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God of Grace

You are a child of God. Your voice matters. Whether you are the one being hurt or the one in a position to do something about it: show up, speak up, and show out that God’s love will win in the end…

God of grace and God of glory: on thy people pour thy power; crown thine ancient church’s story; bring its bud to to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.

Lo! the hosts of evil round us scorn thy Christ, assail thy ways! From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith and praise. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days, for the living of these days.

Cure thy children’s waring madness; bend our pride to thy control; shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.

This beloved hymn brings to mind that well-known verse from the book of Esther, “who knows? Perhaps you have come into your position for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14).

Throughout our lifetimes we will likely feel the pull of this verse several times. However, every now and again, a time rolls around when it feels particularly and peculiarly poignant. Like the lyrics of this song, a time has befallen our world when we need wisdom and courage in order that we might face this hour, live in these days, and keep our eyes on the Kingdom’s true goal.

This is not the time to remain silent. Though, like Esther, we may face consequences for our speaking up, it is necessary because the forces plaguing our world are already in the realm of life-or-death decisions. There are too many people getting hurt, injustices going unchallenged, and lives being destroyed.

The good news is that there is no time like the present.

You are a child of God. Your voice matters. Whether you are the one being hurt or the one in a position to do something about it: show up, speak up, and show out that God’s love will win in the end. It will because of the work God does through us here and now. Evil will continue to sway the world with its charms, but we – the children of God – must and will stand and fight until God’s Kingdom reigns on earth as it does in heaven.

May this, then, be our prayer for the journey: Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore. Let the gift of thy salvation be our glory evermore. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore, serving thee whom we adore.

I Will Arise

Far too often the business of functioning overshadows our true objective as followers of Christ. We get so caught up in keeping the lights on, ensuring that the food is good, and even sometimes in our own personal prayer time that we lose sight of what really matters…

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power. I will arise and go to Jesus; he will embrace me in his arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome; God’s free bounty glorify, true belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh…

The melody of this hymn is often quite haunting due to its minor key. And yet, somehow it makes the music more poignant in expressing its message.

At the heart of the gospel is a very simple purpose: that all the world would know they are loved and welcomed. Throughout his earthly life, this was the essential intention in Christ’s ministry. We, the body of Christ on earth (i.e. the church), are called to continue that ministry in every place we can.

Far too often the business of functioning overshadows our true objective as followers of Christ. We get so caught up in keeping the lights on, ensuring that the food is good, and even sometimes in our own personal prayer time that we lose sight of what really matters.

This hymn invites us to draw our attention back – not only to our own need of repentance, but also to the open arms we are meant to extend into the world. Our lives are intended to be the example so that all others may be embraced, too.

So may this be our prayer for the journey of true ministry: Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all. I will arise and go to Jesus; he will embrace me in his arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms.

Rise, O Church

Who we are as the body of Christ is marked not by worldly strength, or size, or power – but it is clearly made manifest by the love that we spread into the world…

Rise, O church, like Christ arisen, from this meal of love and grace; may we through such love envision whose we are, and whose, our praise. Alleluia, alleluia: God, the wonder of our days.

I was first introduced to this communion hymn through  the Worship and Music Conference of Montreat Conference Center several years ago. Written at the height of the 1990s, when the church was in a full up-swing, the trinitarian verses of this piece speak of how God has invited us to be the church in the world.

Though things have changed rather drastically from 1997, the words still ring true. They speak of love of God, the holiness of our lives in Christ, God’s providence through the Holy Spirit, and our vocation in the world. It is profound to consider how these truths were accurate twenty years ago. It is truly striking to think they have been accurate for over two thousand years (and many even longer in the history of God’s people).

Who we are as the body of Christ is marked not by worldly strength, or size, or power – but it is clearly made manifest by the love that we spread into the world.

May we find God’s path ahead and may this hymn be our invocation for the journey:

Rise, transformed, and choose to follow after Christ, through wounded, whole; broken, shared, our lives are hallowed to release and to console. Alleluia, alleluia; Christ, our present, past, and goal.

Rise, remember well the future God has called us to receive; present by God’s loving nurture, Spirited then let us live. Alleluia, alleluia: Spirit, grace by whom we live.

Service be our sure vocation; courage be our daily breath; mercy be our destination from this day and unto death. Alleluia, alleluia: Rise, O church, a living faith.

We Labor Unto Glory

We, who follow the Living God, cannot give up…

My God, my God, where e’er I go – glory. Where I reap and where I sow – glory. When my hand it grips the thorn – glory. In the still and in the storm – glory. Oh, we labor unto glory till heaven and earth are one, oh, we labor unto glory until God’s kingdom comes.

Written in 2017 by a collection of pastors and worship leaders known as “Porter’s Gate,” this hymn sounds almost like one of the great spirituals from the past two centuries. It is hauntingly beautiful in melody and incredibly poignant in lyrics.

Our world is, in many ways, falling apart. Difficult challenges surround us at every turn and there are many days when most of us feel that we should just throw up our hands and run away.

We, who follow the Living God, cannot give up. Whatever may come, God has placed us here to work in the world so that the light will envelope one and all. We labor on so that the early realm will reflect heaven’s wholeness, health, intelligence, imagination, creativity, beauty, safety, welcome, and love.

May this hymn be our prayer this day, and always: My heart, my hands, they’re kingdom bound – glory. Where thorns no longer curse the ground – glory. Trim the wick, ignite the flame – glory. My work, it will not be in vain – glory. Oh, we labor unto glory till heaven and earth are one, oh, we labor unto glory until God’s kingdom comes.

Click here to see this hymn performed by the original artists.

The Summons

… there is no way to truly have a relationship with God without it impacting the purpose displayed in our living. These tangible fruits of Gods presence come not in perfect holiness, but in a deep willingness to jump into the messiness of life with both feet.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

One of my all-time favorite hymns, this first came into my life at a Montreat Youth Conference, like the one from which I have just returned. The lyrics are rich and candid about the relationship and the work to which God calls us. There is honesty of our resistance and there is frankness in our stumbling blocks. The writers know us followers of Christ quite well and expands our vision of how God sees us greatly.

The beauty of this piece is that is weaves together relationship with purpose. Though much of modern “Christian culture” would likely disagree, there is no way to truly have a relationship with God without it impacting the purpose displayed in our living. These tangible fruits of Gods presence come not in perfect holiness, but in a deep willingness to jump into the messiness of life with both feet. In other words, to answer the summons of God.

So listen now to the words of this hymn and my hope is that you will find the courage to use the final verse as a prayer:

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners’ free and never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Mine Eyes Have Seen

I wonder, to this day, if that was the first moment I truly understood the gospel: the love of one who died for all – who calls us to live so that all might live free…

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, he has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on…

Looking back now, this was one of the very first hymns I ever learned as a child. I remember getting to sing it in the old city hall of downtown St. Louis as we attended a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast when I was six or seven. Like all younglings, the chorus’ lyrics were the main thing that stuck, but the feel of the song was something I carried with me.

Thanks to the great wisdom of our Middle School Principal at the time, we spent an entire year studying the Civil War. For all of the issues that my home city of St. Louis has had and continues to have, in school I learned the essential importance of educated citizenship. I learned that we must study our history in order to bring hope to the future. This Battle Hymn epitomized this understanding. And I knew that the fight for justice was essential to who we are as the people of these United States.

In high school, the meaning of the hymn expanded, yet again, as I had the opportunity to sing one of the greatest choral arrangements of the piece ever written, by Peter J. Wilhousky. After being reared so that the melody ran in my blood, and reinforcing the importance of the work it represented as I learned in school, a theological dimension finally appeared.

There were four young men who sang the final verse of the song as a quartet – with gentle, dulcet tones, growing in intensity. They sang, In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a  glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me: as he died to make men holy, let us die to make all free, while God is marching on.

I wonder, to this day, if that was the first moment I truly understood the gospel: the love of one who died for all – who calls us to live so that all might live free. Just imagine how God’s glory will reign in a world where we truly live into that calling. For if nothing else, it is our purpose as followers of Christ to ensure the fullness of life of all God’s children. And who can have that fullness without freedom?

Here is a version of that arrangement for your reflection. May you find your own sense of call as you take your place in God’s work.

 

Lift Every Voice and Sing

What I love about this hymn is that it cuts through pretty rhetoric to speak of how hope is born of struggle. This is certainly the reality of faith, but it is also the reality…

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmony of liberty; let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.

I still remember the first time I sang this hymn. I was in my first year at Vanderbilt Divinity School and it was in a chapel service. I recall thinking that the words were so incredibly eloquent about faith lived and the messy realities of life. At first, I did not realize that it was a patriotic song. And I am embarrassed to admit that it took another year or two for me to learn its storied history.

Originally written as a poem by Principal James Weldon Johnson in 1900, its first performance was carried by the voices of 500 school children. It was not set to music for another five years, by Johnson’s own brother, John. And in 1919 it was adopted by the NAACP as the Black National Anthem. Over the years it has been performed by countless artists and has been included in the last two of our Presbyterian hymnals.

In Divinity School, the tune enveloped me. Once I moved into the church world professionally, I gained a new appreciation for the importance of this hymn.

What I love about it is that it cuts through pretty rhetoric to speak of how hope is born of struggle. This is certainly the reality of faith, but it is also the reality of our country. Though my life has been quite different than that of the writers, the words have always spoken deeply to my own broken heart. And its pressing melody pushes me to courage for the battles that continue to rage around us.

So, on this Independence Day, as we give thanks for the very best of our ideals, for those who have sought after them, those who have died for them, and for all of us brave enough to pursue them in spite of everything working against them – may this hymn make all of us brave in the face of all that would oppose freedom, justice, and a better tomorrow.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died; yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet, come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over the way that with tears has been watered, we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered; out from the gloomy past, till we now stand at last where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who hast brought us thus far on the way; thou who hast by thy might, let us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee. Lest our hearts, drunk with he wine of the world we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land.