From on High

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Name a Christian denomination, and chances are I’ve attended services there. Most of my years, though, have been spent in ever more casual worship services. Simple buildings. Small worship bands. Blue jeans acceptable for pastor and congregant alike. I began to wonder, in my never-ending struggle with unfounded judgement, why people bother with the expenses associated with what I refer to as “high church.”

Let me stop here and define my terms. Wikipedia describes high church’s hallmarks as “elaborate music, altarpieces, clergy vestments and an emphasis on sacraments.” I’m not referring to theology and doctrine here. I’m writing, in essence, about the outside appearances only.  

 On Christmas Eve this year, the Holy Spirit took me to task. Steve and I attended a service at a nearby Lutheran Church. Lyle Lovett was going to be the soloist. I didn’t know who he was, but the name sounded familiar, and I was curious to see what it would be like to attend a service that would be, yes, high church.

 And I learned my lesson.

 Organ, orchestra and choir? My heart soared and tears fell as I worshipped with all my heart. (Ask my husband, I’m not particularly prone to emotion. This wasn’t some drummed-up-by-the-atmosphere experience. It was me being drawn to worship by the music.) Bear in mind that, if you read much of the Old Testament, you can’t get away from the fact that music, sometimes elaborate music, is a big deal in the Bible.

 A processional entrance let by a shining metal cross? What a great reminder that Christmas isn’t just about the manger birth! It’s also about death and resurrection—first that of our Lord and later our own. We didn’t take communion, but that would have fit in quite well. 

A pastor in white robes? No, that wasn’t what I was used to, but it eliminated one more distraction. Admit it, haven’t you ever found yourself thinking just a little bit about the attire of the choir? (Oh, Susie’s blouse is beautiful. Sharon’s skirt is a little short…)

The building was huge, not particularly simple, and created with acoustics in mind. (See previous comment about music in the Bible.) And it was packed. Had we arrived 2 minutes later, we would have had to stand the whole time. So, was the building too big? We were at the third of five services, and most certainly not at the most popular time slot. Maybe sometimes big is good.

So, have you, like me, found yourself drifting toward that most ungodly stance of, “I know the best way to do church” from time to time? If so, join me now in rejecting all such notions. We serve a loving God who loves our worship. That much we know for sure. And that is enough!

 

(Photo from pixabay)

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Founders’ Day

IMG_0507It was Founders’ Day Weekend in Dripping Springs, Texas. Think barbeque (a LOT of barbeque), a big midway sporting rides I can’t imagine strapping myself into, and vendors selling all sorts of items from farmhouse tables and hand-carved knives to kettle corn and batter fried Oreos.

On Friday night we went to a parade that would surely rival any other in small town America. Picture this:

  • a marching band, heavy on the brass section.
  • a chiropractor driving a pickup truck lined with fake skeletons (I kid you not!).
  • simple floats filled with kids of all ages throwing candy and koozies into a crowd of waving watchers with plastic loot bags at the ready.
  • hundreds (thousands?) of people cheering as their neighbors paraded past.

On Saturday we toured the competing barbeque booths, willingly tasting their creations, often for free. I ate more meat than I usually eat in weeks! Tony helped judge the best brisket of the festival. Steve tried smoked rabbit (but don’t tell Elizabeth). That was all great fun, but then came Sunday.

The web advertised, “Join the community as all the churches of Dripping Springs come together to worship our Heavenly Father.” I’ve got to admit, I wondered how that was going to work. But, boy did it ever work! Here’s how:

  • We met outside, sitting on folding chairs, in bleachers or standing to the side.
  • We sang old hymns and new, the words printed on simple pages handed out by volunteers.
  • We prayed, mostly in English, with a bit of Spanish thrown in.
  • We listened to Scripture in a variety of versions.
  • We gave an offering for the poor, collected in plastic buckets.
  • We took communion, served by some in robes and some in shorts and plaid shirts.

And it was awesome. Nobody talked about differences. We just talked about Jesus, and worshiped him and wished we could go on all day. Turns out, no surprise really, that all Christians have a great deal in common, and we celebrated that.

Now, look at that first photo again. Here’s a zoomed in version. Seeing that shirt was one of my favorite parts of the whole festival. It was true on Sunday, and it’s still true today.

Church founders day

The photo’s a little blurry, but the says words say “The CHURCH has left the BUILDING.”

We are the church. We have left the building. Let’s all go be the hands and feet of Jesus together today!

What a Mighty God We Serve!

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I used to have quite a collection of cassette tapes. (Remember those?) They made the days of running countless errands (before Amazon!) more entertaining for me and for my kids. I can still hear the perky kids’ tunes in my memory. One of the verses playing in my head this morning is an African folk song possibly recorded first by Hezekiah Walker. It goes like this:

  • What a mighty God we serve!
  • What a mighty God we serve!
  • Angels bow before him.
  • Heaven and earth adore him.
  • What a mighty God we serve!

It’s a good reminder, don’t you think? Sometimes the day ahead of us looks too big, too challenging, and we shrink back a bit as it begins. We need not, because we are facing it with a mighty God!

You know by now that I love the works of Hannah Whitall Smith. In The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, she lists a dozen Bible based reminders of how mighty our God is, how very much he cares about us, and how his might and care affect our daily lives:

  • Not a sparrow falls to the ground outside of his care.
  • The very hairs of our head are numbered.
  • We’re commanded to cease all worry, because our Father cares for us.
  • We’re not to avenge ourselves, because our Father will defend us.
  • We have no reason to fear, for God is on our side.
  • No one can be against us, because he is for us.
  • We lack nothing, because he is our Shepherd.
  • He shuts the mouths of lions, quenches flames, delivers us and rescues us.
  • Kings and rulers come and go according to his will.
  • He rules the wind and waves.
  • He thwarts the plans of nations.
  • He does whatever pleases him in the heavens and on the earth.

I hope you are facing only pleasant things today. But if, like most of us, you will meet challenges before the evening comes, be encouraged. Let your heart cry out before every difficulty, “What a mighty God we serve!”

(And if you’d like to be reminded of that fact by a choir of children’s voices, check out Cedarmont Kids here.)

 

 

A Hymn by Any Other Name…

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“Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise!” How true! Those words are from “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” and describe so eloquently our need for psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Certainly hymns are not our only option when it comes to singing loudest praise. However, copyrights make recounting the lyrics of contemporary works a bit “sketchy,” as my kids would say. And so, let me simply nod to the more modern works you readers listed and say with you, “Well done!”

  • “Here I Am Lord” by James Kilbane
  • “In Christ Alone” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
  • “Because He Lives” by Bill and Gloria Gaither
  • “Holy Spirit You Are Welcome Here” by Jesus Culture with Martin Smith
  • “This Little Light of Mine” (author disputed)

That last one, recommended by one of you with reserve, is actually published in at least 38 hymnals. Its simplicity mirrors the simplicity of our calling as Christians. Let it shine!

Loudest praise. Joyful noises. Making music in our hearts to the Lord. Worship tunes. The Book of Psalms. Historic Hymns. Scriptural Chants. We have a wealth of ways to lift our voices in adoration to the Lord who loves us.

When? As often as possible.

How? In whatever way we are inclined.

Why? Because all that is within us is meant to bless his holy name!

Was your favorite song of worship included in this blog series? I hope so! If not, tell me about it in the comments box. I’d love to read the ones I missed!

Powerful Poetry [1]

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Many of Thomas Chisolm’s 1200 plus poems were set to music. One became the beloved hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” So many times this year, in both joy and pain, I have sung these words within my soul: All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”

The power of hymns! Charlotte Elliott wrote “Just As I Am.” Her brother, after many years of his own ministry, wondered if the fruit of his labors equaled the impact of the single hymn that included these words: “Yea, all I need in Thee to find.”

“’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” written by Louisa Stead after great personal tragedy, leads me back to a place of peace every time I sing it. “Yes, ‘tis sweet to trust in Jesus, just from sin and self to cease; just from Jesus simply taking life and rest and joy and peace.” 

Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame was much more than a runner. He was also a missionary and a martyr. His favorite hymn was reportedly “Be Still My Soul.” I can imagine these words comforting him as he sat imprisoned in China: “Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side.”  I wonder, did he also fortify himself while praising the Lord with some of these lines?

  • “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.”
  • “Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.”
  • “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am his own.”
  • Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my Vision, o Ruler of all.

Perhaps he drew strength from Martin Luther’s words: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,” also translated to read “With might of ours naught can be done.” How very true! We do indeed need him every hour. He meets our needs. He gives us peace. He delights in our praise.

[1] Many thanks to cyberhymnal.org, my chief resource in this blog series.

Troubled Tunes

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A neighbor of mine, when asked her favorite hymn, told me it depends on the day. Me too! Isn’t that one of the wonderful things about having so many hymns from which to choose? If you have an archive of lyrics in your heart and mind, you may discover wisdom, challenge, and encouragement beginning to play in the background of your day just when you need it most.

We so often sing only the first verse or two of a hymn, missing the wealth of wisdom in later verses. “How Great Thou Art” ranked second, after “Amazing Grace,” in a survey conducted by Christianity Today in 2001. It’s an old folk tune, translated by Stuart Hine. Its final verse, added by Hine midway through the last century, reads

“When burdens press, and seem beyond endurance, bowed down with grief, to Him I lift my face. And then in love, He brings me sweet assurance. ‘My child, for thee, sufficient is my grace.’” *

You’ve probably heard the story of Horatio Spafford, who penned “It Is Well with My Soul” after losing his precious children to a shipwreck, but have you sung these words, found at the end of the hymn?

“But Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait. The sky, not the grave is our goal. Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!”

Backstories add such richness to the songs we sing. The words of “Amazing Grace” meant more to me once I understood that its author, John Newton, was once a slave trader.

“The Lord has promised good to me. His Word my hope secures. He will my Shield and Portion be as long as life endures.” How’s that for words to carry us through a troubled time?

Fanny Crosby wrote “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” and another 8000+ hymns, topping even Charles Wesley, and she was blind from infancy! Her deep trust in the sovereign wisdom of our Lord led her to pen these words,

“For I know whate’er befalls me, Jesus doeth all things well.”

She said of her blindness, “I might not have written so many hymns to praise our God, had I been distracted by the visual beauty around me.” Fanny also penned “Blessed Assurance” and “Christ, the Lord Is Risen Today.” My, how I am thankful for the way God used Fanny Crosby!

I hope you are in the middle of an easy week. If not, I hope the quotes above, drawn from works by those who certainly knew the weight of difficulty, will lift your spirits, change your focus, and help bring you through whatever you are facing.

 

*Words: Stuart K. Hine Music: Swedish folk melody/adapt. and arr. Stuart K. Hine
© 1949, 1953 by The Stuart Hine Trust CIO. All rights in the USA its territories and possessions, except print rights, administered by Capitol CMG Publishing. USA, North and Central American print rights and all Canadian and South American rights administered by Hope Publishing Company. All other North and Central American rights administered by the Stuart Hine Trust CIO. Rest of the world rights administered by Integrity Music Europe. All rights reserved. Used by permission.