I grew up in a very small church in a little town east of Lima called Alger. Our church was not very climate-controlled in that it was burning hot in the summer and cold in the winter. We had a huge pipe organ and a piano. The piano was played by my mom’s cousin and the organ was played by my third-grade teacher. I loved those two old ladies, both of whom have gone home to glory. Even though these two faithful old ladies played these instruments for years, the music was not exactly what we are used to today as far as quality. When I show up for worship at Wayne Street UMC, with the traditional service lead by Darryl Smith and our contemporary service lead by Josh Barnes and the Awaken Band, our music is top notch in both services.
But by growing up in my home church, where the music struggled, I have an interesting take on music today. I am mostly tone deaf but singing back in the day made me literally fall in love with the song lyrics. Every tune we sang sounded exactly the same, but the lyrics were different. Those old hymn lyrics are some of the most beautiful words ever put on paper.
Take Amazing Grace and The Old Rugged Cross; if you take time to really pay attention to the lyrics of those songs, you will experience God in a very special way. When voices are joined together, those lyrics come to life. Even when the tune is completely lost, the power of the lyrics can change a life.
Amazing Grace teaches me that God cares even about a wretch like me. The 7-year-old me wanted to know what a wretch was and I quickly learned it was not good. Why would God love someone who is a wretch? Even though I am lost and broken, God is still interested in what is happening in my life. That is a powerful realization.
The Old Rugged Cross teaches me to cling to Jesus even during the hardest days of my life, a lesson that I still remember to this day. There is power in experiencing a God who loves me so much that He chose death on a cross on my behalf. I learned so much from these old hymns.
One of the most powerful moments I can remember happened back in June 2011. Scar tissue from my 2006 abdominal surgery caused a bowel obstruction – hands down one of the most awful experiences of my life. I wanted to die because it was so terrible. I remember one night I woke up in the dark of the hospital room (I was in OSU hospital in Columbus). I had a tube up my nose and I was on some powerful pain killers. The only light on was in the hallway. I had already had surgery to remove the obstruction, but my mind was in such a haze I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was alone and could barely speak because of the tube.
You know what I did in that terrible place? I sang those old hymns. The tunes were completely lost, but I knew all of the words. I wasn’t loud and it sounded terrible, but I wanted those lyrics. I wanted to sing about Blessed Assurance and What a Friend We Have in Jesus. I sang unrecognizable tunes with very familiar lyrics for hours in the darkness of that night. The lyrics spoke very clearly to me that night, which wouldn’t have been possible if not for two old ladies in an old country church who failed to convince me they could even hear what they were playing. They made a life-changing impression on a little kid sitting 6 pews back from the front of his church singing those lyrics to no discernible tune.
It is truly the times in life when we understand the least that we need a God who is beyond our understanding.