responds, “I do.”

An aside: I actually heard a minister say “insert name” during a wedding years ago. I guess he grabbed his wedding book as he rushed into the sanctuary; I hope he refunded his fee! That’s one reason I always type out a new service every time I do one – partly to make it fresh and applicable to the couple, and partly in order not to call the groom “Insert Name!”

Meanwhile, back on track, as we sing this hymnline, we are renewing our vows to the Lord Christ – those commitments we made to him perhaps years ago are refreshed when we sing the first stanza of “Fairest Lord Jesus” and mean what we sing.

Repeat after me: “Jesus, I will always love you. I will never bring dishonor to you or your cause. So help me God.” I now pronounce you Savior and Disciple. You may now embrace the Bridegroom.

This hymn sung by a group of young men from Birmingham, Alabama

Thursday, April 12, 2018

“With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord, to see the day of earth’s redemption that sets your people free.”

Hymn: “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” – Laurentius Laurenti (1660-1722)
Tune: HAF TRONES LMAPA FARDIG (Swedish folk tune)

“Pleading” is a word we use for crying out in desperation. It is an end-of-my-rope kind of crying out – the kind of language we use when we have nowhere else to turn.

In this hymnline, we assume the posture of worship (“with hearts and hands uplifted”) to make a distress call to the throne of God, begging for the kind of redemption that sets people free… all people everywhere, whatever their imprisonment.

The Old Testament believers looked forward to a coming monarch who would rule on their behalf and give preference to the people of God. Their awaiting was for an earthly leader… a hero, if you will. We Post-New Testament Christians are looking forward to the return of Christ; however, we know from Scripture that his leadership style did not include warring and domination. Therefore, we anticipate his grace-filled redemptive intervention to (among other actions) unlock various kinds of prison doors.

If you’ve read these blogposts for a while, you know that Carlita and I support a couple of mission efforts whose sole purpose is to free people from enslavement… especially women and children. One of these is International Justice Mission (  Large non-profit organizations like this are putting feet to the desperate pleas for the freedom of others.

At the end of our ropes, we continue our anxious plea for all who know no freedom - only bondage and oppression - fully believing that this is ONE of the many miracles the Lord Christ will bring in his ever-loving hand.

Meanwhile, we should be about our Father’s business, doing what WE can to see that such cruel persecution might come to an end. Hearts and hands uplifted... feet and funds on the move!

A High School Academy Sings This Hymn

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die."

Yes, this is already in the ground in Pigeon Forge, TN awaiting my ending dates!
Hymn: “There Is a Fountain” – William Cowper (1731-1800)

This hymn written by a fine Englishman is set to an early American melody… and it is familiar to almost all evangelical groups. I realize that some major churches avoid “blood talk” or “blood songs.” Those congregations won’t be featuring this one any time soon! It paints a picture of the blood-redeeming act of God through his Son on the cross.

But the last line of the hymn is the one I want to deal with today because I have long-believed and ‘preached’ the love of Christ which redeems us – frees us – and sets us on our pilgrimage of faith. Some of us stepped into the kingdom at a young age… at Vacation Bible School, church youth camp, perhaps a series of revival services. Others of us came to trust Christ later in life. Either way, since the time we began to wade into the bloody stream and first understood that God’s loving sacrifice of his only begotten Son has indeed provided our redemption, that has been the theme of our life – through what we say (preach) and through how we live (example).

A lot of folks nowadays emphasize the LOVE of Christ... that all-encompassing attribute of our greatest Model. I couldn't agree more; I support that argument whole-heartedly. But for me, it goes one step further: it is the REDEMPTIVE LOVE which sets the Savior apart and raises Him to the place of Lord.

Set to this tune, we repeat the phrase "and shall be till I die" several times, underscoring our commitment to hang on to our faith from here on in… until we are face to face with Christ for all time.

As we make those repetitions, I feel myself renewing that lifelong commitment – rededicating the remainder of my days – to the One whose wounds supplied the eternal-life-giving solution to my sinful state. This transfusion made us “blood brothers” in the kingdom; I am his, and he is mine. This is how I became a member of the family of God.

Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die, and shall be till I die, and shall be till I die. Redeeming love has been my theme, AND SHALL BE TILL I DIE.

Listen to Selah Sing This Hymn

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Early let us turn to thee."

Hymn: "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us" - Dorothy A. Thrupp (1779-1847)
Common Tune: BRADBURY

Too often we follower types seem to turn to Christ as our solution of last resort. After we have exhausted all our own resources, asked others for help, done a bit of research, etc., we ask him to intervene on our behalf. I don't know whether we think he doesn't want to be bothered or we think he has other greater, more important tasks to attend to? Why is it we seem to follow this pattern -- even those of us who SAY we rely on him?

Do you realize what a thrill you get when someone dear to you asks you for help... advice... guidance? The heart of Christ must warm similarly when his loved ones turn first to him and say, "Could you help me here?"

Sometimes when I sing this hymnline, I think it means "early in the day" or "early in my life." More recently -- maybe because it is "later in my life!" -- I have come to sing it as urging me to make turning to Christ my first move ... my first priority... not my last course of action -- not when all else has failed... but when all else will probably fail if I DON'T turn to him early on.

"Blessed Jesus! Blessed Jesus! Early let us turn to thee."

Monday, April 9, 2018

“Grace, love and pity he shows.”

Hymn: “Why Do I Sing about Jesus?” – Words & Music by Albert A Ketchum (1894- ?)

Grace and love are pretty familiar church terms because they are tossed about freely in our sermons, Bible studies, hymns and songs. If asked what two attributes of God are favorites, most would probably respond with these two. I, for one, consider the grace (or mercy) of God to be at the top of my list.

This hymnline, however, employs a less-often uttered term among us believer-types. Perhaps because none of us wishes to be pitied by another, we avoid the word. “She’s just pitiful” or “It’s a pitiful mess he’s gotten himself into” are phrases we’d rather not have spoken about us.

But “pity” is great descriptor of the kind of grace and love expressed in the example of Christ. Pity is simply a substitute term for compassion… especially compassion that is felt because another is suffering some kind of loss or misfortune. One of the definitions I came across was a “fellow feeling” – a shared understanding of what another is going through.

It is not at all positional: a looking down upon. It is not objective: viewed from a distance as we wag our heads and say, “Oh, you pitiful person.” Instead, it is identifying with another, putting ourselves on the same level… standing on even ground with all human strugglers.

Grace, love and pity. In the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus, we find these three things on display… always. Because he is our example, we should set out to exhibit these three… always!

Stop using “pity” in a negative context; move that term over to your positive column. Approach the one who stands before you as a fellow-feeler. Even if you haven’t faced the same difficulty or dilemma, you can identify with having been a deflated wanderer who – for some period of time – lived as one without hope.

“Grace, love and pity he shows.” It is show-time for the rest of us!

Friday, April 6, 2018

“Here bring your wounded hearts. Here tell your anguish.”

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

We’re familiar with the use of “county seat” – the “seat” of government – the place where local authority is exercised. We also use it as a synonym for the center – where some concept prevails – e.g. the “seat of learning.”

Today’s hymnline follows the admonition, “Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.” It is there that mercy-filled authority is exercised and wounded hearts and anguished lives are welcomed and dealt with. It’s a beautiful thought… a heart-warming image.

The church should be a mercy seat – a seat of mercy – a place where the concept prevails. To be all it is meant to be, the body of Christ must embrace the wounded, anguished masses one at a time… not to condemn them but to aid in their healing and restoration. The church’s ad campaign should include this hymnline… not as a church-growth gimmick, but as a sincere “all come.”

It has been said that the church is known as the only army which shoots their wounded. That image has to change. The merciful Christ demands it.

To quote Wayne Watson, the church needs to become the “Friend of a Wounded Heart.”

This Hymn Sung by the Men of Baylor’s A Cappella Choir

Wayne Watson Sings “Friend of a Wounded Heart”

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"I'd sing (about) the character he bears and all the forms of love he wears."

Hymn: “O Could I Speak the Matchless Worth” – Samuel Medley (1738-1799)
Tune: ARIEL (based on a melody from Mozart)

Even though this hymn appears in over 600 hymnals, it is not one that all of us know. It is in none of the current major denominational books; for Baptists (my ilk), the last appearance was in the 1954 “old blue” hymnal! I couldn’t even find a decent setting of it online for you to hear. It is not an easy tune to sing, but it is a good devotional text.

We use the word “bearing” to describe a person’s attitude, manner, demeanor… even posture. It’s sort of archaic, but we still use it to describe how someone comes into a room and how they are perceived.

There is a certain character with which Christ carries himself. It is the highest-level of character development, and it is the plane toward which we strive. In drama-talk, we discuss the character (true nature) of the character (role). In well-developed scripts, the “real” moral fiber is exposed… often gradually. So it is with our spiritual life: over time, who we really are comes to the surface. It is hoped, of course, that we have advanced to a Christ-like disposition which comes naturally to us… has become our “true nature” – our character.

I am particularly drawn to the second half of this hymnline: “all the forms of love he wears.” By his very nature, Christ is loving. We learned that in the church nursery (or cradle roll if you go back as far as I do). He is loving in so many ways: his love takes on so many shapes. He WEARS love. I’m a visual learner, so that brings a great picture to my mind and helps me further grasp the deep, deep love of Jesus.

O, that wherever I may be found, I would bear the character (true nature) of Christ and that I might wear (display) his love automatically.

See this hymn at

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"Even when life overwhelms us, Easter people sing this song: Alleluia!"

"Overwhelmed" - Elena Covalciuc Vieriu

Hymn: "Easter People, Raise Your Voices" -  William M. James (1915-2014)

Overwhelmed. Sucked under. Drowning. Not going to make it this time. Can't see the end of this one. Without hope.

We've all felt this way... used those descriptors... even said those phrases out loud -- to others -- even to God. I know I have... even recently. How about you? Shame on me, but it's true.

At our lowest point, from what David calls "out of the depths," we Easter people are not without hope.

When I was a kid growing up in East Tennessee, we sang a song from the BROADMAN HYMNAL that said, "When the storms of life are raging, stand by me." I meant it then; I mean it now. I believed He would then; I believe He will now.

As Easter people who flocked to an empty tomb a few days ago, we must believe the Risen One continues to do miraculous things in hopeless situations... like the one He seemed to be in! -- standing by us in the raging storms which overwhelm us, suck us under and convince us we are not going to make it this time.

And Easter people sing this alleluia song all year... not just a couple of weeks in the spring!

Monday, April 2, 2018

"Love's redeeming work is done. Fought the fight, the battle won."

Hymn: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” – Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Common Tune: EASTER HYMN

NOTE: I don't post a HYMNLINE on Sundays - so pretend you read this one yesterday morning before you headed off to worship at your place. Hopefully the excitement of resurrection has not yet worn off.

On this Easter morning, let’s turn to a great Wesley text, one that is probably being sung across denominational lines in more churches today than any other. This one has too many great hymnlines to choose just one, but I had to choose one to start us off at least.

To get the full impact of Wesley’s poem, take out the alleluias:
    “Christ the Lord is risen today,”
    Heav’n and earth together say!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high.
    Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth reply.

    Lives again our glorious King.
    Where, O death, is now thy sting?
    Dying once, he all doth save.
    Where (is) thy victory, O grave?

    Love’s redeeming work is done.
     (Love) fought the fight; the battle (is) won.
    Death in vain forbids him rise.
    Christ has opened Paradise.   

    Soar we now where Christ has led,
    Following our exalted Head.
    Made like him, like him we rise.
    Ours (is) the cross, the grave, the skies.

How much theology can one person put into one hymn? Not much more than this! Thank you, John Wesley!

Love’s redeeming work is done. Fought the fight, the battle won. The redemptive plan of God set into motion long ago, culminating in the cross, is now completed by the resurrection power of love. Love has fought this and many battles.  The war against death has been won. The song of victory can NOW be sung! Alleluia!

Put on your Sunday best and head down to the church house. The day you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. You have reason upon reason to rejoice. May the contemplative moments of the past six days be replaced by all the loudness you can muster.

Christ the Lord is risen today. Heav’n and earth together say, “He is risen indeed!”

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)

Hymnlines - Hemlines: Get it?! :)