Posts Tagged faith

Hooray for the Hymnal by David Garrard

Hooray for the Hymnal

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Several months ago, I began using my old 1956 Baptist Hymnal as part of my devotions. I started at the very beginning and am gradually working my way through. I just read the text — singing along if I know the tune, which I most often do — and let God speak to me through the words.

This has been a wonderful experience. So many of these hymns have texts that are inspired and incredibly insightful. It’s a shame we don’t sing them more.

In the hymnal’s Preface, then SBC Sunday School Board Executive Secretary-Treasurer James L. Sullivan wrote, “In this music we find expressed every feeling and emotion, every truth and doctrine of our Christian faith. As we sing, we not only express what is in our hearts, but we grow in Christian character and are strengthened in our faith.”

That certainly has proved true for me as I have revisited hymns I first heard and sang as a child.

My experience prompted a new feature on my Facebook page which I decided to call “Hooray for the Hymnal!” On occasion (not every day), I highlight a hymn and call attention to part of the text. I might include a comment or two, but for the most part, I just let the hymns speak for themselves.

As many will remember, No. 1 in the Baptist Hymnal is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It leads off the General Worship section and is specifically tagged as a hymn of adoration and praise. The words were written by Reginald Heber and the tune by John Dykes. I’ve always been partial to verse three:

Holy, holy, holy!  Tho the darkness hide thee,
Tho the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see;
Only thou are holy; there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love and purity.

As one who has more of earthly life behind me than ahead, I resonated with, and was encouraged by, the last verse of No. 29, “Day Is Dying in the West” (words by Mary A. Lathbury, tune by William F. Sherwin):

When forever from our sight
Pass the stars, the day, the night,
Lord of angels, on our eyes
Let eternal morning rise,
And shadows end

Verse two of No. 54, “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand” (words by Daniel C. Roberts, tune by George W. Warren) has given me a new way to think about and pray for my country:

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by thee our lot is cast;
Be thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
Thy word our law, thy paths our chosen way.

And I’ve always loved No. 59, “This Is My Father’s World” (words by Maltbie B. Babcock, tune by Franklin Sheppard).  Verse three of this beautiful hymn reminds me that even when it seems the entire world has lost its way, God is still in control:

This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget,
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.

With 553 entries (including the Amens!) I’ve got a long way to go, but the journey already has been rewarding and has brought new insights as well as good memories. And the response has been wonderful. I have received messages from folks who have dug out their own copies, found copies that belonged to parents and even purchased copies on eBay.

So hooray for the hymnal! I invite you to find a copy, join me in this adventure, and allow these great songs of faith to speak to you in the same way they are speaking to me — again.

David Garrard

*David Garrard is a professional magician who lives in Louisville, Ky. He was the longtime minister to children at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville until his recent retirement


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Count Each Day – John D. Pierce*

There was something notably different about the gravestones in the Myer Homestead cemetery than the markers seen in so many other burial places.

Established in 1759, the cemetery — with both aging headstones and freshly turned dirt — serves as the final resting place for now eight generations of farmers of German descent who’ve worked and cared for the surrounding land in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

There are also graves of blacksmiths, furniture makers and educators — some of whom served as church leaders. The community is tight knit because the Amish way keeps things that way.

The notable difference is that the inscribed stones not only give the dates of the deceased person’s birth and death — either in English or German — but enumerate one’s exact time on earth down to the number of days.

Counting each day is not only a good way to remember the dead but also to more fully embrace and celebrate earthly living.

My perspective on this temporal journey has benefited from two perspectives gained over the years.

The first came from the late Baptist-turned-Episcopal preacher John Claypool, who reminded us with simplicity yet profound insight that “life is gift.” It is a perspective that enables gratitude to be the filter through which we view our waking into a fresh, new day.

We can not only count the years — with birthdays, anniversaries and other annual celebrations — but also count each day of life as another yet unopened gift.

The second perspective came while visiting historic cemeteries in England several years ago.

In each case, I tried to “place” the influential individual into the specific “slice of history” in which they lived. It was an effort to better understand what was going on at the time.

Then it dawned on me that each of us has a particular slice of history in which we live — and, to a large degree, decide how to live within it.

Our time frame is truly ours. We decide how to approach the days, months and years — no matter how short or long, or in what period and place we live.

Circumstances are often placed upon us, yet perspectives are of our choosing.

Some aspects of life are beyond our control. Some are very much within our control. Yet, all are viewed through the lenses of our choosing.

There is wisdom, it seems, in adding to these two perspectives of life a greater consciousness about the living of our days. Each day. Every day.

Children, at least, count their lives in half years. But you don’t often hear someone say, “I’m 56 and a half now.” Maybe we should.

In fact, what would it be like to know the number of days we’ve experienced already? Or, at the least, to have them all added up and carved in memoriam.

Sure, there are tough days that we are eager to see come to an end. There are trying times when life seems more like a trick than a treat.

Yet, even those experiences can be seen through the lenses of life’s giftedness and as a defined slice of history. It may take reaching the other side of such challenges, but it is not the ease of life that always enriches its rewards.

People of faith often quote or sing the affirmation of the psalmist: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let’s rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, NASB).

But have we noticed that the emphasis is not on the week, month or year, but on the day?

The popular musical Godspell, from the 1970s, gave us a memorable song titled, “Day by Day.”

Spending weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it gained a wide audience well beyond the church — where it was, of course, assailed by the self-righteous who preferred their more cautious rendering of the Gospel of Matthew.

The recording of that song, featuring unknown and uncredited lead singer Robin Lamont, spoke to how our faithfulness in following Jesus is a daily endeavor and experience. The chorus provided a needed three-fold prayer:

“To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”

Life can sweep by us so quickly that we fail to acknowledge each rising and setting of the sun. Worry, regret, overplanning and preoccupation with “to do” lists are just a few of the culprits that can rob us of needed perspective during the living of our days.

Intentionally breaking down our lives into those units of time that take place from the beginning of each new day to our resting each night might be a helpful discipline. It could enable us to better see each new start — and the hours that follow — as both gift and opportunity.

Our days are numbered. So let us count the days and make the days count.

John Pierce

Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.

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Stepping Towards 51, Looking Back Over 50 – Mitch Randall

Today is my birthday. I turned 51 years old.

When I hit half-a-century last year during the pandemic, I told my wife that I was looking forward to middle-age. She raised a brow and responded, “Not sure how long you’re planning on living, but you passed middle-age a decade ago.” Thanks, dear.

Now that I have one foot squarely pointed towards the second 50 years of my life, I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. However, before I step into this new and exciting period of my life, I want to take a moment of indulgence to reflect on the first 50 years.

Recently, I stopped by the Indian Hospital in Claremore, Oklahoma, where I was born. My mom and dad were 20 and 19, respectively, when they had me; just kids trying to make it through life. Over the course of our childhood and adolescence, my younger brother and I were shaped by their dogged determination, impeccable integrity and compassionate spirits. We are who we are today because of them.

While always taking my “big-brother” role seriously, I never realized how much I needed my younger brother until I was an adult. The “big brother” is always supposed to keep an eye out for the “little brother,” but no one ever told me about the valuable lessons “little brothers” teach their older siblings. My brother is an absolute inspiration. He teaches art in public schools, raised two amazing daughters as a single dad, fostered three babies with his wonderful second wife and now has two young and beautiful boys.

During the pandemic, I lost my grandfather (Herbert Sheffield) from complications due to COVID-19. Each of my grandparents had a significant part in mentoring me over the years. Okema connected me to my Muscogee Creek culture. Les instilled the value of education. Carlene demonstrated the importance of sacrifice. Herbert reminded me about the importance of humility while always striving to make certain the next generation has it better.

Growing up Southern Baptist, I must admit the significance that faith held in my life. While I certainly disagree with much of the SBC’s doctrine and politics today, their passion for teaching the Scriptures and applying them to life has influenced me. Today, I am serious about the Scriptures and how they guide my faith – not necessarily in spite of my SBC upbringing, but because of it.

While baseball was constant in my life, that cold October morning in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1992 after college baseball workouts changed my life forever.  On that fall morning — looking across a kaleidoscope of colorful trees while drinking coffee — I heard the calling of God upon my life.

Attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Boo Helflin shook my understanding of faith by opening the entirety of the Scriptures to me as never before. From that day forward, I was on a journey of serious discovery that began to shape my life almost immediately.

I met my wife at church. Seriously, I did. A church in Coppell, Texas, called me as their new pastor while I was still in seminary and very much single, dedicated to the Lord and all. However, once I met Missy on that first Spring Sunday and a donkey brayed during my sermon, I was smitten.

Because of the strangeness and complexities of a single pastor dating a parishioner, we decided to marry soon after we declared our love for each other. Twenty-five years later, we’re happily married and thrilled to be watching two sons begin their careers.

Our life together has not always been filled with rainbows and unicorns – ministry and life, you know – but it has been filled with adventure, surprises and wonderful memories we will always cherish.

You’re supposed to be an example for your kids, right? Then, why did no one tell me that your kids would become examples for you?

I hope Missy and I have been good instructors for our boys, but more than anything they have shown us a better way for the future.

Their commitment to community and passion for social justice offers us a glimpse into a future where individuals live outside their own self-interests to embrace a common good for all people. We’re so proud of their accomplishments and the adults they are becoming.

The church can be filled with the most wonderful moments in a pastor’s life, but the church can also be the source of great pain and heartache.

Relationships forged within the stained-glass walls of congregational life can be soul-filling. These are the saints that forever shape your life. However, there are times when congregants turn on you in attempts to put you in your place or exert authority over you. During those times, the church likes to remind you that she is still filled with sinners – the pastor being chief among them.

With nearly three decades of walking alongside the church, I love her more now than ever before.

When I stepped beyond the walls of the church to enter a new phase of ministry, I was both scared and excited. After 20 years of pastoral ministry, I had grown comfortable with preaching, teaching, ministering and leading a congregation. Being the executive director of an ethics organization sounded a bit out of my league.

In my eyes, I was still the little Indian boy born at the Indian hospital who grew up on the eastside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The notion that a group of Christians wanted me to lead a national organization was far beyond my expectations. However, it was exactly what I needed.

Being the executive director of and now CEO of Good Faith Media has been a life-altering experience. The greatest perk of my job is getting to meet so many inspiring and fascinating people of faith engaged in transformative work.

From racial justice advocates to LGBTQ allies, the world is filled with passionate people rolling up their sleeves to make this world a better place. And many of them are not abandoning their faith to accomplish these goals but embracing their faith as a catalyst for global change.

In the Christian tradition, we are certainly seeing more and more people practicing an inclusive gospel to bring about transformative communities. It is a sheer pleasure to tell their stories.

All in all, the first 50 years of living on this rock have been extremely rewarding.

Sure, I’ve lived through some strange and heartbreaking times: Watergate, Iran hostage situation, Iran-Contra affair, Challenger and Columbia explosions, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, multiple mass shootings, the Great Recession, racial injustices, a U.S. president using force on U.S citizens peacefully demonstrating, an attack on the U.S. Capitol by U.S citizens, and a continued global pandemic wreaking sickness and death across the globe.

However, even within all of these dreadful moments, the light of the gospel has never been extinguished.

Yes, there were times when it flickered and almost went out for me. But as soon as those moments thought they had won the day, a flicker of the gospel would always emerge. Either through a comforting word or creative idea, hope resides in the hearts of people who come together to find solutions.

While I very much enjoyed and appreciated my first 50 years, I’m looking forward to another 50, hopefully.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds, for the emerging generations are filled with a desire and passion to instill common-sense change. Therefore, I wake today to put my feet on the floor, ready to step into a future filled with light and hope.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Christmas 2015 – Raven, Christopher, Carol, Suzanne, Joel, Mitch, Michael, Colin, Nancy, Christina

According to Cicero, “Gratitude is the greatest virtue and the parent all other virtues.” Gratitude is my word for the year and I hope it is my attitude for the year. There are so many things for which I am so grateful. I am grateful for my larger family, but I am especially grateful for my children and my sister. J am grateful for my friends. We have not been able to get together much during the pandemic, but that does not diminish their importance to me. I am grateful for my home and all the wonderful memories it holds.  I am grateful for my church and all the relationships that it represents. Our Sunday school class is exceptional.

I am grateful for my country. I am a proud American. I am patriotic. We are not perfect as a nation but we are moving in the right direction. I am grateful for my city and state. I owe a great debt to the public schools, to Mars Hill College, Furman University, the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University and Lander University. I am grateful for my home town and all the wonderful people there who helped me grow. I am grateful to Northside Baptist Church and all those wonderful people who encouraged me. I am grateful to the Board of Directors of the Charleston Speech and Hearing Center. They not only gave me a job, they gave me a life.

As I start a new year I am mindful of the two great loves of my life. Liz, Suzanne and Michael’s mother, stretched me in every way possible. She took a chance on me when only love could have made that possible. Carol rescued me from hell after Liz died. She brought joy and adventure to a tortured soul. I grieve that they went on without me, but I am grateful that I had them for as long as I did. They brought love, beauty, challenge and comfort into my life.

I am simply grateful for life and all that entails. I live in a beautiful city, I have wonderful neighbors. I have books, music, an inquisitive mind, and a restless spirit. When I look at my grandchildren, I am confident of the future. I am an incurable optimist. The world will not end today because it is already tomorrow someplace else. I have a faith that sustains me. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

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