Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shout Hallelujah - Randy Gill

"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:40) David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. (2 Samuel 6:14-15) When’s the last time you shouted? No, not in disgust at the other driver on the freeway, but a gleeful expression. It’s the unashamed, utterly unreserved celebration that I’m pondering. A sports fan might declare it was when the team executed the clinching play, sealing the championship. It’s the kind of moment you could live a lifetime to experience. It’s not something I express every day, or even weekly, if I’m pacing myself, maintaining that emotional balance. After all, no one wants to burn himself out, right? It’d be a pity if I never jumped in excitement, though. And so, although it’s a risk, I engage in life, attaching my emotions to things bigger than myself that offer the chance for that climactic ‘yahoo!’ If you seek the experience, admit it -- you do the same. Randy Gill’s song “Shout Hallelujah” is that championship-caliber moment, when I’m exhorted to let loose in celebration.


 Randy Gill has a wealth of educational and professional background as a musician. He has degrees from four institutions, including a doctorate in choral and church music from the University of Southern California. He’s been a professor for most of his professional life, and now is a worship leader in Nashville, Tennessee. Perhaps it’s the interaction with young students that helped him create “Shout Hallelujah”, a celebration not unlike the youthful exuberance that college kids can radiate. Gill has creativity not limited to this one song. He’s collaborated on several musicals, and has several arrangements to his credit on Word albums. So, he has the wherewithal to be complex, erudite with his craft. Yet, his song carries an uncomplicated message. Rejoice! …that’s it. I don’t need to learn anything new…just access what’s deep inside, and engage my vocal cords. Appreciate God. Revel in the moment. It’s the same type of moment when Jesus told worshippers not to hold back. Indeed, Randy echoes Jesus when he says, “’Shout Hallelujah’ was an attempt to help us worship more freely and with joyful abandon.” True, some observers will no doubt scoff or be alarmed. The unrestrained, unashamed spectacle you create might disquiet someone close, like Michal when David and his army returned with the Ark. But, as someone else has written, don’t let those stones worship for you!


What’s your most memorable “Shout Hallelujah” moment this side of heaven? I can remember mine. I’ve had the privilege of sharing it with others, even many others through a theatrical production. Twenty-one years ago, I felt desperate for a job and a life that I had dreamed was only remotely possible. I prayed for months, sometimes in anguish. ‘Help me, God’! I still remember the moment I discovered He heard me, and that He was saying ‘yes’. My mom shook she was so overjoyed. I floated on a cloud, as I went about the farm’s evening chores that day in November 1987. And, sometimes when I have felt frustrated about life, and even the job to which God led me, I have accessed that November 1987 moment. I don’t rely on my memory…I have some of the moments, on paper, stuffed in a briefcase! The official letter of the job offer is there, locked inside the dusty burgundy leather attaché. But, the most important part is deep within me. I hope I never forget how much God meant to me that day. I bet Randy Gill’s had moments like that too. A Christian should, and I’m glad he’s recorded words and music that let me show God my feelings, in a simple but potent way. If you can drop your reserve for a few moments, think about how the Holy One has rallied around you, lifted and strengthened you. Share that with others, and celebrate it anew, with a shout! Yahoo (this 21st Century Christian’s Hallelujah)!


 Information on Randy Gill in the story was gathered from the following sites, and from an e:mail he sent the author on 30 December 2008: http://www.sbmp.com/WebPagesTwo/RandallGillBio.html http://woodmont.alsw.com/page.asp?SID=1&Page=172

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thou Art Worthy, Great Jehovah - Karen Chandler Eagan Tynan


Anonymous, unknown, secret, mysterious, unidentified, Jane/John Doe. Thankfully we are not called these things when we call out to God, for He knows even the number of hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:30). Yet, sometimes we might think that even well known people can become hidden, if by accident or perhaps even by design. It’s said that Mozart’s grave was unknown, perhaps a commoner’s, in keeping with burial practices in 18th Century Vienna. Today, some composers may still be virtually unknown, including the creator of “Thou Art Worthy, Great Jehovah”, Karen Eagan. She wrote the words and the music in 1980, but we know almost nothing about her. Did she compose other songs? Where does she live, and what in her life channeled her thoughts toward creating this simple, yet powerful, tune? Perhaps it’s intended that she be but a shadow, in comparison to the One she writes about in the song. Karen Eagan is probably the same person as Karen Chandler-Eagan, the one piece of information we can surmise from public records (at least via the internet) and her name’s association with this song. So we can assume she married someone named Eagan, but that’s it. Compared to God, she has but a few names that we can use to identify her. God has many, so that I can relate to Him in various ways, and Karen Eagan chose four potent names for this composition, her ode to the Lord. ‘Great Jehovah’, the covenant-maker, the faithful God that Abraham knew as the original Promise Keeper. ‘Mighty God’, the Deliverer, whose power can overwhelm anyone or anything. I have a friend who always ends his public prayers by extolling God’s ‘Mighty Name’, so you might presume he has been strengthened by God in some meaningful way. And yet God is capable also of being my ‘Abba Father’, a tender, gentle being who intimately caresses my head. Finally, ‘Lamb of God’, a unique term only Jesus can wear, one filled with import for me, as a believer who cannot approach the throne without His sacrifice. Are there names of God that speak to you? When in your life has the Holy One been available for you? God’s presence may resonate at various times, and we can imagine that for Karen Eagan -- and indeed for all of us who sing her song --perhaps God kept a promise, extended his mighty hand, or held us close in his embrace. Certainly, His surrender on the cross is huge, incalculable. How many lambs, or other animals, did the Jewish nation offer to God before Jesus became ‘the Lamb’ – millions, right? So God is special, in fact essential for me, especially when I change. If you sense these times, as I have, try adding to Karen Eagan’s song with some names of God that draw you toward Him, that remind you how He’s been present lately. Here’s a verse I wrote: “Thou art worthy, Blessed Redeemer. And I love you, Comforter, Friend. You are Wisdom to your children. Come and feed us, Bread of Life.” Share yourself with the rest of us…what names say something to you? You may be a question mark, like Karen Eagan, before lots of people. Yet, God knows you…get in touch with that, and let others know how God is shaping you.
Scant information on Karen Chandler-Eagan is at:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hallelujah, We Shall Rise - John Edmond Thomas

What’s your favorite Christmas memory? Lots of people might be prompted to think about this, as the Yuletide season is upon us, decorations are lifted in place, and parties descend upon office workers. If asked, most people might think of a childhood episode, perhaps from the morning when presents were exchanged, and when wishes came true for the tricycle or some other toy that fascinated a youngster. You know, the kind of gift that would make an 8-year old behave if he thought Santa Claus might come through in the clutch. I think the Christmas mornings I anticipated most were ones that involved Hot Wheels cars or Hardy Boys books. Yep, those gettin’ up mornings were pretty special! I think my Christmas morning memories help me get in touch with another morning I anticipate, one that a composer wrote about over a century ago. John Edmond Thomas was born in 1860 in Arkansas, though he spent most of his life in neighboring Texas. His father died in 1874, and J.E. Thomas, as the oldest son, had a heavy load as he worked to support the family his father left behind. Even so, he pursued music study from the age of 17, and finally launched his career as a teacher, composer, music collector, and publisher in 1890. With the help of others, he founded two music companies (Trio Music and The Quartet Music Companies) in Texas. Then, on the 30th anniversary of his father’s death in 1904, John Thomas penned “Hallelujah, We Shall Rise”. Was Thomas thinking about seeing his earthly father again when he recorded the words in verse two of the song “…What a meeting…fathers and mothers, and our loved ones we shall see”? Indeed, what a morning, a resurrection morning! If you can think of how you awaited Christmas as a child, with anxious breathless expectation, a child jumping with excitement, your imagination can see what John Thomas was expressing with his music. He returns repeatedly to the image of a morning, one on which all of God’s elect will rise. It’s not an exaggeration to say ‘hallelujah!’, as we think of that time, one which will defy death.
If you’re a believer, you may know that hallelujah means ‘Praise ye Jehovah’, a refrain from several Psalms (106, 111-113, 117, 135). ‘Hallelujah’ in Revelation 19 is part of the apostle John’s vision of heaven, a word that we will shout there. The words in John Thomas’ song, and not just the words, but the melody, the counter-melody, and the harmonies, make the spirit soar as I listen to them. This song really shows me why God created music, I think. It would be impossible to capture the visceral, deep sense of what God has prepared for me with just mere words. God worked through John Thomas to give me more, to give me a beautiful echo of heaven’s hallelujahs that I read about in Revelation. With music, I come closer as an earthling to approaching the cosmic, mind-boggling scenery that was in the apostle’s eye. I encourage you to listen to a recording of this song, particularly Tom Fettke’s Masters Chorale production (“The Lord Is My Song” album), a recording with lots of angelic voices (like what we’ll hear at the throne)…and do yourself a favor – close your eyes, turn up the volume, and warm up your voice with a ‘hallelujah’, the word you’ll become familiar with in eternity!
Information about John Edmond Thomas’ life was gathered from The Cyber Hymnal at the following website: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/bio/t/h/thomas_je.htm

Sunday, November 30, 2008

When All of God's Singers Get Home - Luther G. Presley

If I said someone named ‘Presley’ was a notable 20th Century songwriter born in the South, you most probably would guess that I was referring to Elvis Presley. Well, Elvis might be nicknamed ‘the King’, but if you interviewed residents of Faulkner and White Counties in Arkansas, they might guess that Luther G. Presley was in fact a more prolific composer than his namesake from Memphis, Tennessee. By some accounts, Luther (1887-1974) wrote 1,500 or more gospel songs, beginning officially in 1907 when his first song was published. He had in fact written his first song “Gladly Sing” some years earlier when he was just 17 years old, a few years after he had started attending music school and directing the choir at the Free Will Baptist Church near Rose Bud, Arkansas. Perhaps Presley (the lyricist) and Virgil O. Stamps (the music writer, of the Stamps-Baxter music publishing company) are most well known for the 1937 song “When the Saints Go Marching In”, but it would be unfair to limit their accomplishments to that song alone. I for one have sung many Stamps-Baxter productions that I appreciate as much or more than “When the Saints…”, and in a similar way, I also appreciate another of Presley’s songs – “When All of God’s Singers Get Home”.
Written in 1937, in the heart of nationwide deprivation, Presley’s words for “When All of God’s Singers Get Home” are nevertheless ebullient…does happiness, delight, mirth, joy, light, and bright -- all words in this song -- sound like someone singing the blues, like somebody who’s desperate? His life must have been impacted during the Great Depression, but you sense something besides his physical environment was guiding him. One could say that Luther Presley must have been Spirit-led. His music life was abundant, despite whatever his circumstances might have dictated. Frequently, after a difficult time, he’d compose when alone, a mode reminiscent of Jesus who would also escape his surroundings and go to a mountain seeking prayer time with His Father. Presley also wrote by drawing upon real-life experiences, including “I Know the Lord Is With Me” after being in a car accident in which no one was injured, and “Give Them Red Roses (The Boys Will Be Coming Home)” near the end of World War II as he thought about his sons Clarence and Leister who were in uniform in Europe. Leister says his father also drew upon his personal loss - his wife and second child died during childbirth (although what tune or tunes he wrote at this time we do not know). It is said that he always carried paper scraps on which to record his thoughts, perhaps indicating that Luther was prepared for, and counted on, the Lord making random thoughts into something special. (I confess I now feel better about all those Post-It notes I scatter everywhere!)
Yes, Luther Presley had a gift, one so amazingly employed over such a long time…it reminds me of the title of a book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” (Eugene Peterson). I have tried to sum up Luther Presley’s life, but I think his own words say it more powerfully through the music he wrote. Do you have a favorite Luther G. Presley song, perhaps one that he wrote in collaboration with the Stamps-Baxter company (like “When All of God’s Singers Get Home”, or “When the Saints Go Marching In”)? Share it here, tell us what it means to you, and enrich the rest of us a little more.
* Much of the information gleaned from an April 21, 1998 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article written by Bob Sallee. http://www.ucalldatmusic.com/L_G_Presley.htm

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Beulah Land - Edgar Page Stites

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. (Isaiah 62:4) Beulah Land…it sounds peaceful and beautiful, doesn’t it? A lot of people must agree, because there’s a lot of places named after it, no doubt as a method of attracting business. There are more than just a few churches with this moniker, from Beulah Land Bible Church in Macon, Georgia, to Beulah Land Baptist Church in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and probably lots more in between. Farms in Texas, Arkansas, and Nebraska, a housing development in Wyoming, and a rustic resort in North Carolina all advertise themselves with this name, according to Google. There’s a restaurant in Pensacola, Florida and even a pub in Portland, Oregon that wears the name. You may remember the 1980 movie about post-Civil War Georgia, starring Leslie Ann Warren and Michael Sarrazin – Beulah Land got 6.9 out of 10 stars by reviewers. Do you like dogs? There’s a website called Beulah Land Labradors…I wonder if the dogs are always serene, of non-biting persuasion? What’s more interesting is that this name ‘Beulah’ appears only one time in the entire Bible. How would you like to have had stock in that name when it was created?! A poetic description of God’s home, like the one in a prophet’s book, has a lot of power to sway us, and maybe that’s what motivated the composer of the song “Beulah Land” to write the words that are so familiar. Indeed, anyone today whose heart has been touched by the song probably would buy stock in Beulah Land, if that were possible. Is it possible?
Christ had motivated Edgar Page Stites for many years by the time he composed the words to “Beulah Land”. In 1876, he was so moved he could only write two of its four verses at a time, on consecutive Sundays. After the second Lord’s Day effort on the song, Stites was once again overcome with emotion. “I could only pray and weep”, he says. Stites had become a believer in Christ when he was 19, during the great revival of Philadelphia, what most call the Awakening of 1857 and 1858. Soon afterwards, he joined the Methodist Church in Cape May, New Jersey and became a local missionary. He started new churches in the South Jersey area, and in 1869, Stites and other ministers and lay Christians founded the “Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association”, an organization to direct a Methodist camp meeting near Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Some say that Stites actually wrote “Beulah Land in 1875 (not 1876), along with his musical collaborator on the song, John R. Sweney, for that camp meeting association. Other well-known hymn writers of the day visited the camp during the summers, including Ira D. Sankey, William H. Doane, William J. Kirkpatrick, Fanny Crosby, Eliza Hewitt (Stites’ cousin), and others. Stites concludes the story of “Beulah Land”saying, “I have never received a cent for my songs. Perhaps that is why they have had such a wide popularity. I could not do work for the Master and receive pay for it." Perhaps Stites was truly “laying up treasure in heaven” when he refused pay for this popular and moving song. The word Beulah means “married”, an apt description of a place and a relationship with a spouse (God) who will not fail to take care of us. The imagery in the tune’s words also speak of a place that is fertile, and of an intimate bond with a special person – an eternal companion. Now who wouldn’t sign up to live in Beulah if that’s the way it is there? In our day, we cannot concretely buy stock in “Beulah Land”, but we could safely say that God does want us, like Stites did, to invest in Heaven.
Information on Edgar Page Stites was gathered from the following two websites: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/bio/s/t/i/stites_ep.htm http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Beulah-Land

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Can Only Imagine -- Bart Millard

Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar (Isaiah 33:17) Most of my dreams frustrate me. Only a few times have I ever remembered more than a few hazy images of what a few seconds earlier had been quite vivid and real. Most times I’m more likely to just roll over and return to making zzzz’s. Sound familiar? If I can believe what doctors say (and what I read on Wikipedia) about dreaming, then I feel still more cheated by my own mind’s trickery. According to the experts, an average normal human being dreams two hours every night, so over a normal lifespan I will spend six years dreaming. About what?! I cannot even remember most of the details of these episodes, yet I seem to need this bizarre activity to be healthy – rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is necessary for one’s well being, they say. Is our Creator trying to tell us something about our own minds when they are let loose, when our own thoughts can create images our logical consciousness will not permit? Bart Millard, lead singer with MercyMe and writer of the hit song “I Can Only Imagine” might be described as a dreamer, for he began considering his own imagination many years ago, and his thoughts stuck with him until he finally composed what had so struck him several years earlier. You can read about Bart’s story behind this song by linking to it here http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2003/002/14.16.html, or keep reading below. Bart lost his father to cancer in 1991, and he relates that he turned that loss into a time devoted to thinking about what his dad was experiencing on the other side of life’s journey. The phrase “I can only imagine” captured his thoughts, so that he wrote it everywhere, reminding himself of his own destiny and also easing the pain of his earthly loss. It was not until 1999, however, that Bart and his friends in MercyMe recorded the song with that same phrase. Bart says the song was written in ten minutes after he found the words he had recorded in a notebook many years before. Bart deflects the admirers who wonder how he was able to write a hit song so rapidly “….it had been on my heart for almost ten years”, he says. “I ask Him (God) questions. I have faith that Christ is real”, Millard shares. It’s clear that MercyMe’s lead singer’s imagination is not something he ignores as a hazy picture, a subconscious mind-trick at 3:00 AM.
What do you think of when you dream about paradise, about heaven? Pearly gates? Streets of gold, or a yellow-brick road such as the path to Emerald City in Dorothy’s journey through Oz? That’s what I tend to wonder about…it almost seems similar to some of the images in Revelation. Bart Millard wonders in the song what it will be like to be in God’s presence, to walk with Him, to actually see Him. I think that, like the song says, I won’t even be able to stand or say anything for a while, if heaven and the Lord are as brilliant as I imagine. A River of Life is there, I’m told, but I still cannot really grasp that people I now see only in my mind or with pictures are there. Dad, a grandpa I never met (and who’s last words I’m told were ‘what a life’), and friends in the last few years…Bill, Sarah, Bob. They’re there. And I wonder if I’ve discovered why God lets, or perhaps makes, me dream. Is it His way of subliminally telling me my hazy thoughts, though dim, are gonna become real, someday? That I should trust my imagination, and let it run wild, to rejoice in what awaits? I’m counting on it, aren’t you?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Worthy Is the Lamb - Darlene Zschech

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song (Psalm 95:2)
You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. (1 Corinthians 14:17)

Thank you. Is that easy to say? We say it all the time, probably many times every day, right? And we might say it in various ways, with money, through a card or an e-mail, by our gift-giving, with food, or even a plaque to honor someone. Sure we mouth the words, but is that enough? When Darlene Zschech wrote “Worthy Is the Lamb”, she must have felt deep appreciation for God, for she thanks Him four times in the first few lines of this song. She says ‘thanks’ with music, a powerful method, no doubt, as it has more capacity to draw emotion out of me than mere spoken words. If I read Paul’s admonition right (see it above), though, there’s more to saying thanks that I need to know, and Darlene Zschech’s life outside of song-writing and performing probably says that better than what I can write here.

I say ‘thanks’ to others for the most simple things, but what about my gratitude toward the Lord? Can it be enough to thank Him for the life that He surrendered, as the song says? Can I possibly muster enough appreciation, and sing with complete and utter emotion and devotion worthy of God’s gift? No, of course not. Nevertheless, Paul tells us that we should sing, and that God wants us to be thankful people (see Ephesians and 1 Thessalonians), so it’s important what happens when I sing “Worthy Is the Lamb”. I edify myself and other worshippers, and I also implant a memorable tune in my consciousness that will remind me of my God and what He means to me. Yet, it’s not impossible, given our multi-cultural surroundings, that there may be someone in the worship who doesn’t understand the words I sing, despite the depth of my sincerity. I recall one Sunday when someone behind me was translating the sermon for a friend, and I think something probably was lost in the communication gap during our corporate ‘thank you’, our songs.



Thankfully, I have other times that I can express my thanks. In fact, to really thank God adequately for his incredible generosity, I need to spend my life doing so. One could probably say that Darlene Zschech has also discovered that the ‘thank yous’ in ‘Worthy Is the Lamb’ just aren’t enough by themselves. No, her life is an extension of what she expresses in the song. Her life includes ministry to the poor…among them is Hope Rwanda that she and her husband Mark founded in 2004 to “mobilize the church and humanitarian organizations world-wide into action” to make a difference in that African country still recovering from the genocide it suffered several years ago. Zschech also takes part in ministries called “Compassionart” and “Compassion” that reach out to the poor. So, when I sing from my heart, when I lift my voice to appreciate God, I need to remind myself that I too can do that every day. With my ‘thanks’, I should see the faces of those I can help, and open my arms, my wallet, and space in my daily-planner and my calendar, and embrace opportunites to share God’s gift. That’s how I enthrone God, I crown Him, and lift Him up for others to see, as the song says.

The above information on the ministries that Darlene Zschech supports and her biography are at: http://www.darlenezschech.com/pages/default.asp?pid=22

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Speak, O Lord -- Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

I have a secret I’ll share with you about one of my vocational goals – maybe it will resonate with those of you who call yourselves writers or speechmakers. I wish, just once, that I could write something truly significant, and a piece that would need no editing whatsoever, something that would be perfectly pristine. Now wouldn’t that be something! Above my desk at work, I have a rolled-up sock with an amateurish face scrawled upon it in crayon, and a jagged paper clip stuck in it. It’s my somewhat twisted way of dealing with “editor frustration”, aimed at those folks who scrutinize my work to the nth degree, it seems. As I imagine my editor’s visage in the sock, I regain a measure of composure with a jab or two, deep into the sock…ahhh. Hey, you may call me Edgar Allen Poe (a la the tormented soul in “The Tell-Tale Heart”) or a voodoo witch-doctor, but this method hasn’t backfired on me yet! Seriously, I marvel at those craftsmen of the English language who can capture the reader’s attention with seemingly so little effort. Writers of the music language, too…how do they do it? Is it magic? Keith Getty, who has written many well-known contemporary Christian songs with Stuart Townend, including “Speak, O Lord”, shares his insights into music-writing (see the link at http://www.calvin.edu/worship/stories/getty.php), and he tells me something about this art-form that maybe you haven’t heard before. Simple is better, more powerful, and more memorable. Getty says that he has two goals in front of him when he creates – teaching theological and Biblical truth that speaks to listeners in everday life, and creating melodies that large groups, like churches, can sing. “… what we sing becomes the grammar of what we believe,” he says. Perhaps Getty’s maxim for song-writing springs out of his upbringing, one which leans on Irish folk songs and the hymns he sang in a Presbyterian church in Belfast. He’s also schooled himself, not by listening to pop music, but by listening to classical songwriters like George Gershwin, and to English folk music contemporary Kate Rusby. Getty’s songs, besides being simple, powerful, and memorable, also often fit into particular parts of the corporate Christian worship service. “Speak, O Lord” may be used for sermon preparation, as the hearer’s plea for an honest, open heart and mind to receive truth from Him. If Getty’s song really is the “grammar of what I believe”, I look at its words with more conviction. Do I really believe what I sing? Do I want to stand under the light of His truth, to be changed and used by Him? Do I trust God to direct me through this life? I think I do, and the melody and its words, in an uncomplicated way, invite me to approach God at this level – I need Him, and He is available, in all His GLORY, to help simple, imperfect, little me. I may speak (or write) in a weak, trembling voice, but in love, God listens and imparts His strength to me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Be Unto Your Name - Lynn DeShazo and Gary Sadler

…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2)
I used to use a website that caters to singles looking for ‘Miss’ or ‘Mister’ right. Maybe I’m just tuned into this part of the world more than others, but I bet you’ve heard the same old adage I recall that advises those who are searching that ‘opposites attract’. Funny, I don’t ever remember anyone telling me that I should be looking for my opposite, despite this motto. Does it mean I oughta be hunting the opposite personality, or is the opposite gender sufficient?! Some of my single friends occasionally share with me their adventures, and their misadventures too, but I don’t remember any of them lauding the ‘opposites attract’ method. But, as I look at the song “Be Unto Your Name”, written by Lynn DeShazo and Gary Sadler in 1996, I almost wonder if God has put this technique into practice in His pursuit of me, and that He expects me to do the same as I pursue Him. DeShazo and Sadler relate that the song we’ve come to know since December 1996 (when it was written) was the product of perhaps something they had been pondering for weeks, or months, or even years. “We started talking about how fragile and temporal - just a vapor, a moment - life is; how our lives pass so quickly and yet God's life goes on forever.” The song’s praise chorus to the Lord was a natural reaction to those thoughts, they say. Though we are made in His image, the song reminds us that we are also different from God in some significant ways – we’re temporary, vaporous, broken vessels, while God is the reverse. So why does He love us? What about our flaws draws Him to relate to us? The prophet Isaiah tells us that even the divine Jesus, when He became flesh like us, became unattractive, undesirable (Isaiah 53:2). What is it, then, that animates the relationship between God and his chosen people? DeShazo and Sadler say that the feelings in the song “tapped into something that had been laying (lying) deep within our hearts”… “Be Unto Your Name” is my admission to God that I have nothing to offer Him. Nevertheless, He wants me anyway! I’ll never fully understand why, while I’m here. And perhaps here’s the way the songwriters, moved by the Spirit, intend that this song works: I get in touch with this basic reality -my defective, wart-covered life- and stand with mouth open, astonished, that the Holy One grants me the prospect of sharing His perfection, His gift. I grasp the direction of this relationship now…it’s me toward Him. I say ‘Be Unto your Name’ as I make the move and offer myself to Him, even as His alter-ego, and say ‘I know I don’t stack up Lord, but I know you do. You’re the One who makes this link between us work.’ Be Unto Your Name.
Information about this song's development was gleaned from an article at the following site:
http://www.lynndeshazo.com/articles/BeUnto.pdf

Monday, October 13, 2008

Everlasting God -- Brenton Brown and Ken Riley

Nike says “Just do it”. That might be what the fella weightlifting is thinking as he gets his workout, and your doctor also probably thinks “doing it” is generally the most sound method for staying in shape or building brawn, right? I just rode a bike for 40 minutes with this in mind, so I hope that sweat wasn’t a waste! But what if someone told you something that was so illogical, a completely counter-cultural idea -- especially for us Americans, who are always in a hurry to accomplish things -- that one could become muscular just by waiting, perhaps by merely sitting still? ‘Are you nuts?!’ That’d be my reaction. South African native Brenton Brown might just be that nut, if you look at his song “Everlasting God”. Brown’s words declare ‘strength will rise as we wait…’. Huh? In 2005, Brown (along with Ken Riley) wrote “Everlasting God”, and that name also became the label for the album that was a hit. When one looks at the words and phrasing in the music, one cannot but suspect that something was rocking Brown’s world, perhaps making him re-think conventional ideas about life and activities into which we typically throw ourselves. He hammers the same point repeatedly…our God is strong, and I am weak. The emphasis on the words ‘strong’, ‘strength’, ‘weak’, and ‘weary’ throughout the song, and the composer’s life story suggest “Everlasting God” is his personal testimony. In 2003, Brown was diagnosed with something called CFS - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – a frustrating condition afflicting 4 people in 1,000 in the U.S, including also his wife Jude. It cannot be commonly cured, only managed. In fact, perhaps only 5 –10 % of CFS sufferers find a complete resolution, and even rest does not adequately address the illness. It’s no surprise, then, why Brown’s composition maintains this pulse, this heartbeat about strength. Over and over the words flow from Brown’s pen about where and from whom he finds strength, and it’s not a one-time request he makes of God – indeed with CFS, he and his wife live this petition every day.
With no cure for CFS, Brown is forced to wait, perhaps for something that may never come. He may identify with the Psalmist, who also waited for the Lord to answer his cries (Psalms 5, 27, 33, 37, 38, 40, 130), sometimes feeling abandoned and bitter. Brown might also be dubbed a contemporary Paul, with a thorn still in his flesh, a sore the apostle learned to accept. The experiences of Brown, the apostle Paul, and the Psalmist, if they have not already come, await each of us. And so, I must learn what Brown and others have already discovered. How do I wait upon the Lord…with peace and contentment, or with angst? Whatever my emotional-mental state, the words of Brenton Brown and the Psalm writers linger. When I find my troubles gnawing at me, songs are like salve over a wound, reminding me that God is present and potent. He cares, and I am not alone.
The above information on Brenton Brown’s life is at:
The site http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/reviews/2006/everlastinggod.html was also used for some of the information on the song.

Monday, October 6, 2008

You Never Let Go - Matt Redman

It’s not a surprise that British songwriter Matt Redman’s inspiration for the song “You Never Let Go” is Psalm 23, verse 4, as opposed to what he describes as the daily drumbeat of the “dark, disturbing, depressing news” that fills our TV screens on a daily basis. For Redman and his wife, in a personal way, they say “You Never Let Go” flowed from the aftermath of a miscarriage of a child Beth was carrying, coinciding with a terrorist bombing in London – a depressing and dark time for them. From his website, one can read Redman’s own words about the song and the title of the album called ‘Beautiful News’ on which the song appears. Redman writes “It’s truly ‘beautiful news’ — which is a phrase that I’d had in my songwriting notes for a little while.” He also shares in his blog something interesting, but perhaps not really unexpected. Apparently, the song has caused people to write to him about how God has been at work personally for them, about how the Lord “never lets go”. It’s compelling that the words of a 3,000-year-old thought that David first penned for believers still has the attention of people today in a 21st Century song.
Perhaps Redman’s own blog experience in the aftermath of writing and performing the song also says something further to us, as believers and witnesses for God. Would my friends, my co-workers, and my neighbors be more apt to tell me their stories of deliverance, and maybe their stories of heartache too, if I more readily shared my experiences and my steadfast devotion to God, perhaps even in spite of the storms? Maybe what I need to do is sing ‘you never let go’ just a little louder, and with more conviction -- like Matt Redman’s song coaxes me to do -- as I struggle with my computer at work, or sigh at the bureaucracy and waste; or manage still more serious things like declining health, or tragedies. There’s lots to complain about, sure, but with this song in my head, I now can daily hum a more positive and eternal outlook.
Information on the song and Matt Redman’s thoughts were gathered at: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewProfile&friendID=120781688

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Be Thou My Vision - Dallan Forgaill?

The classic hymn “Be Thou My Vision” has a theme based on sight. This song’s history likewise has a similar sentiment. The words may have been written by Dallan Forgaill, a Christian Irish poet who lived in the sixth century. It’s said that he studied so much that he lost his sight, so perhaps the song’s words were an actual physical request that he was making to God. His first name ‘Dallan’ was a nickname in his native tongue that means “little blind one”. The song’s tune is based on an 8th Century Irish folk melody, called Slane. Notice on perhaps any page printing this particular song that the word ‘Slane’ may be written somewhere, telling us that’s the tune which was adopted for use with the words in the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” in the Middle Ages. The story of Slane (perhaps a legend) involves St. Patrick and a confrontation he had with a pagan king in Ireland in the 5th Century. Patrick was a great Christian missionary to Ireland, whom you may have heard in folklore drove the snakes out of the country, and used a Shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. The first Easter that Patrick was in Ireland, he wanted to celebrate the holiday by lighting an Easter fire on the hill of Slane, not far from High King Laoghaire’s castle. This drew the king’s ire (no pun intended), who was also intent upon celebrating a pagan holiday in the same fashion by lighting a fire in the castle. The Druid priests (a pre-Christian religious order in the Middle Ages) advising Laoghaire warned him Patrick’s fire must be quenched or it would never die out, and would in fact spread a foreign doctrine. Patrick is said to have escaped Laoghaire’s death sentence, and in fact history records that Patrick did a great deal to organize Christianity and overthrow paganism in Ireland. Notice the words in “Be Thou My Vision” seem to echo what Patrick stood for, and entreat us to do the same. He celebrated Christ in his life, exhibiting it for all to see - -like a fire on the hill of Slane – no matter what threats others around him used to try to silence him. Verses 3 and 4 of the hymn tell us the true High King is in heaven, and Patrick most certainly knew this also, refusing to bow to King Laoghaire in 5th Century Ireland. The priests in old Israel offered, even before they entered Canaan, sacrifices to God by fire. And God was a pillar of fire to lead the people out of the wilderness. Moses records in Exodus (13:22), “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” Lord, when my own fire dies, I thank you that yours does not. May I be like Patrick, brave, with my vision lit by your presence. Information on the song was developed from an encyclopedia and two Wikipedia sites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Thou_My_Vision http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dall%C3%A1n_Forgaill

Saturday, August 23, 2008

More Love to Thee -- Elizabeth Prentiss

Written by Elizabeth Prentiss, one verse of the hymn “More Love to Thee” does not appear in the hymnal Songs of Faith + Praise. It’s a pity, because they tell us something about her--about her faith. This song has been translated into many languages, including Chinese and Arabic, speaking to its widely accepted and genuine sentiments among believers. Elizabeth Prentiss only reluctantly shared her thoughts on this poem she wrote. In fact, she failed to show it to even her husband for 13 years after writing it…maybe she felt it wasn’t very good, or that it reminded her too much of a sad episode in her life. It is said she wrote this song while struggling to overcome a great loss, the death of two of her children. At the time, though inconsolable – as any of us would understandably be – she still leaned on her God. While reading + meditating on the story of Jacob, Mrs. Prentiss prayed that the Lord would meet her need in a special way, in the way that Jacob experienced the Lord. What experience was she thinking of? Did Elizabeth want to wrestle with God, the way Jacob did and walk away limping? (Gen. 32:24-32) Or, perhaps she was hoping for an eventual reunion with her children, the way Jacob was reunited with his son Joseph after giving him up for dead for so many years (Gen. 46:28-30). We really can’t say for sure, but if it was a family reunion that Elizabeth trusted God would grant her, that would be a praiseworthy event! It casts a different light on her song verse doesn’t it? She sounds like a confident, trusting disciple when she writes ‘Let sorrow and grief do its work’, because she knows God will send her messengers with a promise she can believe, a rock-solid guarantee that she’ll meet again in eternity those she has loved in Christ. That same reunion promise is for us, too. And not just for people we’ve known here on earth, but to meet God Himself. That’s really an awesome thing, and certainly worthy of each one of us pursuing God more zealously, with more devotion and commitment. And so, I can sing the song Elizabeth Prentiss wrote with expectation and gratitude. And if I’m feeling the sting of losing a Christian friend or relative, this old hymn, this 19th Century psalm, a love song directed toward our heavenly Father, speaks to me. It tells me that someone else was hurting once, and yet she found that a greater devotion to her Lord helped her through the struggle. Elizabeth Prentiss’extra verse: Let sorrow do its work, send grief and pain; Sweet are thy messengers, sweet their refrain, When they can sing with me, more love O Christ to Thee,
More love to Thee, More love to Thee.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Potter's Hand -- Darlene Zschech

“But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him”. (Jeremiah 18:4) Perhaps that is what Darlene Zschech (pronounced ‘Zheck’), a Christian songwriter, was thinking about herself and God when she wrote the song “The Potter’s Hand”. Darlene has a life today most would say is charmed…she’s a key part of the Hillsong church ‘down-under’ in Australia, a gifted songwriter whose resume has dozens of songs and albums that are familiar to millions of Christians, a mother with 3 daughters, and a husband who is her partner in Christian ministry. If you dig a little deeper, however, you discover that her life at times has been anything but charmed, and might even be characterized as ‘marred’, more like the message Jeremiah heard from the Lord. Darlene’s had bulimia, the eating disorder; she suffered through a miscarriage during a pregnancy; and she endured financial struggles -- not exactly charming life experiences. Does Darlene Zschech’s life sound like yours? Do you feel that your ‘pot’ is misshapen, or even broken apart? I know I never welcome adversity. Yet, experiences - good or bad – shape us. The good news is that the Holy Potter doesn’t need a perfectly smooth, beautiful vase, and maybe that’s what Darlene Zschech was reflecting upon when she put together the “The Potter’s Hand” and the album titled “Touching Heaven, Changing Earth”, on which it appears. That album title is a good description of what God does for the believer – He changes us - and that’s a supernatural hope for you and me as we grapple with life. I may begin my walk with God, lamenting or even despising the repulsive parts of myself. But when I realize that I’m not the only strange-looking clay jar, I gain something, and so do we all. I’m unique, and if I own that as a gift from above, I climb above my shrinking, self-doubt, and contact the Divine One.
Information on Darlene Zschech developed from sites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlene_Zschech http://www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/2001/marapr/3.36.html

Monday, July 28, 2008

Precious Lord, Take My Hand -- Thomas Dorsey


He was an accomplished blues pianist and music minister at a Baptist church in 1930s Chicago, but Thomas Dorsey had plenty of reasons to grieve and surrender to depression. When his wife and newborn son died in 1932, Dorsey might have quit then, giving in to the physical reminders in the depression-era city-life around him and to his own deep emotional pit. He went to perform at a revival meeting, and while preparing to sing there one night, he learned his wife had died while delivering their child. Dorsey wonders himself how he was able to go on that night, while others around him, unaware of his tragedy, were rejoicing in song. Maybe, as the Psalmist writes (Psalm 42:7), this was when Dorsey’s pain, crying out to God, tapped into the strength that only He can provide. “Deep calls to deep” the Psalmist writes, and he also adds a term at this psalm’s beginning that has puzzled me, until I thought about it and read some more Psalms like it, and thought some more about Dorsey and his experience. (I have provided a link to Dorsey’s complete story below, as it relates his experience most powerfully.) It seems like his story is like this Psalm term….


Consider the term ‘maskil’, when you read the Psalms. Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, and have read over it in the superscription of some Psalms without noticing it, as I did. It’s a Hebrew word, which my Bible’s commentary says probably indicates the Psalm with this obscure word contains an instruction in godliness. There are 13 Psalms that are maskils (Psalms 32, 42, 44-45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89, and 142), and in most of them the Psalmist is crying out to God, in anguish. Like Thomas Dorsey must have been doing in the 1930s. So, if I am to learn something from a maskil, it seems I must wail, and I must be very desperate for God. But it blows me away to think that when I’m an emotional wreck, that’s when I am more godly, if I believe what the maskil Psalms seem to be communicating. Dorsey was, understandably, a wreck emotionally, and even withdrew from his music for a time in the wake of his loss. But, left alone with nothing but himself and a piano one evening, Dorsey composed this potent song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”. It’s not hard to imagine him being in that room with just the music and his God. Dorsey says the tune just came to him from nowhere, and he felt peaceful…with the God he could have blamed for his struggle. As I read the very personal cries of Dorsey’s words, they say something I can identify in my life too.


 When I read the words Dorsey wrote in verse one of his contemporary maskil, he’s anxious for God’s presence – begging for communion with the Holy One, longing for home. That sounds a lot like Jesus’ cry when He was torn from His Father’s presence (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). None of us naturally equate tragedy with opportunity, but the maskils I read have me reconsidering life’s troubles. And, an article a friend and church leader sent me recently proposes that churches can and should be ministering to saddened worshippers, helping them navigate through calamity. The point of recognizing sadness and hurt when we sing is not to be maudlin, nor to wallow in self-pity. …it’s to call upon the one who can help, as the Psalmists did. If we avoid admitting these feelings when we worship, how genuine are we toward each other, and do we really trust that God hears us? Thomas Dorsey’s song has power because it’s authentic, and when we sing it together as God’s body, we minister to each other’s wounds. A maskil draws me toward God, where my burden and God’s become one, and my life is renewed by His. That’s what happened for Thomas Dorsey, and amazingly for the rest of us music-lovers, and God worshippers too, when we think about and sing this composition . Dorsey’s song, a ministry to himself in his hurt, has been translated into 32 languages, and he admits was his greatest effort. It’s amazing what God can do through us from the bottom of a deep pit.

You can link to the song’s story as written in ChristianityToday.com here http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2003/004/16.16.html

You can link to the article about churches, and celebration versus sadness in our worship here http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/002/17.64.html

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Because He Lives - the Gaithers


Life. It’s a cereal that Mikey likes, remember? Do you consume life the way Mikey does – with gusto, or endure it because you have nothing better to do? A form of that word appears nine times in the song ‘Because He Lives’, a rhythmic message that makes one wonder why the composer chose it. Bill + Gloria Gaither, the song’s composers, relate that this song was a celebration of birth – of their son Benjamin in 1970. It was also a reminder about life. Just months prior to Benjamin’s birth, the Gaithers were bombarded with one thing after another -- sickness, the breakup of Bill’s sister’s marriage, a depressing accusation of a friend, and drug abuse and racial tension in the surrounding culture. All these things are evidence of decay, of a disease that would make most of us despair about existence itself. How do we endure these things, and is it wise to expose others, including an infant, to them? But, maybe that’s why God gives us births to behold, because He knows we need vivid reminders of life and how miraculous it is, and of how great it will be when we all have the life that Jesus is living right now. That’s how we endure, and that’s why we take a risk to bring others into this life. The next time you whine about daily inconveniences, or worse yet despair about the more serious matters of your relationships, or your health or safety, try thinking about life, and especially about the glorious life that awaits you as a God-believer. Communicate that to others you meet, and see how that affects attitudes, yours and theirs, and how it might make others choose life -- now and for the future. Try emphasizing the words ‘life’, ‘lives’, ‘lived’, or ‘living’ in the song, and see if it doesn’t change how you live, at least in those few moments you spend singing the song. The apostle Peter writes about a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3). God’s life makes me able to hurdle the life here, especially when it taunts me that I’m mortal. You can link to the song’s story as written in ChristianityToday.com.  

or see it here:
http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/devotions/terry_because_he_lives.aspx






Monday, July 7, 2008

How Great Thou Art - Carl Boberg

The hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’ was written by a Swedish pastor, Carl Boberg, in 1886. It is said he became caught in an intense thunderstorm that lasted only a short time, followed by brilliant sunshine and birds singing in the surrounding trees. What a contrast! If Boberg’s thoughts were meant to laud God, then he might as well have said ‘How Diverse Thou Art’. Boberg’s words were eventually translated into English and supplemented with additional thoughts by a missionary Stuart Hine, but it is Boberg’s experience in a great storm and a bucolic aftermath that really comes through in this great hymn. It shows us we cannot ignore God, no matter how much we might try. He speaks to people, who otherwise do not recognize Him, through awesome displays of thunder and lightning, as well as through acts of kindness. Just check it out the next time you see someone out in a storm…are people who are caught without an umbrella or some other protection calmly walking? No! They’re running, and if there’s a thunderclap, to casually turn one’s head and yawn means they’re either deaf or inhuman. But the awesome God is also compassion, in the face of Jesus. The same God whose voice sounds like thunder (John 12:28-29) and who will come with a loud voice (1 Thess. 4:16) is the same person who wept (John 11:35). I often am unnerved if I see two polar opposite personalities in someone in the space of a few moments, and perhaps that was Boberg’s reaction as well. He saw the terrifying God Almighty, and then the beautiful, peaceful, Great Shepherd. I think my God must know why I run from Him sometimes, and yet return later as He draws me close. This hymn’s background reminds me that mine is a pendulum existence, with God at the center. I may swing to one end or the other and feel that God is distant, but He’s too obvious for me to dismiss.
Information on the song was obtained at: http://www.stinalisa.com/HowGreatThouArt.html

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

You Are God Alone - the Footes

“…that’s just the way it is”. Does that sound like a sigh of resignation? If you heard Billy Foote sing those few words, or rather try to sing them, you might think so, for you see Billy has a rare disorder known as hyperdysphonia (hi–per-dis-fon-e-ah). He finds it difficult or impossible to use his singing voice, because the muscles in his voice box behave erratically, causing his voice to crack or sound strangled. There is no cure. Billy Foote has been a worship leader since graduating from college in Texas in 1990, and 10 years later he discovered he had this condition. His wife Cindy is also a musician, and has become the “voice” for Billy’s compositions, including “You Are God Alone”. I wonder, what would I do if something so crucial for my livelihood was stripped from me? Could I adapt, or would I be muted, frustrated? The great composer Beethoven became stone deaf, yet continued to create – an awesome thing you might even label as a miracle. Indeed, with God, all things are possible, an axiom we accept as believers. When Moses forgot that, God’s exasperation was evident -- (Exodus 4:11-12) 11 The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD ? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." Finally, the Lord consented to Moses’ complaint, and allowed Aaron to be his speaker, his voicebox. The way God has worked in the Footes’ lives, you might say that Cindy Foote has become Billy’s “Aaron”, a providential gift. ‘God provides’, the Footes could well say. But, let’s say ‘God provides’ with the emphasis on GOD, and not the provision He gives – that’s the outlook Billy Foote seems to have throughout “You Are God Alone”. ‘When Billy writes ‘that’s just the way it is’, he’s not suggesting that we groan, or shrug about our fate. Instead, it’s our trust, our confidence in Him, our freedom from futile striving, that we lay at His feet as we sing.
The information on the Footes was obtained at: http://cdbaby.com/cd/bcfoote2 The information on dysphonia is at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spasmodic_dysphonia

Monday, June 30, 2008

Why Share Stories?


I am fascinated by music, I think most of all because those who compose it combine human characteristics that seem so opposite. On one hand, a composer must have a heart and a soul that is poetic, creative, and unafraid to share his or her emotions for all to hear. On the other hand, music writing imposes rules, in necessarily predictable patterns that demand discipline – which one might think is rather contrary to creativity and emotionalism. So, composers are special people, because they manage to successfully merge these characteristics. They also have stories or motivations that drive them to compose. Perhaps it’s confusion, or a struggle, maybe an exuberant joy, or sadness that finds its voice in a song. A great way to see a songwriter’s heart is to read the Psalms, a maze of emotions, ups and downs, and each Psalm with a different shade of emotion and a related story, if only we could know each one. In some of the Psalms, we can only guess what David or other songwriters were experiencing. But, since they were humans, like us centuries later, we can identify with them at that basic level. The same is true of contemporary songwriters and us. I hope my song “scoops” – my ambition to know the stories behind compositions – will help you. As a fellow human being and a believer in the God who created us in His image, I want to join in song with you, with more appreciation and emotional depth, as we discover what makes composers creative. Maybe we’ll all be more creative, and more like our Creator God, as a result. Enjoy! ...P.S. The picture is of me at the Hoover Dam in hot July 2006, trying to be cool and incognito in my 'detective' shades.