Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Monday, October 30, 2017

Thou Art Worthy

In recent decades there has been a change in many churches musical diet, from singing traditional hymns to using contemporary songs. But before that trend started, a genre of music known as “Choruses ” became popular among churches that described themselves as Pentecostal or Charismatic. “Choruses” were scripture based songs, set to worshipful melodies, that would be repeated two, three, or more times.

I recall attending a small Pentecostal church in the late 1970's and enthusiastically singing choruses such as “Great is the Lord,” “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart” and “This is the Day.” Some moved along at a speedy tempo, didn't require you to pick up a hymnbook (so you could clap along) and stayed in your mind long after their singing had finished. Others were slower and more adoration focused, such as “Turn Your eyes Upon Jesus” and the song we'll be considering today; “Thou Art Worthy.”

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are continuing a series of sermons on “Thessalonian Songs,” linking church music to passages from Paul's letter. Last week we were using a campfire song, “Pass It On.”

This week we'll be using a worship chorus and looking at 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, in which Paul exhorts his readers to Live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”(v12). Paul links Christian conduct to living a worshipful life. The church in Thessalonica faced unbelievable problems, but rather than despair, he challenges them to make God their focus and overflow with thanksgiving as they responded to the initiative of love God had taken towards them in Jesus Christ.

Such is the theme of the short chorus, “Thou Art Worthy,” composed by a lady called Pauline Michael in which she puts to music words from Revelation 4:11;Thou art worthy, O Lord, To receive glory, glory and honor, for Thou hast created, hast all things created, Thou art worthy, O Lord.”

Pauline Michael was a lady well ahead of her time and wrote this chorus of worshipful expression at a time when such pieces were not readily accepted by those who held the keys of liturgy and worship publishing. She was born on October 13, 1898 in Portland, Indiana. When her mother was unable to make it to a funeral service to play the organ, she sent Pauline. That was her first experience, at age 12, of playing in public. She claimed her abilities were a gift of the Holy Spirit.

In 1940 she began to set scriptures to music. "Thou Art Worthy" came about when Pauline was traveling with her son on an Evangelistic tour. He asked the congregation to send up their favorite scripture and told them that his mother would write music to the song before the service was over. She did not know that he was going to do this!

By the end of the service the song had formed in her heart. Though many times at meetings she would sing the song, and it proved to be a great blessing, it would be another 25 years before it was ever published. It has now appeared in many volumes of hymns and songs and been translated into 16 languages. Pauline Michael passed away at the age of 94, on December 18, 1991.

Truly our God is worthy of all praise. This little gem of a chorus (and others like it) can inspire us to lay our lives before God and open our hearts to the influence of God's love! Here's a version from an album called “America's Favorite Praise And Worship” by the Brentwood Music Company. May it lift our hearts to focus away from ourselves and into God's presence.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pass It On

It only takes a spark , To get a fire going
And soon all those around, Can warm up in its glowing
That's how it is with God's love, Once you've experienced it
You spread His love to everyone, You want to pass it on”
(Verse 1 “Pass It On” by Kurt Kaiser)

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we began a sermon series with the title “Thessalonian Songs,” relating a Christian song or hymn to a passage from the First letter to the Thessalonians. Our first sermon looked at a hymn by Baltimore's own R. Kelso Carter, “Standing on the Promises.” 

This week we move on to consider 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 and I'll be referencing a more recent song, written by Kurt Kaiser, called “Pass It On.” The song first became known as part of a musical called “Tell It Like It Is” that Kurt co-wrote in 1969 with Ralph Carmichael. The late 1960s and 1970s saw the genesis of many Christian youth musicals, a genre that would be replicated on Broadway. In 1971, “Godspell” by Stephen Schwartz, and the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Jesus Christ Superstar” became part of popular culture.

Many first discovered “Pass It On” when they attended a Christian Camp or Conference in their youth. It still functions as a popular guitar based folk song to sing around a roaring camp fire. This fits with Kurt's original intentions. 

He writes; "On a Sunday night I was sitting in our den by the fireplace where there were remnants of a fire, and it occurred to me that it only takes a spark to get a fire going . . . and the rest came very quickly. My wife suggested that I should say something about shouting it from mountain tops, and that ended up in the third verse. It only took about 20 minutes to write the lyrics. Afterwards my wife and I went for a walk, letting the song ruminate in our minds.

This song reflects the power of a simple idea set to a singable tune. Such songs take on a life that the composer never considered. Kurt says, "I am always amazed how the Lord can take a little song and use it to reach so many people. It has been sung at countless weddings and funerals, at ordination services, by the Sea of Galilee, in Rhodesia, on the aircraft carrier Enterprise... and lots of camps."

The church in Thessalonica was born in the midst of conflict. Things hadn't been easy for Paul when he first preached the gospel to them. When he left them, there were people who spread rumors that could have invalidated his ministry. There was a danger that the fire he had lit in their hearts was about to be quenched! Paul seeks to remind them of both the way he had acted while with them and points them to the core of the gospel message – the love of Jesus Christ. It was that love which he had proclaimed, and it was that same love that would sustain them in the future.

The spark to rekindle the fire in their hearts was his suggestion that if they focused on passing the love of God to others, through their words and actions, then everything else would fall into place. When we focus in on ourselves we easily become distracted. When we seek to enrich our communities through our gifts and talents, it offers our lives a new purpose and gives them a deeper meaning. I suspect Paul would agree with the third verse of Kurt's song:

I wish for you my friend, This happiness that I've found,
You can depend on Him, It matters not where you're bound,
I'll shout it from the mountain top, I want the world to know,
The Lord of love has come to me, I want to pass it on.”

For some music, a sing a long video from Brad Guldemond, "Pass It On."

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Standing on the Promises


Beginning October 22 here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are beginning a sermon series with the title “Thessalonian Songs” that will relate a Christian song or hymn to a passage from the First letter to the Thessalonians. Last weeks sermon finishing up our series on "Wilderness Wandering" can be found here.

Our first sermon, relates 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 to the hymn “Standing on the Promises” written in 1886 by R. Kelso Carter. What you may not know about R. Kelso Carter is that he was born and bred in Baltimore.

As a boy he was a star athlete and a top student. At the age of fifteen during a prayer meeting at the Pennsylvania Military Academy he made a Christian commitment. He became an athletics coach and instructor at the academy. His history, both personal and theological, passed through some deep and disturbing waters as he searched for balance in his belief.

In 1879 he nearly died from a chronic heart disease that had plagued him for over seven years. His Christian life up to that point had been, like it is for many of us, rather sporadic. In his own words “He lived the up and down experience so familiar to the average church member.” I'll let him tell the story of his deepening commitment.

My heart, resisting the remedies of physicians and refusing to grow better, suddenly broke down so seriously as to bring me to the verge of the grave. I had heard of the 'prayer of faith' for healing, but I felt persuaded it would border on blasphemy to ask God for a strength which I didn't propose to use wholly for Him! Kneeling in my mother's room in Baltimore, I made a consecration that covered everything. All doubtful things were swept aside. I meant every word, and I have never had doubts about it since. A quietness came over me and I found the Bible wonderfully open and marvelously satisfying, as it had never been before.

Though his health was never perfect, he lived for another 49 years and became both a Methodist preacher and a physician. Out of his experience of healing he wrote the hymn “Standing on the Promises of God.” In words that we can well apply to the days we are currently living through he writes: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promises of God.

Paul praises the Thessalonian Church for their ability to stand on God's promises when he writes (1Thessalonians 1:3) “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The challenge for all of us is to embrace a faith that goes beyond simply offering cries for help to God when we think we can't manage on our own... to having the sort of faith that finds its very life and focus in the promises of Scripture and the sustaining power of God's Holy Spirit. Such is the journey Jesus challenges us to make, not as lone rangers, but as communities of faith, seeking to bring the Kingdom of God alive in our communities.

For some music, country singer Alan Jackson gives a live performance of this classic R. Kelso Carter hymn “Standing On The Promises of God.” If you are in the area, join us this Sunday and sing a long!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Faithful Soul

Maria Dyer was born in 1837 on the mission field in China where her parents were missionaries. Both her parents died when Maria was a little girl, and she was sent back to England to be raised by an uncle. The loss of her parents, however, did not deter her young heart from the importance of sharing the gospel. At age sixteen she, along with her sister, returned to China to work in a girl’s school as a missionary herself. Five years later, she married Hudson Taylor, a man well-known for his life of mission, ministry, faith, and sacrifice.

Hudson and Maria’s work was often criticized—mostly by other Christians. At one point Maria wrote, “As to the harsh judgings of the world, or the more painful misunderstandings of Christian brethren, I generally feel that the best plan is to go on with our work and leave God to vindicate our cause.” Of their nine children, only four survived to adulthood. Maria herself died of cholera when she was just forty-three. But she believed the cause was worthy of the sacrifice. On her grave marker these words were inscribed: “For her to live was Christ, and to die was gain.

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we've been following a series of sermons that walk with the Hebrew people through the desert, as they move towards their promised land. This week we are taking a look at one of their ultimate low points. Moses has gone up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. (We talked about the commandments in last weeks sermon “Survival Strategies”.)

In their impatience for his return, the people turn to idolatry and create a golden calf. God is not pleased.When I say “not pleased” it appears God is ready to forget the whole mission and find another group of folk to carry out God's purposes. (You can read the story in Exodus 32:1-14.) Luckily for the Hebrews, they have one champion who is not ready to throw in the towel. His name is Moses. It is Moses who intercedes with God, pleads for the peoples salvation, and becomes their advocate.

The people haven't treated Moses with much respect throughout their whole desert journey. It is due to their impatience with him, that they have quickly turned to idols. They have constantly questioned his leadership and complained about his decisions.

Yet Moses is faithful. He knows that the mercy of God was always greater than God's anger. He knows that God's promises were never made in vain. Because of the faithfulness of Moses, the journey continues and moves forward with new hope and purpose.

In the face of criticism or opposition it is easy to become disheartened and fall into unfaithful actions. That was not the way of Maria Dyer or Hudson Taylor. That was not the way of Moses, or of any great spiritual leaders that have blazed a trail of light and become shining examples of faithfulness for us to follow.

We do well to think upon those who demonstrate sacrificial love. It was God’s love for us that sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins, and it is that kind of self giving love that our world needs so greatly today. Let us continue to let our little light shine. It only takes one candle to remove a whole lot of darkness!

For some music... an unexpectedly uplifting performance of the gospel classic “This Little Light of Mine” on “Britain's Got Talent.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Survival Strategies

I was out of town last week. But two weeks ago, during our service at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, on our journey though the desert with the Hebrew people, we discovered how God provided for the people manna from heaven and quail meat. (sermon "Bread of Heaven" here). This coming week our sermon series, titled “Wilderness Living,” takes us to a pivotal moment in their pilgrimage. The day God gave to them the ten commandments. (Exodus 20:1-20)

The “Big Ten” have formed a bedrock for morality over centuries and a standard against which moral codes in many different cultures have been evaluated. In today's secular age, there are some who take exception to the specifically religious elements, but even the most irreligious of moralists often come up with similar ideas when it comes to getting along with each other in community.

Killing, telling lies, cheating, stealing and having excessive desire for things that do not belong to us (be that property or people) are things that most everybody agrees are not healthy paths to pursue. Likewise, “Faithfulness” is lifted up as an ideal bedrock for relationships, be that with our families or our life partners.

The distinctly religious aspects of the commandments appear in commands one through four. The first speak of responsibility before God. They basically say that we should make our pursuit of the love of God life's highest priority and should never use our religious beliefs in ways that deny God's love. That seems to be the implication in the summary Jesus offered in the gospels, when He answered a question put to Him about which was the most important commandment. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

The fourth commandment has to do with Sabbath observance. Over the centuries this has often been interpreted in a legalistic and repressive way. Jesus did not seem to view things quite the same when He told His critics "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) A more healthy way to view the “Sabbath” commandment is to suggest that we all need “down time” to renew our lives! Any farmer will tell you that the land itself has to be treated with respect or it can no longer produce good things. Taking time out to renew our relationships, with each other, with our world and with our God, is not an optional extra, but a vital component for a healthy life.

The Hebrews were heading towards their promised land. How were they expected to live when they arrived there? On their journey through the desert they showed, time and time again, they certainly needed some guidance. The “Big Ten” offered to them exactly the direction they needed.

As we visit the 10 commandments afresh in our own time, they can continue to be “Survival strategies” for people seeking a healthy and a balanced life. “Keep taking the tablets!”

For some music Kari Jobe sings “The more I seek You.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.