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Monday, April 18, 2011

A New Name ...

Treasured friend,

This evening as I was enjoying the gift of 30 minutes to relax quietly, I turned on a CD containing medleys of hymns and gospel songs. And I was transported to the church where I grew up and to the one I attended during college and grad school. Those were good days--marked by a sweet, sincere faith. Days of putting our hearts into our faith journeys. Both churches leaned toward the holiness traditions, and they were peopled by caring, compassionate believers who took seriously the idea of the family of faith.

I grew up with the hymnal beside the Bible in the pew pockets. And I was enriched by both--because both spoke of the true gospel--and how it works in real life every day.

I learned to harmonize by reading along in the hymnal--and became a strong, confident (and hopefully in-tune) alto in the process. My mind was sharp in those days (that sharpness may just be wasted on the young!)--sharp and absorbant, to mix my metaphors. Because in the repetition of the hymns Sunday after Sunday (certain of the elder folks asked to sing the same songs week after week--as my pre-teen eyes rolled) I not only internalized the truths, but the lyrics--all 4 or 5 verses of them.

My grandfather, in addition to being the preacher/pastor, also was the song leader. You could mark the calendar by the songs he chose. If it was Christmas it was "One Day" -- "One day when heaven was filled with His praises ... Jesus came down to be born of a virgin/lived among men my example to be ..." If it was Easter, it had to be "He Lives," and "Up From the Grave He Arose!" To this day, it isn't truly Easter until I've heard those two songs--even if Mom and I have to play them on organ and violin in our own living room. Will we be playing them next week? You bet!

I didn't realize it at the time, but those hymns along with gospel song lyrics popular in the 1970s, got under my skin--and pierced straight into my heart. And they echoed back to me in the most unlikely moments. Like one Sunday morning I recall at East Side Church of God in Anderson, IN, where I worshipped during college. Our pastor had given a passionate sermon. And, as always, the altars were open to anyone after he was finished. The instruments played quietly, while believers and seekers alike (although I don't think we called them seekers back then) were welcome to pray. There was no altar call or invitation, yet folks left their seats and knelt there for private moments with the Lord. The pastors would come alongside each one, pray for a moment, then move on.

Anyway, this particular Sunday, a buzz swept through the choir loft as the senior pastor whispered something to the choir director. When it made its way to the alto section, I got in on the act. A sinner had made the decision to follow Christ--right there at the altar on that ordinary Sunday morning. And the pastor wanted to celebrate by singing "A New Name in Glory." But no one knew the words.

Who knew all those years of brother or sister so-and-so calling that song number would come in handy? I tapped into my brain's computer and pulled out the words (first verse and chorus thank-you-very-much!). I started scribbling them on the back of an offering envelope--barely finishing as the organist struck up the intro. "I was once a sinner but I came, pardon to receive from my Lord ... There's a new name written down in glory/and it's mine! Oh, yes, it's mine!"

There was a party that morning at East Side's altar, accompanied by a joyfully sung rendition of C. Austin Miles' lyric that might even give the angels a run for their money. I can't remember ever finding that song as meaningful as that morning--because it was so timely--so relevant--so real. Someone I knew, who shopped in the same grocery and probably washed his clothes at the same Laundromat--was born again to new life, eternal life in Christ--that day, before my eyes.

It was one of the songs that played on my CD collection tonight. And it transported me back. To the sweetness of a sinner's name being written in glory while the angels (and the saints) sang joyfully to celebrate a soul coming home. And it put my tough day into a more productive perspective. So little of what I do--and what troubles me--will make it into eternity; precious little of the grousing I do ("No, Dad, you're diabetic so you can't have a chocolate cherry!" "No crackers with your soup, or I'll have to give you another insulin shot!" "Don't jerk your hand away when I'm trying to get a prick for your blood test!") has any significance, relatively speaking, when put alongside a sinner asking Jesus Christ to take her sins away through His shed blood on Calvary.

I'm glad Jesus gives us this glimpse into eternity, something to cling to in the everyday. Because He does open paradise for sinners (our pastor preached on that yesterday morning, in the second of Christ's statements from the cross, when Jesus said to the thief hanging at His side: "Truly, today you'll be with me in paradise" Luke 23:43). And the angels do rejoice when a lost sinner receives Christ's gift of salvation (Luke 15:10: "I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" NIV).

By remembering this fact that's more real and more substantial than anything I can touch or do on this earth, I am reenergized and refocused to take on another day.

I hope and pray you are, as well.

By the way ... in case you'd like to hear this song played or read its lyric, I found a site online that plays a simple arrangement of it and includes all the lyrics--and they're not even scribbled on the back of an offering envelope!: http://my.homewithgod.com/heavenlymidis2/newname.html

Enjoy!




Blessings and prayers,

Julie

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