pastor west sunday school visitYou may have noticed that hymns are not very popular in many of our churches. To preserve these musical statements of faith, we need to pass them on. That is what I am trying to do with, as well as in my own local church.

That is why I started a new practice in my children’s choir this year. I am asking our pastors and elders to share their favorite hymn. Last Sunday, one of our pastors shared his favorite hymn, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” an Easter hymn written by Martin Luther.

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Talk about strolling down memory lane! We came across this song on YouTube. Not only is it a powerful presentation of the “I Stand Amazed” hymn (especially David Phelps’s solo), but it also reminds us of wonderful days of “revival meetings.” We grew up in a time when it was common for churches to have special meetings once a year or so during the middle of the week. They promoted it as “revival week” – a time to hear more sermons and sing more hymns then just on Sunday, with the aim to stir up the church, revive our souls to greater service in Christ’s Kingdom and win the lost. And yes, we even on occasion had such meetings in a tent. Those were some good memories.

Josiah is eleven-years old. He has been Kim Snow’s piano student for one year. He plays the piano at his church and volunteers to play at other events. So far, he is just playing offertories, but I am preparing him to accompany the singing of hymns at his church. Last week I asked him what is his favorite hymn. He said it is “Just A Little Talk With Jesus.” Here is a video of him serving others at a local hospital by playing “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart” and his favorite hymn.

the gift of a pianoIt all happened so quickly. I was shopping at Winco when the phone rang.

“Kim,” said Jean, my piano student. “Do you know anyone who needs a piano? We just came from helping our pastor move to a smaller house and we have a beautiful piano on the back of our truck. We want to deliver it to someone who needs it.”

I was taken aback as Jean did not know about my new student’s prayers.

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For hundreds of years, hymn writers have set their lyrics to classical, folk, pop and rock tunes. One recent example is Michael Perry’s hymn, “O God Beyond All Praising.”

the planetsAccording to the United Methodist Church website, this hymn was “written specifically for the melody THAXTED in 1982, a composition by the early 20th-century British composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934) [which is part of the “Jupiter” section of his orchestral suite, “The Planets.”] This tune is normally associated in the United Kingdom with a more patriotic text. Perry composed the text, he said, ‘in response to a call for alternative words that would be more appropriate for Christian worship.’”

The lyrics of “O God Beyond all Praising” celebrate “blessings without number and mercies without end” as “We lift our hearts before you and wait upon your Word.” By setting his lyrics to this triumphant, solemn tune he effectively claimed it for the church—not only that we might sing it for ages to come, but I believe (like many great hymns of the church) for throughout eternity.

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My neighbor moved out yesterday.

prince the dogIn my neighborhood, neighbors come and go, so this move was no different than the others, except it was. It was different because my neighbor had become a friend … thanks to her dog. That is because she needed someone to watch her dog, Prince, while she went to work. As I got to know Prince, I also got to know Josey.

Josey attends Victory Outreach church. I was not familiar with Victory Outreach. Victory Outreach was started years ago by a couple in Los Angeles as an outreach to street people: homeless, drug addicts, drunkards, the poor, the outcast. They do the kind of ministry that I can only admire from afar.

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My neighborhood is prone to adventures. I do not mean the stuff of storybooks, of exotic locales, of great deeds and daring, all with happy endings. No, not those kind of adventures, but the kind that a mind-your-own-business, busy-at-work, up-to-my-eyeballs-in-projects person would rather avoid. Adventures like the next door neighbor pounding on the door at two in the morning pleading for help because her boyfriend was threatening her life; an adventure like coming home to the street blocked off, SWAT teams patrolling around our home and neighborhood and the police helicopter circling overhead; an adventure like discovering the gate busted open by policemen chasing a fugitive who decided to make a quick escape through the backyard. Mind you, thanks be to the Lord, this did not all happen in one week, or month, or even year, but nevertheless, they are the kind of adventures that can unnerve and drive one to prayer.

And to prayer I did go. It was a simple prayer, but, believe me, very heartfelt: “Lord, please send me Christian neighbors.” God answered that prayer in an unforgettable way.

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grandma wilsonWhen I was twelve years old, my Grandma died. In some ways, it was a lonely, sad death. At the time, she was living in our home in Eureka, California, under the care of hospice. A grumpy nurse with a this-is-just-a-job attitude stayed at our home the last few days of my Grandma’s life. The day my Grandma died my mother, along with my sister, had travelled to San Francisco for a doctor’s appointment–an appointment that had been made many months in advance. My father was a commercial fisherman and so he was out at sea. I came home from school to find the nurse pacing back-and-forth in front of my house, irritated, waiting for my arrival. She told me that my Grandmother had been taken to the hospital and to get in the car. When I walked into the hospital room my Grandma was in a coma. In the room was an old friend of the family, my “adopted” Grandma Mabel–an older woman in our church who was also friends with my Grandma. I was then promptly ushered out of the room, taken out to eat dinner and returned home without going back to the hospital.

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At first glance, some traditions seem small and insignificant and yet they are filled with great importance and are worth passing on from generation to generation. Christians have always observed the AMEN tradition after prayer. I grew up in a home where we said AMEN after each prayer of blessing for our food. Although most Christians remember the AMEN tradition in this way, there is another AMEN tradition that has also remained important to many Christians: singing AMEN at a hymn’s conclusion.

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my jesus i love thee

Hymns are like any other song in that, especially songs from one’s youth, they can become part of the fabric of memory. An event, a person, a place, even the smell of cookies baking or the sound of a father’s voice on a recording can trigger the memory and you find yourself humming the tune, singing the words — even to a hymn that you had not heard for many years, perhaps even decades. Hymns, however, are not just like any song. They carry personal meaning and attachments, of course, but the overall purpose of hymns are to point us to our Savior, the King of Kings. “My Jesus I Love Thee” is one of these kinds of songs for me. I grew up in church singing many hymns, but this song has a special place in my heart. I have always loved singing it. The simple words and the beautiful melody have combined to be an anthem–a declaration–of my love for Jesus Christ. I hope this song (and the picture above) inspire you to declare, “If ever I love Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”

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