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Letter from the administrator – 2017

Dear Harmony Plains Singing School friends,

I pray I have the blessing of seeing you this July 16th to the 21st at the 54th session of Harmony Plains Singing School. The joys of being together, visiting, and singing are indeed a rich treasure of the Lord. Our theme for 2017 is Jesus His Name It Shall Be Called, our text is Matthew 1:21, and our hymn is #176 from the Old School Hymnal, 11th Edition.

The angel announced to Joseph that Mary was with child and would bring forth a Son by the Holy Ghost and his name was to be called Jesus. The name Jesus means Savior. Jesus Christ came into the world and saved his people from their sins.

Sin turns us inward. Sin makes life be about things I want, things I need, all the things I feel. Sin make us shift the blame. We pray to God and say remove the people, change the circumstances, alter the results, and we’ll be OK, but our problem is different than we think, deeper than we imagine. Sin shrinks us down to the confines of our wants, our desires, our needs, our feelings. Sin is self-obsessed, self-focused, it inserts us into the center of our own world, it makes us full of ourselves.

We are all tempted to demote God to a power who is to cater to our every whim or is to meet our every need. “Not happy? Not married? Not attractive? Not fulfilled? Not successful??? Come to Christ and he will give you everything you ask for!” God, though, is not primarily in the business of meeting our needs, and Christianity must not be reduced to a God meeting our needs; to do so distorts the heart of the Christian message.

Sin is more than rebellion, more than immorality. Sin in the human heart takes good things and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them in the sense that they become the center of our lives. We will do anything to achieve them, anything at all. It drives us to break rules we say we honor, harm others we say we love, and deceive ourselves to get our desires. Sin is actually our heart’s fondest desire, and ends up being our soul’s most slaving addiction.

Sin is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” Such a relationship to anything or anyone is worship. The greater the experience, the more likely we expect it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes, and it is often the very best things in life.

Old pagans may have understood more than we give them credit. They had work gods: money gods, sex gods, nation gods, etc. Anything can be a god if it rules the heart of a person or their life. If we don’t face this, we will never understand ourselves. We say, “Clean up your life; just do it.”  This doesn’t work. We must ask what is going on inside of our heart. The sin underneath all our sin is the sin of unbelief that “Jesus Is All We Need.”

Whether you know it or not you need the text and hymn and theme for 2017, because each reminds us of Jesus, our actual need. Jesus has saved us from the just punishment for our sin eternally, and this truth delivers us from the pursuit of justifying ourselves through any other means daily. It is said you must see yourself as worthy, see yourself as good, and see yourself as successful. Instead, the gospel says Jesus Christ has amassed a perfect record in our behalf, and he has given it to us. He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died in our place, so that our sins are pardoned and we are counted righteous in his sight. Now, completely accepted and loved by the only One in the universe whose opinions really count, we can site Mt 1:21 and joy in the ultimate victory even though we face ongoing difficulty.

The point here is that your self worth, your self image, is not based on what an individual or any circumstance is saying about you or doing to you. To the degree we have genuine gospel belief, to that degree we are not disabled by life because we understand we are deeply loved in Christ. In genuine gospel belief, we can afford to be generous and forgive when wronged by others because we have been so generously loved and forgiven in Christ.

Without Christ gospely massaged deep into our hearts, we will be driven by all kinds of fears, desires, and needs. If I look to any person, thing, or circumstance to fill my heart, I will always be sinning; I will always deduce that God is not loving me well enough, not respecting me nearly enough, or not supporting me half enough.

What if we were so immersed in Christ’s love and care, his promises and accomplishments, his counsels and encouragements, that they dominated our inner life, capturing our imagination, and bubbling out spontaneously when we faced some challenge? Then, my friend, we would say as the last verse of our hymn, “O blessed Jesus my dear Friend, Alone I look to Thee; And when my little life shall end, I pray remember me.”

In Him alone,

Brother Dickie

Letter from the administrator – 2016

Precious Friends,

Harmony Plains 2016 is just around the corner. Oh what joy to anticipate a week of respite from a frenzied and frantic world. We all desire a perfect world and struggle with the fact that the address where we live is anything but perfect. So we plan much, hope much, and dream much, yet at the same time groan much, and cry much because we are not perfect, no other person is perfect, and the world is not perfect. Singing at HPSS for a whole week, however, reminds us of the joys of heaven and a perfect world to come.

We long for heaven because we have heaven programmed into us. Adolescent, your angst; parent, your toddler’s whimper; empty nester, your if onlys; employer/employee, your frustrations; and mourner, your despair, are all a cry for heaven. Heaven is more than a dream; it is the spiritual longing in the here and now.

Of course this is not always a conscious awareness; I am just saying the longing and hunger for paradise is part of being God’s children. We cannot escape the desire for heaven; it is downloaded into our very essence. It is not just a matter of the doctrine we believe; it is a matter of who we are. This is why each of us struggle, why we groan for eternity. Romans 8:18-27.

We believe in the afterlife; the problem is that it is not functionally the way we live the everyday life. We live in a constant state of heaven forgetfulness, when life is to be structured in the here and now by a heaven rememberness. Heaven is not pondered, discussed, or noticed in magazines, media, universities, or at work. The joy of one week of singing praises can help this.

Heaven is not a category that our culture takes seriously. The impact is seismic. News casts do not close with, “Nevertheless, this is not all there is; we anticipate eternity where all will be righted”. In our culture the impact of heaven is not correlated to emotions, behavior, or our mental state. This is not just tragic; it is debilitating.

The now was intended to be lived in the constant awareness of the hereafter. Heaven bound people travel earth’s roads, but they must breathe heaven’s air. The heaven of our destination must rule over the earthliness of present situation. Did you ever see a fish swimming in a tree, or a bird perched under water? Just as that will never work, it will never work for us to live in an atmosphere unmindful of heaven.

Our song for Harmony Plains 2016 will be “Hark! Ten Thousand Harps,” OSH #11, hymn 32. The HPSS theme for 2016 is “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Harmony Plains’ text for 2016 is Revelation 5:11-13. Thomas Kelly, reflecting upon this passage, captured the need for us to immerse ourselves in heaven thoughts when he wrote this hymn. He knew as Christians we must reflect upon the anticipated bliss of heaven—Jesus reigning, the Lord smiling, grace enduring, and all rejoicing (see the hymn’s themes).

With the eye of imagination he saw the thrilling scene in heaven with ten thousands times ten thousands giving praise to Christ for His victorious redemption. The thrust of this hymn though, is not just that someday we redeemed will join that heavenly chorus, but that our occupation now is singing “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! “Glory, glory to our King!” This is a heavenly minded triumphal hymn for the here and now.

“Hark! ten thousand harps and voices sound the notes of praise above; Jesus reigns and heav’n rejoices; Jesus reigns, the God of love. See, He sits on yonder throne: Jesus rules the world alone. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus rules the world alone.”

“King of glory, reign forever! Thine an everlasting crown. Nothing from Thy love shall sever those whom Thou hast made Thine own: Happy objects of Thy grace, destined to behold Thy face. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Destined to behold Thy face.”

Glory to our King,

Brother Dickie

Letter from the administrator – 2015

My dear, dear, friends in fellowship,

What a privilege, I so anticipate meeting with each of you for a whole week of song at the 2015 Harmony Plains Singing School. Struggles, disappointments, and heartaches come to all, so how encouraging it is to know that your love for Christ draws you to set aside this time to sing the praises of His redemption.Dickie Halbgewachs, administrator of HPSS

Our 2015 HPSS hymn is Enough For Me, page #130 in the Old School Hymnal edition #11. The 2015 theme is “Satisfaction In Christ”. Colossians chapter one verse nineteen will be our 2015 text.

Colossians 1:19 states, “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell”. Young or old, male or female, town or country, we clamor for the “full life”. We desire to experience more, higher, deeper, richer, and happier experiences, circumstances, and times. The problem is we have full refrigerators and can’t find anything to eat. We all have full closets and can’t find a thing to wear. We all spend more than we need to and are not satisfied with what we get. We are over indulged, over drugged and over sexed. Life is paralyzing us instead of satisfying us and nothing, even “our” service to God, quite seems to deliver what we hoped it would deliver.

C. S. Lewis: “Most people, if they really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise”.

The word “fulness” in Colossians 1:19 is defined as “plenitude, abundance, full satisfaction, completion”, and the text declares that this fulness is only found in Christ.

Personal knowledge of Christ is as satisfying as a springing well compared to a stagnant pool. This knowledge is not attained by an information dump, but is the blessing of a loving relationship. The expression of the text is not an abstract principle, but a satisfaction massaged deep into the very heart and oozed out in life.

Christianity is falling in love with the nature and character of God, which leads into a transformed life. That’s what Paul’s unpacking here. It’s not our works that lead us to knowledge of God or rest in the Lord Jesus Christ. Works righteousness will wear you out, and Jesus came to destroy empty self-righteousness.

It’s unbelievably important that we get this. We are transformed by seeing and understanding the nature and work of God through the Lord Jesus Christ, II Corinthians 3:14-18. If anyone of any age determines, “I’m going to give great effort, etc.” (and we all do at some time to some degree), if it works at all, it will only be superficial and temporary, then we will tend to bail. Under the waterfall of who God is and swept up and cleansed by what Christ has done however, one is not just delivered from trying to manage behavior, one is engulfed in a colossal completeness that satisfies the soul.

The goal of morality, honesty, industry, family, and church is great, but fundamental and essential is the core of who we are in Christ. Even if we gained morality, honesty, etc., the above text declares that satisfaction alone rests in our Savior. The first verse of the theme song says it all: “O love surpassing knowledge! O grace, so full and free! I know that Jesus saves me, And that’s enough for me.”

This hymn’s author, Elisha Hoffman (1839-1929), was ordained to preach in 1868, and became part of a circuit in Napoleon, Ohio, in 1872. He served in many churches and in the Bethel Home for Sailors and Seamen. He wrote more than 2,000 songs including Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (1894). The HPSS 2015 hymn expresses the joy of the continual return of the Christian to satisfaction in Christ alone.

May the Lord bless the efforts of each of you as you make your plans for singing school this summer. Psalm 95:1 states, “O come, let us sing unto the LORD: Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.”

In Christ,

Brother Dickie

From the desk of the director of instruction – 2014

Greetings Harmony Plains Singers,

I’m looking forward to seeing all of you at Harmony Plains Singing School this summer, July 20st – 25th.
Sonny Lowrance, director of instruction
The Lord willing, we will be recording some singing to complete the 50th anniversary commemorative CD, which was started last year. I am sending a list of songs to look over and practice. Please don’t worry about having to sing all the songs. You can sing the ones you know well enough to record and just listen when we record the ones you are not comfortable with.

Participants will include students from the fifth and sixth grade class through the adult class. Please pray the Lord will meet with us and bless us with the “spirit of singing” and bless our endeavors to comfort and edify the Lord’s people.

In kindly love,

Sonny Lowrance

Old School Hymnal 11th Ed. 12th Ed.

Loving Kindness

35 34

Sweetly Resting

69 66

How Lovely the Place

47 7

Father We Rest

442 450

Fairest Lord Jesus

21 20

Hark, Ten Thousand

32 31

Rock of Ages

54 51
Primitive Baptist Hymnal

O, That I Could Repent


Lord, In the Morning


The Lord Bless You…


Jesus Knows


Letter from the administrator – 2014

Dear Harmony Plains Hymn Singers,

It’s time! We are anticipating Harmony Plains Singing School 2014! Our theme is “Redeeming Love”. Christ’s redemption draws us like it did Anne Steele, the author of our theme song for 2014, To Our Redeemer’s Glorious Name, (hymn 4, OSH #11) to make plans to gather to lift our voices in praise for a whole week.

Anne lived in England from 1716-1778. Dickie Halbgewachs, administrator of HPSSHer father was a preacher for 60 years, but her mother died when she was just 3 years old. When she was 19 she suffered a severe injury to her hip, rendering her an invalid for life. When 21, she was engaged to Robert Elscourt, but the day before the wedding he was drowned while swimming! She never married, assisted her father in his pastoral labors, and for the last 9 years of her life was never able to leave her bed.

In spite of all her difficulties her disposition was described as “cheerful and helpful” and her life as one of “unaffected humility, warm benevolence, sincere friendship, and genuine devotion.” Her hymns are “very simple, clear, and beautiful, breathing a spirit of Christian faith.” Not just an occasional outburst of joy, she wrote over 144 songs that give beautiful expression to a lifelong sweetness of Christian character and depth of Christian experience. Her hymns are so rich and easily understood even by those of us living 250 years after her death. What accounts for such a life, simply but profoundly, Redeeming Love.

God’s love, and God’s love alone is the strong force that brings our hearts into joy in spite of the difficulties of earth’s greatest trials or the emptiness of life’s greatest blessings. Redeeming love alone will drive from our hearts rival and inferior thoughts and emotions. Jesus didn’t come with advice on how to clean yourself up, he came with the news that he himself cleaned us up without our help. Jesus didn’t come with a set of instructions you must follow to find redemption, rest, and forgiveness. He came declaring you are redeemed, loved, and forgiven. When you wonder what you are going to live for, when you wonder who will love you like you desire to be loved—No one will do it but God. We have believed the love of God and believed it as he intended when we experience the love of God in the sense that we are deeply in awe of how much he loves us, so deeply we desire to sing about it.

To our Redeemer’s glorious name, Awake the sacred song;
Oh may His love (immortal flame!) Tune ev – ry heart and tongue.

His love! What mortal tho’t can sketch What mortal tongue display?
Imagination’s utmost stretch In wonder dies away.

He left the radiant throne on high, Left the bright realms of bliss,
And came to earth to bleed and die! Was ever love like this!

He took the dying traitor’s place, And suffered in his stead;
For man, (O miracle of grace!) For man the Savior bled.

Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die,
And then I hope to sing this love In sweeter strains on high.

We’ve tried to live right since last year, sure, and we should have, but we have tried, and if we are honest, we have tried and failed. Trying to be perfect not yielding perfection though is a gift—it takes away your joy, but then gives joy back again. It gives it back again in the joy that Jesus was perfect in his life, died in our place, and arose having made us perfect. Let us cover over another in love (I Peter 4:18), we will never have perfection in ourselves. Let us also build up one another in love, for we are perfect in Him, as scripture declares in our 2014 Harmony Plains Singing School Text, Romans 5:8-9, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”

Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die, and then I hope to sing this love in sweeter strains on high. In awe that he went to the cross and accomplished my redemption.

Brother Dickie