Friday, September 30, 2022

BOOSTER SEAT

The grand-boys had come for dinner, and as little Jimmy (then 4 ½) stood by “his” chair, he touched the strapped-in “booster chair” and said, “Nana, I don't need this anymore.” Oh, another milestone of growth. First, he was a babe in arms. Then he sat in a high-chair where he slopped his food all over the tray. Finally, he was promoted to the “big people table” in a booster seat next to his brothers, with his own plastic dishes and place mat.

Hearing his request, I unstrapped and removed the booster, and he sat down, way down, so that his chin was almost even with the tabletop. Knowing he wouldn't want to resume the “booster seat” era, I found a thin foam pillow for him to sit on to give him a little height. That suited him just fine. Growing up with stair-step older brothers, he's tried hard to keep up with them. And even a little matter of outgrowing the booster seat was important to him.

Someday, even, he will grow out of the “foam pillow” boost, and his chin will steadily rise from table-level. Someday, that chin will have whiskers! I'm not sure I'll still be around for that, but for now, I'm glad I can encourage his desire to “not be a baby anymore.”

Later on, that incident got me thinking about “baby Christians” and the need to grow past the basics of accepting Jesus' death for our sins, and growing in the faith. One of my spiritual mentors years ago (a godly senior – the age I am now!) challenged me with her faith-walk and consistent scripture memory program. For some reason, this verse she recited to me—with a tear in the corner of her eye-- stands out from all the others:

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18 (KJV)

Even at her age, this godly woman didn't consider herself Christian "enough” to coast with her current faith-walk. She was always growing, always praying, always reading and memorizing scripture. And it showed—in her eternal confidence and compassion for her family and the bigger needs of the world. She was into the “real meat” of scripture and into the “real heart” of prayer. I loved her and learned from her.

I think her distinctive spiritual character was that she loved her Jesus and she loved the scriptures. Her Bible was so well-used that it seemed molded to her lap. Such intimacy with God's Word doesn't come from haphazard reading or a quickie in a devotional. As I observe today's media culture (computer/smart phone addiction to gaming, social sites, other entertainment) capture the hearts of this next generation, I wonder: where will be the spiritual giants? Will they succeed in saying “no” to excesses of entertaining videos or social media to cultivate the most important relationship of all—that with the Lord Jesus? Will they grow out of the “baby habits” of a snitch of scripture here or there (if any) and really “chew” on mature spiritual food? Will their lives show it?

Such questions I ask myself: have I moved on from baby food to real spiritual meat? Is it making a difference in my life? Does scripture “give me a boost” to love my Savior even more?

Friday, September 23, 2022

NOTE-WORTHY

A "trinity" of music notes--a gift
I keep on my piano
Often when I come to my “quiet time” place, an old hymn starts running through my mind: “Jesus, what a friend of sinners, Jesus lover of my soul.” Faith in a loving, omnipotent God—who loves me despite my flaws—helps me personalize those lyrics woven long ago into my faith-walk. I'd noticed in hymnals that the tune carried the name “Hyfrydol,” whatever that meant. Little did I realize what a big impact that gentle tune, now more than a hundred years old, has made on Christian music.

The name (from Welsh) means “lovely, cheerful or melodious,” and the tune came from the heart of Rowland Hugh Prichard (1811-1887), when the Welsh textile worker and amateur musician was only about twenty years old. Who would have thought that a “tender's assistant” in a Welsh flannel manufacturing factory would have such a second faith-influenced avocation? But the reason may trace to the 1859 Welsh revival, when some 110,000 conversions changed the nation's spiritual culture. He also published a children's song book called “Singer's Friend.”

But a tune needs words to become a song or hymn. Those matched to “Hyfrydol” have included these:

1866: Scottish businessman William Chatterton Dix (he sold marine insurance) was also a prolific hymn-verse writer, attaching the tune to “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.”

1875: The “Hyfrydol” tune was applied to Methodist Charles Wesley's classic 1744 Advent poem “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” It was also later matched to his 1747 “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

1876: Philip Bliss, prolific Gospel musician associated with evangelist D.L. Moody, used the tune for his “I Will Sing of My Redeemer.”

1886: Baptist minister Francis Rowley penned “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story,” which has two music matches in hymnals, one tune by Peter Billhorn and the other Hyfrydol.

1910: John Wilbur Chapman, a Presbyterian evangelist who traveled with a gospel singer and also preached with the legendary Dwight Moody, penned “Our Great Savior” (also known as “Jesus, What a Friend of Sinners”).

“Hyfrydol” is certainly not the only versatile hymn tune out there. But learning who has adopted it to meaningful lyrics has only deepened my appreciation for how God uses musicians and lyricists—in tandem or perhaps separated by years—to bring glory to Himself. Those partnerships transcended their times, and even come to my corner of the universe when I sit down to focus on our amazing Creator-God and Savior.

-----

Enjoy a men's choir in Wales sing a “Hyfrydol” hymn in the Welsh language:

PendyrusChoir - Hyfrydol - YouTube



Friday, September 16, 2022

PRECIOUS....

Part of a monthly series on a hymn of the faith.

Precious Lord, take my hand. If just those five words set your heart to humming a tune, and recalling the rest of the words, then you've looked briefly into the broken heart of a well-known blues musician. His name was Thomas A. Dorsey (not to be confused with the big-band leader Tommy Dorsey).

He was born in the small Georgia town of Villa Rica, about 20 miles west of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1899. His father was a Black revivalist preacher and his mother a church organist. There he heard the melodies handed down from slaves with their “moaning” styles with elongated notes and embellishments. When the family moved to Atlanta, Thomas became enamored with the “blues” music style. Before long, he was playing in night clubs, including some “speakeasies” connected to the mob bosses. Before long, he moved to Chicago where he rose in the blues performance culture.

When his mother saw him swallowed up by secular music, she repeatedly urged him to turn back and serve the Lord. Yet he ignored her counsel, and often worked around the clock to meet the demands for his type of music. He suffered what is believed to be a mental breakdown; his mother nursed him back to health, but he went right back to paid jazz and blues jobs. Again, his health broke. His sister took him to a church where he experienced a supernatural healing.

This time, he tried to incorporate his new style of music—with blues and jazz syncopation—into church worship services. But it didn't match the more conservative hymns that African-American churches were singing at that time.

He had married and he and his wife were expecting their first baby. She was near her delivery date when he needed to travel to lead a choir event in Indianapolis. While on the platform, he was handed a telegram telling him his wife and baby had died. Coming home, inconsolable in his loss, he eventually went to a piano. In what he described as a mystical inspiration, he began to play a melody and found words to go with it. Later, Dorsey would claim that his song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” came from God Himself. It would be performed by Mahalia Jackson, and was a favorite of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Another of his 3,000 songs (a third of them Gospel) to become well-known was “Peace in the Valley.”

Dorsey eventually took a job at Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church where he organized one of the first Gospel choirs. He would serve there from 1932 until the late 1970s, introducing Black Gospel audience participation like clapping, stomping and shouting. He also started a Gospel publishing house for African American composers. Then came a national organization for Gospel choirs and choruses that adapted the “Gospel blues” style.

He later remarried and had a son and daughter, but continued a hectic music performance schedule in the U.S. and overseas. By the 1970s he began to slow down and showed symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. He would die in Chicago at age 93 in 1993, reportedly while listening to music on a “Walkman.”

For listening, one of many YouTube videos of this poignant song:

Joey+Rory - Take My Hand, Precious Lord (Live) - YouTube

Friday, September 9, 2022

PURE

This white rose bush is my favorite among the dozen-plus roses growing by our driveway. It's named “Mount Hood” for Oregon's snow-capped inactive volcano. But when my husband chose that variety for our rose garden, he remembered a dark night on Mount Hood several years earlier, when an impaired driver crossed the center line and crashed into us. Our car was destroyed, we had injuries...but we lived.

After that traumatic event, I struggled with bad feelings toward the man who hit us and tried to elude responsibility with lies and denials. Yet I knew God's way was not to nurture enmity against this man. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Even in far-lesser offenses, it's so easy to let bitterness and pride taint the heart. I love this old ditty by an unknown author: To dwell above with the saints we love, Oh, that will be glory!/But to dwell below with the saints we know, well, that's another story!

On our own, without other people to bug us and badger us, we might do quite well. But “purity of heart” isn't a matter of isolation or always having our own way. In Psalm 73, Asaph (one of King David's temple musicians) struggled with trusting God when he saw nonbelievers enjoying prosperity, fame, and good health. Such people even declared faith in God as unnecessary for them: “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?' (73:11).

WHY TRY?

This bothered Asaph, who complained, “In vain have I kept my heart pure, in vain have I washed my hands in innocence” (v. 13). If purity didn't really matter, why try? His attitude adjustment about the rewards of faith came as he returned to worship. He admitted he was looking at other people and not at a holy God.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,

I was senseless and arrogant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me to glory. (vv.21-24)

I've long appreciated Asaph's psalm. He pulls no punches: life doesn't always favor the godly with bouquets of roses, riches, popularity, health, yada yada. But God never changes. In a song that Asaph's king, David, wrote: “To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless” (2 Samuel 22:26).

My “Mount Hood” roses bloom for a season, then go to a winter's death. How different for humans who trust God: Asaph put it this way in beautiful words I memorized and often recall:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26).

So yes, blessed are the pure in heart. And even if, in all honesty, we struggle to feel our hearts are pure enough, God has the “pruning” solution: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Oh my, did my rose care lead to a sermon? I confess so. But I'm grateful that even in the ordinary tasks of life, God has a message for me. Maybe for you, too.


Friday, September 2, 2022

PRIMROSE PROVERBS

After a much-too-snowy winter (like the night of a record two-foot snowfall!), my husband was eager to welcome spring by planting some primroses by our front walk. Their name comes from the Latin prim for “first” (as in first of spring), and their compact growing pattern and bright colors always cheer. Sometimes they make me think of the phrase “Primrose Path,” which I long associated with some ultra-lovely garden. Maybe that's because our English word “prim” (for a very proper and demure person) comes from that word in French. Still, I'd envision lovely gardens with all the rainbow's colors, artfully planted, and probably primroses lining a flagstone walkway. Perhaps there's such a garden somewhere, but not in our hot climate. Primroses grow best in damp, wooded-like conditions. If that sends your imagination to fairies, you probably recall this 1916 children's song:

White coral bells upon a slender stock. Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk. Oh, don't you wish that you could hear them ring, That will happen only when the fairies sing.

Sorry, but primroses didn't make it into these song lyrics, as least from what I researched. Instead, they have a darker reputation tracing back to Shakespeare's plays. In Hamlet, Ophelia's brother Laertes is lecturing her how to behave while he's away at a university in Paris. She turns his advice around, warning him to behave himself since fellow students have quite a negative moral reputation. Her warning (in that quaint Old English):

Show me the steep and stormy way to heaven whiles like a puffed and reckless libertine himself the primrose path of dalliance treads and recks not his own rede. (Hamlet, 1.3).

Shakespeare's audiences understood Ophelia's worry that such behavioral paths led to bad outcomes. Because this was the era of the King James Bible, no doubt audiences also knew the Bible's warning about the moral gate that led to destruction (Matthew 7:13). Over centuries, that allusion led to to the contemporary meaning of “Primrose Path” as “a life of pleasure and leisure that results in a negative or detrimental outcome.” (1) In other words, it's the easy way out but it has its hidden costs.

I pick up the same theme throughout the book of Proverbs. Maybe King Solomon was writing out of his disastrous experiences with the world's biggest pagan harem when he penned advice that warned against following paths that led away from God. The most vivid example is in chapter 7, where a guy is dawdling along a street when a brazen immoral woman lures him into her home. Verse 22 is chilling: “All at once he followed her...little knowing it will cost him his life.”

I once heard it said that when someone is faced with temptation, he or she should imagine Jesus watching from a nearby corner. Would He be pleased or grieved by your choice? Writing to believers in the immoral city of Corinth, Paul had similar advice:

If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

He added that temptations are out there. They're a common thing in our human existence. But in keeping God in such situations, “when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). To borrow a modern phrase, He will help us just say NO!

In contrast to the “Primrose Path” (in its historical meaning of pleasure leading to harm) is “the path of the righteous [which] is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18).

I have to be honest: all this historical background saddened me! I enjoy our garden primroses. But checking out a garden-variety allusion reminded me of the higher calling to submit to the Lord's spiritual landscaping plan for my life.

(1) a life of pleasure and leisure that results in a negative or detrimental outcome. - Search (bing.com)


Friday, August 26, 2022

THE BACKWARDS VIEW

When our year-old car was destroyed in an accident, I had one “must” for our replacement: a back-up camera. Maybe it's an older, careful-driver thing, but I felt it would help with parallel parking or backing out of a shopping mall parking space.

That gadget, however, wouldn't have prevented the accident caused by an inexperienced driver. We'd just visited a friend in the hospital and were driving home in a car we'd bought just a year earlier. About a mile into our journey, headed up a narrow hillside road, we noticed a vehicle careen at high speed around a bend and weave erratically, headed for us. In those panicked seconds, my husband pulled to the narrow shoulder as far as possible. There was no guardrail to stop an over-the-ledge push if the other driver slammed into us. Instead, he struck us with a glancing blow that destroyed the side of our car. Miraculously (God-protected-ly), we didn't tumble down the embankment to serious injury or perhaps death.

Nobody was hurt seriously, though “shaken.” Police came quickly, the wrecked cars were towed, and we called a friend to take us home. Then we faced the insurance labyrinth and finding another car. That should have tied up the loose ends of that scary experience, right? Maybe, except that we exert influence we may not be aware of. Months later, my husband was shopping one day when a woman came up to him. Her son was the one who hit us. She thanked my husband for his caring attitude toward her son, in running to his wrecked car to make sure he was okay.

I thought of that scenario when I came across this head-scratch-er (for me) quote by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher on media theory: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” One interpretation: how we act in emergencies and trauma spreads a long shadow forward.

About fifteen years earlier, we survived another “totaled” wreck nearly 200 miles from home when another driver (impaired by alcohol) also took a corner too fast and lost control. That time, our family suffered injuries. But I took my experience to the public, speaking for nearly a decade at monthly “alcohol education” meetings required of people convicted with “driving under the influence.” Eventually, I needed to end looking in the historical “rear-view” mirror. But from the number who came up to express appreciation for honest sharing, I know it was the right thing to do.

I think that's true of any experience we endure and reflect on with angst or sorrow. Eventually, with God's help, we need to move on. Contemporary author Ann Voskamp put this spin on it: “God reveals Himself in rear-view mirrors. And I've an inkling that there are times when we need to drive a long, long distance before we can look back and see God's back in the rear view mirror. Maybe sometimes about as far as heaven—that kind of distance.”

The apostle Paul, of course, didn't have any experience with auto wrecks. But he did endure imprisonment, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, malicious talk and other things that would make an ordinary person ask, “Where is God in all this?” Instead of dwelling on hurting things that were “behind,” he urged this attitude:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14)

(1)Quote by Marshall McLuhan: “We look at the present through a rear view mirr...” (goodreads.com)

(2)Quote by Ann Voskamp: “God reveals Himself in rearview mirrors. And I'...” (goodreads.com)



Friday, August 19, 2022

DOUBLY GIFTED

This is a 1941 "camper's hymnal" I kept after my
parents' deaths--a precious reminder of family faith.
A monthly series on a hymn of the faith. July's hymn blog (July 15) featured "I Need Thee Every Hour." This month, it's the man who composed that hymn's tune, and who was himself a prolific writer of hymn lyrics and tunes.

A classic, memorable hymn needs two elements: great words and a great tune. Usually that's the result of two: a poet and a musician. But sometimes, that's one person, as was true of Robert Lowry of the 19th century.

Born in 1826 in Pennsylvania, he dabbled in music from childhood, but as a young man studied for the ministry. He later served as a pastor of Baptist churches in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He also taught at a college, serving a time as its chancellor. Both a brilliant preacher and musician, he later was invited to work with Bigelow Publishing Company, a music publishing business which put out numerous popular hymnals.

This meshing of Biblical preacher, poet, and musician meant a continual flow of hymn ideas. He once remarked, “My brain is sort of a spinning machine, for there is music running through it all the time.” One example of that is his hymn “Shall We Gather at the River.” Though often sung at baptismal services, it is primarily a song about heaven. 

The hymn was birthed on one especially hot and humid summer day in New York in the summer of 1864. Besides the pressures from the ongoing Civil War, many were dying from an epidemic. As Dr. Lowry visited the sick and bereaved, many asked, “Pastor, we have parted at the river of death. Will we meet our loved ones again at the river of life?” Hundreds of times, he offered the assurance from Revelation 22:1, that their family circles would reunite at “the river of life that flows form the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

Late one sultry afternoon, coming home especially weary, he sat at his little organ to find some release in music. He thought of the many children and adults who had died. Suddenly, words and music came out, as if by divine inspiration:

Shall we gather at the river/Where bright angel feet have trod,

With its crystal tide forever/Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we'll gather at the river, The beautiful, the beautiful river;

Gather with the saints at the river/That flows by the throne of God.

The hymn was published the following year, 1865. By 1880, it had been published all over the world. That year he visited London for a huge convention of Sunday school workers. Introduced at the meeting as that hymn's author, he was given a great ovation.

Lowry didn't hoard his music gifts, using them to turn others' lyrics into hymns. Best known of those poets was Fannie Crosby, for whom he wrote the tune to “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.” He also wrote the tune to Annie Hawks' poem, “I Need Thee Every Hour.”

Of the dozens of hymns for which he wrote texts and music, in addition to “Shall We Gather at the River,” these remain better-known:

“Come, ye that love the Lord”

“I Need Thee Every Hour”

“My Life Flows on in Endless Song”

“What Can Wash Away My Sin”

“Low in the Grave He Lay” (“Christ Arose!”)

Dr. Lowry would die at age 73 at his home in Plainfield, New Jersey, even then known as one of history's great hymn writers. Did the lyrics to his famous song about heaven, “Shall We Gather at the River,” come to mind in his last hours? Someday, maybe, we'll know. 

=====

To sing along with "Shall We Gather at the River," here is a video of Buddy Greene of the Gaither Music Band:

Buddy Greene - Shall We Gather At the River (Live) - Bing video