LOOKING UP: Singing and preaching the gospel at Pearl
Sunday, 05 August 2012 by Joe Baisden
Since retiring in 2004, I have had a love affair with the little Church of Christ at Pearl in Coryell County. Friends Ron and Linda Ray had been involved with our congregation in Belton before they moved to that part of the country west of Gatesville, following the death of Linda's father. Their family became immersed in the work and worship of the Pearl congregation — one that had been in continuance service to the Lord, using the same building that was erected in 1895.
Through the years the Rays appealed to me to come and preach at Pearl, but I never found the time. As soon as I delivered my last sermon in Belton, Ron and Linda issued an ultimatum. "Now you are without excuse. You're coming to Pearl!" Thus began nine years of occasional Sunday preaching and conducting their annual summer revival.
Somewhere along the line I received a suggestion to create a service filled with song. For my ninth annual meeting July 13-15, I sent out a request for a list of the favorite songs and hymns of the congregation. The list came in with 15 selections.
It was my habit while at Belton church to preach "song sermons" periodically. Rather than have the singing compacted during one or two sections of the service, I would provide a schedule of songs that would be sung spontaneously as the sermon unfolded.
The challenge at Pearl was foreign to my usual song sermon approach. Instead of looking for songs to enhance the material, I found myself looking for thoughts and scriptures that would tie the songs together into a meaningful message.
The church sings a cappella, and I was not surprised that most of the songs were older. Let me give you the list as I ordered it for the lesson.
It seemed appropriate to me to begin with "Revive Us Again," a hymn that first appeared in a hymnbook in 1867, and could have been sung during any of the revivals from the beginning of the church's 117-year history. Then came "Count Your Blessings," first published in 1897 (two years after the inauguration of the Pearl congregation), with its call to refocus attention away from strictly worldly matters to things eternal.
Next came reminders of the power of love ("Love Lifted Me") and of the power of the blood of Christ to free us from our passion and pride ("There Is Power in the Blood").
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). The Isaac Watts hymn "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?" took us to that cross. It was no surprise to me that the Pearl list contained John Newton's immortal "Amazing Grace," tracing the sinner's lost condition to that of being saved.
I was surprised to find one contemporary song on the list, which the congregation sang with vigor that morning — "I Will Call Upon the Lord." Then, we reflected on the Lord's call to come to Him with the words of "Softly and Tenderly," followed by the question asked melodiously, "Have You Been to Jesus?"— the opening lines of that old time invitation song, "Are You Washed in the Blood?"
We found the answer to what is to be the result of entrusting one's life to Christ and obeying His gospel by filling the room with the strains of Fanny Crosby's "Blessed Assurance." We looked to the future with "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," "I'll Fly Away," and "When We All Get to Heaven."
There remained only two more hymns from the list of 15. We stood and used them to close the service: "It Is Well with My Soul" and "God Be With You 'Till We Meet Again."
As it turned out, the list provided a wonderful track upon which to share the good news of the gospel with a spiritually thirsty crowd. It also provided a reminder to the modern church, largely abandoning the songs and hymns of the past: "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold."
"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised." – 1 Ch. 16:25